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

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Rebuilding the Starship Enterprise

The Smithsonian Institution is busy refurbishing the USS Enterprise from the original TV series. For years NCC 1701 hung proudly in the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum in a main floor display back in the museum's earlier years. Later, she warped down to the gift shop.

Now, the Enterprise finds herself in dry dock, being rebuilt by the able restoration crew of the Smithsonian, soon to fly proudly once again among the main floor displays. I took this picture of her as she once hung decades ago, back in the last millennium, when the show was in endless reruns on Channel 20 and quite possibly before the first Star Trek movie hit the big screens. I look forward to seeing her in her restored form.

For more, see: and

Why Kids Don't Shovel Walks: A Modest Proposal

After the big storm last Saturday, friends on Facebook were complaining that kids didn't come to their door seeking to shovel the walk and drive for cash. The conclusion was kids these days sure are lazy.

Well, I had to think about that. I don't believe that's true, surely not in most cases. I would say, kids these days are fearful, and they learned that from their families and society. From their youngest days, kids are taught not to speak with strangers. We adults are so busy these days, we don't know most of our neighbors. Even the people down the street are potentially scary strangers.

We don't want children playing together in the street, in the vacant lot, on the playground, in the woods, by the stream, all by themselves. We prefer they stay in organized sports or at home with the Xbox or Playstation or Wii, where they can be overseen by anxious adults. They have learned fear from us, and learned it well.

So, no, they won't go out looking for jobs in the neighborhood, among the strangers, away from home unsupervised. We've spent the rest of the year teaching them that's wrong. We are to blame.

In some cases, in some neighborhoods, such fear is warranted. That's the sad truth of the matter. The sadder truth is that in most cases, it is not. But we haven't taught them that. Our kids don't see the world that way.

Besides, whenever somebody remembers doing the shoveling when they were kids (back in the last millennium) they talk about earning $5 to $10 a job. That's not nearly enough to clear 2 feet of snow from a drive and a walk in the twenty-first century. Our kids are too SMART for that! 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Christianity and Science: William Bragg's Observation

Courtesy of NASA
Anyone who has read my blog before knows I believe science and my Christian faith go hand in hand. I have little patience for the fundamentalists of all stripes who say it must be belief all in one or the other, science or faith. Nonsense, I say. I agree with Sir William Bragg who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1915. He stated:
Christianity and science are opposed but only in the same sense as that which my thumb and forefinger are opposed -- and between them, I can grasp everything.
Just make absolutely certain you've done your research when you attempt to use the wisdom from either sphere. Using the accumulated wisdom from science or Christianity without understanding will always lead to disaster.  

Question About Walls Arose During Blizzard

After blizzard Jonas swept through on Friday and Saturday, January 22-23, and we were digging out on Sunday, January 24th, I looked around and say walls of snow piled up in front of every house on the street. I asked myself "Why do politicians brag about how well they can build walls? Walls are easy. Bridges are hard." It's true. I'd like to see a lot more bridge building and outreach to our neighbors (in the religious sense, which means everyone) and a whole lot less fearful talk about needing walls to keep people out. Let's concentrate on fearless bridges and helping others instead of scaring ourselves into expensive walls on guns on every hip. 

Second version. Which do you like better?

Living with January 2016 Blizzard "Jonas"

Snow Falling
Driving home Friday evening, arriving 15 minutes before the snow started to fall, it was apparent this was going to be serious. A little after six in the evening it was as dark as midnight out there. Arriving safely, snugging my Yaris up against our van nose to nose (I highly recommend this approach as it both takes up a bunch of driveway you don't have to shovel but more to the point it puts the cars in the right position to jump a dead battery if that happens--when you own aging cars, you think of such things), we battened down the hatches, wondering if the storm was going to be as advertised.

One dark day full of snow
By 8 in the evening the snow was falling steadily. In the morning, yeah, it was obvious the weather folks had nailed this one. Where I live we got over 2 feet of the white stuff. Several times I went out there to shove snow off the old overhang over the back door so it wouldn't snap off. I have to say, I'm grateful our old house is well built. It weathered the storm beautifully. 

Saturday morning at 7:30 a.m. was one gray morning. The day remained gray and forbidding. My wife and I were happy to stay inside watching hapless news people stand out in rising snow and water (inland or shore) with yardsticks and wind burn. At the height of ridiculousness, the news team in the studio asked the reporter and his driver to try to interview people walking in the street afterwards to burn up extra time. Several times the reporter tried to end the interview and several times he was asked again to interview someone who just wanted to get about his or her business. 

Sharing our gratitude "God bless the kind
soul(s) who shoveled so much of this walk!" 
Sunday I was quite grateful to find a neighbor had shoveled a lot of my walk. By Monday a neighbor with a snow blower (a really big one) had come through and widened the trenches into actual sidewalks (thanks again). Showed my appreciation by mocking up a quick sign on an old, brittle piece of Plexiglas (that stuff really cuts into a pile of snow, let me tell you)! Being able to express gratitude to others (rather than whining about children not being out shoveling for you on Facebook) was a real uplifting experience. I hope those who helped got the message. 

We were far luckier than some. There were deaths in this blizzard up and down the East Coast. We had none. There was lots of property damage. We were spared. The city workers have been keeping the plows out day and night. They did a great job on our street yesterday, even clearing snow out in front of the driveway, something I expected to have to do today. I'm grateful. 

Snow trenches for sidewalks
All in all, Jonas left us with a full season's worth of snow, canceled church, closed businesses and schools, but left us individually largely unscathed. We pray for all those who were not so lucky. 

With the sun shining and blue skies out today, one thing to remember when the crises hit is that they do pass. There is calm after the storm, sun after the snow, neighbors helping each other cope, and much more socializing than usual as we all get out to look around after it's done. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

J.S. Brooks Top 10 Posts of December 2015

Here are the most popular posts of the last month, that rang out the old year.

From least to most popular (follow the links right to the articles:

1. Do NOT Let Work Rob You of Your Joy in 2016
2. Power of Diversity:
3. Technology Changing Our Surroundings (or What I Discovered at the Airport):
4. Filet of Soul in Downingtown, PA -- A Treasure (It really is, stop in if you are anywhere in the area!):
5. Resetting the Clock on Your Toyota Yaris (Ever practical):
6. Top 12 Blog Sites of 2014:
7. Turning Off the 2009 Toyota Yaris Maintenance Required Light (a hugely popular article among Toyota Yaris owners):
8. Skewering Pomp and Title (From the novel Master and Commander):
9. 10 Steps to Stress Reduction (Ever practical and needed):

And ... drum roll please ... the most popular post of December 2015 was ...

10. Toyota Yaris: Finding Your Jack and Tire Pressure Information:

Now, on with 2016!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Refusing to Remain Silent in Face of Politics of Hate

The world is currently awash in the politics of racial stereotypes, race hatred and fear. I refuse to sit idly by while minority groups of all sorts are tarred for the political advantage of one bigoted candidate or another. I refuse to remain silent and civil while media outlets better described as propaganda machines spew this hatred and these lies for no better reason than to gain a ratings advantage and a bigger share of the blood money pie. This tactic has long been with us. Sadly, this is so because it is so effective among the most fearful people.

I despise watching a political rally descend into a hate-fest that turns violent when anyone has the "temerity" to have a different point of view. I am appalled at the fact that in some cases physical abuse has been heaped upon such demonstrators standing up for their minority group against the lying racial stereotypes presented against them. I'm sick of the results in which bigots feel empowered to spread their hatred as a result.

I will never vote for any candidate who would stoop so low. They have taken an evil path and we must not follow them down that road. To do so leads to ever increasing violence ... and eventually to dirty bloody hands yourself, eventually wondering how you ever reached such a low point or did such an awful thing.

Looking back on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Letter From a Birmingham Jail, in which he rakes moderate pastors over the coals for not standing up against violence against African-Americans, what he says applies to all of us today. Two examples of Rev. Dr. King, Jr.'s complaints are powerful and relevant today:
You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative. 
You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.
I highly recommend you read the entire letter here:

Do not sit idly by, trying to be civil, while hateful lies are spread, while bigotry runs rampant in the US and around the globe. Let's stop the next round of bloody, bigoted hatred in its tracks now! Do not be silenced by the loud, strident, attacking voices will rise against you. Stand up for those under attack and demand this evil come to a halt.

Another site you might visit is Journal for Preachers and see that over 2400 Christian theologians and pastors are calling for this kind of hate speech, followed by violence, to stop. See:

Thursday, January 7, 2016

What Gains Respect?

Let's look at a standard definition: respect: a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

Respect is something that is earned. You cannot simply apply something, strap an object to your hip, or buy something and have respect garnered for you by others. If you want respect in your community, find ways to work with others. Find ways to reach out a helping hand. Go the extra mile for a suffering individual or group in your community. Stand up publicly for people who are being downtrodden or who society at large has written off. Assist the poor, befriend the outcast, work with the sick, the weak, with those who cannot defend themselves. Work with your family and friends to create civil society, which begins at home. All of these things, plus a generous spirit, a strong sense of humor, and great hope will, in time, allow you to earn the respect of others.

I was surprised the other day to hear an open carry enthusiast state that a gun on the hip would gain him the respect of his community. I'm sorry, that is not so. Carrying around a means of self defense that may cause great harm to you or others, when others do not know you, your training, or your intent ... and definitely not your mood or sanity on any given day ... is far more likely to garner you suspicion or fear or resentment ... or have you facing the gun of a criminal who appreciates the gun you are carrying and wants it for himself (this happened the other day). Again, respect must be earned. Respect comes through service, where one shows one's qualities and abilities. People will appreciate the achievements you gain on their behalf. That's real respect.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Blog Style Influenced by Hee Haw! Who Knew? The Five Minute Response

I had the privilege of hearing an NPR interview with Roy Clarke, one of the a pickin' and a grinnin' stars of the long-lived Hee Haw TV show. He admitted he never expected the country humor filled variety show to last. Further, he stated that if you didn't like what you were seeing, just wait a minute and you'd see something completely different.

This blog reflects both that feeling and that philosophy. Thanks Hee Haw for the improbable template. This thing is nowhere near as popular, but I'm having fun, so that works. Congrats on all those years of countrified goofiness.

And that's the five minute response.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Competition: Talk to People Face to Face in 2016

Ready, set, LISTEN! Would you
be willing to meet THIS guy?
J.S. Brooks Presents provides a year-long challenge for everyone (pass it on). This year, 2016, toss aside memes and their skewed take on reality, pitch what social media tells you is happening, and overlook what the pundits have to say. Instead, make this the year of talking and listening to other people personally, face to face (radical stuff in an election year, I know), wherever and whenever you encounter them. Don't let someone else's agenda color how you see folks. Take the time when opportunity presents itself to ask people questions and find out about their lives, their hopes, dreams, struggles, and fears. If you can, break bread with them (religious talk for taking a coffee break by the way ... I've just given away a deep dark secret), get something to eat and something hot to drink (for some reason we are more apt to feel good about others when we are holding hot drinks, go figure). I had the chance to ask a dentist once why he did what he did. It was fascinating. He was a craftsman who liked to work with his hands. My filling became his artisan handiwork made just for me.

My daughter tells me my call to ministry has changed me, a lot. She says, before I went into this vocation (that means it takes up more of your life than a 9 to 5 job ... more secrets revealed) I kept to myself. Now, she states, "You'll talk to anyone!" Sure enough, over Christmas I spent time talking with and helping a homeless man. I was startled when offering to pray for him and we prayed for each other (he was darned good at it by the way) and then he sang some wonderful hymns he had created from Bible verses he had read. A few days ago, I got caught up in a conversation with a restaurant owning, operating couple and discovered how their lives, faith, and work were intertwined. You can learn a lot when you are curious, willing to listen, and not ready to write people off based on what others have told you they are like.

Let 2016 be the year of personal discovery. At the end of the year, send me the best of your experiences in the comments. I'll give the coveted digital NO award to the very best of them. Let the games begin. Let the year of getting to know others personally and without agenda and without fear or anger truly begin! Share this far and wide. Let's make face to face conversation (more listening than speaking ... and no pontificating please) a global phenomenon in 2016!

To discover what I learned from the restaurant owners, see:

To understand why appreciating the diversity of people all around us (rather than fearing them) is important, see:

Do NOT Let Work Rob You of Your Joy in 2016

My wife an I were at a party with friends last night. I got talking with a school teacher buddy I know through my wife's theater work and we discovered we had something serious in common. Both of us, in the last year, had made the mistake of letting our work pretty much eat our lives whole. Both of us realized we had dropped the personal entertainments that gave us joy in favor of longer work hours. Both of us had suffered physically as a result. Stress can and will make a person sick. Is it the body's desperate plea for help, a call to cease and desist before things get really bad.

We both agreed in 2016 to do better. We both will be making concerted efforts to do those things with family and friends, and in solo projects, that bring us peace and give us joy. Note how few blog posts there are in 2015 for J.S. Brooks Presents, the lowest number since I started this endeavor. That will change, along with time spent at the gym (significant drop), and time with family and in personal entertainment. Having a date night with my wife in which we had dinner and watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a great start. More will follow soon ... along with more reasonable hours spent at the office and on the computer at home doing office related work. That's my resolution for 2016. After one stress-induced painful night spent in a recliner with the TV on low because I couldn't lie flat, I've learned my lesson. I fully intend to keep this resolution. How about you? 

LED Flashlight for Wolf Spider Safari

Equipped only with an LED headlamp (straps to forehead) or a flashlight, you are ready for a backyard safari. Put the lamp on your head or the flashlight up at eye height and aim it out into the yard. Look toward the edge of the light. Scan the lamp very slowly across the yard. Little green emerald glints will shine back at you. Move in carefully for a close inspection. Following that green glint in you'll have a close encounter with a mighty hunter of the insect world, the wolf spider. The emerald green glow is the predator's eye reflecting that LED light back at you. If you are patient, you'll soon find your yard is well populated with these sedentary, patient predators. They wait silently, motionlessly beside their holes for prey insects to wander into their range.
Reflective eyes

Note that when you approach, these spiders do not run from you. They are hunting. You are not prey. You are not important. This is serious business. Once you've spotted them, leave them to their business and find the next predator.

My brother and his family clued me into this activity. The neighbors have gotten used to them ranging through the neighborhood, checking fields and yards for the glint of not only wolf spiders, but also other nocturnal creatures hidden beneath logs and in small garden walls. The night is full of life if you know how to look for it. Happy safari ... and take only memories or photos. Leave the creatures to live out their lives and their own dramas. Enjoy.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Gene's Beer Garden, Morgantown, WV

For excellent chili dogs (the website claims they are the best in Morgantown and who am I to argue) and 13 different beers to try, head on over to Gene's Beer Garden at 461 Wilson Avenue, Morgantown, WV, for a bar with unique ambiance that was first established in 1944.

It is very much the local bar, friendly, with regulars coming and going, along with those in the know who come by, or more likely are brought by at the insistence of regulars, that both shows it has been around a long time but also features large screen television for sports events and a stage on which great live bands play regularly. If you are so inclined, you can also get non-alcoholic beverages as well. Head on down to the Greenmont neighborhood of Morgantown and give Gene's a try. You may become a regular yourself.

For more, see:

Power of Diversity

For Christmas, I received the book Jim Henson and Philosophy: Imagination and the Magic of Mayhem. In the early chapter, "Muppets, Monsters, and Misfits" I found some wonderful reasoning by Jim Henson for promoting diversity in our society (a society seemingly rebelling against diversity and demanding conformity in worryingly large numbers). Let me quote for your consideration:

Jim Henson's productions promote diversity in society for three basic reasons. First, diversity makes life more interesting, unpredictable, and enjoyable. Second, diversity allows us to ensure that we are not excluding people unjustly from our communities. Third, including a diversity of voices is more likely to result in a productive conversation. For all these reasons, Henson's philosophy of diversity requires that we recognize that it is good when we are different from those around us, and when society contains within it many different people.

In 2016, let's work for that increased diversity. Let's look for all the color that comes from different ideas, perspectives, and experiences shared civilly that make our world more interesting, inclusive, and productive. Let's stop demanding black and white, with us or against us responses from others. Let's stop choosing sides and creating division which leads to violence and fear. In essence, let's be more like Muppets. 

Walking Neighborhoods Brings Surprises

It pays to get out and about on foot with an active curiosity. Walking through neighborhoods brings out details readily missed during any drive by experience. For instance, in one historical community I walked recently (magnificent architecture in many homes across many decades by the way) I came across one family with a small flock of hens. Hens are curious creatures by nature and were as interested in meeting me as I was in meeting them. Further down another street, I came across this "Cow House," well known in the neighborhood. Aside from the black and white paint job around the base and railings, all other cow features were attached to railings and protrusions in easily removable fashion sure not to devalue an old house (quite clever). I understand people who find the house have been prone to "drive by mooings!"

In other neighborhoods, I've discovered things were not as they seemed. Large and stately homes that looked like individual residences of the well-to-do were actually broken up into apartments. This was not evident driving past, but on foot the many mailboxes were quickly apparent. I highly recommend this exercise in your area. Who knows what you'll discover?  

Enjoying Beauty Wherever It May Be Found

Or in this case, whenever. Our dog, Daisy, the beagle, is now a venerable 15 years old. As such, she often needs to go out at earlier hours than we would like. While visiting family in the mountains, she and I needed to make a 3 in the morning trip outside. There I saw the lights of the city twinkling in the valley below us. It was a beautiful site that without Daisy's aging bladder and the right frame of mind I would have missed or never appreciated.

I wonder how often, wrapped up in the minutia of our lives, our schedules, and our emotions, we miss the beauty of the world around us, both natural and human-created? I'm trying to spend a little more time in appreciation of all that is around me, whenever I can. Hoping 2016 will be full of beautiful moments for you. 

Thinking About the New Year Ahead

Happy New Year to you all. I deeply hope that 2016 will have more positive than negative experiences in store for us all.

Heading for family on Christmas afternoon, we drove down a beautiful mountain valley between two soft and ancient ridges. The mountains were largely obscured by rising fog. Our surroundings came and went in a dream-like manner. It was very quiet in that soft landscape and it seemed to reflect life as we so often live it. We know the general outline of what lies ahead, we are fairly certain of what lies around us, and we remember where we have come from. However, we are not entirely clear on the details, nor can we ever be with certainty. We move forward in faith, believing the road will continue to appear uninterrupted out of the mist and that other drivers will be taking as much care as we are as we move forward, eager to avoid accidents along the way. Faith keeps us moving when our senses find details lacking. Family (I was traveling with my whole nuclear family, which was a real blessing and treat) gives us the strength, support, and boldness to keep moving on if we are lucky. Our community and society helps with the heavy lifting needed to keep the road safely intact. Together we move forward through the fog of life. Together we make the journey far sweeter than it would be alone.

Wishing you all the best in this new year, whatever may come.

The original image ...
Suggestions for a better 2016: and

Filet of Soul Restaurant in Downingtown, PA,--a Treasure

If you are anywhere near Downingtown, Pennsylvania, you need to stop by Filet of Soul, a self-described Caribbean/Soul Food restaurant. Be aware, you'll need some time. While the setting is relaxed, this is not fast food. It is cooked with great care and love. It should be lingered over with the same attention and affection.

You'll find this gem at 3911 W. Lincoln Highway, Downingtown, PA, and you can call 484-364-4705 if need be. Food can be eaten at the restaurant or taken home. If you choose to dine at the restaurant, take time to enjoy the colorful artwork lining the walls. Most has been done by local children supervised by a successful local artist.

Of course, you want to know about the food, which is the star of the show. I had the barbeque ribs (did I not yet mention they serve delicious barbeque ... silly me) with sides of collard greens and Southern sweet baked beans. Our son had the Southern fried chicken with red velvet waffles. My wife enjoyed the spicy Caribbean chicken. We all had sides that were wonderful and the entrees were fantastic, one and all. You know the food is good when after a single bite, you're asking each of your fellow diners if they want a taste (we all did and all three dishes were superb). The chicken pieces were also absolutely huge (mighty chickens they were indeed) and I could not have asked for meatier, nor more tender, ribs.

The three of us left completely satisfied, having spent less than $55 (minus tip). One take home box was required.

That is enough right there to bring you in for sure. However, I had the privilege to speak with the owners (luckily for us New Year's Eve was a slow night there ... we were brought in by a flight delay for our son's return home and that turned out well for us). I can recommend Terry and Lisa, the husband and wife team of hands-on proprietors, even further for their big hearts and love of community. Both are Christians who live out the Word daily. Not only do Tracy and Lisa create and serve wonderful food in a warm and welcoming atmosphere, they also work with at risk children, offer up a women's Bible study on Sundays, and are looking to feed low income elders soon. As a pastor myself, I was quite pleased with the HOPE candles and the soft gospel music in the background. Lisa was wearing a tee-shirt with a single word across the front in all caps "SERVE." It summed up well what drives both Tracy and Lisa in all that they do.

If you wish to learn more about Filet of Soul, see their website at: You will not regret it.