Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Kid words

I love the way the minds of little kids chooses to express themselves. Last night the kids talked me into going to the community pool. Noah and Eve got into a belly-flop contest that lasted for about 20 minutes. At one point Eve tells me, "I feel like a cross between a fish and mermaid." Dad stops to scratch his head for minute. She didn't say she felt like a mermaid. Nor did she say she felt like a cross between a fish and person. I can only conclude that she was trying to describe a feeling about halfway between being a mermaid and being a complete fish. Anyway, I got a real kick out of her choice of words.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Cool yet Creepy too

Being the geek that I am I think the internet is really cool. Since I spend my days designing systems that will bring the internet to your house faster and faster I hope that everybody thinks that the internet is really cool too. Occasionally I will find a new feature or program that is both really, really kewl and yet more than a little creepy. Case in point is Google's new feature street view. The brains at the Googleplex have paid people to drive cars around major metro areas and take 360 degree pictures and record the GPS location of each picture. They then integrated this info into their Google.maps program. Now you can pick any spot on the road and get a 360 degree view of the road as if you were standing at the curb. Pretty cool huh. Much of my work involves driving to a site to look at our facilities to very minor details, like how far away is that pole from the driveway? or is there enough room on that pole for another piece of equipment? I was eagerly awaiting google's roll out of this feature in the Atlanta area. It has already saved me a few hours of travel time to verify these types of details.
Now for the creepy side of the story. Take a look at this picture. Just for giggles I decided to check my on house to see what the picture showed. Apparently my 5-year-old waited patently to cross the street when our road was photographed. I don't think there is anything at all sinister about what happened. She just was there when the picture was taken. Still, some stranger drove down my street, took a picture of my 5-year-old, and then posted it on the internet with a link to her approximate address.
Apparently, I'm not the only one bothered by this. I don't think they broke any laws. And I'm not going to demand that the picture be removed. As her father I just got a little bit of a knee jerk reaction when I saw it. Since the initial roll out google has made an effort to obscure faces and they will eventually remove all people from the images. I'm just going to take this as another opportunity to review with the kids our rules about strangers.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tough Decisions

I'd like to share a rather bittersweet event that happened last night.

Aaron and I attended the scout meeting for another troop. Troop 129 has been chartered for over 50 years and is a very well run program. We showed up last night primarily as observers. They introduced us both and then just went about their normal meeting. I was impressed at how little the adults did. The boys were clearly in charge. And it wasn't just token leadership for a few minutes until they turned the time over to an adult. Besides about 5 minutes worth of announcements the adults were not involved at all.
They guys had just gotten back from Summer camp and they also had another group off at Florida Sea base so there was only about 20 scouts there. The patrols are not sorted by age. I really like that. The younger guys can learn a lot from their elder scouts in the same patrol. It also makes inter-patrol activities a lot more level than having all the 12-13 year-olds in one patrol, the 14-15 year-olds in another and the 16-17 year-olds in a third. Yes, you heard that correctly. They have boys active in the program right up until their 18th birthday. Last night they even had an 18 year old alumni visit from college. He was looking for some assistance to go help do some up keep on his Eagle project.
I spent about 30 minutes talking with their scoutmaster about the troop and the boys' plan for the the next couple of years. It was refreshing to hear him frequently refrain from telling me what they were going to be doing just yet. You see they have a PLC, a boy lead planning meeting, on Thursday and until then he doesn't really know what the boys will be planning for next year. It really is up to them. After that meeting he will take their plans to the committee and see what assistance they may need from the adults. This is how the program is supposed to work. And it has been working very well at this troop for decades.
So by now you may be wondering why I said it was a bittersweet event for me. You see part of me feels like switching to a clearly superior troop would be throwing in the towel on my current troop. Aaron and I have had several conflicts recently with the way the LDS church administers the scouting program. Far too much of the program is dictated from the top down. The SPL must be the deacons' quorum president which means it's an appointed position rather than an elected one. I ask you, whom do you respect more, the leader you elected or the the one that was appointed to govern over you? We've also had a few instances where the boys' plan was deliberately overridden for no real reason at all. We were just told to follow the directives of our Stake leaders. This is fine in any other situation, but it simply isn't the scouting program. These issues would be bearable if it were not for the fact that the church has turned a voluntary organization into a compulsory activity. Some of the boys Aaron's age would never have any interest in Scouting were it not for the church requiring it. There's nothing wrong with that at all. They may fit in just fine in school sports programs or other activities. Many of the same leadership and teamwork skills taught in scouting are also taught equally well in these other venues. Not coincidentally, these are the very same boys with whom we have the hardest problems. They simply are attending because the church and their parent make them. Personally, I think it's a waste of their time and it degrades the program for those that really want to attend because the enjoy Scouting.
Another part of me really hates to give up on the other boys in the troop who are enjoying Scouting. There are about five that would continue to attend and enjoy it even if the church stopped making it compulsory. I've grown to love them all, even the ones that don't want to be there. I've just grown weary of the constant struggle to do it the way Baden Powell set it out and the way the church wants us to do it. There are just too many conflicts.
Fortunately, the other troop meets on Tuesdays and my troop on Wednesdays. I will likely bring Aaron to 129 on Tuesdays and work behind the scenes at that troop, while still maintaining my Scoutmaster position at 519. That is at least until the church decides that somebody else needs to take the reigns for a while. As difficult as it is to work with, I've made a commitment to these boys in 519. I'll continue to struggle to make it work for those few boys that still want it to work.

More Non-Sequitor

Friday, June 13, 2008

Boy Scouts of America

The Boy Scouts of America is a great organization. When Baden Powell first printed his “Guide to Scouting” boys began taking the book, creating patrols and troops and going out and enjoying the woods. They did this with NO adult leaders. Powell realized that if he wanted to expand what he had created he would have to make a few changes. There had to be some adult guidance. However, the leadership, planning and organization had to stay with the boys. I am tired of dealing with people, boys and adults, who do not have the courage to let these boys lead.
Yesterday after a training session on how the program was supposed to be run I had several confrontations with boys who would not accept the decisions and authority of their youth leaders and also with adults who would not surrender their illusion of control. As typical in these confrontations the manner in which I confronted the offenders became the topic of conversation. It’s a valid discussion and something I’m consciously working to improve. However, I will not let the authority of these boys be usurped. I did find it interesting that in both instances yesterday the youth leadership got what they had planned from the beginning anyway. Once the adults were pulled aside to talk about “my” behavior, the youth did just fine.
I love the Scouting program. Accept for a few years as an adult I have been involved in the program continuously since I was 8-years old. I have supported the program financially and given thousands of hours to the program. I will continue to support the program as long as I am physically and financially able. But right now I’m just exhausted. Not from the seven days at camp, but from the constant struggle to get people to listen to and obey their youth leaders.

“If they are not utilizing the Patrol Method it is not Scouting”
Baden Powell

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Half Mast

Several times in my life I have seen the American flag flown at half mast. Never before have I watched a flag be lowered to half mast and it has had such an impact on me. Yesterday a tornado tore through a Boy Scout camp in Iowa killing four. This morning for our opening ceremony at camp the flags were all lowered to half mast in memory of those fellow scouts who lost their lives yesterday. When I was a boy I had a terrifying night at a scout camp when a tornado was sighted in the area. I can only imagine how these scouts must have felt yesterday. My heart goes out to the families of all involved in yesterday's tragedy.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tuesday at camp

Well, as I expected, Victoria has already started to scrapbook pictures that she hasn't even seen and in most cases I haven't even taken. So I've been given a detailed list of subjects, camera angles, exposures and f-stops. I'll do my best to get her order filled. I'm sure she already has the pages already laid out and just needs to plug in the pictures.
The boys are getting into the routine and things are going smoothly. Most of the troop is training for the mile swim. They're all great swimmers so they'll do just fine. the catch is the staff makes them get up every morning at 6:00am to train for 45 minutes before they go to breakfast. The big plus to this is that, unlike Saturday night, they all turn in around 10:00pm and don't make too much noise at night.
We got a pleasant surprise before dinner last night. Terry Heaton showed up to spend the night with us. He made quick friends of the troop due his his pan of home-made brownies. It was good to have some parent support for a night. His work schedule would only let him come up for a few hours, but his timing was perfect. Bill had forgotten some of his alergy medication and had to run into town. Terry was able to help me maintain two-deep leadership while he was gone. And Terry and I got to reminisce about the "good old days" when he was a newlywed in the Tucker Ward and I was just a deacon. Thank you Terry.
I'm sitting here right now waiting for my clothes to finish drying at the laundry. I could go back to camp and come back later but my hat in in the dryer and the sun is pretty bright right now.
Stay tuned for further adventures...

Monday, June 09, 2008

Monday at camp

Well the first day and a half was a little awkward for some of the boys but now that classes have started up things are settling down a little bit. This just reinforces my opinion that more structure is better; they actually enjoy it.
The camp is much better than last year. The cabins have been rebuilt and they didn't over-book it like last year either.
Aaron is doing a great job in his role as Senior Patrol Leader. It's hard in a situation that just involves the troop to inphasize that the boys are truly in charge. Up here at camp they totally rely on the boys to handle things. I went to a Senior Patrol Leaders Meeting and I was told that I could observe but that adults were not to participate. It's really good to see it run like it's supposed to be.
One of the jobs of an SPL is to assign duties for various camp tasks. One of the tasks is waiter. YOu have to set the tables up and help get the dining hall ready. Aaron always assigns himself to help as a waiter. First, because he thinks it'll be easier to ask other folks to do it if he's shown that he's willing to "mop up after them", literally. But it's not all self sacrifice. While they're setting the table and cleaning up, the waiters get to spend 15 to 20 minutes extra in the air-conditioning while the rest are just waiting in line outside.
One of the older boys who came to camp this year is very close to his Eagle. He just needs to finish a few merit badges and then a project. I could easily see him finishing by next summer. Walking home from the campfire last night, another leader and I gave him a lot of ideas. It turns out he hasn't had any real support from his official Varsity Team leaders. He didn't have even a basic idea of what the Eagle project was about. I made sure that this young man knew that I would always be willing to assist him towards his Eagle. He's going to be coming up to our campsite for one of his class hours just to discuss and plan his project and the write up. He's a good kid and I really enjoy helping him through the process.
When everything is flowing properly, I have a fair amount of free time. I've been catching up on my reading and practicing my guitar. In spite of the extra stress of having responsibility over 13 boys, most of my day has been rather relaxing.
I miss my wife and the three of my kids that didn't come up with me. She's holding down the fort pretty well while I keep track of these guys.
I'll blog again when I get a chance. Here are a few pictures of the guys.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Quest for Mediocrity

This is going to be my new mantra. No more will I strive to do my best or anything else like that. From now on I'm going to just strive to get by. Whatever the absolute minimum I can do to still eek it out, that's the path I'm going to take. I'm just tired of going the extra mile, going for the gold, and giving it my all. I mean why should I go an extra mile when most people are content to just do the least amount of work they can without getting fired? Doesn't an extra mile put you past your goal? That's just nonsense. And as far as that "going for the gold" thing, what's wrong with just enjoying the friendly competition no matter who wins what award, if any at all? And why should I give it my all when people don't really complain for too long when I just give 76%?. 76 is a C right? Or is it a D? Either way that's passing, right?
Those overachiever nuts are just wierd. They expect you to show up on time, follow the rules, turn in your assignments on time, magnify you calling and actually be productive. What a bunch of zealots. They've lost my support. They're just weird.
Besides my personal quest for mediocrity, from now on I'm going to demand it in others too. If I walk into an Arby's and see a 99% on their last health deparment inspection I'm walking staight outta there, that place is probably run by an overachieving wierdo who makes his employees tuck in their shirts, comb their hair and actually wear the Arby's uniform. The Taco Bell across the street probably only got something in the low 80s, and they use lower grade beef than Arby's. They let their employees wear jeans too. Oh and that artificially processed American cheese stuff they use for the nachos is pretty nasty too. Oh yeah! Mediocrity here I come. "Hey you there in the cut-offs and the bad attitude. I'll have a number one please. And be sure to break the shell at the bottom so all the meat falls out when I pick it up."
What is it with baseball teams having like 30 something players on their roster? They only need nine. Right? You can play the game with nine. Why do they need folks warming up the bench doing nothing. Most of those players could be doing other things so why even make them show up.
I have a 6-month performance review coming up next week. I'm gonna start it off by asking, "What's the least amount of work I can do for you in the next year and still keep my job? I'm not looking to distinguish myself here. I just want to barely get by." He may not take it so well. After all he is my boss and that more than likely puts him in that over-achiever group. I'll let you know how it goes.
As I drive home from work today I'm gonna do my best to weave back and forth in the lane as much as possible, but not enough that the cops think I'm drunk. As long as I'm on that subject what is legally drunk anyway? I need to figure out exactly how many beers I can drink to be just under the legal limit. I think more people need to be riding that line of just barely acceptable behavior.
If anything should go wrong on my little mediocrity experiment I'll just look through the phone book and try to find the guy who just barely passed law school. I need somebody who shares my quest for mediocrity philosophy to represent me.
Now that I think about it, I've been spending far too much time with my family too. That'll have to stop. What do mediocre people do rather than go to pre-K dance recitals, drama club plays, cub scout day camps and serve as scoutmasters? I'm gonna have to break down and get cable. Sports packages. I'm cutting up my library card too. I'm gonna start memorizing sports stats, but not too many. I don't want to stick out as the guy who knows too much about sports.
Whew! I jsut had to stop myself. I almost spell checked this post. No more of that. Now's when I would normally start thinking about writing a concise conclusion to this post. However, mediocre people would probably just stop typing.

(6-10-2008 comments)
Just to clarify; I don't really feel this way. I'm just sick and tired of having to deal with people who really do have this philosophy.)

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Violent Imagery

The English language is loaded with violent imagery to describe thing that in reality aren't violent at all, or at least shouldn't be. At work that talk about being "at war" with our competition. People talk about winning a debate with a "knock out" argument. The news reports on the "fatal blow" to a candidate's campaign. Even the term "campaign" has military overtones. These references have always annoyed me.
I've done my best to avoid them, but didn't take them too seriously. I just wrote it off as my own hyper-sensitivity against violence. However, lately some events are convincing me that all too frequently the violent imagery we use is not only annoying it is counter productive to the message that is being conveyed.
One Sunday, while attempting to describe all the struggles that young people are faced with each day a good friend related a story about the Battle of the Bulge. The soldiers were surrounded but the general convinced them they could fight this battle on all sides. He compared their struggles to avoid pornography, bad language, drugs, etc. to a battle being waged on multiple front. At face value I saw nothing wrong with this. That is until one young man stood up and, pretending to hold a machine gun, began facing each of us in the room and saying, "rattta-tat-tat-tat!" The whole point of the lesson was immediately derailed and turned into a chance for him to play war. The metaphor not only lost its meaning it was counter-productive. Otherwise it was a great lesson. But at least one of the students will walk away thinking that the Battle of the Bulge was the topic and not the metaphor used to visualize the topic.
I really dislike the story of the stripling warriors in the Book of Mormon. I just don't see the point of it. The whole reason they went to fight in the first place was because their fathers had developed such unconditional Christ-like love that they never wanted to fight again. They would rather die themselves than deny their enemy the chance to repent. This is my goal. I hope to be able to develop this type of love and this fathers are the true heroes of the story, not the military leader who persuaded a bunch of kids to go against their fathers' wishes.
I recently received a devotional packet that I'm expected to use while at summer camp. I've always done my best to stick to the program that I've been given and support my leaders. One day next week is going to be exceptionally difficult. They want me to teach the story of Capitan Moroni. Not only that they have embellished the scriptural account by referring to the enemy as highly trained "ninjas" and provided additional gory imagery of what battle would have been like with swords. Obviously this was in order to appeal to the young men. My concern is that the focus will again be lost, just as it after the Battle of the Bulge reference. Rather than focus of the concept of standing up for what is right they will take away a message that we need to fight away the ninjas. I'm sure that if I stick to the script more than one of the boys will turn the next stick they see into a sword and start swinging. Hey, I enjoy playing with sticks this way too, but not at the expense of learning to live a better life. I will do my best to teach the boys to stand up for what is right and resist what they know to be wrong. Outside of that, I don't think I'll be able to stick to their modern rewrite of Helaman too well.
A few years ago a friend was teaching an Elder's quorum lesson. He brought up the word "jihad". Most were shocked that he would even bring it up. The non-Muslim connotation of this word is typically something like "kill the infidel". And when Arabs holding guns over their head are chanting it it's easy to see why. However, all the word really means in Arabic is simply "struggle". Struggle? Personally, that's a much better word to describe what I'm going through than fight, battle, war or any other violent imagery. In that aspect aren't we all struggling to live a better life and to make this world a better place? In this tone I will continue to fight struggle to be a better person and remove these violent imagery from my thoughts and words.

Some if this post was inspired by a journal entry of my father's. My intent was not to plagiraize, but to echo his sentiments and to thank him for his example.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


There's an old metaphor that gets used a lot to explain the difference between involvement and commitment. You need look no further than your morning breakfast of milk, bacon and eggs. The cow and the chicken were involved in providing the milk and the eggs, but the pig was committed to provide the bacon.

Last month my youngest played the cat in her preschool class's production of "The Little Red Hen". You know the story. The hen looks all over town to find some help to make some bread but nobody is willing to sacrifice anything to make it happen. Yet when the bread is done they all want to take part in the feast. It's amazing how timeless some of this fables actually are. I think I've had to face this situation much more as an adult than I ever did as a child.
Lately I've been dealing with a lot of people who haven't even been willing to provide milk or eggs or help at all in baking the bread and it's very frustrating. They don't even come close to the Pigs level of commitment. Yet I'm sure that some of these same people will be the ones knocking on the door to participate once the aroma of the bread starts wafting out the windows.
Perhaps they all should have paid a little bit more attention when they were in preschool. Or maybe they just need to have a 5 year old tell them the story.