Monday, May 30, 2011

Non Pacificum

Coming to terms with war, memorial day, & freedom

Non Pacificum
To my grandfathers:

Splashing shoreward on a tropical beach
the green Pacific reflecting blue sky
tall bay trees and palms up toward heaven reach
all lost on the men who came here to die.

The bullets hit before their sound can come.
The mortars raise shrapnel, smoke and dirt.
The weight of the pack, wet boots and the gun
cannot slow them down, or else they'll get hurt.

Cheverolet, and Mom and good apple pie
are the furthest things from these soldiers' thoughts
which are slog and shoot and duck and don't die
and fire and cover and keep what we've bought.

So we should keep it, for it was bought dear.
We would be cowards to sell it for fear.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Open Source Video Editing

Coming to terms with, open source, video editing, creative commons

I love open source tools. Even if you never read my blog at the previous site, any of my new readers since the move (thank you!) should have ascertained this by now. I have a tendency to wax almost hagiographic in my love of both the philosophy behind open source and the tools that we are given from the open source community. We've probably all heard about how Apple users have a religious experience with Apple imagery. I probably experience something similar when I see Tux or a picture of a Gnu.

Part of that is a somewhat selective view of the world. We all do this. When something doesn't correspond to our preconceived notions, we tend to explain it away, rather than explaining aways our notions. In communication studies, we call this "selective distortion." It allows us to live in a world that is constantly not measuring up to expectations. Without this technique, we tend to fall into despair.

I experienced this phenomena in one area, and that has been video editing. Don't get me wrong. There are some truly awesome open source video editors out there. Cinnerella is a powerful tool for professional movie makers. For the novice, however, it is about as user friendly as a wild walrus. Avidemux is better, because they have a massive online user manual, and in only a few years of research, it is understandable and usable. What if I don't want to go out and get an internship in movie production, but I want to make cute little videos for the web?

There are actually quite a few open source video editors that are available for the casual user. The Ubuntu system ships with PiTiVi. I've used it and it is stable and always works. Unfortunately, all it can do is string clips together. There is no panning, no effects, no transitions, nothing. In other words, it works, but not to do anything interesting. Kino has all of these features, but it constantly crashes and interferes with every other operation one is doing. It is hard to figure out where your stuff is in the story-board. I made a couple videos with Kino, but I tried to make many more. They crash.

So, what is an open source user to do? I am embarrassed to admit this, but since my job almost always gives me access to a Windows computer, I use Movie Maker most of the time. Other times, I will go to one of the mac labs we have at work and use iMovie. I honestly feel, in admitting this, like I felt when I told my pastor I sometimes go to the Episcopal church on Ash Wednesday because I like to get the ashes and our tradition doesn't do that. Luckily, I have found an answer.

I created the following video using an open source tool I recently found: Openshot Video Editor. It is a great tool for the casual user. It is every bit as good as Movie Maker, for Windows. No, it is not i-movie, and when I really need to do something a bit better, a video presentation for colleagues, for instance, off I will go to find a Mac.

As you have seen this is just a bunch of still pictures. The main point was to show the effects and transitions available. This is a pretty good tool.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Does God get what he wants?

Coming to terms with predestination, free will

Is there a Reason?

My wife and I would like to have a baby. Sometimes, especially when we are looking at our budget, enjoying quiet time alone or trying to figure out how to schedule our busy lives, I think I am nuts to want the expense and complication of a child. Sometimes when I watch the news or even walk downtown, I question whether it is really wise to bring a child into this messed up world. Still, it is what we want. It is a desire of our hearts, especially of my wife's heart.

Unfortunately, the heart is not the only anatomical member with a say on the subject. Certain health complications have made conception difficult and we haven't been able to get there. We don't have the money at this point for the expensive treatments that could increase our chances and that financial lack also produces difficulties in adoption. So, for now, we have only our pets for which to care.

This has not been easy for us, but I know people for whom it is worse. We have not been able to conceive. There are a number of couples I have known for whom conception has been relatively easy, but they have been unable to carry a child to term. I witness their pain, but I know it is far beyond my comprehension. The devastation in their lives is really awful. Yet, so often I hear them say, or people say to them, that all this has happened for a reason; that this is somehow all a part of God's plan.

I know how people arrive at this conclusion, but I need to argue against it. God did not kill those babies. He did not do it so that you'd be stronger or be a better parent when He finally let you have a child. He did not do it because he needed a soul (that is a creepy thing I've heard too often). He also is not striking folks with cancer (or even a common cold) to make them better people. He did not make planes fly into the World Trade Center on 9/11/01. Not everything happens "for a reason" and even those things that do happen "for a reason" the reason is not always because God willed it.

Things happen that God doesn't want.

Understanding the basic concept that somethings happen that God doesn't want is the first intellectual hurdle one must jump in order to get to the place where we stop saying "everything happens for a reason." On one hand, it is fairly obvious from scripture. We know that "God is not willing that any should perish" (II Peter 3:9) on one hand, but on the other hand "small is the gate and narrow is the way that leads to life and only a few find it" (Mat. 7:14). God wants us all to go to Heaven, but we're not all going. We don't even have to go so far as eternal salvation to make this clear, we know that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16, Mark 10:9), yet we have all met divorced people. We know that things happen that God simply does not want to happen. The very existence of sin, which can pretty much be defined as doing what God doesn't like, means that some things happen that God simply does not want to happen.

Yet, it seems almost blasphemous to say: "things happen that God does not want to happen." In fact, it has been said in a way that probably does border on misunderstanding if not outright disrespect for God. In his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Rabbi Harold Kushner makes the argument that things happen that God does not want to happen because God is not really omniscient, omnipresent nor, most importantly, omnipotent. Things happen that God does not want to happen simply because God is too weak to do anything about them.

This makes sense from our point of view. If we could do anything we wanted, we would do anything we wanted. If we could stop anything we didn't want from happening, we would stop those things from happening. In fact, in our legal system, if you know about a crime and do nothing to prevent it, you can be charged as an accessory to that crime. If bad things happen and you could stop them but don't, it is seen as the same as if you had done those things. We are so scared of making God and accessory to murder, that we have made him a murderer.

Things happen because there are forces at work in the world.

The Bible is clear that there are evil forces at work in the world. The Devil, Satan, the Bible says, goes about seeking those he can devour (I Peter 5:8). He is a jerk, he is evil, and he literally wants to ruin everything. We know from the Book of Job, among other places, that God has put limits on what Satan can do, but he is still allowed to make his mischief. Mischief might be too casual a word. The Devil is allowed to do evil things. He is allowed to steal, kill and to destroy (John 10:10) and will definitely do it. He is awesomely powerful, older and smarter than anyone on earth and has an army of awesomely powerful demons who are older and smarter than anyone on earth. Some things happen because the Devil does them.

Then there are people. People do things all the time. Some of these things are good. Some of these things are evil. Some of these things are not really good or evil, but are practical or impractical. I don't feel, as I write this blog, that I am experiencing some special leading of the Holy Spirit that compels me to write it. I have felt that before. I have also not felt that before, but gone back and read something and recognized that it was there and I wasn't aware. Right now, I feel like I am writing this blog because I choose to. I think it is a good thing to do, but I think there are other equally good things I could be doing instead. Writing a blog like this which follows a strict Ciceronian structure, often helps me organize my thoughts around a subject, but I can't really say that it is inherently a good or evil thing to do.

Sometimes, we do evil things, and God lets us. When I was a child, I enjoyed hitting my sister. It helped me deal with the rage I was feeling and gave me a sense of satisfaction. It was also an evil thing to do. I was not obeying the will of God, in fact, I was sinning, and knew it. God did not allow me to hit my sister so that I could be better or she could be better. He allowed me to make a choice, on choice he approved and one he disapproved. I chose the one He did not approve, sometimes. I could hit my sister, some men rape their children, some men fly airplanes into buildings and others throw their bodies on grenades to save their friends' lives. God has given us the choice to serve him, or not, because service is not slavery. There is always a choice.

Besides the Devil and people, there are principles at work that God simply allows to work and rarely violates. These include natural principles: if I jump from my office window to the parking lot below and break a bone, this is not a punishment from God. It is a natural combination of gravity, bone density, velocity, weight, hardness, etc. It also includes social principles. If I talk trash about my boss, she may hear and fire me. If I cannot pay my bills this month, it might not be God punishing me. It might be because I blew my wad of dough at the movie theater. There are also spiritual principles, like the concept of sowing and reaping(Galations 6:7). If I sow corn, sunflower seeds, love, anger, money or negativity, I will generally get back more than I put in of the same. I guess maybe one can say "everything happens for a reason" if sometimes that "reason" is something like, "if I throw a baseball at a window, it will break."

Why do people say that, then.

It is not because they are crazy. The fact is that there really does seem to be some implication in the scripture Romans 8:28-30 says:
  • 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
Ephesians 1:11 says "we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will." Furthermore, Hebrews 4:13 says that God is not surprised. In exclusion, that really does make it sound like God planned everything. These people, millions of them over the history of Christendom, are not crazy.

The assumption they're making is that since God knows everything, and everything that happens is allowed by him, that he planned it. That is not the case.

God is a planner.

One thing that God and I have in common is that we are both planners. I make shopping lists, budgets, weekly menus and put my short term goals up on the wall of my office at work, checking them off as they get done. My fun is very much spontaneous, but happens at the time and within the budget I set aside for spontaneity. Sometimes, I do something that seems very spontaneous, like buy my wife flowers or something, but the truth is that I have found a way to work it into the budget.

God is the same, just way better at it. He makes plans and they always happen (Psalm 115:3). That does not mean that He plans everything that happens. Let's go back to my listing habit. On Tuesdays, the advertisements come in our newspaper. On Wednesday, I create the menu for the next week and do the grocery shopping. Perhaps one day during the next week, someone invites us over for a meal. In that case, I did not plan the event. The one who invites us planned it, I just planned around it.

That is what God does too, for the most part. He does not plan for us to sin, but he knows we will. Because of this, he plans around it, by preparing a way for our salvation. God even knows what the Devil is going to do. While God often allows the Devil to do what the Devil wants to do, God plans around it. God does not do evil to people, but he knows evil will be done and bad things will happen and he plans around them.

God does not plan evil, he plans around evil, to accomplish good.

And then there are miracles.

God does not just plan around things. It is true that sometimes he just bulldozes through them too. Sometimes, the principles, natural or spiritual, are suspended. Sometimes the Demons are driven out. Sometimes people are thwarted in their evil plans. These things really do happen and when they do, they are confusing. Why doesn't God always do this?

I might deal with this more in a future blog, but I want to be careful here. I can deal with generalities, but cannot deal with particulars. There are two answers. The first is, that God will. In the end, evil will be dealt with (Revelation 20:14).

The second answer is that God loves us and gives us a choice. A person who forces others to love them does not experience love. God wants us to love Him but if He forced it, it would not be love. A choice has to be a real choice.

To be a real choice, there have to be real consequences. That means if I do evil, there has to be an evil ripple effect that hurts and hurts and hurts. If I do good, there also has to be a real ripple effect, that helps and helps and helps. If I behave unwisely, like not getting adequate vitamins or having good hygiene, I will get sick. Not only will I get sick, but my body becomes a germ factory for others. I made a real choice, and there are real consequences, not just for me. God can heal me and heal the others affected by my choice. Even if he doesn't, however, he will plan around the sickness and still accomplish his will.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Can Sony Learn a Lesson about Apologia?

Coming to terms with Apologia, PS3, Linux, Geohot, and hacking.


As everyone who uses the Playstation Network has surmised by now, Sony owes us an explanation. Their network as been down for several weeks now, and we have been unable to use the online features of our games. We've heard that this is the result of hackers, and that our financial information has probably been compromised. We've gotten emails from Sony, and they have expressed regret. There was a letter from the Senior director of Corporate Communication even offering identity theft protection. Still, what we are really lacking here is not sorrow. We are lacking a real explanation as to why this happened. In the absence of hearing a coherent explanation from Sony, I will offer one here. Unfortunately for them, my explanation may not be one they like.

In rhetorical studies we refer to such explanations by the Greek word "apologia" which is the root from which we get our English word "apology." Understanding the English word might be a good place to start. There are two major meanings for "apology" in English. The first, and most common, is to take responsibility and admit wrongdoing. The second meaning is really only used in theological circles, and it means offering explanation for things that, on their face, seem incredible. The term "apologia" really encompasses both these meanings simultaneously and a bit more.

The term also implies a defense, but not a denial of one's actions. Rather, apologetic rhetoric seeks to ascribe motivation for those actions to circumstance ("A Pentadic Analysis of Senator Edward Kennedy's Address to the People of Massachusetts, July 25, 1969." Central States Speech Journal 21 (1970): 81–86). For instance, if a person breaks into my house and I shoot him, I will not argue that I shot him. That will have been established. Rather I will argue that circumstances were such that I had to shoot the person [note to readers, don't break into my house].

I hate to say it, but Sony's behavior in this entire fiasco has been indefensible. So, if I offer an apologia here, it is not for Sony. Instead I offer an explanation for the hackers who have brought the network down and compromised my bank account.

How I came to love the PS3

When I decided to buy a seventh generation console, I was torn. The XBox 360 seemed to have the most to offer in the way of new games, and that is really why we buy consoles. However, Sony's offering, the PS3 had three things that really sold it for me. The first was the ability to play Blu-ray disks. I'd compared the usability and features of both Blu-ray and the HD-DVD disks that were its competition at the time. I saw Blu-ray as the future, and didn't want to have to buy two devices if one would work.

The second reason was that, at the time, the PS3 could run all of my games from my PS2 and the old Playstation games. That meant I had a whole library of games without forking over more money immediately. That was an awesome selling point

The third big selling point for me was that the PS3 could run a second operating system along side its own, a Linux operating system. Now, I love Linux and the possibility of running it on my console thrilled me. My computer at home runs Linux exclusively, I have a small Linux partition on my work computer for things I just can't do in Windows. I even carry a small Linux OS on a thumb drive in case I need to use someone else's computer. Linux is great operating system made for hackers by hackers. It is totally open and can be altered, so if a hacker needs it to do something it doesn't, they can just write a program to do it. Even better, they can share that hack back with the community and we can all improve our systems.

For me, this was the biggest selling point on the system. Not only was I getting a game console and a Blu-ray player, I was getting a second computer. I would be able to surf the web, write and play silly games while my wife was using the computer!

I bought my console used off of Ebay, and began to play. I fell in love with the device. It did everything I wanted and so much more. It wasn't long before I found the Playstation Network was free and offered all kinds of fun things. There were people I knew who were buying Wii's, and I would have fun at their houses, but was able to play comparable moving games using the PS3's sixaxis controller. I became very evangelical for the PS3.

The relationship faltered

Then I started to hear weird things in the tech news. The newest PS3's being made were no longer backward compatible. Weird, I thought, why would they do that? I could no longer be wildly evangelistic about the PS3. Mine is still backward compatible, but I can't use that to talk my friends into buying a new one. Luckily, I knew some folks in the hacker community were working to fix this. As a Linux user, that is what I feel like hackers do. They fix things.

There were people, I heard, looking to find a way to put backward compatibility on the new machines. From my open-source inspired point of view, I saw this as a win-win for Sony. They were saving money by producing machines without backward compatibility, but other people could put it on the machines. Hackers were helping Sony out!

Finally, someone made the first big step toward that end. It was a hacker-kid aliased, Geohot, who was pretty famous already for his work on the iphone. What he had done on the iphone was engage in privilege escalation, or as it is known in hacker slang, "jailbreaking." He was able to do the same thing on the PS3. He used an opening in Sony's ability to use Linux in order to get full access to the firmware of the system. Using this, people could put retro compatibility back on!

When I read about Geohot's hack, I was proud of him. I hoped that Sony would start to fund his work a little and allow him to further develop useful hacks on their system. I guess that just shows how out-of-touch open source users are with the rest of the world. Sony did not praise Geohot, instead in their next update they deleted the Linux partition from everyone's machine, including mine.

That's when the stuff hit the fan.

Geohot figured out a way to put everyone's Linux partition back onto their machines. Sony responded with another update which would prevent that. The hacker community then created dongles which allowed users to get around Sony's updates. Then Sony created another update that made the dongles quit working. Then they made, I think, the biggest mistake of their corporate lives.

Not only were they not funding him or thanking him, they were suing him! For those of us with ties to the hacker community, including every open-source user and advocate, this was a horrible insult. The proceedings dragged on with arguments over jurisdiction and definitions. Finally, they settled out of court. Geohot can't hack on the PS3 network, which he says he never did (he just hacked his own hardware), and Sony has to leave the poor boy alone.

When we bare our teeth.

The matter may have been settled with one hacker, but the open community were still a bit miffed. Hackers began an actual attack on Sony's Playstation Network. See, for the most part, hackers are good people who want our hardware to work better. However, there are some who are not good. Furthermore, I think the majority, who are very good people, take a bit of a vigilante view of justice. Since our community felt that Geohot had been wronged, some members of the community set out to right that wrong.

People don't know how dangerous those of us in the tech community really are. I think that if they knew, they would pay me better. If I am a hacker at all, I am probably the least skilled hacker on the planet. I have ties to the hacker community because I am primarily a Linux user and I find ways, often with help, to make things work. Still, I carry a flash drive with a small Linux OS on it. With that I can get into the files on your computer, if I can get my hands on it, even though I don't know your password. Using those files, I can get your passwords if you've saved them, your bank account records if you use a program like that, and for sure a list of your favorite sites. There are ways to stop me, but you probably don't use them (and neither do I). All you use is a firewall and a virus scanner. I don't break firewalls and I am generally against viruses. I can do it, and I am not awesome.

Hackers with more skills than me can be more dangerous. Much like cuddly dogs, however, they are dangerous only if provoked. Suing Geohot was extreme provocation. Several members of the hacker community have attacked the Playstation Network and done what some analysts are saying is 1.25 billion dollars in direct losses. Not only that, there have been further losses to third party developers for the PS3. Perhaps most disturbingly, the hackers got our credit card numbers and names. I've read some of the chat logs from the hackers working on this, and they were shocked that the information was stored in plain text. That's right, Sony stored our credit card information with absolutely zero encryption.

Probably most of the hackers who worked on this project are interested in hurting Sony, not the players. Honestly, after this fiasco I trust a group of unnamed hackers more than Sony. Sony has now said that they are going to pay for identity theft protection for all of us on their network, but all our information is out there now. Among other things, this prompted me to also change banks. The hackers have the number for an account that does not exist.

So who needs to apologize?

Sony needs to apologize. They need to explain why they are taking away our features, and they cannot give the normal corporate drivel about "security." That argument is gone for them now. They need to show that they understand this was a mistake. They need to promise return Linux functionality and backward compatibility to their systems. They need to stop discouraging homebrew applications. They need to promise a more open system.

When they do this, the hacker community needs to back off. This will be hard and is the biggest problem with vigilante justice. Vigilante justice seems to go beyond an eye for an eye and begins to demand a life for an eye. We can't let that happen here. If Sony repents we need to leave them standing.

Sony did some very wrong things, but the answer isn't to bring down the company. The answer is to bring the company in line with an ethical code which includes the freedom to use homebrew applications. Then it can function just fine alongside, or even working with the hacker community. If the hacker community doesn't back off when Sony comes to its senses, we won't have the credibility to demand accountability from future potential corporate tyrants.

The hacker community also needs to make sure that none of that account information is misused. The idea of the attack on the network was to bring pain to Sony. It was to vindicate those who payed money for certain services that Sony took away. It was not to steal money from those people. If those credit card numbers are misused, Sony is able to make the hacker community into the wrongdoers.

What should your average Joe do?

Well, Joe, avoid buying a PS3 or anything else from Sony for now. Sony is a great brand and has built lots of great stuff. However, they cannot be trusted right now. They sell products and services, then take those products away from their customers without refunding the money. I just don't trust them right now. If they change this attitude, by all means, buy them. Don't get rid of the stuff you have. That is just silly. I am going to keep using my PS3 and keep enjoying it, but if it breaks, I'm selling my games and buying an Xbox.

If you have a Playstation Network account, CHANGE YOUR BANK ACCOUNTS. The hacker community, as a whole, doesn't want to steal your money. However, with this hack literally thousands (possibly millions) of people have access to your credit card and debit card information. One of them might be evil. Call your banks or account holders and ask them to change your numbers. My wife and I even decided to change banks entirely (but there were other reasons besides just the Sony hack for that: the closest branch was far away; her job stopped doing direct deposit; it was a hat trick). And you know what, even if Sony repents of its sins and I start buying stuff off the Playstation Network again, I am not giving them my credit card number ever again. You can buy Playstation Network cards at your local big box store.

If you have a Playstation Network account, change your password as soon as things are back up and running. That has been compromised too.

Otherwise, support open applications written by hackers. As long as we are all working together, fiascoes like the Playstation Network outage do not need to happen. Hackers are good people who just want to make things work better. If we let them, we all benefit.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Proud of Group Projects

Coming to terms with Service-Learning, Group projects, community service and public rhetoric.

The Project

I end every semester by asking students in my basic public speaking course to do a group project. There are more details to the project, but the first line of my assignment sheet pretty much sums it up: "Using what you have learned in this class, you must create a persuasive, public service communication artifact." With these words I ask my students to spend the last four weeks of class out in the community, using the skills I have taught them in persuasive communication, to do something in the public good. Every semester I am shocked at all the awesome things that they do and I wanted to share it with you:

My MWF class:

  • Group One joined up with the football team and worked with them to help elderly members of the community clean up their yards for summer. Certainly, just joining with them would have been good, but they put their skills they learned in class to work getting a spot on a local television show (view it here) and persuading their friends and family to help the team do this work.
  • Group Two did a car wash and barbecue to raise money for Big Brothers and Big Sisters. They were able to use the skills they learned in class to ask for donations and raised $487 for that charity. The money will be used to help the little brothers and little sisters get school supplies in the fall.
  • Group Three only planned to go out and persuade people to pledge to eat at least 10% of their food locally. That was an ambitious enough goal. They garnered a number of pledges, but as they said in their presentation: "This has snowballed into so much more than a simple group project for school. We now have a website going up and regular weekly meetings beginning soon."
  • Group Four decided to do a local concert to raise money for the arts and music programs at the local school. They used the skills they learned in class to set up the venue and do all the publicity for the concert. As if that wasn't enough, they were worried the school board would not endorse the concert (which, in the end, it did). So, they did a second project, "just in case." In their second project they did an accessibility study for disabled students on campus. The information they garnered will go to our disability services coordinator and be used to help disabled students in future semesters.

The First Tuesday/Thursday class:

  • Group One worked with the Gospel Mission, a non-profit that helps the poverty stricken and homeless in the area. First of all, they did interviews with the local homeless population to ascertain the extent to which the homeless were aware of what services were being offerred. Then they engaged in a poster campaign in areas where homeless frequent to raise awareness for unknown services. This certainly would have been enough for the class, but they took it a step further and actually helped the Gospel Mission distribute commodities to those in need.
  • Group Two worked with a local group called "Firewise" to set up a large public meeting. Fire is the major natural disaster in our area, and the students helped the group to create a meeting designed to minimize risk. In preparation for the meeting, they not only did promotion with flyers, but actually went door-to-door in at-risk areas talking to local residents and using the skills they learned in class to persuade them to come to the firewise meeting. Their work made the front page of the Silver City Daily Press, our local paper.
  • Group Three worked with the local pet clinics in town to create awareness for health needs of pets. They contacted the pet clinics and asked them what they could do to help raise awareness. They ended up doing four separate poster campaigns all around town. One was for general pet-health awareness, the other three focused on parvovirus, rabies and the need to spay and neuter, respectively.
  • Group Four worked with the High Desert Humane Society to help in that groups annual rummage sale. The group went around to yard sales and used the tools they learned in class to persuade the people at the yard sale to donate whatever was left over to the Humane Society's rummage sale. One of the persuasive techniques they used was to make it easier on the persuadee by coming and picking up all the leftover items themselves.

Second Tuesday/Thursday class:

  • Group One worked to help one of the families who lost everything in the recent fires that have plagued our area. The family this group helped lost their house and all their possessions except for the clothes they were wearing. The victims had no insurance and have no means of recovering their losses. They sponsored an easter egg hunt which was coupled with a bake sale. Their advertisement worked, because the easter egg hunt brought in 200 kids and made the front page of the Silver City Daily Press. From this event they were able to raise $186.95. That would have been great, but they actually were able to do more by persuading New Mexico Bank to match their fundraising. That brought the total to $373.90. This won't, of course, be enough to let the family rebuild their house, but they will be helped and they will know that people care!
  • Group Two did a campaign to promote recycling on campus. Those of you who work at other campuses might be surprised at how difficult it is to recycle at Wester New Mexico University, where my students work. My students worked tirelessly, not only doing a poster campaign letting students know that it is possible to recycle here, but actually persuading the recycling agency to give them recycling bins that they were able to put in the residence halls and high traffic areas of the campus.
  • Group Three did publicity for Our Paws Cause, a new thrift store opening in town to support the Humane Society. This publicity included using their public speaking skills on the radio and their skills of persuasion in the form of flyers. They did not stop there. The students did a free barbecue for the thrift stores opening. According to one student "The main persuasive tools we used were free food and puppies. If that doesn't bring people in, nothing will."
  • Group Four worked with a local day care to teach them about the environment, primarily focusing on spring and the new life involved. They helped the students color eggs and taught them about life emerging from eggs. They brought in some recently hatched chickens and let the students interact with them and helped the students decorate pots in which the children planted seeds that they can see grow. They also sang several songs about spring and new life. It was such a treat for me as a professor to watch the video of these little kids singing, being led by my students.

The Night Class:

  • Group One did a "walkathon" to raise awareness for fitness. The publicity for the walkathon included creation of a Facebook events page where the students could use their persuasive skills to convince people to come be a part of it. The students were able to tie their event to the "Tour De Gila," a nationally recognized bike race that takes place annually. The students were able to convince 20 people to take part in their walkathon.
  • Group Two worked with the Cobre Consolidated school system in their backpacks program. This program allows students who need it to take home food in their backpacks. For students who depend on school lunches, this can literally be a lifesaver. My students actually stood outside our grocery stores and asked people to donate non-perishable food or money to the cause.
  • Group Three worked to help some local girls attend "Bloom," a young woman and girls empowerment conference, which will be taking place in Orlando, FL. My students not only used their persuasive skills to create flyers to bring people in to a rummage sale for the program. They also were creative in convincing a local Mary Kay representative to donate some small make-up bags which my students raffled. On the whole, my students raised $610 to help these girls go. Some of my readers might be even more impressed that half of this group working for empowerment of girls and young women, are males.
  • Group Four had two members on the football team. They decided that their work with the football team's fundraiser could dovetail nicely with this project. So, they did the part their coach assigned them, writing letters and cleaning up yards.

This is not to brag.

Well, it sort of is to brag, but not to brag about myself. Honestly, all I did, and all I really do every semester, is turn my students lose and give them permission to use their considerable skills to do some good. I am always awed by the work they do. I really don't do anything, but stand in awe and I just wanted to give my readers the chance to stand in awe too.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Goal meeting and Goal setting

Coming to terms with Goals, Goal-setting, Dreams, Objectives and Planning.

Where I learned Goal setting

I really learned goal setting in High School. One of the very best decisions I made in my life was to forgo the public school experience and attend a private Christian high-school which used an Accelerated Christian Education curriculum. A central facet of this curriculum is that students were allowed to "learn at their own pace," but never allowed to fail to push themselves. In order to accomplish these somewhat paradoxical goals, the school required us to engage in goal setting. This goal setting included long-term, academic quarter, weekly and daily goals.

Long term goals for a high-school student might be simply graduating in four years. For me it was graduating in four years with an adequate course background to be prepared for college. You have to start out with the long term goals and break that down into smaller goals. With this as my goal, I looked at college entrance requirements and figured out what would have to be accomplished to get into a school I wanted.

Following that, I could break up the requirements into the sixteen quarters of high-school and figure out how much work I would have to do in each quarter. I figured out right away what classes I would have to take in what order and how quickly I would have to move through them to accomplish my goals.

I broke those down into weekly goals and each day I set daily goals according to those weekly goals. Every day, when I would accomplish my goals, it would get me closer to my weekly, quarterly and long term goals. If I fell behind one day, that would mean I would need to dedicate extra time to that goal the next day.

Long term goals require dreams, AKA visions.

I have to admit that somewhere in college I lost track of having goals. My plans: to get through high-school and then college with certain GPA's in certain amounts of time were based in a dream I had, a vision for my life, an idea about who I was and what I wanted. My plan was to become a lawyer and stand up for Christian principles in the courts. While in college this dream suffered two major blows.

The first one was that the more I learned about law in my Political Science classes, which was my major, the less I liked it. Don't get me wrong, I loved that major. The political-philosophy classes were amazing and mind-transforming. The law classes, however, were awful. "Because the Legislature and Judiciary say so" was quite simply not an adequate answer for the questions that I had. So, I was working, suddenly, for something I realized I didn't want.

The second thing I learned was that "Christian principles" were more contested in the Christian community than I had thought. My Dad is a pastor and had been instrumental in my spiritual development. Suddenly I learned that not everybody, including those in our own movement, agreed with everyone else about what our principles are. I reached a point where I couldn't dismiss other opinions as being "non-Christian." This was coupled with my Dad being fired from a church into which he had invested vast amounts of time, treasure and talent. I was kind of disgusted with the "Christian" sub-culture at that time. So, how could I be a lawyer who stood up for Christian principles when I didn't agree with law and disagreed with other Christians about what Christian principles are?

As Jewel famously wrote, "Dreams last for so long, even after they're gone." The old dream's death throws got me through an entire major. I ended up with a double major in Political Science with a pre-law emphasis and Speech Communication.

It was in the second of these that I started to find my new direction, and in fact where I found my calling. That dream, that vision can be summed up in the title of my blog and webpage, The Rhetorical Quest. It is all about "coming to terms." My new vision is to be a person who seeks out and finds language in which I can articulate truth and reality and to share that language with others. It is a quest on which very old friends, like Aristotle, Cicero, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas help me to seek and where new possibilities are being explored by both myself and other questers every day.

The point is that while I was between visions, I floundered. My GPA dropped. Searching for something, for some vision, for some hope, for some plan I went places and did things that were not edifying. I was dying. Without a vision, the Bible tells us, people die (Prov. 29.18). I had no vision and was dying. Part of the reason I was dying is I had no reason to do anything. No vision meant no long term goals, which meant no short term goals, which meant no weekly goals, which meant no daily goals and every day was just spent existing.

The secret to goal setting.

Since that time, there have been setbacks. I can think of a couple major ones. When the Human Subjects Review Board lost my application in graduate school, that probably set me back by a year. When my contract was not renewed at Culver-Stockton College, that set me back, I'd say by two years. Even still, my dream is clear and from that I have created a set of long term and short term goals to bring it about. I am reaching my goals.

There are three secrets to goal setting. The first is don't bite off more than you can chew. Four years to get through high-school was reasonable. Two people with whom I graduated did it in three years. One or two years was not reasonable. My goal for graduate school was to get my PhD before I was 30, a goal I missed by 10 days. My current goal of getting tenure had to be adjusted. That goal was 40, but since I was derailed for a bit, I am now looking at tenure by the age of 42. That is reasonable. Any earlier than that, and I am looking for trouble.

The second is make sure your goals are YOUR goals, things you can mostly control. There are always things that happen beyond our control. I could get a million dollars in the mail tomorrow, and that might change some of my goals. I could also suddenly be struck with an awful disease that really messes me up for a while. Still, goals should be things that for the most part are under one's control. I cannot have a goal that my wife will lose weight or that my friend will come to Jesus. I can cook healthy food and share Jesus with my friend, however. Tenure here is based on a decision of a tenure committee, so it is kind of beyond my control, but I can compile over the next six or seven years evidence of service, research and teaching that would make it so that if they said no, they'd just be being mean.

Third, goals should push you. Going to work today is not one of my daily goals. I would do that anyway. What I accomplish today at work is part of my daily goals. I have goals for the next seven years and in order to accomplish them I will have to do more than just do my job and care for my family. I will have to cut out luxuries. I will have to teach summer classes and overloads. This is within my power to do. I also hope that I can get some corporate speaking engagements, but that is harder to guarantee. I will have to write like crazy. Every day I will need to get up and make a decision that will move me toward my daily goals.