Tuesday, March 13, 2018

When Anxiety Attacks You

My eyes popped open to see the darkness of my bedroom. Something seemed wrong but I couldn't tell what it was. Glancing at the clock I saw that I had been asleep for a couple of hours. I tried to shrug off the odd sense of uneasiness and return to sleep. I can usually get back to sleep pretty rapidly.

Not this time. After a few minutes I suddenly started to feel very hot. Soon I bolted into an upright position with sweat pouring off me. My heart was racing. I felt an overpowering sense of distress and borderline nausea.

Was I having a heart attack? Some of these things could definitely be heart attack symptoms. But my chest didn't feel any different than usual. No pains in my arms, neck, or jaw. No problem breathing. I could even breathe deeply just fine. Even with all of this going on, I was able to access a deep spiritual center that whispered that this wasn't a heart attack.

Was it some kind of intestinal issue? I hadn't eaten anything unusual. I hadn't overeaten. My tummy wasn't roiling. Although I was sort of queasy, I didn't feel any urge to vomit. Or to purge from the other end.

All I knew for certain was that I desperately wanted to get away from whatever was assaulting me. But realizing that the problem was completely internal, I knew there was nowhere to go for escape. It suddenly dawned on me why some people with mental health issues turn to substance abuse. I would have done just about anything to escape this episode.

My loving wife fetched a cold washcloth. After using that for awhile, the heat and sweat retreated and I found myself suddenly shivering and shaking. I wanted to get warm, but at the same time I didn't want to get warm or have anything covering me. The varied and conflicting sensations that washed over and coursed through me left me confused as to what I was actually feeling both physically and psychologically. Was this what insanity is like?

After holding my wife's hand for 15 minutes or so the immediate desperation receded. Still, I experienced several additional but less intense waves over the next hour or so. Sometimes it would come on just as I was drifting off to sleep and I would suddenly be awake and distressed again.

I'm not sure when it all ended, but when Mr. Bladder awakened me a couple of hours later, I was just fine. There was no sign that anything had been wrong.

What the heck had happened? Two of our children are professionally treated for clinical levels of anxiety, so we are somewhat familiar with anxiety disorders. But this was different. There was an immediacy of some kind of threat. But what? I couldn't consciously put my finger on anything. Why would I suddenly start having anxiety attacks when I am well into my sixth decade?

I recall having a panic attack that felt something like this when a snow cave collapsed on me years ago. But that's normal. You're supposed to have a panic attack when you are suddenly in mortal danger. It causes your whole system to kick into survival mode, enabling you to address the immediate threat in powerful ways. It's very short-lived. The adrenaline begins to dissipate as soon as the threat is past and your system begins to return to normal.

It is not normal to have high doses of adrenaline rip through you, activating your fight-or-flight response when no obvious threats are presenting themselves. How does your system know when the threat has passed when you have no idea what the threat is? There's no mechanism to tell your high defense system that it's time to stand down.

Since my first panic attack a few months ago I have had a few more attacks. Several other times I have been on the verge of having an attack. Experiencing anxiety about having anxiety is a vicious and distressing no-win cycle.

While researching anxiety and panic attacks, I came across several articles that discuss a link between Multiple Sclerosis and anxiety. This piqued my interest, since I have been grappling with MS for nearly three decades. Since MS can affect any region of the brain, the disease sometimes causes anxiety unrelated to the traditional causes of anxiety, but there's no simple test for this. It is more common for people with MS to experience anxiety as the result of all the burdens and uncertainties that accompany the disease.

My wife surmises that I simply have so many demands on me at present that some recently added demand was the straw that broke the camel's back, bringing a nearly unmanageable load to an unmanageable level. The difference between water looking still at 211° but boiling at 212°. It's not the demand itself, but the sheer fact that there are too many demands. The attacks occur when the water hits boiling point.

Maybe. I think it probably has more to do with being excessively concerned with physical health, which apparently is a common factor in many anxiety cases.

I grew up a bit pudgy. Looking at old photos, it wasn't that bad. (Especially by today's standards.) Still, I felt constantly harangued by peers and family members about being fat. I began fighting the battle of the bulge at age 16. I lost quite a bit of weight during my summer planting pineapples in Hawaii.

That battle was fought off and on over the next few years until I got married and ballooned to 70 lbs. in excess of my current weight. It took a year of fanatical health focus to achieve the desired weight loss. But I soon discovered that keeping that weight off required (for me, at least) nearly the same level of fanatical nutrition and exercise. Although I have changed up my regimen a number of times over the past three decades, the one constant has been daily discipline.

I now realize that I have developed an internal and public image of myself as a relatively healthy guy. This is at least partially a backlash against all of the teasing and bullying I experienced for being regarded as a fat kid. That's probably not the most psychologically healthy thing. On the other hand, I'm sure that my health focus has been at least part of the reason that my MS symptoms have been quite mild since the initial attacks years ago.

But these aren't the only factors in health. Age happens. MS could still hammer me. As my high school class prepares for its 40th reunion, I have become more aware of some of my classmates' conditions. One lady with MS lives in a care facility and is pretty much incapacitated. Another guy who used to do triathlons and now has MS is experiencing increasing physical and cognitive issues. Another classmate who is quite active had a heart valve blow out on Thanksgiving. Our class president, who seems to be in spectacular shape for our age, recently spent four days in the hospital after getting blood clots in his lungs and being unable to breathe.

Another thing that has been deeply implanted in my psyche is that both of my paternal grandparents, as well as my father, suffered debilitating strokes that robbed them of critical faculties and eventually took their lives. So heart disease runs in the family. Moreover, we found out after his stroke that Dad had experienced a series of heart attacks for which he had refused to get care. He rode out each of those episodes, but without care, significant portions of his heart died. His weakened heart was very susceptible to stroke-causing blood clots.

Consequently, I think it's safe to say that I have become hyper aware of potential health (especially coronary) issues. This is likely the greatest contributing factor to my recent anxiety episodes. I'm not afraid of experiencing death. Between the time when my snow cave collapsed and the time I was rescued, I had an experience that let me know that my soul will continue and will be fine after death. I worry about leaving my family in the lurch, but death does not otherwise trouble me.

Apparently, I have an irrational fear of experiencing some kind of major health issue because it would damage the image I have created for myself. So anytime I have the slightest inkling that something like that might be happening, or even that I might be in danger of something like that, I am susceptible to having my hyper awareness kick in and the perceived threat seeming very immediate. Then the brain then wants to shoot me full of adrenaline to get me to address the threat.

Years ago a 42-year-old co-worker of mine died of a heart attack because he thought he was just experiencing extreme heartburn. I don't want to be like that guy. Nor do I want to be like my dad, who survived a number of heart attacks, only to later be killed by the effects of failure to treat them. But I also don't want to be so freaked out about the potential of a heart attack (or any other acute illness) that every little thing that might look like a possible symptom becomes an extreme threat.

Balance. That's what I want. Proper balance. Apparently that's what I need to achieve to have a chance of preventing future anxiety attacks. Part of this needs to involve achieving a healthier relationship with my self image. I deliberately developed an image of myself as healthy because it motivates the discipline required to maintain that level of health. But when I feel threatened by the possible demise of my Mr. Health and Responsibility image, it tells me that my relationship with this image needs reworking.

Mental health issues are as real as physical health issues, and just like physical health problems, they require proper care. Time to get going on that.

Monday, January 22, 2018

I (probably) won't attend my high school reunion

My high school class is having a reunion this summer. I probably won't attend, although, the event is less than three miles from my home.

I was going to write that my K-12 experience was painful in many ways. But really, who doesn't that apply to? I suspect that this is largely true even for those who were on the top of the social heap in the bizarre microcosm that school life is. No doubt school life is more miserable for some than for others, but from my decades of observation it seems that everyone who attends school endures plenty of social suffering.

In reality, my K-12 experience was unremarkable. I was nowhere near the top of the social pile, but I wasn't near the bottom either. Somewhere in the middle, I guess. I never got much involved in school related activities that earn students recognition, one way or the other.

Part of this was due to the fact that I always had an after school job starting at age 11. But I suspect that the main reason for my low involvement in things like sports, student government, arts, clubs, etc. was that I simply didn't think I was good enough to do any of that stuff. I looked at the people who were involved in those things and figured that I didn't fit in with them. Once that concept formulated, everything I experienced seemed to confirm it.

Consequently, school life wasn't any larger part of my social experience than was absolutely necessary. I don't recall that I felt particularly sorry about my aloofness from school social activities. It was what it was and I was pretty much fine with it. I was muddling through, finding my own social path (pun) in life. School social life was so unimportant to me that I didn't provide a photo for my senior yearbook and I didn't bother to stick around for yearbook signing at the end of the school year.

Fortunately, some of the guys my age from my neighborhood formed a loose group during my junior high years, that over time picked up several other members. Group membership ebbed and flowed, but by the time I was a senior in high school there were about seven of us who did a lot of hanging out together. Our activities weren't always the best; we were typical teenagers. But for the most part I feel that these guys lifted and strengthened me, and provided positive peer pressure.

Our associations continued more or less through our young adult years until each of us married. There was no online social media back in those days, so we kind of lost track of each other as we went about life. I hardly see any of those guys nowadays, although, some live nearby and we are now connected on social media. (I have no idea where two of them are.)

Decades after high school graduation I can look back and see that life has had its ups and downs. My children bring me tremendous joy and pride, but also a fair amount of sorrow. It seems that these things are inseparably connected. I have had ups and downs in my career. Experiencing the inevitable aging and demise of parents has brought challenges. Everyone has their troubles in life.

But for the most part I can say that my life has been idyllic. For a former fat guy and former college drop out my age who has Multiple Sclerosis and hypothyroidism, I have to say that my life has been tremendously blessed. I have a wife—a truly choice soul—who I love far more deeply than when we married decades ago. Better yet, she not only tolerates me; she loves me, despite my manifold foibles. We live in a decent neighborhood with decent neighbors. I have enjoyable relations with family members. Life is pretty darn good.

Quite frankly, I have no interest in stepping back into the social structure of school life for even one evening. Why pollute the present goodness of life with memories of where I stood in the painful and weird pecking order that school life was?

I have been told by some that when you get this far out from your high school days that the old social arrangements of those youthful years no longer matter. The two-thirds of life as mature adults that has passed since those callow times has made us all much more alike than different. It's not a competition about who has the most markers of worldly success, but an opportunity to connect with others who have walked a similar path.

Maybe. But the last time I attended a high school reunion many years ago, I ended up seated among people with whom I had never had a single class and with whom I had literally never spoken during our school days. I'm not enough of a social creature that I enjoy hanging out with strangers like that, despite the fact that we attended the same school.

I'm also wondering who I would really like to see at an event like this. I can only think of a few and there's no guarantee that any of them will attend. When I turn the question around and realize that others are also formulating lists of those they would like to see at a reunion, I can't imagine my name showing up on anyone else's list. Thus, I don't foresee myself attending this year's reunion. There simply doesn't seem to be enough incentive for me to be there.

To each of my classmates who will be attending the reunion, please know that I wish you well and hope you have a great time. I hope your life has been wonderful so far and wish you much happiness going forward. I will be sending these good vibes remotely.

Unless I change my mind and decide to attend. It could happen, I suppose.

Friday, December 15, 2017

My Family's Imperfect Mormon Stats

If you have lived in areas that are thick with Mormon culture, you may have heard the term Mormon stats. No, this doesn't refer to statistics about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, although, there are lots of those generated by the Church and other sources.

Rather, Mormon stats references the list of things many Mormons like to use to judge themselves and each other, such as:
  • Scouting rank / Young Womanhood award.
  • Missionary service.
  • Temple marriage.
  • Educational attainment.
  • Church leadership callings.
  • Career position.
  • Number of children.
  • Other markers of active participation in the Church and social success.
  • Children/grandchildren meeting or excelling in any of the above.
This isn't an exhaustive list. Other items may include the amount of family history work done, volume of food storage on hand, service projects completed, full-time mom at home, etc. Yet other factors may be regional or specific to certain subgroups.

I grew up in a family that had pretty great Mormon stats. My parents served in Church leadership positions, had successful careers, served missions, and had five Eagle Scout sons who all served full-time missions, married in the temple, raised (and are raising) great kids, have served faithfully in various Church callings, and have achieved well in education and career fields.

When my wife and I married I was pretty sure our family would follow a path similar to my parents. It hasn't been exactly like that. We love and cherish each of our five children, but as promised in my patriarchal blessing, they have brought us a variety of challenges. Each of our children is a unique and beautiful, yet flawed soul.

Among our kids we have Eagle Scouts, returned missionaries, college graduates, intelligence, talent, ingenuity, compassion, humor, and a host of other positive attributes. Our kids also have among them a variety of physical and mental health issues that make for some interesting (as in, perplexing) twists. Also, personal choices have occasionally led to spiritual and temporal challenges, some of them seemingly long-term.

Let's just say that I have accepted the fact that our family isn't going to have perfect Mormon stats. But maybe that's OK. After all, there are some pretty awesome parents whose families don't look quite like the cultural Mormon ideal. Among them are those we refer to as our Heavenly Parents. A third of Their children are in a permanent state of rebellion and many others cause plenty of sorrow.

Our kids really are wonderful people, even if they skew our Mormon stats a bit. Each is on their own journey that is intertwined with my journey, but my child's journey is not my journey. I think parents sometimes get messed up on this to the point that they want to force their children to do the "right" thing. Or maybe they just want their kids to make them look good socially.

None of the Mormon stat markers are bad. In fact, most of them very desirable. But the extent to which they are about social status in our minds is the same extent to which our thinking needs to be re-engineered to focus on those things that are truly important. I'm talking to myself here. I seem to like checklists and I feel like I have accomplished something when I check off an item on a list. But too close of a focus on a checklist can cause one to lose sight of core matters.

Our family is splendid. In its current state it has some distortions and cracks. But I don't expect it to forever remain in that state. I have full faith in Jesus Christ, the master craftsman who has the desire and the ability to make our family a perfect whole in His own way and time. Along the way we will do our best to do the right thing and to let the Savior do His work.

Regardless of where my family is with respect to Mormon stats, each of my children knows that I will always love them and that I will always be proud to be their dad. Even after this life passes.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Our autistic son survives playing a feature role in a play

"This is nuts!" I exclaimed when my wife told me that our youngest son was going to try out for a part in the high school's autumn play, which is always a large scale musical. I was fully aware of how demanding rehearsals, performances, and everything else related to the play would be.

The longtime drama director at our local high school is an old friend of mine who is a very talented performer in his own right. He was very fun loving as a kid but he also had some organizational and leadership skills. The fun side is still there, but the business and leadership sides have become much more honed over time. The high quality performances he directs are partly a product of how demanding he is. Despite (because of?) how challenging it can be, hundreds of students try out for the school's plays year after year.

I have tried to be very supportive of my kids' extracurricular activities over the years. Practices, games, performances, ceremonies, and camp outs have been a large part of our life for more than two decades. But our youngest son is on the autism spectrum. Plus he deals with some mental health issues including major depression and extreme anxiety. In many ways he looks and acts like the "normal" teen he longs to be, but he has some notable differences and limitations.

Included in our son's life package is the fact that he simply has far less bandwidth than does his typical peer. While our son is very bright, his cognitive in-processing takes longer and requires much more effort. This exacts a mental and physical toll that, coupled with his mental and emotional health issues, leaves less of him to go around than he would like.

Thus, I simply couldn't see how our son could manage the rigors of being in the high school play. I could see this working out like many other endeavors where he has run out of steam and has been unable to fulfill commitments.

I understand this on a personal level. Years ago after my first major Multiple Sclerosis attack, I struggled to come to grips with and understand the boundaries of my capacities. Christine Miserandino captures this conundrum very well with her Spoon Theory.

Every day each of us has a certain allotment of physical, mental, and emotional capacities; our budget for what we can do and handle that day. While our budgets change from day to day, those with chronic illness tend to have a smaller budget than the typical person. When your budget is tight you have to learn to be frugal, lest you overspend and shut down. Sometimes you can borrow from tomorrow, but too much of this can result in a hard crash.

It has taken me years to learn how to do a decent job of managing my daily allotment of capacities. Even after all this time I occasionally miscalculate and suffer the consequences. Our teen son is still developing and learning. Sometimes he optimistically commits to future demands on a day when his budget is in good shape, only to discover when payment is due that the balance in his physical/mental/emotional account is insufficient.

That's what I could see happening with the high school play. Maybe reliability wouldn't be much of a problem if he were in the ensemble. But he sought for and landed the part of the preacher in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. He figured that this role was a minor speaking part that probably didn't require a lot of dancing (it still did) and that wouldn't be as demanding as the major speaking parts (it wasn't). Besides, he figured that hardly anyone would think to apply for that role. His natural Asperger's stiffness also seemed to lend itself well to the role.

At first things went well, despite many days of long rehearsals after school. At one point our son began to realize that the overall toll on him might be too high but he opted to stick it out. About a week and a half from the opening show, our son hit a wall. Just as when the typical kid gets sick and can't go to school, he just couldn't manage school. He essentially shut down for a couple of days. He was ready to quit the play, despite the disruption this would cause.

My wife and I realized that if our son could make it through the run of the play he would feel a great sense of fulfillment. But it was not clear whether it would be good to push the matter. After counseling with our son, his adviser, and his drama teacher, we eventually arrived at a compromise. Some school pressures were temporarily eased and the drama teacher appointed an understudy who would cover the preacher role for half of the performances.

Matters were still somewhat tenuous as this plan was put into place, but things got better after the long weeks of rehearsal came to an end and the play performances began. Our son did very well as the preacher in the play. As we had hoped, our son came out of the final performance feeling victorious. He had a sense of fulfillment from having been part of a grand, high quality production. But he was also very glad that the play was over.
We are pretty happy with this outcome from a parental perspective. We are grateful to our son's teachers for their flexibility and to our son's understudy who came up to speed on the part in short order. We are especially grateful to the drama director for going beyond the call of duty during a very busy and highly stressful time to make this experience work well for our son. There are a number of situations that will need to be managed between now and graduation for our son, but it's great for him to have this victory under his belt.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Boy Scouts to allow girls to join Cubs and Scouts — What does this mean for LDS Scouting?

The Boy Scouts of America announced today that girls will be allowed to join its Cub Scout and Scouting programs (see BSA press release, KSL article). There is already a lot of knee-jerk reaction to this announcement. Let's see if we can take a more level-headed approach.

At least some of us in Scouting circles have been aware that discussions about admitting girls to the program have been occurring for some time and that these discussions became quite serious earlier this year. The BSA now has plenty of experience with its Venturing, Sea ScoutsExploring, and Stem Scouts programs, which offer mixed sex environments for various age groups.

There has been a lot of internal and external pressure to admit girls to Scouting. Some who have loved what Scouting does for boys have wanted that same experience for their girls. The first lawsuits attempting to force the BSA to open the ranks of Scouting to girls were filed decades ago. But some opined that when the BSA opened Scouting to "transgender boys" earlier this year (see CSMonitor article, my 5/12/17 post, my 5/20/17 post) admission of girls to the program couldn't be far off. After all, how could the organization argue successfully in court that it would admit biological girls who feel like they are boys but not other biological girls?

While research is all over the place on the value of single-sex youth programs, Scouting and Cub Scouts operate with a very deep tradition of being only for boys. Many supporters believe that youth need opportunities to spend time in environments with peers of the same sex. The BSA announcement makes it sound like the organization is trying to honor this desire while also making it possible for girls to participate in the program.

Cub Scout dens, which are the smallest Cub Scout unit, will operate as single-sex organizations. Each pack, which is the next larger Cub Scout unit, may host only boy dens, only girl dens, or both boy and girl dens.

One of my first thoughts was whether Cub dens and packs sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would take on girls who now attend the Church's Activity Days program. Although I found no official announcement on the Church's Newsroom site, KSL reports that Church spokesman Eric Hawkins says that Activity Days programs will continue to operate as usual.

Hawkins goes on to say, "We recognize that the desire of the BSA is to expand their programs to serve more young people in the United States. The Church, too, continues to look at ways to serve the needs of our youth worldwide."

Read into that what you will, but the Church has made no bones about the fact that it would like to develop a young men's activity program that is more uniform worldwide, and that Scouting is incapable of filling that role. So it sounds like the Church will eventually get out of Scouting completely. But who knows when? Next year? 20 years from now? That's not clear.

Suffice it to say that for now, LDS-sponsored Cub Scout units will continue to admit only boys in their youth ranks, regardless of what non-LDS Cub Scout units do.

Starting in 2019 the BSA will "deliver a Scouting program for older girls that will enable them to advance and earn the highest rank of Eagle Scout." The press release doesn't provide many clues as to what that program might look like. But the Family Scout Fact Sheet and the Family Scouting FAQ make it sound as if the Scouting program for girls will be parallel to, but separate from Boy Scouts.

The BSA has previously said clearly that sponsoring organizations will continue have broad control over who may join the Scouting units they sponsor. So until the Church implements a different program, LDS-sponsored Scouting units will continue to be male-only organizations.

More than a few people are upset that the BSA has made so many shifts in expanding membership in recent years. First gay youth, then gay adults, then transgender boys, then girls. Some say that this has weakened support for BSA programs among its traditional base. It is possible, however, that the BSA is working to stem an increasing tide of membership losses and struggling to remain relevant in a changing world.

While the Church has traditionally had a very strong say in BSA policies, I suspect that the fact that it will ultimately leave Scouting can't help but diminish its influence with the organization. Each of these two organizations must pursue the paths that make the most sense to them. That may mean continued divergence.

And while I feel that I and many others have benefited greatly from the close association of the LDS Church and the BSA, this divergence does not have to be a bad thing for either organization. I am certain that the Lord is fully capable of using this situation to advance His cause.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

On kneeling during the national anthem

I'm not sure where the custom of playing the national anthem at the outset of some athletic events originated. I have never questioned it. But lately there has been a lot of controversy about athletes, coaches, etc. kneeling instead of standing during the rendition of the national anthem. This has led to a lot of weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth, general ill will, and a lot of virtual and actual yelling.

I'm not a sports fan so I rarely attend live sporting events, Nor do I watch broadcasts of sporting events. When I have been somewhere that the national anthem has been played, I have proudly stood and placed my hand over my heart. In situations like this I will sing along if it seems appropriate. I do this because of what America means to me.

This country gave my ancestors freedoms that they lacked in their home countries. It gave my father citizenship a few years after he moved here from Germany. It gave me the opportunity to grow up with a level of prosperity and opportunity that relatively few throughout the annals of history have enjoyed. But I know that some in our country have been less fortunate.

I am particularly fond of a poem titled American Spirit by Bill Fries (aka C.W. McCall):
In this poem Fries reminds us that We The People are America. The USA is us, the people of this country. All of us. Fries says that we are "the Star Spangled Banner up there in the sky." All of us. The cubicle worker, rancher, nurse, construction worker, soldier, truck driver, executive, police officer, retiree, janitor, farmer, child, teacher, homeless person, pastor, warehouse worker, judge, plumber, actor, pilot, food service worker, etc. Not only are we all Americans, we are America.

Given that there are some 323 million of us scattered over nearly 3.8 million square miles, we are necessarily a diverse lot, with different backgrounds, experiences, and ideologies. There is no single right way to be an American. Nor is any law abiding citizen more American than any other. The military veteran is no more American than the music producer, nor is the farmer more American than the athlete. The American flag represents each of us, but each of us has a unique relationship with America.

I doubt that any American citizen thinks the country is so great that it lacks serious problems; although, we may comprehend and prioritize problems differently. To me I see a nation that, even with all its flaws, has produced the greatest level of widespread opportunity and prosperity in the history of this world. When I hear the national anthem I feel a swell of gratitude that demands that I acknowledge this blessing.

When I see highly paid people involved in professional kid's games deliberately kneeling rather than standing during the national anthem, it looks like a bunch of ungrateful spoiled brats, regardless of how they view certain national problems. They are making the impossible perfect the enemy of the realistic good.

But I would never want to force anyone to stand or place their hand over their heart to honor the flag or the national anthem. You see, my dad grew up in a country where failure to engage in mandated patriotic displays was punished. We call that place Nazi Germany. We don't want to be like that.

Toward the end of his poem, Fries says, "We are that one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all. And because we all live in the land of the free, you don't have to say it at all unless you want to." When people say that those who fail to engage in traditional patriotic displays stand against everything that this country stands for, I counter that the freedom to refuse such displays is a key element of what America really stands for.

From my perspective, professional athletes and others who deliberately kneel during the national anthem have chosen a protest method that is too vague. Exactly what are they protesting? Police racism? Inequality? President Trump? Something else? Perhaps different protesters are protesting different things by the same action? How will they know when their goal has been achieved so that they can once again stand during the national anthem? None of this is clear.

Marketing people call this bad branding. Using such a strong symbol with such a muddled message can't help but raise the hackles of many who cherish the symbol. Maybe they'd like to help. But it's not exactly clear what they are supposed to help with.

While I am willing to stand up for the freedom of people to protest in a non-violent manner, I also defend the right of people who disagree with the substance or manner of a protest to refrain from buying goods or services that support the protesters. They are free to prove their sentiments through a boycott. The question is whether they can really stay away from a beloved activity long enough and in large enough numbers to make their point.

This gives us a view into the substance of America, where we have a broad marketplace of ideas. Despite the sharp differences on the matter I have discussed, I feel that America is robust enough to navigate the situation and come out stronger on the other side. It's what America does. Even in our current pampered age, I believe that America retains a degree of grit and resilience that will keep it going for a long time.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Six months sleeping on a Purple Mattress

Who hasn't hated their bed at some point? Each of us spends a lot of life sleeping. Complaints about beds are pretty common, but people often have difficulty finding something more suitable to sleep on.

My wife and I have been through a series of beds and mattresses over the years. One of my contributions to our marriage was the king size waterbed I acquired during a brief stint working as a waterbed deliverer. We had that bed for a number of years. But there are reasons why the waterbed fad died out. Most waterbeds were high maintenance, difficult to move beasts that offered too much wave motion and sucked you back in when when you tried to get out.

Upon exiting the waterbed craze we went through a series of standard mattresses on a standard foundation. Even when we had "pillow top" memory foam and when we regularly flipped and turned the mattress, each of these setups eventually ended up with two sunk areas and a ridge between them.

At least, that was my main complaint. I do OK sleeping on just about anything. After all, I have spent hundreds of nights camping on a foam pad on the ground, usually sleeping alright. My wife hasn't been so lucky. Her joints provide a constant source of pain that make sleeping on most mattresses a miserable experience. I am generally a back sleeper, while she is a side sleeper. We are presently in our mid-50s and are within recommended BMI for our respective heights.

I had finally had it with our last mattress. My wife was often spending portions of each night sleeping on a recliner. She wasn't ready to spend money on a new mattress but I insisted that we find something that would work better for her. I figured that anything that would work for her would be fine for me.

We decided to follow the recent online mattress shopping trend. After all, it couldn't really be much worse than shopping in a furniture store where you flop on a bed for 30 seconds and try to figure out how well it will work for many hours night after night for years. With online shopping you get videos, lots of information, professional reviews, and user reviews that you can peruse at your leisure instead of having to make a decision on a furniture floor.

There are a lot of online mattress companies out there nowadays that try to differentiate themselves from each other through various approaches. It turned out to be quite difficult to choose. We found several sites quite helpful, including Sleepopolis, The Sleep Sherpa, Sleep Like the Dead, and others.

Many factors go into a mattress buying decision. Price range, sleep patterns, how warm you sleep, materials, reviews, return policies, etc. The reason there are so many options is that no single mattress or single provider is going to provide the best situation for everyone. You have to do homework to get some idea of what might work best for you.

Purple is the color of materials on the inside not the outside
After a lot of research we narrowed it down to three options. When we considered the pros and cons of each of the three, the Purple Mattress seemed to fit our desires best. But the king size model cost $100-$200 more than the other brands we were considering.

The factor that pushed us over the edge was Purple's 100-night money back guarantee. At first we were angling to buy the mattress from Amazon, but then we read some user reviews that warned that the 100-night guarantee is only offered on purchases direct from Purple. So we bought the thing from Purple.

We didn't buy a platform to put the mattress on, figuring that we'd just plop it down atop our existing foundation. That was a big mistake. More on that in a moment.

When the mattress arrived it was left on the front porch in a long roll tightly wrapped in watertight purple packaging. The packaging was pretty dirty from shipping so I cleaned it before hauling it up the stairs. I'm not sure about the twin or queen, but I do not advise trying to move the king on your own. I managed it by lifting one end at a time, pivoting, and bringing that end back down pointing the opposite direction. You need some serious strength to pull off that kind of thing and even then you could seriously injure yourself.

Although I was able to get the mattress into the master bedroom by myself without injury, there was no good way to open and unroll it on my own. Later when my wife was home I used the packaging cutter (which looks like an industrial strength letter opener) to cut the packaging. As other reviewers have reported, the cutter broke. But I was able to manage anyway. Oddly enough, the mattress was rolled with the downside in and the upside out. The easiest thing for us to do was to roll it out upside down and then awkwardly flip it over.

One of the strengths of the Purple Mattress is that it is designed to expand to full size within a couple of minutes. We had bought sheets from Purple that are designed to work better with the mattress than regular king sheets. We like these sheets. The new mattress had an obvious scent. But it was not noticeable to us after about two weeks.

As mentioned above, we realized right away that putting our new mattress on the old foundation was a bad idea. As is the case with most king size foundations, ours consisted of two twin box springs side by side on a king frame. The adjoining walls of the two box springs created a sturdy partition that made the middle of the bed feel like a ridge. We realized that this had contributed to the valleys and mountains in our past traditional mattresses.

Although we had wanted to avoid the expense of a new foundation, we quickly ordered a new platform from Purple. Unfortunately the thing was on back order, so we had to wait for a few weeks to get it. I was concerned that the mattress would suffer permanent damage during that time, but when we put the mattress on the new platform the middle of the bed was just fine. The platform was superior to any we had previously seen. Very sturdy. No squeaks. The platform provides 15 inches of clearance, which is far more than a traditional bed. Our 67-lb Imo-Inu dog has taken to running through our room, passing under the bed. He also likes to sleep under the bed.

We obviously decided to keep the mattress as we approached the end of our 100-night trial. I waited until we had used the bed for at least six months before writing a review. I have seen too many product reviews from people who have had the product for a few days. Those can give you a fresh-from-the-package vantage. But with a mattress you really want to know how well it's going to work for the long haul.

From my perspective the mattress is quiet and comfortable. It does sleep cool, which is something I desired. That hasn't been a problem even on cold nights. The edges of the mattress aren't as solid as the edges of traditional mattresses, but that's never been a problem for me. The thing I like most is that my wife now sleeps all night on the mattress instead of retreating to a recliner.

My wife says that she doubts that there is any bed in the world that would allow her to sleep 100% pain free, due to the current condition of her joints. She is always in pain; it's just a matter of how much. But she says that the Purple Mattress at least allows her to be comfortable, unlike our past mattress. When I asked her if the Purple was the most comfortable bed we have owned she responded that it's and apples to oranges comparison, because she has a different body than she had when we were younger. She thinks it works as well as any bed could given her current condition.

Since we have had the bed for only half a year, I can't really speak to its durability. So far it seems quite durable. For what it's worth, the bed has a 10-year-warranty.

And there you have it. We pretty much like our Purple Mattress and platform after six months of use. We will have to see how long it continues to serve our needs. I can't tell you whether you would like a Purple Mattress or not. If you're in the market for a new bed I suggest you go through the same research process that we did to find which product promises to work well for you.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The necktie, the knife, and the bloody thumb

It's time to go through my neckties and get rid of the ones I don't or shouldn't wear anymore. For the record, I think neckties are ridiculous. I keep wondering how it is possible for our culture's grasp on this silly style to continue to hold fast. Yet the absurd necktie somehow remains as an icon of dignity year after year.

Neckties serve no functional purpose. They're just a fashion thing. I consider them banal. But since I am no trend setter and I want to fit in various social settings including church, I acquiesce to wearing neckties as needed.

In my closet are two necktie trees with nearly two dozen ties hanging on them. When I go to put a tie on I see many in my collection that I tolerate. I don't particularly like many of them. It's hard to find the right mixture of color and pattern to match the outfit I am wearing, along with the right cloth thickness and texture. Thicker, hardier cloth tends to feel uncomfortable around my neck. A tie might look great but feel awful or vice versa.

My desire to purge my tie collection started on Sunday while we were sitting quietly in sacrament meeting. That morning I had donned a tie that used to belong to my dad. The reddish background emblazoned with nearly indecipherable grayish images of Captain Moroni looked OK with my black suit. But the tie was already a bit worn when I inherited it nine years ago after Dad passed away. I have kept it mostly for sentimental reasons, I guess.

As we sat listening to the speaker, I noted that there were a lot of fuzzy little threads sticking out from the bottom hem of the tie. Thinking this was an ideal moment to trim away those errant fibers, I quickly deployed my tiny Swiss Army Knife, the like of which I have carried in my pocket most of my life. Hey, I'm an old Scouter. What do you expect?

My initial attempts to trim fine strands met with reluctance from my knife's scissors. Then I remembered having used the scissors to cut the tape on a package, leaving adhesive residue in the pivot point. My wife looked at me askance as I began using my thumb to try to rub away the sticky stuff.

Suddenly I felt the blade of the scissors bite into the skin on the pad of my thumb. My wife snickered as I pulled my thumb away to inspect the damage. Not too bad, I thought. It was just in the top layer of the skin. Or so I thought. I looked stupidly at my thumb as I noticed a tinge of bright red blood begin to seep from my self-inflicted wound. Seeing this, my wife worked so hard to stifle a laugh that she snorted at a time that the speaker was striking a serious note. I was so happy to be able to provide some entertainment.

Fortunately, I also had a clean square of facial tissue in my jacket pocket. I used this to blot blood while I applied direct pressure to the wound. But after a couple of minutes the thumb was still leaking red fluid. This wouldn't have been a huge problem, except that I was substituting for the ward organist that Sunday. I had maybe 12 minutes before I would have to play the organ. Into my mind flashed the bloody organ keys from The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.
My wife leaned over and reminded me that we always carry a first aid kit in the car. I had to leave the meeting and run to the car in search of a band aid. We have long been prepared, but we have used that watertight kit so seldom that I had forgotten how good the quantity and quality of the supplies in the kit were. I quickly applied one of the better band aids I have ever used and returned to the meeting in plenty of time to be ready to play the closing hymn. They wouldn't have to use Bon Ami cleanser to try to remove blood stains from the organ keys.

Upon contemplating my cut thumb, I realized that none of this would have happened had I been wearing a necktie that was in good shape. So it's time to go through my necktie collection and get rid of a bunch of them. Except for the ones that have sentimental value, I guess. Can I really chuck the Halloween tie the kids gave me years ago with plastic google eyes glued all over it?

My dad taught me years ago that knives should be kept sharp. While I'm pretty good on that score, I have now learned that it's important to keep my pocketknife clean. None of this would have happened had I immediately cleaned away the adhesive residue after I used the knife scissors to open a package.

This is an extension of the age old axiom, "A stitch in time saves nine." Meaning that promptly sewing a small hole in fabric may prevent the need to repair a a much larger hole that later develops because the small hole was not properly handled. In essence, if you take care of a small problem now, although it may be inconvenient, it may save you from much bigger problems later.

I have also learned that playing with knives during church probably isn't a great idea.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Nazism, Racism, and Hatred Toward Others: Not OK

My father grew up in Hitler's Germany, being only two years old when Hitler became chancellor. Dad's family lived in a little town up north on the west coast. They were far from the main action so it took longer for the effects of Nazism and Hitler's rule to impact them.

Eventually town officials began to be replaced with Nazi Party loyalists. This continued over the years until, according to Dad, everyone from the mayor to the postal carrier and dog catcher was a party loyalist. Quality educators at Dad's school were kicked out and their jobs were given to low-educated Nazis whose "only other qualification was that they knew how to beat the hell out of [the students]."

During the dozen or so years prior to becoming chancellor, Hitler allied himself with and then led the Nazi Party. Even back then people knew that the party espoused extremist views, including racism and violence. Yet the rallies Hitler spoke at around the country drew increasingly larger crowds as Hitler blamed the country's problems on Jews, political opponents, rivals, and foreign meddling.

Many Germans turned to Hitler because they were desperate. The worldwide great depression hit Germany's rough post-WWI economy particularly hard. "Everyone knew Hitler was a nutcake," said Dad, "but after everyone else had failed at improving the economy, they figured they would give him a chance at it. At least he would then probably shut up after he failed too."

But Hitler didn't fail, as far as many Germans were concerned. His approaches may have been unorthodox, but for the first time in a generation many found jobs and began to rise from years of hardscrabble life. Too bad they couldn't see that the improvements they were experiencing were being purchased with a level of horror that the world had never before seen.

Many Germans were quite enthusiastic for war. The foreigners who had made their lives hell for 20 years deserved a dose of their own medicine. The soaring rhetoric of German superiority convinced many that foreigners should naturally bow to the German Empire. It wasn't as if countries that were compelled to fight the Axis desired war. But the Germans and their allies made it impossible to refuse.

The Nazi Party's strength increased as the economy improved. This came at a cost too. As party loyalty became the coin of the realm, fear of displeasing the party became a factor of everyday life. We have several generations of family history because Grandpa had to prove to the government that he and Grandma had no discernible Jewish blood. Once after insulting a neighbor who was the wife of a low level party officer, Grandma was saved from a jail term by a family friend who was a clerk at the police station. Dad was forced to join the Hitler Youth, a twisted version of Scouting.

When giving the Nazi salute became mandatory, Dad said that people would salute friends while saying, "The crap is this deep in Germany." But that kind of joke could only be shared among highly trusted allies because the consequences could be severe. Even in small resort villages party members openly exercised violence on those with whom they disagreed and those they didn't like for arbitrary reasons. Often this was done with official government sanction.

Even in small villages families would disappear overnight. Maybe they were Jews or dissidents or some other "enemy of the state." Who knew? One thing was for sure: you couldn't talk about it with anyone for fear of experiencing the same fate. This three-minute video gives a little insight.

As the war drew on horrible rumors of atrocities carried out at prison camps trickled back to Dad's village. These tales were so terribly bizarre that they simply could not be believed. Only after the war when the shockingly horrible truth was exposed did people in Dad's neck of the woods realize that the outlandish rumors had been extremely mild.

Dad disagreed with armchair moralists who claimed that carpet bombing by Allied Forces in Germany during WWII was immoral. "They didn't live there," Dad would say. "They have no idea how ingrained the ideology had become among the general populace. The Allies didn't just have to defeat the German military; they had to soundly defeat the German people to destroy the ideology. The quickest most compassionate way to accomplish that was through carpet bombing. The reason for WWII was that the seeds of the ideology had not been killed after WWI. If the Allies had not defeated the ideology in WWII, it would have risen again a generation later."

Mind you, Dad's village was on the receiving end of that bombing. He suffered PTSD throughout life as a result. But he still insisted that this was the best way forward and that it proved effective. "Two years after the war," he said, "you couldn't find a single person in Germany who would suggest that Nazism had been a good idea."

Some estimates put the military and civilian death toll from World War II at around 80 million. Not to mention untold injuries, unparalleled infrastructure devastation, and extensive economic destruction. Those who today idolize Nazism inescapably yoke themselves to this reprehensibly evil legacy.

When Dad came to the free USA, he was stunned to find people who, he said, would have happily toiled away at killing people in labor camps for the Fatherland. They didn't use Nazi symbols but they thought along the same lines. We still have people like that in the US today.

Freedom of speech in the US means that people in this nation may freely choose to think and speak like Nazis, and to engage in Nazi-like behavior that is peaceful, including waving the deplorable symbol of the Nazi flag. It means that people are free to think and speak like racists, despicable though this may be. Freedom of assembly means that these people are free to peacefully assemble with like-minded individuals. But they are not free to incite or engage in violence or to materially harm others.

I do not doubt that many pro-white protesters who were in Charlottesville last weekend feel that they have legitimate concerns that are not being adequately addressed. I'm sure that there are also many like-minded folks who were nowhere near the Charlottesville protests. All these people have a right to say their piece, although, I can't help but feel about their cause as Ulysses S. Grant felt about the Confederacy when he said that their cause was "one of the worst for which a people ever fought...."

Pro-white folks that grouse about scoundrel race baiting "leaders" among minority groups ought to be aware that the race baiter's cloak is just as ugly when worn by those among their own ranks. They should also know that the vast majority of people in this nation who happened to be born with lighter skin pigmentation in no way identify with the pro-white movement and their ilk. When I saw a video clip of one racist saying that white folk need representation based on skin color just as some minority groups have, I said out loud to the computer screen, "You, sir, do not speak for me."

To the so-called pro-white folks I say, I am happy to consider your calm and reasoned arguments. But know that I will oppose any Nazi-like or racist sentiments. I will defend your right to harbor those sentiments. But you need to know that I believe such things are unseverably bound to some of the greatest evils ever perpetrated on this earth, and vary from such malignity only by degree, not by kind. I love you; but I am compelled to hate some of your ideals.

I also say that there is a better and happier way forward that is found in the true gospel of Jesus Christ and in Jesus' teaching to love each person as a child of God who has infinite value, regardless of skin color, economic status, nationality, belief, or any other seeming division point. I invite you to put down your anger and hatred and come to the fount of joy.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Giving Up on Google Feed

A few years ago after I got a new phone, I kept getting hit up with messages prompting me to turn on a new feature called Google Now. I tried it for a little while, but it seemed mostly like one of those gee whiz features that isn't really very useful. So I turned it off.

A few months later after repeated pestering I turned Google Now on again. Improvements had been made and it at least seemed marginally useful. So I kept it around. Over time the app learned to present more of what I wanted to see and less of what I didn't care about. I kept thinking that I'd turn the app off, but then I found myself using it more and more. Features seemed to improve over time as well.

Here are some of the things I liked about the Google Now feed:
  • A notification would pop up when a it found a significant number of new stories that might interest me. I usually only was notified once or twice each day. If I didn't want to look at the cards right then I could simply swipe the notification away.
  • It was easy to swipe away cards I had finished with or that didn't interest me at the moment.
  • My feed usually only presented about dozen or so cards at a time, so it was manageable.
  • Tapping on a card took me to an article. When I was done with the article I could hit return and go back to the same point I was at in the feed before going to the story.
  • The feed was informed by my Google search patterns, which reflect my software development career. So I was regularly presented with interesting tidbits for which I didn't specifically search but that were both intriguing and useful on the job.
  • The feed was relatively unobtrusive. It didn't demand much of me but it was there when I wanted to use it.
It seems that Google intended users to go to Google Now instead of social media apps as their main news interface. At least, I seemed to be going that direction. Until a few months ago when the app started to become less useful for me.

First my app notification went away. Then it was replaced by a notification that looked very similar but that took me to a feed that was entirely about weather. I have a weather widget on my phone's main screen and I can look outside at the weather anytime I want. A whole feed about weather seemed pretty useless to me. I tried many different setting changes but nothing helped.

My news feed was still available but only by tapping on the Google app search bar. And then the news cards were obscured by the keyboard. While it's not too difficult to escape out of the keyboard, it seemed noisome and unnecessary when I wanted to see my feed.

Then another problem surfaced. I could still peruse the cards in my news feed and I could tap on a card to go to the actual story. But any attempt to return from the story completely closed the app and dumped me back on the phone main screen. If I wanted to get back to my feed I'd have to once again tap on the Google app search bar and dismiss the keyboard.

On July 19 Google released an upgraded Google app that included the feed. There was a lot of hype touting this as brand new and saying that Google Now was going away (See The Verge article for example). But it really wasn't brand new. It looked pretty much like the feed had looked in Google Now. Still, there were supposed to be improvements. That had to be good, right?

Not so much for me. After the app upgrade I could no longer swipe away cards from my feed. To get rid of a card I had to tap on the three dot icon in the upper right corner of the card and select "Done with this card" from the drop down menu. I tried various solutions — including uninstalling updates, clearing cache, disabling/re-enabling, and a variety of more obscure approaches — but none of them worked. The problems even persisted with a new phone.

That's when I cried uncle. If Google's goal was to get people to shut off their Google app feed altogether, their methodology was effective for me. True, they had to wear me down over a period of half a year. But they finally got me. I'm done with Google feed on my phone.

I would say that I don't miss the feed, but that's not accurate. It is true that I used the feed decreasingly as it became less convenient, so that turning it off wasn't that big of a step. Still, I have a dandy phone and I think it ought to do some of the same cool things its predecessor did well for several years.

So I miss the feed. I liked a lot of things about it when it worked well. What I really don't miss is all of the problems my Google feed developed over the past half year. So it's with a somewhat heavy heart that I say, "So long, Google feed. Thanks for the good times."

Monday, July 24, 2017

When Church and Technology Collide

"I am just amazed at how you knew how to do all that," the fellow said after I coached him through a computer task. The funny thing is that I hadn't know how to "do all that" when I walked into the office 15 minutes earlier. I simply followed my instincts, tried a few things that seemed to make sense, and ultimately figured out how to do it. The main reason it took as long as 15 minutes is that I insisted that the other man operate the computer so that he could get first hand experience doing the task.

A tech article I once read said that the main difference between techies and non-techies is that techies aren't afraid to break things. That is, they are willing to try technology operations that have a chance of doing something desired but that might also break something. They push buttons, click on stuff, and hunt around for the right thing to do, having some confidence that they will be able to recover from any problems caused along the way.

By doing this, tech folks develop instincts about what is likely to work and what isn't. They also learn how to usually keep from going too far down the wrong path. To non-techies, the steps techies take can seem like magic. They aren't. Techie instincts are sometimes purchased at the cost of a lot of pain and distress.

One of the fun scenes in Disney's 1963 animated feature The Sword in the Stone depicts a wizard's duel between the (good) wizard Merlin and the (evil) enchantress Madame Mim. Merlin wins the duel, of course. While Mim is only left with a temporary illness as the result of her loss, Merlin's student Wart (the future King Arthur) sputters to Merlin, "You were really great, Merlin, but... but you could've been killed." Merlin replies, "It was worth it, lad, if you learned something from it."

Techies are like Merlin when it comes to technology in that a difficult challenge that seems to nearly figuratively kill you can be worth it if something valuable is learned along the way.

For the past year or so I have been serving as the technology specialist in my LDS stake, after having served as ward technology specialist for about a year. I have a wonderful assistant at the stake level with whom I work closely. Each ward has a tech specialist. Together we make up the stake technology committee. Ward specialists deal with tech matters at the ward level. My assistant and I handle stake technology matters as well as ward matters that bubble up to us.

In my professional life I have been a software developer for more than two decades. To most people outside of the IT industry all techies are the same. In real life we tend to be highly specialized. Software developers write the programs that run the hardware. We know a lot more about hardware than the typical computer user but usually a lot less than does the average hardware support person.

Software developers also tend to be highly specialized within their field. I work with databases, structuring data, getting data in and out, and presenting data in useful ways. Developers who work with gaming and those that program scientific instruments have entirely different skill sets and I do. Except for those that work with audiovisual material, you can expect software developers to know less about A/V stuff than your typical savvy A/V user.

As a stake technology specialist I deal mostly with what we in the industry call IT support. This comes in several varieties such as customer, desktop, mobile device, hardware, network, and audiovisual support. There is no software engineering involved in this calling. Thus, I have been forced to pick up skills that might be somewhat related but are quite different than what I do at work. Still, techie instincts constantly come in handy in this calling.

When responding to a call or a text presenting a problem I have to come across as knowledgeable and I need to communicate with the reporting individual on a level they can comprehend. That typically means that I need to be able to translate from layman terms to useful tech terms and vice versa. We also have many tech savvy folks in our stake. It can be challenging to work simultaneously with people at both ends of the spectrum. While it can be ego enhancing to talk above people's heads in techie dialect, it's better to try to make them feel comfortable. Frankly, techies that don't deal with customer service in their daily lives tend not to be great at that sort of thing. But I try.

My assistant and I regularly pray that the technology we work with will be inconspicuous and won't impede the message it is intended to support. The whole reason the Church has technology is to better accomplish its mission. Technology best serves this purpose when it just works without much fanfare. This is more difficult than it may seem.

Let's say you want to show a video during a lesson in a classroom at a church building. Unless you have a tiny class, your phone or tablet screen probably isn't effectively viewable for all class members. Your laptop screen might not be large enough either. So you want to use one of the TVs from the building's materials center. Since you don't live in the past, you have no DVD. You expect to stream the video from your device.

But how do you do that? Is it an Apple, Android, Windows, or other kind of device? If it's Apple, does it use a 30-pin, Lightning, Thunderbolt, or HDMI connector? You could go wireless, except that AppleTV is probably so expensive that your building doesn't have one. So do you have the right kind of connector cord? If you have an Adroid device you may have no way to directly hook it to the TV using a cable. Does the TV have a Chromecast or Roku device? Quick, download the corresponding app. Now, can you get your device to link to the cast receiving device on the TV? Remember that both devices must be on the same WiFi network. Oh wait, you're in the Relief Society Room at my stake center where the WiFi signal is mostly nonexistent. You're out of luck. See how challenging it can be to accomplish a tech task that should be simple?

As a stake tech specialist one of the things I most long for is upgraded integrated audiovisual technology at our stake center. We support four buildings, although, one building is split with another stake. Our newest building is 30 years old, while the oldest is 52. Our stake center had state-of-the-art technology when it was dedicated 35 years ago. While some technology has been upgraded over time, all four buildings lack modern built-in video capacity, making broadcast of stake conferences and switching between video inputs nightmarish. All four buildings have WiFi, but it is pretty spotty in some parts of the buildings.

The previous tech specialist in my stake did a great job. He was an innovator who showed stake leaders what was possible at stake conferences. So they came to expect internet broadcast to shut-ins and people who are away, video monitors on the stand in the chapel so that those on the stand can see what the video camera sees, seamless switching between video sources, the ability to show content from an iPad on the fly, etc.

It takes multiple techies many hours to set up for stake conferences and other major meetings. Cords snake all over the place. Even after being secured with expensive gaffer tape safety is still an issue due to tripping hazards. The high number of temporary connections present so many potential failure points that it's amazing when any of this stuff works at all. Leaders and speakers usually handle inevitable live-time glitches with grace. But it galls me every time our taped-together tech interferes with the gospel message.

I can't deny that I am envious every time I visit other older LDS meetinghouses that have built-in video cameras, projectors, and screens in the chapel. Such an installation would significantly reduce failure points and labor involved in meeting prep/cleanup, but nothing like that is apparently on the radar for our stake.

We have professionals in our stake that could wire up a great A/V setup but Church rules prevent them from doing so. You can't really blame the Church for this policy. They have had to deal with more than a few well-meaning do-it-yourself jobs that create long-term maintenance problems. They also have to worry about building codes and safety guidelines. A DIY electrical job gone wrong can quickly burn down a church building.

Our local tabernacle in town may have spoiled me a bit. Everything is built-in: video cameras, screens, projectors, flat screen monitors on the stand and in other rooms, internet broadcast equipment, etc. A small touch screen mounted off to the side of the choir seats controls it all. It takes a little training to use, but it's not bad. (This was all installed during a major renovation project three years ago.)

When we have stake conference in this building, I hook my laptop to a built-in plate on the wall below the touch screen. From there I run the internet broadcast through the building's equipment and show lyrics during hymns. Everything else is run from the mounted touch screen.

Is it too much to ask for a setup like that for my stake center? Apparently so. The wiring for that kind of thing is significant. It is also important to realize that technology tends to age far more rapidly than the building space that hosts the technology. Architects try to design modern buildings to be flexible enough to work with tech upgrades. But they can't see the future of technology so it's impossible to get this right. This means that it is often difficult and costly to upgrade technology in church buildings that are designed to outlast many technological cycles. (Remember that my stake's four buildings are 30-52 years old.)

While the gospel message can be shared without technology, there is a reason the Church has invested so much in media content. As a stake tech specialist, I want nothing more than to help people easily use appropriate tech to accomplish their callings. But due to shortcomings in technology I often feel more like Mordac, the Preventer of Information Services of Dilbert fame.

Last Christmas a dear sister in my stake sent me a lovely Christmas note saying that she appreciated the way I carried out my "behind the scenes calling." While I appreciated the sentiment, the note was evidence that I'm not nearly as behind the scenes as I should be. I and my ilk should be able to work well enough with the technology that we fade into the background. Maybe it's that way in some stakes but in my stake we're a long way from that ideal at present.

Despite the challenges inherent in my current calling, I'm happy to serve in any station for Jesus the Crucified (Hymns 270).

Monday, June 26, 2017

The dog, paw surgery, bandage, and cone drama

Our 5½-year-old Imo Inu dog (cross between American Eskimo and Shiba Inu breeds) is a gorgeous white male that is more than half again as large as his breed is supposed to get.
One of the nice things about our dog's breed is that it tends to self clean, similar to many breeds of cat. This has many benefits. Our dog doesn't often traipse into the house with messy paws, for example. But our dog's penchant for self grooming recently became a problem.

A few weeks ago we noticed a growth on the top of one of the dog's front paws. We took him to the vet, who said it was something like a cyst that needed to be removed soon. After the surgery we kept his foot wrapped with gauze and a self-adhering bandage.

As soon as the effects of the general anesthetic wore off, it became quite clear that we would need something to prevent the dog from accessing his paw with his mouth. A standard plastic e-collar (Elizabethan collar, aka "cone of shame") seemed to be the most economical approach. But the size that fit him was simply not adequate. Our dog could access his paw with relative ease even with the collar properly in place.

Before long we obtained a Comfy Cone brand padded fabric collar for the dog. It was a little longer. But the dog could still get to his paw. So we came up with the brilliant idea to extend the Comfy Cone by attaching the e-collar with duct tape, redneck style.

Although this extended the cone, our dog could still manage to reach his paw via somewhat extraordinary contortions. He would stand up and bend his head down in a way that bent the outer edge of the extended cone, at the same time shoving his paw forward as far as it would go. Then he would extend his neck far enough that he could reach the paw with his front teeth. This allowed him to rip off the bandage and chew up his knuckles to the point of making them bleed. (Although, he still couldn't reach the stitches.)

After getting very tired of having to constantly baby-sit the dog, I grabbed an old ice cream bucket one day, cut the sides from it, and used duct tape to attach the pieces so that they extended the double cone yet more. Seeing how this worked, I used parts of two more ice cream buckets to make a (nearly) full circle.

The pieces of ice cream bucket looked like flower petals. This conical concoction was heavy and unwieldy. I started calling it "Conehenge." It looked utterly ridiculous. But it kept our tenacious dog from reaching his paw. The paw began healing nicely over the next couple of days as we regularly changed the dressing, gave the dog prescribed antibiotics, and also gave the dog buffered aspirin formulated for canines.
As you might imagine, this was an imperfect solution. The ice cream bucket pieces were far less durable than the e-collar material. The dog whacked the massive cone on everything, causing the ice cream bucket pieces to split and chip. But he still couldn't get to his paw.

Until he could. He managed to break Conehenge enough to access his paw while we were out of the house. It ripped up his mouth to do so, but apparently that was an acceptable price to pay. We were frustrated. Although we realized that the dog was simply doing what his instincts told him, we were about out of options. My brother suggested that the correct answer to a situation of this nature was a bullet to the noggin. And before anyone asks, nasty tasting deterrent sprays and bitter tasting bandage material offered little in the way of dissuasion to our dog.

While we were trying to figure out how to deal with our dog's cone situation, the dog was unattended for a few moments when we thought he was sleeping. I soon discovered that his paw was missing the bandage and wound dressing. I looked around, but the remnants were nowhere to be found. My wife said that he must have eaten it. The dog has always had a thing for bandages. He would love to lick a bandage right off your finger if you let him. But I couldn't imagine how the critter could have ingested the entire paw dressing in such a short time frame.

We ended up buying an extra large e-collar and hooking that to the Comfy Cone with duct tape.
Conehead the Barkbarian
This setup seems to work. It's as large as Conehenge without the excessive weight and brittleness. The dog can't get to his paw. Although he had the stitches out the other day and he no longer needs to have the paw bandaged, it still has a scab which he simply can't let be. The dog may need to wear the collar for several weeks until the paw is 100% healed.

Although the super cone keeps the dog's paw safe, it is still unwieldy. He can go down steps, but he can't go up stairs of his own accord because the lower lip of the cone hits and gets stuck on every step. We end up having to heft and carry our 65-lbs of Imo Inu every time steps must be climbed. The dog can't eat or drink on his own. He can't get as close as he'd like to sniff at stuff. He can't self groom. He constantly bumps into people, walls, furniture, the floor, etc. In other words, the cone is a pain for the dog and for us. But what else can we do?

Last night our coned canine seemed uncomfortable all night long. He just couldn't seem to get into a comfortable position, dog aspirin notwithstanding. He made a lot of noise rustling about, which interrupted the sleep of family members. We couldn't fathom what was wrong. His paw seemed to look so much better.

This morning as I sat down to work, the dog leaned on my legs beneath my desk. He was being especially clingy. Then suddenly he hurled up a massive load of vomit. I couldn't keep all of it from going onto the carpet, but I was able to quickly direct his cone so that most of the bilious mass sloshed onto my plastic chair mat, like it was sliding down a reverse funnel.

The central feature of this nasty spew was the bandage and gauze that had gone missing from the dog's paw, in two large and two small chunks. The whole thing was there. It had somehow been in his belly for four full days. He had eaten, drunk, urinated, and defecated during that time without showing signs of gut problems. I have no idea why he suddenly became uncomfortable only last night. At least he seems to be feeling better now, although, I had to clean up under my desk.

I am fond of reminding family members that I voted against getting the dog. I knew he would impose a number of burdens on our family that I didn't think were worth the trade off. The dog regularly frustrates me and I am forced to deal with the onuses that I knew would be part of dog ownership. But I still love the dog and everyone in the family knows it. Including the dog.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

My newfound fascination with the unfollow button

Dear Facebook Friends,

I have recently been unfollowing many of you. I was going to write something trite like, "It's not you; it's me." But that wouldn't be completely true.

It started out with just a trickle. I didn't really think much about why I was doing it. After looking at one of your posts that I thought was inane, I just tapped on the little down arrow and selected the unfollow link. It was so easy. The guilt and FOMO (fear of missing out) that I expected to feel never materialized. Instead I felt a sense of euphoria, as if fetters with which I had been bound suddenly melted away.

That intoxicating feeling resulted in unfollowing increasing numbers of friends. Yes, I know that if this trend continues my feed will soon be empty. But I'm wondering if that's really such a bad thing, considering the general quality of the material I see in my feed.

This process has caused some introspection, allowing me to see some patterns appear as I have unfollowed increasing numbers of you. Let me plainly admit that the moment I see that your post has foul language or risqué images/messages, I choose to hide it. I just don't need that junk in my head. If too many of your posts are laced with this kind of crap, it's just easier to unfollow you than to sit around hoping that you will at some point post something of value.

Actually, those of you whom I have unfollowed for such unfortunate messages have been few. Nor have I unfollowed any of you because I disagree with you politically, religiously, or otherwise ideologically. I appreciate diversity of thought. Value exists in having one's positions challenged and in recognizing that there are thoughtful people of goodwill who see things differently.

Rather, I have realized that the main reason I have unfollowed many of you is the sheer volume of stuff you send across my feed. Quite frankly, some of you must feel a need to share everything you see on Facebook. Some of you have your settings such that I see everything you like. And it seems as if some of you like everything you see.

When my feed is jammed with 40 of your shared or liked items in a single day, it's just too much. I'm overwhelmed. I don't have time to deal with that kind of volume. Nor do I need to clog my limited mental bandwidth with most of the material you share or like.

Please realize that the most entertaining stuff you send across my feed has usually come to me many times already. Reruns. Much of the other stuff in my feed does little to enrich my life. When the great majority of material I see from you falls in these categories, I unfollow you.

I'm also going to unfollow you if you overload my feed with political posts, regardless of whether I agree with you politically or not. We all know that the vast majority of political posts on social media amount to sniping at the opposing party and validating your own party, without providing much newsworthiness or informative value.

I ... have ... had ... enough! I do not need to be exposed to breathless political drivel to be sufficiently informed about political matters. An occasional thoughtful political message is fine. But a constant feed of political nitpicking daily? Just go away already.

One more thing. Keep your passive aggressive posts to yourself. Every time I see something like, "I bet this won't get very many likes," or "I'm going to rant..." or any other approach that tries to make me feel like garbage if I don't repost, share, or like something, I'm going to unfollow you. I'm tired of seeing posts of that nature. It's bad social media citizenship.

Oh, and feel free to return the favor. It won't bother me at all if you unfollow me. I won't know that you've unfollowed me. Nor will I care. You have your life to live. You are not required to spend your limited resources paying attention to stuff I post, like, or share.

There, I got that off my chest. I hope we can still be friends. Just because I don't find value in everything you value does not mean that we can't have a relationship. I wish you goodness and happiness, despite no longer following you on Facebook.


Saturday, May 20, 2017

The LDS Church-BSA partnership will continue for now

About a week ago I wrote this post about the LDS Church discontinuing its sponsorship of  theVarsity Scouting and Venturing programs. After a week of considering the matter, I now see some facets of this issue differently. I covered some of this in comments on that blog post. But after more consideration, I think this warrants its own post.

Some are certain that the Church's action is simply a precursor to discontinuing its relationship with Scouting completely. While some make this prognostication with deep regret, others are gleefully ready to pound nails in the coffin of Scouting. I'm not ready to go there. The recently announced program change might indeed be the prelude to the end of LDS Scouting. But quite frankly, I've been hearing variations on this theme for 35 years, often as an excuse for shoddy stewardship in a calling.

I will be the first to admit that the world is a very different place than it was when Scouting was vogue, and that the Scouting program suits some boys better than others. Certainly there are cogent arguments for the Church to drop all sponsorship of Scouting. But there are also solid reasons for the Church to continue to sponsor Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.

I found it informative to watch the following 20-minute interview with current BSA National Commissioner Charles W. Dahlquist, who served as LDS Church Young Men General President from 2004 to 2009.

Brother Dahlquist has been on both sides of the LDS-BSA equation. Even he can't say where this will ultimately go. He references a statement made by Church leaders some four decades ago, saying that when Scouting no longer meets the needs of the Church and the Aaronic Priesthood, the Church will discontinue its sponsorship of Scouting. He said that this statement remains true today, but in his estimation we are from from the point where Scouting does not meet the Church's needs. I know people who disagree with him, but they are not among top decision makers in the Church.

In my previous post I opined that the Church would likely stop sponsoring Scouting if the BSA were to make the programs now known as Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts co-ed. In a comment I cited the reasoning of a Scouting friend, who noted that the BSA already began allowing "transgender boys" (i.e. girls who say they identify as boys) into these programs. There are already girls suing the BSA for keeping them out of Cub Scouts/Boy Scouts. My friend asked how the BSA can say in court that girls must not be permitted into these programs, when it already allows girls into the programs. So it would seem that it's only a matter of time before Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts become mixed-sex programs. I assumed that at that point the Church would get out of Scouting.

Brother Dahlquist brushed aside these concerns by citing the fact that religious organizations that sponsor Scouting units have solidly protected rights to determine unit membership for religious purposes. For example, Venturing has been a co-ed program for decades. Yet in all the years the Church has sponsored Venturing, its units have been exclusively for boys and their male adult leaders. This precedent shows that the Church could continue to register only boys in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts if the BSA made these programs co-ed. So I believe that the concern I penned in my previous post really amounts to nothing.

The main question, as framed by Brother Dahlquist (quoting previous Church leaders) is whether top Church leaders believe that Cub Scouting and Boy Scouting meet the Church's needs at present. The recent statement shows that Church leaders feel that these programs fill the need for now. But, as Brother Dahlquist noted, that question is constantly up for review.

Commissioner Dahlquist also admitted that the Church is actively seeking a more global approach to youth programs. The diversity of Scouting programs around the world make it impossible for Scouting to be that global program for the Church. So it would seem that the Church is well aware that it will fully drop Scouting at some point. Brother Dahquist expressed hope that this juncture was yet many years away.

Whether the Church gets out of Scouting in the near or distant future, my plan is to continue to sustain Church leaders. Since they have directed that Cub Scouting and Boy Scouting continue for now, I will continue to enthusiastically support these programs in the Church.

My role is somewhat different as an Order of the Arrow chapter adviser. OA units are sponsored by the BSA, not by any external organization. The Order's membership policies must mirror those of the Boy Scout program. If that program admits both boys and girls, so will the OA. And it will be just fine. The OA will flex to meet the needs of its members.

It seems to me, however, that if the OA begins to admit girls, it will need to revamp some fundamental tenets of its program. Namely, the OA is a brotherhood. It is a fraternal service organization. Brotherhood is heavily referenced in its ceremonies and program materials. It is part of the Obligation (OA oath) and the song of the Order. The first word in the three-word Native American name of the Order translates to Brotherhood. I'm certain that national officials are quite aware of this issue. I suspect that they are studying changes that would become necessary if girls are admitted to the OA.

Scouting will continue. The LDS Church will continue. Both organizations will continue their partnership for now, although, it seems clear that the partnership must ultimately cease at some point. Until that time, I will continue to support this union.