Go, Send or Disobey

Nine days until Asia. Five years since our last trip there. We have gotten entirely too comfortable here, and we can’t wait to be reminded of what life is like outside of this bubble we live in.
Last time we went we weren’t parents, and the responsibilities we left behind weren’t quite so large. This time has involved a lot more preparation. One of the tasks we had to see to was documenting our wishes, should something awful happen and we don’t return. It seems morbid, I know, but its been irresponsible of us not to have this done already.
We didn’t get around to visiting or paying a lawyer, but we’ve drawn up an at least legally defensible document, articulating the things we feel are important. Nic found this an emotional process — I thought it was kind of fun. It was like creating a “Plan B” that covers a life time!
One of the biggest challenges was to distill the most important things we want our kids to learn into a couple paragraphs of instructions and arrangements. Every major decision we make as parents, and many of the minor day-to-day ones, is about instilling values in Benjamin and Abigail that we have found to be somewhat rare, but so incredibly important…
First and foremost, we want our kids to know Jesus. We want them to know that Christianity is about a relationship with the God of all creation, who shaped them, loves them, died and rose again for them, and has a plan for their little lives that is more exciting, more amazing, and more wonderful than they could ever find on their own. (Jeremiah 29:11)
We want them to know, at a minimum, what His book, the Bible, and especially the New Testatment, teaches about how to live a healthy, compassionate, generous and righteous life. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
We want them to understand that each and every child of God is instructed to be involved in Going. That as Christians we have a responsibility not just to our family, or our community, but to the lost and the hurting and the broken around the world. (Matthew 28:16-20)
We want them to experience the incredible adventure of Going, so that whether God calls them to be Goers or Senders, they will know the wonderous uncertainty and trembling, awstruck joy of obeying His call into the unknown and seeing how His mighty power moves mountains, lights the darkness, and changes lives from the inside out. (Romans 1:20)
We want them to know that if you’re comfortable, you’re not growing. If life is too easy, then you’re not doing enough. If your bank account is full, then you’re not giving enough. If travel means only a vacation, then you’re not seeing the world the way God does. That if you settle for the world’s best, then you miss God’s best and your life is empty. (Matthew 4:4)
It is with much wrestling that we’ve accepted that God has us in a season of rest. (Psalm 46:10) We confess that we’re still learning how to do that. We don’t know exactly what it is we’re supposed to do here, except to teach and equip our kids, and obey His day-to-day instructions. If we knew what came next, we wouldn’t be living on faith, so we are grateful for the wonderful blessings God has given us right now.
But He knows that we’d chose two weeks in Asia amongst His missionaries, than two weeks here, any time of the year. Next time we go, we’ll bring the kids. (Hebrews 11:13-16)

A Wonderful Long Weekend

Monday was Victoria Day in Canada, giving us a long weekend that, as usual, we hadn’t planned anything for. We decided to go on a picnic, get some ice cream, and then hunt for some fireworks. We didn’t find fireworks, but we ran into our traveling buddy, saw hot air balloons take off in the park, and had an ice cream tailgate party. The weather here has been beautiful — almost too hot — and our kids permanently smell like grass stains and sunscreen.
Summer is wonderful.

A worthwhile week away

This is, barring some urgent event, my last business trip of the fiscal year. I’m at corporate headquarters for meetings and training, but also to remind everyone at the mothership that I exist before end-of-year reviews — its tough working remotely, although my team is very flexible and considerate about it. I’m gone for the whole week — from last Sunday to this coming Saturday. That’s a good day and a half longer than I’m usually away, so its a little bit tougher, but its been worth it — and the best is yet to come.
Sunday I flew into SEATAC at 6pm, grabbed my rental, and booted it into Seattle to catch the last evening service at Mars Hill. If you haven’t heard of Mars Hill or Mark Driscoll, you really should check it out. Those used to traditional church services might not like their style, but for an “emerging” church, they’re very strictly Biblical. Hip and theologically-sound don’t go hand-in-hand much these days, but Mars Hill seems to get it right.
Monday afternoon I snuck out early and drove the hour-and-a-half to Bremerton to visit some old friends from when we lived in New York. Jon is stationed in Washington (when he’s not aboard a U.S. Navy submarine) and Virginia works locally. They bought a cute little bungalow and have a tiny dog who thinks its a person.
I’m staying in probably the coolest hotel ever. My room is like a swanky, cosmopolitan apartment, with every luxury of home one could ask for. The hotel seems to have been made with MS employees in mind because there’s an XBox lounge and theater, Starbucks in the lobby, laundry facilities, and free meals… they’ll even go grocery shopping for you!
At work, I’ve been doing my best to cross all my Ts and dot all my Is before we leave for most of the, fairly career-critical, month of June and I’m pretty proud of how I survived my first fiscal year at my new job. I still have a lot to learn, but its been a blast, and I’m looking forward to another year. Starting tomorrow, the team is getting together for some off-site bonding, and discussion, and I know I’ll learn a lot from spending 2 days in a room with the awfully smart people I work with.
I have great colleagues, great partners, a wonderful family at home waiting for me, and an intense, tightly-packed adventure in Asia coming up in just a few short weeks. I am blessed beyond what I deserve — God is good!

Still Blogging This

A funny thing has happened to the Internet over the past couple years. A swing away from empowered, content-producing users back toward a corporate controlled ecosystem. I blame Twitter, and more recently Facebook, and even, just a little bit, Apple.
See the real and amazing power of the Internet is democratization. My previous post ranting about cable companies isn’t so much about the size of a cable bill, its about the delivery mechanism: one where a bunch of big companies get together and decide what you should want to watch, what comes bundled with what you want to watch, and where you may watch it. DVRs have at least given the consumer control over the when, but they hold fast to control over everything else — and then blast the volume on the commercials, as if to remind you that you should not expect to impose limits on what you consume.
The Internet has been, and continues to be, a mechanism to change that. Not only do you have control over what you consume, and when and where, but you have the power to produce content — YouTube, as low-brow as it may often be, is a powerful example of individuals producing content.
But then there’s the problem of how to monetize it. Twitter somehow manages to survive, despite having no business plan, but the fact remains that the content it allows its users to create is so limited as to be mostly drivel. It allows individuals to produce content — but in such a strangled way as to be useless. Facebook, although it provides more freedom and scope, barely tries to conceal the fact that it exists to sell your personal information to advertisers. Under the pretense of allowing you to produce content, they re-sell your very identity back to those big companies who only want you to consume.
I did finally break down and open a Twitter account. I intended to Tweet from conferences for work. I barely use it. I’m a fairly prolific Facebook user, and I can’t argue against the value of the platform as a social network. But I can’t escape the fact that although blogging has taken a back-seat to these other, far less open, far less noble “producing” technologies, it remains important.
I laughed when I found my “I’m Blogging This” t-shirt in my drawer the other day. Its not so much a mark of elite netizen these days to have a blog. And I’ll admit that I occassionally wonder why I maintain this site when most of those who do read my posts do so via Facebook anyway. But I am increasingly convinced that despite the fact that we, the consuming public, are lining up in droves to buy devices like the iPad — one that barely pretends to enable content creation, and is really nothing more than a (very good, very sexy) media consuming appliance — for the Internet to remain neutral, and democratic, those of us with even a slight penchant for creativity need to remain stalwart in our resolve to continue to contribute to our little corners of this world wide web.
My content may not be the most compelling (although I’d argue that pictures of my kids are pretty darn cute) but it is unique, it is novel, and it isn’t created or controlled by one of those dinosaur organizations that cling desperately to a world where what they deliver is what people must consume.
The latest new look for jonandnic.com scales back, even more, on some of the functionality and content that I used to maintain. I no longer need to code or implement social networking features, or store archives, or host videos — and in some cases, that’s OK. I’m not entirely opposed to capitalism on the web — if companies can offer compelling products to meet these needs, even if they sell advertising to monetize it, then they deserve a spot in the marketplace of the future (the Cloud.) But I will not concede the blog as a whole to Facebook, or relinquish my creativity to 140 characters on Twitter. I will not uninstall Visual Studio on my PC, or Final Cut on my Mac. And I will not give up on blogging.
On the Internet I have the same rights as Fox News, or CNN or the Wallstreet Journal. My content might not be as great, but it is mine. And on this media I can create and share and communicate. And if we’d all stop surrendering our brains to whatever comes out of the idiot box, or think beyond what’s on our Facebook wall, maybe we could start having conversations and exchanging ideas again.

A conversation with our local cable company

Rogers Cable Direct Mail: Did you know that, compared to how you’re watching TV now, you could be missing out on so much more for your family: a more reliable picture in extreme weather conditions, more programming choices and more flexibility to watch what you want whenever you’re ready.
Me: Um… I get my TV regardless of weather, I chose only the shows I want and don’t have to watch commercials. I can watch my shows any time I want, from any TV I want — and also from any smart phone. I can even bring my shows with me on my trips so I can watch them on a plane. And I pay a fraction of the cost of that “first three months for only $70/mo!” offer you keep trying to shove down my throat.
Your distribution mechanism is dying, and your business model is obsolete. You can join the telegraph, the 8 track tape and dead tree blogs in a rotting pile of archaic technology, you over-weight behemoth of a customer-abusing, monopoly-touting, dead-horse-flogging dinosaur!


One of the side-effects of constant travel is that when you’re home, you’re in triage mode. Everything I think Imight want to do, gets quickly stacked against my current priority ranking, and some things, somewhat cruelly just don’t make the cut.
If I’m home only for a weekend, then I want to spend most of it with my kids — and with my wife without the kids. I want to spend some time with my church family somehow. And, I’m realising as a home owner and a stuffy old grown-up, I need to spend some time doing tasks around the house. Add to that maintenance of my fragile back, and the necessary sleep, grooming, and clothing preparation tasks (if all my dress pants need dry cleaning before the next trip, I’m in trouble!) and two days is gone pretty fast.
I think I’ve gotten pretty good at this triage, and do manage to rotate the priority list to try to keep some of the other balls in the air — like, say, our trip to Asia. The challenge, then, is shutting off triage-mode when I’m home for awhile…
“Be here now” has never been a natural activity for me. I find I’m worse at it now. I continue to stack and sort priorities, trying to find the optimal use of my time and ensure that the things most important to me are taken care of, even when I don’t have to. If, under normal circumstances, I have trouble not getting ahead of myself, I’m in worse shape now. Its like I can’t stand to sit still, or just “hang out” because there’s something else I should probably be doing, before it falls through the cracks.
I’m conciously working on this, since I’ll have almost 4 whole weeks at home in the next two months, but if I’m a bit more of a task-oriented jerk than usual, I beg your forgiveness and your patience with me. Hopefully a short stay in Asia, where they prioritize much differently than us North Americans, will be a step in the right direction…


Compared to the same month last year, we’ve dropped our energy useage from 2800 kWh to 2400 kWh. Want to know how we saved that energy (and money)?
We have a fairly high-tech household, but not much more so than average. We have two computers, a couple laptops, two TVs, one in a home theater, a stereo, and a number of game systems. Add that to an average number of large appliances, and lighting for our home, and you’d do well to only consume 2800 kWh.
What most people don’t realize is that most of these devices draw power all the time — even when they’re off. If a device is plugged in, and has a remote control, or an always-on Internet connection, then its constantly sucking juice from the grid. So when you turn your TV off at night and go to bed, you’re throwing away dollars a month while you sleep — all so your media system can spring to life next time you hit a button on the remote.
Last year Home Depot starting selling power strips with programmable timers on them. For $15 they have four outlets controlled by the timer, and four always-on. The timer is digital, has a tiny back-up battery so you don’t have to re-program if the power goes out, and allows up to 7 discrete programs. We bought two for our most power-hungry devices.
Yesterday I went to pick-up another one, and found them in a clearance bin for $5 each. Apparently not enough people picked-up on this idea to make them worth selling. I bought 4 more.
With just two of these timers, set to disconnect the power from a few devices at midnight, and hook them up with juice again at 8am, we save 400 kWh a month. Now we have 6, and virtually the entire house goes off at midnight. A couple of them are set to turn off power to specific devices during peak summer daytime hours too, which will save us even more money.
Its a stunningly simple idea: why spend money on powering your TV if its off, and you don’t need to use it?
Of course, there’s the occasional time when you happen to get in at 12:30 at night, and wish you could print something before bed, only to find that the printer has had it’s power cut. But really, why pay constantly for that fairly uncommon scenario?
It’s cheap, it saves you money, and it manages itself. Once you get your programs set around your routine, you don’t even have to think about it. Our goal is to get down to 2000 kWh, which would save us over $550 a year… Seems worth the effort!