Saturday, March 18, 2017



"Micromanagement: That school of management that allows you to focus on each individual detail with such precision and clarity that you forget what you are doing!" - Allen Laudenslager

Friday, March 17, 2017

Curating by Allen Laudenslager

by Allen Laudenslager

We see the word “curating” bandied about the Web regularly but most of us have only a vague idea what the word means:

Curating: to pull together, sift through, and select for presentation, as music or website content: “We curate our merchandise with a sharp eye for trending fashion,” the store manager explained.

It’s the kind of thing Amazon does with targeted advertising when they track your shopping history to send you ads related to the kinds of products you have either bought in the past or are looked for on their site. I’ve noticed recently that my Google searches are starting to show ads for more of the same things I've shopped for.

For most people that’s a good thing. If I was searching for extra wide shoes (I wear a 4E width and those are very hard to find in my local stores) I will see ads for wide shoes when I make my next search on Google or Amazon. Even if I’m now searching for hardware for my vintage trailer, those ads will continue until I do enough searches for some other item to boot them off.

There is a movement to do the same thing with your news feeds. The concept is that if you read articles about the latest presidential candidates you would like to read more articles about them. That actually sounds like a pretty good service, right?

The scary part is that if you begin to focus on just one candidate that same system may focus its future recommendations on that one candidate as well. If you focus on things favorable to one candidate you might see only favorable articles. This naturally narrows your reading to what your “curation” software is spoon-feeding you. It's kind of like limiting your social interactions to just the people you know.

A television news show has a large and varied audience that has equally varied tastes, so it presents a collection of unrelated news stories. Some of them are very interesting to you others not so much, BUT if you watch the whole half hour news report you'll get a range of information about a variety of subjects. In other words, you'll get a rounded view of what is happening. If on the other hand you only listen to a news station that reports on a narrow range of topics from a single view point you won't get fresh ideas.

Most of us know that guy at the gym or office that only listens to an extreme political talk show and whose entire world is bounded by a single point of view. They're the one who is always talking about conspiracy theories and never accepts that sometimes it’s just a coincidence. So in in order to not be like "that guy", I like to use a news aggregator that requires me to manually add news feeds and doesn’t look at what I am currently reading and make recommendations about similar sources. I like it that way because I prefer an eclectic collection of sources so I get a broad range of subjects and viewpoints.

Dudley Field Malone, co-counsel for the defense of John T. Scopes in the famous "Monkey Trial" in 1925, responded to William Jennings Bryan's argument against admitting scientific testimony when he said, "I have never learned anything from any man who agreed with me!" Malone gave arguably the best speech of the trial in defense of academic freedom and his quote became famous.

In exactly the same way, your world of ideas can be circumscribed and limited by software that tries to show you more information that supports what you are already reading. Fresh and new ideas that challenge your existing concepts and accepted wisdom are the food of intellectual thought. Yes, after you read an opposing viewpoint you may well decide that you were right the first time. But unless you continually challenge what you think you know how can you grow and learn?

Sitting in a classroom being presented with new facts or viewpoints all of us have experienced the awakening that new information gives us. That moment when we think “Oh, if that’s true then this is true too! I never thought about it like that before.”

The latest improvements in artificial intelligence can allow this kind of curation and while it can lead you to many things you might not find on your own. On the other hand if it’s poorly done, it can become a straitjacket that limits your ideas to what you already know.

Monday, March 13, 2017

What Makes Your Dog Your Hero by Allen Laudenslager

What Makes Your Dog Your Hero
by Allen Laudenslager

My dog is my hero without doing the things that most people would think of as heroic. All he did was be a dog. Like all dogs he delivered unconditional love at a time when I felt very unlovable.

Why I felt unlovable really doesn't matter. In fact, it didn't matter to Nanuq either. All he cared about was that he was with me and that walks and meals were more or less on time.

Just by needing my care and attention, somebody had to let him out to do his business, someone had to get the food into his food bowl and put down fresh water. He can't do it for himself - no thumbs.

I couldn't indulge myself in self-pity while he needed to be cared for. As you can see from the picture, it's hard to be sad when faced with that smile.

Everyday he just kept being himself. Interested in every new smell and demanding long walks (at least longer than I wanted) to explore the new place we found ourselves living. He helped force me beyond my comfort zone and by just expecting me to take care of him taught me that my limits were not real, only self imposed false limitations.

When he wakes me up at 2 a.m. barking at the thunder and I can't go back to sleep I have to get out of myself and love him because his barking is just his fear of that strange noise. All he needs is my reassurance that he is safe and protected.

In reassuring him and protecting him I reassured and protected myself. Without his unconditional love I would have taken much longer to heal.

Besides any dog that will do things like this will always make me cheer up!

Postscript: Nanuq was a gift for my 60th birthday; I had him for nine years. In 2014 Nanuq passed away from liver cancer. If there's a doggy heaven, he certainly deserved to go there. 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Why Bad Things Happen to Good People?

Why Bad Things Happen to Good People?
by Bryan J. Neva, Sr.

Job was a good and righteous man who devoutly worshiped God, he had ten children, and was quite wealthy. One day Satan appeared before God in heaven and God asks him what he thinks about the righteous man Job? Satan replied that the only reason Job remained faithful was because God protected him from harm and heaped blessings on him. So if God were to remove his protective care over Job he'd curse God and lose his faith. God agrees and in one day Job loses all his possessions and children. Job is devastated. He shaves his hair, tears his clothes, and laments, "Naked I came into this world, and naked I'll return, the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed is the name of the Lord!"

After all the misfortune that befell Job, Satan again appears in heaven and God asks him what he thinks of the righteous man Job? Satan replied that if Job were to lose his health then he'd curse God and lose his faith. After all, people will give up everything just to save themselves. So God agrees and Job loses his health. Job is pushed to utter dispair, and he sits on a pile of ashes and scrapes his painful sores. Unfortunately Job's wife, believing God to be unjust, offers no encouragement but tells Job to just "curse God and die!" But Job is undeterred and corrects her saying, "Should we receive the good that God gives and not the bad?"

Next Job's three friends hear about all his misfortune, and wanting to console him, they went and sat with Job in the ash heap for a week not saying a word. Finally Job speaks and in his deep despair curses the day he was ever born, but surprisingly he never curses God or accuses God of injustice towards him but rather he accepts his plight as God's will. 

Instead of encouraging him, Job's friends suggest that Job's troubles were because God is punishing him for something he did wrong. Job doesn't buy these arguments because he knows deep down inside that he hasn't done anything wrong. He can't explain why all these bad things happened to him, but he continues to trust in God. 

At last God interrupts their conversation and explains to them that people cannot comprehend God's plans or actions or why He allows bad things to happen to good people.

We all know that if we behave badly, we'll eventually reap the consequences. If we heavily smoke our whole lives and wind up with lung cancer or heart disease can we honestly blame the tobacco companies? Or if we drink heavily and get liver cirrhosis can we reasonably blame the bartender? If we run up huge debts, have our vehicles repossessed and lose our home to foreclosure, can we blame the bank for our financial troubles?  If we cheat on our spouse and end up divorced can we blame them for the breakup? If we abuse our children can we blame them if they grow up to hate us? If we commit a serious crime and end up in prison can we blame the judge or jury? 

But what if we're like Job and try our best to live good and decent lives yet bad things still happen to us good people, how do we make sense of that? Certainly, Job nor his three friends couldn't. During Jesus' time, he gave us a clue about why bad things might happen to good people. He met a man who was blind from birth (John 9), and his disciples asked him, "Teacher, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?" Jesus answered them, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind that God's works might be revealed in him." Even in the book of Job, there's a backstory we're told about a test of Job's faith that God allowed.
Our health fails and we are diagnosed with a chronic or terminal illness, and our prayers for a miracle cure go unanswered. Our spouse leaves us, and our prayers for a reconciliation are ignored. We lose our jobs and livelihoods, and our prayers for new employment go unanswered. God essentially says, "No!" or "Not Now!" to all our prayers for salvation. So what are we supposed to do? Do we stop praying? Do we stop trusting in God? Do we stop believing? Job would tell us, "Should we receive the good that God gives and not the bad?"

I wish I could tell you I have an answer for you, but like Job and his three friends I do not. Furthermore, many learned scholars have speculated but don't really know either. The only solace I can offer is that I believe there's a reason for everything that happens. (I know that sounds cliche, but I believe scripture and most religious scholars would support that assertion.)  We probably won't know the reason in our lifetimes, but maybe we'll be told in the next and it'll all make sense to us then. Job's only response to all the bad things that happened to him was to keep on trusting God. I think that somehow deep inside him he knew that God was with him in all his struggles. So the big lesson we can take away from Job is not to lose hope or our faith in God when bad things happen to us good people. 

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