Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lost Vegas

A few weeks ago I had my 4th business trip to Las Vegas. I've told my colleagues several times how I really don't like that city, but have never been able to articulate why until now...

...thanks to my youngest, his innocence, and his school journal entry:

photo 3 "My dad went away. He went to lost vagas. I miss him. He is a nighs dad. I like him. He likes to play music.”

Lost Vegas.

That's exactly it. I feel lost when I'm in Vegas...and I'm guessing others feel lost there, too.

I lose my connection with nature
Maybe it's just me, but I don't see anything natural in Vegas. Sure there's a lot of pretty water fountains and flowers and trees, and the architecture mimics the greatest landmarks in the world.

But it’s all fake. Unnatural. Even the real trees are not naturally supposed to be there.

Nothing in Vegas is real…

…and something deep inside of me bridles against that.

I lose my moral compass
OK. I don't really lose it, but it sure has a hard time pointing me to safety while in Vegas. It tries to point me to Blue Man Group, an oasis of un-naked-entertainment, but the interference from everything else makes the needle spin and lose its way.

But I don't blame the city. So what if it caters to the care-free? The city is not is forcing me to walk slowly by the 'baseball cards' lying on the sidewalk, street, shrubs, and every other surface showing girls for hire.

I don't blame the workers in Vegas. 90% of them are just like me...doing honest work cooking, cleaning, maintenance, IT jobs...so they can support their family. It’s not their clean tables or good food forcing me to turn in my seat to watch while a volcano blows and “Lava Girls" slide out into a 30' Margarita mug. 

I don't even blame the 90' billboards of showgirls pointing their bareness at me in glowing lights (although the Hot Girls ads on the trucks that constantly cruise the strip are a bit maddening).

At the end of the day I shake my moral compass and wonder why I didn't stop and wonder if my thoughts and subtle actions throughout the day honored my wife, my daughters, and my God.

I lose my joy
I think others do, too. All I need to hear is the 'ding ding ding" of the slot machines and my whole spirit drops (I'm convinced the gates to hell are lined with Wheel of Fortune slot machines). I walk around watching my peers play the slots, and there's no smiling, not even any conversation.  Anywhere. 

I really lose my joy (and a few tears) when casino after casino brings out the pole dancers. Mind you, they are not in some corner or secluded club…but in the smack middle of the casino along the walkway between the front door and the elevators. I first feel guilt at even a glance…then I feel shame. I start wondering what started that former 8 year old daughter, made in God’s image, hopefully loved by parents, down the path where she’s making ends meet by dancing for men in a casino.

…oh, and I notice she’s not smiling either.

But then I find...
But as I write this, I'm surprised to think there is something to find in Vegas.

I find a reflection of myself.

My own life is filled with normal, everyday activities that are neither good nor bad. I’m surrounded by temptations (just maybe not as obvious). I can choose to stare at those temptations or choose to follow my moral compass. I fail far more than I care to admit.

My life is also filled with normal, everyday people. Regardless of what they are doing, God loves them and He wants me to love them, too. Not mock them, not judge them, not use them, not ignore them.

God wants me to love them (that scares me more than the roller coaster at the top of the Stratosphere).

In the end, I’m surprised to find that maybe what I really don’t like about Vegas is exactly what I don’t like about myself…

…I can be fake

…I can be amoral

…I can be joyless (and bring others down)

…I can be unloving, uncaring, and use those who God loves.

But a reflection can work both ways…

Maybe next time I can reflect back the good that Jesus is slowly adding to my life. Maybe that will help my little corner of Vegas to become more real, moral, joyful…and loving.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Dead Sea iScrolls

When I come across the same topic over and over, I know it’s not coincidence…it’s a higher power urging me to write it down. Forgive me…and special thanks to Henry, Becky, and Mark for being sources of inspiration…I blame you as much as anyone.

The Gospel of Henry

Chapter 3
And then the scholar approached and proclaimed, “Teacher, I am hoping I have an iPhone in heaven....it sure will make eternity whiz by”.

A hush fell over the temple as the Pharisees and tax collectors awaited with bated breath for the teacher’s response. Would the implication of ‘boredom’ in the “house with many rooms” result in a thunderbolt deepening the scholar’s already red hair? Or maybe a remote wipe of all phone data?

“Of course there will be, my son”, said the Teacher with a wide smile. “…and the one in Heaven will run Flash!”

The disciples chuckled, but gasps spread quickly across the grumbling Pharisees and religious rulers. The Teacher chose not to pay attention…instead bending down and gesturing onto the responsive touch screen, fully engaged in the casual game-play of throwing exploding birds at pigs. But grumblings grew more and more intense. “Mine already runs Flash”, one said. “His doesn’t even run full multi-tasking”, said another.

Finally, out of the corner, tracing an apple-shaped logo over her Android, a faithful follower of the Teacher whispered to herself, “I hope we are not partitioned…between the sheep and the goats…between iPhone and Droid”.

“It doesn't look good, Becky”, replied the Teacher. Becky was surprised that the Teacher could hear her whisper while simultaneously attaining level 37.

“The scriptures clearly say”, as he rolled out the scrolls…  ParchmentBackBlack-1

Becky hung her head in despair. “Then am I doomed? I hoped to have redeemed myself by having an iMac and an iPad.”

“Of course! Why didn’t you say so!”, said the Teacher. “Your redemption is clearly stated in Haggai 2:34, which talks of the ‘2/3’ rule”…


Convinced at the Teacher’s knowledge of the scriptures, and frankly surprised at how technically prophetic Haggai was…

…all who had white ear buds to hear

…all who had augmented reality apps to see

…and all who had FaceTime to tell loved ones the good news…


Thus endeth the Gospel of Henry.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

2011-02-13 Amy Grant & Michael W. Smith

02-13-2011: Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith
Where: Orpheum, Minneapolis MN
Went with: Wife

What’s your sweet spot?

You know, that thing you are really good at? The one place you perform at your absolute best? That passion in your life God has gifted you to excel at?

Sometimes it’s hard to find, so you try a lot of different things to see what works out.

But sometimes you find your sweet spot early on because it’s so obvious. Yet eventually those around you encourage you to ‘try something new’, or ‘stretch yourself’, or say ‘a broad set of skills is critical to maintain a long career’. Or, other priorities get in the way and you just stop doing what you were made for, and end up losing impact, satisfaction, and all around joy in life.

You see, I lost my sweet spot, and I used to wonder if I’d ever find it again.

And then I went to the Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith show with my wife.IMG_2223
Mike and Amy were made to write songs and perform them on stage together. It was so amazing to watch. The comfort, intuition, and trust they have for each other is obvious.

While they’ve traveled many different paths in their musical lives, some being quite successful, when Mike and Amy get on the same stage and share the songs that define their career…

…they are definitely in their sweet spot.2011-02-14 Amy Grant Mike Smith
The concert itself was filled with hit songs, beautiful lyrics, rocking musicians, life stories, and obvious shared emotion when they talk about the impact each has had on the other’s life. I think they realize they found their sweet spot again, too.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that we were able to get 2nd row seats! 076
And you know what?

…This show helped me find my sweet spot again.

My sweet spot is playing original music with my wife. We started when we were both 17, and while we are still deeply involved with music together, it’s just not the same as when we sing and play original music.

When we are playing and singing together to a receptive crowd, it is one of the best moments that we share. While I’m not much of a singer, our duets are quite effective. Maybe it’s my raw tones mixed with her perfect tones that blend into a real-world sound that all listeners can relate to. Maybe it’s the way that we can anticipate where we are going in a song based solely on a breath, a look, or a loving glance that makes the music so meaningful and powerful.

Or maybe it’s our comfort, intuition, and trust we have on stage that help communicate our love for each other…and our love for our Savior…which is what having a sweet spot is all about in the first place.

My hope? That I can readjust my priorities so we can use our sweet spot more. I need to write more songs with her as lead vocal. I’ve got one song written that I can’t wait to share…and I think there are some more that are on the tip of my fingers just waiting to come out.

Thank you, Mike and Amy, for helping me find my sweet spot again…and for reigniting a passion to create music with my wife.

Friday, March 11, 2011

My Secret Passion


Don’t let anyone know…

…but there’s a certain part of IBM that I simply love.

No, this isn’t a blatant attempt at buttering up our new Watson overlord who is currently using his Jeopardy-winning skills to sniff the Internet to answer the $2000 question in the “Winning! Like Sheen” category, “Employees ranting about IBM”. If it were, this post would be filled with obvious, italically-texted fawning that Watson would pick up on. I’m just too mature for such juvenile antics.

If IBM were food it would be Ice Cream!

Nope. What I love about IBM is that it’s where I learned to thrive as an inventor…and for that I am truly grateful.

More than any label given to me by IBM, “Master Inventor” is the one I value the most. I don’t talk much about it because I fear it’s ‘bragging'. However, since I recently reached somewhat of a milestone: 30 issued US patents, in addition to 2 China, 1 Japan, and 1 Taiwan issued patents, I think it’s time to talk about it.

Meet my kids: Lou, Sam, and AS400 (pronounced “Az-far-ooo”)

I love the creativity of inventing…

I love exploring the endless possibilities of inventing…

I love the collaboration of inventing…

…and I love that IBM supports my inventing passion.

I don’t write about my day job much because while most of the time it’s really good, sometimes it’s tough. However, IBM offers me this creative outlet outside of my day job that consistently floats my boat.

IBM should stand for Incredibly Blessed Me!

If I were to dream up a program that twirls my whirl I couldn’t think of a program better than this. Let me describe how it works:

When I am frustrated with technology, have technical problems in my day job, hear my kids/wife ticked about their game/pc behavior, or hear news stories that catches my attention, I capture that nugget, then brainstorm on what IBM could build that would solve that problem. I then get to unleash all my creativity to design an elegant solution, all without worrying about how doable it is to code in a current release cycle. I write up the design in detail, submit it, and if it gets through several review processes, IBM files it with the government to obtain a patent.

It’s honestly one of the most satisfying activities I do at work.

You should see my “I ♥ IBM” tattoo

After it’s filed, if it’s truly a unique idea, the government issues a patent (usually one to nine years later).

Click Here to see my current list of issued US patents. Some are low level and very technical, but some you might like.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Pictorial-based user interface management of computer hardware components
Filed 9/11/2000
Issued 3/31/2009
We had to create an interactive picture-based UI to manage our IBM computers. Nobody had done it before do the depth we did.

Watson = “kind benefactor” in middle Germanic!

Synchronizing software between computers
Filed 5/19/1999
Issued 7/23/2002
This basically says that our team (read: IBM) has the patent on synchronizing software between any two computing devices.

Changing display of data based on a time-lapse widget
Filed 11/18/2004
Issued 4/21/2009
You ever watch American Idol and wonder, “Who wrote that song?”, “They just showed the guitar player…what kind of guitar is that?”, or “What records has Simon produced?”. Well I did, and this resulting patent provides a way to stream related links, videos, photos in a rolling timeline so while you watch American Idol you can view related content while it’s happening (a perfect iPad app!).

Manna from Heaven? Almost…IBM employment!

Relaying of Messages
Filed 9/11/2003
Issued 2/13/2007
I got this idea after boarding a plane and losing my cell connection. I just wanted to complete what I wanted to say and send it to the person I was talking to without having reconnect and start over. With this invention you can push a button, finish your thought, then put your phone away. As soon as signal reappears, it will auto-send the message to the person’s phone. Or just ‘call’ several people while on the plane, and when the phone gets a signal, the messages are auto-sent.

I’ve got other patents I’m happy with too, like this one that is pretty far from my day job: the Smart Occupant Alarm System. This is a car seat that responds when inside an over-heating car and calls 911 automatically, pinpointing its location. Or the China patent, which is a DVD that, instead of a plastic ring in the inner circle, has FLASH memory…so that my son can bring his PlayStation games to a friends house and his scores and preferences are still on the disk, not in the console at home (thanks for your frustration, son!).

My heart beats IBM in Morse Code!

As you can see, it takes a long time from initial write up to an issued patent. I hope you can also see that it’s a long journey I am loving and hope to continue for years to come. I’ve been blessed to have 34 issued patents, and there are 39 more filed in some government slot waiting for approval that I’d REALLY like to tell you about!

‘Course if I told you about those, I would hear my Watson over-lord respond, “What is ‘rust’, ‘lightning’, and ‘sack of crap’?” to the question, “name three things Watson likes more than Greg”.

6785 days working for IBM. That means 8,215 left. Sweet!

Of course, to think that Watson technology is used to monitor IBM employees is ridiculous.

Watson Rocks!!!

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