A Baggins Of Bags End.

January 20th, 2014 Comments off

Had an interesting weekend, as I attended a discussion about the book, “The Art of Neighboring” and the challenge that went with it to learn the names of the eight neighbors around me. (NB: think of a tic-tac-toe board with your house in the middle and your physical geographical neighbors that would inhabit the other eight squares). I was able to list three, I would have gotten four but one neighbor recently moved. I’ve lived here longer than any place else I’ve ever lived, and I’m failing at the basic step of a neighbor, namely calling them by name.

Of course it doesn’t help my self-esteem to be handed this challenge in light of Jesus’ words affirming the young man that repeated, “Love your God with all your heart, soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself” as a summary of the scriptures, and telling him to go and do likewise. The bit of shame is further ground in when looking at the text and reading the young person used the following to try and weasel out from the command:

Who is my neighbor?

In this modern world, we have tried to re-define our neighbors, as a matter of fact you might have stopped by this post because of a link on Facebook, and if you did… welcome Neighbor! I wouldn’t blink an eye, to call you my neighbor in this electronic age that has made distances shrink, and relationships grow across the magic of the internet. I’ve even been to talks where this ‘quasi’-neighbor is heralded as an extension of the great commandment. It’s really easy to pat one’s self on the back about how great a neighbor one is to their electronic friends.

Then, I look at that tic-tac-toe board and wonder about the names of whosie-whatist across the street, or loud-trampoline-family kitty-corner in the back alley, or mr. always-has-the-garage-door-closed two hows down from him.

I really have no excuse, it isn’t that hard to learn people’s names. But if I learn their names, I’d have to use it when I say hello, and if I use it to say hello, I might have to ask, “how are you?” and if I asked that, I’d have to listen to the answer, and if I listened to the answer I might be able to help, and …

Not to sound like a DirecTV commercial, or a children’s book about feeding pancakes to pigs, but at the end of that stream of thought is something dangerous! Actually getting involved with strangers! My mother warned me about them!

But if I knew their name, they wouldn’t be a stranger.

I’ve also been reading The Hobbit, and how hard it was for Bilbo to leave Bag’s End and start on his adventure. I read often in the narrative about how he wishes he was home in his hobbit hole enjoying second breakfast (and if there is anything we should learn from Tolkien is the importance of second breakfast, if not elevensies) and smoking on his pipe (so long as you live in Washington or Denver, I suppose). How in the midst of the terror and fear of the adventure he could always remember home.

So I have a quandry, stay cozy in my hole, or learn the names of my neighbors. My real. Physical. Literal. Neighbors.

To add to this, there was a final paragraph in a review for the movie Her I read, copied here without further comment:

For this segment of the population anyway, we may be over-thinking the hangups with marriage. It’s not necessarily an outgrowth of economics, public policy, sociology, or religious belief. It might just be that love is hard. And, increasingly, ‘hard’ is something we’re not willing to do.

(how hard is it to learn a name?)

 

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Bible verses suck

December 23rd, 2013 Comments off

and sometimes passages of the bible suck. Because they are ripped out of context, and applied haphazardly to whatever we think they should apply to.

Take for example Jeremiah 29:11

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

All nice and warm gooey feeling, right? The context of what Jeremiah is saying to the captives in Babylon though is lost, because he’s just got done telling them: “make yourselves comfy, you’ll never see your home again. Get settled in this apostate region, because it your home for a while, and for your kids and maybe your grandkids. But realize that it is part of God’s plan, after 70 or so years, I’ll make it right, and bring you back home.”

I read on the internet today that someone doesn’t agree with Paul. Well boy howdy, that’s a pretty broad generalization, all of Paul’s writings? The ones wear he hopes that those that require circumcision as a prelude to believing in Christ slip and castrate themselves? The ones where he lists all the nasty sins we all do, just about daily, like slander and gossip along side sexual immorality?  The ones where he shows that there is no condemnation in Christ? The one where he list the ways that we’ll never be separated from Christ?

Look, I’m with Peter (2 Peter 3:16), who a couple thousand years ago wrote about Paul:

He speaks about these things in all his letters in which there are some matters that are hard to understand. The untaught and unstable twist them to their own destruction, as they also do with the rest of the Scriptures.

He is hard to understand, it takes a bit more than the discounted 10 second sound bite that gets tossed up in the middle of a “news” story to understand Paul’s words. I’m sure that the words of a grace healed red-neck paraphrasing those greek words translated into southern twanged English are even harder to understand.

Perhaps, a few more moments dwelling on what Paul meant, and what his whole corpus means, might be a good exercise.

Try this, read Romans 7, then stop. Don’t turn the page, don’t read past the last verse and skip on to chapter 8. It’s not a happy ending.

The first letters and gospels that were penned in greek didn’t have paragraphs, didn’t have numbers for easy reference. People passed around whole letters, copying letter by letter, and sending it to another congregation. These people found hope in Paul’s words, in Peter’s words, in John’s and James. They developed the Gospels, to share the story of the God that saw our lost world in such disarray that he lowered himself, to be made all man, while continuing to be entirely divine. To provide the perfect sacrifice for the slanders, the gossips, the liars and the thieves, even for those that commit the lesser sins listed as they live in their flesh. As I live in my flesh.

This Christmas in the turmoil of the latest, loudest, if not ugliest kerfluffle over Paul’s words, take a moment, and read. Read Matthew and the scandal that surrounds the line of the baby born in Jerusalem, that includes a incestuous daughter, a prostitute and an adulteress (and murderer too). Read Luke and marvel that the first announcement of his miracle of God with us, was not to royalty, but to dirty stinky shepherds.

Read on to realize that Jesus didn’t come to save the well, and the upright, but came to heal the sick and seek out that one sheep out of ninety-nine that has gotten ensnared by life.

Then realize, that you… the ones that read Paul’s words, and understand them, you are the ones… no … I am the one, that he bids to wash the others feet.

Bible verses suck.

 

 

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Boanerges

December 20th, 2013 Comments off

Today my father’s mother passed away. That makes me, the oldest male from the line that bears the name Stueve. My grandmother, Grace, was proceeded in death by her husband Stan, and her son Dick. (Both oddly, nicknames that avoid using the name Clarence… (this is a picture of how my brain works, and freely associates things))

I have many memories of visiting my grandmother’s house, that shared real-estate with a much ignored stop sign. That her picture window that framed the tall cedars of Pier Park in St Johns, Oregon never was destroyed by a car careening down N. St James Street is a glimpse of God’s grace and mercy. Perhaps.

It’s not much coincidence that her house was at the junction of St Johns Ave and St James, who were aptly named by Jesus as the “Sons of Thunder” in Mark’s gospel. Their evangelical zeal for the Lord was kindled early in his ministry, and then purified through their life under the counsel of the Spirit.

One of my memories is of a collection of small booklets that my grandmother kept, with titles ranging across many mundane topics. One I remember vividly was entitled, “How to argue,” which I immediately opened and began reading. At that time, I think I recall, I was often embroiled in verbal parries with my older sister Sarah, and perhaps I thought I would now have the upper hand being properly educated on the art of arguments.

It was much different than I imagined the title to be, and it’s lessons, perhaps, have faded in my much crowded memories.

Then I recall, that St John, lived much longer than his brother. The sole surviving Boanerges twin, lived a long life. Much longer than his fellow apostle Peter that barged into the empty tomb, while John had arrived first. The older John, his fiery temperament perhaps soothed by the balm of Gilead, boiled Jesus teaching into simple phrase, that we glimpse when we read the eponymous letters in the thinner part of the New Testament.

“Little children, love one another.”

Overtime, I have taken this philosophy more to heart than the philosophy of “how to argue”, and my grandmother’s love is one of the reasons. She possessed a servant’s heart, always making sure when we visited that we were fed, that we had her bed (and to the unknown person that invested cash money to purchase her couch last weekend, you have yourself a gem of a napping couch). Her acts of service were her love language, much more than her words.

So with words that spring from a place I know not where. I muse on my grandmother’s passing. Hoping that she enjoyed that walk up the path, through the towering cedars of Pier Park as much as I did, every time I visited.

I’ll miss you Grandma, but you are already part of me.

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I don’t feel dirty…

December 12th, 2013 Comments off

Okay, the original lyric was “I don’t feel tardy!”

but it’s a homonym homophone, right?

The thing is, our feelings will totally mess us up, direct us down the wrong path and spin us around until we right round, baby right round.

gah… perhaps the lyrics of my past have come back to haunt me.

Meh, whatevs.

Here is the thing, feelings are not facts. But, feelings are important. They are a guidepost to let us know if we are alive, or dead. The worse kind of hell is to feel nothing. The special kind of hell is reserved for those that feel everything (and those that don’t listen to Shepherd Book’s wisdom.)

Jon Stueve knows nothing. So don’t listen to closely, but hold on loosely. I won’t let go. Though I may cling to tightly, I’ll try not to lose control.

To put the needle on the record, I want to get back to my point instead of skipping around through musical distractions. So I’ll attempt to get back on course.

A few days ago, I settled into watch a movie with Angie, we picked Flight, a Denzel Washington flick about a hot shot ex-Naval aviator with a penchant for booze and cocaine whose mad flying skills saves a plane load full of passengers from a horrible fiery death. The only problem with his act of heroism was he was at least three sheets to the wind when he pulled the doomed flight out of it’s dive of destruction.

A better film of the perils of addiction I have not witnessed. It’s gritty good, the film tore at my insides and tumbled through my memories. We addicts, we live in a state of denial when we’re off the path, and that is why I have to question my feelings. Continuously.

I have to critically examine… everything. I need outsiders to keep  me honest, I need to stay out of my own head.

Because inside my head is Harling Mays (played wonderfully by John Goodman, who makes a mighty fine and cuddly monster too)

“Please allow me to introduce myself, I am man of wealth and taste” we hear on the sound track as the nattily attired Harling strolls down the hospital passageway on his way to meet his customer, Denzel’s Whip Whitaker. When he finds his target the next minute and a half of dialog is largely Harling telling Whip what a wonderful person he is, how he is a stud pilot, how he was a hero.

All lies.

And, all true.

Just like our feelings.

My lyrical brain recognized the song, Rolling Stones, Sympathy for the Devil, whose lyrics go on to say “Hope you guess my name.”

The answer is the personification of evil, but not the name in the title, it’s Denial. It was Denial that sidled up to Eve in the garden and whispered sweet nothings in her ear. Denial that snuck beside David while he watched Bathsheba take her morning shower, and Denial that tempted Jesus in the desert and watched him cry bloody tears in the garden.

Devil, Beelzebub… meh, potaytoh, potahtoh as far as I’m concerned.

Denial will tell us lies so good we’ll think they are truth. While hiding the darkness our behaviors and hangups wreck in the lives of those around us.

I won’t give up the plot of Flight, it is a journey worth the time spent on Netflix.

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guessed my name, oh yeah
But what’s confusing you
Is just the nature of my game

Lies… that is the nature of Denial’s game. We need an assembly of people around us, to watch us, to listen to us, to hug us, to scold us, to uplift us and berate us.

Living life will tend towards believing our feelings, it’s the nature of the game. Feel them, please! Don’t think feelings are bad, but evaluate them, test them, put them in the context of True North, Truth, with trusted loved ones. Then adjust course and drive on down the highway.

Because I can’t drive … fifty-five.

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at least I come by it naturally…

December 12th, 2013 Comments off

All this talk about grinchiness, grumpiness, and I’ve forgotten the first grinch of them all. The granddaddy, the puffdaddy… Ebeneezer Scrooge!

Which, as I recall, I totally rocked the part back when I was a thespian in eighth grade.

Bah humbug was my destiny. Though in today’s vernacular, it’s more like “Meh, whatevs”

Though, in an effort to balance the depressing soul searching of my last couple posts with a bright spot, the one thing about that performance (which I really don’t recall much) is that on opening night my father showed up.

Sneaky bastard.

I was overjoyed that he would take the time, and the effort to fly up from California to see my show. I remember running to hug him in a very un-scrooge-like way. (Though … to be fair… it was at the end of the show, and the Scrooge of Christmas morning would do just such a thing.)

In a way, these posts of mine are a bit like what Dicken’s wrote about in A Christmas Carol. That we need, sometimes, a season of self-examination, a period to purge the ghosts of our past, present, and maybe our future. To determine our path, and make sure we’re still on it. We need to watch out navigation points and make sure we’re heading where we need to go. Safely.

The other part I come by naturally, is a natural introversion. A supernatural ability to have inwards conversations, creating in my imagination the entire conversation I would have with another, and come to a conclusion based on my selfish assumptions, and never say a peep. This, of course, causes all kinds of problems with real life people that want to know what goes inside of my head, and what I’m really thinking. So while a wonderful super power, with all great powers comes great responsibility. I have to actually interact and talk with other people.

One of my father’s greatest hurts was his relationship with his father. My grandfather was a quiet man, as I remember. I think my father an I inherited our introverted super powers from him. My grandfather grew up with a father, and in a time, where effort wasn’t a goal, perfection was, and no amount of success would garner any kind of pat on the back. More often, as it was told to me, he’d get upbraided by exhortations to correct small mistakes, or silence. I think grandpa took this hurt and internalized it, and instead of reversing the trend, and engaging his son (my dad) with encouraging talk, he … fearfully perhaps … decided the best course was silence.

An aside: It is hard, and probably unfair to conduct psychoanalysis on the dead, particularly when I have no formal training. So let me repeat, I love my family and my grandfather and my father… deeply. This foray into meaning is self-serving, in that I don’t wish to continue the generational curse of tight lips and sealed emotions.

My grandfather’s silence was pervasive. And while he didn’t vocally admonish my father, that I know of, instead enveloped in a circle of silence, which absent of the context and a revelation of his thoughts, is just as damning to a child that looks up to his father. Silence can be brutal, as much as critical thoughts and words can flay.

My father, never heard his father say, “I love you.”

.

.

.

My father to his credit said it early and often. I never doubted that he loved me, his words, and his actions on balance always relayed that he cared, deeply, for his children. I heard my dad say those three words with eight letters countless times.

He too was introverted, which isn’t a bad thing, it is something to understand. Thoughts, for us, get clogged up in our brain, as our creative minds stream through a path of a conversation faster than words can be formed on the tongue. Assumptions made, and conclusions drawn, and then conversation, before it is even started had been altered.

The other thing, us Stueve men share is a soft heart that never wishes to cause pain to someone we love. Like my grandfather, we think, sometimes, that an unspoken word will be less painful that a misspoken word. When our words or deeds do cause pain, we retreat, physically, emotionally, audibly into the silent hell of our own minds. Re-playing the misstep, re-winding the tape, wishing to unspeak, or undo what our instinctive actions or words have wrought.

This only exacerbates the introversion, clutters our thoughts with regret, and builds up those dusty rooms that are too dark and grimy to process the emotions we feel so deeply on the inside.

Meh, Whatevs.

Isn’t that a bit of the darkness of A Christmas Carol, pre-tossing up the shutters, throwing open the sash and flipping a coin down so the boy could buy the biggest turkey there is? This trapped isolation of Ebeneezer that found solace in his dark room, his cold bed, alone with is thoughts, and alone – period.

Thank the ghost of Marley, and his entourage of timey-wimey ghosts that Scrooge was able to see what damage such behavior does. That he could twist his path, realign his markers and forge forward in the bright light of Christ-mas.

See, Christ doesn’t want us to suffer silently in the darkness, He came, became man, to live with us, while we were still sinners. He muddied himself in human flesh to kick the top off the lamp cover and show us what it means to LOVE.

John the Apostle, in his older years, distilled Jesus’ message to this, “Little children, love one another.” Five words, twenty-eight letters. Is it that hard to remember?

I need to exhort myself, that the greatest act of love is exposing myself to those I love and care for. Even if it scares me, even if it might cause pain, even if it makes me cry. Even if THEY cry. I have to be real, I have to get out of my head, I have to LOVE.

That is the bright Christ-mas morning. The sun-shining next day, after the dark night, where we can all say, “God bless us, everyone.”

Categories: Faith, Learning, Life Tags:

No mas

December 11th, 2013 1 comment

Did you know that Roberto Duran claims he never said, “No mas!”?

I remember watching that fight. I remember Sugar Ray swinging the bolo punch, and knowing I’d probably fall for it, despite ample practice from my Papa Stan. I always end up looking at the distraction, the shiny thing, the new fancy.

I know I talked about grinchiness last blog post, but did you see my word play in saying “I need Christ-mas?”

I meant not only Christ’s Mass for the Eucharistic celebration associated with this time of year, where Christian’s partake in communion (what this Protestant grew up calling the consumption of the sacramental body and blood of Christ), but also how Roberto Duran meant it when he threw up his hands and stopped the fight. (They say it was from stomach cramps, but looking back, I think he just got tired of looking at Sugar Ray make silly faces…).

I need MORE Christ. In this season of celebration, whether it be of new moons, the turning of the season, the remembrance of a cold night in a full inn’s stable. I need to fill my life with more of Christ. His words, His love, His mercy and grace.

Last night, I paused. I stood looking at my house, my family room. Decorated for the season by Angie, and reveled in the feeling of security and care that her hard work left me with.

In the last month, the whole family has worked hard to transform a room. A room that had been dusty and discarded. A junk room that had no real purpose. A room where the dogs would go when it was raining outside, or we wouldn’t respond to their cues that it was time to make water, and use that room instead. It was a garbage dump, truly. We changed that, working together as a team, removing the junk, donating some, tossing more. We covered the drab walls with a fresh coat of paint. We removed the stained carpet and put down fresh hard floors. It is truly cleaned out. Ready to be lived in, and cared for.

Although I’ve been a confessing Christian for most of my 45 years, there are still rooms in my heart that are like that room used to be. Full of garbage and dust. Closed off. Shut down. Ignored. Not fit to be lived in.

Sometimes I open them up, and play in the dirt and grime. Then close up the door, still not willing to do the work of cleaning out the mess I’ve stored. The emotions I dare not expose, the darkness that needs the disinfectant of light and life.

I cannot do that alone. I need a helper, The Helper. I need to open the door to Christ’s love and let him help me empty those dark parts. Clean them out and let me live in them again.

So I say, “No mas!” to closed doors, to shame and grief. I say Christ-mas to the changes he needs to make in me.

Merry X-mas.

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Confessions of a Middle Aged Grinch

December 9th, 2013 Comments off

Yesterday afternoon, on ice day three, after helping a neighbor by de-icing walk and car, and providing much needed eggs for stalled brownies, we settled into our living room and watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Not the classic Chuck Jones (of Tom and Jerry fame) animated one where Boris Karlof narrates and Thurl Ravenscroft crooned the wonderful song, but instead the Ron “Opie” Howard directed, live action, Jim Carrey aped modern version. Also, a classic in my opinion. Because, as my daughter puts it, character development.

The script gives us some insight as to what made the Grinch sooooo grinchy. Why Cindi Lou Who was so forgiving. The rest of the screenplay is a great critique of the over all consumerishness that is over taking our holiday season, but I’ll let the viewer comment on this. I need to use this space to comment about me.

I’m a grinch. The holiday season is not a time of cheer for me. It has it’s moments, we focus on family and friends around my house, and look forward to times where all of us reside in the same room for more than a few moments at a time. Our Christmas traditions have largely morphed into a strange electronic sharing of time, because we live so separated from our families. Meh. It is what it is.

I’ve often wondered the root of my grinchiness. Why can I not feel the joy of the yule season.

It started, I guess, when I was 10. That was the new normal.

A Christmas where my father moved out.

A stretch of Christmases where they were spent on a stretch of highway, instead of cozied up near a warm fire.

Split families, split siblings, split time. Christmas cut down the middle, evenly split, evenly divided, evenly served.

Family that was family… and will always be family.

My parents didn’t divorce on the holidays, but they split up and the house divided and a father walked away in the yule tide season.

I love my parents, I love my step-parents. I HATE… the division, the split.

My father and mother, my step-mother and a few years later step-father worked hard to try to make it an addition, rather than a subtraction. Inclusive for everyone one exclusive to one family. They were valiant in trying to make lasting memories, to heal the wounds of separation. My grinchiness is not their fault.

This past year, we’ve lost two of my children’s grandfathers. Two funerals, two memorials to fathers that did their very best for their children and their grandchildren. Two men who worked hard to show love, even if they themselves were broken in very normal, human ways.

In years past, my grandfathers died (as I remember) during the winter between the months of November and February. Winter is the season for dying, I suppose, the trees lose their leaves, the world grows cold. It seems to surround me, and invade my thoughts, this darkness. I look forward to Christmas, I do. I know, as a believer, that it marks the time to celebrate the Advent. To celebrate the birth of Christ (not the birth day of Christ… for he was even before the beginning) the incarnation of the God as man, a time to remember and give us hope … in his Grace, of his Mercy, reveling in his Unconditional Love. This is truly what I look forward to in Christmas.

Not the trees.

Not the lights.

Not the decorations.

The season isn’t warm for me,  and this past year won’t make this time of year any better. It is a season of loss, and the gifts under the tree? I’d trade them all. They are temporary… As Jim Carrey spake in the remake of the Grinch:

That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? That’s what it’s always been *about*. Gifts, gifts… gifts, gifts, gifts, gifts, gifts! You wanna know what happens to your gifts? They all come to me. In your garbage. You see what I’m saying? In your *garbage*. I could hang myself with all the bad Christmas neckties I found at the dump. And the avarice…

The avarice never ends! “I want golf clubs. I want diamonds. I want a pony so I can ride it twice, get bored and sell it to make glue.” Look, I don’t wanna make waves, but this *whole* Christmas season is…

…stupid, stupid, stupid!

And later, Lou Lou Who, tries in a valiant attempt to save the message of Christmas.

I’m glad he took our presents. You can’t hurt Christmas, Mr. Mayor, beacuse it isn’t about the… the gifts or the contest or the fancy lights. That’s what Cindy’s been trying to tell everyone… and me. I don’t need anything more for Christmas than this right here: my family.

To which my true grinchy heart both swells and deflates, in some morbid rhythm that keeps it from growing three-sizes too big.

Because, my family died over Christmas. Figuratively, Literally… potaytoh, potahtoh.

My life rebooted when I was 10 years old. The previous 10 years seem like a dream, that I can never re-live.

When my father passed away, my siblings scoured the photo albums and posted photos of my father from all periods of his life, including those early years, where I didn’t really know what I had, until it was gone. The people, they are still in my life; my mother, my sisters, my brother – They are still here. Thankfully.

I can rage at many things that happened this past year. Unfair! Uncharitable! Unwanted!

I can regret my own insular personality that withdrew from anyone and everyone when I was hurting. Like a turtle inside his shell, trying to not be poked by a stick.

But then… in my hardheartedness, I remember.

A story.

A family, that was barely a family.

A husband, leading his new wife, carrying a baby that was not his.

A baby that would be… is…  a gift to the world.

To tear down the curtain, to rend the very fabric of the universe, to take what is holy, separate, divine and enter the mundane existence of grinch-like hearts like mine. And to rejoin us with our TRUE father.

My heart softens, and grows.

This season, these dark days of winter… need to have the light of Christmas.

I need to have the hope of a savior, to see me through these dark days called – life.

I hate the holidays, I can’t help it. I love my family, but they aren’t enough. I NEED Christ-mas.

Maranatha.

 

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So, lets talk about schools and learning…

September 26th, 2013 Comments off

Let’s start with this little piece of inanity:

LAUSD halts home use of iPads for students after devices hacked

Following news that students at a Los Angeles high school had hacked district-issued iPads and were using them for personal use, district officials have halted home use of the Apple tablets until further notice.

It took exactly one week for nearly 300 students at Theodore Roosevelt High School to hack through security so they could surf the Web on their new school-issued iPads, raising new concerns about a plan to distribute the devices to all students in the district.

“Outside of the district’s network … a user is free to download content and applications and browse the Internet without restriction,” two senior administrators said in a memo to the Board of education and L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy. “As student safety is of paramount concern, breach of the … system must not occur.”

Okay, so the district spent a good portion of the education budget on new technology. Then assumedly more money on trying to add security to the devices for … safety … from downloadable content from the internet.

While I agree that there are dark places on the internet that should be avoided and worried about, it seems that locking down a school distributed device only keeps them from doing that on a tax-payer supported device. Because none of these kids has internet at home. Surely.

The problem, as I see it, isn’t that the technology is being circumvented, but that the administration has no idea about how to use the technology in the first place, or no real plan beyond, “hey! let’s give the kids iPads!” Because I can think of several ways to enhance the learning of the students using wide open and unobtrusive internet technology. Indeed, it seems that at least 300 students learned how to circumvent the security of the device without any intervention from the administration.

How completely unacceptable! Kids (teenagers, not elementary school kids) have access to a device (probably much like the phones in their pockets, or the pockets of their friends) and want to use it like they normally would, to get onto social networks (Hey! I though Facebook was for the old parent like people, not teenagers, teenages use Tumblr!) and interact with their friends. And when the technology is clearly capable of that, but is disabled… they’ll get a bit frustrated and either a) not use the device at all or b) go geek and fix the bug that is keeping them from using the device as it is intended!

So, instead of putting on the breaks, why not adjust the curriculum, teaching styles etc… to USE this newfangled technology and embrace social networking and collaboration?

Okay, now it’s your turn, scream back at me.

Categories: Gadgets, Politics (ugh) Tags:

Customer Service–It matters

July 11th, 2012 1 comment

This is purely anecdotal, but I think it makes a good point. But first I need to preface it with some background information.

Last year, I lost my job in the middle of August, but maintained Health Insurance through the end of the month, because I’d already paid the premium through the end of the month. The day before the end of the month, I got a robo-call from Apria Healthcare soliciting me to procure replacement supplies for my sleep apnea durable medical equipment. Knowing that I was covered at that time, and with full knowledge that in two days I’d face an unknown amount of time that I wouldn’t be covered.  Additionally I knew that my lapsing insurance policy provided full coverage for the supplies, I made an order, and received the replacement supplies, and have used my durable medical equipment every day since then.

At Christmas I received an Jawbone Up activity monitoring bracelet as a gift, really nifty device that helps generally track how much I move, how well I sleep, and how what I eat effect how I feel. I enjoyed using the band very much, until after about three weeks the band wouldn’t hold a charge, and died.  Jawbone, to it’s credit admitted that their bands were faulty, and have published a no-questions-asked guarantee, where I was able to file for a refund (even though I got this as a gift) and receive the purchase price of the band in cash.  But Jawbone went beyond that and also said they’d support purchased bands for the entire warranty period, even if you claimed the refund.  So I also have received 5 bands (the 6th is on the way) as I’ve used the band continuously until they fail and then ask for a new replacement.

This week I received, out of the blue, an invoice from Apria for the supplies I’d ordered while under coverage from my insurance company. It appears that, after talking to the first level support person on the phone (who was very helpful) that while I did call and order the supplies before the end of the month, the supplies didn’t ship till after the end of the month, and the insurance rules state that the charge is made on shipment, not order. Had I known this at the time, I wouldn’t have ordered the supplies.  Instead, the very helpful first level support person passed me on to billing. The billing department person wasn’t very helpful, immediately, upon hearing my story, said he could do nothing about it and gave me the number for the local branch that filled my order.  The next day I called the local branch manager, and related that story to him, he said two very telling things:

  1. That he didn’t appreciate the corporate bean counters (e.g. Billing) passing on the decision and therefore cost of this issue down to him.
  2. That he couldn’t do anything to aid me in the dilemma without either: a) receiving the unused supplies, or b) committing insurance fraud by re-stating the order.

He didn’t offer to just cancel the order and eat the cost, but did allow me to pay the minimum for as long as I needed, but that I was still responsible for the full amount.

This morning, I hit that time where my Jawbone UP band has died it’s normal death, and hit the technical support chat line while I was doing my daily work.  The representative, Alyssa, was helpful and went above and beyond what was required.  She even appreciated my jokes, while weaving them into common support dialog. For example:

Alyssa: Hi, my name is Alyssa. How may I help you?
 Jon : My Up band, 5th one, stopped responding, and won’t hold a charge.
 Alyssa: Hello Jon, I’m sorry to hear that your UP is not holding a charge.
 Alyssa: I’ll be happy to help you in any way that I can.
 Jon : the last few days the battery level dropped more quickly and didn’t hold a charge, woke up this morning to a dead band, and no charge after removing from the charging adapter.  I think it’s time for another replacement band.
 Alyssa: Oh no, I certainly know how disappointing that can be. I had that happen to my original UP band.
 Jon : I’m going to make a necklace with all my replacement bands, if only they were gold. ;)
 Alyssa: I think that will be very flattering on you, Jon. If you get tired of the necklace, you can always just take them to electronic recycling.
 Alyssa: That is mainly because we are currently not requiring our customers to send the UP bands back to us.
 Jon : ah, that’s a good point, when I tire from having the trophy case, off to electronic recycling they will go.
 Alyssa: I think that is a great way of looking at the situation.

After the frustration of yesterday, this was a welcome joy.

So let me sum up:

Apria Healthcare: Reliable products, crappy customer service. If I have an option of who I’ll order my durable medical supplies I’ll ensure that it WON’T be Apria Healthcare.

Jawbone: Unreliable product, responsive and engaging customer service. Might not invest in a new version of the Up band, since the market for these is competitive (FitBit, Nike, etc) but I haven’t completely ruled that out.

Cost to Apria: They’ll be sending me paper invoices for the next 6 years, in paper costs alone (figuring $.25 for paper, envelope) $13.75 (not including the FTE for people to process my order and bookkeep) to collect the ~$270 I owe them for the supplies.

Cost to Jawbone: 6 bands at $99 per band retail price = $594

Future business to Apria Healthcare: $0 (if it were my decision)

Future business to Jawbone: unknown, it depends on the market and my needs.

Shake and Fold

July 11th, 2012 1 comment

I saw this a few months back, and for a simple concept it’s genius in its execution. Take five minutes and watch:

First the speaker, Joe Smith, has a very simple goal, reduce the amount of paper towels people use.  The execution in it is taking that large goal and distilling it into a simple, easy to learn concept.  It boils down to two steps.

1. Shake

2. Fold

After he demonstrates the using of one paper towel he repeats the process over and over. The idea and his method infects your brain.  Since I’ve watched this I haven’t used a washroom without thinking of this video, and have adopted the method in how I dry my hands.

This simple lesson also points to some important reminders about making presentations.  People tend to retain things they see, hear and perform at a higher rate than that which they only read. People will retain something that is repeated – six times seems to be the optimum when it comes to repetition – during a learning session. People tend to remember the first Shake+Fold Flyerthing and the last thing in a list – so a two item list (while not really legal for a bulleted list, unless you institute a “There is no number 2” rule) – helps with retention. Finally, people tend to remember things that are linked to something they already know, everybody washes their hands, and using the number 12 in context cements the “how many times?” concept pretty easily.

The follow on lesson is we also tend to remember things when we can teach it back to someone else. That small 5 minute talk inspired someone to make a handy graphic, that they’ve used to spread the knowledge along.  While the handy flyer isn’t as effective as the 5 minute presentation it makes the same point, and helps to pass on the knowledge to people that haven’t seen the nifty TED talk.

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