Catching Up

I am sorry I have not made enough time to write lately.  I just realized it has been five months since I last blogged.  A lot has happened since then.

The car in the blog entry below is no more.  The TL did its job and kept Ally safe, but it did not survive the impact.  Ally is perfectly fine.  After a much more exhaustive (and exhausting) search, Ally now has a 2003 Jetta.  I think she likes it.  Meanwhile, Eric also got his permit; look out world!

Our hotel in Fort Lauderdale

Maggie and I just got back from a trip to Fort Lauderdale with our Management Group at the firm.  We had a great trip.  It is an exciting time here at the firm, and it was really great to be able to include the spouses and significant others on this trip.  Maggie really enjoyed being able to relax and read in warm Florida sun.  While she was pretending to be a literate lizard, we had some very encouraging meetings on the future of the firm.  I remain grateful to be part of such a good group of people who happen to also be excellent lawyers.

I’m also very excited to see my brother’s Total Baseball app launch.  It’s a great app.  If you are a fan of MLB and have an iPad, you should check it out.

On a more personal note, I am sad to report that I sold my motorcycle a month or so ago, but I hope the young Marine who purchased it really enjoys it.  Oorah!  I hope to get another bike in the not-so-distant future and have my eye on several right now.

Spiritually, Maggie and I are now hosting a weekly small group from our church.  Speaking of church, one of the most amazing things I’ve seen recently was the response at Summit’s Church at the Ballpark last month.  We had over 11,500 people in attendance and more than 550 people were baptized.  I have to admit baptisms always make me cry.  I am just overwhelmed by the joy of knowing a person has made a commitment with Christ that will carry them into eternity.  There truly is nothing else nearly as important as the decision about salvation.  Anyway, our Summit small group is on top of our monthly “Influencers” small group we already host, the bi-weekly book/Bible study group I have at work, and monthly Gospel & Work group at church.  In case it’s not clear, I believe strongly in small groups!

We are in the stage of life now where we see the parents of friends passing.  My heart bleeds for our dear friends who have lost parents over the past year.  I also hurt for friends who have lost relationships with their parents over the years.  Both losses are painful.  Here’s to our parents; may they understand how truly loved and appreciated they are.

Anyway, I guess I should end here before I ramble even further.  Be blessed.

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Training Wheels

Earlier this week, we took the plunge and purchased a car for our soon-to-be-16-year-old daughter.  Before deciding to buy the car, we had to wrestle with several questions:

  1. Should we get a car now?
  2. What were the priorities for a car?
  3. Who would pay for the car?  Who would pay to maintain it?
  4. What sort of price range would we consider?  And what type of vehicle would we consider?
  5. Would this be a “joint” car (used by both Ally and Eric, when he turns 16 next year) or would it be Ally’s car?

Obviously, we decided now was a good time to buy a car.  There are many reasons for this.  One, it will be a big relief on Maggie’s scheduled when Ally can drive herself (and maybe Eric) to school and other events on a regular basis.  We wanted Al to have lots of practice time over the Summer before we’d agree to her driving by herself (or with Eric).  We also knew she did not feel as confident driving the van or my truck, so we wanted to get something she felt more connected to (ie, a smaller car with more precise steering).  And, we wanted to reward Ally for all her hard work.  She is a wonderful, responsible, hard-working young lady.  We decided getting a car this Summer was appropriate.  We really expected to look for a month or more before we found anything we could agree to buy, but in the end, we found a great car at a terrific value just two days into our search, so we went ahead and purchased it.

Ally’s “new” car

In terns of paying for the car, there are three approaches: 1. Have the child pay for the car so they learn about financial responsibility. 2. Parent pays for the car and regular expenses to maintain a bit more control of the situation (esp safety factors) and allow the child to focus more on school than having to earn money.  And 3. Parents pay for the car and child covers expenses.  After some discussion, we fell mostly in #2.  We did not want to detract from school, and we also wanted to ensure that any vehicle purchased was safe and reliable.  We will cover basic expenses (such as insurance), but Ally will remain responsible for any additional costs.  We also have control of the vehicle should she prove to struggle with, say, the speed limit or other such things (I am confident this will not be the case but use it just as an example).  To be clear; this was simply our answer; I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all answer for this issue.  The dynamics, resources,  and needs of each family are different.

In terms of price range, we settled in pretty quickly on what seemed like an acceptable range to both Maggie and myself.  We would not buy anything we had to finance; we’d pay out of pocket.  We did not want a junker.  It was important to us that the car be reliable.  It was vital to us that the car be safe.  We looked at a lot of older Volvos and some Hondas.  In the end, we settled in on a car we have some prior experience with – the Acura TL.  I owned two prior TLs, and they were great cars.  Ally had loved my TL and hoped it would be hers one day.  Alas, I sold it and bought my current truck last year in order to be free of any car payments.  The TL we got her is a good bit older (1999) than mine were, and it is a different body style, but it is a good quality, reliable, safe vehicle.  We happened to come across one in great shape being sold by the original owner at an extremely reasonable price.  The owner and I developed a quick rapport, and he turned out to be a really nice guy.

We originally went into the discussion process thinking we would get a vehicle that would be a combined-use vehicle between Ally and Eric, but there were some issues.  For one, Eric’s height (a little over 6’4″ now) makes getting into many cars a bit interesting.  He had to fold his legs up around many steering wheels, for instance.  With some cars, he just does not fit.  As we went through the decision process though (this process started well before the actual search process), it seemed more appropriate to get them separate vehicles.  We decided to get one for Ally now and then look one for Eric next year.

In the end, we’re all satisfied with the process.  Ally has a car she really loves.  She has a car we feel good about in terms of safety and reliability; there is a good chance this car will make it all the way through high school and college with her.  And the price we paid was substantially below book value.

Look out Cary; Ally will be on the loose soon!

Review – Microsoft Surface Pro (128 GB)

I was able to get a 128 GB Surface Pro in mid February. I got the Type Cover and Wedge Mouse with it. My main concerns were battery life, size of screen, and the fixed-angle kickstand. So far, I love it. It has been a great replacement for old Dell XPS laptop and my Android tablet. I’ll talk about my three concerns prior to buying it and then add a few more observations.Surface Pro

Battery: My lowest day of real-world use was a shade (like 5 minutes) below 6 hours. It was down to 6% battery life left at that point after relatively heavy use. Most days, I’m getting 7 hours out of it. While more time would be better, I’m relatively pleased. Granted, I’m not a heavy gamer. I’m mostly using it for writing, editing, PowerPoints, reading, and surfing with some light video watching thrown in from time to time. The bigger battery issue, IMO, is the fact the charger doesn’t have a keeper strap or anything like that (so you can’t pack it up neatly) and the charger is sometimes a pain to connect to the charging port (it doesn’t just happily snap in, like the MBA does). But it’s certainly livable.

Screen size: The screen is amazing. I was concerned about the size, but the easy scaling by touch makes it wonderfully easy to use. My only gripe here is the snap feature (or whatever MS calls it when you can run to two programs side-by-side on the start screen). I love the feature and used it when I gave a presentation last week (had my personal notes up on one side and the presentation paper up on the other so I could keep my speech synchronized with the paper). But I wish you were not limited to a fixed ratio. I’d really like a 50/50 or 60/40 split every now and then. I hope MS adds this via software update at some point.

Kickstand: No worries here. I can easily use this as a laptop on my lap while sitting on the couch. It is far more versatile in that regard than conventional tablets. It is stable enough to use the touchscreen interface with no worries at all. One other benefit I noticed is that since the keyboard is the only part on your lap, you don’t get a bunch of heat on your lap when using it in your lap, either.

Regarding other things, the speed and response is impressive. No lag on anything. Surfing is much faster and smoother on the Surface than on the current gen iPad. At this point, the best surfing experience by far is with MS Explorer 10. I’m a huge Chrome fan, but it is not optimized the same way Explorer is yet, and that optimization makes a huge difference. To my great surprise, I really like Explorer 10.

The pen works pretty well. It is nice to have native ability to have clients sign a Word doc on the Surface. It works well for free-hand notes (particularly when used with OneNote), but it is not perfect. I do wish it had a slot for the pen, but I just put in my pen pouch in my briefcase or backpack; that works perfectly fine.

The Wedge Mouse was a nice addition; I’m sure any decent bluetooth mouse would work great with it. On the desktop mode, the mouse is handy to have sometimes, but you can get by without it by using the trackpad or the pen.

The touch interface is very smooth. Apps are better than expected, but there are still plenty of holes in the lineup. Installing “legacy apps” (aka, real programs) was perfectly smooth.

Weight isn’t as bad as I initially thought. When I first opened it, I immediately thought it was too heavy. But that feeling went away after about 5 minutes of use. The kickstand helps mitigate the weight in that you can often prop it up with the kickstand rather than support all the weight all the time. I tend to prefer to read in landscape mode, anyway, but you also get used to portrait mode pretty quickly (although it does look a little over-tall at first blush).

Switching from start screen to desktop is not quite the jarring experience it has been portrayed as in some reviews. However, I do miss pinch to zoom and that sort of scalable touch function when running desktop programs. You can use touch navigation and such on desktop programs, but it’d be perfect if you could use a full touch interface all the time.

The Type Cover is very good. It is not as good as a top-end keyboard, but it is imminently usable and responds well to normal pressure. I was too cautious with it at first and made a few more mistakes as a result. But once I warmed up (took maybe 20 minutes), I was able to fly along with no issues. The trackpad is not so great, but it is functional and the touchscreen and pen more than make up for any deficiencies with the trackpad. I also haven’t had any issues with the Wedge Mouse. I only break it out for heavy editing work, though.

As a productivity tool, I love that it cold boots in 8 seconds (about 2-3 seconds from standby) and shuts down in about 2-3 seconds. I can just pick it up, turn it on, and dive in. Thanks also to MS for avoiding bloatware. The Surface Pro handles everything I’ve thrown at it smoothly. The touchscreen is addictive. My kids have MBAs that I have worked with from time to time (and liked more than my Dell XPS), and the Surface feels more user-friendly than the MBA. Touch is a big part of that; you can just pinch to zoom most things, and it it makes a difference on smaller screens like those of the Surface and MBA. I would have chosen the MBA over my old XPS, but I’d take the Surface over a MBA every day of the week now.

At this point, I’d give the Surface Pro about an 8.9 out of 10 and can strongly recommend it for most folks. It’d easily push a good bit higher if it were just little thinner and lighter, had maybe 25% more battery life, and if you could use the full touch interface for desktop programs.

PS: If you want a thorough review that covers the tech side of the Surface, I suggest: this review on AnandTech.

Ally’s Mission Trip to Costa Rica

The time has finally arrived.  We take Ally to RDU at 4:30 tomorrow morning to see her off for a mission trip to Costa Rica.  The trip is arranged through her school, GRACE Christian School in Raleigh.  Parents are not allowed to go because part of the idea is to help the students learn to rely more on God than on mom and dad.  It’s a good goal, but a little unnerving for protective parents!

Costa Rica TeamThe team is 26 people strong.  They will be working near San Jose, Costa Rica.  Much of the ministry will center around orphans.  They will be serving Casa Viva, an organization designed to help orphans in the area.  It’s a great ministry, and we are very excited the team from GRACE will be able to join with them to minister to these children.

If you look closely at the picture to the right, you’ll see Ally right in the middle of the group.  The team is comprised of 23 teenagers, from ninth grade through twelfth grade.  There are three adults on the team, Mandy Gill, the principal of the Upper Campus (junior high and high school) and Isaiah Whelpley, one the school’s Bible teachers.  Isaiah’s wife Kat is the other adult member of the team.  We have a great respect for Mandy, Isaiah, and Kat and are extremley grateful for their leadership with the kids and this team.  They have each already had substantial positive impact on Ally.

We are excited with the growth we’ve seen in her during her time at GRACE.  She is, as always, an excellent student.  But more importantly, GRACE also challenges her to more fully align her heart with the love of Christ.  It is for this reason she feels compelled to share that love with others, especially underprivileged children.   I really admire her heart in this regard.  As parents, our greatest hope is that she be filled with the Holy Spirit and that she love and serve God with all her heart.  This is the basic prayer I have prayed over her almost every day of her life.  It is exciting – and a little scary – to see God answering that prayer!

The team will be gone for 10 days.  During that time, we will have little contact with them.  This, of course, will also be hard on anxious families, but it is a good opportunity for us to remember that our children are always in the hands of their loving Heavenly father, whether they be by our side or in a different country.

Short-term mission trips are great for many reasons.  They take you out of your comfort zone and help you learn to rely on God.  You are also able to step into a different world and bring a new perspective to those you touch, as well as learn from their perspective.  In terms of lives changed, short-term missions often accomplish more than local ministries can on their own.  It’s great that God uses our differences as a bridge when we are placed in other cultures; people can be drawn to Him through their curiosity about what they see in us.  We often hear stories about doors that have been closed to the gospel for decades opening when short-term missionaries come to an area.  Even though a trip like this is only for a short period in time, the goal is to have an eternal impact.  It’s amazing how God works and even more amazing when we get to participate in His work.

Please keep Ally and the team in your prayers.  I don’t want to list the full names of all the students, but I will list their first names.  In addition the adults listed above, the students going on the trip are:

  • Ally (guess you can figure that one out)
  • Alex
  • Abby
  • Maddie
  • Taylor
  • Hannah B
  • Sulli
  • Stephen
  • Nico
  • John
  • Victoria
  • Ashlyn
  • Molly
  • David
  • Hannah M
  • Hannah O
  • Christiana
  • Andrew
  • Rebecca
  • Kim
  • Hailey
  • Rachael
  • Tori

Selfishly, we pray for safety and health.  But, most importantly, we ask you to join us in prayer for God’s will to be displayed through the team and this trip.

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,000 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Conference Thoughts

Atlantic Coast Conference logo
Atlantic Coast Conference logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, after the most recent changes, the ACC will look like: BC, Cuse, Pitt, UVA, VPI, WF, dook, UNC, State, Clemson, GT, FSU, Miami, and sorta ND.

As far as I’m concerned, the ACC is a dead man walking at this point.  By that I mean, we have lost our identity and I just don’t know if the conference can – or even should – survive.  Almost half our membership will be former Big East programs, and we have decided to become ND’s pimp.  I truly see almost no value in the partial membership; it did nothing for the BE, and it will do nothing for the ACC.  IMO, the ACC chased television sets rather than relevance and meaningful rivalries.  I think this was a poor strategy for expansion.  Consequently, I think I’ve reached the conclusion that I’d just prefer for the ACC to implode so we can move on.

I still like the core, but I could really do without BC, Cuse, Miami, and ND.  I think all those were horribly misguided additions.  I think UConn will be the same, if they are the next in.

Had I been in charge of expansion, I would have taken VPI; they fit.  I would also sought WVA and Pitt.  They also fit, IMO.  Beyond that, I’m not sure; maybe Louisville, if we still needed another.  I think these teams would have created a better “community,” been a better fit, and actually have led to positive press for the conference as we would have more meaningful rivalries and border war games.  We also would save a heckuva lot on travel costs for most programs if they didn’t have to go to Miami or Boston.  They could have helped strengthen the core of the conference rather than dilute it.

At this point, though, it’s too late to turn back the clock.  Frankly, I just don’t like the new ACC.  I don’t blame MD for bolting.  I wish we (UNC) had the guts to bolt as well.  But I doubt we will, so I find myself actually hoping it all just blows up and Carolina finds a new and better long-term home.  I don’t know how likely that is, and I suspect we will cling so tightly to the past that we stumble into the future.

Although I liked the ACC prior to the more recent rounds of expansion, IMO, our best-case scenario now (since I don’t expect us to be proactive) would be for the conference to implode and UNC to end up in the SEC.  As much as I’ve resented the SEC, that’s tough to say.  The other option would be the B10, but we just don’t belong with a bunch a midwestern schools.  That’s not our identity, although we do have more than our share of pretentious academians who would love the B10 for its “academic reputation.”  We can fit with UGA, Florida, Ole Miss, Vandy, and some of the other SEC schools.  Unlike may of my UNC brethren, I’d like to take State with us.  What fun is a rival if you don’t get to play them?  I’d also like UVA and either Clemson or GT (or both)  to go with us.  Despite my reasoning on taking State, I have to admit, I’d be perfectly happy to leave dook behind.

This post is not so much a whine as just typing out some thoughts I’ve had rumbling around for a bit. I am something of a traditionalist.  The old rivalries are important to me.  The history is important to me.

In terms of history, I guess we could fall back on our ties to the old Southern Conference.  Eleven members of the current SEC were members.  UNC, UVA, NCSU, Clemson, VPI, and GT of the ACC were also charter members.  So, let’s go back to the future.

I never thought I’d hope the ACC would die.  But I do, and I’m just now coming to grips with that realization.

Review: Experiencing Spiritual Breakthroughs by Bruce Wilkinson

I have to admit I was initially turned off reading this book due to the very casual writing style early in the book.  If I recall correctly, much of the early section of the book was adapted from presentations Wilkinson has given to large groups.  In that setting, the familiar style probably worked better.  But I really got tired of sentences being punctuated by “friend” so frequently.  However, I’m glad I kept reading because Wilkinson offers up some great advice in this book.  

The book is divided into three main sections.  The first (and largest) section of the book talks about individual faith.  The second talks about marriage and the third explores relationships between parents and their children.

Wilkinson says there are three types of faith: the First Chair, Second Chair, and Third Chair.  As you might imagine, the First Chair believer is the one who is all in.  As Wilkinson describes it, “First Chair living is anchored in a person’s whole intellect, will, and heart.”  The Second Chair believer sounds like an accurate description for many of us; this person has committed to belief in Christ but is inconsistent and often compromises with the world around him or her.  As Wilkinson says, “The Second Chair person has God on the tip of his tongue but self on the throne of his heart.”  Meanwhile, a Third Chair person has not personally committed to faith in Christ, although they may be immersed in something Wilkinson calls “churchianity” – surrounding oneself with the trappings of faith (such as church attendance) but not having a personal relationship with Christ.

Wilkinson’s goal in this book is to help the reader move into First Chair faith.  He uses Biblical examples of men from these different chairs to illustrate the impact our position has on our relationship with God and those around us.  He also then gives an example of each chair from modern life.   He has a good discussion about how goals differ from these different chairs and does a nice job of showing the slippery slope of compromise.

Most of Wilkinson’s target audience would likely identify themselves as Second Chair Christians, under the rubric he proposes.  It is of some note, then, when Wilkinson says, “From personal experience I can tell you the most unhappy, frustrated, stressed, and disillusioned people in the world are not non-Christians as you might expect, but Second Chair people who know Christ yet who fight Him and His leadership for years and even decades.”

Wilkinson spends significant time explaining the effects of being a Second Chair Christian and then begins to work toward a solution by proposing a series of questions to work through in order to gain a better understanding of lordship in our lives.  The primary tool he recommends is confronting personal sin, and he devotes significant time to discussing how to confront these sins in our lives.  He also offers practical tips for recognizing recurring sin and developing a strategy to avoid remaining ensnared by it.

He says there are two primary motives at the root of sin:

  1. We seek the pleasure that comes from that sin, and
  2. We seek the absence of pain that is the immediate source of our temptation to commit that sin.

He then begins to turn the book toward personal relationships, noting that 70% of “our inner conflict” results from unforgiveness.  This leads him to a discussion of marriage that at first felt a bit out of place in the book, but seemed appropriate once I got a little further in.  Of course, he talks about having a First Chair marriage, too, and he spends some energy discussing how a marriage should look.  He addresses the roles of husbands and wives.  Although he generally espouses traditional headship and helper roles (with a good bit of clarification since there is such misunderstanding in public discussion), he also cites Scriptural authority for the wife to rule her household.  He also discusses what he calls the “The Seven Stages of Marital Slide” and calls on men and women to find joy in their marriages.  He had a great personal example from his life of taking a year away from ministry to focus on his marriage and his wife because his wife confronted him on the fact he had prioritized his ministry over her.  This section led to a very nice discussion on restoring marital oneness.

He then moved on to discussing being a First Chair parent.  By now, I was looking forward to the advice he would offer in this section.  He exhorts parents to raise godly kids, not just good kids, and he makes good use of a sports metaphor to explain how critical it is that we pass along true faith to our children.

A relay event has always struck me as a powerful illustration of parenting. Success for us as mom and dad isn’t just about how well we run as individuals, but about how well we pass the baton. And only when the story of the generations who follow us is told will our “win” at raising godly kids be known.

Wilkinson goes on to discuss different parenting styles and the effects these styles can have on our children, and he proposes seven steps to raising godly children.  He spends the last chapter explaining that pain in a child’s heart can haunt them as adults, so he suggests an approach in order to deal with this sort of “heart wound.”

Overall, the guidance in the book is good, and I certainly felt much better about the book when I finished it than earlier when I was frustrated so many statements ended with a causal address.  On the whole, I recommend the book, and there are some sections that are particularly strong.  If you want to check out the first few pages of the book, you can do so for free at Amazon.

Disclosure – I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.