Wednesday, April 29, 2009

William Henry Fox Talbot

I’ve been reading the biography of William Henry Fox Talbot. Talbot was one of the inventors of photography and the prime proponent of the negative/positive process. He was an Englishman who lived between 1800 and 1870. During that time he had many accomplishments. Besides being a wealthy land owner and Member of Parliament, he invented the halftone process and published the first book illustrated with photographs. He was also a noted mathematician.

The biographer noted, almost in passing, at how much some people of that era were able to accomplish, especially considering that they lacked many things considered essential to modern society.

It seems that part of the answer is that modern society has reduced our ability to focus our attention on any one thing for very long. Over the years our attention span has been reduced. Personally, I have noticed in the past few years, I become restless after even a few minutes of concentration. I am always checking my email, getting up for a cup of coffee, or discovering a mindless task that needs to be done. Being able to sit down and work on a single task for hours at a time has become very difficult.

Talbot didn’t have email to check every few minutes or a telephone to interrupt his thoughts. He didn’t spend his evenings watching television. He didn’t have to maintain his Facebook, MySpace, or LinkedIn accounts. I am pretty certain that he didn’t follow anybody’s “tweets.” Times were slower, which meant he could spend hours, or days, working on complicated problems without distraction.

Today being able to multi-task is considered an asset. Multi-tasking really means not giving 100% attention to anything. Most of us are trying to do too many things and running in too many directions to give much attention to any one thing.

A few years ago I decided to define myself as a photographer, musician, and writer. What that really means is that I am not a gardener, golfer, or woodworker. By limiting my activities, I believe I have the ability to achieve more in a few specific areas.

Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, work at with all your heart, as working for the Lord not men.” To me, heartily or “with all your heart” means to give it all you’ve got. Don’t be distracted.

I understand that the Japanese have a word “muda” which generally means unproductive or simply, a waste of time. Of course, sometimes we don’t know when we are wasting time. Is spending an afternoon on the golf course a waste of time? What if it was with an important client? What if you were a golf pro and a few more hours of practice would mean more money in your pocket?

Playing music might be a waste of time for some people, but since God gave me a passion for music, not practicing would be disobedient, and probably seen by God as squandering a gift. Figuring out who were are, how God made us, and what our purpose in life is, goes a long way in helping see the best use of our time.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


For the second time in three months, while setting in my usual parking place in front of my apartment, my car was vandalized - at a cost of $2,000 each time.

I can understand why someone on drugs might hold up a convenience store to get money for a hit. Or why a desperate person might try to rob a bank. I can even understand how someone might resort to violence in a fit of anger, but to intentionally damage someone else’s property as entertainment takes a particularly sick mind.

Personally, I would recommend drug treatment programs for druggies, or job training for people who think stealing is the only way to get money, but vandalism reeks of an illness in the culture that is far deeper. It is not related to poverty, greed, or substance abuse like so much crime is. There is nothing to be gained by the perpetrator except the knowledge that they have caused harm to someone else or someone else’s property.

A psychologist might look for a diagnosis of mental illness which is somehow the opposite of compassion. Learning to feel somebody else’s pain is a learned experience and somewhere along the line, this can get corrupted to the opposite where a person might get pleasure from someone else’s pain. Sociologists might look to society and see a person crying out for attention, and doing so in a very juvenile way of striking out at random. As a Christian, I see it as a sign that Satan is still in control of this planet and that my home is in heaven, and that I will be required to deal with evil as long as I am still on Earth.

However you view it, it means we’ve got a problem. I have to admit that my first reaction was to electrify my car with high voltage so if anybody touched it with a metal object, they would be knocked on their keester. This is doable and could probably be made to only react to a metal object on bare metal, not a casual brush by. A car alarm might be a more practically choice, but I hate those things going off accidentally and a blaring horn doesn’t quite have the satisfaction of knowing a vandal tazered himself while attacking my car. My insurance company may have better suggestions.

Obviously none of these are good solutions when the root problem is a sick society that encourages violence through media and video games and does little to teach respect for property. Moreover, how can we continually teach young people that they descended from apes and then expect them to behave like humans? Did I mention that this world is not my home?

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Red Cadillac

When I was seventeen and preparing to leave for college, I needed a different car. It was 1966 and a local car dealer had a couple of good choices. There were two solid low mileage cars in my price range. One was a gray 1958 Oldsmobile Super 88. The other was a red ’57 Cadillac Coupe deVille. My father strongly suggested that I buy the Olds. Since it was mainly his money, I did.

The Oldsmobile got me through a year or two of college, and it would be another 25 years before I would get my first Cadillac. There is hardly a month goes by that I don’t remember the way I felt when I saw that red Coupe deVille sitting on that used car lot. I wonder if my life would have been different if had showed up at college in a red Cadillac instead of a gray Oldsmobile. I am sure that it would have been much different – how I am not sure.

With 1957 Cadillacs selling in the $50K range and red Coupe deVilles being among the most desirable, that is one of several pieces of bad advice my dad gave me. It was right up there with “always clean up your plate.”

Of course, if I had bought the Cadillac then, it would have been long gone and I would be regretting having sold it, like so many other cool things I used to have.

An interviewer once told a famous race car driver/collector, “If you still owned all the cars you’ve had, you’d be very rich.” The response was, “No, if I’d been rich, I would have kept all the cars I’ve owned.”

The reality is that it takes a lot of time and money to maintain an old car, just like it does all of our personal property. And in the end it will be rust. You don’t see many ’57 Cadillac any more, or ’67, ’77, ‘87’s for that matter. They were made to be driven, used-up, and replaced, which is exactly what happened.

Putting our trust in temporary material items is the very definition of our materialistic society. Peace and contentment comes only from placing our trust in the God that created us, not in the things that we created ourselves.