The Loyal Engineers Steering NASA’s Voyager Probes Across the Universe

One of the greatest obstacles to planetary science has always been the human life span: Typically, for instance, a direct flight to Neptune would take about 30 years. But in the spring of 1965, Gary Flandro, a doctoral student at Caltech, noticed that all four outer planets — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune — would align on the same side of the sun in the 1980s. If a spacecraft were launched in the mid- to late 1970s, it could use the gravity of the first body to slingshot to the second, and so on. Such a trajectory would add enough speed to shorten the total journey by almost two-thirds. What’s more, this orbital configuration would not appear again for 175 years.

https://nytimes.com/2017/08/03/magazine/the-loyal-engineers-steering-nasas-voyager-probes-across-the-universe.html via Daring Fireball

Thoughts on the church of the future

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I am involved in my church’s search for a new rector and have been for almost two years. It has been a time to think about the future of my church and the “church”. Conversations have provided many opportunities to discuss the “church” of the future. What it looks like, both locally and globally.

A member of the search committee sent an article “10 predictions about the future Church and shifting attendance patterns”, which contained two items salient to my current church, but are also elements important to the future of the “church”.

Churches that love their model more than the mission will die

That said, many individual congregations and some entire denominations won’t make it. The difference will be between those who cling to the mission and those who cling to the model.

When the car was invented, it quick took over from the horse and buggy. Horse and buggy manufacturers were relegated to boutique status and many went under, but human transportation actually exploded. Suddenly average people could travel at a level they never could before.

The mission is travel. The model is a buggy, or car, or motorcycle, or jet.

Look at the changes in the publishing, music and even photography industry in the last few years.

See a trend? The mission is reading. It’s music. It’s photography. The model always shifts….moving from things like 8 tracks, cassettes and CDs to MP3s and now streaming audio and video.

Companies that show innovation around the mission (Apple, Samsung) will always beat companies that remain devoted to the method (Kodak).

Churches need to stay focused on the mission (leading people into a growing relationship with Jesus) and be exceptionally innovative in our model.

And

Simplified ministries will complement people’s lives, not compete with people’s lives

For years, the assumption has been that the more a church grew, the more activity it would offer.

The challenge, of course, is that church can easily end up burning people out. In some cases, people end up with no life except church life. Some churches offer so many programs for families that families don’t even have a chance to be families.

The church at its best has always equipped people to live out their faith in the world. But you have to be in the world to influence the world.

Churches that focus their energies on the few things the church can uniquely do best will emerge as the most effective churches moving forward. Simplified churches will complement people’s witness, not compete with people’s witness.

Since joining my church three years ago, I have become involved in the Kairos prison ministry. Also, I am a member of the search committee, a lay reader and eucharistic minister, sound system operator, narrator of Christmas pageant and Good Friday dramatic readings and, participant in Christian formation. Involved and busy.

It is no longer enough for a church to be comfortable in what we have always done, staying within the walls of our buildings. The church must adapt to existing in their communities, not apart from them, engaging the real issues of the community. Newport News, has a large amount of wealth disparity, particularly along racial lines. Jesus’ called for us to love our neighbors as ourselves. A congregation of well-off white people, who do not roll up their sleeves and tackle the work of community social justice does not measure up.

Achieving balance between engagement in the community, and the demands of life is critical, though. As someone who has become very involved in my church and mission, but who has a job, family and other interests, adding more responsibilities and obligation makes me hesitant to commit to more. Life is busy, and attending church and performing works of ministry shouldn’t feel like an obligation. As a busy, young professional, with kids, simplified ministries are critical to keep people like me engaged. Not competing with life is necessary to continue to attract people to a ministry. I am leading the fall Kairos ministry weekend and I am learning the burden of ministry leadership is significant. Several weekends worth of commitments makes participating in such a ministry difficult for some and unappealing to others. Incorporation and attraction of new members into the ministry is difficult if the burden placed on them as participants or leaders is too high.

The future church will not look the same as it has. The church must evolve to understand that good people don’t go to church because that is what good people do anymore. To remain full of vitality, the church must meet the churched and unchurched where they are. The church of the future must find ways to engage both groups to draw each closer to Christ, even if they are busy.

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Learn more about Kairos prison ministry:

Kairos 10

Locked Doors 

Owning the platform — revisited

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I wrote about buying a product, not being one, with the idea that I didn’t want to use services that I couldn’t control (and pay for), but in the last year, my thinking has changed.

Part of this change has come as part of the increasing speed and nature of hacks and compromises across the internet. James Cox writing for Motherboard:

When it comes to website security, users are largely at the whim of site administrators, especially when it comes to the constant updating of software.

In the last year, many work discussions have been around the use of a self-hosted service versus a hosted service. A self-hosted service with five people devoting one percent of their working time to the security of the system is not uncommon. A hosted service has five people dedicating 50+ percent of their time to security. Which system would I trust?

In the last year, an internal dialog similar to the work-related security and focus discussion has been bubbling in my head. I have used “self-hosted” Wordpress, file transfer and storage, contacts and calendars. I am putting information valuable to me on a server on the Internet. I am not hosting them on a dedicated server or a server in my home. I’m on a shared server, managed by Dreamhost, which has worked well. They have security staff and systems in place to find and stop most of the compromises. The issue comes when Wordpress plugins have security holes allowing comprise, or poorly written PHP that exposes personal information.

Erik Hess:

It’s safe to say that static, self-hosted blogs tend to attract the nerdier slice of the vast writing public. I am a proud member of that slice.

Having said that, even nerds get tired of dealing with the day-to-day demands of managing yet-another-web-application, especially if that’s what they do all day long, day-in and day-out.

Changing the hosting of my blog to Medium was an easy choice. In addition to the security benefits, Drew Coffman explains:

There are several benefits to using Medium as Extratextuals’ host, but the main reason that I made a move was this — the time I have to write, I want to write. I have very little interest in fiddling with a website, and even though I streamlined every possible aspect of my Wordpress build, I was still finding myself, every day, fixing settings and making things work.

Marius Masalar expands on Drew’s thoughts, saying:

Here on Medium, I relinquish control over those details.

In exchange, I gain the peace of mind that comes from knowing that instead of me there’s now an entire staff of people whose only job it is to keep everything looking and functioning perfectly, on any platform, under any circumstance.

They’re experts. It’s liberating.

Meanwhile, my content remains mine, I get to keep my URL, my old links redirect seamlessly, and my SEO performance can only get better.

(Emphasis mine)

Moving my blog to medium still conforms with Marco Arment’s thoughts on owning the platform:

You can use someone else’s software, but still have your own “platform”, if you’re hosting it from a domain name you control and are able to easily take your content and traffic with you to another tool or host at any time. You don’t need to go full-Stallman and build your own blogging engine from scratch on a Linux box in your closet — a Tumblr, Squarespace, or WordPress blog is perfectly fine if you use your own domain name and can export your data easily.

So. Owning the platform. What does that mean? How does it conflict with buying a product instead of being one? I am of two minds about this tension. Firstly, I am willing to pay for products that make my life better, like Dropbox, and the products that I can’t pay for, I will work to own the associated domain.

I am replacing almost everything that I have done on my slice of the shared server.

I am using Medium to host my blog now. Partly to increase my “exposure”, partly to stop worry about the constant security issues. I am posting under my own domain, key to Marco’s argument. In addition, I have migrated my email from Dreamhost to Fastmail, which has worked very well. I have mostly given up on RSS, so hosting feed reading software isn’t necessary, also because I am following only a few dedicated site instead of the firehose of the Internet. Calendars and contacts are hosted with Fastmail and iCloud and the mix allows me to share calendars when appropriate. For one-off podcast listening, Overcast’s new upload feature makes my self-hosted service redundant. I am using a paid Dropbox account which allows me to share data from my devices.

I am quickly moving my services from Dreamhost, not because anything bad has happened, but because of what Erik Hess said:

[E]ven nerds get tired of dealing with the day-to-day demands of managing yet-another-web-application, especially if that’s what they do all day long, day-in and day-out.

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Butlerbot

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A Trello assistant, or a foray into using bots

We are at the dawn of the “bot” revolution. Many pundits claim bots will replace apps and become a primary way of interacting with services. I am less confident in our new digital assistants, but with a new bot, I am becoming a fan of their usefulness. I first experienced the idea of a digital assistant in Siri, baked into my iPhone and she has worked in a less than spectacular fashion. She doesn’t hear me well, and I find her commands limited and not well documented. Overall, Not a great start to the revolution.

Enter Butler Bot, a bot for my Trello boards.

With Butler Bot I see the value of digital assistants. Butler Bot’s commands are clear and well defined. Ludable, the developer, has been quick in responding to feature requests, adding many with in a day of their request. This is making the bot better and easier to use.

So, what can Butler Bot do?

  • Create and archive cards on a schedule.
  • Move cards from one list to another based on labels or checklists completion.
  • Add checklists to cards in a specific list or when labelled.

These tasks are small and could completed by a person. I find Trello is best when using an established process, with each list being a phase of the process. Butler Bot automates the transitions between phases, making the upkeep on a Trello board simple.

If you use Trello, I highly recommend adding Butler Bot to a board, playing with the command structure and exploring where a bot can make your board better.

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Living Bimodally

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I have been long aware of Paul Graham’s writing on the Maker’s Schedule versus the Manager’s Schedule. Particularly:

When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That’s no problem for someone on the manager’s schedule. There’s always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker’s schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it.

For someone on the maker’s schedule, having a meeting is like throwing an exception. It doesn’t merely cause you to switch from one task to another; it changes the mode in which you work.

I find one meeting can sometimes affect a whole day. A meeting commonly blows at least half a day, by breaking up a morning or afternoon. But in addition there’s sometimes a cascading effect. If I know the afternoon is going to be broken up, I’m slightly less likely to start something ambitious in the morning. I know this may sound oversensitive, but if you’re a maker, think of your own case. Don’t your spirits rise at the thought of having an entire day free to work, with no appointments at all? Well, that means your spirits are correspondingly depressed when you don’t. And ambitious projects are by definition close to the limits of your capacity. A small decrease in morale is enough to kill them off.

Having a good understanding of my work and energy patterns, I know that meetings drain me and when I have meetings in the middle of my day. I have hard time getting back into a focused mindset. I also know that I am prone to considerable procrastination when I know that I have meetings later in the work day. I might spend the whole morning goofing off if I have a meeting at 11.

These things are not good. Given the amount and complexity of the work that I need to do to complete a major project, being on a maker’s schedule is critical. The work that I need to do requires significant effort and focus, so applying the principles laid out in Cal Newport’sDeep Work is an effort worth pursuing. After reading Deep Work, I needed to figure out how I could spend more time in the flow-like state, doing the hard work. Part of that process has involved understanding which mode of deep work would work best for me.

Jeremy Duvall summarizes the deep work modes that Newport lays out:

  • Monastic — This philosophy attempts to maximize deep efforts by eliminating or radically minimizing shallow obligations. (Think seclusion somewhere)
  • Bimodal — This philosophy asks that you divide your time, dedicating some clearly defined stretches to deep pursuits and leaving the rest open to everything else.
  • Rhythmic — This philosophy argues that the easiest way to consistently start deep work sessions is to transform them into a simple regular habit.
  • Journalistic — in which you fit deep work wherever you can into your schedule.

I am a using the Journalistic mode to accomplish the writing necessary for my Master’s classes, so I thought it would be the same for my work project. The problem is that meetings were completely productivity sapping. Going into the Monastic mode is appealing, but not very conducive to have a job that requires regular client and co-worker interaction. The Rhythmic mode sounds nice, but when there could be a crisis that meets me at the door when I walk in at eight, it makes forming a habit difficult. That leaves me one mode: Bimodal.

The past three weeks of work have been done in the Bimodal mode. I have blocked two days on my calendar and will not allow anything to be added on Wednesdays and Fridays, those days are for focused work. That leaves Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Monday is triage and planning, getting ready for my week. That leaves Tuesdays and Thursdays are for meetings, lots of meetings. In some cases, every hour being blocked for a different meeting and keeping me moving across campus. I am completely worn out after meeting days.

The great thing is that even after a day full of back to back meetings, the next day’s focus activities are still highly productive. I am no longer wasting large stretches of the day mindlessly surfing, waiting for the next meeting to start. In fact, I have to remind myself to eat, drink and take breaks, because I get so deep “in the zone” that the distractions of basic functions feel incredibly disruptive.

In addition to shifting the mode of work, I am working to eliminate shallow work, and when I have to group it together. This means removing Safari and email from my phone. I have ways of looking things up, but the friction that comes with it means that I am not wasting time looking up needless things. It also means checking email twice on meeting days, and once on focus days. This limited email schedule means that I have a lot of email to process, but it makes me more ruthless in deleting and responding.

I am also not allowing people to have open access to my calendar. I need to keep myself available on meeting days for my team and my boss, but not allowing people to just drop random calendar invites on my calendar is a very different habit. I am using Calendly to allow people to schedule specified blocks of time, ensuring that my meeting days, while busy are not completely overwhelming.

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Working bimodally has taken some getting used to, both by me and my coworkers, but the results have spoken for themselves, I have produced more quality work, and continued to keep the understood commitments of working in a large organization.

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