Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sunday in the Park with Jeffrey

We went to Downs Park this afternoon. It was a wonderful end-of-September day, sunny, dry, warm but not hot, and there were many families there enjoying the playground and walking or bicycling down the paths that wind through the woods. There was also a car show, with modified Civics and low-rider pickups on display, and a loud MC at the amphitheater. Colleen explored the playground, and then we went for a walk, stopping by the overlook, which has a great view of the Chesapeake Bay looking across towards Rock Hall, in Kent County on the Eastern Shore. We also visited the aviary, which is home to a couple of owls and a hawk, and the more formal Mother's Garden, with brick walks and covered paths.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Christianity and History

I read an interesting post on Christianity and history over at On the Square (the First Things blog). In it, Charles J. Chaput, the archbishop of Denver, talks about the fact that the Bible, unlike the holy books of other religions, is a history that tells the story of things that happened. He goes on to talk about what it means to be a Christian and states:
Christian love is not weak or anesthetic. It’s an act of the will. It takes guts. It’s a deliberate submission of our selfishness to the needs of others.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Heart of the County Fair

Today we headed to the Anne Arundel County Fair at the county fairgrounds on Generals Highway just north of Annapolis. We walked by the booths selling stuff or promoting something or someone. We visited the barns with the prize-winning poultry and livestock. We saw the kids in white pants and white shirts showing their cows. We ate ice cream and popcorn and drank lemonade and water. Colleen rode down a big slide and round-and-round the merry-go-round.

All of that was fun, but, for us, the heart of the fair is the exhibit hall, with the plates of fruit and vegetables (lots of red peppers, for some reason), the gigantic watermelon (193 pounds!) and pumpkins, the 4-H projects, the walls hung with photographs and artwork and needlepoint, the quilts hanging above like championship banners, the rows of jellies and preserves and honey and porcelain: things that people planned and made and brought to the fair.

Laury and Colleen are learning how to quilt, so the quilts on display got a lot of our attention this year - they recognized familiar patterns and saw some truly unique creations. All of the quilts were well-done; some were more attractive than others, of course. In all of them we recognized the hours of hard work that go into making something; they were inspiring. We make things and want someone to see them; we want someone to say that it is good. The exhibit hall is the heart of the county fair for it contains the objects into which people have put their brains and muscles and skill and care.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Education and Our Witness to Christ is the title of a post by Charles J. Chaput (the archbishop of Denver) at the First Things blog. (It was adapted from the homily that he have at the inauguration Mass for Wyoming Catholic College.)

Chaput first affirms a realist position in considering why very smart people do evil things:
I think we can find the answer to that question in another of my favorite thoughts from Chesterton. He said that when a man stops believing in God, he doesn’t believe in nothing; he believes in anything. Events have proved him right. The historian and poet Robert Conquest wrote that a central flaw of the twentieth century was the addiction of educated men and women to “big ideas” divorced from reality and results. In a healthy mind, big ideas get tested against reality. If they don’t work, they get dumped. But the lunatic mind breaks and reshapes reality to fit the big idea.

He then goes on to describe the most important attributes of education:
It’s the content, the purpose, and the result of an education that count. And that’s why a truly Catholic education is so crucial. The doctrines and structures of our Catholic faith are there for very good reasons. They’re vitally important because they form us and sustain us as a believing community. ... But the heart of being a Catholic is not a set of ideas. It’s a person—the person of Jesus Christ. The goal of a Catholic life is meeting, loving, and following Jesus Christ.

The last part of his post discusses what a real relationship with God looks like, and how it we prove it by our actions, by keeping His commandments. And education is important to that:
The vocation of every Christian life is to change the world: to open the eyes of the world and to bring the world to Jesus Christ. And the role of Catholic education is to give students the zeal, the faith, and the intellectual depth to do that.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Wow is not necessary good

It's early Thursday morning here in Las Vegas, where I am attending the ASME Design Engineering Technical Conference at one of the big hotel-casinos. It is my first trip here. I never had any desire to visit Las Vegas, and, now that I'm here, that hasn't changed.

Las Vegas is Spanish for the Meadows (according the city history posted on Wikipedia). From my hotel room I have a view to the south. The sunrise is illuminating the mountains to the south and west of town. It would be a scene of rugged beauty if it weren't for another high rise hotel across the street ruining the view.

The city strikes me as entirely artificial. The presence of water got it started as a water stop for the trains, and then the Hoover Dam (which I saw as our plane was approaching town) made a big impact in the early 1930's. But, of course, the primary engine of growth is the presence of the casinos. And the casinos pretend to be other places: Rio de Janiero, New York, Egypt, a southern California beach, a medieval castle in Europe, and so forth.

The opportunities to gamble, shop, and be entertained are numerous here and start as soon as one exits the gate at the airport. The baggage claim is full of billboards for shows and casinos.

Walking into the hotel here was like walking into a huge video game arcade - lots of flashing lights, music, people sitting at machines. The hotel is like a small shopping mall, with restaurants, shops, and shows, all around the central gaming area. Where a normal hotel lobby would have chairs and tables for waiting and chatting, this place has slot machines. It is overwhelming but not pleasant. Wow, but not good.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Introducing the Edsel

Today's Washington Post had an article by Peter Carlson about the Edsel, which Ford introduced in 1957. The Edsel was actually an entire line of cars aimed at a more middle-class market (like Buick). It flopped because the actual car couldn't live up to the marketing hype. The article discusses in detail the marketing research and marketing tricks that Ford used during the development of the car.

The theme of American manufacturing firms ignoring product quality and manufacturing operations in favor of marketing is discussed in Factory Physics (by Hopp and Spearman), the text for my production management course. The Edsel is a great example.

Of course, there are those that love the Edsel, which is now a collector item, since only 100,000 vehicles (approximately) were sold. See, for instance,

Monday, September 03, 2007

The End of the Season

In this part of the country, even though the kids have been going to school for at least a week (depending on the county) Labor Day marks the end of summer in one very definite way: it is the last day that community and public outdoor pools are open.

So we went to the pool today: it was perfect weather - sunny and warm and dry. The pool was crowded, and Colleen played with a girl who lives in our neighborhood and saw one of her friends from school. Then it was time to come home and put away the swim stuff until next summer.

I'll miss swimming, but Sunday evening basketball at the school will be starting soon!