Studio711.com – Ben Martens

Commentary

Love One Another

I don’t know that I’ve ever posted about Martin Luther King Jr. Day before because I feel that I’m better off listening. Spend a little time doing that and you’ll hear endless examples of how racism is still prevalent at both micro and macro levels, and even if we magically removed it today, the effects would carry on for generations.

Dr. King’s taught that we should treat everyone equally. I know that many of you, like me, are Christians, so this shouldn’t be a new message to us:

  • “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” – John 13:34
  • “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” – Matthew 5:44
  • “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Matthew 22:39
  • Fifth commandment: You shall not murder. What does this mean? We are to fear and love God, so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all of life’s needs.

Loving everyone equally isn’t a new message, but looking around the world today, it’s clear that we all need to be reminded of this frequently. It extends far beyond racism. Compare two minutes of any news channel with Ephesians 4:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

It’s so easy for us to slip into using divisive phrases that group people into “us” and “them” and then it’s easy to start degrading “them”. Whether your side likes words like birther, Trumpster, and misogynist, or if your side uses commie, libtard, and “Let’s go Brandon”, none of that comes close to “building others up according to their needs.” Check out Martin Luther’s explanation of the 8th commandment:

We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.

I don’t want to detract from the reason that we remember MLK’s work today and the work that still remains, but in addition, it’s a good time to think about how I can do a better job of treating everyone the same: we’re all sinners in need of a savior. I need to reflect God’s love back into the world, and if I can focus on that, I’ll not only do a better job fulfilling MLK’s dream, but I’ll help point a lot more people to Jesus.

Autonomous Tractors

Twenty years ago, I was going through two summer internships at John Deere headquarters in Moline, IL. The first year there, I worked with what became the Precision Ag group and the second summer I worked in the IT group for the seeding equipment factory line. Both projects were fun, but it has been really interesting to watch that Precision Ag group take off.

When I was there around the turn of the century (might as well just lean into feeling old, right?), Deere was putting their first GPS equipment into farm equipment. At that time, it could show you a screen to help you follow a straight line down your field, record positional yield information during harvesting, and automatically adjust seeding and spraying rates based on your position in the field. It was a lot of fun to work on a computer program and then go test it out in a field! At that time, I heard rumors about a totally autonomous farm that was in development, but their main problem was avoiding surprise obstacles like animals running out in front of the equipment.

This week at CES, Deere announced their autonomous tractor! The farmer drives to the field, tells the tractor what to do and then he can walk away. He can use the phone to check progress or decide what to do if something unexpected happens. I’m sure there will be kinks to work out, but this can be an incredible efficiency gain for farmers who often have to do enormous amounts of work in short amounts of time, especially during planting and harvesting season when they get the right weather. At the beginning, maybe it’s not good enough to let the tractor run all night by itself, but the farmer could at least catch a nap in his truck while waiting for the next intervention point.

If you talked to me senior year of college, I would have told you that I was going to be working for Deere when I graduated. I enjoyed the work and they liked me, but then 9/11 happened and the job market got turned upside down. Deere had a hiring freeze so I ended up scrambling to find a new job and Lockheed was still hiring so I went there instead. I have no regrets about the way things turned out, but I do think I would have had fun at Deere too.

2021 Year In Review

Last year we were slogging through lockdowns waiting for a vaccine to end the pandemic. This year we got the vaccine, and the vaccine was effective, but the virus is still spreading because not enough people are willing to get the shot. It’s easy to get down and wonder when this will ever end, but Bill Gates wrote a great article about some reasons for optimism. He is hopeful that the impact from COVID-19 will finally peak in 2022, but he also addresses the problem of mistrust in governments. It’s nice to hear an expert be optimistic about the future, but ultimately, my comfort comes from God and knowing that he is working this all out for our good.

With so many trips and adventures being off limits and/or out of our comfort zone, I made a concerted effort to try to find fun things for us to do. We ventured further down a local trail, explored Spencer Island, took a cold trip to Deception Pass, went on a muddy hike at Lord Hill, drove deep into the woods on forestry roads, saw a bazillion sand dollars at Dash Point, stayed in a cabin at Bay View, saw old coal mines, camped at Deception Pass, did our first bike/hike to Ipsut Falls, made it back to Indiana, visited some goats at the Sammamish Animal Sanctuary, hiked around Snoqualmie Falls, camped at Grayland Beach, did an epic hike to High Rock Lookout, climbed to Red Top Lookout, whale watching, and Howarth Park to watch trains.. I tried to organize at least one family adventure every month, and though I didn’t quite get there, hopefully we’re getting back in the groove now. All three of us are vaccinated, and we’ll be exploring a few more options than we did in 2021. One thing I want to repeat is having Elijah pick out hikes from a book. We got all of them done except one, and I think the fact that he picked them out himself really helped him get excited about the hikes. He keeps talking about doing a backpacking camping trip so I’ll have to see if we can work that in as well.

It was another busy year for me at church. Aside from all the discussions about how to handle the pandemic in our church, both our pastor and our school director took calls to other churches. After having some of our calls for new workers were returned, we were blessed to receive a graduate from MLC and a graduate from seminary. With all the empty positions in our synod right now, we were amazed and thankful to be the only church that received two graduate assignments. Next year will be a big change for me as I’m not going to be on the church council. I’ve held a position for 14 out of the last 15 years, but it’s time for a break. Instead of an elected position, I’m going to carve out my own niche and focus on improving our technology. One of my first projects will be ripping out all the AV equipment, replacing some of it, throwing some of it away, and building a new desk to hold it all. I’m excited to dive into that project and be out of the leadership arena for a while.

Speaking of building things, after spending all last year working on the chest of drawers, the floodgates opened in 2021. I was able to knock out a bunch of projects including a murphy bed, strawberry planter enclosure, picture frame, gas fire table, “God is here” sign, desk for Elijah, router table fence, drill press table, cat perch, some custom card boxes and a cat tree. On top of that I also sold a wood American flag and a “but first pray” sign at Elijah’s school auction. I’ve contributed to a few auctions in the past but I either haven’t heard how they went, or the items were part of a bundle. This was the first time my items sold individually, and it was fun to see people get so excited about them.

As we look back at 2021 from the future, I suspect we’ll also remember this as the year we committed to an EV vehicle. It still feels futuristic and we’re still waiting for it to actually show up in our driveway, but I pray that we’ll look back on this as a good decision.

There’s a lot of content in those paragraphs, but the year didn’t feel super busy. Working from home saves so much driving time and I don’t know if I’ll ever choose to work in the office again. Since I don’t have to commute every day, it makes me want to move a bit farther away where we have a little more space. But deciding what area to move to has been so daunting that we never get very far in the thought process before shutting down the search and being thankful for what we have.

When the pandemic started, we put everything was on hold until it ended. Now it’s pretty clear that COVID is going to be with us for many years so waiting for it to end isn’t a good approach. 2021 was the year of starting to figure out how to do more within the constraints. I’ll be working to improve on that in 2022.

Previous Year In Review Posts: 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020

Merry Christmas

LUKE 2
THE BIRTH OF JESUS

1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

COVID-19: Day 455

We made it! Today marks the end of our family lockdown! As I mentioned last week, we kept our socializing minimized even past our completed vaccine date to help Elijah finish out the year without having to stay home for any symptoms. But today is his last day of school, we’re fully vaccinated, and summer awaits! We still have to figure out how to handle the summer since Elijah is unvaccinated but the risk levels look a lot different than they did last summer.

Virus activity in our area had another big burst while the rest of the country declined but it’s coming down now and the hospitalization rates are coming down too. I’m eagerly awaiting our first days without any deaths, but everything points to the vaccine being effective. I’m also eager to see the rest of the world get flooded with vaccines too so the global numbers can drop too.

https://xkcd.com/2457/

My hope and prayer is that this is the last of my COVID-19 posts. To wrap up the series, I thought I’d list out positive changes that this ordeal has had in our personal lives.

  • The comic already says this one, but I hope that we can all continue wearing masks if we aren’t feeling well. I went into Home Depot the other day and noticed that there was no sign requiring masks anymore. I counted 70-80 people in the store (it was late in the evening) and only three people were not wearing a mask.
  • Curbside pickup is awesome! I love ordering online, tapping a button in an app when I arrive, and then having my order brought out to me.
  • Online meetings are very convenient. For example, our church council meetings typically happen at 6pm in the evenings. So I used to stick around at work for a few extra minutes, drive over to church, have the meeting, and then get home after Elijah is asleep or at the end of this bedtime routine. Now I just hop online for a bit, have the meeting, and I don’t give up the entire evening with my family. Keeping with the church theme, I’m excited for online small groups and Bible studies so we can skip rush hour traffic and make it easier to invite friends to join.
  • Why do I ever need to go into the office again? I have a better setup at home than I do at the office, and my team is hiring vigorously in Atlanta. By the time we are welcomed back to the office (currently set for September), I will have more people on my team outside of Redmond than local. So even if I go in, I still need to do everything remote. I’m not sure how we can say “being in the office is important” at the same time we say “creating an inclusive environment is important.” I’ll at least be taking advantage of the 50% work from home option, but the option of living farther away is very tempting.
  • At some point I started trying to intentionally plan a family adventure at least once a month. That meant going somewhere new, driving a little farther than we normally would, or doing something a little bigger than a normal Saturday trip.
  • As soon as the pandemic hit, I got more serious about setting a specific schedule for grocery shopping. We make a list throughout the week, and then I go Friday mornings at around 6:30am when the store is empty. It made me realize how much time I wasted with “oh I’ll just stop on the way home and grab something if we don’t have enough meals planned”.
  • My search for news that isn’t leading me towards an opinion has helped me easily identify any name-calling, bias, or rhetoric, even if it’s supporting my viewpoint. It has taught me a lot about my own writing and learning to speak without inflammatory language or virtue signaling. I have a long way to go on that journey but I want to consciously keep working on that.
  • I learned how to cut Elijah’s hair! The first few times were a little rough, but I think I’m finally getting the hang of it. It’s not flawless, but he loves me cutting his hair and I’m up for continuing to save $20/month.
https://xkcd.com/2474/

The “life lessons” below overlap a bit with the list above but seemed like they deserved their own section:

  • It’s easier to keep your principles 100 percent of the time than it is to hold to them 98 percent of the time.
  • When two people are screaming at each other, the truth is probably in the middle… but that’s not always the case. If you’ve got a racist person screaming at someone else, the truth isn’t in the middle. The racist person is just wrong.
  • On the surface, some of the commandments seem pretty easy. For example, “You shall not murder.” Sure, I got that one. But the fifth command isn’t just telling us not to shiv someone, it’s telling us that we shouldn’t hurt or harm our neighbor. How do you do apply that when your mere presence might give them a fatal disease? In the fourth commandment we’re told to honor our government and others in authority. What’s the best way to honor them in complicated situations or when they disagree? And how do you make these decisions as the leader of an organization? I’m thankful that my salvation doesn’t depend on how well I keep the commandments, because there are a lot of times when I don’t even know which choice is better.
  • You know that one camping trip you had when it was cold and there was torrential rain the whole time? Now when you go camping and there is bad weather you laugh and say “Well at least it’s not as bad as that one time…” We may deal with worse things in life than this pandemic, but I have a feeling that COVID will be our “rainy camping trip” in a lot of situations.

Pastor used a song in his service a few weeks back that I’ve probably played 100 times since then. It talks about how we can feel like everything is crumbling around us, but Jesus isn’t just a happy thought that we use to ignore our troubles. He’s here. He’s powerful. He is worthy to stand before the Father and declare us righteous. The Father loves us. The Spirit is moving among us. The God of all creation is caring for us. We need to continually remind ourselves of this. So to end my last COVID post, here is Andrew Peterson singing “Is He Worthy”.

COVID-19: Day 430

https://xkcd.com/2448/

Today we get our second vaccine shot, so two weeks from now, we’ll be fully vaccinated! Since that gets us so close to the end of Elijah’s school year, we’ll just stretch our family lockdown a couple more weeks because if any of the three of us have symptoms that overlap with COVID, he can’t go to school. After this long in lockdown, a couple more voluntary weeks to help him finish out the school year doesn’t seem too painful. Plus, with the spike in cases going on around here right now, we’re not to eager to take our 95% immunity out for a test drive.

Besides, I think it’s going to take us a while to emerge back into civilization. Sometimes it feels like we’re stepping out of a bunker and blinking our eyes to adjust to the light while we field invitations to immediately jump into situations that we haven’t experienced for 14 months. Logically, I’m excited to remember what it’s like to take a walk without crossing to the other side of the street whenever I see someone coming. I’m excited to see friends and family again. I’m excited to worship in person again. I’m excited to shake hands with someone outside my household again. But emotionally? It’s a lot to deal with and it’s going to take time.

For my last post in this series on the final day of our family lockdown, I’m queuing up a big list of positive things from the pandemic. But I’ve also been thinking about how we, as a society, can learn from this experience. What an amazing time to be studying sociology, epidemiology, psychology, economics, data science or a host of other topics. This pandemic has generated material for thousands of PhD theses. Below are some of the things that I hope we’ll be able to do a better job at answering together as a civilization because many of them apply to a lot more situations than just COVID. COVID just threw them at us more rapidly than other forces do.

  • How many times can “official guidance” be changed before people ignore it completely?
  • How do we keep science and politics separate, or is it wrong to separate them?
  • How can the scientific community do a better job of communicating uncertainty in their findings without people pointing to the uncertainty as a reason to throw out the entire study?
  • How do we strike a balance between people’s right to not be hurt by you and your right to live your life? How do we measure the impact of those choices?
  • How do we convince people to make sacrifices when the benefits that aren’t easily observed on a personal level?
  • How do we get people to respect large data trends instead of their local observed experience, especially when exponential growth is in the mix?
  • How do we promote respect for experts while still leaving room for conflicting research?
  • How do we teach people to look at the raw information source before accepting the journalistic summary?
  • How can data models do a better job of taking into account the difference between what the government recommends and what people actually do, especially as that varies by area?
  • Not to make light of serious medical conditions, but do we have some kind of mass PTSD after all this time in lockdown?

I doubt there are answers to many of those questions, but there have to be improvements that can be made. And as I think about those questions, I also think back on all the positive content that popped up. The list is so long, but there are three quotes that stick out as I think about them now:

  1. Adam Savage said that Jamie Hyneman had no inertia for changing his mind when presented with enough data to overturn his current understanding. What an amazing compliment! When I heard that, I immediately wondered how I would go about teaching that to Elijah. It’s an incredibly complicated problem because it gets into building an understanding of what data is valid and what it should take to overturn your current understanding. On a related note, a moderator of /r/changemyview said that one of the first things he likes to ask is “What would it take to change your mind?” Imagine if every discussion about a disagreement started with that question!
  2. While researching the various presidential candidates, I found a page talking about their approaches to the pandemic. There were the obvious responses like “no lockdown” and “shut down the economy”, but another candidate didn’t support either one. Instead, they argued for devoting enormous and immediate energy into testing and regularly sharing consistent information. The idea was that most people aren’t going to knowingly run around infecting people or making choices to prolong the epidemic. I’m not saying that made this candidate worth voting for, but in a world where it seems like there are only two buckets of viewpoints, the response of “both answers are bad” really stuck with me. (I left the name out because it doesn’t matter for the purposes of this post, but because you’re probably wondering, it was Jo Jorgensen.)
  3. I logged into a meeting at work a couple months ago and there was an employee who had just moved to the Redmond area from New Zealand. Somebody commented that life must feel pretty much the same because all the meetings still happen virtually. He replied, “Yeah, except you all do COVID a lot differently than we did.” I admit that I was clueless about what he meant so after the meeting I started reading. There were 26 deaths in New Zealand from COVID. That’s not a typo. Twenty six deaths in a country of 5.1 million people and almost all of those were before the end of April 2020. (If they experienced the US fatality to population ratio, they’d have 9200 deaths by now.) Wikipedia has a thorough listing of the timeline of their response, but after that initial total lockdown last March and April, they’ve been living a life generally unhindered by COVID including large concerts with 50,000 attendees. I’m really interested to circle back to this one after the dust settles and learn more about the pros and cons of their extreme response.

I’ve written all this almost looking back on the pandemic because that’s how it’s looking for my family. But globally? Daily infections are pretty close to the highest they’ve ever been. The stories coming out of Brazil and India are nightmarish. For example, in India, the number of people testing positive every day equals the population of Cleveland, OH. This virus is far from over and as the United States pulls out of it and has the luxury of wondering what it’s like to shake someone’s hand again, we can’t forget about the rest of the world.

Instead of a Bible verse this time, I’ll finish with a video from one of our churches in South Carolina. While this pandemic may have left us feeling crushed and isolated, this hymn is a good reminder that God is the one who can bring us all together again.

Bind us all as one together
In your Church’s sacred fold,
Weak and healthy, poor and wealthy,
Sad and joyful, young and old.
Is there want or pain or sorrow?
Make us all the burden share.
Are there spirits crushed and broken?
Teach us, Lord, to soothe their care.

Christian Worship #492

(By the way, Pastor Reeder on the banjo and harmonica is across the lake in Seattle now.)

Online Church Services

For the last 65 weeks, I’ve been working with Pastor and our organists to put together online services for YouTube and Facebook. This past week, I finished up editing my final one, at least for now. Our pastor has taken a call to Colorado and while we call for a new pastor, we’ll have a vacancy pastor from Beautiful Savior in Everett. They already have an online worship option via Zoom so that means no more video editing for me! (Members, watch your email and our Facebook page for more info.)

There are so many things that went right with these online services.

  • On March 4, 2020, I had just finished a new PC build specifically intended to be a more powerful video editor. Less than THREE WEEKS LATER, we had our first online service. The timing of that was truly a blessing because not only was I doing all that video editing every week, but this became my main machine for working from home. The new PC, dual 4k monitors and standing desk were all March purchases and I’m so glad that I dove in and did them all.
  • As the lockdown started, I was just starting to learn Davinci Resolve. My first full service edited with Resolve was March 29 and it seemed to take forever. I had taken an online course via lynda.com which helped a lot, but I still spent a lot of time looking for very basic commands in a foreign interface. It was trial by fire and that first service took me 8-10 hours to complete. But producing a video every week was a great way to learn and by the end, I had it down to 3-4 hours.
  • Early on, I’d watch the video on Sunday morning with trepidation wondering if I had left any big mistakes in there, but as the videos started coming earlier in the week and I got better at editing, my family was able to watch the services on Saturday morning. I watched with a notebook handy to mark down anything that needed to be changed. My Saturday night sleep improved dramatically!
  • I had set up Backblaze for cloud backup of the church computers years ago, but we really got our value from that service. When we started these recordings, Pastor was trying to upload gigabytes of video to me from his home connection. Since that was mostly wifi based on laptops that would power down automatically, etc, it was unreliable. Then we hit on the idea of just putting the files onto the main church computer and letting Backblaze transfer them to the cloud for us. Our internet at church is very slow (about 1GB/hour upload) but it was reliable and that was the most important thing. Once it was uploaded, I could log onto Backblaze from home and download the specific files that I needed.

The final tally was ~150 videos! In addition to the main service videos, I also posted the children’s sermon and sermon separately. All three videos got uploaded to both Facebook and YouTube so I guess that’s more like 300 videos. In addition to the Sunday content, We had some midweek services and special videos as well like the group hymn. If you’re looking back through the list, I’ve unlisted some of the full services on our YouTube channel because I’m tired of fighting bad copyright claims on public domain music, but all of the sermons are still there and I’ll leave a few of the services as well.

I’m looking forward to having a bit of extra time in my schedule and being a participant in the online services, but I’m thankful for all of the skills I picked up along the way. Learning new things is fun but learning new things to enable others to worship during lockdown was even better!

COVID-19: Day 405

https://xkcd.com/2443/
https://xkcd.com/2446/

I couldn’t decide which comic to use so why not celebrate a little and use both.

WE GOT THE VACCINE! 402 days after our family lockdown began, Tyla and I had got pokes in the arm that will help us learn how to fight the virus. It was fairly easy to find a shot via covidwa.com and we only had to drive a few miles from our house. It’s not quite as fast as Neo learning kung fu, but cranking out a vaccine this quickly is still an amazing collaboration between researchers, tech providers, doctors, epidemiologists, politicians and average citizens.

Tyla and I will be fully vaccinated by June 1 which aligns pretty well with our plans to stay in lockdown until Elijah is out of school. It’s really tough when he gets sick during school so I think we can hang out at home for a couple additional weeks to help him out.

A quarter of our state is fully vaccinated, many countries are barely getting started, we don’t know how long it will last, and there are endless arguments still in play, but I want to take a moment and say WOOHOO! Thank you Lord!

Philippians 4:4-8 Rejoice in the Lord always! I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Earth Day

Last year Microsoft committed to removing more carbon from the atmosphere than it puts into it by 2030, and by 2050, it will have removed enough to make up for all carbon it has ever put in. This isn’t one of those things where a company pays to not have a tree cut down to make up for their emissions, and it doesn’t ignore things like employee travel or the shuttles running around on campus. They have a follow up post from a couple months ago to talk about how it’s going and there is a whitepaper that goes into more depth.

When you think about the amount of power consumed by the enormous datacenters that Microsoft runs around the world, this is a staggering task, but when you read through that blog post, they show that it’s possible. The efforts of a single company aren’t going to change planet directly, but investments this big will have positive side effects like technological discoveries and encouraging other groups to make similar pledges.

Zion Lutheran School Auction

The auction at Elijah’s school runs for through the end of this week. I have two items in the auction. One is the “but first pray” sign and the second is a wood American flag. Last year my donation was mixed in with some other items to create a “basket” for Elijah’s class but this year my items will be solo. This will be one of the first times I’ve seen a dollar figure attached to one of my projects by the general public. You can check it out at https://events.readysetauction.com/lutheranschoolassociation-zionlu/auction2021.