Cost of Work


Rich’s sermon this Sunday was … dense. We could probably spend a couple of weeks on reflecting on the issues raised by the Christian “at work” particularly the ways work has evolved in this fallen world. For me the thing that probably sticks with me the most is the work that went into the things I have.

Ben TrubeBack a few years ago, when I started blogging more regularly, I did a series of posts on how the technology I use every day gets assembled. I’m kind of a gadget freak. While I may not be an Apple junkie, I have several computers, tablets, eReaders, and am always interested in assessing the next piece of technology. And to be fair, I use most of this stuff for my work, be it the writing or my day job. But still, I’m able to sit here writing to you on a cheap laptop because the parts were assembled by someone making a dollar or two an hour.

Some of the tech jobs in low cost countries are a step up, but I feel that in many ways that’s just a way I can make myself feel better enough to ignore the issue completely. Even though I wrote about it for several months, and still care about how my stuff gets made, I stopped writing those posts when it became clear they weren’t getting read anymore. It’s not like I really changed my buying habits. There are no fair-trade computers as far as I know.

And I think sometimes about my job, and how it affects the world at large. I write software for data-centers. Data-centers are the backbone of the net, really of our culture. Everything that’s happening in today’s culture, from social media, to smart phones, to predictive marketing, is all made possible by the data-center (and in some very small part, me). There’s nothing inherently bad about the Internet, just a lot of the things we choose to do it. And admittedly a lot of the data being collected invades our privacy, tries to get us to spend money we don’t have, or just titillates us with the next bit of media or porn.

Nothing I do every day is directly harming the world, and yet in some way I am culpable (if slightly) for contributing to the world we are becoming.

When I was writing about these issues a few years ago, I found it hard to suggest tangible things for people to do about technology. This is one of those things I feel bad about from time to time, but really don’t feel motivated to much about. It would change so much about my life to put away technology (it is literally something I’ve been training for since Highschool and probably before that). It would be infinitely harder to thrive as an indie author without the net, and even this blog wouldn’t survive without being hosed somewhere.

So how am I as a Christian to act?

I think for starters I need to not ignore the work costs precipitated by the way our world does business. I need to be making conscious choices, and if something really goes against what I feel God is calling me to, I need to trust that he can provide. Right now I do feel called to working and writing about the technology center, but you have to be careful to not become to much of the culture in places like that. Fortunately my particular group of co-workers is all believers, so if we do have problems, it’s never hard to talk about them.

This is one of those things I’ll be figuring out for a while. And in the meantime I can at least help by not always buying the new, but figuring out ways to keep the old working (like *shiver* Linux).

Teach Thyself


Rich talked this week about the Christian in School, which in this case refers less to institutions of higher learning, and more to the things we learn in everyday life. This can vary from actual skills and information we acquire through study, and it can refer to attitudes, perspectives and responses to people and ideas we learn by living in society. It’s as much about the TV we watch, the music we listen to, and the websites we visit, as it is about our particular efforts to study a subject. outlined the purpose of learning for the Christian as tying in with our church’s motto, becoming more like Christ all the time. The purpose of learning for the Christian is to be more like Jesus, and to be equipped to do his work in the world. This doesn’t necessarily negate learning skills for your particular calling, the world wouldn’t function if everyone became disciples, missionaries and pastors, but it does involve thinking about how the skills you acquire fit in with your life as a Christian as a whole.

Most programmers worth their salt are self-taught. Programming is as much a mindset and a way of thinking as it is knowing the specific technical details of a language. A programmer is about 90% high level ideas about algorithms, problem solving skills, and attitudes, and maybe about 10% specific technical knowledge. One part of the DNA of a lot of programmers, myself included, is this idea of acquiring skills or powers with programming. Writing code isn’t really a theoretical endeavor, it’s designed to do something. Whether it’s processing an ebook, grabbing information off the web, or creating graphics and fractals, code does something, and programmers like to learn how to do more things.

Inspired by an article I read on skimming websites to create specific topic driven books, I’ve been working on C++ code and Python scripts to skim websites, and analyze their structures. Sometimes this is for entertainment, serving up content from a bunch of different sources rather than having to go to each individual website. And sometimes it’s just so I can learn more about how good websites are put together (and even how search engines find everything online).

This activity in and of itself is largely morally neutral. I’m learning more, but I’m using this skill primarily to entertain myself, or just to learn more information. There’s nothing about this that’s making me particularly more like Christ.

Rich’s sermon got me thinking about this, and the ways I haven’t been making a deliberate effort to increase my skills as a Christian. So my solution? I wrote a Python script that skims some Christian devotional websites, and read the Bible in a year sites, and creates an ebook (using Calibre’s command-line interface) that can be e-mailed to my Kindle daily (using another Python script I found online) with new material for me to read and study. The last bit of automation will be setting up my Linux system to run this script at a scheduled time, so all I have to do is keep my Kindle connected to WiFi and I have God’s word, and the reflections of a lot of good Christians every day.

Whether or not this will result in my actually reading scripture more is up to me, but it does demonstrate that how we use skills is as or even more important than how we acquire them. I’m not saying that all of my programs have to make Christian-y things. But even programs like the fractal ones I write are designed to study and glorify a part of God’s creation, pure mathematics. And probably in the case of many programmers it’s using our knowledge and skill-sets in ways that are helpful, not harmful, and not always focused just on entertaining ourselves.

A change is as good as a rest


I think that expression is British or at least I’ve heard it on British TV. It basically means that doing something else for a while is just as good as taking an actual rest. This sums me up and my interaction with rest in a nutshell.

Ben TrubeHere’s my typical week. Monday or Tuesday (or both) I burn the candle at both ends by waking up early to work on writing and I stay up late to do the same thing. Wednesday and Thursday I may sleep a little later, but I’m still up later hanging out with the wife or puttzing around on the computer (or reading till all hours of the night). Friday has me up til 12am or 1am in the morning a lot of the time, then I make up the sleep on the weekend. Any given night I get between 6-7 hours of sleep a night, but I know I’m not really sharp unless I get eight.

Part of the reason for this schedule is my priorities in life, and my desire to be productive in all of them. There’s work of course, which thankfully is a little more constrained then some of my fellow engineers, but still keeps me away from home about 50 hours (including lunch hours and commutes). There’s writing: four blog posts a week, one short story for Bradbury’s 52, and current novel work, about 10-15 hours all told. Then of course there’s time spent with the wife,and if there’s some leftover energy it’s spend on God, games, and exercise.

I say that reading is restful, and it is one of the ways I wind down after a long day. But I also have reading “homework”, stuff I’m reading related to my various projects. Even a lot of my pleasurable reading, like comic books for NetGalley, has some connection to work since I write a review for a lot of them. Watching TV can take me out of my own head, but it doesn’t particularly put me in a place to receive God, and good TV can keep me up later than I’ve been intending (as can the Internet or a good game). And I usually don’t watch TV, I’m doing something else on my computer writing related, or browsing for things to read or buy. In other words, except maybe for the writing, I’m a pretty typical American.

Rich was hesitant to offer a lot of specific ways to rest other than sleep, and I have to admit, counter-intuitive as it seems, I do find myself getting more done in a week when I keep a more regular schedule. Sometimes I romanticize getting up early or staying up late. It’s kind of cool to be up when a lot of people aren’t. But there are also some good reasons why people aren’t up at those times, or at least not both of them. Sleep is good for me and truthfully I like sleep. I sleep about as late as I possibly can some days, hitting the floor, falling into clothes, and driving to work.

I’m sure I could be in a little danger of going too far the other way into sloth, though truthfully I have too much I want to do to waste too much of my time. I do like using rest, or playful activities as an incentive after getting certain things done. That way I get my sense of accomplishment but I also get a recharge.

Here’s a weird idea for the computer oriented among you. Use your computer on battery until it runs out or shuts down. Then don’t boot it up again until you see the charging light go back to green (or whatever indicates a mostly full charge). In the meantime take a nap, read a book for pleasure, or spend some time in silent reflection. It’s better for your laptop battery, and it’s better for you.

OK You just have to [insert techno-babble here]


Pastor Rich is beginning a series on the Christian life and generally what it means to be a Christian in society. As part of this introduction he talked about advice, specifically giving advice without listening to the whole problem first, or assuming our experience is exactly the same as someone else’s, simple advice.

Ben TrubeAs you might expect for a software engineer, a lot of what I get asked about is computers. Someone has a problem and they need me to solve it. Sometimes as soon as I walk over the problem goes away (I heard this phenomenon termed “probable user hallucination”) and admittedly it’s pretty easy to think that whatever problem they’re having it not only has an easy solution, it has an obvious one.

See, one of the things that comes from working with computers for hundreds of hours is a basic knowledge of how programmers think. Even when I have no idea how to do something, because the guy who designed Windows or Word or any other piece of software is a guy like me I have at least some insight into how they were thinking. If not, Google helps.

What I don’t tend to have a very good grasp on is listening to what people are actually telling me. And I’m not that good of a teacher. I can’t just sit back and tell them what to do. I have to be in the driver’s seat. Professionally this makes sense, since I’m hired to be an expert, but even in that situation it’s important to be able to teach others new skills, and to really understand what they’re trying to do.

No two programmer’s think alike. There’s about as much similarity between my programming and somebody else’s as Hemingway and Jonathan Franzen. And nobody’s life or way they think is exactly the same.

So how does this relate to the Christian life?

Well, one of the things Rich wants to avoid are simple answers, like “be like Jesus”. Sure that’s not a bad idea, but it isn’t very practical. It doesn’t parse life in all of its subtlety. Sure there are some big ticket things we can do, but how do we approach every situation like Jesus.

One way to do something may make sense for one task and not make sense for another.

And the Christian life isn’t about glossing over the details. As I wrote about previously, some parts of the Bible are just … awkward. If we ignore them we may be able to live happy ignorant lives, but not very deep ones, and we won’t have much luck talking to the non-Christians in our lives.

This series is going to cover a lot of ground, which will hopefully be great for some of you who come to this blog but wondered why we were talking about 1 Corinthians the whole time. Hopefully there will be something for everyone trying to live out the Christian life in the world.

If you have anything you’d like to hear about, I’m sure it could be passed along and we’ll deal with it either in the blog or in later sermons. Leave your comments here.

The Body Electric


This week we’ll be talking about 1 Corinthians 12, otherwise known as “The Body Metaphor” or “Spiritual Gifts: You all have ’em, they’re all different, and they’re all great!”

I’ll be focusing on verses 12-26, or the “body proper” as it were.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”

Or put another way…

So yeah, we’re all different, and we’re all parts of a body, eyes and ears and feet and even toes. So… when’s lunch?

Ben TrubeIn Sunday’s sermon, Rich touched on why this passage seems stale to us, and why it might not resonate to modern ears. We think of our bodies as machines, and not just machines, but computers.

Yeah of course the computer programmer would say that, we need some examples!

Okay, we are either plugged in, or unplugged (i.e. our cell phone is off or we don’t own one). We process ideas. We network (socially and otherwise). Hashtag, LOL and other internet terms enter our everyday speech (remember w00t!, still like that one). We charge, recharge, or power down, sometimes in units of 5 hours.

There are some of us who want to augment our bodies, change our gender, possibly throw out all the squishy bits and become true cyborgs. But even those of us who haven’t gone that far wear our technology, from Bluetooth to Google Glass.

Our bodies are not our selves. Our self is our soul, our brain, our katra, our pagh, our essence, etc. (Yes, two different Star Trek references for soul). This body is just flesh, a shell, a machine with parts we can replace, or will be able to soon anyway.

We operate the machine, but we are not shaped by it. I may be the burly man with the huge beard, but it’s who I am on the inside that counts.

That’s not entirely false. There are gonna be some bits there where I’m up in heaven and this physical body will have worn out. I’m not really sure what that’s gonna be like though.

In the meantime I’m shaped if nothing else by the limitations and capacities of this body. It’s already had a few problems, so maybe I’m a little more inclined to call it mine, as Rich would suggest as well.

But more importantly I’m part of another body, three actually: my home church, my marriage, and the body of Christ as a whole. I include marriage in this because we are called to come together as “one flesh”, another squishy metaphor, but we are also mirroring God’s relationship with the church. Equal parts making a whole. In my church, each and everyone of us shapes who we are and where we are going (there’s only about 60 of us after all).

This is what Paul is trying to get at, and what we can sometimes miss with all his talk of anatomy. We’re all in this together. We are all important. None of us are just members and none of us leads all the time. We work together for the glory of God.

Even those of us who are Star Trek geeks and who love slightly inappropriate cartoons.

I do want to touch briefly on this thinking of ourselves as computers. I for one like the separation of a keyboard, mouse and screen. I am not a binary creature, though I do appreciate the ways in which math is a part of my makeup (more on fractal nature another time). Language is always evolving but I think it’s important to recognize we are different animals than machines. Our body is a complex system to be sure, but it’s not a car, and it certainly isn’t a computer. We need to be aware of how we are different than machines and spend time articulating that difference, using our machines as tools without being absorbed by them. I’m not one of these “implantable chips are the mark of the beast” people, but I do think God made our brains and our bodies so that we could be spiritual beings and physical ones. Why would Jesus have had to be fully man and fully God if the body was not important?

What other technology terms have you used to describe yourself?