A long overdue, and subsequently brief(ish), update post

My last post was in June, and I haven’t written about the pandemic or anything else really going on in my life these days. Future-me might want to be reminded of some things, so here goes.

Work

I have 8 jobs, Bob. 8!

Right now, my focus is split between:

  1. Head of Education (developing and managing strategy for the Adaptavist product portfolio)
  2. Product manager for Learn for Jira
  3. Support person for Learn for Jira
  4. Lead for the Adaptavist Learn content team
  5. Education team personnel manager (5 direct reports and 5 indirect reports)
  6. Documentation toolsmith (managing the configuration and tooling for Adaptavist product documentation)
  7. Product manager for the Adaptavist Library
  8. Support for the Adaptavist Library

As part of all this, I also handle releases for L4J, work with marketing, meet with every other product manager monthly 1-on-1, work with managers in other teams at Adaptavist, and do a few other things.

Suffice it to say, progress in any one area is pretty slow. Thankfully, we’re getting some more people onto the teams and that will help a lot.

My goal is to have less of my time on the day-to-day, sprint-to-sprint work, and more time focused on 12-18 month strategy and quarterly goals for the 4 teams I work with.

The Library was only added to my portfolio about 4 weeks ago. I am very conscious of the fact that I only have about 2 months before our baby is due to get things solid before I disappear for two months.

I maintain my sanity by trying to stick to only 8 hours a day and 40 hours a week. There is an unlimited amount of work for me to do, but I’ll get nothing done if I’m exhausted and burnt out. It’s pretty hard to keep my head above water as it is, and there are some weeks where I fail even if I mostly stick to my 40-hour limit.

But if I can play with Simon for an hour before work, and take off at 5 to have dinner with him and play and put him to bed at 7, then everything else is OK.

Church

We haven’t met in-person since March. In the last 5 months, Simon has gone from falling asleep in my arms during the church service (which is being streamed online) to needing to run and jump and wrestle and eat and then go down for a nap during the church service.

Suffice it to say, I don’t really attend the online church service anymore.

Without in-person church, even over Zoom, I’m actually finding my weekends to be more restful.

April and I have been doing an online Bible study this year. We have a set of chapters for each day (I listen to them, while April prefers to read them), and then a daily podcast. I regularly fall far behind, but I eventually get caught up.

This is my fourth time going through the Bible and I am engaging with it very differently than before. In the past, I would describe my reading of the Bible as more academic. I studied it, and it was interesting, but I didn’t emotionally connect with much of it. Perhaps because I’m listening to it instead of reading, it’s having more of an impact on me. The book of Jeremiah has been heartbreaking.

The podcast is fantastic. April and I are going to subscribe to the Patreon next month to start supporting them because we get so much value out of it.

Right now, listening to that podcast and the Bible app are my church. But they obviously don’t meet the community purposes of the church. I’ve got a pretty big lack of community right now, but I’m not feeling poorly because of that. Turns out, pandemics are less rough on those of us on the far end of introversion.

Pandemic-times

For the first few weeks of quarantining, back in March, I had a lot of anxiety and some depression. After 3 weeks, it became more normal. These days, it’s not usually a big deal at all. But I still struggle with wanting to see people normally, and having to be hyper-aware of (and asking about) other people’s travels and interactions and quarantines.

I’m OK being around (but physically distant) people who are following similar precautions to us. But if I know they’re not being cautious or I don’t know them… here in August, I’ve reached the point of avoiding altogether. Masks are great, and we wear them, but they mostly prevent you from spreading. If other people aren’t following mask best practices, then we’re not protected from them, and that’s no good.

I reckon we have a few more months until a vaccine and anti-virals are out, and then we can move on and return to normal socialness. For now, with a baby due in ~2 months, I’m going to be even more isolated than I have been the last few months.

We’ve been having our groceries delivered, getting take-out once a week, have a plethora of hand sanitizer bottles, several cloth masks each, and are trying to do our best to maintain distance from people.

There are a couple of people I play games with online occasionally. I talk with Jennie on the phone once every month or so. And that’s pretty much it for me.

I’m doing alright, but it sure would be nice to get together with some people and have a beer and talk about stuff without having to sit outside and 6+ feet away from each other.

Volunteering

I joined a professional organization as part of the Boys and Girls Club of Springfield named Club Blue. I actually became the Secretary, and ran a vision/mission workshop, and then wrote the vision and mission statements based on the outcome of that workshop:

Mission

Developing community leaders to serve as ambassadors for the Boys and Girls Club of Springfield.

Vision

We envision an inclusive community of businesses and professionals with inspiring empathy who share a desire to listen, serve, and mentor so that Springfield can better meet the needs of the kids who need us most.

So Club Blue has been a growing part of my community outside of church, and that has been kind of nice. For years, I feel like I have met so many people who only plan to live in Springfield “for another 5 years or so.” I don’t know why it’s always “around 5 years,” but that is often the case.

It’s nice to meet people who are committed to being in Springfield and improving it. And it’s doubly nice that we share the same value and vision for how to make Springfield better: by investing in our young people.

Kids

Simon is 23 months old. Almost 2 years!

And his baby brother will be here in 2 months, give or take.

Every day is awesome. I miss Simon after he goes to bed. I’m a bit sad when I have to work instead of getting to play with him. We have a lot of fun together and I’m just such a fan of him.

I have become one of those people whose pictures on Facebook are mostly of their kid.

I just ordered a Nugget.

Being Simon’s dad is great. I know having a second kid will change this dynamic, but I’m reasonably confident it’s just going to make things even better and it’s so wonderful.

House

A couple of years ago, before Simon was born, we finished the last major renovations needed on our house to make it solid. These were things that aren’t visible but which improve the house dramatically.

At long last, we’re going to start improving things that are visible and make our lives better, but which are less foundational like plumbing or a roof.

Simon loves to be outside, but our yard isn’t really nice for April and me right now. Our plans include tearing out the deck and having a larger covered deck put in, landscaping the flowerbeds with stone (instead of wood mulch) and native plants, adding 1-2 more rain gardens, building a playground for the kids (with rubber mulch below), some stone paths in the backyard, building some garden boxes, and planting a couple of apple trees.

We’ll have seating, and a dining table, and a new grill (turns out, the griddle was a huge mistake and I regret it), and more shade, and it’ll be lovely.

We’re also replacing our 6 ft. privacy fence with a 4 ft. picket fence. After 5+ months of quarantine, we’d like to be more connected to our neighbors, not less.

I want to get a couple of signs. I think this idea is hilarious and April disagrees.

  • For the front of the house, a sign by the door that says, “The Stublefield’s”
  • For the fence by the double gate, a sign that says, “The Stublefields”

Get it? Because the gardens and trees and playground are all part of the Stublefields… fields, eh? get it? get it?!

I love the subtlety of it. April wants “The Stuble Fields” on the fence. She may end up winning this one, but we’ll see.

Finances

To fund the outdoor renovations, I refinanced our house and took cash out of our equity. Turns out our house is worth $40,000 more than when we bought it, and we had paid off a chunk in the last 5 years. Not saying we got anywhere near that amount out, and what we did get in cash isn’t enough to complete all the projects I want to do, but refinancing helped a lot.

It also switched us from a 30-year mortgage to a 15-year, decreased our interest rate, and we’re setup to pay off our mortgage 2 years sooner than we were going to with about $25,000 less in total interest paid. So that’s pretty cool.

I would recommend Rocket Mortgage if you’re looking to refinance.

Thanks to YNAB, we’re doing better financially than we ever have before. In the last year, our net worth is up 117% and I think YNAB has played a huge role in that.

Thanks to this Reddit post, I have opened a 529 account for Simon.

Thanks to the magic of investing and compound interest, Simon already has about 5x in college savings than I had when I started college. We’re getting about $1.30 added to every $1 we put in (or to put that another way, we’re getting a multiplier of 2.3x on our investments–by way of example, $100 turns into $230).

I’m working towards retiring early. I don’t know if I’ll actually want to retire, but right now I’m shooting to have enough invested and saved that I could retire around the age of 46, and definitely could by 50. The age of 50 is really what I’m shooting for. By then, kid number 2 will be 15 and Simon will be 17, our house will be paid off (probably for a few years by then), and I’ll have been at Adaptavist for 19 years (which, of course, something might change between now and then… but I certainly wouldn’t mind still being at Adaptavist!).

It’ll be interesting for future-me to read back over this and see if I hit those goals.

Philosophy

Coming out of my Bible studies this year, and having lots of time to reflect, I’ve been ruminating on “the end justifies the means.”

To make a long story short, I increasingly disagree with that statement. When I was younger, I was very utilitarian. These days, I’m leaning much more towards “the means must be justified and just, but I also recognize that humans are terrible at being just or recognizing the difference between unjust and just.”

I’m also trending more towards pacifism. Again, this is a big change from my youth.

I won’t go into more detail here because this blog post is supposed to be concise. Hopefully sometime soon I’ll be able to sit with some beers and talk about my thoughts with some people. Maybe next year.

First thoughts on Letter to a Christian Nation

I was challenged a few weeks ago on Reddit to read Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris, amongst 1-2 other atheistic books. The assumptions were 1) that a Christian would never read anything that challenged their faith because they feared challenges, and 2) that if a Christian did read these atheistic books and gave them an honest reading, they would surely ditch Christianity because it’s just so stupid.

I’m about halfway through Harris’s letter and, so far, I’m not terribly impressed. I’m taking notes and I’ll write a response/critique once I’m done, but he’s certainly not selling me on anti-Christianity. I appreciate some of his points, but by and large, I feel his grasp of ethics and logical arguments is shaky at best. His arguments aren’t unsound, per se, they’re just… shallow and generally rely on straw men. They’re not false, they’re just not always applicable to the point at hand.

That’s fine, really, given his goal with the book. I look forward to seeing what the second half says and to begin writing my own thoughts in more detail. I don’t know if I’ll have enough material to form my own book, as one man has, but it’ll certainly be a post or series of posts here. From reading the reviews on the existing replies to Harris’s book, it looks like I have my work cut out for me. There are two (I just found a second) and they both sound like rubbish. Since I’m writing on the Internet in favour of Christianity, I’ll probably come across as similarly terrible, but oh well. We do what we can.

Going to play a game and unwind for a bit before bed. I have a new book to read (Elantris by Brandon Sanderson) but so far it’s depressing as hell. Really morbid, and not something good to read before bed. Maybe some DDO? It’s hard to pick between games these days ^_^

The Inherent Existence of God

I published an article on October 20th indicating that I was finally beginning to understand Nagarjuna, and if my test results from my Buddhism class aren’t completely based on nepotism, I apparently have a firm grasp on the other concepts of this religion as well. Therefore, I feel confident moving forward with this discussion, at least as confident as I’ll ever be, and turn towards why I disagree with Nagarjuna regarding inherent existence.

To recap, Nagarjuna states that nothing inherently exists because such a concept is absurd. To inherently exist means to be eternal, to never change, and Nagarjuna states that something which never changes can never change anything else either. If something inherently existed, it could not move, could not feel, could not be moved, and could not move anything else. It would also have to be unconditional, which is to say that nothing would cause that which inherently exists. Likewise, that which inherently exists cannot cause anything else.

The logical conclusion of this line of argument is that if something does not possess inherent existence–that is to say, it is capable of change–it will die. Likewise, everything that is temporary and going to die is also conditional; everything is caused by something else. Nothing exists on its own.

That which is temporary and conditional is “empty,” Nagarjuna would say. It has no inherent existence; it is conditional on something else, and is itself a condition for other states. It only exists, is only defined, by its conditions. It is empty.

You may have already surmised my response, which is that Nagarjuna’s perception was limited. He observed the world around himself with the same assumptions everyone in Asia made at the time and came to these logical conclusions, but they’re only logical based on that limited perception.

It should be stated here that, within Buddhist theology, there are gods. I had previously always believed it an atheistic religion, or philosophy, but there are certainly gods within Buddhism. And these gods are the same as everything else: susceptible to change, death, and rebirth.

I believe strongly that I serve a God who is both the beginning and the end, however; who has always existed and always will. Despite that, I do not believe that God inherently exists as Nagarjuna would define it.

The Christian God “inherently exists” in that His existence is not conditional. God does not depend on anything else for His existence. However, inherent existence, to my mind, does not preclude the inability to change or to affect change. Nagarjuna took a step from “not caused” to “unable to cause” that I cannot quite comprehend. The only arguments he offers is that if something is not caused, it cannot exist, and therefore cannot cause anything else. But what if something existed without being caused? Could it not then affect change?

Our God exists without being caused, and this fact alone leads to the unraveling of Nagarjuna’s chain of logic. Beyond this, we know that God can change, else He would have wiped out the Israelites during the time of Moses, left them in exile in Babylon, or left humanity dwelling in sin. The story of Jesus is a story of changing times, and it was our God who changed them.

God doesn’t need us for His existence. God just is. But He presses into us as we press into Him, He shapes and teaches us, and we must therefore recognize that God affects change. God claims to be the beginning and the end, and I cannot dispute His claim. I have met God, and know His face. It smiled, and in this, I saw God move.

Reflections on Blogging

After this week, I intend to publish a post once a week for the next 5-6 weeks exploring why I do or think some of the things I do. I’ve received a few challenges over the last month questioning why I have this website, why I blog, why I write in general, why I value transparency, and some of my other philosophies in general. Therefore, I will answer those challenges as best I am able with more writing.

April and I watched a movie a week or so ago that really resonated with me because of its focus on speech & debate, primarily policy (cross-ex) debate in high school. I’m assuming the director and/or writers were debaters, because it was spot-on about so many things, and I really enjoyed reliving those times through film. What was particularly interesting, however, was the lead female actress in the film.

She had the role down solid, and as I watched her performance, I realized that most of the girls I knew in high school were all debaters. As such, their personality was very much like this character’s: forceful, arrogant, self-centered, knowledgeable, intelligent, well-read, well-spoken, etc. That was the type of girl I was attracted to, but I don’t think I quite understood that until last night. For most people watching however, she was probably abrasive and it would be hard to understand why someone might like her; she was clearly the antagonist. But to the 15 year old me, she was pretty ideal.

It reminded me of my days in debate, and watching the movie highlighted that there are aspects of that world that someone who didn’t grow up in it, didn’t experience it first hand and really buy into it, could understand. Lines like “debate is life,” and “you don’t take sides, they only prevent you from arguing them both effectively” still have close places in my heart, but non-debaters probably just find it an interesting idea. For us, it was a maxim or a mantra.

I say this to introduce this series by way of referencing academia. My philosophies and life are no longer influenced so strongly by speech & debate, but they are influenced heavily by my work and life in academia. I will talk more about this throughout the series, but the truth of the matter is that people who have bought into the dream of higher education, who really believe in what we are doing here, will understand what I’m talking about. For everyone else, it will likely be just an interesting idea.

I don’t know what day these posts will go live, but they will be tagged and titled appropriately. Look for them in the coming weeks.

Thoughts on Buddhism – Logic – Part 2 – Understanding Nagarjuna

I need to recant yesterday’s blog entry because, after a long lecture in my Buddhism class tonight, I understand what Nagarjuna was saying now.

The statement that plagued me over the weekend was “A non-moving thing is not stationary,” so let us begin with that.

First, Nagarjuna doesn’t necessarily redefine words, but he was certainly using them in a manner I did not understand. The key phrase is “inherent existence,” and the important thing to understand is that nothing possesses inherent existence. Inherent Existence means, essentially, that something exists without condition, without cause or effect, and this thing is permanent. It cannot change, and as such, it can be neither interacted with nor can it interact with anything else.

Let us therefore use the example of a ball. There are two things we might say about a ball. First, that it is made of various components; its existence is conditional upon being put together of different pieces, chemicals, what-have-you by various people in various places. It does not purely exist without cause; something and someone had to make it. Second, balls roll. They can bounce and go places.

If a ball is not moving, it is stationary, but when Nagarjuna states that a non-moving thing is not stationary, he’s not really talking about something so simple as “not moving.” Rather, he is referring to its conditional existence. In referring last time to potential motion, I wasn’t far from the mark of understanding a ball’s conditional existence. Because the ball does not inherently exist, it is capable of change. It is not permanent. And because it is capable of change, it is capable of rolling. It can be affected, and it can affect other things.

To be stationary would be to inherently exist, or to be incapable of change. A non-moving thing is simply not-moving, but it is capable of being moved, conventionally speaking.

About an hour and a half into tonight’s lecture, it all clicked for me, and I find Nagarjuna far more intriguing now. I really look forward to finishing this book and digging into the commentary. The problem was that I had come at this text from a very Western perspective, with a preconceived definition of the word “emptiness.” Nagarjuna states that everything is empty and that nothing inherently exists; I interpreted that as a very negative statement, and if you walked up to a person and told them that they are empty, they probably would too.

But Nagarjuna didn’t mean it as an insult, just as an observation. Inherent existence means permanence; it means that the thing in question had no cause and subsequently is incapable of acting on anything else. Inherent existence means that the thing in question cannot change. To be capable of change, to be impermanent, to not have inherent existence… that doesn’t seem like such a bad thing to me now. And certainly, within Buddhism, it was not; inherent existence, permanence, would mean that one is incapable of nirvana.

Later I will have to write, however, about my disagreement with the view that nothing inherently exists. But for now, it is enough that this text makes a bit of sense to me, and I’m excited to read more.

Thoughts on Buddhism – Logic – Part 1 – Confused about Nagarjuna

Just as a moving thing is not stationary,
A non-moving thing is not stationary.
Apart from the moving and the non-moving,
What third thing is stationary?

Mūlamadhyamakakārikā by Nagarjuna

Like I’ve mentioned before, there seem to be some fundamental flaws in Buddhist logic and theology, largely due to a lack of explanation concerning various doctrinal points. It has been stated that several facets of their beliefs are simply taken as natural laws, prima facia with no further consideration. Karma is a law, as is reincarnation, and that’s all there is to it.

Reading Nagarjuna, though I’m not far into it, feels like reading Ayn Rand. Attempting to redefine words and twist them so they support one’s philosophy seems fundamentally wrong to me. It simply doesn’t work.

A definition is, to be fair, simply what a word or thought means according to the majority. The majority of a society has settled upon what the word/idea means, and agreed upon it. We agree that “two apples” means that we have one apple and another apple. Putting these together gives us two. Just the same, we agree that the word stationary in the context of discussing motion means not moving.

So stating “a non-moving thing is not stationary” just seems nonsensical to me. One might argue that it has potential energy, but the entire point of potential is that it’s not happening now.

Nagarjuna is attempting to prove that everything is empty, that there is neither existence nor non-existence. I’m familiar with the style of logical argument he is using, building upon previous statements, but at certain points he makes assumptions that fail, in my opinion. You can’t get halfway in and then redefine a term.

It’s like saying, “Let apple pie equal the world. Because apple pie has a crust, the earth has a crust, and this we know from science. Therefore, just like apple pie is filled with apples, the earth must be filled with apples.”

A non-moving thing is not stationary? Sorry, but unless you suddenly shifted gears to begin talking about posting letters and birthday cards, I don’t think that argument works.

Thoughts on Buddhism – Suffering

I’m taking a class this semester on Buddhism and will subsequently be writing a series of posts on the subject. They’re not intended as final critiques or conclusions about the religion/philosophy, but are just thoughts I had during lecture. My opinions might change as I learn more, but I want to have a record of what I was thinking as I go through the semester.


The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism are

  1. Life is Suffering
  2. Suffering is caused by Desire
  3. Suffering can be ended
  4. Suffering is ended by following the Eight-fold Path

As we discussed the life of Gautama Buddha, one of the underlying assumptions that jumped out at me was that suffering is bad. In leaving his palace during his three trips as a youth, he saw a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and a begging ascetic, and it was these three encounters that prompted him to leave home and seek out a better way. How can one enjoy life when death haunts our every step? he asked.

Of course, I come at the subject from an extremely different point of view. The concepts of karma and reincarnation were natural laws in south and east Asia, much like we consider gravity, and went unquestioned. Reincarnation was simply a fact of life, but one I clearly disagree with. As a Christian, I take the idea of heaven and eternity very seriously.

Which is to say, I take the idea of eternity with not only full faith, but expectation and recognition. Eternity isn’t something that starts at death, but something that simply is. My soul is eternal, and when this body dies, I merely pass through a doorway between this world and the next. I will have all of eternity to roam, learn more of God, worship and spend time with my Lord, talk and meet and learn with other Christians…

Therefore, my perspective on suffering is very different from a Buddhist’s, or perhaps a non-Christian’s perspective. I do not necessarily assume suffering is bad, and in the case of the Buddha, I couldn’t help ask the question (to myself, anyways), “If not for suffering, would he have been spurred towards enlightenment?”

In The Cave, the famous argument of Plato for why we seek knowledge, Socrates describes a cave in which people are chained to stare at a wall. They can see nothing but the shadows cast by those outside the cave, and so they assume that these shadows are all there is to life. When one is freed, they are led outside, and are blinded at first by the light. After seeing the wonders of the world, if they were taken back and chained to stare at the wall again, their mates would never believe them. What’s more, their suffering would be great, as would their desire to escape and gain more knowledge of the world.

Humans thrive on suffering, pain, and depravation. It is what motivates us to greater good, to higher goals, and while the pain is frustrating and hurtful, its outcome is not always negative. If we survive it, holding our sanity intact and bending rather than breaking, we learn something new about ourselves, the world, or both.

That isn’t to say that I advocate seeking suffering. Self -flagellation or -mutilation isn’t something to be desired in my book, but I can at least see the value of suffering in our lives. I think the key isn’t to try and stop the occurrence of suffering altogether, but rather to turn it to good. Find a way to take a negative situation and derive a positive from that situation.

If I was always content, there would be no reason for me to question, grow, or learn. It just seems daft to me to ignore the value of suffering. While ending suffering is a very noble goal, the initial assumption, that suffering is altogether bad and completely undesirable, seems naïve at best.

I cast magic missile

“I see Ayn Rand as the paladin who walks around all the time with Detect Evil on.” – Jonny Carter

More on this later when I have time (hopefully within the next few hours).