Sunday, May 29, 2016

Europa and the Promise of Life




Just how thick is the ice on Europa? Europa is a water-ice encased moon orbiting around Jupiter and scientists are beginning to ask questions about how they might determine the thickness of this ice. We know that there is water below the ice because geysers that spew water into the tenuous atmosphere above have been detected. It is speculated that microbial or even higher eukaryotic life could exist in the water below and so there is great interest in cracking through the frigid crust to see what lies beneath.

NASA has a mission scheduled for the 2020s that would include a flyby and possibly seismic measurements.[1] Lately, it has been suggested that an empty propellant tank could be sent hurtling onto the ice while the flyby-craft could measure the ripples created by such an impact. Slower propagating waves would indicate thicker ice; faster waves would indicate thinner ice.

The international community must weigh in on the ethics of littering another moon surface with our cosmic space junk, even if the purposes could be considered noble. One must also consider that any propellant tank that originates from a DNA rich and biologically fertile world like earth, could inadvertently introduce life (or at least DNA) to a potentially fragile ecosystem. Might Earth-life compete with primitive life of another form and disrupt the natural progression on this pristine world? Might our cosmic litter disrupt the fragile ecology of other-worldly biology?


[1] Science News, “Seismic experiment might reveal thickness of Europa’s ice,” 2015-05-25; https://www.sciencenews.org/article/seismic-experiment-might-reveal-thickness-europa’s-ice

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Press On


“The future rewards those who press on. I don't have time to feel sorry for myself. I don't have time to complain. I'm going to press on.”[1] – Barack Obama

Those are good words for us to hear when things feel difficult. When we lose a job, when we have health problems, or when the organisation we manage is facing many challenges. There is little value in feeling sorry for ourselves or complaining. Feeling sorry and complaining simply take up time. Pressing on with whatever our role calls for is what is required. Let’s press on together today.

press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. – Philippians 3:14 (NIV)

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Best of Times or Worst of Times


“Whether it’s the best of times or the worst of times, it’s the only time we’ve got.” – Art Buchwald

Calgary’s unemployment rate reached 7.9% in February, the highest it has been in 20 years. For many workers in Calgary, these are the worst of times. Many have moved to other cities where the unemployment rate is lower and many are still looking for that elusive job in Calgary. How does one stay healthy when they are not working, but working hard at finding that next job? Some friends and I put our heads together and came up with this list. Although there is some overlap, they are categorized into two groups: practical supports and spiritual supports.
Practical supports:
·      Evaluate and eliminate excessive debt – it may be time to downsize your home or get rid of that collector car
·      Track your finances – determine where your money goes
·      Don’t be afraid to find professional counseling – a counselor will have good advice on how to stay emotionally healthy
·      Stay connected through networking – friendships, former colleagues, the guy at that coffee-shop close to your former job
·      Have some fun – find a way to continue to pursue your hobbies
·      Keep a daily routine – get up at the same time every day, eat three meals a day
·      Create a job search plan – then work that plan
·      Volunteer:  help others while helping yourself
·      Exercise – for fun or for competition, stay fit.

Spiritual supports:
·      Daily Bible reading – it should go without saying but it does not
·      Daily prayer – again, it should go without saying, but it does not
·      Weekly longer prayer time – pray daily but then find those longer times once a week
·      Weekly prayer partner – pray with someone else
·      Monthly prayer partner who is outside of your regular networks of people – someone with whom you can be really honest
·      Monthly coach/spiritual director conversation
·      Annual or twice per year solitude retreat
·      Meditate upon Bible passages
·      Meditate upon nature
·      Read in theology
·      Read practical leadership material
·      Read the news
·      Read popular literature and popular culture material
·      Look for mystery and wonder in life
·      Expect miracles

I would love to have someone write and tell me what their experience has been in following some or all of these ideas. Best of times, or worst of times, right now is the only time we have.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Failure is an Option




"Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough." - Elon Musk

I stared at this quote for the last few minutes as the cursor blinked on and off on my laptop screen. I have been wondering if I agree with the entire quote. Does it represent reality? Should it represent reality? I need to parse it out and dissect it to see if I can acknowledge any truth in its sentiments. Allow me to walk you through my logic.

I can say that I agree with the first sentence. Failure is always an option, a possibility, a reality we will experience. All of us have experienced failure in one form or another. It is the second sentence that, at my first reading, was controversial. The first half of the second sentence suggests that there is a course by which we might not fail. I do not think that is the case. Certainly there are “safe” routes that seek to minimize the risk of failure. Many are prone to pursue this path. They seek to recreate experiences and write policies so that what has worked in the past is repeated and standardized. The “let’s not do anything that might fail” philosophy is almost as well documented as the literature on organisations that failed to accomplish their goals because they were afraid to fail. Ed Catmull does a great job of describing this “fear of failure” as it existed in the Walt Disney Studios before Pixar and the Walt Disney company became intertwined.

“At a certain point at Disney, ‘There seemed to be undue emphasis on preventing errors; even when it came to something as small as office décor, no one dared put themselves out there, or to make a mistake.’”[1]

“. . . the leaders of Disney Animation placed a higher value on error prevention than anything else. The employees knew there would be repercussions if mistakes were made, so the primary goal was never to make any . . . But seeking to eliminate failure was in this instance – and, I would argue, most instances – precisely the wrong thing to do.”[2]

Ed Catmull and Elon Musk are both getting at this attitude which suggests there could be a “non-failure route” to innovation and they indicate that it is a myth. Musk is saying that we must have failures and perhaps lots of them to get to a place of innovation. Catmull says something similar in Creativity Inc. So, why am I still struggling with the overall meaning of what Musk is saying?

The crux of the issue comes down to whether or not we think that innovation is a legitimate goal and a high value. After all, we might well do without some of the innovations our world has achieved. The world was, in some ways, quite satisfactory before the invention of the atomic bomb and was significantly less safe after that particular innovation. Some might say that the innovative development of the internet has had both positive and deleterious impacts upon our world. Was this type of innovation a desirable outcome? What of the invention of the electric lightbulb, an innovation which only followed after a great many failures? Despite the fact that one might be able to point to some negative consequences of the light bulb, it would be hard to argue that this innovation has not been of great benefit to humans around the world.

The kind of innovation to which Elon Musk has been working could conceivably have some negative consequences. It could also offer great benefits to humanity. The reality is that humans have been innovating for a long time and they show no signs of deviating from a trajectory of innovation. If innovation is a worthy goal, then the statement by Musk has a significant chance of being an accurate representation of how one should proceed. If innovation is seen as negative and maintenance of current systems is a greater goal, then Musk’s statement is wrong.

Maintenance of working systems can be a realistic goal; but maintenance tends to only work within closed systems where things do not change. As soon as one introduces external changes, an organisation must adjust to maintain balance within a new state of equilibrium. Whether we like it or not, our world is changing; and right now it is changing rapidly. There is good evidence that the organisations that will continue to work will be those that are nimble and can rapidly change with the surrounding environment. Those that stick to policies written during times of stability will find that they are ill-equipped for the new state of the world and will find themselves falling out of the new equilibrium. Thus, organisations must, at the very least, respond to the innovation which is saturating the present world.

Some companies and organisations will not only survive in an ever-changing world, they will themselves become leaders in innovation and will set the direction of that innovation. These are the ones that shape an environment and shape themselves to fit the environment into which they are metamorphosing.  They are prepared for the world into which they arrive. Such change does not come easy. It takes experimentation, rigorous learning from failures and successes, and innovation that remains true to the original purposes of the organisation. In short, such organisations experience failure, learn from that failure, develop a better experiment, and try again in a reasonably ordered fashion, until they succeed. Success and failure are simply two potential results for the continued experimentation. Success, or failure, will still mean that there is work to be done.

The winking cursor has run its course to the bottom of the page and I find myself staring at it once again. The sobering conclusion of this article is that I have convinced myself that Elon Musk might be right. "Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough." I am willing to innovate and I am willing to fail. I commit to learning as I succeed or fail and, by God’s grace, I choose to innovate and succeed in the mission toward which I am called. Elon Musk may not understand that bit about God’s grace, but I would suggest that it is a vital ingredient in the process. I am thankful for its ever-present illumination upon me.

Works Cited

Catmull, Ed. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the way of True Inspiration. Toronto: Random House of Canada Limited, 2014.




[1] (Catmull 2014) Location 3790 in Kindle Version
[2] (Catmull 2014) Location 3961-3965 in Kindle Version

Friday, May 20, 2016

Change



Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future. John F. Kennedy

Kennedy, or JFK, said these words in the middle of the 20th century when significant change was in the air. The rate at which things change in our current time would be mind-boggling to this former president. We must learn to deal with change and perhaps an ever accelerating pace of change at least for the near future as we stand nearly 16 and a half years into the 21st century.

Change can of course be good or bad, thrilling or challenging, life enhancing or so difficult we might wonder if we will survive the change. In a culture of change it is only the organizations and companies that are agile and themselves able to change quickly that will survive and thrive. To see the truth of such a statement one has only to look to energy companies in Calgary as they have reacted to a change in world oil prices.

What does this mean when we think of churches? We live in a world where we are all electronically connected and relationally disconnected; a world where people can travel across the city or across the world with ever greater ease; a world where leaders rise and fall on the whim of a local, national, or international following; and a world in which technology and media drive our monetary choices. The implications of these changes are vast, and yet most of our churches continue to function much as they did when JFK uttered his words regarding change. Churches do not tend to change rapidly. They are founded on ancient words that hold principles for all time. There is a tendency toward nostalgia and history. Few other disciplines (perhaps philosophy is another) hold such high regard for old words as opposed to new words on a subject. Certainly the Bible must be used as the founding document and the bedrock for the function of churches today; yet, why should the words of Augustine (354-430 CE) hold more sway than the words of Dallas Willard (1935-2013 CE)?

Are churches in North America (my only frame of reference) ready to embrace change for the sake of the ancient message? Can methodologies and practices change while the ancient work goes on? What new courses need to be charted? What experiments are necessary? What kinds of intentional community need to be fashioned so that the mission of the church survives in a world of change?

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” 
― Barack Obama

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.” 
― Eric RothThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Screenplay


Thursday, May 19, 2016

In A Dangerous Time



How does one live when difficult and dangerous times arise? When our economy is in decline, when our politicians must act decisively, when a mother must look for work to support her family, when a man considers work in another part of the country, when fire threatens our home and livelihood, when the word "cancer" comes from the lips of our doctor, when a country has sent troops to a civil war in a far-flung part of the world . . .

All of us must face difficulty, uncertainty, and even danger. Here is a collection of things others have said about how one must live in dangerous times. 

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. Helen Keller

It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership. Nelson Mandela

David was now in great danger because all his men were very bitter about losing their sons and daughters, and they began to talk of stoning him. But David found strength in the Lord his God. 1 Samuel 30:6 New Living Translation (NLT)

But I replied, “Should someone in my position run from danger? Should someone in my position enter the Temple to save his life? No, I won’t do it!” Nehemiah 6:11 (NLT)

No great art has ever been made without the artist having known danger. Rainer Maria Rilke

One minute you're waiting for the sky to fall
The next you're dazzled by the beauty of it all
Lovers in a dangerous time
Lovers in a dangerous time. Bruce Cockburn

What is my stance when faced with danger, disease, financial stress, difficulty? Surely, I will call upon the Lord. I will not run from danger; nor will I seek it out. I will take from the hand of God whatever is offered. I will rely upon God to sustain me through the path on which he leads me.

I called on the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and he saved me from my enemies.
2 Samuel 22:4 (NLT)

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28 (NLT)

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Angels, Galaxies, and Pins




How many planets would fit into a Milky Way galaxy? This is certainly not a classic philosophical question like, “How many angels would fit on the head of a pin?” Yet, this question does have philosophical implications if you consider why planet hunters hunt planets. Some, certainly search for planets in our known galaxy because planets are there and we want to learn more about them; but, many who search for exoplanets (planets outside our solar system), do so because they are interested in the possibility of life on other planets; intelligent or otherwise.

The Keplar Space Telescope has recently catalogued 1284 more planets,[1] bringing the total number of discovered planets to 2325.  The size of these planets ranges from sub-Mercury to super-Jupiter in size. Some are rocky, some are gaseous, and some just might be habitable. Bob McDonald in a CBC News blog[2] suggests that there are likely more planets in our galaxy than there are stars. Take a look at the night sky and think upon that for a few moments. There may be as many as 10,000,000,000 planets in our galaxy alone. There are more than 100 billion galaxies in the known universe. As we consider only the planets in our galaxy we soon realize that they are too distant by today’s transportation methods for us to visit them with anything more than a telescope, but they are still of interest. Could any of these planets have indigenous life? Would life there be water and carbon-based? Would it be DNA based? Or might it be so foreign in its composition that we would struggle to recognize it as life? Might it exist in liquid water, on dry land, or in the gaseous atmosphere of one of these exoplanets? Would we see signs of communication among creatures of common ancestry? Might we see foliage changes as seasons progressed? What could we look for as signs of life; or signs of intelligent life? Philosophically, the number of planets that would fit into a smallish galaxy appears to be a worthier question than those regarding pins and angels.


[1]Kepler telescope doubles its count of known exoplanets: latest data confirm nine more worlds in ‘habitable’ zone”; Science News, May 10, 2016;
[2]Finding habitable planets is one thing, finding life quite another” Bob McDonald, blog at CBC News Technology and Science; 2016-05-13; accessed 2016-05-14.