Book Review: The Confessions Of Brother Haluin

The Confessions Of Brother Haluin, by Ellis Peters

This particular volumes gives a couple of twists to the usual formula of a Brother Cadfael mystery. For one, the mystery itself is a slow-developing one, rich in meaning and grace, but it is nearly halfway through the course of this novel before the mystery has been made explicit, although the clever reader will be a bit ahead of the curve. More importantly, though, this novel depends to a great deal on divine providence so obvious that its implications are staggering. At every turn in this novel, Cadfael and the lame monk he accompanies on a pilgrimage of penance end up exactly where they need to be to cause the most trouble. When people end up so often at the precisely wrong place at the wrong time, it can be no accident, even if it was not by their design, a lesson I have learned all too painfully and all too often in my own life. Such a novel as this could only have been written by a person of some kind of faith, for it would strike others as too conveniently coincidental.

In many ways, the plot of this story is a bit of an odd couple. We have the clever and curious and somewhat cynical Cadfael, and we have in brother Haluin a man in his thirties with a sensitive conscience that is easily troubled, someone who is a bit too intense, but also someone with the ingredients for a painful saintliness. A freak injury gained while repairing the Abbey’s roof leads Haluin to confess a sin from long ago, for having impregnated a young woman he loved and was denied the freedom to court, for fleeing to the Abbey in despair, and for procuring some herbs in order to induce an abortion, receiving the word that his beloved and their illegitimate daughter had died. For nearly two decades the weight of this guilt sat uneasily on his soul, until he believed himself near death. Once he recovers, he sets out to find the tomb of his beloved to pray for the well-being of her soul, only to find no such tomb where the two of them had fallen in love in their teens. So he then sets out to the chief estate of the family, and after an enigmatic meeting happens upon his daughter unawares, being asked to marry her against her will because she has fallen in love with a young man thought to be her niece. A murder then follows, and then a flight to a nunnery named Farewell, where another surprise is yet to come when Cadfael and the lame brother just happen to come across the same nunnery looking for a night’s sleep and find two important women.

This novel was greatly troubling to me on a variety of levels. For one, the novel repeats over and over again the theme of thwarted young love because of overprotective parents. There is the theme of bad generational patterns and historical cycles repeating themselves over and over, of the problems of despair over thwarted romance, over longings to be a father, over the plotting and planning of people to complicate and ruin the lives of others, and the painful but beautiful freedom that truth brings after decades of deceit and ignorance. Furthermore, there is the thread that runs through this novel of a need for communication to bridge over years of silence and misunderstanding, and the losses that come from such wasted years. In the end, the novel is beautifully written with its mood of a dark and deadly winter turning into a glorious Spring, but at the same time it is a novel that hits far too close for me to feel comfortable reading it. This is no fault of the author’s, though it makes this novel full of dark contemplation for me.

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Under The Strain

When one goes through a day bleary-eyed after a six-hour sleep interrupted thrice by nightmares, plagued with headaches all the while, it is an easy matter to wonder if one’s headaches have been overdetermined. Was it the shortage of comforting REM sleep that led to the headaches, or the slight tear that might have been present in one of the contacts placed in the eye in the morning, or from the low pressure system that finally brought rain after days of gloriously bright sunshine, or a clenched jaw from determinedly dealing with endless repetitions on the same theme of personal business, or some other cause that led to this persistent tension headache? How many of the factors would have to be removed for the headache to pass? Surely, it would be unjust to seek to medicate away such a well-earned pain, given that any one of the factors alone would have been sufficient to bring it upon me.

Often I wonder with regards to my body’s fairly persistent but low-grade health woes that I am a bit hard on myself and my constitution. Often I have imagined what my statistics would be if I were portrayed in a table top or video role playing game, and I have generally rated my constitution fairly low, beneath my extremely high intelligence score, my reasonably high charisma and wisdom, and a passable score in strength (seeing as I can carry without complaint a heavy burden of small children or thick books) on my back and shoulders and in my arms. Yet surely my constitution is not to be blamed if it is under such continually high strain. The fact that I can function at all with little sleep for years on end, under the state of continual high anxiety, without the persistent drive to self-medicate is sign of a body that is clearly resilient. Obviously, this endurance comes at a cost, but the fact that it comes at all ought to be praised and appreciated, seeing as I demand far too much of myself as it is.

Yet when I look around, I see everything in my world under the same amount of strain. Institutions flex under the fact that so much is asked of so few that it has been necessary to cast a wide net for assistance so that the load can be carried by someone. Companies struggle on understaffed in critical areas, and the people who are there are asked to do more than any one person should, at cost to peace of mind as well as to the accuracy of the work that is done. This sort of strain in human infrastructure can be hard to bear for those of us who are perfectionists and want to do everything right, but who understand that something must first be done. Nor is the strain limited to human infrastructure, for one sees the strain in transportation networks, communication networks, transoceanic logistics routes, water and sewage and power networks, and so on, even the financial markets. We are all under the strain, seemingly all the time, without rest. Even the Sabbath, for those of us who keep it, does not always bring with it freedom from continual strain, but rather for some a continual reminder of it.

Much depends on the purpose of the strain, for surely all of this continual pressure heaped on the same few but critical areas of life cannot be coincidental. Are we and the works of our hands and the achievements of our civilization meant to buckle under the continual pressure until we collapse into anarchy and destruction? Are we meant to be purified and refined, to be reminded of our sins and faults to mend our ways, or to do something that will end the continual strain that we face? Are we meant to endure and persist, despite every inducement to quit, until some way of rescue is shown to us that is beyond our capacity to imagine, beyond our ability to achieve unaided, and something that we can look to with a grateful heart full of praise? Perhaps many such purposes may be meant on different levels and in different aspects of the same life. At any rate, may none of our experiences be wasted, and may they all have some good end for ourselves and those around us. Life is far too short for it to be spent in vanity and futility.

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The End Node Problem

Earlier this week I was having a conversation with someone about being a node [1], and I happened to come across a brief explanation of what is known in network security as the “end node problem.” In computer networks, one of the main issues faced in security is keeping privileged information in and keeping corrupt information and unsavory characters out. This problem applies to many areas of life, and an end node is a non-privileged computer or person in a network that nevertheless has connections with the outside that allow outside influence in the network or allow insider information to leave the network. This is a classic inside-outside problem, in that an end node is not supposed to be a node at all, and it is being a node, when it does not have the trust of those in charge of the network, or the full resources to handle the task of being a node effectively, that causes problems for the node as well as for the network as a whole.

There are many aspects of life in which being an end node is a problem. In computers, of course, end nodes are responsible for the vulnerability of cloud-based computing. In intelligence networks, end nodes are often considered moles, plans which pass along information to rival countries. Even in networks where one would not think there was much in the way of insider politics, an end node can easily be found, and in life, I have often found myself to be an end node, largely by accident. Without necessarily being a person of great privilege and power, being friendly and in the right place at the wrong time and being unusually fond of trying to solve mysteries and put clues together and being unable to keep my mouth shut or my keyboard quiet has made me a node without anyone necessarily wanting me to be one. Being outgoing and friendly would have made me a node at any rate, though, simply by being me.

In my life, the way that others have responded to my being a node has not always been enjoyable. It has led to a fair amount of unwelcome commentary, a great deal of unfortunate repercussions. This is not an uncommon experience. Yet most of the research on networking demonstrates that it is not the nodes themselves that are generally at fault for their state. Rather, they are vulnerable as a result of a lack of resources and attention, and subject to a great deal of interference. As a result, most of the focus on end node problems relates to overall system issues dealing with security and protocols as well as external threats to that system. Given the desire of technology firms (including some I am quite familiar with) to utilize the power of the cloud, solving the end node problem is of considerable importance, as it would be impossible to envision secure cloud computing otherwise.

There are basically two sorts of solutions for security in the cloud. One of them is to implement highly restrictive rules for the use of in-network benefits, making the inside of the network increasingly fortress-like, and greatly harming the experience for those who are not privileged users. In many ways, this sort of solution only makes attacks more dangerous, as there is a sense of false security as well as issues when it comes to having a mistrust of those who should be insiders while leaving walls as the main defense against external threats. The alternative solution is to focus on having an impenetrable citadel, easier to maintain than a larger fortress, and to give a wide deal of trust to everyone in the network while requiring a tight control of kernel software. This solution works well in analogy as well, in that it is a high trust solution that focuses on core issues and gives wide trust and acceptance. Surely, that ought to be preferred than ever more narrow exclusivity that only serves to alienate others and give elites too much power and a false sense of security while making life hard on everyone else. If one must be a node, at least let us be nodes that are respected and trusted.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: A Rare Benedictine: The Advent Of Brother Cadfael

A Rare Benedictine: The Advent Of Brother Cadfael, by Ellis Peters

This book is a prequel of sorts to the Brother Cadfael series of mysteries by Ellis Peters [1], and contains three short stories that occur before the first novel in the series. Included is a short introduction that explains that the series was not originally meant, but that Cadfael came about as a result of being a solution to various constrants that were imposed upon the plot by setting a mystery in Wales involving an English monestary with a monk detective who was able to move between many worlds. Given the popularity of the book, and the ensuing series, there was a great clamor for a novel. Adverse to writing prequels, a quality the authoress shared with other writers like Lois McMaster Bujold, she nonetheless took advantage of an opportunity to write a short story (“A Light On The Road To Woodstock”) to provide the origin of how Brother Cadfael came to become a brother at the Shrewsbury Benedictine Abbey, to go from one phase of life as a soldier-at-arms to another as a somewhat eccentric and irregular monk. We see Cadfael as being restrained, somewhat canny and perceptive, and immensely brave, rescuing Prior Heribert from a kidnapping whose damage is averted by one of the most unfortunate events in English history, the death of Henry I’s son that prompted the whole Anarchy in the first place, and saving his lord from an attempted murder from his groom and his wife’s paramour.

Adultery also plays a major role in the second of the three stories, (“The Price Of Light”) where a greedy and brutal and wicked man seeks to earn merit through donating a silver candlestick to the Benedictine Abbey that was created by an escaped serf craftsman he had robbed, who just happened to be in Shrewsbury for the year and a day it was required for him to be granted his freedom and be able to marry the comely Welsh villein maid he loved. In this particular story, a young wife lies to protect a runaway servant because the servant’s presence was necessary as an alibi for herself. Here we see Cadfael figuring out clues, helping young lovers thwart the obstacles placed in their way, and seeks justice in his own characteristically irregular way. We see this also in the third story, “Eye Witness,” where Cadfael’s cleverness foils an attempted murder, helps a fellow brother overcome despair that had threatened him with the sin of self-murder (i.e. suicide), and confronts an ambitious newcomer with evidence of his theft and attempt at murder, thanks to plotting with a blind Welsh beggar (here trading on Welsh solidarity) along with the son of the wounded man and a new sergeant for the Sheriff, who is willing for Cadfael to use a ruse.

These stories are much less developed than the novels, as is to be expected since these three stories only take up a little more than 100 pages. Cadfael’s character is pretty distinct, but for the most part the other characters tend to be much less defined, except for Sweyn the Welsh maid, who is given enough time to show her resolve and cleverness. Both of the wealthy nobles in the first two stories are grasping and somewhat unpleasant men, both of their wives are much younger (about half their age or more) and unfaithful, both of them have servant grooms who are cuckolding their arrogant Norman masters. Likewise, the hardworking lay clerk who appears to be easily trusting but turns out to be hiding something is not a well-developed character either. That said, the mysteries are solid and any Cadfael stories are to be appreciated, and best of yet all murders are averted, no runaway serfs are brought to justice, as a way of “sticking it to the man,” and justice generally prevails. That is what one expects given the length of the story and the constraints of the form, and this book delivers.

See, for example:

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Book Review: Transact-SQL Cookbook

Transact-SQL Cookbook, by Ales Spetic & Jonathan Gennick

This is the second book about SQL read from my coworker’s collection [1], and even though I will have to give it back to him, this is a book I want to add to my own collection. This is not only because this book has some fantastic code for writing elegant and efficient queries, a skill that seriously needs to be developed, but also because the book is written in such an elegant fashion as well, and also is written with the approach of demonstrating the fundamental logic of SQL and how the language can be used to solve a variety of tasks. It is a rare example of a book written with very technical matters in mind that not only aims at conveying practical knowledge about how to use SQL as a tool, but also is written with such an elegant style that where the codes is not prominent, the book is enjoyable to read on its own sense of style. This is a remarkable accomplishment that deserves high praise.

In terms of its content, this book is nearly 300 pages long, somewhere between the short introductory books that serve to introduce SQL and longer guides for those who are already experts. It has eight chapters, each of them dealing with a conceptual problem in designing tables and queries, and each of them divided into smaller sections, all of which feature a problem, a solution query, and a helpful discussion that explains why the query is written as it is, including notes (on occasion) giving credit to the programmer who first developed that particular type of solution. Included in its chapters are introductory explanations of pivot tables (something familiar to skilled excel users), sets, data structures (like regions, lists, stacks, queues, arrays, and matrices), hierarchical data (which is a challenge for a relational database), temporal data (dates and times), audit logging (both activity-level and row logging), importing and transforming data, and a short conclusion on statistics in SQL. Each of the chapters deals with its material thoughtfully.

A few qualities in particular make this book stand out among its peers. For one, this book is quirky, being written originally by a very adept Slovenian SQL programmer, translated by an American writer and SQL programmer with a great deal of modesty and appreciation for Slovene culture. Not only is this book written in a true spirit of friendship between its coauthors, it is written in such a fashion that it provokes reflection not only on the issue of writing code, but about more complicated and nuanced issues that inform the design of tables and queries. Sometimes there is no single best solution, and multiple approaches are chosen with different strengths and weaknesses that are ideal based on different conditions for the use and performance and constraints on a given database. Likewise, other solutions are elegant and easy on the front end but require a great deal of processing power on the back end, and others are immensely efficient in terms of memory and processing usage but require substantial work on the front end in skillfully designing tables and procedures (for logging, for example). This book is not only skilled in the technical matters of writing elegant and effective SQL queries, but also serves to remind the reader that programming is an art that requires skill, a creative mind that is capable of reframing problems and shifting one’s perspective, and also one where there can be great beauty and elegance as a result of acquiring skill in the technical and conceptual aspects of database design.


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Hold On ‘Cause The World Will Turn If You’re Ready Or Not

For some time I have been dissatisfied at the state of my smart phone technology, or the lack thereof. Although at times I have been an early adopter of technologies [1], at other times I have been at the lagging end of adoption of technologies. I did not have a cell phone at all, for example, until my senior year of college, when a miscommunication about rides and travel that wasted hours of time led me to decide that the time had come to get a cell phone. As far as smart phones were concerned, it was more the events at Domopalooza, where I was unable to schedule seminars or know where events were located or communicate and share stories in real time with my fellow attendees because my phone was obsolete, along with being informed that my company was willing to pay for upgrades to telephony that connected a person with our e-mail system that pushed me to upgrade. The lure of connection and cash is a powerful one.

For the last several months, my wireless provider (Cricket) has been sending me appeals to upgrade my phone for $75. I would politely look at them, ponder the hassle of dealing with changing my phone, and then ignore them and go about my business. However, the confluence of dissatisfaction with the opportunity to reduce the cost for trading up my phone led me to search for the nearest location of a store for me to get a new phone. In looking at Google Maps, I saw that there was a location shown in the Tanasbourne area near work [2], and so I resolved to go there Monday after work. When I arrived at the location, the store was nowhere to be found, its location taken up by an Indian restaurant. After this failure, I looked for a location of a Cricket store along a route that would pass by Costco [3] and also end up along the route to my usual location for “Taco Tuesdays” in Beaverton. In going to this location, I ended up near the Cedar Hills Mall, where I found I was unable to upgrade to an Apple phone because there was no supply of them. I took the next best option and ended up with an android phone that cost me almost nothing. However, I had to wait quite a while at the store while they tried to update my Cricket account, and while I was there I found out why I had been receiving the notices about my upgrades, and that was because I had a legacy phone/plan from Cricket before it was purchased by AT&T, and AT&T naturally wanted everyone to be on a plan under their bailiwick.

When I went home, I wanted to download some apps, and was told that to do this I needed to go through the Google Play store. Despite tweaking my settings, the phone was simply not able to log into Google despite having the right password and account to connect into, so since it was beyond my level of expertise I called Google’s tech support, and was connected with a fellow for whom telephony was not his specialty. He was, however, very patient and we eventually found a way to get my phone to log into Google. It required me to update information in Google Wallet, a feature of Google I had never used, which revealed that I had had a Google account since 2005, and it was so old that Google was unable to have any information about it on their latest systems. Again, another legacy account that needed to be migrated to newer fields where more data was available to the company. As it happened, we were able to get it to work successfully and after a long call I ended up with $10 in my Google Play account to pay for premium apps; now I just need to find out which apps I consider worth buying.

Of course, when I returned to work I tried to connect my work e-mail to my phone in order to connect to the corporate network and earn my monthly bounty. I was unable to do so, despite knowing my account and password. When I talked to one of the IT people, he mentioned, in a certain tone of voice, that only Samsung phones among the android ones were allowed to port into the system to directly download e-mails, because the rest of android phones did not have sufficient security through encryption to be allowed access. I would be limited to the same access I have on my laptop using the owa to connect via the internet. This is not the first time I had heard of this problem. After all, the Domo app is currently only on iphones (the reason I was looking for an iphone in the first place) because of security concerns with Android phones. So, between security issues in phones and logistical shortages in getting the right phones to stores and customers, it seems like an exercise in futility. So much effort is taken to circle around the same problems of trust and security and logistics in slightly different guises.


[2] T


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Book Review: Unoffendable

Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All Of Life Better, by Brant Hansen

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for an honest review.]

It is fortunate that this book is written in such a warm and conversational, and genuinely self-effacing style. Since this book talks about a very contentious subject, taking a strong stance that Christians are not to indulge in anger or bitterness, especially what is considered “righteous anger,” it is fortunate that the author admits his own struggle with the biblical stance on anger, and pokes enough fun at himself in his stories to forestall the reader from getting any ideas that the author is self-righteous, or unconcerned with virtue in general. It is a wise decision to take, for it keeps the mood light on what could be a dangerously controversial book otherwise. This book manages to make strong points, and uncompromising points, with a great deal of credibility because the author pulls insights from scripture, science, and a lot of personal stories where the names have been omitted to protect the innocent and the guilty.

In terms of its structure the book has a lot of short chapters with comical titles that discuss Danish movies about pleasure, our stupidity as humans for being so easily terrified by our fears, or has some sort of ironic or self-mocking name that points to the subject material, including one chapter that talks about people wanting to punch him when he brags about his spirituality. The consistent mood of comedy helps keep the book light, which is fortunate because some of the stories are heartbreaking, including stories about death on a massive and deeply personal scale. The author manages to connect the issue of anger with worry and fear and trust and love, and with grace, and by combining so many essential issues into one examination, the point is clearly made that simply releasing anger and bitterness and resentment can make a major impact on many areas of life, from physical and relational health to salvation and one’s ability to get along with people and be an effective witness to God’s ways. It is a serious point, but one that goes down easily.

I figure at this point it is necessary to remind the reader of this review that I am by no means an expert at this. I get upset in traffic, I tend to hold grudges by nature, I get offended when people snub me or act rudely in public, even for silly things like not being hugged. I get terrified when attractive ladies circle me or hover near me but not wanting to talk to me. I’m not exactly a model of being unoffendable by any means. Nor am I a model of trusting God or other people very well. Nevertheless, like the author I consider it an important enough matter to struggle at it, no matter that I’m pretty inept at it at present. May it get easier with time to treat others graciously and not to hold any anger or resentment or feel frustration with human beings simply being human. God is certainly gracious enough with us all, after all.

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Pure And Undefiled Religion Before God And The Father Is This: Part One

James 1:27 gives one of the most succinct statements of the sort of worship that pleases God: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” Even though this is only a single verse, and a short one at that, it is a verse that contains a great deal of meaning. Yet while it is recognized that it is a good thing to help widows and fatherless children, it is not always well understood what makes this religion particularly pure. Likewise, the connection between visiting widows and orphans and keeping unspotted from the world is not always well understood, nor its relationship to the overall purposes of God. These are obviously complicated matters, so what I will do is divide up this discussion into multiple parts, first setting the verse in its immediate context and looking at a relationship between the verse’s parts that is not often examined. Afterward will follow a lengthier discussion of the parts of the verse and its applicability to God’s overall plans in working with humanity.

James 1:27 comes at the end of a long discussion about enduring temptation and living according to the righteousness of God. This context, which helps inform the meaning of James 1:27, begins at least as far back as James 1:12, and may indeed go back to the beginning of James 1 with the discussion on trials and humility. For our purposes here, let us summarize briefly the entire chapter that comes before James 1:27 and allow it to frame a context for the verse of interest. There is, of course, a great deal that the rest of James 1 has to say of interest [1] that time and space concerns do not permit for this present examination. James 1, after a greeting from the author to the diaspora of Israel, discusses the benefits of trials and our need for patience and wisdom and faith to endure them. James then proceeds to contrast how the poor should glory in being poor but the rich lament that wealth will pass away in the pursuit of pleasure. Then James returns to trials again, pointing out that the one who endures temptation will be blessed, and to remember that God gives blessings and does not tempt others nor is tempted by wickedness; rather, we are tempted by our own lusts, which bring forth sin and death if we are unwary. After this, James gives wise (and difficult) advice to be swift to hear but slow to speak or to anger, and then tells us to listen to God’s word with meekness and to follow it rather than merely listen to it, and not to be self-deceived by our unrestrained and ungodly language.

The chapter as a whole is full of very tough language that is difficult to come to terms with. Yet the contents of the chapter carry meaning when examining the questions of visiting the widow and the fatherless child and in keeping unspotted from the world. For one, being bereaved of parents or a spouse is a trial, and also a trial that in this world tends to induce poverty. The statistics of single parent families and their standard of living is grim, and whether one is reflecting on the difficulties that are visited upon people who have lost loved ones or on the socioeconomic losses that occur when the expected male breadwinner of a family is cut off, there is a great deal of suffering that results. On the other hand, the biggest struggles in keeping unspotted from the world and in overcoming temptation relate to the sorts of lusts and desires that greatly harm one’s relationships and one’s family life, whether one is talking about the temptation for sexual sins like adultery and fornication or to the abuse of alcohol or irresponsible behaviors like gambling and brawling that threaten health and standard of living, relationships and reputation. To live a godly life and to encourage others is indeed pure and undefiled religion.

Here we can begin to see how this sort of religion relates to the overall purposes of God in raising a family. Widows and fatherless children are precisely those people who are denied the experience of living as God intended in intact and loving families. To give them comfort and encouragement and to make them a welcomed and appreciated part of our congregations and communities is a way of reducing the loss that comes from not having a life that ideally represents what God is doing on this earth. Just as it is difficult to reflect on the loving (future) marriage between Jesus Christ and the Israel of God when one’s own wishes and plans for a lifelong of loving marriage have been shattered, so too is it hard to know God as a loving father when that role is filled poorly or not filled at all. And yet it is vitally important that we learn how to understand what makes marriage and parenting so important to God, so we might better understand the larger importance of these activities in our own lives, and how we teach others about God through our own behavior in these roles here on earth. Likewise, being unspotted from the world is important in that it helps to keep us from making a mess out of our lives and ruining our relationships with God and with other people. To be sure, God is merciful to give when we genuinely repent, but the spots and errors of our lives harm not only ourselves but bring great pain to others, and make their own lives more difficult and more deeply marred by the darkness of this present world, and so if we care about others we will restrain ourselves from that which brings suffering and torment to others.

It can be difficult to know exactly how to visit the widows and orphans in our lives. Yet it is easier to focus attention on the task if we realize that by doing so we are helping to provide a knowledge through our example of the plans and purposes of God to take the outcasts of this earth and to turn us into His sons and daughters, and collectively into His bride in an eternal family relationship. Even if we know, or at least have some glimpse, of God’s workings for humanity as a whole, it can be a challenge to see those workings in our own lives. It requires patience to endure through the difficult times in our lives, and gratitude to recognize that our gifts do not spring from our own skill, but from the blessings that God has given us in a variety of aspects of our lives. For us to live well, and to worship God in a pleasing way, we must also be aware of the suffering and difficulties of others, and not only our own trials, about which we are seldom ignorant of. There is much yet to say about this verse, but let us save that for another day.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: SQL In Easy Steps

SQL In Easy Steps For Web Developers, Programmers & Students, by Mike McGrath

One of the occupational hazards of moving from excel based reporting to database administration is the urgent need to acquire technical skills in how to write queries. So, my coworker and resident expert on databases has been preparing a crash course of reading and reference materials on SQL so that I can get a basic hang of the architecture. This book is one of a series I will be looking at, so for those readers who appreciate my more technical book reviews, this is a change of pace from the sort of book I normally read. That said, this book, even given its technical content, certainly was written for a broad audience, and may even be a bit too basic for its intended aims, unless those aims are to get someone’s feet wet with very basic queries and understanding before moving to more challenging material.

This book lives up to its name. At about 170 pages of main material, and some appendices that include restricted words and some basic queries that probably need to be read and referenced, this book is not a demanding read. It divides up a basic understanding of SQL, including an explanation of basic syntax and the structure of relational databases, into about fourteen short chapters that follow more or less the material of my basic introduction to SQL courses that I have taken. Included are introductions to adding and dropping tables, inserting information, performing basic inner and outer joins, summary calculations, sorts, and the like. This is practical information, and the book does a good job of explaining these tasks, at least at their simplest level.

With a broad intended audience, this book would appear to be pretty basic for most web developers and programmers, except as a very easy introductory book that pushes the reader towards more challenging material. That said, the book is skillfully written, with amusing and informative tips and excellent full-color visuals. Even if it is basic, it at least is a book worth keeping around for reminders, so I can see why my coworker still has it even if he is far beyond the level of an introductory user of SQL. The book even manages to provide some parallel translation of the same query into three different dialects of SQL, which provides some helpful comparison and adds depth to the book. This was certainly a worthwhile read, even if it was a basic one for the most part.

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On Equal Pay For Equal Play In Tennis

One of the sports controversies I pay attention to [1], that has simmered for years, is the question of whether men and women should be paid equal monies in tennis prizes. On the face of it, it would seem obvious that men and women should not be paid any differently for equal amounts of work. Yet, as is often the case, when one digs beneath the superficial level, one finds that simply paying equal prizes would be to greatly devalue the work of men, who have to work considerably harder and longer to win a tennis tournament than women do. Rather than engage in unprofitable emotional reasoning, this discussion will seek to frame a solution for equal pay that relies on data, and that provides a meaningful introduction to casual fans on how statistics can enrich our discussions, so long as they are used on a level that is sufficiently deep to avoid the superficiality that is common in our general social and political discourse.

Currently, men and women are paid equal at major championships, and the prize money is divided based on how far in a tournament someone progresses in a tiered fashion, so that all semifinalists get paid the same, as do all quarterfinalists, and so on all the way to the small prize money given to those who reach different levels of a qualifying event. Furthermore, there are different levels of prize money given to doubles and mixed doubles players based also on the size of the field. On the surface, this would appear to be just. Yet, as is often the case in life, questions of justice require deeper analysis than the sort of surface “Both men and women play equal number of matches, and both are equally talented and popular, and so both should be paid equally” arguments that are commonly made. Additionally, even within segments, there is no incentive to play hard in a losing effort versus tanking, except for one’s own sense of honor and integrity. In terms of pay and points awarded, there is currently no difference between someone who loses a hard-fought match by a narrow margin and someone who was entirely overwhelmed. Yet for a fan watching the game in person or on the television, there would be a vastly different level of appreciation for the two performances.

Given the levels of data analysis tools present, there is no question that tennis could be vastly improved in the precision of rankings and prize money by use of some very straightforward statistics. We know, for example, that in order for a men’s tennis player to win a match, he must win three sets out of five (unless a player retires due to injury). On the other hand, a woman must only win two sets out of three. Receiving equal pay for winning the match means that the time and effort and work of a man is significantly undervalued, potentially by up to 60%, relative to the time of a woman. This is without even getting into the question of the depth of competition between men and women, a matter that would require deeper analysis. It does not take a great deal of effort to see that winning three sets is harder work than winning two, and yet at present both are given the same reward. Additionally, a grueling five-set victory that takes two days of tennis is given the same amount of prize and point differential as a walkover win against an opponent who withdraws due to injury, as both lead to advancement. Clearly, in order to be just to the effort that is required to win, a more nuanced system of points and prize money would be worthwhile.

Given the hierarchical nature of tennis, this would not be difficult to manage. The present distribution of prize money and points makes a suitable first level, in that there should be a base number of points and prize money that is based on how far one progresses in a tournament. Added to this, there should be points and prize money allotted to how many sets one wins. Winning a match or two due to a walkover requires much less work than a lengthy slog, and should be rewarded accordingly. Likewise, those who win sets in a brave but unsuccessful effort deserve to be rewarded against those who are simply blown off the court. Going further, winning games ought to matter, as a five-set tiebreaker that goes to 21-19 required a lot more effort than a 6-2 final set victory. Given the statistical nature of tennis, one could even see a small premium for winning points, as lengthy rallies and deuces ought to count more than games that were regularly decided at love or 15. One could go even further than that, but even this level of granularity would provide a nuanced and balanced picture of rewarding effort, so that people are paid and rewarded for work, and not merely the end result. Such a system would incentivize hard work by giving it practical reward. It would be worth fighting for every point, every game, and every set, because even if one ended up losing a match, one would still be rewarded for the effort along the way, and one would be part of making for much more exciting matches that would reward the sponsors and tournaments as well, giving more archival footage for commercials and documentaries in the process.

Beyond this, of course, one could set caps and floors, so that winning a match by any means would guarantee a certain number of points that would be greater than someone could get for losing a match on the same level, no matter how bravely, yet it would not be hard to come up with a more just and a more nuanced system that awarded the time and effort in an more equal fashion. Justice is not always served merely by superficial equality, but sometimes by unequal rewards, for unequal effort in an unequal challenge should not lead to equal rewards. Yet our world is not often sufficiently aware of and sensitive to these larger questions of justice because identity politics often matters more than the amount of time and effort that is taken to accomplish a task given different rules. If one wanted to pay men and women equally for tennis matches, they should be played according to the same standards, both playing best of five sets. Then, there would be no dispute that women were playing just as hard as the men, and would deserve equal pay without question, because they would be doing equal amounts of work. Achieving justice requires more than simple identity politics and requires an examination of the circumstances and constraints under which the game is played, and this appears beyond the capacity of most commentators.

[1] See, also:

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