Pseudorandom Bits

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Archive for December, 2007

What’s on my iPod?

Posted by Mike on December 31, 2007


I don’t have an iPod, or any other portable mp3/audio player.

Not that I’m asking for one, either; I just don’t have a desire for one (yet).

If I did have one, I would probably load it with audio books from a local library. I would check-out an audio book on CD, then “rip” it at home, load it into the mp3 player, listen to it to/from work and elsewhere, then delete it and return the CD to the library.

I would probably download some public domain audio books and other collections from the Internet. Project Gutenberg has some human read audio books available. Some sites also have (I believe) some computer generated “reading” materials. I’m not sure I’m up to listening to a computer generated voice!

I might also put some actual music on my audio player, say, Christmas music at that time of year.

What I don’t understand is the tremendous popularity for “music” among younger folks. I’m astonished at how much money is spent on music CDs and downloaded songs. Music certainly has a strong attraction, and listeners need to have more discretion in what they listen to. Maybe folks of a certain age just don’t get it.

I’m also amazed at the attraction and identification that younger folks have to certain music groups and individuals. Musicians who are making hundreds of thousands, or millions of dollars each year (and who dress like they’re wearing their last t-shirt and pair of jeans) can’t conceivably feel an identification with their audience’s everyday needs and lives. But the listeners apparently believe it, anyway.

So, be careful little ears what you hear.


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It’s almost Valentine’s Day!

Posted by Mike on December 29, 2007

This is a tad late follow-up to my earlier “Is it Valentine’s Day yet?” posting. I should have posted the day after Christmas. Anyway…

One of my daughters and I were at a local Wal-Mart at about 7:30 am on December 26. Yes, I mean early morning the day after Christmas. She wanted to get some discounted candy canes on sale as treats for children during her upcoming trip to Peru. I wanted to get some replacement strings of lights for our Christmas tree. We needed to be in town that early anyway, so why not shop?

We were amazed at how quiet the store was. It seemed that only a few dozen people were there, including staff. We got our shopping done quickly. And, at that time there were only 1 or 2 people in the return line. It would have been a great time for returns or exchanges.

Another thing amazed us. Two women, at 7:30 in the morning the day after Christmas, were almost finished arranging an aisle of Valentine’s Day cards, etc. Both sides of the aisle were ready for shoppers, and it appeared that almost all the cards were out on display. It really is almost Valentine’s Day! Don’t check the calendar, or weather; your local retail stores know the holidays!

Later that day, in another Wal-Mart (yes, I know, twice in one day?), things were much busier, and we were glad to be done as soon as possible. More people, longer lines, more noise.

So, next year, think about shopping very early the day after Christmas. You might be surprised at how easy it is. And you can get an early jump on whatever holiday comes next!

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Merry Christmas!

Posted by Mike on December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas! God bless us, every one!

One of my favorite Christmas stories is “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”, by Barbara Robinson. I’ve only known about this short book for a few years, and when I saw the book for the first time, I thought “best ever” must be quite an overstatement and an attempt to sell the book.

But this book is quite funny, yet thought provoking. Find a copy and read it aloud to your family (perhaps making some verbal changes in the dialog here and there). You can read the book in less than an evening, perhaps with a break for refreshments part way through. I think you’ll find it worthwhile.

About half-way through the book, after some of the pageant rehersals have taken place, the father of the narrator asks how things are going. “Well”, Mother said, “just suppose you had never heard the Christmas story, and didn’t know anything about it, and then somebody told it to you. What would you think?”

Some parts of the Christmas account do seem unusual and fantastic. And hard to believe. But sometimes the truth is hard to believe, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Millions of people around the world will be celebrating Christmas today, or in a few days from now. A great percentage of those are missing the key reason for the celebration. Believers of one (or no) religion don’t often celebrate a holy day of another religion. But that seems to be the case for Christmas.

Why do we have Christmas? There is only one reason, to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah, Who is salvation unto eternal life for those who believe.

One TV commentator said this season that Christmas is a celebration of love, just like in all of the major religions. He’s wrong about Christmas. There is certainly love involved, love from God the Father to give us the greatest Gift of all. But this key aspect of Christmas is not found in any other religion.

It is great to celebrate the birth of Jesus here on earth. But why was Jesus born?

Jesus was born so that He could show us love on earth, and then to show the greatest love by dying for us on the cross as the only effectual sacrifice for our sins. As one hymn says, Jesus was born to die so man might live.

His birth, His life, His love, His teachings, His example are all key points of Christianity. But we must also look at His death, and more importantly, His Resurrection.

The Resurrection is a major point in Christianity. Jesus’ death is crucial, but the Resurrection is the capstone, the proof of His purpose. Some people suggest that the empty tomb should be the symbol of Christianity rather than the cross. The empty tomb is one of the major points that sets Christianity apart from any other religion. Easter should be the key religious day of Christianity.

Some people find Christianity offensive. And it is to many. Jesus Himself is “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient” (from 1 Peter 2:8).

If Christmas is not true, and “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” 1 Corinthians 15:13-19 (NIV)

Imagine a Christmas where everything is as it usually is, except for no presents of any kind. There would be trees, decorations, parties, dinners, visiting with family and friends, and all the rest. But no gifts under the trees, no gifts in the stockings, no exchanges of presents of any kind. Hard to imagine, and we’d feel as though it weren’t really Christmas.

Imagine Christmas without Christ. As hard as it is for us to imagine Christmas without presents, it is extremely easy for many people to go through Christmas without any recognition or realization of Christ. Christ, who should be the center of the celebration, is missing completely for millions of people. Left out and forgotten on one of the days He should be noticed the most.

I hope you have a great Christmas, and haven’t left Jesus out of your celebrations.

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:10-14)

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Harry Reasoner on Christmas

Posted by Mike on December 24, 2007

In 1968 (I think), I happened to be watching the “60 Minutes” program on CBS. At that time, it wasn’t a program I watched regularly, but I was watching the night that Harry Reasoner gave a commentary on Christmas.

Harry Reasoner was one of my favorite TV journalists. He was calm and quiet (most of the time), seemed friendly, dryly humorous, and had a great, relaxing voice. I didn’t always understand his points, but he was interesting to listen to. He probably would have made a great neighbor.

On that night in 1968, he gave a memorable Christmas message. I was not a believer at the time, but it struck me nonetheless. Here was a well known national broadcaster talking about Christmas. And he seemed in favor of the real message of Christmas. Too bad that I couldn’t remember the commentary, and in those days finding a written version would have been almost impossible. Commentary given, then lost to the ether.

Below is a version of Reasoner’s message that I found on the Internet a few years ago. I hope it could be found in one of Reasoner’s books.  It is also supposed to be in “The Everything Christmas Book”, 2nd edition (which apparently isn’t the edition my local library has).

I hope you enjoy it, and that it gives you something to think about.


The basis for this tremendous annual burst of buying things and gift giving and parties and near hysteria is a quiet event that Christians believe actually happened a long time ago. You can say that in all societies there has always been a midwinter festival and that many of the trappings of our Christmas are almost violently pagan. But you come back to the central fact of the day in the quietness of Christmas morning. The birth of God on earth. It leaves you only three ways of accepting Christmas.

One is cynically: as a time to make money or endorse the making of it.

One is graciously: the appropriate attitude for non-Christians in a largely Christian society, who wish their fellow citizens all the joys to which their beliefs entitle them.

And the third, of course, is reverently. If this is the anniversary of the appearance of the Lord of the Universe in the form of a helpless baby, then it is a very important day.

It’s a startling idea, of course. My guess is that the whole story — that a virgin was selected by God to bear His Son as a way of showing His love and concern for man — it’s my guess that, in spite of all the lip service they have given it, it is not an idea that has been popular with theologians. It’s a somewhat illogical idea, and theologians love logic almost as much as they love God.

It’s so revolutionary an idea that it probably could only have come from a God Who is beyond logic and beyond theology. It has a magnificent appeal. Almost nobody has seen God and almost nobody has any real idea of what He is like — and the truth is that among men, the idea of seeing God, suddenly and standing in a very bright light, is not necessarily a completely comforting and appealing thought.

But everyone has seen babies. And most people like them. If God wanted to be loved as well as feared, He moved correctly here. If He wanted to know His people as well as rule them, He moved correctly here, for a baby growing up learns all about people. If God wanted to be intimately a part of man, He moved correctly here, for the experience of birth and familyhood is our most intimate and precious experience.

So it comes beyond logic. It is what Bishop Karl Morgan Block used to call a kind of divine insanity. It is either a falsehood or it is the truest thing in the world. It either rises above the tawdriness of what we make of Christmas or it is part of it and completely irrelevant.

It is the story of the great innocence of God, the baby God in the power of man.

And it is such a dramatic shot for the heart, that if it is not true for Christians, nothing else is, because this story reaches Christians universally and with profound emotion.

So, if a Christian is touched only once a year, the touching is still worth it, and maybe on some given Christmas, some final quiet morning, the touch will take.

Because the message of Christmas IS the Christmas Story. If it is false, we are doomed. If it is true, as it must be, it makes everything else in the world all right.

— Harry Reasoner, 60 Minutes, “What Christ Looked Like,” Christmas Eve, 1968.

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. 1 Corinthians 15:19 (NIV)

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Posted by Mike on December 23, 2007

Traction is what I’ve been needing with my blog postings.

Traction is what many mid-westerners needed last week.

Traction is what some presidential candidates are gaining or losing.

I’ve been negligent in my blog postings. I hope you’ve kept checking to see whether I’ve had anything new. I hope this satisfies you for awhile.

Last week we had lots of ice, sleet, snow, and more ice. Lost of folks in the Mid-West were without power, and many, many more without needed traction while driving. That, and the heavy fog late in the week, has certainly slowed things down here. Warm weather yesterday turned our driveway’s snow into ice, so getting up and down is a problem. Last night’s major storm didn’t help any.

Our friend Mike Huckabee has certainly gained traction in his bid to win the Iowa caucus. He’s now getting more publicity than maybe he had hoped for. Folks have taken notice, and he’s been challenged in many areas. He is articulate and has been able to give some nice answers. When Doonesbury, the Wall Street Journal, World magazine, and others have had items on Mike, you know he’s gotten some publicity.

Hillary, Rudy, and Mitt have lost traction. Tom has dropped out altogether. Fred may never get any traction. Ron seems to be sliding sideways.

Eleven days until the Iowa caucuses. Are you ready?

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So, who’s this Mike Huckabee guy, anyway?

Posted by Mike on December 7, 2007

If you’ve been following the talk about the presidential candidates, you might be wondering about this Mike Huckabee guy who is the lead Republican candidate in various polls, especially in Iowa.

If you listen to national news on the radio, or read the newspapers, you might be wondering who he is. About all you hear is that:

  1. He’s a candidate for president
  2. He’s a former governor of Arkansas
  3. He’s a baptist
  4. He lost a lot of weight a few years ago

Compared with Mitt, Rudy, Ron, Fred, John, etc., I hear very little in the national media about Mike’s positions on the issues. I read more about fringe (some might say “whacko”) candidate Dennis (D, Ohio 10th district) than I do about Mike.

How much do you hear about Mike?

In a month, things should be clearer regarding the viability of the candidates.

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Is it Valentine’s Day yet?

Posted by Mike on December 2, 2007

Have you seen any Valentine’s Day items in the stores yet? I’m sure it’s about time. After all, we’re approaching Christmas and the stores should certainly be preparing for the next holiday. They prepare for Valentine’s Day in early January, Halloween after Labor Day, Thanksgiving even before Halloween, and so on. The cute Easter stuff probably comes out right after Valentine’s Day, never mind the real reason for Easter.

So, enjoy the Christmas season while you can, because the next holiday merchandising season is about to begin.

Remember this:

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

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

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
— Luke 2:8-14, NIV

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Why I like Wal-Mart

Posted by Mike on December 1, 2007

There are probably lots of web sites and postings along the line of “Why I hate Wal-Mart”, in fact, I saw one today (but skipped reading it).

Here are some of the reasons my family likes Wal-Mart.

1. Their return policy. Essentially, no questions asked, even without a receipt. They will ask why you’re returning an item, but they don’t make a big fuss about it even if you’ve lost the receipt. This beats K-Mart, which grills you when you don’t have a receipt, and may allow you store credit for the return. We’ve essentially stopped shopping at our K-Mart because of this. Being bought out by Sears doesn’t seem to have improved things much. We still buy a few things there, such as my Thom McAn shoes (wide-width, leather uppers, last a long time), or when we can’t find an item elsewhere. But K-Mart is about my last choice.

2. Their selection. They have lots from which to choose (sometimes too much), but you can usually find something similar to what you’re looking for. Our Target has much smaller selections in their various departments, so I usually don’t have much hope when looking for something at Target unless I’ve gotten it there before. My female household members buy socks there. Even after remodeling, our K-Mart just doesn’t seem to be a place to find great things.

3. Their prices. Wal-Mart usually has good prices on their goods. That’s a help to us. While Target doesn’t have a large selection of things we’re interested in, at least their prices are higher. K-Mart’s prices are usually good (like with my shoes), but other factors dissuade us from visiting often.

4. Their food. The Wal-Marts in our area all have grocery sections. We buy a lot of food there. Their rice milk prices are the best we’ve seen, and the prices on their regular foods are good, too. The produce isn’t the best, perhaps, but it’s ok most of the time. We do shop at Hy-Vee, Fareway, Aldi, and Sam’s, but often start at Wal-Mart because of the convenience, or we’re there for other things, too.

5. Their opponents. One way to oppose the big-city, high-brow liberals (and others) who fuss about Wal-Mart is to shop at Wal-Mart. Sure Wal-Mart is a big company with some big company problems and issues, but they seem to be striving to meet customer needs. Most of the time they meet ours. Many companies could learn some lessons from Wal-Mart.

6. Their store locations. One location in particular is very convenient for us. Another is convenient when we’re in that part of town. And we find many when we travel, simplifying shopping on the road.

Are there downsides to shopping at Wal-Mart. Sure, but they are similar to other stores anyway. Thankfully, our nearby Wal-Mart stores are clean, well-lit, and well-stocked. The aisles are usually wide enough so I don’t feel confined. Wal-Mart does attract a lot of people, so sometimes the store is more crowded than we’d like, but we get the job done anyway. Are some children noisy and misbehave? Sure, just like elsewhere. Do some adults wear offensive t-shirts? Sure, just like elsewhere. But we try to ignore some things while concentrating on getting the shopping done. I don’t usually like to browse, so that’s not a problem. And most of the store personnel try to help find items that you can’t seem to find on your own. And they were very helpful to one of my daughters who is gathering items for needy children in another country.

All in all, Wal-Mart is a top choice for us for regular, household shopping.

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