One-Thousand Downloads in One Day

Wow! How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t got over one-thousand downloads on launch day. That’s pretty incredible, and way above and beyond my expectations. If you’ve downloaded a copy, thank you!

If you haven’t downloaded a copy yet, you can still get it for free today by clicking here. And please be sure to share this with your friends and family who are computer-challenged!

For those who want a paperback copy, I promise it’s coming soon! If you’d like to be notified when it’s available, follow this blog by clicking on the “Follow Matthew R. Baker” button on the right side of this page (or the bottom if you’re viewing on mobile) or join my email list, where you will also receive access to free bonus content from How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t.

Enjoy!

Want a Free Book about Computers?

It’s here! This weekend is your chance to snag a free Kindle copy of my new book How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t.

All you need to do is click the button below!

How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t will be available for free through Saturday (February 2). Be sure to claim your copy and share this deal with your friends before it expires.

You can also sign up for my email list to gain access to the book’s bonus content and stay in the loop on future books and sales (I expect both in the near future!). I promise you no spam!

For those who prefer a hard copy, I’m working on getting the paperback version published and will have it available very soon. You too can sign up for my email list to be notified when it’s available.

It’s my hope that this book will help you understand more about computers, how they work, and how to work with them when they aren’t working with you. If you have friends or family who would benefit from this book (think of the tech-challenged people in your life!), please share this with them so they too can grab their free copies.

Thank you, and enjoy!

My First Book is Going Live (and Free)!

Steve Jobs once famously said, “Real artists ship.” What he meant was that any artist, be that a painter or a writer or a software developer, must put aside perfectionism and put their work out into the world.

I have finally shipped. How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t is the product of over two months of writing, editing, and content-gathering preceded by a life of tinkering with technology.

This book is written for all users, but particularly for those who have trouble using or understanding computers. I’ve taken the technical knowledge of computers and translated it into simple English so everyone can understand what makes a computer tick. I’ve also distilled what I’ve learned from years of repairing and troubleshooting computers into The Seven Principles of Solving Problems that can be applied to any technical issue. In addition, I’ve provided guides with easy things you can do to keep your computer running smoothly and speedily, as well as things you should do if it’s not. Finally, I included a reference guide for buying a computer so that you can acquire exactly what you need without breaking the bank.

If all this sounds interesting to you, it gets better. I’m offering the Kindle version of How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t for free this weekend. When you sign up for my email list, you’ll receive an email with a link to the book on Amazon when the deal goes live.

For those who prefer a hard copy, I’m working on getting the paperback version published and will have it available very soon. You too can sign up for my email list to be notified when it’s available.

If you’d like to read more about How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t, head over to my book page. And be sure to sign up for my email list so you can be notified when the book goes live plus additional bonus content!

It’s my hope that this book will help you understand more about computers, how they work, and how to work with them when they aren’t working with you. If you have friends or family who would benefit from this book (think of the tech-challenged people in your life!), please share this with them so they too can grab their free copies.

Thank you, and enjoy!

On Mathoms

This past week I finished J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece The Hobbit and launched myself full-steam-ahead into The Lord of the Rings. In rereading Tolkien’s works, I was reminded of why hobbits are some of my favorite fictional beings. For one, they all know how to have a good time and throw great parties (as Bilbo did when he turned eleventy-one). For another, they give presents on their birthdays, rather than receive them. And, of course, while their diets may not be very conducive to low cholesterol and slim waistlines, I don’t know too many people who scoff at the idea of a second breakfast every day, or dinner followed by supper a couple hours later.

In reading the Prologue to The Fellowship of the Ring, something Tolkien wrote about hobbits struck me. They have a name for something they don’t need but don’t want to get rid of: a mathom.

…for anything that Hobbits had no immediate use for, but were unwilling to throw away, they called a mathom. Their dwellings were apt to become rather crowded with mathoms, and many of the presents that passed from hand to hand were of that sort.

All my life I’ve been searching for that word, mathom. Formerly, I called mathoms stuff or junk, whether they were my own or someone else’s. The words stuff and junk make the possessions in question sound like they are completely useless. Now I realize that mathoms are neither stuff nor junk; instead, they are things that serve a useful purpose and were once needed, but are needed no more.

In the context of Tolkien’s epic, long before the days of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins the hobbits had needed armor and sword for repelling Orc invasions. As time wore on, the Orcs stopped invading, and the hobbits lived comfortable lives free of danger. They no longer needed their arms, so they kept them as trophies or gave them to a museum called the Mathom-house. It was not that the weapons and shields were useless, but that they were no longer needed by everyday hobbits in everyday life.

When you think about it, many of the things we own are mathoms. We buy things and use them for a while because we really do need them, and then we hold on to them long after they have served their purposes. They’re not useless, but they have become useless to us. Regardless, we still hold on to them for any number of reasons, from sentimentality to the reasoning that we’ll need them again someday.

While I don’t have any formal resolutions for the new year, I aim to do two things this year: One, I will not accumulate any more mathoms, and two, I will start getting rid of the mathoms I already have.

It doesn’t take long for me to start identifying some of my mathoms: shirts and jackets hanging in my closet that I haven’t worn in over a year, a broken guitar amplifier serving primarily as a footstool, books on my shelf I’ll never read again. I identified these in about two minutes.

It’s tough to get rid of some of these things. I believe one of man’s wonts is to not let things go, whether material or otherwise. We humans may not be hoarders, but we’re not easily unattached from things that we own.

Nevertheless, there’s a good feeling when one lets go. Last week alone, I gave the unused shirts and jackets to Mission Arlington (a local charity), the guitar amp to a friend, and sold the books to Half-Price Books. It feels good knowing that some young man in need will have black dress clothes to wear, that my friend will have an electrical project and potentially a great amp, and that someone else might read the books I’ve already enjoyed. No use keeping those things around just to collect dust.

I know firsthand that giving a mathom a new home makes me happier than I would be if I held on to it. I believe that when you have less, you have more. Less matter, more of what matters.

From a biblical perspective, we should all remember the words of Job: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return” (Job 1:21a, ESV). Solomon, the wisest man the world has ever known, reiterates this as he nears the end of his life: “As [a man] came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand” (Ecclesiastes 5:15, ESV).

In the end, we will leave behind the mathoms we’ve held on to for all our lives. Someone else will inherit them, for better or worse. We Westerners tend to accumulate but tend not to let go while we’re living. Though we don’t like to think about it, we should face reality and remember that we’ll have to let our mathoms and everything else go at some point.

I intend to rid myself of as many mathoms as possible this year. It’s not going to be easy in some cases, but I know I’ll be better off for it and be helping other people by giving away what I no longer need. It’s my hope that this inspires you to start identifying mathoms in your own life and find ways to make them mathoms no more.

How to Read More Books This Year

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I’ll admit, I underestimated the number of books I would read last year. With a full-time job and other things going on, I figured I’d be lucky if I read a book or two a month. Instead, I read forty-eight, which averages to roughly one book per American work week. One of those forty-eight was Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which can double as a doorstop (or dumbbell).

I’ve never resolved to read more books in a year. I just resolve to keep reading a little bit every day that I can. Last year, I learned a few things that, for me, improved my reading and maximized my time spent turning pages. If you have a goal to read more books this year, try these techniques out and see if they help you.

Set a Goal for the Year

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I started this year by reviewing the books I read last year and when I read them. I’ve said it before, I’m no statistician, but I do like me some data. I keep a spreadsheet in which I record all the books I’ve read and when I completed them. When I complete a book, I jot down my thoughts about it, including whether I would read it again someday.

In this spreadsheet, I also make a list of the books I’d like to read in the current year. I list them out and give them a reading order, which is like a reading priority. For example, this year one of my reading priorities is to re-read Tolkien’s works, including The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Another is to read more of Craig Johnson’s Longmire mysteries.

If you want to read more books this year, the first thing you need to do is list out some of the books you want to read. It doesn’t have to be a comprehensive list, but you should at least get something down on paper (or screen) that you can hold yourself to. As you do this, ask yourself, “Which books do I absolutely want to read this year?” Those books should come first, so number them accordingly.

In my spreadsheet, The Hobbit is currently number one, followed by Johnson’s Death Without Company and then some other books interleaved with The Lord of the Rings trilogy. As I read, I’ll cross books off the list and move on to the next ones. I give myself enough flexibility to re-order the list if I change my mind on what I want to read, but I rarely move something from the very bottom up to the top.

Break Down Your Year-Long Goal

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One problem with New Year’s Resolutions is that they’re so big. Another problem is that they’re often too generic. “I resolve to lose a lot of weight this year” is no good because it sounds too lofty and doesn’t have a measurable goal: What’s considered “a lot”? Ten pounds? Twenty? Fifty?

To combat this, regardless of goal or resolution, give a goal a measurable value and break it down into several smaller, manageable, achievable goals. In the weight-loss example, “I resolve to lose fifty pounds this year” would be a good resolution, and then “I resolve to lose four pounds per month” and perhaps even “I resolve to lose one pound per week.”

Books are a little different. Not all books are the same length. Some are harder to read than others. People have different preferences and attention spans, making a book that’s a breeze for one person to read a chore for someone else.

My solution to this is to set a daily reading goal. For some people, this may be ten pages per day. For others, it may be twenty, or thirty, or even fifty.

Think about how many books you could read if you read just ten pages per day. If you read three-hundred days out of the year, that’s three-thousand pages read in a year, which I estimate to be about ten books a year. If you read twenty pages per day, that’s six-thousand pages read in a year—twenty books.

If you give yourself a daily reading goal and carve out the time to achieve it, you’ll realize two things: One, you’ll be surprised when that pile of books to read starts shrinking; two, you’ll often read more than your daily goal, propelling yourself further down your reading list.

Vary Goals Depending on the Book

I alluded to this above because I think it’s important to remember that not all books are created equal, and therefore cannot all be read the same way. It’s going to take a lot more time to read a chemistry textbook than it is an Agatha Christie mystery.

One of the first things I do when I pick up a book is count the number of chapters or pages. If the book has a table of contents, I’ll examine the average chapter length and try to knock one or two out per day depending on the page count for each. If the book doesn’t have a table of contents, I’ll flip to the last page (without spoiling the ending!) and get the final page count. With that information, I’ll set myself a daily goal for reading that specific book.

For example, last year I read Tolstoy’s epic War and Peace for the first time. I learned two things before I even started the book: First, Tolstoy breaks the big book into smaller books; second, the whole book has 365 chapters. It was a perfect goal-setting book because I realized that I could read the whole thing in one year if I only dedicated ten minutes a day to one chapter. (You should too!)

I usually start a book with a goal in mind and, based on how quickly or slowly I can move through the text, modify my goal based on that. If it takes me fifteen minutes to read just five pages, then I’m probably not going to adhere to a ten-page-per-day rule. On the other hand, if I find that I’m breezing through the book and that I’ve covered fifty pages in thirty minutes, then I’ll probably aim to read more than just ten pages.

Read More Than One Book at a Time

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This sounds counter-intuitive, but I’ve found that it works really well for me, and others have reported the same. Reading more than one book at a time allows you to flip between books based on where you are at any particular moment, how you feel at any particular time, how much time you have to read, and any number of other factors.

I used to be a one-book-at-a-time guy and found that sometimes I just didn’t want to read the book I was working on, even if it was a really good book. I wanted to read, but wasn’t in the mood for that particular book. That’s a perfect reason to have two or three books going on at the same time: If you don’t feel like reading one, but you want to meet your daily goal, grab another!

The key to doing this is to make sure that no book gets left behind. If I were to put down The Hobbit in favor of finishing Death Without Company, I would make sure I finished (or at least made good progress on) The Hobbit before I picked up another book.

This strategy also works well because it allows you to check easy reads off your list and feel a sense of accomplishment while still working through some of the more erudite or obtuse ones. Reading should be fun, not a chore! If it’s not fun, try reading something else for a bit!

Don’t Be Afraid to Quit a Book

I know this appears to contrast what I just wrote about not leaving a book behind, but if you pick up a book and you’re just not getting into it, don’t be afraid to put it down for good and move on to something else. As I just mentioned, reading should be fun, and if you’re not enjoying it, you need to change what you’re doing so that you can.

I’ll be honest and say that I don’t quit too many books. I like to think I have a pretty good sense of whether I’ll like a book before I even pick it up. (I judge a book by both covers!) James Joyce once said, “Life is too short to read a bad book,” and I take those words to heart.

The last book I remember quitting was The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. In a German literature class in college, we had just finished reading Goethe’s play Faust and our stand-in Professorin raved about how great The Master and Margarita was because it was so similar to Faust and took the story to a deeper level (or something like that). I bought the novel out of curiosity and worked my way through several chapters before thinking, “What the heck am I reading?” I put Bulgakov’s book on the shelf and there it sits today. I may give it another go this year, but if I can’t enjoy it enough to finish it, I’ll sell it and move on to something else.

You must do the same thing whenever you’re reading for pleasure. Just because a book comes highly-recommended doesn’t mean that you’ll enjoy it, or even that it’s worth reading in the first place. If someone asks you what you thought about it, you can at least tell them, “I started it, but it just wasn’t working for me, so I stopped.” There’s no shame in that.

How to Maximize Your Reading Time

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With any goal that anyone sets out to achieve, there is always the issue of time. “I don’t have enough time to exercise!” or “I just don’t have any time to read!” are common excuses for not moving towards a goal.

The thing about time is that we’re all blessed with the same amount of time each day. Rich or poor, wise or foolish, God gives us all the same number of minutes that we must spend. Sadly, many of us squander our time on frivolous things and then look back on the day (or month, or year) with regret that we didn’t spend our time more wisely.

I could write a whole essay on time (maybe I will, so stay tuned!), but suffice it to say that you do have the time to read, but more than likely you’ll need to sacrifice something else in order to get it. This is the economic principle of opportunity cost, or “the next best alternative.”

If you have to make the choice between spending fifteen minutes on Facebook or fifteen minutes in a real book, the opportunity cost is what you lose by choosing one over the other. (And to quote the great Neil Peart, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” Remember that!) If you choose Facebook, the opportunity cost might be ten pages. If you choose the real book, the opportunity cost might be missing your friend’s engagement pictures (like I did… oops!).

While I certainly think that fifteen minutes spent reading pages is better than fifteen minutes spent reading statuses, you have to set your own priorities and determine for yourself how you’re going to manage your time if you want to meet your reading goals. You have to be somewhat ruthless: Find the little bits of extra time in nooks and crannies, store them up, and guard them like a mother bear guards her cubs! If you have a few minutes during your lunch break to read, find a quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed and escape into your book! If you have a half hour to yourself before your spouse or child gets home, seize it!

Environment also plays a role into your reading time. You might have a solid thirty minutes carved out just for reading, but you find yourself tempted to turn on the TV because you’re reading in your living room , or you start to get sleepy because you’re reading in bed. You may have the quantity of time, but you need to go someplace where you can focus and maximize the quality of your time.

I have to be someplace quiet and relatively isolated because, to me, other people are distractions when I’m reading. I can’t read in the den when my brother is playing video games or watching a movie. I also can’t read in a public place where people are constantly passing by. You might be the exact opposite and hate reading in quiet isolation, and that’s fine. You have to find an environment that works for you, and get your reading done there.

Finally, consider the handiness that an e-reader or an app like Kindle on your phone or tablet provides. You can read on-the-go without carrying a hard copy around (though there’s no replacement for physical pages).

I have several books loaded on my Kindle, which I carry with me almost wherever I go, and read when I have snatches of time. I don’t like to read on my phone, but I’ve found that it’s not too bad for reading non-fiction genres. (For fiction, I prefer a real book or the Kindle.)

A bonus of having a Kindle or the Kindle app is that there are many free or very inexpensive e-books available. Many older works (“the classics”) are in the public domain and can be downloaded for free from sites like Project Gutenberg, while many other great reads are available under $5. If you watch the deals and buy when e-books go on sale (BookBub is a great way to do this), you can build a pretty impressive digital library without breaking the bank at all!

Start Now!

What are you waiting for? Pick up that book you’ve been wanting to read and get started! Whether you take all the tips in this article or just a few (or none at all, and I’m not offended if that’s the case), just start reading. Read for pleasure and enlightenment, and figure out what works best for you.

That’s all for now. I’ve got a page-turner that’s calling my name.

Trip Report: Petit Jean State Park

Nothing like big rocks to make you feel small.

As far back as June, my family was already thinking about a Christmas vacation. Our last vacation was to the Texas Hill Country in August 2017, and for reasons I won’t get into our last vacation prior to that was in June 2013. As I mentioned in 2018: The Year in Review, 2018 was transitory not only for me but also for my whole family, so we didn’t have an opportunity to travel at all until after Christmas.

A few ideas were tossed out: Washington, D.C. Memphis, TN. Head south to a beach somewhere. (Being Texans, we didn’t really want to go north into the cold!)

We quickly decided that D.C. would make a better spring or summer trip, and also that most everyone else would be heading to a beach this time of year. With those narrowed down, it sounded like we were going to Memphis.

One of the main drivers for going to Memphis was Graceland, Elvis’s home there. Mom’s a big Elvis fan and wants to tour the house someday, and the fact that it would be decorated for Christmas made it more tantalizing to visit. Instead of listening to Elvis along the way (something we did on another family road trip!), Daniel and I joked about annoying Mom and Dad by playing Paul Simon’s Graceland album the whole way there.

Unfortunately, Mom decided that, aside from Graceland, there wasn’t much else we’d want to do in Memphis. Visiting a few blues bars and checking out Sun Records (Elvis’s record label) would be cool, but that was about it.

So, since we would be driving through the state or Arkansas to get to Tennessee, Mom started researching what we could do in The Natural State. She found Petit Jean State Park, booked two rooms in the park lodge (one for her and Dad, one for me and Daniel), and then told us about it.

Thankfully, we were all on board with the idea. A few days of hiking through the mountains and warming up by the lodge fire sounded pretty sweet. (Way to be proactive, Mom!)

Cedar Creek running through Petit Jean State Park.

Petit Jean is about an hour northwest of Little Rock, two hours east of Fort Smith, and just under six hours northeast of DFW. It’s also just north of the Ouachita National Forest, which we drove through to get there. The nearest “big” town is Morrilton, about twenty minutes away. It has both a Kroger and a Wal-Mart. (You’re never too far away from twenty-first century necessities when you need them.)

After opening presents on Christmas morning, we packed our bags that afternoon and left the following day. The drive, with stops, took about six-and-a-half hours, and would have taken longer had we stopped more than twice. We arrived just before sundown, so we had enough light to see where we were going on the winding two-lane roads up the mountain to the park.

We checked in at the Mather Lodge lobby, stopped by our cozy log cabin-style rooms to drop our gear off, and then ate dinner in the lodge dining room. We had the best seat in the house: Our table sat right before a panoramic window that looked out over the canyon and towards other mountains in the distance. We watched the sun set and twilight diminish as we noshed on hamburgers and quesadillas while marveling at the Canadian ponderosa pine fittings of the lodge.

The view from Mather Lodge in the daytime.

The dinner menu also explained to me (the ever curious one) the origin of the name Petit Jean. Legend has it that a French explorer was going to leave his young fiancée to explore the Louisiana Territory (then called New France or La Louisiane française) in the eighteenth century. His fiancée didn’t want him to leave her, so she cut her hair short, disguised herself as a boy, and joined the voyage. The other voyagers nicknamed her “Petit Jean,” or “Little John” in English. Unfortunately, as they explored the Arkansas River Valley and established relations with the Native American tribe in the area, Petit Jean fell ill. As the explorer and his crew tried to aid her, they quickly discovered who she really was. She knew she would die soon, so she wanted to be buried atop one of the nearby high points where they had stood and looked out over the New World. When she passed away, her fiancé, his crew, and the tribe honored her request, and now, over two-hundred years later, the park bears her nickname.

It’s a tragic story, for sure, but is it true? I don’t know, but there is an overlook where you can view what people believe to be Petit Jean’s gravesite. Apparently a later explorer found a marker-like cluster of rocks that could only have been made by human hands, and appeared to corroborate the story. I’d like to believe that the tale is true, and that Petit Jean was the best little déguisuse this side of the Mississippi.

Petit Jean’s grave, now gated.

We spent the next three days hiking Petit Jean and exploring the vicinity nearby. Daniel and I hiked ten miles in three days, while Mom and Dad hiked just over eight. (There was a two-mile trail Daniel and I wanted to do that our parents didn’t, which accounts for the difference.) All the trails were excellent, but by far the most rewarding, and most popular, was the Cedar Falls trail to, well, Cedar Falls.

Cedar Falls from above…
…and below.

We also visited the nearby Museum of Automobiles, which housed a cool collection of classic cars, including one of Elvis’s Fords, one of JFK’s presidential Lincolns, and a DeLorean with under two-thousand miles on the odometer. This museum was not something I’d expect to find in rural Arkansas, but there it was, and it was totally worth visiting!

The King’s Ford…
…the President’s Lincoln…
…and the DeLorean.

One evening, we ventured into Morrilton to try something different for dinner, rather than eating the lodge food again (which, don’t get me wrong, was excellent). We stopped at the highly-recommended Ortega’s for Mexican food, where I had the best and biggest portion of carne asada ever. Since we were there at night, though, we didn’t get to see much else of the town, but I hear it has some pretty, antiquated churches there that are worth checking out.

After hiking up and down hills and clambering over rocks all day, we enjoyed our evenings by the communal fireplace. We met people from all over the place: Arkansans (obviously), Missourians, Marylanders, Wisconsinites, and quite a few fellow Texans. I spent my time reading No Traveller Returns by Louis L’Amour, a book Mom gave me for Christmas, and one published posthumously by L’Amour’s son, Beau. Daniel and I also finished a five-hundred-piece puzzle of a country church in New England that someone had started before us. (When I say “finished,” I mean we put together all the pieces we had. There were about ten missing, but we called it a victory regardless.)

Despite temperatures in the thirties and forties, the cold didn’t really bother us. We came prepared, and found that we all enjoyed hiking in colder conditions than we do in warmer ones (because you don’t sweat as much in the cold!). Your body learns to adapt to the conditions and, as long as you keep moving, generates its own heat to keep you warm. It’s still crucial to stay hydrated, obviously.

The Natural Bridge, and Daniel climbing up.

We played in the mountains in Petit Jean for three days and all agreed that it was the perfect amount of time for everything we wanted to do. Even though we were ready to do something else, we hated to pack up and return home.

A small waterfall in The Grotto, something you have to deviate from the standard trail to get to. It was a detour that was completely worth it.

We will never forget our experiences in Petit Jean and hope to return one day. We found a handful of other places in the Arkansas River Valley and in the Ozarks that we hope to visit in the near future, including Mount Magazine, Mount Nebo, Devil’s Den, and the Buffalo River Valley.

Most importantly, we spent time together as a family, away from home, and in the great outdoors. We made great memories that we’ll never forget. That’s what travel should be all about: having unique experiences with those you love that you can cherish forever.

Big rocks and small passageways make for a grand adventure.

2018: The Year in Review

Today is the last day of the year, a day I usually spend taking stock of what I did over the duration of the year. 2018 was a year of transition, discovery, and personal development for me: transition, because I finished college and am now living in “the real world” to some extent; discovery, because I’ve realized more about myself and what I want (and most importantly, don’t want) out of life; and personal development, because I’ve learned a lot about a wide variety of things and am starting to make changes in how I live.

I’m not a statistician, but I like statistics. I use them to look back on the year and see how far I’ve come and what I’ve done. Here are some stats to summarize my 2018:

  • Where I started the year: Kansas City, Missouri
  • Where I will end the year: Arlington, Texas
  • Approximately 6,000 miles traveled on trips
  • 29 full days spent away from home
  • 48 books read
  • 360 podcast episodes listened to
  • Approximately 100,000 words written
  • 1 musical instrument built (a fretless bass guitar)
  • 1 vehicle purchased (a Ford F-150)
  • Estimated 949,000 calories consumed (assuming average of 2,600 calories/day)
  • Estimated 3,000 push-ups performed (of different varieties)
  • Estimated 2,000 pull-ups performed
  • Approximately 15 miles hiked
  • 365 days seized

A few weeks ago, I looked back and thought 2018 was a less-than-stellar year, especially in contrast to 2017, which I believe to be the best year of my life thus far. However, looking back now, and in light of these numbers, 2018 was a pretty good year. By good, I mean it was productive, enlightening, and somewhat adventurous.

What would have made the year better? It’s hard to say. A transitionary year such as this one sets me up for a new year that hopefully provides new and better opportunities for career and travel. I’ve learned from some mistakes and misfires of 2018 and don’t plan to repeat them in 2019. I’ve got a few new hobbies I’m hoping to explore, and some books I plan to write and publish. My brother and I may also (finally) release some music for the world to hear.

Spiritually-speaking, one goal in 2018 was to read through the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) translation by year’s end. That didn’t quite happen. I’m in the middle of Acts right now and slowly working my way through. I plan to finish the CSB up in the early part of 2019 and then spend the rest of the year doing book or topical studies that I’ve shirked in favor of plowing (ploughing?) through the Bible once per year for the last couple of years. I want to sit and savor God’s Word more than I want to breeze through it.

I won’t be staying up ’til midnight to ring in the new year. Instead, I’ll toast to 2018 with a Boddingtons Pub Ale at dinner, go to bed at my regular time, and enter 2019 feeling well-rested and refreshed.

So long, 2018, and thanks for the memories.

Standing at an overlook in Petit Jean State Park in Arkansas. Photo credit: Drummer Dan.

The Baker Family Christmas Village

Two posts in the same day? Yes, because it’s Christmas, and this one is my gift to you.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved models and miniatures. Now that I’m older, I enjoy not only admiring them but photographing them. It only made sense to do some experimental photography on my family’s Christmas village now that I have a DSLR. Enjoy.

Weihnachten: The German Word for Christmas

If you can’t visit a German Christmas market in Germany, you can at least look at pictures and sip some Glühwein at home.

As a beginner-level German speaker in high school, some of the first phrases I learned were greetings and salutations, such as “Alles gute zum Geburtstag!” (“Happy birthday!”), “Frohe Erntedankfest!” (“Happy Thanksgiving!”, even though Germans don’t celebrate the same holiday we Americans do), and “Frohe Weihnachten!” (“Merry Christmas!”). The cool thing about German is that if you know a few nouns, it’s pretty easy to figure out the longer compound ones. In the examples above, Geburtstag is a combination of the words “birth” and “day” (as is our English equivalent), and Erntedankfest would translate to something like “thankful celebration of the harvest.”

Weihnachten is a little more interesting. The first part of the word comes from the verb weihen, meaning to consecrate, anoint, or sanctify. The second part of the word is similar to the German word for night, die Nacht. So, using some logic and very rudimentary translation skills, we get a translation of Weihnachten as “sacred night.” Or, maybe, just maybe, “holy night.”

But wait, there’s more. The German prefix Weih- means “votive,” which is defined as “offered or consecrated in fulfillment of a vow.”

So, why is the night sacred or holy? Because something was offered to fulfill a vow. What (or who) was offered?

God promised to send the world that rejected Him a savior so that mankind could be reconciled with Him (Isaiah 53). One night, one holy night in a little Judean town called Bethlehem, that savior came. He was Immanuel, “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14): God incarnated in human flesh, born to a virgin. His name is Jesus.

This is not my attempt to preach or theologize, but merely a small exposition of the meaning behind a German word I learned in tenth grade. May we keep the Christ in Christmas and remember that holy night, the night of the fulfilled vow.

I wish you a merry Christmas und ein frohe Weihnachten.