Sep 3rd, 2012

Increase/Decrease

By Nick Robison

He must increase, but I must decrease

-John 3:30 (ESV)

Tonight I worshipped at _University Presbyterian _and watched as the church discovered a ‘new’ song (Beautiful One by Tim Hughes copyright 2004) and experienced a strong move of the spirit. It was awesome (in the truest sense of the word). The pastor spoke out of John and this verse formed the fulcrum of his sermon, as he spoke I wondered to myself (and now I wonder to you) ‘what does it take for someone to to minimize the self for the benefit of another?

This is a question that has moved far beyond the circles of the religious, in fact, it forms a central tenant for John Rawl’s seminal treatise A Theory of Justice

Each person possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of sciety as a whole cannot override.

In other words, there is something within us that refuses to be compromised even for the sake of others. But is this really a bad thing? It’s something so primal and basic that it is litteraly coded into the adrenergic receptors of the human body, the so called ‘fight or flight’ response, but as much as it’s primal it is also barbaric, human society has been the cumulative struggle to surpress the animalistic in favor of a higher social order, which is of course, a good thing.

But it has its limits, socialist theory works to remove the sense of the self, the sense of ownership in favor of collective rights, in favor of a society where the individual is fully subjected to the will of the community. While on the surface a noble goal it has resulted in complete (or attempted) suppression of the individual (complete selflessness) this has in fact not made a more ‘human’ culture but one devoid of that which separates us from the animals. The outworking of this as been ‘lost years’ for societies and a crumbling economic system that masks a deeper thread of social collapse and moral poverty (for a more detailed look enjoy Chapter 6 of Allan Greenspan’s The Age of Turbulence).

As Christians we should also be aware of the dangers of collectivism and blind ‘selflessness’, our selves are in fact something special, something to be protected and cherished.

Whoever sheds the blood of man,

by man shall his blood be shed,

for God made man in his own image.

– Genesis 9:6 (ESV)

Being made in the image of God has far greater implications then we perhaps realize, consider the greatest commandments:

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

– Mark 12:30-31 (ESV)

Here the phase ‘as yourself’ is often overlooked, we are called to love others to the same measure that we love ourself, which for some (myself included) is still a momentous task. Still, the theme continues, our selves are something worth loving, something worth preserving.

By this point there are probably a few people who are quite miffed with what I’ve written so far. ‘Bollox! We are to be selfless in our love, just as Christ was’ ‘You’re just building an abstract argument in order to justify your own self preservation and success!’ To which I reply, I agree with you, it’s a paradox, because we are called to be both selfish (to borrow a phrase of Ayn Rand, which means to be full of self) and selfless (in the biblical sense of putting others first), so how do we do this?

The traditional answer has been to force submission either by social guilt or social contract, neither of which has proven to be particularly effective. I submit to you that society’s failure to compel selflessness has been because it has a tremendous history of abusing that sort of sacrifice or trust. Socialism destroyed the individual identity because it was unable to handle the complexities of the human nature, utopian communities abused the voluntary communitarianism by forcing individuals to go beyond what they wished, they   fractured the traditional social bonds that always seem such a nuisance to social reformers, yet never seem to be overcome. Through this we’ve arrived with a society in which people can at times perform selfless acts, but as whole seem unable to become something greater. True, oikos (to borrow the term) has long been an illusion.

But it seems to me, that if there was some higher power, some binding force that could be a trustworthy guardian of sacrifice, some commonality that bound people not only to it but also to each other, something that promised to value the individual along with the community and could compel even greater levels of self sacrifice without violating trust, well dear friends, that might just be something.

When discussing selflessness invariably the conversation turns to the parental bond (though again, social reform has historically taken a battering ram to the familial structure, but I digress) it seems the ideal relationship is one of mother/child, father/child, parents who would sacrifice everything for their child, who would risk it all for their safety and success, that is the ideal social picture, if we all felt that way towards others, the world would be a much nicer place. The problem has always been exporting that time of bond to society as a whole but what we’ve found is that this type of relationship is driven merely by genetics or social placement, but my love. True love, deep love, is what compels sacrifice, when push comes to shove, we as humans will always react stronger to those we love then to others, it may not be ideal, but it’s a fact of life, and one that I’m afraid is unlikely to change in the near term.

There is; however, another answer.

Too late loved I thee, Oh thou Beauty of ancient days, yet ever new! too late have I loved thee!

– St. Augustine ‘Confessions’

The answer to the hatred of the world, to the selfish society is complete, loving surrender to the Almighty God. In him we find love, love that compels us to follow, that compels us to worship, and compels us to die to the sinful flesh, to become ever new in him.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

– Galatians 2:20 (ESV)

Only in Christ can we find complete surrender of ourselves and not lose that image of the divine, because only in Christ are we fully known.

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,

and before you were born I consecrated you;

I appointed you a prophet to the nations.

– Jeremiah 1:5

Only in Christ can we find that surrender does not absolve us of our uniqueness, for in Christ we are not called to the generic ‘betterment of humanity’, but to a unique and purposeful life.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

– Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)

And so we arrive by the long path to this simple statement, the love and beauty of Christ compels us to surrender our selves for his glory. Only here do we find the answer we’ve been searching. The world has tried to create a counterfeit ideal, one where man is pitted against himself in an unending struggle to be better then he is (the proverbial ‘pulling one’s self up by one’s bootstraps’), he alone, by his own power, a trial that is destined to fail (if it’s even begun).

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

– Matthew 11:29 (ESV)

The promise of rest, the promise of purpose, the promise of unviolated love, that is what Christ offers, and that is the hope that is in the world. Society requires sacrifice, but only through Christ can this sacrifice be made complete.

He must increase, but I must decrease

-John 3:30 (ESV)


Aug 30th, 2012

Seattle

By Nick Robison

It seems appropriate to start off this new blogging season in a new city with an obligatory photo of the Space Needle, which has the joint purpose of both giving a visual overview of the area in which I now live and inspiring begrudging jealousy from those who are not party to such a landscape. Thus:

Be jealous all you from afar.
www.charter-private-jet.com

With that out of the way… no wait, one more:

Microsoft Atrium in the Paul G. Allen Building
www.wjcengineers.com

The Microsoft Atrium in the _Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science and Electrical Engineering _where I am currently enjoying a coffee, scone, and some riveting discussions on using the new AMD APUs to drive 6 Kinect cameras in a joint surgery/underwater exploration project to do some sort of advanced motion tracking. These are my people.

It’s been just over 2 weeks since I rolled up with the 3 best friends that anyone ever had, in Deer Bane, loaded down to the point of damaging the suspension. It’s been a great couple of weeks that alternated between sheer terror and utter boredom, along the way I’ve learned a few things that should make the future much more pleasant:

  1. The Walmart in Renton is the definition of rachet (thanks Daniel for that new phrase), imagine a dark, dingy maze designed to reward rats for their cleverness, but instead of cheese what awaits you is the equivalent of a mosh pit with 500 of your not closest friends.

  2. An effective way to earn money is to sit on the side of the street with a sign hung by a string on a pole that says ‘Fishing for Beer Money’.

  3. Some cities, in lieu of roosters, wake up their neighbors via a young man walking down the street shouting ‘F*\** you! F*** you, you stupid B****!’ at the top of his lungs. It’s actually quite effective.

  4. The amount of food required by 1 person is significantly less then the amount required by 7, especially if 1/7th of the consumers are Nathaniel Robison. Thus, opening the fridge should not automatically result in the thought ‘Oh no, I have no food’, though it often does.

  5. Comcast is evil. (But you already knew that)

  6. The hospital shuttle busses will take you downtown for free, it saves $4.75/trip and only adds 4 miles of walking.

  7. Life is a lot quieter then I’d previous believed, which is probably the result of living with the Robisons for all those years and my time at Fairway.

  8. Old apartments have bugs, though I’m still trying to figure out the optimum spider-to-termite ratio.

  9. In a small apartment not setting off the smoke detector is nigh impossible, even with the overhead fan on, especially if the chef is myself.

  10. Refusing to stock non-local, non-organic food in the groceries and charging $0.05 per paper bag may be a sign of a socialist revolution, but it enables me to have immense moral superiority over the ignorant masses. ‘Wait, you still use paper bags? Philistine.’

  11. Seattle Churches are currently suffering from a dearth of qualified drummers.

  12. Sometimes streets are actually stairs, and that’s ok.

  13. You can freeze milk.

  14. Libraries are awesome, especially when you have many hours in the day with which to read. Though, Purdue’s libraries seem to be far superior.

  15. Going from a place where you are known and where you have purpose to a place where you are unknown and trying to establish who you and what you’re called to do is hard. Maybe when the dust settles a little I can expand more on this.

So that’s where I am, I’m starting to establish a routine, find places I like to hang out, and the hidden treasures around me. It’s been a fun process to determine things that I really like to do and things that I’m no a huge fan of (you’d think after 23 years I’d know myself pretty well, but you’d be mistaken). I’m working on using this time to become more open to Christ and to listen to the things he’s trying to teach me. I’ll try and post a few photos of my new habitat, once it becomes picture ready, which may take some time.

I’m off to my office (yes I have an office, in a trailer) to start getting up to speed on some new stuff.

Until next time

www.summitpost.org

(I couldn’t resist)


Mar 19th, 2012

subtle

By Nick Robison

We love the big things in life, flashes of light, explosions of color. We love setting fire to the rain and catching grenades. Love is running through the rain to a Snow Patrol soundtrack, massive heartbreak and untamed passion. Life is about the stories that make people cry, shakes them out of their slumber and propels them to greatness. But what about the in between? What about the times when love comes and goes and leaves only ambivalence, what about the trips where the sky stays closed and the days are slow? Are those the times we miss out on truly being human? Are we somehow removed from the great journey of life?

Sometimes I think we go through life waiting so desperately for the world to shake and turn upside, to us, that is authentic. Then I’m reminded of the story of Elijah (1 Kings 19), we’ve heard it a hundred times, but notice a key phrase:

a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.

1 Kings 19:11 ESV (emphasis added)

The wind, the fire, the earthquake they were the precursors to the presence, they signaled the coming of the glory

…And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.

1 Kings 19:12

and the glory was manifest in a whisper. Not everyday is filled with traditional ‘miracles’, divine intervention of the supernatural in way that is startling and majestic, not everyday are the dead raised, the lame healed and the demonized set free. Some days are simply routine, the same as the day before and the day before that, but in spite is this everyday is filled with a promise.

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

Isaiah 30:21

I’m reminded of something we did at my church a couple of years ago, sharing stories of victory and triumph, of dramatic changes that left us in tears and full of hope. It was a powerful and spirit filled morning and I strongly encourage you to watch the video

but I wonder if we need to take it a step further, perhaps there’s another level we’ve been ignoring. We all have stories of victory in the small things, of guidance in the minutia, of times when the outcomes are simple and seem to have no real purpose, maybe we should be sharing the times when instead of the earthquakes the simple voice ‘this is the way, walk in it.’ Because isn’t that in itself miraculous? The idea that the God of the Universe, Yahweh of Armies, the cloud-rider himself would concern himself with us and our everyday humdrum existences to the extent that he desires to complete in us a great work, to make us more like his son, holy and without blemish.


Mar 3rd, 2012

Skole

By Nick Robison

The last couple of days I’ve had the opportunity to spend some time in Danish elementary schools, helping with English and teaching ‘Merica. It’s been a quite enjoyable experience and I thought I’d share some of the highlights with you.

Tølløse

On Wednesday I spent the day with my host brother Oliver at his school in Tølløse [Tooloosa], a very small town about 15 minutes from Holbæk. He goes to a smaller school, only 8 boys (no girls) in his class and they’ve been together for a number of years with the same teachers. In Denmark it’s common for at least 1 teacher to move with the class as they get older, that’s pretty cool, provided you like the teacher you get! We started the day with some introductions in which they had to tell me all about themselves (in English, of course). I quickly determined a common thread between the boys, they all LOVE computer games, and they all love the same games, and they all really what to know what games I like. So as you can see, Danish 14 year olds aren’t all that different from American 14 year olds. In continued deference to being 14 about 30 minutes after we started the kids were released to play football for about 30 minutes (I wish I’d had this school as a kid).  Of course the ‘American’ played, or tried to play, and actually scored a beautiful goal to tie the game (which was untied just moments later). After football we came back and sang both the Danish and American national anthems, you should be proud of me, I knew almost the complete history of the flag and the anthem (which the Danes couldn’t match) and I even walked them through the wording so they could grasp the full meaning of every word.  Patriotism aside we settled in for a marathon hour long interrogation session where the Danes asked me everything from ‘What’s your favorite fast food chain’, to ‘Do you think Denmark should be a republic’ and ‘Has religion ever caused problems in your country?’. Surprisingly, the question I got most often was ‘Have you ever seen an alligator?’. I don’t know why.

On Wednesdays the kids get to leave school and go buy their lunch from around town, but they can’t come back into the school with junk food like soda or cake (take note America), so at noon we trekked around town to the local butcher shop to buy fresh turkey and bacon sandwiches, they were incredible. The kids really enjoy being able to buy their own lunches and it’s funny to see all the things they come home with.

The rest of the day had all other classes canceled and more ‘ask the tourist’ sessions in which I fielded questions like a pro. Possibly the highlight of my day was right before school ended and the class went into the gym to play a game called ‘stick ball’, which they invented, it’s like a cross between handball and dodge ball, but much faster paced. I almost won.

København

Thursday I went with a group of DIS students to school in one of the suburbs (I have no idea where it was or how you spell the name). There was a group of about 6 of us, 3 from the east coast, one from the south, one from the west and me in the middle. This school was a lot more traditional with classes of about 25 and fully co-ed. For this group we spent the first hour in a panel discussion and then broke out into small groups of 2-3 danes each. The panel was pretty fun, everyone brought a unique perspective to the discussion and even had some things to ask to the class. After the panel we split into groups and I ended up with a very, very quite team of 2 boys and 1 girl. It was like pulling hair to get those kids to talk, but I tried for the most part we had some good chats, although, they’re not totally to blame the class as a whole wasn’t as engaged as Oliver’s group.

One of the things that struck me was how connected the teacher was with the class, they address her by her first name (which is pretty common in Denmark) and when the conversation turned to underage drinking (as it often does) she asserted that she knew which kids in her class were drinking and even what they’re drinking. I don’t think any of my teachers back in the states could say that.

I really enjoy doing things like that, I think I’m a pretty good ambassador, I love talking, teaching, and kids so it’s pretty much a win-win for me. Oliver’s school has asked me to come back some week and I think I might just take them up on their offer.

Well, I’m off to dinner, my host parents are entertaining another couple and I have to go make an appearance. Tonight I’m heading down to Copenhagen as I have to been at the airport at 7:30am tomorrow and the trains don’t start running until 8. Lucky me. We’re heading out to Tallinn, Estonia for a couple of days then to Helsinki, Finland. I’m pretty excited about it, we’ve got a pretty good schedule lined up and it should be fun time, although, the weather’s been absolutely beautiful the past couple of weeks, which it won’t be abroad. Bummer.


Feb 22nd, 2012

Syddanmark

By Nick Robison

Well this post has been a long time coming (exactly 2 weeks), it’s been a crazy past couple of days, made even more crazy with my entire host family being on holiday and there being up to 8 people living in our house at any point in time. Excuses aside I’m finally going to catch you up on what’s been happening in Danmark.

At DIS all students are enrolled in a specific ‘core course’, though they’re free to take almost any class they want, each student must declare their primary focus area and complete the core class which includes 2 study tours, a short 3 day one around Denmark, and a longer week long trip abroad. 2 weeks ago my core course (Public Health) toured around ‘western’ Denmark for a couple of days and got a closer look at the national healthcare organization. In addition, we had some fun and sampled a bit of the local culture. I’ll try to give you enough of a taste that you can feel like you actually went along with us! I know, super exciting.

Thursday

****My alarm went off at 4:45am. As we were instructed to be at the buses (yes, in a nation of trains we still took buses) at 7:45 that necessitated my leaving the house at 5:56 prompt. A bus, a train, and a short walk later I was in Frue Plads [like it’s spelled] on a bus with 17 other PH kids (14 girls and 3 guys).

Our first stop was the University Hospital in Odense [Onsa] on the island of Fyn [Fuun] to visit their HIV clinic, which is one of 5 in the Danish system. It was quite interesting to experience HIV treatment in a first world country. Most of my limited experience and education has been with 3rd world cases and emerging problems in Africa and other impoverished area, but in Denmark at least, thing are very different. One of the things they mentioned was that HIV is no longer considered a deadly disease by the government. It’s been relegated to the same level as chronic conditions such as Diabetes and Rheumatoid Arthritis, in Denmark the life expectancy of an HIV patient is roughly comparable to a non-infected person, thus HIV is not of the highest priority anymore. Even though HIV has taken a more ‘pedestrian’ route, care is still provided solely through the University hospitals, no GPs actually prescribe HIV drugs or develop treatment protocols, that is the responsibility of the specialty centers. While this is, at times, inconvenient for the patients it provides tremendous continuity of care and allows them to work directly with specialists from the beginning, not merely if their condition warrants it.  As most of the students in my class have a global health interest this seemed to be the most interesting stop for them, and one they mentioned over and over again.

After the clinic we made our way to Kolding [Kulling] on Jutland [Yuland]. We stopped off for coffee and cake at this little cafe´ where they served the cake with sour cream, which is apparently a very Danish thing to do. I ate it, it wasn’t actually that bad.

After lunch we walked over to Koldinghus one of the old royal residences that has since been converted into museum. One of the really interesting things is that the entire historical collection (which is quite large) is privately owned by multiple parties, nothing is contributed by the state. In addition, the castle has seen many renovations and changes over its long history and when the museum was created the architects chose to fuse the original features with new modern design, which created a really cool blend of old and new. Unfortunately as I my Nikon still wasn’t charged I only had my phone and didn’t really take any photos (the few I did are in the Flickr gallery at the end of the post). I did shoot this panorama from the roof (that was actually closed but since the sign was in Danish we couldn’t read it and thus ignored it).

Panorama from the roof of KoldinghusFor me, the coolest part of the castle was this collection of lamps by the Danish designer Poul Henningsen. Someday, I hope to have one of my very own.

After Kolding we drove (notice a pattern?) to Velje [Veyla] where we met up with a couple of other DIS groups and spent the night in a local hostel. Since the hostel was in the middle of nowhere (Velje is the 4th largest city in Denmark, but I think we were on the outskirts) we spent the entire evening with the other DIS groups and played a large game of apples to apples. I know, it really was that exciting. On the positive side, since there are only 4 guys in my class we got our own room and a much needed break from the rest of our team, the guys are pretty cool and I’m looking forward to our week long trip and spending more time with them.

Friday

Friday morning dawned bright and sunny (but not particularly warm) and after a delicious breakfast (which was WAY better then any hostel food I’ve ever eaten) we drove to the Region Syddanmark [Sudanmark] (now you can actually pronounce the title of this post) offices which house the regional health board and department. The nation is broken into 5 major regions which are responsible for running the hospitals and administering health policy to the 96 local municipalities, the region we were in (Southern Denmark) is also home to the most boring presenter in the history of mankind (actually, not an exaggeration). He made a long presentation about how the region is reducing their hospital from 12 to 5, talked about their funding structure (summary: The national level wants all the power), presented some OECD data showing how the US is terrible at healthcare (I’ll save my comments for another post), and effectively put everyone to sleep. Trust me, if you’d been there…. After his talk he gave us a tour of the building (something we didn’t get at the HIV clinic) which involved us walking down a hallway and seeing how part of the building is getting renovated, and how part of it has already been renovated. On a side note, a lot of people use standing desks here, in fact, employers are mandated to provide their employees with desks that elevate. And if you’re thinking they’d never check to see if employers comply, you’d be wrong, they check, frequently.

After the region we drove to Fredericia [Fredericha], stopping on the way for a delicious lunch (If DIS does one thing right, it’s food) at a local Best Western, for a visit with a General Practitioner. Here in Daneland the GPs form a crucial role in health care as they are the definitive gatekeepers to the entire healthcare system. You can only go to the ER, see a specialist, or get a prescription through your GP, everything works through them and every citizen, either at birth or when they get their CPR number, is assigned a GP that they stay with their entire life. It’s a pretty cool system and it really works to keep costs down, but it’s not the most interesting thing to get a 2 hour lecture on, especially when the GP assumes we’ve never heard of any of this before and covers almost identical material as our classes and previous academic visits. Towards the end of the lecture the GP gave us a tour of his office (which, surprise, looks identical to a GP office in the states, but with less staff) and when the group returned to the conference room I hung back and chatted with another GP for about 15 minutes about their electronic medical system (which I’ll save for another post), that was probably the most interesting and valuable thing I’ve done since arriving here.

After the GP we drove back to Odense where we checked into our hostel for the night (which was really small and the lobby smelled like poop) and headed out to find whatever food we could. We ended up at a classic European restaurant, the kebab shop. It was just as good as I’d remembered it from the summer when my friend and I ate kebabs for lunch 6 days in a row. After dinner we headed to a local jazz club to hear Ibrahim Electric rock one of the best shows I’ve seen in a long time, these guys are phenomenal, check them out on iTunes.

Saturday

Saturday was not like Friday. While the day before was bright, clear, semi-warm, and full of indoor activities, Saturday was the complete opposite, cold, cloudy, and semi-frozen. We spent the morning hoofing around Odense seeing all the places his greatness Hans Christian Anderson frequented. We saw the house he was born, the Church where he was baptized, the Church where we was confirmed, the theater he worked at, the Jewish day school he attended, the reason why he was single his entire life (his bear), and the museum that commemorates all of those places, but in an indoor setting, which we did not partake in because it costs money. On the bright side, the Churches were really old and beautiful and what really struck me was the fact that many of the pulpits were placed in the middle of the sanctuary to symbolize the fact that the pastor was one of the congregation, not above it.

After the tour we made our way to Brandts, the local art museum for a little culture and class. Normally I have a love-hate relationship with Art houses, as I’ve detailed in previous posts; however, this one was pretty cool. My favorite part was actually the section designed for kids, it’s basically all the cool places we dreamed of as children, recreated with lots of soft, bouncy surfaces. The rest of the museum was pretty cool as well, some of the displays I really enjoyed, some of them I wasn’t all the impressed with, but that seems to be standard fare.

Overall I thought the trip was a mixed bag, the kids in my class are pretty cool and while enjoy spending time with them most of them are 2-3 years younger then me (even our program coordinator is 7 months my junior), which means they have different opinions on what constitutes a ‘good time’ (hint: clubs don’t count, in my opinion). That aside, the academic portion of the trip was of less value then I’d hoped, most of the visits covered the same material, and most assumed we had no concept of the basic systems of health so we weren’t able to dig into anything with much substance.

In two weeks my class heads to Finland and Estonia for a week, I’m really looking forward to that, it should be an entertaining and educational experience, and I’ll be sure to tell you all about it when I get back.

****[AFG_gallery id=’2′]


Feb 14th, 2012

Book Review: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

By Nick Robison

I picked up this book after seeing a trailer for the new movie that’s been out in the states but just now opened in Denmark. It looked intriguing and the Allen County libraries had a copy I could borrow for the Kindle (which I, in turn, borrowed from my Mom and may never return) and so I thought I’d give it a shot.

Book CoverWhenever you pick up a book based off a movie trailer it’s pretty much hit or miss. In this case it’s unfortunately a miss. The major premise revolves around George Smiley as he recruited back into ‘The Circus’ to help flush out a Russian mole at the height of the cold war. I’m assuming ‘The Circus’ is MI-6 as the book is set primarily in London, and the surrounding areas, if not I’m totally lost. In some ways the book works backwards, most of the ‘action’ is in the form of personal recounting or reading old files and as the story progresses you and Smiley, together, are gathering the clues and slowly discovering what the circus is and who the mole might be.

That is, however, part of the problem. You’re never given enough background to really understand why it’s so important that they find the mole, why is the circus so great? Why is it worth saving? Why should be interested in these characters? Why is everyone so misshapen? (If you read the book you’ll discover the validity of the last question) While Le Carre´ does an admirable job building a story through non-traditional plots devices he struggles to put together a well paced and compelling tale. Many of the sections of the book felt disjointed and thrown-together and the end result left many loose ends and a sense of waste with the reader, as if the ending wasn’t worth having.

While I’m normally a huge fan of the spy novels and international thrillers (hello Tom Clancy) in this case I was really glad I got the book from the library instead of buying it. To me, it just wasn’t worth it. If you’re looking for some great spy literature, look no further then anything by Tom Clancy like ‘Patriot Games’ or ‘Red Storm Rising’, you won’t be disappointed.

Verdict: Pass


Feb 7th, 2012

Being Healthy

By Nick Robison

For those of you who enjoy the healthier side of foods (I do not count myself among you) my good friend Anna Busenburg is quickly becoming a Lafayette area expert and overnight sensation. If you don’t believe me, watch this video and you’ll agree. I can testify that anything she tells you to cook is amazing. If she didn’t cook healthy foods, I’d probably weigh like 200 pounds.


Feb 7th, 2012

U-Dub

By Nick Robison

This morning (or yesterday depending on where you are in the world) I received an email from The University of Washington informing me that I’d been accepted into the 2012 training cohort for the Biomedical and Health Informatics PhD program. In addition, I was awarded 1 of 4 National Library of Medicine per-doctoral training fellowships, which is a huge honor and provides tuition, health insurance, and a monthly stipend for the first 3 years.

I’ve wanted to go to UW ever since my family first went to Seattle after my sophomore year at Purdue. It’s a fantastic school and home to the number 1 medical school (for clinical medicine) in the US. As a state school it’s primarily focused towards students who live in the NW area (Montana, Oregon, Alaska, etc) but apparently I made the cut. It’s slightly humerous that UC San Diego (also an NLM grant school) didn’t even read my application, they just rejected me after the first round. I don’t know if that says more about them, me, or UW. Hopefully them.

So, unless something drastically changes or Michigan offers me a sweet deal, in August I’ll be moving to the Northwest. To all of you who’ve prayed for me and supported me over the years, thank you. This is a huge step forward and tremendous answer to prayer.

Go Huskies!

University of Washington LogoAlso, just to prove to you how awesome this school really is, I present to you a video of the world’s only stand-up economist, who teaches at UW. Enjoy.


Feb 6th, 2012

Book Review: The Cellist of Sarajevo

By Nick Robison

Since I spend about 2.5 hours on the train each day (not counting the time waiting in the station) I’ve had the chance to do quite a bit of reading. For a change of pace I’ve been reading a lot of fiction and catching up on some popular series and recommendations from people in the past. As part of this blog is to improve my writing skills (which are quite lacking at times) I’ve decided to write reviews of each book that I finish, it may be that you find my writings so compelling that you dash out immediately to pick up a copy or ban the book from your person entirely. Indeed, the pen (or appropriate digital substitute) may be mightier then the sword.

The Cellist of Sarajevo Book Cover

The first book in my reading series is The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway, I found this one based on a recommendation from Paul Randal’s blog. Paul is a legend in the SQL Server community, being the guy who wrote most of the storage engine including the infammous CHECKDB. He also travels more then anyone else I know of and is an extremely avid reader. He mentioned this book and I found it on Amazon (click the image for a direct link) for around $1 so I grabbed it.

That description may in fact be longer then the book itself, which is set in the later parts of the siege of Sarajevo and is a fictional telling of the story of Vedran Smailovic˙ who played his cello everyday at 4pm at the stop where a mortar round killed 22 people in front of a bakery. The book itself only lightly treats on the musician and instead focuses on 3 other people loosely entwined by his actions. The sniper who is assigned to protect him, an old man who works at another bakery, and a young father on his journey to find clean water for his family. Through each of their stories the reader is given a glimpse into a world in which normalcy and safety have been wrenched away. Each character is forced to wrestle with the fact that the world they once knew is no more, and each much come to terms with that meaning individually. A common thread between the characters is the conscious decision to deny the war the chance to take from them their humanity and dignity, whether that means performing in the same square for 22 days, or crossing the same bridge on the way to work in spite of the danger, each character must choose to live inspite of the world around them and no only honor the past, but hope for the future.

While I really enjoyed this book and recommend to most anyone as it’s a quite read and quite engaging, I had a few reservations. It’s important to keep in mind that all characters are fictional and though there really was a cellist whom the book is named after, Galloway’s character is entirely fictional. What this means, in practicality, is that there exists a level at which the thoughts of the characters feel contrived and unnatural. For example, when one character looks across a road the author launches into a 3-4 page description of the vast significance of this action, to him, everything is fraught with meaning, To paraphrase The Postal Service ‘there’s life in everyword, to the extent that it’s absurd,’ While I applaud the author for attempting to bring a dynamic and thought provoking portrait to a piece of history often overlooked in the world of literature, I can’t helping feeling disappointed, perhaps in myself, because honestly, I’m not that deep and thus it feels fake to place deep, insightful, realizations on traumatized characters in a war-zone. Especially when one continues to harp on the exhaustion of all involved. But then again, maybe that’s just me.

That last quibble aside, if you’re looking for an engrossing story that presents a world foreign to many people look no further then Galloway’s latest creation.

Verdict: Read, at some point


Feb 5th, 2012

Roskilde

By Nick Robison

Yesterday I met up with a group of kids from DIS who live with host families within a small radius of me, a few of them I’d met before but most were new faces and as none of them were in my core program it was nice to branch out a bit.

We met in downtown Roskilde [Ross-killa], the main city in our area, and walked through the city center by the Cathedral (the oldest in Denmark) which sits on a pedestrian only street (which seem to be all the rage in Europe) and serves as a central meeting point.

I think it’s important to point how unbelievably cold it was yesterday. The amount of time we spent walking around meant I didn’t regain feeling in my toes until after I’d gotten home around 5pm (and I was wearing wool socks, albeit not very good ones). This temperature extreme meant we became well acquainted with a home goods store (with a very Cindy Harvey feel), a toy store, a cafe´ and an old shoppe at the Roskilde museum that resembled something out of the 1840s.

Finally our guide (a student at the University of Roskilde) remembered that the Roskilde Museum of Modern Art was featuring a new exhibit called Never Odd or Even (so 0?) that had free admission for students.

I have a mixed relationship with modern art, for the most part I enjoy it, but I often struggle to identify with the major themes of the artist. Often I feel there’s a sort of pretension that comes from the artist knowing that you’re not a part of their art conversation, and enjoying that. But I digress, what was really fascinating to me was the fact that all the artwork was in English but the explanations about the pieces were in Danish. Maybe that’s the point? I really don’t know anymore.

I snapped a couple of pictures with my phone (as my D40 still hasn’t been charged) and uploaded them for you viewing pleasure, I think some of the pieces were really cool, especially the Helvetica ones.

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