An Empty Campground

An Empty Campground

When I was a director, I inspected the Jr Camp cabins to make sure that the trash was removed, lights and fans were off, and everything was in good condition. I freely admit this is an emotional time for me as I truly love the Alabama Junior Camp experience and an empty campsite is the final confirmation that camp, for the year, is over. As the cabin head, I pause to look at the now empty beds and say a prayer for the young men and my fellow counselors and specific struggles or needs they have. These are some observations from many years ago when our camp was at Children’s Harbor but reflects my sentiments each year..

As I close each cabin I can still see the campers and counselors whose presence fills this place. I see the bunks I occupied during various camps and remember scenes of those days. I look around and see the young boys and girls who have now become young men and ladies and am so very proud of them. In Lookout Inn, I visit the space of my first counselor bunk and the place I slept the year I had the whole cabin to myself. I see places throughout the campground where during summer and winter I was blessed to talk, pray, cry, and laugh with people who are so dear to me. I feel blessed to have such good friends and experiences. Yes George Bailey, I’ve had a wonderful life.

The sun glistens on the empty pool where we played dunk the counselor (adding zombie rules) and other fun games. Even on that bright morning I could still see the shadows of a couple standing in the middle of a dark calm pool where souls were won for Christ. I can see myself walking out with a new young brother or sister in Christ, singing a song of celebration to this wonderful event and praying in a circle of love and strength for their lifelong journey.

Even during Winter Camp and the cold wind is blowing off the lake, I can still see the young people in line for the galley, swinging in the playground, on the volleyball and basketball courts, or talking in the amphitheater as I walk around the deserted campground. I do a quick mental calculation to see how long I must wait until they will return to this special place.

I stand on the empty dock where the boys and I enjoyed midnight swims. The canoes are resting on their racks from a busy week. I visit the places on the lake where souls were joined to Christ or where I had uplifting conversations with special people. It is not the place, you see, it is the people I can connect to these places. When I come back to the places I feel their presence but it is bittersweet because I am here and they are not.

Precious young people, the traces you leave on our hearts and lives bring us joy and peace. We cry when we know you are in sorrow and want to help you through your difficult times. We rejoice at your achievements and your courage to do the right thing. We recognize the sacred gift of taking us into your heart and allowing us to be part of your world.

Loving counselors and staff, there are few like you in the world who can bring love, compassion, wisdom, and genuine playfulness with such apparent ease. We share a special bond because we share special goals and have worked together for such a wonderful purpose. Your friendship makes me a wealthy man.

Why does my heart ache when camp is over? I have spent a week with some of the best people on God’s earth (young and old) enjoying fun activities and life changing moments immersed in the love and knowledge of God. Cynics snidely chide, “camp is not reality.” If that claim is true I would like to change my reality, please. It is reality – do not let anyone tell you otherwise – though it’s life is so very brief. The “very good” creation was spoiled by evil but the fellowship and love of godly people supporting each other, in whatever setting, is a taste of what we lost and what shall be reclaimed on the last day.

As I stand in Mariner’s Hall, now empty, my memory refills the room. I hear “Good Morning Campers” from my lovely wife’s voice and their enthusiastic reply. I hear society chants and squeals of joy. I hear you sing “Light the Fire” and tears fill my eyes. Then I hear only silence broken by the waves crashing on the lake outside. “Next year,” I pray, “God, please let me come back next year.”

Book Review: Persuasive Copywriting

Persuasive Copywriting: Using Psychology to Influence, Engage and SellPersuasive Copywriting: Using Psychology to Influence, Engage and Sell by Andy Maslen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a good resource for people getting into copywriting or want to improve their persuasive writing ability. Following the principle that people purchase primarily from primal emotion then bring logic in to justify the decision, the author steps through principles then illustrates them with compelling examples. He also has provided good resources on his website to complement what’s in the book. The social media section is a touch dated but still valuable.

He does go on tangents like his affinity for writing instead of typing (repeatedly acknowledging his lack of typing skill) which was distracting. We all have preferences for how we work but can follow the same principles. But this was a small part. It was a valuable help for some marketing projects at work.

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Book Review: The Art of Column Writing

The Art of Column Writing: Insider Secrets from Art Buchwald, Dave Barry, Arianna Huffington, Pete Hamill and Other Great ColumnistsThe Art of Column Writing: Insider Secrets from Art Buchwald, Dave Barry, Arianna Huffington, Pete Hamill and Other Great Columnists by Suzette Martinez Standring

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book explores the challenges of developing a consistent voice, concise storytelling, and being fresh but familiar, within a limited space on a consistent schedule. These unique features of column writing are useful lessons for bloggers and content creators who must regularly develop similar work. The author shared personal experience, input from award-winning columnists, and sample work to convey important lessons. She broke down the topics into manageable sections that are sufficiently informative and practical without sounding like an academic textbook.

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How the Minor League Revived My Love for Baseball

How the Minor League Revived My Love for Baseball

The unthinkable happened. I turned my back on baseball.

I never played baseball. Spending every afternoon and Saturday at the local park playing organized ball had no appeal. I was, however, a devoted Dodger fan, collecting baseball cards and watching games while doing homework. I even learned to hate the Yankees who spoiled so many of our championship dreams. On a trip to California in 1985, I  finally watched a game in Dodger Stadium while eating a Dodger dog,

My youthful idealism was spoiled and my faith in the game lost. Rumors of performance enhancing drugs circulated but it seemed few cared if it brought viewers. Through the 80’s and 90’s, animosity between owners and players flared up into occasional player strikes or threats of lockouts. Soon the commissioner, players, owners and congress were arguing and accusing. Like a kid who leaves home to escape fighting parents, I just walked away from the game.

Like a lukewarm parent taking the kids to church because they need religion, I took my young children to see the Birmingham Barons at the Hoover Met. I explained the game to my son and enjoyed the family memories, but I didn’t feel that old passion. Was it betrayal? The loss of innocence? Was it just a childish fad?

Regions Field rose in the heart of Birmingham but a couple of seasons passed I attended a game, invited by our bank to their corporate box. Last season, my wife and I had free tickets and sat along left field in the cool April evening. Something stirred. I noticed something I’d missed for a long time.

There is a magic to minor league ball. Our team, the Birmingham Barons, are low on the Chicago White Sox farm system. Championships, which the Barons have won, are not the goal; it is player development. We are a stepping stone to the “bigs” or a trip down for those needing help. When you sense your place in the world, and are content with it, your perspective changes. Players, coaches, and fans are competitive. We want to win. It’s part of the game. But in the minor leagues, winning must yield to the greater good.

Barons_edited2Here the love of the game is on display in its purity. Young men hope to be hero for a night until they are called up to the majors. Neighborhood kids take the field with the players before the game. Autographs are freely given. Players joke with fans over the fence on a cool humid night as the smell of hot dogs and popcorn waft along a gentle breeze. The crack of a bat breaks monotony of the traffic humming downtown.

I came back often, sometimes alone when my family had other plans, and felt both ten year-old excitement and fifty year-old contentment. I would listen to the sonorous Curt Bloom bringing the game to life on the radio on nights when I could not attend. The game at all levels, from the minor league parks to major league palaces, and its rich history again stirred my heart.

Few American institutions can escape blind competition and monetary temptation. Owners and players can allow business to intrude on the game but cynicism can blind fans to baseball’s existential joy. I’d love the Barons to win games and hang championship pennants, but my greater love is a grandstand filled with laughing families, old men keeping box scores, and kids with gloves hoping for a foul ball enjoying this one night. I accepted professional baseball with its weaknesses. I could see its beauty in imperfection that I missed with youthful idealistic eyes. I even loathed the Yankees again.

The last night of the closing series, as the crowds filtered out of the stadium, I lingered then slowly walked to the third base gate. I paused before exiting, turning back for one last look at the lush green outfield framed with city lights. Baseball was as beautiful as I’d always remembered. Though I would miss her over the winter, in the spring I would return. I had come home.

Sharing Your House Keys With Strangers

Your Facebook friend posts a seemingly harmless request:

Let’s see how well we know each other. Answer the following questions about yourself then share it with your friends. My answers are below. No fair posting and not sharing!

  1. Where did you go to high school?
  2. What was your first car?
  3. Who are your grandparents?
  4. Who was your first teacher?

Maybe you have participated in such a list. Look back at the small list I made. Does anything look familiar? If I know your high school I can also find the mascot. If I know your grandparents, I can probably determine which are your mom’s parents.

Why is that important? The security questions to confirm your identity with your bank, credit card issuer, health provider, financial website, email service, and security websites include information such as mother’s maiden name, birthplace, high school mascot, first car, and favorite band. Knowing the answer to these questions allow access when you forgot your password or make account changes.

Once you’ve made this information publicly available don’t think that it is only your friends who have access. Bad actors create profiles they can use to impersonate you, access your information, or other purposes. So be discreet with what you share on the Internet (or your children share about you) and err on the side of privacy.

Sharing tracking information

Forbes had a recent article on a story that made national media about fitness tracker data shared on a social media app for athletes that provided outlines of military bases, embassies, patrol routes, and even routes between possible intelligence facilities and non-declared bases. (Article link) Military personnel, contractors, and others wearing fitness trackers that was shared, in this case with Strava, was collected and “heat maps” of popular routes of its users. In similar apps, the data may not be for public view but the company’s possession of aggregate data could be used in nefarious ways. Also, “anonymous” data might be identifiable using other techniques which provides additional concern.

Many work locations prohibit tracking devices, Apple/Android watches, and other information into their facilities. Be aware of any security restrictions if you use these devices. Also, think about how the information you are sharing might be used against you. In the early years of Facebook, there were reports of people’s houses being robbed while they were on vacation because thieves, seeing real-time vacation postings, knew the houses were empty. Regular check-in’s on apps allow others to know your routines and location-based services can also disclose your location by your phone’s location.

Be smart about what you share

We may have reasons for allowing these services and each must do a personal evaluation and risk assessment to determine what is valuable enough to share private data and what should be protected. Having considered this, periodically check the privacy settings and sharing data in your social media accounts, smart phone, and apps. You may want to restrict settings and should delete any application sharing that is not longer useful (such as allowing Facebook to access a web site or app that you no longer use).

Most importantly, ask why you are sharing the info. Are you satisfying your ego? Do you really think it is so interesting that the world must know? Maybe you think you are just having fun with friends but remember, enemies may be more interested in some of this information than your friends will ever be.



Twas The Night Before Camp

Twas the night before camp,

and all through the state,
all the counselors were panicked,
as they readied in haste.

Another trip to Wal-Mart,
For toilietries and snacks,
For shaving cream and SHAVING CREAM?
I forgot. Must go back.

Their camper kids were packing,
and singing a song,
“We’re going to camp tomorrow
No baths all week long!”

Though they packed no underwear,
And only three shirts.
They did pack their candy,
And three socks covered in dirt.

The counselors made ready,
with chairs and radios,
And a t-shirt for tie dye (?)
Arrgh, to Wal-Mart again go.

As they pondered the heat,
that awaited next week,
They considered the kids,
that with smiles they would greet.

What a great week awaits,
full of singing and talking,
of study and praying,
and laughter and walking (lots of walking!).

Yes, there will be work,
and sweating off pounds,
and kids’ screaming voices,
that are hard to calm down.

As they finish their packing,
and re-packing for the kids,
They load up the car,
For the long Saturday trip.

One last night in the peace,
and quiet in their room,
in a bed full of comfort,
by a clean bathroom.

A thought comes to them,
at the end of this day,
“One more thing forgot,
at least Wal-Mart’s on the way.”

Why Walt Disney Parks Should Embrace Virtual Reality

Why Walt Disney Parks Should Embrace Virtual Reality

Walt Disney said that his parks would always change as long as imagination was in the world. That guiding statement has its share of problems.

Disney fans are excited to enjoy new interactive experiences at Disney Parks and the enhancements that freshen up older rides. After the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Captain Jack Sparrow and other movie characters were woven into the venerable ride in a way that respected tradition but renewed interest. For a time, the Enchanted Tiki Room was under new management using birds from Lion King and Aladdin to a show that fascinated our grandparents. Apparently the old guard wrested back control and, it has reverted to its peaceful tweet-tweet of paradise. Which was the right move: incorporate new characters or preserve the ride we all knew?

If Disney Imagineers decide to bulldoze the Tiki Room to build a dynamic interactive attraction, Disney fans would rebel. Yet, when was the last time you passed on the Tiki Room, Hall of Presidents, or Country Bear Jamboree because of time? Some true Disney fans visit the parks many times bypassing these venerable rides but would howl if management decided to re-purpose the area. But the great dreamer wanted the park to change and morph. What to do?

Some attractions are refurbished, remodeled, or removed and are greatly missed. My youngest daughter, a devoted Disney fan, regrets that she never rode Epcot’s Horizon ride as it closed years before she was born. It was a favorite of mine and I have a sentimental attachment to “If You Had Wings” and the terrifying “Alien Encounter.” I enjoy the Buzz Lightyear and Stitch attractions and think they were good replacements; however, I would like to have shared the other rides, though more quaint compared to modern standards, with my kids.

Enter Virtual Reality

You can enjoy ride-through videos of old rides and 360-degree trips on current rides with YouTube. Watching the Horizon’s ride video I forgot how amazing it was and enjoyed again some of the scenes I’d forgotten about. You can find videos of changed  attractions to remember the park landscape and rides from other times.Beautiful cyber woman over abstract blue background

This provides a perfect opportunity to build another park in the ethereal cyberworld. Before making major changes, and especially before removing rides, Disney Imagineers could use immersive audio and video capture technology to record the complete ride experience to be enjoyed with virtual reality. They could build a park of retired rides available to anyone with a connection, the equipment, and an E-ticket. They might even capture the experience of current rides, walking through the park, and visiting the resorts to share with those who physically cannot travel to the park but who want to relive an enjoyable vacation, perhaps from a hospital bed or from a remote location. Fans of Maelstrom could enjoy the boat ride with the trolls while, at Epcot, families are singing with the cast of Frozen. The park changes but we get to experience the old ride through VR whenever we desire. For the cost of storage space, bandwidth, and creative development Disney could have a perpetual park that would grow as the physical parks change.

I often listen to music loops, watch videos, look through my photos, and read articles to relive the many trips I have enjoyed and many Disney Park fans do the same thing. To have an annual pass to a virtual park created in high visual and audio quality that I could visit after a tough day at the office (“I’m tired, I need to mellow out at the Haunted Mansion a bit”) or want a bit of fairy dust in my hair would be very desirable. If any Disney Imagineers or Blue Fairies are listening, this is my wish.