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Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Who am I? 

Why? That is the question that has always been foremost in my mind throughout my life. From my childhood in the countryside in northern Japan, through my teenage and college years in the United States, and my graduate studies in Canada, on through the various positions I have held in my adult life, the question of why things are the way they are has consumed a great deal of my attention.

My interest in technology has always been a very large part of this questioning process. I have always been interested in how things work, and in why it matters. Radio was a particular interest during my childhood in the north of Japan. I was interested not only in the technology of radio, but in the reasons why that technology was useful. My radio, for example, kept me company during the lonely evening hours in the boarding school. I could escape to different places far away with my shortwave radio tuned to the Voice of America, or Radio Moscow.

Understanding. Trying to figure out how it all came together. This also has occuppied my thinking for much of my life. When I graduated from high school in 1972, I hitchhiked from Oregon to Florida, because I wanted to understand America. I found out that it was too big a task for one summer. Some things take longer.

When I went to college, I chose to major in the Social Sciences and Humanities, because I believed that people were more important than machines. They are of course, but they are also quite a bit harder to understand. One summer I worked at a special hospital for people with mental problems. I was troubled by the complexity of the problems which haunted them, and the limitations of technology in dealing with such problems. This experience strengthened my belief that technology only has value if it can be used to help mankind.

Knowledge. The power of technology to assist me in satisifying my hunger for knowledge has perhaps influenced my thinking about technology more than any other factor. Of course, the Internet is a very big part of this. I can still remember lying in my bunk in our summer cabin in the Japanese Alps listening to my shortwave radio. President Johnson was giving a speech about the Vietnam War. I listen to (and watch) the news on my laptop or my tablet now, and I can't even remember the last time I used an encyclopedia. So the technology of information is perhaps the most important technology. Which brings us to the world of database.

Information. In the most general terms, we are talking about information storage and information retrieval. In my younger days as a school teacher in the countryside of North Dakota, I had a steel filing cabinet to store documents. Anything important now is stored digitally. Through all my years teaching here in China, my filing cabinet has been a flash disk. And even though I am not teaching database anymore, I still use my Oracle database to store and retrieve thousands of records. Such a system would have been all but unmanageable with a paper-based system.

Wisdom. The Bible says that "The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of wisdom." But what is the end of wisdom? Does wisdom only benefit me, or does it benefit those around me? And what is the relationship between wisdom, knowledge, and understanding? Can you have wisdom without knowledge? I think not. But can you have knowledge without wisdom? I'm afraid so. So clearly wisdom is the more important. But wisdom does not stand alone. And the ability to understand this important balance enables us to keep our perspective and ensure that we do not put all the emphasis on one and neglect the other.

I started this blog in December of 2003. My original intent was to provide a way to let friends and family in the United States know what I was doing without having to write a bunch of emails all the time. There was no Facebook in those days. Now after fifteen years and twelve hundred blog posts, the world has changed. The people who communicate with me regarding the stuff I have written about China are not friends and family. They are people I have never met, who share my interest in China and the part it plays on the crowded stage that is the twenty- first century. And the stuff I used to post for my family is now on Facebook. And recently Facebook made a major change that convinced me to find a way to use them together. You used to be able to friend someone on Facebook, but unsubscribe to them so that you did not see their posts. You can still do that, but you can also do the opposite. You can follow someone on Facebook without having them first accept a friend request (providing their posts are set to "public"). So Facebook has now become a blog.

A couple years ago, Dropbox changed the function of their "Public" folder. You can no longer use this folder to host jpg files for a blog. I understand their reason for doing that, but it left me with a couple hundred broken links. Kinda discouraging. I puzzled for awhile what to do about my blog. I decided to resurrect my blog in the fourth quarter of 2018 to focus primarly on news and information, and use Facebook for family stuff.

I should also mention the companion site on Podbean. Podbean hosts my podcast. Each podcast episode can be accessed through a corresponding post on this blog, so you don't need to go to the Podbean site, but you can if you would like to subscribe to the podcast, or just see all the episodes in one place. Or, if you have Google Podcasts or some other podcast utility, you can do a search for BEIJING DIARY PODCAST and subscribe that way.

One further technical note: Each blog post on Blogspot has a unique permalink. You can get that permalink by clicking on "Posted by:" link at the bottom of the blog post. This can be convenient if you want to store the link to a specific blog post, or share it on Facebook.

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