Technology

A few decades ago, when my parents were still alive, I don’t think I would have been able to predict how cell phones would transform certain aspects of our life. My father-in-law was one of the first adopters of the new technology, when a mobile phone was a fairly large case that you carried in your car and required a special antenna to be installed. We borrowed that bag phone when we came to Rapid City on our house hunting tour in 1995. A few years later, I got a flip phone to help the office staff find me. I spend quite a bit of time out and about in the community, calling on folks and making visits in a variety of settings. Having the cell phone gave the office a way to get messages to me. Before long, I had become quite addicted to the technology, carrying my phone with me nearly everywhere I went. Years passed, phones become more capable, and these days, I grab my phone as I wake in the morning and it is a nearly constant companion throughout my day.

What I don’t think I expected was how much we would use our phones for things besides talking to folks. Yesterday, I was with another grandparent and we were exchanging views of our grandchildren by scrolling through the photos on our phones. We were passing around the phones and admiring each other’s grandchildren. It probably isn’t significantly different from the old wallet photos we used to cary of loved ones, but our photos are much more up to date. I receive new photos of my grandchildren nearly every day. With children and grandchildren living so far away it is a definite treat for me.

It isn’t just that we receive more pictures, however. We also take more pictures. I a barista adds an extra d to the spelling of my name, I’m likely to snap a picture and send it to a family member. When I see something that catches my eye, I get out my phone and take a picture. The current generation of smart phones has meant that I nearly always have a camera available. Using my phone doesn’t afford the same focus and concentration as using my camera, and I’m more likely to take a photo that is less well framed and less artistically appealing than I am with my camera, but the advantage of the phone is that it is constantly available and the photos I take with my phone aren’t all that bad. The resolution of the digital photography from my phone is about the same as my good DSLR camera.

I remember years ago I was amazed by a Minox camera. The subminiature camera used 16mm film and was tiny. You slid the outer case to the right and exposed the shutter and lens. It was the stuff of a spy movie. I don’t remember seeing any spectacular pictures taken with the camera. It was more of a novelty. I know that lighting was an issue for the tiny device. It was a relic of the Second World War in terms of technology, but the miniature camera was still a fascinating device. The cameras we carry in our cell phones are much smaller, much better and many provide artificial lighting.

Another device that struck me as interesting when I was a youth came directly from the comic pages in the newspaper. Dick Tracy had a two-way wrist radio. He could talk into the watch-like device and receive messages on it as well. We had portable radios that we used in our family’s business. They were very expensive, fairly fragile and bulky. You could clip one to your belt, but you had to extend a metal antenna that was very prone to being broken and they didn’t seem to work in many of the places whee we wanted to use them. I thought the device that Dick Tracy used would be a marvel of the future. Like a flying car, it was something that didn’t exist in real life, but something that someone might develop some day.

I doubt that i could have imagined the watch that I wear today. It has a digital assistant. I can talk to it and ask it to display certain information. It receives email messages and even works as a telephone. It is brand new to me, a purchase made in response to our recent issues with heart rhythm. It acts as a heart rate and rhythm monitor and we can check our heart rate at any time by touching an icon on the screen. The device, however, has far more capability than we’ve learned to use.

I can’t help but think how much my father would have loved this futuristic devices that we have. He loved the simple calculators and computers that were available when he was living. He purchased many different generations of communications radios. We had a basement full of devices that were purchased, used and then put away when the next latest one appeared. I’m pretty sure that he would have been an early adopter of modern digital technologies had he lived to see the devices.

What is clear to me is that the changes and advances in technology are occurring so quickly that I have no ability to predict which technologies I will be using a few years from now. I have wondered if driverless cars will avoid that awkward conversation with my children when it is time for me to quit driving. There are devices that appear in fiction - in movies and on television that we don’t yet have. There is no such thing as a teleport that can instantly move a human being from one place to another. That, however, would be a great technology for grandparents. We could beam ourselves to a kindergarten graduation or a birthday party and be home for dinner.

When that time comes, I probably won’t have the money to purchase the device. I will have spent all my money on gadgets that are currently available. It is, however, fun to imagine what might be coming.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

OK Boomer

I came of age during the Vietnam War. That pretty much makes me a boomer. I fit into the definition of that generation of people. When we were teens we first heard the phrase “Generation Gap.” It was a reference to a difference in opinions and beliefs between youth and their parents and grandparents. My own experience, however, didn’t bear out much that was a gap. I was close to my parents and as I entered my teens and young adult years, my parents were very supportive of me. I was a very opinionated young adult. I spoke out and was quick to argue over my opinions and beliefs. I did not, however experience conflict with my family. Sometimes it did seem that there were some older people in our church and in the community who didn’t seem to “get it” when it came to certain beliefs and political positions, but inside of our family, I felt like we could communicate and support one another. That didn’t mean that we always agreed. We were arguers. We debated at the dinner table. My brother who is closest to me in age and I had some intense arguments during your late teens and twenties. I did not feel, however, that we were dismissed or ignored by our parents. They listened to our ideas. This was true of other elders in our extended family. There was always respect for the opinions of others even when there was not agreement. I can remember some fairly complex arguments with uncles and cousins. Describing the relationships in our family as a generation gap, however, didn’t make sense. We’ve always had some pretty left-wing elders and some pretty right-wing young people in our family. And we have plenty of opinions that fall on a wide spectrum in every age cohort. My father an my uncle didn’t agree on much, but they knew that they were family and that they would be seeing each other often.

I never suffered from the generation gap. And I have yet to receive an email, text or social media post with the phrase, “OK Boomer!” I know about the phrase because it is hard to escape some articles about it. The BBC, which is pretty much a boomer news source has had several articles talking about the phenomenon. A 25-year-old New Zealand politician made headlines in her country for using the phrase in parliament when and older lawmaker interrupted her speech on climate change.

I suppose that there have been, in ever generation, people who become entrenched in their ideas and ways of life and others who challenge that entrenchment. It is fairly easy to find legitimate criticisms of the decisions and lifestyles some of the people my age have chosen. We have, so far, proven ourselves to be ineffective at solving some major problems such as income inequality, global climate change and racial injustice. It isn’t that we don’t care, but rather that as a generation, we have been unwilling to give up on ideas such as continual growth. We seek lives of comfort instead of making sacrifices for future generations.

One of the changes in the church over the span of my career has been a shift in the value of experience. When I began my career, I was advised by a trusted colleague to go to a small church and gain several years experience before applying for another job. The common wisdom is that those who wanted to serve in larger congregations or in Conference or national church positions needed to have experience in a variety of different local congregations in preparation for those roles. Somewhere in the span of my working the general opinion of that has shifted. Different size congregations have different leadership needs and specialized ministries such as Conference or denominational work have specialized skill sets. And youth and enthusiasm have become highly valued commodities in the marketplace for ministers. Congregations and Conferences alike seek younger leaders. This may have something to do with a decrease in the number of people entering the ministry as a first career. Whatever the reason, we have seen younger ministers assume roles that once were considered to be at or near the “top of the ladder.”

From my point of view this has not been a negative thing for he church. Over the years I’ve witnessed enough incompetence and poor job performance from people who are middle aged to know that the ability to do a job well is not the possession of a single generation. And I have enjoyed the energy and leadership of younger colleagues. It is true, however, that I have not personally suffered in any way from the younger generation of leaders. I’ve never failed to get a job because a younger person got it. I’ve had a career path that has been rich in meaning for me and have not faced barriers that others have avoided.

I do, however, have a sense that the time is coming for me to step aside and allow others to move into some of the positions I hold. I don’t worry much about the congregation I serve. It is a wonderful and healthy congregation and it will seek leadership that is appropriate for the next steps in its history. I do, however, worry about some of the volunteer organizations in which I am active. I don’t see younger people stepping up to do the work that our generation has done and is doing. I am active in several organizations where young people are scarce in the pool of volunteers. Habitat for Humanity, for example, has plenty of young employees, but few young volunteers. And the young people who do volunteer tend to give smaller portions of their time than the older volunteers. I understand that they have busy lives and that they don’t have the luxury of time that some of us older folks have, but I’m still working full time and I have always felt that volunteering is an essential calling on top of my regular work schedule. Sometimes I wonder if the next generation will rise to the challenge of volunteerism.

Then I think, “OK Boomer.” It might just be time for me to step aside and allow new leadership to emerge.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

The weather outside

I remember the year we moved to North Dakota. I would go down to the cafe in town and have coffee with a few of the ranchers and local businesspeople. The conversation ranged from polite to weather to sports. It was a good way to get a feel for the community and to connect with the issues that were most important to those I served. After several months, or perhaps more than a year, I came home one day and commented to my wife, “No weather around here is typical.” It didn’t seem to matter what occurred, the talk at the coffee shop was that this was “unusual weather for us.” If it was hot, it was unusual. If it was cold, it was unusual. After I started paying attention, I became convinced that it was the way the locals talked about the weather. “It doesn’t normally get this cold and stay cold for a long time.” “Usually our summers are milder than this one.”

I sort of understand that way of thinking, especially this year in South Dakota. The series of spring blizzards we experienced last spring was surprising to me, even after 25 years of living her and a lot of spring blizzards. And the wild swings in weather this fall have surprised me as well. On Saturday, we were unloading firewood in our shirtsleeves and enjoying being outside. On Sunday afternoon, I was trying to scrape the ice off the windshield of my car in a raging snowstorm. By last night, the snow was deep enough that I had to be careful to get the car into the driveway. This morning I’ll be blowing 6 inches of fresh snow out of the driveway.

The forecast calls for temperatures in the 50’s tomorrow.

It isn’t just us. I’ve been reading about the bushfire crisis in Australia. At least three people have died. More than 150 homes have been destroyed and the fires are raging to intensely that officials are warning of catastrophic danger. New South Wales and Queensland have been experiencing hotter and drier weather this spring than typical.

But I also have friends who live in Melbourne. Victoria is facing the coldest spring in more than a decade with the mountains just north of town covered in snow and antarctic cold bringing rain, gusty winds and hail across the state. The cold front crossing the state is bringing thunderstorms and flood watches.

Sydney’s forecast calls for a “hot, dry and dangerous day.” Melbourne’s calls for “chilly weather, strong winds and the possibility of snow in higher elevations.”

It is springtime in Australia.

All of the extremes in weather prompts conversation about climate change, but the science behind climate change is complex. It isn’t as simple as blaming climate change for the extremes in weather currently being experienced. Attributing the cause of a specific event to climate change is probably not accurate. Climate change can, however, be used to predict some general trends and patterns in weather. It is not my area of expertise and there are many who are far more competent than I to comment on the global climate crisis.

In the meantime, I’m thinking that people have always been fascinated by the weather. I’m also thinking that the weather continues to be able to surprise us even with all of the advanced technologies and weather prediction models that we have.

I remember when we used to call a flight service station for weather forecasts before going on a trip in an airplane. The forecasts were fairly general and it was a challenge to get the specific information needed to make a safe decision. These days we have applications on our phones that show the latest doppler radar and illustrate the cloud cover in real time. We have more tools for predicting what the weather will be, and yet we are still capable of being surprised by it.

The shifts from warm to cold to warm that we are experiencing this week have so far been fairly accurately forecast by meteorologists. We knew that the snow was coming when we were enjoying the warm weather on Saturday. And I know that warm weather is coming as I prepare to clear the snow from my driveway this morning. Even an accurate forecast doesn’t keep us from feeling a bit amazed at the weather we are experiencing.

Maybe it is just like the coffee shop in North Dakota four decades ago. There is no such thing as typical weather. All of it is unusual.

There is some evidence that while most of the human-caused pollution that is affecting the global climate has come from places in the northern hemisphere, the most severe effects of climate change are being experienced in the southern hemisphere. Whether or not this will become a continuing trend is uncertain, but what is clear is that we are all connected on this planet. What occurs in one place has effects in another.

What is abundantly clear is that there is always some kind of weather-related disaster going on somewhere in the world. Our access to real-time news means that we are constantly aware of extreme weather events. I’m continually amazed that nursing homes leave television sets tuned to the weather channel. The television might be reporting wildfires in Australia and a cyclone in India, or flooding in the UK, but the residents don’t always process the location of the news that is bing broadcast. They look out the window and see clouds and wonder whether or not the flooding will affect them. They see a reporter standing in high winds and wonder whether or not there is a tornado heading for their location. More than once I’ve suggested that a care facility turn the channel on their television - or just turn it off.

So, if you’re new the Black Hills, welcome, and don’t worry about the snow outside. Our weather isn’t usually like this in November - except when it is.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

The fancy Italian dinner

I don’t think I have any amount of Norwegian ancestry. At least the ancestors we know come from German and English roots for the most part. I have some relatives who have really gotten into studying genealogy and there is quite a bit of information available, but I’ve never made much of study of my ancestors beyond great-great grandparents or so.

I did, however, grow up in a community that had a lot of Norwegian families. Norsemen from Greenland were probably the first Europeans to reach North America. Leif Erickson reached America via Norse settlements in Greenland around the year 1000. The wave of immigration to the areas where I have lived, however, came as a result of a variety of agricultural and natural disasters that created famine in the Norse countries in the last half of the 19th century. The attempt to form a union between Norway and Sweden never worked out the way people wanted and in 1895 ongoing tensions between Sweden and Norway resulted in a retreat of Norwegians from Sweden in 1895 and sparked a new wave of immigration to America.

Our children were both pretty blond, blue eyed and fair skinned and fit right into the community with a lot of Norwegians where we lived in North Dakota. North Dakota welcomed nearly 70,000 Norwegian settlers between the 1880 census and the 1900 census. This wave of immigration corresponded to the settlement of the county where we lived in North Dakota. I used to joke that we raised our children on the Norwegian Reservation in North Dakota. It was a culture with which I was familiar because the town where I grew up in Montana also had plenty of Norwegians. So when I moved to South Dakota, I had heard a lot of the Ole and Lena jokes that had been so carefully collected by the pastor of the Lutheran Church on the west side of town. I don’t know if I ever succeeded in telling him one that he hadn’t previously heard, but we exchanged quite a few. Rapid City has a reproduction of the famous Burgundy Stavkirke known as Chapel in the Hills. It reminds me of the chapel in Scandinavian Heritage Park in Minot, North Dakota.

So it is with a bit of caution that I make a report on the activities in my home town. Friday night was the big Italian Dinner in the town where I grew up. It is an annual fund-raising event for the Episcopalian Church. I’ve never attended the dinner, but it is a kind of big deal to the people who work hard to serve a nice dinner to their friends and neighbors. But when I think of my home town, I don’t think of Italian dinners. So here is a scenario from my imagination that has no bearing on the actual event.

The committee got together to plan the meal there was Lars Larson and Olie Olson and Pete Peterson and Swen Swenson. And, of course their wives, Olga, Oola, Uma and Helga. Olie says they should start with a salad, so there is much discussion about what an Italian salad would be like. Pete thought that he saw some Genoa Salami in the Costco the last time he went to the city, so he said he would bring some. They could cut it into little chunks and add it to a regular salad with lettuce, tomatoes and onions. Pete said that what they needed was some black olives, so Uma agreed to get a can when she went to the grocery store. “Might better get two or three cans,” said Lars. “You never know how many people will show up.

They decided that spaghetti was served too often at Italian dinners in the past, so they planned to get some rotelli pasta. Oola was pretty sure she saw some that was multi colored at Walmart and it is only 60 miles to get there. They could pick some up. Of course tomato sauce is easy to come by with all of the tomatoes from the gardens that have been canned at the end of the summer. Each family has rows of jars in their basement filled with canned tomatoes. “You got to have cheese for it to be Italian,” says Swen. Maybe we could melt some Velveta and pour it on top. “No,” responded Helga. You need Parmesan cheese.” “I thought Parmesan was French,” responded Swen. “That shows what you know,” Helga said. “Parma is a city in Italy and it is where Parmesan cheese comes from.” “How we gonna get that stuff? I bet it is expensive,” Swen said. “You can buy it in big green cans from Kraft,” she responded. Swen conceded that the Parmesan cheese would be just fine.

“So what do Italians have for dessert?” Pete wanted to know. “You know,” Olga said, “We once ate in a fancy Italian restaurant and had a fancy dessert called Tiramisu. I wish I had a recipe for that.” Uma remembered eating the same stuff once, but she didn’t have a recipe either. “How hard can it be to make something like that?” she said. “I bet I can come up with a recipe.”

So they served a fancy Italian Dinner in the basement of the Episcopalian Church. Everyone had a good time and even though there was the same salami in the salad and int he pasta dish, which also sported olives, a good time was enjoyed by all of the participants. And a lot of people asked for the recipe for Uma’s tiramisu, so I thought I’d pass it on to you:

First you take a sheet of lefse. Spread some butter on it and then sprinkle hot chocolate mix on the butter. Then take a piece of Grandma Lena’s Rum Cake and put in on the lefse. Put a dab of cool whip on the rum cake. Sprinkle generously with Folger’s coffee crystals. Add another piece of lefse on top and smash the whole thing down. Cut into squares. Add a dab of cool whip and a bit more hot chocolate mix on the top.

Trust me, Grandma Lena’s Rum Cake is so good and so laced with Rum that no one complains after eating it.

I make no claim to the accuracy of the events reported in this journal entry.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Two types of treatment

18 years ago I suffered burns on my hands, arms, chest and face in an accident. The burns were mostly superficial, 1st and 2nd degree, but the area was fairly large. After being treated in the emergency room, I spent the night at the home of my in laws. The next morning, having failed to drink enough water, I was dehydrated and I fainted. When I regained consciousness, we returned to the emergency room. I was a middle-aged, slightly overweight male who was experiencing lightheadedness. The response was nearly instant. I was plopped in a wheelchair, rushed to a treatment room, loaded on a gurney, fitted with leads to a heart monitor, given a pulse oximeter, hooked up to oxygen and within ten minutes of arriving at the emergency room there was a cardiologist at my bedside. I remembered the quick response and care at the end of September when my wife was admitted to the hospital in AFib. We didn’t have to wait in the waiting room. We were rushed into a treatment room and quickly began to receive life-saving treatment.

If you have symptoms of heart disease and arrive at an emergency room they don’t mess around. They also have all of the necessary emergency equipment and personnel with special training to respond to your condition. You get to see a doctor who has extensive specialized training in the treatment of heart disease. There are crash carts filled with all of the equipment and medicines needed to make a quick response to a heart attack.

There are a few simple questions which emergency rooms and hospital triage departments ask to determine a person’s risk of heart attack. As soon as they have a general sense that a heart attack may have occurred or might be about to occur they know exactly how to respond.

The response stands in stark contrast to another experience I have had in a hospital emergency room. I was with a person who was experiencing thoughts of suicide. In fact he was so suicidal that I didn’t dare leave him alone. I accompanied him to the emergency room because I didn’t know where else to obtain help and I knew I was up against a situation I couldn’t handle on my own. We were asked a few questions by an admitting clerk and then spent the next couple of hours waiting to be seen. The patient was taken to a triage area where blood pressure, temperature, and other vital signs were assessed. No one in that area asked any questions about mental health or thoughts of suicide. Eventually the patient was seen by an emergency room doctor who wrote a prescription before ordering the discharge of the patient.

Death from suicide in the United States has been on a steady climb for the last 20 years. The rate has increased 33% nation wide since 1999. We lose more than 47,000 people to suicide each year in our nation. The increase in the rate is steepest among teenagers. Suicide is now the leading cause of death among adolescents in our state.

Every patient who presents to a hospital emergency room receives a simple screening for heart disease. Blood pressure and blood oxygen are tested. The patient is asked about chest pain, light headedness and other common symptoms of heart disease. It would be even simpler to screen all emergency department admissions for suicidal thoughts. “Have you ever had thoughts of suicide or attempted to harm yourself?” That question isn’t a perfect screening question but a new study from the University of Massachusetts Medical School reported that the question increased the number of people who were treated by psychiatrists or given other suicide prevention resources increased by 90%. The effectiveness of simple suicide screening is so apparent that it is require of physicians who expect reimbursement from medicare for the treatment of patients.

Emergency rooms, however, are still not employing universal suicide screening procedures. The reason is not that they are ignorant of the latest research. The reason is not that they do not care. It is that they lack the resources to treat those suffering from suicidal ideation. While every emergency room is equipped with personnel and equipment to render life saving care to those suffering from heart disease. Most emergency rooms don’t have the resources to treat acute mental illness. They can get a cardiologist within minutes. They might not be able to get a psychiatrist within 24 hours.

Think about that for a minute. In South Dakota’s largest cities, the emergency rooms in our hospitals do not have the resources to treat the leading cause of death among our teenagers.

If a teen suffers from cancer, the community holds fund-raising and awareness events. If a teen is injured in an accident, we all go to work to insure the best possible treatment. When a teen suffers from mental illness, the stigma is so great that we don’t talk about it. The teen and the family are unsure if they can talk about their problem with their family, friends and church.

Emergency departments will tell you that they find it harder to get reimbursed for mental health treatment. Physical ailments result in payments. Mental health issues often result in the hospital having to swallow the cost.

I have decided that I will no longer support that stigma. I will not go silent or use euphemisms when talking about death from suicide or acute mental illness. When we lose members of our community to suicide I refuse to be silent about the cause of death. When I officiate at a funeral, I treat mental illness as a fatal disease in the same way that I treat cancer or heart disease. I speak out loud.

And when I take someone to the emergency room, I will advocate for proper treatment and intervention. A simple two-day training program can equip people to make emergency interventions for suicidal thoughts and behavior. Every emergency room technician is trained in CPR, which often does not work. ASIST suicide prevention training has been shown to be nearly 80% effective. A simple safety plan of making sure the patient knows who to call when suicidal situations arise, including mental health providers and crisis lines; limiting access to lethal means such as guns or poisonous materials; and a few additional practical steps have been proven to be lifesaving measures.

We can do better. We can save lives.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!