Asia Calling

Right now a couple good friends of ours from church are a part of a team in Cambodia. Peter and Sherri live in our little village, their daughter is in Nicole’s student small group, and she often babysits our kids. Brian is the dad of our two primary babysitters, and of the young lady who’s coming over to Asia with us in just over two months. When the they arrived in Phonm Penh, they moved into the hotel next door to my mom.

What are the odds that a little group from our church in Ontario, would end up having dinner with my mom, on the other side of the world?

The itinerary for our trip to Asia was going to include Beijing — we thought it would be pretty cool to see one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world (the Great Wall of China.) Instead we decided we’d better go to Cambodia. There’s just too many cool things happening there for us to miss it. This is a country that has been decimated, in no small part by Westerners, but God is at work in the darkness…

In the past 6 months I’ve flown over 51,000 miles. Sometimes I get tired. Airplane seats are not comfortable for those of us without much padding on our backsides. Airplane food is rarely worth eating — certainly not worth paying for. But I can’t imagine how I could possibly have been satisfied in my career before this. And the only thing now that could be more satisfying is if I could be one of the people who get to help carry the light.

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I have seen hell, and its name is Las Vegas.

When you get off the plane and land in the city, you’re immediately assaulted by slot machines, ringing happily, promising that you will be the lucky one to beat the machine. The next thing I saw was a giant poster for Chippendales, featuring buff, topless, shiny men. The next poster was a small woman holding a machine gun and smiling: shoot any gun you want for only $10!

Whatever your vice is, be it gambling, alcohol, sex or even violence, Las Vegas provides an attractive way for you ruin your life. The reason “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” is that’s its practically impossible to leave there without being ashamed of yourself — without feeling dirtied, if not by your own sin, then by the constant barrage of sin around you.

Make no mistake, it is a dazzling city. Incredible buildings, decorated opulently, and adorned with all matter of luxory. That it is set in the middle of a desert only serves to highlight just how incredible “the strip” really is. But you don’t need to look hard to see that its an elaborate facade over an empty wasteland. A glittery inferno. A pretty face with an empty soul beneath.

Behind the merrily chiming machines, the scantily clad women dancing on video billboards or on a stage above the roulette tables, or the frat boys laughing raucously over their 8th beer in a very fancy bar, there is desperation in people’s eyes. People who thought they were here for a vacation, but will be returning home with very empty wallets and very empty hearts.

But even if you set out to avoid wine, women (or men) and gambling, you will give Vegas your money. Everything costs you. Despite my hotel room costing (my company) $200, Internet was another $15 a day. A show — a clean one — will cost nearly $100 to see. A $2 coffee costs $4.50.

And as for alternatives to typical Vegas entertainment… what few there are will cost you too. Want to float down the lazy river at the man made beach? A tube will cost you $24. Want to sit on a padded reclining chair instead? That’s $30 a day — one with shade will cost you $175. Want to visit the hotel’s aquarium instead of its casino? That’ll be $16 for the 20 minute tour. Want to work out in the gym? That’ll be $20 a day — $30 if you want to soak in the hot tub afterward.

Of course, you can walk down the strip for free — expect to be practically assaulted by pimps handing out “business cards” for prostitutes. You can look at the hotels for free — although not without hearing their casino call. You can take pictures for free — as long as you’re careful what you take those pictures of. And you can hide in your hotel room, where even on the 28th floor, the music from below will still shake your windows and hammer on your ears while you try to sleep.

If you’ve never been, you should probably see it once. Bring only the money you can afford to lose. Do not take out more money from the ATM once you’ve lost what you brought. Do not go alone, or with someone you can’t trust. Do not go with someone who shares the same weaknesses as you. Do not drink until your inhibitions are gone. Do not be fooled by the scantily clad people on the billboard — no one finds anything but your wallet attractive or interesting. This is a city built to fleece weak, stupid people out of their money, by offering an illusion of happiness that will disappear like smoke as soon as your overdraft limit is reached and your credit cards are maxed.

Like everyone on the plane with me when I arrived, I had a smile on my face when the happy sounds and warm air hit me. Like everyone on the plane with me when I left, I had a shell-shocked, exhausted and directionless gaze as I shuffled out of hell and back to the real world. And I thanked God that He kept me through this week, even managing to learn a thing or two at the conference and have a couple successful meetings, without falling on my face like practically everyone around me.

I have seen much of Asia, most of Europe, and a lot of North America. I’ve never hated a place so much as I loathe Las Vegas. I never, ever want to go to there again. I imagine hell will be a lot like it…

Viva Las Vegas

I’m a little bit excited to be staying here…

That’s the Mandalay Bay Resort. It has an artificial beach. Next door is a giant pyramid. My room has a view of the strip. All expenses paid, tons of cool stuff to learn… pretty much the best business trip ever.

Wish Nicole could come…

Dealers of Lightning

It was the late 70s, and this concept of a personal computer was approaching a difficult coming-of-age. Everyone knew that the computer would change everything, but the race was on to define how that would look.

In the labs and offices of Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) a group of engineers and scientists pulled together ideas and concepts into a computer called the Alto. The main unit was about the size of a filing cabinet, while a landscape monitor, keyboard and mouse would sit on the desk. The computing environment consisted of windows, menus and icons on a bitmapped screen capable of rendering detailed graphics. No one had ever seen such a thing before, and although the Alto never made it out of the scientific world, it was shown to a team from Apple – including a young Steve Jobs.

The rest, of course, is history – legend even. It’s said that Bill Atkinson (the author of the QuickDraw ROM and MacPaint) excitedly pressed his face against the Alto’s screen, trying to count the pixels. The group from Apple returned to their headquarters in Cupertino, and so impressed was Jobs at what he’d seen, that he immediately spun off this rogue team first to the Apple LISA, and soon after to work on the Macintosh – computers with a bitmapped screen, mouse, windows, menus and icons. Others followed suit.

Of course the Macintosh wasn’t Apple’s only invention – nor was the Alto Xerox’ only invention. PARC is responsible for scripting languages, the laser printer, Ethernet and even the concept behind Tablet PCs/iPads – a theoretical device called the DynaBook. Virtually everything we know about modern computers was defined in one of these two campuses, or another in Redmond, Washington that I get to visit more frequently.

These are all things that I’ve known about for over a decade: fables, folklore, legend. The places where these things happened were no less fantastic to me, and therefore no more real, than planets in the Star Wars galaxy…

Until last week.

As I finished up a couple nice days working with some partners, I pulled up Bing Maps to look for a place for dinner… and realised I was only 36 minutes away from Cupertino, and another 10 from Palo Alto. I practically ran to my car – locking myself out of my hotel room, and forgetting that the battery in my GPS was nearly dead and I didn’t have a car charger – and started driving. I nursed the GPS along, turning it on for brief moments to orient myself, and drove through some beautiful California country-side to the places where dreams came to life…

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That I have walked the sidewalks where giants of this industry tread – where perhaps they paced as they wrestled through ideas so big that they would change the world – is such an incredible honor. But to make this story even more incredible, I realised recently that I’ve met, and chatted with one of those giants! At a conference last November in Los Angeles, I attended a talk by a Butler Lampson – a researcher at my company – on artificial intelligence. Later, I came across him reading on the show floor and stopped to have a chat with him.

It wasn’t until much later that I discovered that this Butler Lampson was the same one who, almost 40 years ago, penned a memo detailing the design of a revolutionary computer. At the time, he was a researcher at Xerox PARC, and the computer he dreamt up… it was called the Alto.

I am literally working in the shadow of giants, in the cradle of some of the most remarkable inventions ever, surrounded by some of the most amazing minds of our time… and I could not be more grateful and blessed to have this incredible job.