A Holiday Thought On Social Networks, Science, Faith and A Young Man

I posted this to my sports blog earlier in the week, but wanted to give it wider recognition as it kind of sums up my holiday season feelings.

The holiday season is now in full tilt, with last minute shopping and shipping, final touches to decorations, parties, and either dread or hopeful expectations of time with our families. My own interpretation of this feeling is that captured in the shehecheyanu, the Hebrew prayer said the first time you do something each year, simply giving thanks for bringing us to another season of joy. No matter what you celebrate, there's a miracle wrapped up in there somewhere, giving birth to traditions and patterns that we follow. Being a computer scientist, and a nerd at heart, it's easy to dismiss miracles as articles of faith, when we live by articles of science that are constantly put in juxtaposition and sometimes conflict with faith. We can't use miracles or faith as a mechanism to explain away science, but we can use them to explain our beliefs and actions. Science is what I do; faith is why I do it (more on this later). Put more eloquently in the words of Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman, science and faith are different manifestations of the human experience.

This is going to come back to sports and teams with a minor detour through physics. I promise.

Given that backstory and sidebar, this morning I found a Facebook link imploring me to support a Team In Training Paris Marathon run in support of one young man battling leukemia. Like you, I probably receive a half-dozen emails or links like this a week, asking me to support some deserving and important charity effort, but this one struck a chord with several notes: Danny, pictured on the team's page, is the son of one of my childhood friends, and his dad was one of the four of us who played baseball nearly every day in my backyard. He'll get a mention in Eight Days, Eight Nights, my very own Hanukah-tinged hockey book, if and when I ever finish it. His mom was a marching band mate of mine through high school, and on some level this brings back all sorts of good memories of holiday-time band fund raising drives, with the full-force spirit of Harry L. Dinkle in the air. And in my sophomore year of high school, we lost a fellow student to leukemia, a morning I haven't forgotten for 32 years. Team In Training, the group handling the fundraising and sponsorship, is a professional organization, and I've supported them before when one of my co-workers decided to train for a distance running event as a fundraiser of her own.

What struck me the most, however, is that the woman exercising, literally, her networking skills to run in the Paris Marathon is cousins with Danny's mom. My cousins are and were my first social network; they brought together differences in views and experiences and maturity that resulted in my interest in computers, attending my first Devils game, and discovering the real value of Bob Cousy basketball card buried in a pile handed to us by our common grandfather.

So here's the ask: support Lisa Conti's Paris Marathon Team In Training fundariser, in honor of Danny LaPatin. Think of it as another stocking stuffer, or extra large latte, for someone you haven't met, which truly defines the spirit of the holiday season. It's a chance to help science through faith, and explore the nuclear physics that bind our social networks together - that trust, blood, friendship, or other chemistry has us swapping electronica with each other on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or in MeetUps. Donate and pass on the message. Let's see if we can get Lisa over her goal by December 25th.

Donate now.

Happy Holidays everyone, and let's thoroughly rock the new decade.

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Hal Stern's thoughts on software, services, cloud computing, security, privacy, and data management

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