Monday, April 29, 2019

A Departure

Archived from the Funnells in Utah blog:

The homeless population in Salt Lake City has multiplied over the past few years. While up north on an airport drop-off errand, I stopped for lunch at Carl’s Jr and a man approached me asking for some money I've refused to give money in the past for worry it'd feed substance abuse- and kept walking. I did want to help this man, who seemed sincere and desperate. I said I wouldn't give him money, but I'd buy him lunch if he wanted.

Alan and I had lunch together and he told me about his troubles- losing his place to sleep several days ago, injuring his hand painfully so that he couldn't work, and shoes that'd fallen apart replaced by $2 thrift store dress shoes. He'd worked in video and media most of his life, but something went sideways, and he had nowhere to go- his family had all passed away. I looked for resources on my phone and ended up connecting him with a volunteer from a local organization that can help him find housing, food, and treatment for his hand. I had a deadline to be back in Ephraim, so I prayed with him and left him with money for another meal.

Sarah and I are leaving Utah. Today's opportunity to minister to Alan is an example of the kind of ministry we will do in the future, as all believers are called to. As we explain in our annual update, we've found out that vocational ministry isn't our forever future. We all, however, are called to full-time ministry: to be compassionately responsive when approached at a cheap fast food joint, to be a genuine friend that your community knows they can really and truly open up to when life hurts, to bring up children of character, and to keep watchful and open eyes for the opportunities God gives to believers to be his agents in a broken, hurting world.

In a few months, Sarah and I will rejoin you as full-time ministers of the Gospel. We'll no longer be doing so as our vocation, so here in Ephraim, the small groups, bagels, burned-out light bulbs, and icy driveways will be tended by others the Lord has called here for that work. Many of you have already received our annual newsletter in the mail and might have read our longer explanation for our decision. It's also available to read here as well (PDF). 

Serving in Utah has been a privilege. We’ve seen many great things happen and consider ourselves blessed to have been a part of them. While we were not anticipating our time here to be only a few years, we see the good things that have come out of those years, and believe that our impact leaves the people of Utah better than when we arrived. We want to thank all of you who have supported us and made our work possible. We appreciate your faith, your investment, and your kindness.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Cheap Chinese seat heaters will burn you and everything you love

About a year ago, I installed some cheap seat heater kits I got off of Aliexpress in our Prius. Today, one of them burned a large hole in the seat:

 Hole in my wife's jacket. 

It goes all the way through.

Yeah, Problem. Burned a hole clean through my wife's jacket and started to singe her sweater before we smelled smoke and realized what happened. I should have known better- this happened right after I replaced the  fuse that fed the heaters, which had blown. I assumed it had blown because these were added to the cigarette lighter accessory circuit and we'd accidentally overloaded it- I guess not! There was obviously a defect in the heater. Furthermore, the bottom heating element had previously burned a small hole in the seat fabric about a month ago- see the small (6mm) hole in the seat fabric in the third photo above. Since it was less severe and the only example, I'd chalked it up to a one-time defect and resolved not to buy again. I disconnected that element and continued to use the others. Evidently, there is a big design or manufacturing problem here! Buyer beware: think twice before buying cheap seat heater kits from China, and definitely not from this seller. (EYESAUTO ELECTRONICS)

I'm messaging the AliExpress seller to see how we can resolve this- I doubt I'll be made whole, given the nature of a trans-pacific factory-direct transaction, but I can hope. Buyer beware! 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Exciting News From the Funnells!

Sarah and I have some exciting news to share! Yes, we are expecting a baby, but that’s not the news- it’s that we are also expecting to join the staff of Tri-Grace Ministries as full-time missionaries, and that we are beginning the process of building a support network. You may know that our little boy (due in August) owes his existence to Tri-Grace, because that is where Sarah and I met almost five years ago while working as assistant staff. When we left Utah after the 1-year program, we were in love, both with each other, and with Utah. As we spoke about our hoped-for future together, returning to Utah was always part of the conversation. Today we are pleased to announce that Tri-Grace has invited us to join their team as full-time staff as soon as we are able.
One big question is “when?” The main determinant of that is paying off student debt. With a return to Utah in mind from the beginning of our relationship, we have been steadily paying off student debt for over three years, and are about 75% done. Although our current rate would forecast us being debt-free about a year from now, there is also a baby coming, and little Funnell’s impact on our finances is difficult to predict. We need this time, though, to prepare for the new roles we’ll be filling, and to build a network of supporters before we can go.
The other big question is “why?” Answering that question could be an all-day conversation, but the simple answer is that Sarah and I are convinced that the truth Jesus Christ taught is essential for all people to know, and the people of Utah have been uniquely disadvantaged in hearing it. For over a century, people in Utah have been sheltered from the outside world by a cult which misrepresents and distorts what Jesus taught, and replaces it with a system of performance and self-glorification that leaves people hopeless. The culture of Utah presents a façade of success and wholesome living, but there is very real turmoil under the surface. Utah is a frontrunner in the US for antidepressant use, high stress levels, suicide in all age groups, pornography consumption, prescription substance abuse, and other heartbreaking statistics.
Sarah and I have seen the way this can play out- a person has a thin veneer of perfection they are attempting to hold up as their church and culture demand, but inside they are full of repressed questions about why they exist, who they are, and what the truth really is. 21st century technology has made answers available to many through the internet and media distributions, and the LDS church is in a crisis- people are losing their faith in their man-made religion en masse: either actively denouncing their association with the church or slowly losing their faith and fading away. We are ecstatic to see a false church crumble, but are also keenly aware of how this affects its members. When a person’s entire worldview has hinged on one thing- a prophet, a church, a conviction- and that thing crumbles, it is devastating. What will happen to the people of Utah, already struggling with in incongruity between the expectations of their faith and reality, when the primary thing holding their culture together collapses?
Tri-Grace has seen an influx of ex-Mormon traffic in their ministry, and have a need for additional staff to help handle the changing situation. God has done so much in little Ephraim, Utah, where no light shone 25 years ago- there is now an active and growing church of 110 with a coffee-shop outreach ministry to the small college in town. Sarah and I want to go there and put our shoulders to the wheel to save those who have never known true hope.

We are taking first steps to partner with Tri-Grace Ministries in Ephraim, Utah, but there is still quite a lot of work left to do. Expect to see more news and information from us in the months to come. We will be establishing a separate blog to share our journey and hope you will follow us.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Stickers, scribbles, cracks, and adventure

Seven years ago, I went on a big adventure. I spent the summer in Alaska volunteering at a Bible camp, then went on to Australia to see Jacob and Michelle get married, and proceeded on to South Korea for a semester abroad. All in all, it was a nine month trip. This Rubbermaid container was one of my pieces of luggage. It is covered in memories- stickers from Tokyo airport security, an "Ian was here" note, scuffs and cracks, and dozens of notes and phone numbers written during my missing-passport adventure in LAX. I was stuck for two days in LA because a Korean consulate employee dropped my urgent/overnight mail with my passport and visa into a drop box on a Friday afternoon and it was not picked up until Monday. I was able to crash with a friend of Ian's until it arrived, just in time for me to make it to the wedding and to lose my 20th birthday the international date line while flying west.

The nine-month experience was amazing and my thirst for adventure has burned ever since. My life is different now- I'm in loan repayment, have a rental house, and have embarked on the adventure of life together with Sarah. When such excellent adventures are in my past as a single man, it can make it hard to see weekend trips as adventures. It can even feel like a loss- and in a way it is. But what I have gained- progress towards financial freedom, a home, and a soulmate who loves me unconditionally- are more valuable than the most carefree international romp. There is a part of each of us that desires to have everything good with no sacrifice. As children, we learn that we can't hold every single toy in our little hands, that we cannot have energy to play if we do not go to sleep, and that we sometimes give up a demand in order to keep a friend. These simple concepts are really the same as opening up the joy of marriage by leaving behind the vacuum of responsibility that exists in singleness- but multiplied by the magnitude of a lifetime, they sometimes daunt me. I wish I had ridden a motorcycle across Vietnam, built a trebuchet, learned to freedive or play the guitar, turbo'd an E30, hiked the Appalachian trail or spent some of that freedom a thousand other ways than I did. (Video games, tinkering, and eating, mostly) 

I do not feel bitter, though, or underprivileged. I could compare myself with any epic Youtube video or somebody's amazing Facebook album, but that would be sad, untrue, and ungrateful. I've had a good run at youth. I went on big adventures and had wonderful experiences that many others more deserving than I did not. I did not deserve such a wonderful youth as I've had. The adventures are not over; I am not resigning myself to some boring picture of adulthood or placing the Ned I have been in a memory box. But I will acknowledge that my adventure looks different now, just like the Ned in the mirror. My knees are not what they once were, I need to avoid widowing Sarah via motorcycle wreck, and over the next couple decades, I'll probably be rediscovering the world through my children's eyes. My hope now, and my image of adventure to come, is to continue to discover the joy, the freedom, and the excitement of leaving an imprint on the world around me that will matter when the dust settles. Who will I have loved? With whom will I have shared the truth? What encouragement have I given to my family and friends? When this world fades away, will my adventure die with it, or will it be recorded in those whom I'll worship with, and in the book of life? So says the proverb, "as we spend our days, so we spend our lives". I'm not starting today- I started August 8, 1987. I am nearly 27 years into my adventure, and I intend to use what I have left to live with eternal purpose. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Origin-al Christmas

Friends and family,
You may get some strange gifts from the Funnells this Christmas, but it is for a good reason. In order to explain, imagine Sarah and I in a Meijer toy aisle, looking at an eye-catching board game. While Sarah appreciated the cute design on the box,  I flipped it over and searched for what I knew would be there: “Made in China”. As cute as the game was, I was not pleased with it because I knew the smiling face of whoever will receive that game this year is made possible by a blank, lifeless face somewhere in Guangzhou operating a printing press or assembling the pieces. I’m not comfortable giving gifts that reinforce a way of doing things where one Has because another Has Not. Sarah and I left that Meijer (without toys) having decided not to give any gifts this year that we weren't sure were produced way I’d be comfortable watching. Surely, endless rows of tables surrounded by Chinese (Indonesian, Bangladeshi, Vietnamese…) men and women without opportunities to improve their situation, making far too little, and under a political regime that denies their right to hear the truth of Jesus would not be comfortable for me to watch. Sarah and I have chosen not to support that this year.

We’re not posting this because we want to be smug, but because of Romans 12:9- “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” I’d argue that love which pleases one while contributing to the suffering of another is not the most genuine. Isn’t the abuse of workers to produce luxury items for the wealthy evil, which we should abhor? We want our love to be the most genuine we can, so we are choosing only to give gifts we know and approve the origin of. Plastic toys from China, where preaching the true gospel is illegal: No. Wooden toys made by Ned: Yes! Kitchen tools from Vietnam, where the average factory worker makes $150 per month: No. Maple syrup from the local farmer’s market: Yes! A golden necklace, made with gold mined by Malian children using poisonous mercury: No. A cross necklace made by rescued Thai sex workers that supports their families: Yes! Cute and inexpensive garments sewn in Jordan, where immigrant seamstresses are regularly raped by their bosses: No. Gently-used clothes from a thrift store that don’t create demand in those factories: Yes! An electronic gadget made by factory workers in China whose dormitories are surrounded by nets to discourage suicide: No. A honorary gift from the World Vision catalog which benefits someone with great need: Yes!

This year, we will choose what is genuinely loving, not what is convenient. We’re not ashamed to post this although we know that it will make some uncomfortable- we know that the danger, pain, and abuse that others suffer when we choose to support their oppressors is more important. Let your love be genuine- not only for the recipients of your gifts as well as the people who made the gift. Will you consider making some, or all of your Christmas this year Origin-al? Consider the origin of your gift and whether it is fit for the holiday that bears Christ’s name. You may worry that if you make only this one change, you could be called a hypocrite- but how much more if you have heard the truth and do not change at all? Choose love, not comfort. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Dances with the Nigerian Scammer

A few years ago, I was living in Marshalltown, Iowa, while working an internship with a company there. I was driving a Mitsubishi Montero at the time, and it was a good enough car for me. Unfortunately, I made a wonky left turn that spring and got nailed in a rear quarter by a speedy lady in a Blazer. Sorry, speeding lady! I hope Geico took care of you!

Having my car wrecked pretty intensely ruined my motoring prospects for a while. Fortunately, my roommate worked at the same company, so we just made our occasional carpooling arrangement full-time until I got some wheels under me again. I determined that I could stick my poor Montero on Craigslist and hope for a little bit of money, and replace it with something cheap. So, on Craigslist it went: the land of grammar abominations, sketchy used mattresses, and tiny, dark pictures of rusty cars. Prime location for my banged-up Montero!

I was hoping it would find a new owner soon in Marshalltown, but it was not to be. It did eventually find a new owner, in Texas, after some shady-but-functional repair work on my part. It got me back to college, despite VERY questionable brakes near the end of the non-air-conditioned August drive, during which it also nearly cut off my foot when it fell off of a borrowed jack during an freeway-side tire change.

I was younger then. I was more daring, and more stupid.

This tells you nothing, however, about the native of Nigeria who lusted after my heap-of-junk Montero! Was it the rollover-prone soccer-mom-mobile that he was after? Or... was it my checking account?

As you shall see, it turned out to be the latter. The poor Nigerian scammer, though, did not get his wish. It all started out with a simple inquiry:

As you can see, the English grammar requirements to be a scammer are not high. I was about 98% sure this was a scammer: the composition is poor, the specific item itself is not mentioned by name (allow mass copy/pasted messages), and the language is not natural. There was little risk in sending a brief response without personal info, though, so I gave him the same link to photos I had in my ad. If he replied the next email would give him away.

 ...and surely enough, it did! Obvious, classic scam material. Protip: If someone wants to send you a check, they're a scammer. Protip: If someone wants to send you a check without ever seeing the vehicle or getting any details whatsoever, they're a scammer. Protip: If someone wants to send you a check without ever seeing the vehicle or getting any details whatsoever and they have unnatural composition, they are a scammer. Since the gig was up for Mr. Moore of Nigeria, I decided to try and have some fun with him. I thought that he probably would notice that I was not in fact Mr. Obama, residing at the White House's address, but this fact seemed to slip by him.

Well, how about that! With a legitimate UPS tracking number, I'd have thought that this guy was a first-class scammer- except that he thought he was scamming B. H. Obama and remained clueless. I puzzled over the UPS tracking number for a while. It did in fact register a parcel on the UPS website, and one delivered to Ames, Iowa, which is pretty close to Marshalltown. How did he get that number? Did he actually send something to Ames in order to get it? Did he enter numbers on the UPS site randomly until he got something close to my location? Surely that'd take forever. I have no clue.

Let me briefly explain how his scam works: he pretends to send you a check for the purchase price of your item plus an additional amount that he needs you to forward on to a shipper. He never sends you a check (or sends you a fake one), but tells you that you need to send the shipper's payment immediately, and pressures you to do so. The victim, believing they're getting a great deal, sends the shipper's payment, which really ends up on Mr. Scammer's doorstep. You sent him real money, but his check never arrives, or is fake. He then disappears with your money and sips piña coladas in the hot West African sun.

I had thought he'd be tipped off after the second message, but apparently, he was so excited over the prospect of having an American wire him money, he forgot to have any sense. I was picturing a guy in an internet cafe in Abuja wetting his pants with excitement over the stupid American who fell for his scam. What luck! Time to make this interesting: now that I have him on the hook, he's in for the long haul.

Let's see if we can get this loser to fill out a form for me! He, of course, has no interest in doing anything of the sort. He just wants my money. This doesn't fit into his plan. There's a subtle nuance to this form, and I was incredibly lucky to find it. Here's why: I'm calling this guy Nigerian because nearly 100% of these scams original from Nigeria. They're called 419 scams, because it's section 419 of the Nigerian penal code that forbids them. This guy, surely, must have known the number 419, because it was his work. I'm imagining him sitting at his computer when he gets this: first, incredulous that this stupid American wants him to fill out of form- then, panic and fear at the sight of the number 419. Has he been found out? Are government agents coming to collect him even now? (No, they're not: Nigeria doesn't care that it's the scam capital of the world)  The form I found is US government for for requesting shipping, and happens to be form number... 419!

What's a poor scammer to do? Stick to the plan. Get the dumb American to send the money. That's the modus operandi, and he's sticking to it. Not going to happen, Mr. Scammer!

Now he's really incredulous: I won't send the money until I get the form, and I sound serious! Darn it all! What to do? Ah.... but of course. Promise that the non-existant all-lowercase shipper from Denver is going to bring the form! Brilliant! Mmmm... not going to happen, scam-man. How has he not caught onto the obvious yet? Did the earlier hope for a Western Union transfer rob him of all lucid thought?

Yes! Yes it did! That, my friends, is a scanned image of a US military request for shipping form, poorly filled out in pencil by a Nigerian scammer, and sent back to me in hopes that I would wire him some money. Take a look: 

(Click for full size)

Ahh... WOW. Writing in the column headers. "The number of item to be moved is"t one." And is it coming from Washington DC or Marshalltown? Is there a "Denver City", Colorado? "I count on on you and believe that, you will release the item to my prepaid mover when he gets to you." "Arriving Ariving contact contact on arriving"

Brilliant. I cannot express to you the degree of mirth that I experienced when I convinced a nigerian man who was trying to scam me to send me a form. The poor guy had to find a place to print out my form (costing him money), fill it out, and find a way to scan it. He must have been desperate, or completely oblivious. Wow.

Since he had gone so far, I had to congratulate him, but hope for a little more:

STOP PLAYING ME A GAME! Boy, I thought that dangling the promise of more money would get him coming my way, but the man had a plan, and he was sticking to it. It looks like belligerence was the next improvised step on our detour from his script. He dances out his UPS tracking number again (truly, it's a good trick), but I have some bad news for him:

I've got to play sympathetic- surely the man would be worried if his non-existent check had not been properly delivered to B. H. Obama at the White House! The best course of action would be to stop payment on that one and send me a new one- and of course, I'll get ready to send the 'shipper' a boatload of money! Better make it out for eleven grand, a cool ten thousand more than our original deal. He doesn't seem to notice that, though: the amount is of no concern to a man who's not really sending you checks!

I'm sad to say it my friends, but at this point, poor "David Moore" lost hope. Not even the promise of the very shiny Montero could get a response from him. Perhaps adopting strange parting statements tipped him off, or perhaps he returned to his senses. It was too much to hope for, I guess. One last email, months later, went unanswered:

Once burned, twice shy, I guess. No promise of fat American dollars could lure this guy out of his cave.

So there you have it: The story of how I trolled a Nigerian scammer.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Sad, Untimely Death of Your Car

You've probably heard this adage: "If you can't afford to tip, you can't afford to eat out." Humbly, I would like to present another adage in the same vein: "If you can't afford maintenance, you can't afford a car." I possess a modicum of knowledge about cars. I have done work ranging from oil changes to transmission swaps on others' cars. I've seen a number of cars in various states of upkeep, but the vast majority of cars I've worked on for friends have left me shaking my head and thinking some variation of the above.

I intend to lecture you, reader, so feel free to leave off here if you're unwilling to listen.

Maintaining a car is optional in the same way that bathing is optional. You can skip it or put it off as long as you're prepared to deal with the consequences. If you don't bathe, you'll smell, have fewer friends, and probably get ill. If you skip or delay auto maintenance, you'll spend more on repairs, go through more cars, and maybe injure or kill yourself (and others) in an avoidable crash.

Let's talk about the costs first. If you keep your tires at the proper pressure, they'll last drastically longer than underfilled ones. (Like they're designed to) If you do oil changes with the proper oil at the correct interval, your engine will probably outlast your car- at least, if you live somewhere with salted roads. If you change your air filter at the proper interval, you'll enjoy the fuel economy your car ought to have. If you have the major manufacturer-recommended maintenance done when it's due, your car will likely last much longer, and you'll have significantly higher resale value to boot.

If you ignore these things, you'll have a car that burns more gas than it should, is less reliable, will die sooner, and could involve you, your loved ones, or someone elses' loved ones in a fatal accident.

Do you think I'm joking or exaggerating? Overworn or underpressurized tires, worn shocks, squealing brakes, and ignored dash warning lights are the kind of problems that make your car stop more slowly and fail to swerve like you want when another driver, deer, or child is in your path. Do you really think your car is going to perform like it should in an emergency driving situation when you've been treating it the way you have?

I did an oil change for a friend recently. The oil hadn't been changed since the car was bought months ago, and instead of the five quarts the automotive engineers mandated be in the engine, less than three drained out. The tires on the truck were visibly- dangerously- low, and the air filter had been changed recently, but only because I suggested it when I was ordering some parts online last month. The one that came out then looked like the inside of your vacuum cleaner bag. This is typical of what I see on friends' cars. This vehicle will inevitably die a early death, consuming plenty of the owner's dollars before it does, unless it takes someone's well-being or life first.

What about consequences that go deeper than your wallet or your health? I am a Christian. I know myself to be a steward charged to take care of and effectively use God's things that are on loan to me. This includes my time, my money, my health, my possessions- including my car. Before any Christian buys a car, they should assess whether they are ready to be a diligent and faithful steward of God's car. It's not a lofty ideal, it's a practical thing you do every day. You bathe the body you're the steward of every day, right? (...right?) If your car had arrived on your doorstep with a note from God saying "You may borrow my car, just take care of it and use it well." Would you lazily forget when the oil change is due on God's car? Would you fail to put air in the tires until they were visibly deformed? Would you drive God's kids in the car with shocks that won't be changed they're clunking?

I didn't think so. Whose car do you drive?

Owning a car is responsibility. It's not (just) a rite of passage, a necessity, or a convenience. You cannot and may not evade this responsibility by virtue of your lack of skills, brokeness, or busyness. Learning how to own a car isn't hard. Crack open your owner's manual and follow the maintenance schedule. If it's asking you to do things you don't know how to do, get on YouTube, CarBibles, or ask a friend. If that not your style, you'll garner no judgement from me, just crack open your wallet and have a professional do it. On time.

I'm considering advising my friends to buy electric cars. Sure, you can only go 60-90 miles on a charge, but all of the maintenance is so much less. The first oil change comes after 240 months in a i-MiEV. 20 years. Yes, you must still worry about tires, shocks, and brakes, but it's kind of like a Fisher-Price My First Car in the maintenance respect. Judging by the maintenance I typically see, that's what a lot of people need.

Although this is a topic for another time, your responsibility to drive your car well is arguably greater than your responsibility to maintain it. Learn how to drive your car properly, and don't assume that you know how to drive properly because you took the test 3 or 30 years ago and haven't killed anyone since then. In Finland, new drivers must have 15 hours of in-car training, 20 theory driving lessons, additional time driving on a slippery driving course, pass a theory exam and a 30-minute driving test in the city. Finlanders are three times less likely to be injured in an auto wreck than Americans*.

I'm not going to tell you how to maintain your car here, nor how to drive it. I'm just going to say that if you're not, you're the person who doesn't tip their server and hasn't showered lately. The difference is that you're not just hurting the waiter and smelling up the room, you're hurting yourself and endangering everyone you share the road with.

Before you turn the key next time, assess whether you've fulfilled the responsibilities of a car owner.