Thursday, December 21, 2017

How to Print a Board Book

For a self published author, printing a board book is surprisingly difficult. Here's how I made it work.

For most types of books, printing today is remarkably easy. CreateSpace and similar print-on-demand services allow self published authors to print paperback copies of their work in small quantities without destroying their profit margins. Boutique printers like Lulu offer hardcover prints at workable prices. Almost nobody offers board book printing.

My Board Book: Goodnight Server Room

I considered a handful of board book printers that work with self published authors:

  • Print Ninja - Print Ninja offers overseas printing with U.S. based support.
  • Pint Size Productions - Pint Size productions (printer of Sandra Boynton books) is the only printer I could find that prints in the U.S. 
  • China One Printing - China One offers overseas printing with U.S. based support. Their online presence is much smaller than Print Ninja. Update (2021-01-15) China One Printing seems to have gone out of business.  
Here's an overview of the key decision points. Note that these values reflect a snapshot and will change over time. I did not have shipping details for all quantities, so some costs are estimates based on quoted shipping for other quantities. Go directly to the companies for an accurate quote. 

Comparison of estimated unit costs, including shipping

Tip One: Shipping will get you

The table above includes shipping in all unit prices. Print Ninja's shipping costs were particularly high. I made the mistake of planning expenses based on Print Ninja's pre-shipping price, rather than their post-shipping price. They charge nearly $900 to ship 500 books, and over $1,300 to ship 2,000 books. Before making a decision, always check shipping costs.

Books are typically sold wholesale at about 50% of the retail price. That means I could expect to sell a board book like Goodnight Server Room to retailers for about $5.00. If I had opted for a small quantity, I would have had virtually no profit margin. Faced with this constraint, I decided to bite the bullet and order 2,000 copies.

Tip Two: Printing takes a long time 

I opted to use China One Printing. While I had hoped to use a U.S. manufacturer, the higher cost of Pint Size productions ruled them out. China One has an outdated web page and minimal staff, but I decided to trust them based on a recommendation from the author of Goodnight Loon

Printing took a quite a while (even though everything went perfectly). Here's a timeline:
  • August 2nd - Interior and exterior design files transferred
  • August 17th - Interior proof print shipped
  • ~September 1st - Printing begins
  • October 13th - Printing complete
  • November 20th - Book shipment clears U.S. customs
  • November 27th - Book shipment arrives in Minnesota
  • November 28th - I received the books

Tip Three: Get a physical proof

When I opened the boxes of books for the first time, I knew I had absolutely no recourse if the books did not turn out the way I wanted. I had 170 or so KickStarter backers eagerly expecting their books by Christmas and I did not have enough money left over to re-order if there was a problem. Thankfully, I was not too concerned. Why? Because I had paid the extra couple hundred dollars to get a physical proof. 

Printed proof of Goodnight Server Room

China One printed the interior of the book without the board book backing and sent it to me for approval before they printed the real books.

You can buy your own copy of Goodnight Server Room on Etsy!

Update January 2021

China One is no longer in business, but Tam, creator of 10 khúc đồng dao 10 nursery rhymes from Vietnam used Guangzhou Hangtong Printing Factory. As a happy backer, I can report that the quality was excellent!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Goodnight Server Room is available now!

Order Goodnight Server Room on Etsy!

Yesterday morning I drove to a warehouse in Minneapolis to pick up the books I've been waiting to see since I started this project in the beginning of 2017. My emotions were all over the place as I walked through the door and handed my paperwork to the woman behind the glass plate.

"You need a release order," she said.

I didn't know what a release order was, but it meant I couldn't take my books home yet. Dejected, I got back in the car and drove to work, hoping I hadn't run into an unexpected expense or customs snafu.

I went to work and told my coworkers, "I feel like I'm running a ponzi scheme. I've been promising these books for so long, and so many people have trusted me with their money. I want to fulfill these promises."

Two hours later I got an email that the paperwork had been finished and the books were now available to pick up. I raced to my car and headed back to the warehouse. This time she handed me a new form and sent me into the loading area to get them. I watched for ten minutes as a forklift driver raced around with other cargo before my turn came.

I grabbed the first box and cut it open, not knowing what to expect. I'd seen pictures of the finished books, but I had no way to know that these boxes were correct, undamaged, and ready to release. I cut the tape with my multitool and felt a rush of relief. The books looked great!

Two dock workers helped me load the boxes into my van, which sat much lower to the ground that it had before. I went back to the car and snapped a few photos before going on my way.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Halloween Post: Exoskeletree

I wrote most of this piece while camping at Jay Cooke State Park. It's channeling a bit of Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King, so the themes are a little more mature than usual. 


Why Jenny why dad shouts across the China I’m just trying to eat to let it go but no no no a scratch the car it's just too far he slaps his wife she grabs a knife.

Eyes low just let it go just four more years of screaming quiet tears of dreaming of a life without this stuff money's great but it's too late for cash to save us I'll behave just four more years just four more tears just four more put it down now put it down it's just a Bentley it costs a cent he charges for her slams the door her screaming muted he turns to me.

My room's too easy imagine barging in to see the scrawny kid who should have hid so down go down into to basement to the place meant for forgetting past the cellar down to the well or maybe deeper with the creepers in the cold search for gold long abandoned find the dead end boy and hide.

The spider tickles on my hand her body dancing from the sand a proper lady killing ants here in the dark it's hard to see but I'm not worried she knows me I love it here away from light away from fear.

The house is quiet let out a sigh it's good to see you creepy crawlies on the wall he's out but I'll be back near every night they have a fight so I'll be here against the stone cold and alone but for you creepers silent keepers of this sanctuary scratching sliding where he cannot help but let me be.

This anger’s stronger than before it’s hard to see now what’s in store he found the letter that'll get her on the run it might be done she found a lawyer boy her blood must be thick his third wife won't get rich so run get out so dodge the couch and out the door third wife no more.

It's just us dad I feel you can't you trust I'm on your side just wait and listen I know she's not like Mom just let her go and let's move on too angry too much wine fury's target now it's mine he raised hand and stumbles stand and fight no not tonight down the hall toward creepy crawlies close behind a breath is all he's missing grabs for me but keeps on missing down the stairs and in the dark he follows.

Stumble trip and tumble in the dark it keeps him humble this place is mine now hear that rumble door closing darkness oozing through the cracks this is my black you best turn back.

He keeps coming without fear he brought a light this time he's near keeping running deeper down away from sound of scratching father getting farther in the backness of the blackness of my lair spider tickles on my hair she's on its ends knows my fear and tries to lend something here to stop the tears but then she leaves where's she going sound is growing.

But then he screams the selfish tyrant flashlight gleams and then falls silent. Spider returns across the sand and perches happy upon my hand.

Is he sleeping is he dying hold my breath listen for death but silence seeping through the blackness he’s not creeping on his back just sack meat and bones relax just check his pulse and then get out.

Spider crawls up on my shoulder so I lift a hand to hold her crawling forward toward my fear but it’s ok ‘cause spider’s here reach out into the sand did he fall here it’s where he landed ground is empty wet and cold did he get up while in fold of venom seeping cold inside him no that can’t have been it he was here for just a minute I heard him call I heard him fall then a scratch against the wall.

Eyes open try to see what’s on the stones in beside of me no father’s bones what could it be a tiny wing begins to flutter lean in get closer but her spider’s finger on my chest tells me it’s best to let it rest just go up and we’ll move on it’s OK your father’s gone.

No I need to know what’s going on what did you do where has he gone brush her off onto the ground to skitter off without a sound reach out a finger hear him crawl onto my hand from off the wall held to the light so I can see my tiny dad in front of me.

His human body’s been transformed a shiny thorax now has formed his balding head has sprouted horns his scrawny legs outstretched like thorns but it’s him I know it’s him I’ll show it’s him look right there can’t you tell it’s got his ears and nose and chin as well.

But my fury’s burning rightly close my hand to hold him tightly fear was mine descending nightly I can end this now I’ll squish him stomp him smash him into nothing worthless trash I shout out crushing tiny body down it slides out of my hand into a dive I raise my leg one final step.

Stop and waiting should I kill him rage abating pick him up inside debating this ends my cares take him upstairs box him up keep him up and we’ll make up we’ll make amends and we’ll be friends.

There’s a nibble on my thigh a tiny bite what was that I am shrinking flailing sinking why my limbs collapse the floor is rising eyes inside capsizing father slips my grip is writhing spider's bite inside re-scribing mandibles this animal is changing.

She walks up close I recognize the truth exposed for compound eyes my mother chose she didn't die.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Goodnight Server Room Lecture

Here's a talk I gave about the history, motivation, and execution of Goodnight Server Room.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Ranking my Kids' Toys by Utility

We're re-finishing our basement. It's a dusty job and my three year old frequently wants to help. I gave him the job of sweeping, and soon discovered his broom was often more useful than mine.

I went through his toys and determined their practical usefulness to an adult. Everything in this list is plastic or cloth unless explicitly noted.

I don't have
  • Sifter
As useful as mine
  • Cups
  • Broom
  • Guitar
  • Metal Hammer
  • Scissors
  • Buckets
Less useful than mine
  • Plastic Hammer
  • Spoons, Forks, Knives, Plates
  • Tape Measure
  • Ruler
  • Flashlight
  • Tent
  • Shovel
  • Drums
  • Pliers
  • Screwdriver
  • Bike/Trike
  • Drill
  • Food
  • Trucks/Cars
  • Computer
  • Stuffed Animals
  • Jackhammer
  • Saws (Jigsaw, hacksaw, hand saw)
We share
  • Legos

Friday, June 23, 2017

An Android Convert with an iPhone

I'm a couple of months into iPhone ownership. The honeymoon period is over, so it's time for a review.


The iPhone 7 is stable. This was my primary goal in switching from Android, and Apple has held up their end of the bargain. I used to have to restart my LG G3 every day or two to keep it from slowing down. In weeks of continuous uptime I have yet to notice a slowdown in the iPhone.

Now that we've gotten the headline out of the way, it's time to air some grievances.  If you know fixes for these, let me know!

Features I Miss

Automatic contact lookup by dialing (e.g., dial 5-6-7 to start autocompleting J-O-R and suggest the contact "Jordan").

Swipe typing is not available natively. I don't trust non-standard keyboards, since they get all of the text I enter.

Notifications are Inconsistent

When viewing from the lock screen, users dismiss notifications by swiping left and pressing "clear". When viewing pop-up notifications from an application window, users swipe up to dismiss the notification.

Icon Arrangement is Frustrating

When you remove or rearrange applications on the iPhone, you can't just move one at a time. The icons stack, so if you remove one the others all move into the unoccupied space. When I've gotten used to a particular app in a certain spot in my home screen, it's really frustrating to have to rearrange my home screen just because I removed an app.

Touch tone Interfaces are Unintuitive

Pushing these keys will leave you confused and angry

During an active call, the iPhone typically darkens the display. When prompted to "press a key to make a selection" the obvious next step is to unlock the display and press the "phone" icon. However, pressing buttons at this point does not send touch tone signals. During an active call pressing the "phone" icon still tries to initiate a new call, rather than connecting you to the active call.

Cross-App Launching is Limited

If I click on a Washington Post link in Facebook, I want to launch the Washington Post app (for which I have a paid account). Instead of opening the Washington Post app (or even prompting me to decide what to launch) I'm stuck using a web browser within Facebook that is not associated with my Washington Post account.

Sharing is Limited

I frequently want to send a web link to my wife. I send lots of texts with Google Voice, and perplexingly Google Voice does not appear as a sharing option. Similarly, uploading to Google Drive does not appear as an image sharing option either.

Inconsistent Back Button Locations

The back button is in the upper left, then it becomes a camera, then it moves to the upper right

I think the thing I miss most from Android is the back button. Since iOS has no standard back button, applications get to put it wherever they want. They can hide it, or in Facebook's case, even move it around.

Friday, May 5, 2017

A name was lost, in a heartbeat

I remember the scene clearly and I can pinpoint exactly where the conversation happened. There were two brothers, both older than me, who lived a few blocks from my childhood home. Let's call them Joe and Chris. Joe was the oldest. He was stocky and aloof, a near-adult to my seven year old eyes. Chris was younger, just a year or two older than me, and lean.

My childhood summers were spent on the playground of Cooper elementary school in Minneapolis. I did not usually play with Joe and Chris, though sometimes Joe let me join the football games he played with the other bigger kids, and sometimes Chris would join me on the playground. Mostly I played with kids closer to my age or made up obstacle courses to run by myself.

On that day Chris cemented himself into my memory. We had finished playing tag and were sitting on the concrete berm nestled into the little hill between the playground and 32nd street. I do not remember our conversation. I only remember one word, and it was aimed at me: idiot.

Take a moment and think back on your adolescence. I'm willing to bet you had a handful of moments, both good and bad, where you were given a name. It might have been a nickname, assigned by your friends. It might have been a username, self-assigned when you made a Twitter account (or in my case, AOL Instant Messenger). It might have been an insult that cut deep enough to stick. These are all names, as real as the name written on your birth certificate.

My first names came from my parents. When I born I became Tyler. Soon after, I became Tiger. As soon as I could speak, I unequivocally rejected my parents' attempts to use Ty.

The first name I got from outside the confines of my family still makes me smile. I went to latch-key at Bethlehem Covenant Church and an instructor named Andy was the coolest person in the world. We played floor hockey in the dimly lit basement dinner hall of the church, and one day I was the goalie.  My memories of the game are hazy, but I did well enough that Andy dubbed me Sticky Fingers. I was six years old, and I wore that name like a badge of honor.

In high school I struggled to carve out an identity for myself. I was a good student and a mediocre athlete, but my names followed a different arc. In eighth grade I had decided to bleach my hair. My mom obliged, and I gained "frosted tips". I started putting gel in my hair to make it stick up, and AOL Instant Messenger user spikydood15 was born. I joined the swim team in my sophomore year, and when the team captains assigned everyone nicknames for their team attire, my sweatshirt read: gellin.

Out of college and in the business world, I realized that the assignment of a nickname was a mark of acceptance and welcome. I spent three years at my first professional job before I was accepted as T-Dog McSmitherton. Only a year passed at my current job before I became T-Bone and was part of the team.

Each of these names draws its significance from two sources: the namer and the named. When a teammate gave me a name, it was given and received with the weight of membership. When a superior gave me a name, it was a mark of praise and pride. When I picked a name, it was a statement of my evolving identity.

This evolution of identity, and my ability to determine its path, brings us back to the opening story.

Chris heaved word idiot at me like a boulder and I was unprepared to dodge it or catch it. The word landed on my chest and knocked me backward. I teetered, holding this word that was pressing into me and trying to become a name.

Whether it was luck, parental intuition, or a whisper from God, something inspired my dad to walk up just as Chris's insult hit the air.


My dad reached out and smashed the word to pieces with a venom I had never seen:

"My son is not an idiot."

My dad spoke with anger and authority.  He was speaking at Chris but he was talking to me:

Do not even think about accepting that name. That is not your name.

Thank you dad.

Preorder Goodnight Server Room on Etsy!

Copyright 2017 T.D. Smith

Monday, April 3, 2017

Why I gave up on Android

I got my first smartphone in January of 2011-the year after I finished college. I had been writing Java professionally for a couple of years and opted for an HTC Aria running Android. Android apps are written in Java, so I thought it would be fun to be able to write software for my own phone.


Over the next six years I had three different Android phones, each better (and larger) than the last[1]. I also wrote some Android apps, the most successful being the Pretty Good Music Player, which has been downloaded over 4,000 times in its two different forms.

Writing Android applications is a lot of fun and really rewarding. Through open source development on Github and F-Droid I met a lot of people from around the world who were willing to contribute to my application - it has been even been translated into seven different languages!

By this point you should be wondering: If things are going so well, why am I giving up on Android?

I'm ready for a phone that's not a project

With every Android phone I've owned, I've had to work to deal with the following issues:

  1. I have little to no control of what's on my device
  2. I have little say over the software versions or upgrade process
  3. There is little transparency and poor support in the hardware or software unique to each carrier and device
None of these issues are insurmountable, but I have a limited amount of time and money to spend on my phone, and I'm tired of fighting with device control, upgrades, and hardware support. 


Android is open source. In theory, that means it should be user-modifiable. I should be able to tear it apart and rebuild it as I want. I should be able to accept or reject changes to my phone, and I should have control over what's on it. This is the case with other open source projects. It's not the case with Android.

The Android ecosystem is so convoluted it's hard to get a phone that doesn't have bloatware from at least two different sources on it. Google occasionally releases a "clean" phone (the Nexus or the Pixel), but these are the exception, not the norm. At the Verizon store yesterday, I had two options for phones without "NFL Mobile" installed by default: Google Pixel (not in stock) or the iPhone.

This is not what "open source" is supposed to mean. If I want Debian customized with or without something, I can rebuild it myself or choose from one of its many offshoots (e.g., Ubuntu). If I want Android customized, I have to root (hack) my phone with sketchy software and install a custom Android build like the (now defunct) CyanogenMod.

Upgrades (and Downgrades)

Virtually every major Android upgrade in recent memory made my phone worse. The upgrade from Android 4 to Android 5 made Bluetooth media buttons stop working after about 20 minutes. Some aspect of Android 5 or 6 introduced a memory leak that required me to restart my phone every two days or risk apps crashing randomly.

In a normal open source environment, I could address these issues by rolling back the update or creating a fix myself. In Android, (without rooting my phone) I have few choices. It's hard to tell where the issues even originated, since my phone wasn't just running Android: It was running Android, plus LG's bloatware, plus Verizon's bloatware. One of them caused the memory leak.

The best Android option today seems to be the Google branded Pixel. Unfortunately, I have the same long term support concerns with the Pixel as with all of the others. Google has a bad habit of losing interest in a project and dropping it with little fanfare (anybody remember iGoogle? Google Buzz?)


Hardware support is the one place Android acts like an open source project: it's frustrating. There are a plethora of manufacturers, each making a wide variety of devices. Android has to support them all. Linux has a similar problem on the desktop. For example, the Linux kernel has to be written to support a wide variety of CPU types.

Android has a several major device manufacturers (Samsung, LG, Motorola) and a plethora of smaller manufacturers. At any given time each phone maker has two to four devices on the market and approximately fifteen devices within a three year support window. When you factor in the four major carriers (each pre-installing their own bloatware and network support), this makes approximately two hundred sixteen device configurations Android must support at any given time[2]. Linux gets around this issue by being transparent, employing an army of engineers, and by allowing users to handle upgrades and downgrades. Android has all of the weaknesses of open source, and none of the strengths. From a quality control standpoint, this is a nightmare.

The result of this nightmare is that new phones function well. The software on them is well tested. As a phone gets older and older, testing priority stays with the new phones - there's far more motivation for new phones to work well than old phones. For example, the autofocus on my LG G3 stopped working correctly about six months ago (around the two year ownership mark). I believe this was a software error, since the phone remained physically capable of focusing correctly, it would simply re-focus sporadically.

Why I bought an iPhone

I weighed the odds. Android has to support two hundred sixteen phones in a three year rolling window. Apple's iOS has to support eighteen[3]. The chance of frustrating problems, while non-zero, is (at least theoretically) significantly lower on the iPhone.

My experience with Android is only anecdotal, but I'm tired of poor support and buggy software. I'm tired of buying phones that wear the badge of open source but won't let me uninstall bloatware. I know that many of my frustrations have solutions, but those solutions take effort, and I'm tired of my phone being a project.

Final Thoughts

I'm in the honeymoon period with a new iPhone 7. In three years, we'll see where I stand.

1. I had an HTC Aria on AT&T, a Motorola Droid Razr on Verizon, and an LG G3 on Verizon.
2. Assuming three current devices per manufacturer with a six month device release cycle. 3*3*6*4 = 216.
3. Assuming Apple has the same release cycle as Android manufacturers and a similar testing budget.

Copyright 2017 Tyler Smith

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Concepts in Goodnight Server Room

In the upcoming children's book Goodnight Server Room, I follow the adventures of data as they flow through computers and routers, and other hardware found in a server room.

Draft of Cover Art, the Green Shapes are Data

Many of my favorite children's books pick a category (trucks, trains, animals, etc) and describe one item from that category on each page. Goodnight Server Room's category is computers and how they interact with data.

Some bits, bytes, and packets (top to bottom)

Emily Krueger and I did our best to make data as approachable and understandable as possible. The visual complexity of the data increases as the size of the data increases (a byte is eight bits, etc).

Here are some of the terms you can expect to read about in Goodnight Server Room.

  • Server
  • Router
  • Switch
  • Server
  • Cables
  • Hard Drive

  • Processor
  • Cache
Want to see anything not on this list? Let me know!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Review: 2017 Chevrolet Camaro SS

Price as Tested: $43,900
Rental Rating: 8/10
Purchase Rating: 3/10

On a business trip to Arizona, I selected "midsize" as my car rental option. For whatever reason, the rental car company assigned me a Camaro. I did not object.

This does not make sense in Minnesota

This car fits Arizona like a husky fits Alaska. Straight, flat roads with lots of sun are perfect for a open top muscle car.

The model I rented has a 6.2L V8 engine. The power is wonderful - no matter how fast you're driving, the slightest pressure on the gas pedal sends you rocketing ahead of everyone else around. In a week of driving, I never found an opportunity to get the petal even close to the floor.

Despite being a 2017 model with less than three thousand miles, the car sounded clunky. Driving mountain roads often gave me the opportunity to hear the car's jittery machinations as they echoed off of the mountainside.

The Camaro turns like a truck. Sharp mountain curves required close attention to manage the Camaro's sizable frame. The driver sits low in the vehicle and the doors are substantial, so curbs are nearly impossible to see.


The reverse camera turns on automatically and is easy to see on the large center-dash screen. I found the digitally added "turn path" guides to be surprisingly helpful in a car that's easily described as "one big blind spot". With the top up, seeing anything other than what's directly in front of you is a challenge.

To lower the top, a divider has to be in place blocking off the section of the trunk reserved for the top. This divider was broken in the model I tried - I could position it properly in the trunk, but the sensor that allowed the top to open did not detect it. I spent days staring at this message:

I ran back and forth to the trunk so many times trying to get this message to disappear

Finally, I stopped by a dealer who showed me how to trick the sensor with a magnet.

Fixed with magnets!

I was never able to successfully pair my phone with the car - it crashed the Bluetooth process on my phone every time I tried to connect.


The paddle shifters were essentially useless. The delay after pressing the upshift or downshift button is so long it's easier (and less stressful) to simply wait for the automatic transmission to change gear for you.

That being said, when left to its own devices the automatic transmission performed admirably, and I never felt like I had to wait for power when passing someone on the freeway.


Technically this car has seating for five, but the back seats are barely big enough for a backpack, much less a human. The front seats were comfortably spacious.


For a car marketed to people who like their sound booming, I was disappointed by the sound in the Camaro. Music was muddy at best, and even at high volume I was underwhelmed.


Clever gas cap
Driving on speed-limited highways, I never felt even remotely limited for power. This engine sounds wonderful and is always ready when you need it.

The Small Stuff

I was pleasantly surprised by the clever "gas cap", or lack thereof. Instead of taking the cap off, you simply push the nozzle in. 

The steering wheel isn't perfectly round - it has a couple of straight sections, giving it the feel of a blend of a conventional steering wheel and a formula one configuration.

After tricking the trunk sensor, I found the motion of the roof closing and opening to be quiet, quick, and oddly elegant.

The parking break isn't a level or a pedal, it's just a tiny button on the center console. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Rebuilding the Foundation: My journal entries after asking why

Last month my article I don’t know if there is a God. Neither do you. And that’s okay ran on The Salt Collective. I described how I lost my footing in faith, partly due to the lack of empirical discussion and teaching in most churches. I started asking why we believed in certain things, and it took a long time and a lot of work to find a satisfactory answer. 

I got a lot of feedback, including this question:

I didn't get the interpretation that you really answered the "why" in your piece. It seems that you went from having strong doubts and deep, philosophical questions about the "why" directly to having your faith restored by a genuine sense that God was speaking to you. Maybe that's your answer to the why? You believe because you feel?

In the article I jump rather quickly to the conclusion (the "answer" to why), but in reality it took several years - my sophomore year of college when I really started asking was 2008-2009 and I didn't reach the conclusion I describe until 2013 (and I expect I'll never completely reach a conclusion).

I'd say that I only partially answered the 'why'. I concluded that I have a basis for belief, but I don't have absolute confidence in that belief - I have less confidence in my beliefs now than I did before I started asking why, but I have a better foundation for them.

You asked "You believe because you feel?" I'd say that's half the answer, and it's the half that took me a long time to figure out. In the article I present the story of feeling God speaking to me as a transformative moment. It was a transitive moment, but it wasn't the transformative moment. There wasn't a single moment, instead there were quite a few iterations of analytical, emotional, and spiritual steps in those years. The moment I recounted was just a representative story.

I have a rational framework for a *reasonable* belief in God. That framework wasn't enough to really justify belief since it's always possible to poke holes in a logic-only argument for something that's intrinsically unknowable. The missing piece was an understanding that feeling an (apparent) emotional connection to God is sufficient justification for leaping from rational argument to belief.

Journal Entries

In the hopes of telling a more complete story, I'll share a couple more of those experiences as taken from my journal entries. These are a little disjointed, but I hope they'll at least illustrate some of my thought process. 

April 2012: Is there a God?

For me this first comes down to a question of “how and why does the universe exist?” Clearly, we got here somehow. I see two potential arguments here: First, that we’re the product of some insanely long odds producing a quantum state change in which matter and antimatter simultaneously appeared. Second that God exists, and at some point in time, created the universe. 
In either argument we don’t immediately have much insight into the forces that resulted in our existence. I think that the idea that we sprung from nothing is at least as large of a mental leap as the idea that we were created.  
For the sake of argument, let’s assume a Hawking-esque physicist is able to demonstrate that quantum physics could result in our existence. In Letters From a Skeptic Greg Boyd makes an interesting counterpoint (Greg’s referring to evolution, but the principle holds in both cases): 
The theory of evolution, if it is true, can only give us a biological guess as to how humans came about. But the more fundamental question is how evolution produces the kind of results it does in the first place. What must the ultimate “force” of the universe be like for evolution to have the kind of characteristics it has? I’m asking something about the process itself. This is a metaphysical question (meta = above). Science can’t address it. (Boyd, p54) 
In the case of our existence, this begs the question “if there are a set of rules governing quantum mechanics in such a way that the universe could be sporadically created, where did these rules come from?” Perhaps this is just a limitation of my brain, but it’s hard to me to accept that the rules of physics are invariants with no source. 
Boyd also makes the argument that the personal nature of humans demands a personal creator, i.e. the fact that we ‘thirst’ for God implies that there is a God, as the fact that we thirst for water implies the existence of water. 
Independent of all of this conjecture, I find I’m left in the same situation I described above - I can’t be sure. I can make a detailed, well supported argument for God’s existence (or lack thereof), but the fact remains that there is no internal switch I can double check to confirm “Yep, I have settled that question”. I think this makes it pretty clear that this will become a question of faith (though I wish I could just put a rag in my yard...)

April 2012: More Questions 

Why should I believe in God?
I think this is a very different question from my first question, because it allows for a lack of 100% reproducible evidence.  Some potential answers:
1. Because prayer makes gut sense to me. I can’t give much rationale for this, all I’ve really got is that prayer feels right.
2. Because life without faith seems like a pointless struggle to reproduce as much as possible.
Is belief in God a choice?
This may seem like an odd question, but it’s been bugging me. My fears keep arriving at “what if I’m incapable of believing in God”.
How do I deal with the cloud of anxiety around these questions?
Since there’s so much riding on my answers to these questions, it’s hard to separate what I feel due to fear to what I really think.
Things I’m working with right now
It feels harder to accept beliefs now because it’s much harder to go back on them - if I didn’t have people expecting me to believe things, it would be easier to dive in.
“Belief” is confusing for me, because it’s impossible to verify.
I doubt whether God exists, but prayer still makes sense to me.

December 2012: Anxiety

Faith is a journey. I can never be 100% certain I won’t change my mind.
When I meet someone who might be an atheist I start to get an anxiety attack type feeling.

February 2013: Coming to terms with the possibility that miracles could make sense

I’d struggled for a while with the idea of a universe which lived by laws (physics, math, etc) but that God could arbitrarily break them. It seemed crazy that miracles could happen, and I had trouble getting myself to accept them.
Then I started to imagine God as a software developer who’d written a simulator (the universe). When I develop software, I can pause it in the middle of execution and inspect things, and I could even (if I were skilled enough) change things on the fly. Nothing inside my program has any idea how this can happen - the rules of the program don’t include the debugger. Instead, I pause it from the outside. It’s almost silly to think of writing a program which expects to be paused/changed by a programmer.

This helped me work through why the universe has rules, but that God can break them. He’s outside the universe. We can’t possibly understand how he does what he does, just as something inside a program I write can’t understand how I can debug it.

March 2013: Mythbusters and the fallacy of science vs religion

Watching Mythbusters was one of the biggest factors that prompted my asking why. I loved (and love) those guys, and they're all atheists. When I started going through rounds of anxiety about faith, I stopped watching it. 
I used to love watching Mythbusters, and stopped because I was concerned about its effect on my faith. I’m going to go back to it and embrace that God made me a critical thinker.

January 2014: Hard Questions

  1. How can we account for confirmation bias in assessing the validity of claims of spiritual experience?
  2. How can I be confident my faith is more than just an artifact of parental pressure? Can I be confident that if I were born in China, I would have eventually figured Christianity out?
  3. How can we claim that anything taken on faith (e.g. Christ’s divinity) is more correct than something taken on faith by other religions?

Unfortunately, that's where I have to leave you - hard questions without surefire answers. A lot of the feedback I got on the original article was people offering me their assurance or confidence in how they know God exists. Folks on Reddit were especially incensed by my claim that nobody knows for sure. 

On one hand I'm glad people on there have so much confidence in their beliefs. Sometimes this is called "strong faith", but I don't like the implication that doubt means weakness. On the other hand, overconfidence is dangerous - being confident that you know what's right makes it much easier to tell someone else that they're wrong.