Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Department of useless information

I just wanted to point out some things I've added on the right hand column.

First, the Facebook profile/status. You have to join Facebook in order to see everything. I have reconnected with several college and even high school friends through Facebook. They are developing an interesting revenue model as product recommendations, books, movies, etc are more meaningful from people you are already friends with than from total strangers. Facebook may become the new Google. Though I doubt Google is going anywhere!

I also added a app. This relays the last songs I listened to in my iTunes. If I'm currently listening, it updates more frequently. Like Pandora, can stream "radio" to your desktop based on your current library and listening habits, or based on the name of an artist or group you type in. CBS just bought Evidently, more than just a social and recommending network, offers feedback to producers of the music such as when how far into a track people listened to a particular song, what they advanced to, how many times a track gets played, etc. If you're ok with that kind of information going out about your listening habits, it can be a pretty fun little tool.

Finally, I have my Digg app, which shows the latest stories I've dug. Fairly self-explanatory.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


I sometimes think about conflicting things in my life and wonder what it says about me and the direction of my family. I also wonder on a macro level about how these things affect our culture, and the future of our culture. It has been said that our post-modern times are fundamentally contradictory. We think the world is falling apart, yet we consume and waste like there's no tomorrow. Religion is down, but spirituality is up. We build huge homes, yet the typical family spends less and less time together in them. We buy in to all these time-saving devices, yet feel as though we've never been busier.

My tensions, or conflicts are many, but here are some related specifically to technology that I've been thinking about lately.

On the one hand, I want a huge 1080p HD television with a BluRay player and HD satellite or cable so I can enjoy and experience the best in modern home theater entertainment. On the other hand, I want to get rid of our 27 inch CRT because of the low priority I want to place on it and how, compared to the average family, how infrequently we watch it.

On the one hand, I want to subscribe to cable or satellite service that delivers a million channels, especially the ones I know I enjoy, History channel, ESPN, Discovery, and so on, mostly so that I can spend my time flipping through all my options, not necessarily settling on one thing to watch. On the other hand, I need to be content with my life line cable, the major networks, a couple of Spanish channels, some PBS, WGN and TNT. Oh, and CPAN 2, for some reason. Why pay the money for all those extra channels if we're trying so hard to de-emphasize TV in our family?

On the one hand, I want an iPhone. Those things look so cool! On the other hand, I want to get rid of my cell phone. Not because I dislike it, but because let's face it, do I really NEED a cell phone? I pay Sprint $68/month so that people can reach me nearly on demand; yet I have email, voice mail at home and voice mail at work. I'm not THAT important!

On the one hand, I should dump MLB. It's a commitment. I've replaced the vacuum created by hardly watching TV with baseball. But for some reason I enjoy it so much. On the other, I enjoy it so much!

One the one hand, I should dump my online Blockbuster subscription. What a crazy thing it is to devalue TV/Cable/Satellite, think I'm clever because I'm not spending extra money on all those channels but then get movies I sometimes don't care about in the mail. And then I watch them! I should read a book! On the other hand, I enjoy movies. I like being caught up on what's being produced. I like the story telling, the art, even-- the production of movies. I enjoy a story, of just about any subject, told well.

As I type this I am becoming aware that what I'm dealing with is not a conflict of interests, but a conflict of values. I do value gadgets. I don't know why. I guess I also value the art of movies, the drama (though not all see it that way) of baseball.

I have not settled on where the moderate level of all these things would be. I jump in to a thing and soak it all up sometimes, even if it means just soaking it up on the periphery. I am not sure I have arrived at priorities. I mean, beyond the very important things of God, my wife, and my kids, these other things must descend in some meaningful way from there. I am uneasy or, uncertain, anyway, about how all this should balance in my life.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Immediate Media Age: Of Broadband & Blogs

Our whole lives are about doing more in less time, trying to cram everything into 24 hours, in a day that is filled with constant interruptions. Instant messages, emails, and the constant chirping of cell phones have surely and slowly squeezed our attention spans.

This is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg but I like how Om Malik summed up our instant blogging culture (case in point, this post, courtesy of Digg!) You may have seen or heard Om on CrankyGeeks.

read more | digg story

Honest Mechanic

One of the hard things about moving to a new area is finding a trustworthy mechanic. There are the usual suspects, that place in particular that everyone suggests by the church, but my experience with them has been costly and not all that I had hoped.

There was the time I asked for the a/c to be charged on the van, only to find that I had a serious enough of a leak in the condenser that it leaked the refrigerant immediately. They put a dye in to help spot the leak, but it was such an obvious gash that no dye was needed. Yes, it was reasonable to charge me for the work, but nothing "stuck." So I was charged for the dye, the refrigerant, and the fee to set everything up with no compassion for not stopping to charge the a/c even though he said he could hear it leaking from the beginning. They offered to replace/repair the condenser for $700. After a little research I found some one else to do the work for $500. It pays to make a few phone calls.

But the guy who did the work, though he did good work, was all the way on the south side of town, complete opposite side. So I had to find someone else.

That's when I found Parrish's. I don't remember the exact circumstance, but I know I needed some muffler work done. Right away, they showed me what the problem was, what the factory replacement would be, what the after market would be, and "Oh, I have some pipe here I can cut and use for this piece so you'll only have to buy this shorter one." Saved me a lot of money.

I've continued to go back ever since. The latest adventure that kinda sealed the deal for me as a permanent customer was when I realized that our van was past the time of needing a timing belt change. Did the previous owner do it? Was there any way to find out?

I asked them if they could check.

First diagnosis was that it was too hard to tell, until they got into it, that is, and by that time, I might as well go ahead and replace it. Well, I thought, it's got to be done, better go ahead and do it. This was going to cost $900.

The next day I got a call around noon from Robert saying that he hadn't gotten that far into it but was able to check the belt and see that it had already recently been changed. Relief!

I got to thinking about what some unscrupulous mechanic might do--and what he could have easily done himslef. I had already given permission to change it, he could have done the work, collected the labor--or worse yet, NOT do the work, claim that he had, and I never would have known the difference. But in his honesty, he saved us a ton of money and didn't even charge for the labor to get as far as he did!

My sister in law has been threatening for some time to write a book about customer service. (Her experiences warrant a whole new post--maybe even a blog!) These guys need to be the subject of the preface, or the how-to-do-it-right section. A humble, unpretentious hole-in-the-wall auto shop with great service, honesty and one very happy and returning customer.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Summer update

I feel like I owe someone a blog post. Truth is, I have so many things I could post about, I don't know where to start. Maybe I'll do the Gary Underwood bullet points to get caught up and go from there.
  • We recently returned from a long trip. First a drive to Iowa, where we spent time with Janet's family, here sister in the Waterloo area and her folks 45 minutes away on "the farm." While we were there we celebrated Lindsey's 6th birthday and the Chezik's 50th wedding anniversary. We had a great time!
  • We stopped in at the National Farm Toy Museum. An interesting slice of Americana.
  • I got to go to a worship conference at Saddleback Church in Orange County, CA. it was great! more on that some other time.
  • I visited the Y a couple of times while in CA. I like the Y in Raleigh better.
  • On the first night in the OC I skipped early registration and went to an Angels baseball game. They played KC who swept them in the three game series.
  • It's humorous to me that in CA, the highways are all qualified by the locals with "the." It's not "take 405 to exit 106," it's "take the 405 to exit 106." I'm gonna start referring to 440 and 540 as "the 440" and "the 540" and see if it catches on.
  • At church, I feel like we could do a lot of things better, but I also feel like we do things as well as most churches. I'm mostly referring to music and tech here.
  • I had the largest pork tenderloin sandwich I had ever eaten at this fair, in IA.
  • The Mississippi River begins in Itasca State Park, Minnesota, and flows south 2,350 miles, to the Gulf of Mexico. I learned this at the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, in Dubuque, IA.
  • I have become a fan of Hampton Inns.
  • Before our trip, we had to spend about $860 in our van, plus get it inspected.
  • While returning to Iowa from CA, via DFW, I missed my connecting flight and had to sleep overnight in Ft. Worth. I hooked up with a couple of dangerous characters:

  • Over the course of many hours of driving, one of the ways I entertained myself was to "read" by audiobook Crime and Punishment. I'm about 1/3 through it.
  • Man, was it hard to go to work this morning. The services went well, but it was a lot of work! God works in spite of us.