Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Beyond Opinion

Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend by Ravi Zacharias

My thoughts on this book

rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book was not written by Ravi Zacharias. I just wanted to get that out of the way. I noticed right away (but only after I got the book in my hands) that each chapter is written by a contributor, and is edited by Zacharias, though he does contribute to a few of the chapters.

Though the book is organized in a logical manner, it would work fine to take the segment you are interested in and read just that portion. One of the strengths of a book like this is that if you tire of a particular author, you only need to wait until that particular essay is finished, and the next chapter will contain new information on a new subject written in a completely different style. This was a strength and a weakness of this book. From chapter to chapter one could find great depth in reasoning and arguments for faith. Some of the chapters may require a couple of readings to really grasp the breadth of all the author is saying. Other chapters are quite informal and are full of anecdotes which may or may not be very useful though at least entertaining.

The chapters I found most useful and eye opening were "Challenges from Science" (John Lennox), "The Trinity as a Paradigm for Spiritual Transformation" (L. T. Jeyachandran) (one of the most thought-provoking things I've ever read) and "Challenges from Islam" (Sam Soloman)

Probably the greatest thing I will take away from this book, however is the idea of teaching apologetics to my kids. Not in a formal way, but in the casual everyday encounter with culture and life and the Bible. We as a church have lost that intentionality regarding our young people and I am determined to make apologetic thinking a part of their education and skills! Check back in about 10 years and we'll see how that worked out.

We used this book as a small group tool. We meet weekly and read a new chapter each week. There was usually plenty to discuss from the readings. Each chapter was usually 20-30 pages each.

View all my reviews.

Check Out My Landing Page

Just for fun I've created a landing page. What is a landing page? It is an attempt to solve a problem created by multiple social networking outlets. The solution to a problem only the internet could create. I decided to create it after reading this article.

The idea behind a landing page is that it can be tailored to suit the audience who arrives on it.

Think about why people click the URL on a Twitter profile?

Most times that I do it - I want to know more about the person behind the Twitter account. I want to know who they are, what they do and how I can connect with them.

Being taken to the front page of their blog doesn’t really answer all of these questions without me having to do some more work (looking for an about page, sifting through their latest posts etc).

Also, in an attempt to be creative, I managed to secure a cool domain name with the ".me" extension. So I got "Brian Is Me"

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

My Christmas Gift to You

OK, it's not entirely from me. OK, it's not from me at all--at least not in the sense that I created it, I'm just bringing it to your attention.

For all you Firefox users out there, install this clever little add-on. It will enhance your Google search results by providing a context cloud of related terms to your search. Very handy. Hard to describe, just give it a try!

I hope you all have a great Christmas!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Harry Connick Jr Concert

We had a great time with Neil and Kimsu at the new Durham Performing Arts Center Wednesday night, taking in a Harry Connick, Jr. holiday show.

It was more than just a holiday show, however, as Connick's two hour-straight performance turned in several classic New Orleans blues, such as Beale Street Blues and St James Infirmary.

As a special bonus, his good friend Branford Marsalis joined him on stage for a couple of tunes. Marsalis is not part of the tour, but since he lives in the Durham area, he was a welcomed and easy addition to a great show!

Here left to right are Connick at the piano, Lucien Barbarin on the trombone, Mark Braud on the trumpet, and Marsalis on the Soprano Sax.

Here are some random things I enjoyed about the concert:

1) the venue. The new "DPAC," as it's called is elegant and state of the art. It seats 2,800 (most or all of which were full) and sounds and looks outstanding.
2) the band. By this I mean the horn players, in addition to a couple of excellent soloists, the horn section was tight, confident, and in perfect sync. There were three trumpet players, three trombone players (including an excellent bass trombone player) and three saxes (tenor, alto/tenor, bari). This was scaled down from the normal big band of 4/4/5. I imagine Connick had to do some revoicing and rearranging to make all that work.
3) the rhythm section was outstanding as well. The bass player in particular was spot on with time and intonation. He and the drummer worked so well to create deep, deep pockets.
4) the intonation. Trumpets in octaves, the band harmonies, and balance were perfect.
5) great time. Everyone knew where the pulse was. Even when Connick intentionally played so far behind the beat on some of those blues tunes. It never slowed. Just a perfect feel.
6) great improvisational solos. No one played a bad solo. Connick's playing is so tasty. Somewhere between his former teacher, Ellis Marsalis and Thelonious Monk--he has a strong blues influence but also plays very percussively and angularly at times.
7) great singing. Connick knows his limits vocally and stays right in his comfort zone--keeping everyone listening in their comfort zone!
8) great entertainment. Part of what made the show so enjoyable was the fact that Connick is great at talking. Plenty of humor and improvisation which was a lot of fun.

If you ever have a chance to see Connick, do it. You won't regret it!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Drive faster!

I cannot be convinced that school buses driving on the highway, even in the right lane, with lights flashing on top, and behind and in front and beneath, is remotely safe when they move at 45 mph while traffic all around them moves at 70 mph. This cannot possibly make things safer all around. In the last two days I have encountered dangerous traffic conditions, once in the morning and once in the evening because of school buses going too slow.

Drive faster or get off the highway. Someone's going to get hurt. In an effort to make things safer for the kids on the bus, bus drivers ironically create unsafe conditions for everyone around them.

Monday, December 15, 2008

60 P.S.I.

Some advice for you, but first my boring story:

Last week I went to a gas station a block from the church to fill up. I didn't go to fill up my gas tank, I went to fill up my tires. I have had this Buick for about three months now but I had not yet put air in the tires. It turns out they were all under-inflated by about 10 lbs each. I was unclear however exactly what the tires SHOULD be inflated to. I couldn't find the information on the tire (besides, it was night and dark), and the sticker inside the driver's door that usually has this information was torn off.

So I put 32 PSI in each tire and drove off. It occurred to me later to check the owners manual. Oddly, the manual didn't say anything about the recommended tire pressure--except for one tire.

It said in big bold letters to be sure to keep the spare doughnut tire inflated to 60 PSI. I wasn't even sure where it was! The next day I found it hiding under the "floor" of my trunk and checked the pressure. The pressure was so low, it barely moved the needle on my gauge. Only to about 10 lbs.

So I took it back to the gas station with free air and after about five minutes of standing there pumping air in the tire, it is now completely inflated to 60 PSI. Hopefully I'll never have to take advantage of that.

My advice to you, again, 1) keep your regular tires inflated to the recommended spec. 2) find your spare (and I don't mean the one around your waste.) 3) inflate it completely. 4) pray that you'll never need it.

Would there be anything worse than having a flat tire on some highway, pulling over, jacking up the car, replacing the tire with the spare only to find out your spare is flat too? OK, there might be some things worse, but this is such an easy preventative fix!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Five Love Languages of Children

The Five Love Languages of Children The Five Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
If you have children, you should read this book. The love languages apply to more than just children of course, they relate to everyone, but this book focuses on relating the love languages to children.

The authors, Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell say that by the ages of five or six you will be able to see characteristics of a dominant love language emerge in your child. The five love languages identified by the authors are 1) Quality Time, 2) Physical Touch, 3) Words of Affirmation, 4) Gifts, 5) Acts of Service.

The reason the love languages are important is because it is how you can uniquely identify with your child to help the feel loved the most. It is also a way for you to recognize when they are attempting to dispense love in their most meaningful way.

Besides simple recognition, the book spends a couple of chapters dealing with the love languages related to discipline and learning. Without a full "love tank," children will not respond well to either discipline or learning.

Again, for parents with children living at home, I would highly recommend this book.

View all my reviews.

Thursday, December 04, 2008


We rarely eat Chinese food. In fact, I would say most of the time, Chinese is something that always sounds like a great idea until you're in the middle of eating it--then you wonder why you thought it was such a great idea.

Anyway, I was struck by the wisdom that came my way via the "fortune" cookie at the end of the meal. It read "Only talent people get help from others."

It may be that they're trying to see if we've been paying attention to the "Learn Chinese" found on the opposite side of the "fortune." Unfortunately "chun juan" (Egg roll) isn't going to help me with this quote.

I have been pondering the meaning. Could it really be saying that only "talented" people get help from others? But then why would that be the case? If they're so talented, they should be able to help themselves. Should it be "tolerant" people? Can someone please help me with this?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mr. Fix-it

Most kids, when they dream of and look forward to Christmas think about the snow, or the lights, or putting up decorations, or opening presents. I looked forward to those things as a kid too, but the thing that Christmas meant more than anything to me was that we got to set up the train around the tree.

This was dad's train, a collection of Lionel engines, tracks, and cars accumulated since the time he was a kid (and we know that was a very long time ago). Somewhere about the time I was 12 or so I was allowed to take over the annual "setting-up-of-the-train." I enjoyed it a lot. Probably because of the fantasy of running the machines, pretending I was actually in the engine and making it go, the wires, the set up, the layout. It was kind of the analog version of Sim City.

So fast forward a couple of decades and now I have the train, though the excitement has worn off a little, it's still fun to get excited about seeing it run yet another year, especially through the eyes of Reece, who just can't get enough of it. Anyway, crawling around on the hardwood, trying to assemble a couple of tracks, and get wires to plug into the right things, and set the wheels just right on the track to avoid a short, and don't touch things or you'll get a little shock just didn't have the same appeal it used to.

One of the set of engines that we had was this diesel model. A Union Pacific engine that just never quite worked right. I have memories of it roaring but not moving. Seemed it didn't have the weight the cast iron engines had to pull a lot of cars. Even when the load was lightened, it still moved reluctantly. I can remember dad taking it to have it worked on. I think this happened more than once. A little lubrication, an adjustment here or there, and it at least moved again, but still didn't compare to the robustness of the locomotive models.

Well today I ran the train for a while--Reece and Lindsey couldn't wait for me to do it! and all of the sudden the U. P. train just stopped. Light stayed on, but the train made no sound and went nowhere.

This happens occasionally. Tracks become separated, or the engine is sitting on a dirty part of the track, making a poor electrical connection, but nothing I did could get it moving again. So I picked it up and examined it. I found a loose wire underneath where the gears are. OK, that could be something--question is, do I want to get into this tonight? I figured out how to pop the top off and when I flipped it over on the inside, I discovered a different loose wire which had broken from the top of the motor.

I decided to operate. I found my little soldering pen, some solder, got my wire strippers, and went to work.

Reece just couldn't stand it. Totally beside himself with curiosity. Using that iron again brought back all the memories of breathing in that second-hand lead-rich smoke.

Anybody who has ever done any soldering will tell you it's a three handed job. I was having a hard time getting the iron hot enough....

..So I switched from the 10-watt iron to the 75-watt gun. THAT did the trick.

Put it all back together, and the final result:

Friday, November 28, 2008

Finale Issues

When you use a piece of software for what feels like nearly every day for over 10 years, you feel like you've earned the right to gripe about it a little. Finale is the software program I have been using since 1994 or 1995 as a grad student at Kent State. The theory/comp teaching assistants had the duty of being in charge of the computer lab on a rotating basis. That was my first real exposure to Finale.

Since then I've developed the love-hate relationship one develops when you learn to use a tool to help you create or enhance your art, but one who's quirks and idiosyncrasies can just drive you crazy sometimes. I've been lurking on the MakeMusic Notation forum, looking for answers to some of my issues, and finding none, or at least no satisfactory answers, I decided to create this post.

Post title: I will upgrade to 2009 when...

I have been using Finale since 1997. It was version 3.5 or something back then. It's gone from being a functional notation program with plenty of user deficiencies to a functional notation program with a much improved interface but with the addition of features and functions that most people will probably never use. Yes, it's nice to be able to define the bar thickness, but really--who actively goes in and edits that?

Alright, so here's the point of my post. There have been nagging deficiencies--things that seem like they should take fairly high priority to fix--that have been broken either since they were introduced or since I've been using the program and as far as I know have never worked properly or have never been addressed.

One caveat. I will admit that I may simply not know that there is, in fact, a solution to some of the issues I list below, and if there is an easy fix, please, please let me know! HOWEVER--I will say that I have no intent to shell out another $100 every year --or ever other year for new and likely obscure features that I will probably never use when more fundamental functions of the software has yet to be addressed.

*Articulation in multiple layers -- why is it that if I have a series of notes in layer one, and I add, say, staccato articulation to them, then go back and add another series of notes in layer two, the placement of the previously entered articulation gets all screwed up? The issue worsens if I need to add articulation to the notes of layer two as well. This should not be a hard problem to solve. Does Finale really think we oughta have accents and other articulation markings appearing in the middle of the staff, or on top of secondary notes? Why do I always have to move the articulation manually when this happens? This is dumb.

*Cancel and OK quit working -- some have suggested repairing permissions to keep the dialog boxes working properly. Really? This works only for a second, if at all. I have Finale on two computers. The problem persists on both of them, and it happens in no other app that I run. If I get a staff tool dialog box, for example, I make my selections, click ok, and it does nothing. It only works when I click at some black area of the dialog box. That is so dumb. Can we fix that please?

*Rhythmic notation - I am frustrated with the arbitrary nature of the rhythmic notation. It appears on the middle line of the staff with the stem going down whether you want it to or not. I would love to be able to flip the stem, and if necessary, move the location of the rhythmic notation so I can place notes in other layers if necessary that are non-rhythm notation notes.

*Enharmonic memory -- When you are in speedy entry and you put up an accidental in the key of C, say a G#, the enharmonic settings may be that Finale reads it as an Ab. OK, but in this case you need it to be a V/vi so you change it to G# by pressing 9 on the key pad, but then if you have another G# in the same measure, it still puts up an Ab. Duh. Really? I JUST told you this pitch is a G#. Even if my enharmonic spellings are set to favor flats, it really oughta look at that and say-Oh, he's working in sharps right now, not only will I assume that for THIS measure that's the orientation we need, but if there is a tie from the G# of the measure in question to the next measure, I'll make an appropriate note of that too. But NO.

*Placement of brackets with quarter note triplets-- can we get this right already? I mean come on, MakeMusic has been working so hard for so long to perfect the slurs, but they've completely forgotten about triplet brackets colliding with note stems or beams. Come on.

* Pickup measure help --When setting a pickup measure, why doesn't Finale auto-fill all other measures in the score with the corresponding pickup value with rests? If I have an eighth note pick up in one or two instruments, the opening measure in everyone else's part should not remain a whole rest, it should automatically be changed to the value of the pickup measure.

*Autosave -- This needs a lot of work. I have learned over the years that you never know when Finale is going to crash. It will crash, it is the nature of computers and software, and Finale is not notoriously stable. So Autosave is an important feature. It has baled me out (see untitled loop below). I currently have my Autosave set to fire every five minutes. Yes, five minutes. However, this leads to significant problems while operating in various functions of the program.
--Autosave sometimes crashes the document by putting you in a loop you can't get out of if you've freshly opened a document ("untitled") and haven't had a chance to "save as..." If your autosave kicks in and you have this untitled document open, you can't get to the box that lets you name it and save it. The only choice is to force quit. Completely unacceptable.
--Autosave needs to be kept in the background and keep it from interrupting whatever I'm doing. For example, when one becomes significantly proficient at speedy entry, you can be humming along, entering, entering, rest, note, rest, note, note [autosave] note, tie, note--dialog box--too many notes in the measure, etc. What? Oh, no I didn't --stupid autosave occurred as I made an entry that wasn't registered BECAUSE AUTOSAVE TOOK PRECEDENCE. FAIL.
--Autosave interrupts anything the user is doing: whatever menu you have pulled down, whatever speedy entry or lyrical entry you're attempting to make and totally takes you out of your flow. Again, the software should serve the user, not the other way around. Make autosave happen completely in the background and seamlessly, so I don't even know it's happening. I don't even need to see a dialog box flash up there for a second. Just do it.

* Staff expression shortcuts -- When working in a score, there are plenty of times while using a staff expression tool I would like to use the shortcut of holding down an assigned key and clicking and adding something to most of the score, but not all the score. For example, maybe I want to add a rall. but I don't need it to appear on both piano staves or both vocal staves. But it needs to appear everywhere else. Is there no global way that I can still use that shortcut but specify staff exceptions? I know about groups, but that doesn't work with short cuts [that I know of].

*Staff group extraction -- the new extraction process is the opposite of user-friendly. I cannot figure out what single thing has benefited or what advantage has been gained over the previous approach. Can someone explain to me why I can't name a staff in a group and have the group show up in the extraction window? Really? Dumb.

*Document preferences -- Certain prefs oughta stick with the document. For example, if I last leave off inputing lyrics in "section 1", save the doc, open it on my other computer (or later on the same one), and continue entering lyrics, I don't want to discover that I've been entering in default "verse 1" for the past half hour. If I leave off in section 1, save the doc and open it in another context, or on another day, it oughta remember where I was.

In fact, the doc should open to the last place I was editing, with the tool I was using, not at the very beginning, or at least this ought to be an option.

OK--I can't be the only one. What other aspects of Finale need to be addressed that have long-standing difficulties. I think most would rather see these annoyances dealt with rather than new features added.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

I have a 10 year old

It's hard to believe that Austin is ten years old today. Janet has been reminding him of his difficult delivery for the last 24 hours. THAT was a story.

What does this ten-year-old want for his birthday? His own email address and his own blog. He got what he wanted but his blog is invite-only so if you want to view it, email me and I'll send you an invite. (he is a kid, after all, grateful for the security built in to blogger.)

I also took him and a couple of his buddies to Adventure Landing today where they played arcade games for an hour, played a round of 18 holes of miniature golf, a game of laser tag, ate lunch, played a different 18 holes, and called it a day. Here are some pictures of their adventures.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Funny Picture Break

Here are some goofy things I've collected over the last couple of months for this purpose. Weird sense of humor, I know.

Blood and Thunder Review

Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West by Hampton Sides

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
I picked this book for no reason other than I loved the last book I read by Hampton Sides. His book, Ghost Soldiers, was so well-written and thoroughly researched that he became an instant favorite of mine as an author.

This book was no different. Scholarly, but not dry; dramatic, but objectively so; focused, but set on a broad landscape of the American west, while covering a range of years from the early 19th century through just after the civil war.

"Blood and Thunder" refers to the genre of twenty-five cent pulp fiction novels which were precursors "...to the modern western, briskly paced and packed with cliffhangers and hair-raising scrapes." The subject of the Blood and Thunder stories and the central character around whom this book is based is Kit Carson.

Yet this book isn't about the exaggerated way in which these novels portrayed Carson, this book was about the "real" Kit Carson. The loyal, meek, witty, intuitive, illiterate tracker of the West.

Though Carson is the central figure in the book, the book is paradoxically not exactly about him. It is a story of Manifest Destiny, of the Navajo nation, of General Kearny, of General Carleton's vision of a Utopian Indian reservation, and even the vast terrain of the west, from the Rockies to the desserts to the canyon homes of the Indians took form as an important character in this narrative.

And the narrative, expertly woven with historical and cultural backgrounds, explanations, quotes from official documents, diaries, and letters, brings the reader along as though the account given is a novel rather than actual history.

Hampton Sides has written objectively, giving the reader a good sense of the mood of the times related to western expansion, the perspective of various Indian tribes and their histories, attitudes of Mexicans, Indians, and white Americans towards each other, and the bleak hardships of life in the West in the 19th century.

I highly recommend this book, especially if your appreciation or knowledge of this time period and geographic region is lacking. After reading it, you will have received a comprehensive picture and a narrative of this era that is balanced and far more than simply anecdotal.

View all my reviews.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Augmented Reality

This is pretty amazing and doesn't even seem possible, but it is! This video is from this year's TechCrunch50 conference and I heard about this company on this week's TWiT.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

House Review

House House by Frank E. Peretti

My review

rating: 1 of 5 stars
How disappointing. I had heard such great things about Dekker and in fact, really wanted to read his color trilogy (Black, Red, White) but those weren't available at the library.

I have a solid history with Peretti, but I hadn't read him since college.

I've been in non fiction so much lately, I decided to take a break from it and get into something light and fun.

Here's the thing about this story. It's a little Stephen King, it's a little "I know what you did last summer," and it tries to be the Christian produced movie with not-so-subtle world-view mantras repeated by the characters as though people use Christianese to summarize their world-view.

I didn't care about any of the characters. I just couldn't get interested. I don't recommend it at all.

Back to my non-fiction, I guess.

View all my reviews.

What I've learned from selling and (almost) buying cars on Craigslist

This may be of some help to you if you ever find yourself in the situation we found ourselves in last month.

A not-quite-right sound began eminating from our 98 Sienna somewhere between Ohio and Iowa on our trek to the mid-west in July. As it got louder and louder, and through a series of other oddities, we were forced to take it to a dealer where we learned that a bearing was going inside the transmission.

This was unnerving, because in addition to the literally thousands of dollars we had dumped into the thing over the course of just 15 months that we owned it, we were in Waterloo, IA and needed to get back to Raleigh. We were advised to not make the trip by one mechanic. The other thought it would be ok and we could decide what to do when we got back.

We took our chances and made it back.

Shortly after that, I began to notice some odd things going on with my car (98 626). After having it examined I learned the following things were about to break: The radiator was just about rusted out, the transmission cooling lines were clogged (due to the rust, probably), the transmission fluid was (as a result) burnt, the bearings were shot in both front wheels, and the whole front end was rusting out and would need to be replaced soon.

So, two vehicles that were going to need some serious money to repair and upkeep, and in both cases, the amount of money needed for their survival was much more than they were worth.

Now, allow me to get to my point: Our decision was to sell both vehicles. Who's gonna take them? Carmax? They took them for a little spin and made their offers. Not too impressive, but at least we had something.

How about Craigslist?

OK--so here's where it gets interesting. if you peruse the auto for sale section of Craigslist, you will discover there are two types of sellers.

The first kind of seller has owned the car for a long time and it is in "mint," "perfect," or "like new" condition, even if it is five or eight years old. It has a lot of miles, but they're highway miles, which somehow is supposed to ease your mind about just how many there are. It's clean. He has all the maintenance records so you can see how much money he's already put into it. He may list a blue book value which is meaningless because it is only an average of what people are asking for that particular model, not what they're actually getting for it. These people have an emotional attatchment either to their vehicle or to the care they've given the vehicle and as a result, they expect you to acknowledge this and reward them by paying a little (or a lot) more than you would from a licensed reseller.

The second kind of seller (this was me in both cases) recognizes that their car is a piece of junk. It may be nearly falling apart, but those issues, though perhaps mentioned in the interest of disclosure, are de-emphasized while superficial qualities of the vehicle (leather, CD player, cruise, A/C) are exaggerated. "Please, yes, I know the puddle of oil in the driveway is not good, but hey, it has an antenna that goes up and down!" These sellers are happy to just get rid of it. They want something for it-- as much as possible--(and certianly more than Carmax), though they'll probably take just about anything you offer them before you walk away.

I was upfront about all the known issues with both of my cars, both in the ad and in person. I let people take them for a test drive and sold both vehicles within 24 hours of their listings, a week apart from one another. Neither of the buyers asked if they could take the car to a mechanic (which I would have certainly permittied--though I never suggested it), but both brought "a guy" who knew a little something about cars, looked it over, and gave his blessing to the sale.

I interracted with a guy who was "me" a week later, trying to sell a Honda Civic. It had over 200k miles on it. He was a mechanic and put some time and money into it. I think he really liked the car and hated to get rid of it. At least that's what he wanted me to think. He had replaced the timing belt, made some interesting alterations to the thing, and was pretty proud of it. He faultered when I asked him if I could take it to my mechanic to have him look it over. He eventually agreed. My mechanic strongly advised against me buying it. I didn't. Looking back, best $40 I ever spent.

The Lord provided us with a car my mechanic was about to sell that he had worked on for several years and I felt pretty good about: his mother in-law's car. So I've got the old lady car, a Buick Century, but it does what it's supposed to do, and I'm grateful.

The person-to-person transaction was a great experience each time. Unfortunately I had to expeerience it three times in two weeks, plus a dealer exchange (that's another post). Use Craigslist to buy and sell, it's a great tool, but I believe you will quickly be able to place every ad into one of the categories given above. This may help you in your negotiations.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

What Hath Hanna Wrought

The tropical storm that flew through North Carolina the other day left us quite a bit of water. This is good because we have been in a drought for the last two years or so, but after this rain fall we may officially be out of it. Of course, the quantity of rain was not good for everyone as many communities in our area experienced flooding. This is the graphic seen on WRAL's weather page. It looks like the 5.19" reading was taken at RDU, which is on the other side of town from us.

Using our handy-dandy rain gauge, given to me by none other than the mayor of Boone herself (Sheri's mom!), we received 3.6" of water in our yard. That would have been over about an 18 hour period.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Practicing the Diminished scales

Time to geek out on a little music theory. I haven't done that in a while.

I've been spending some time working on exercises and scale patterns related to the diminished scales. You've heard of major and minor scales? Well, those are good to know for sure, and any good jazz player should be able to pull a few modes out of the hat--particularly Dorian modes for minor chord passages, Mixolydian for dominant chord passages, and even a Lydian scale mode for #11 passages. (And really, once you learn your major/minor scales, it's just a matter of displacing your starting point and you are instantly in a mode!)

Still with me?

The diminished scale is something I've always been scared of. Instead of seven notes in the scale, like all the scales listed above, the diminished scales have eight notes. This is odd because it is an adjustment for fingering (I still haven't found good fingering for the scales) but it's also an aural adjustment. The octave doesn't come when you expect it to. There's always one more note to go!

The diminished scale is based on an alternated whole step/half step pattern. Because of the way Western music has evolved over the centuries, this means there are only three of these scales before they start to repeat. Here is what they look like.

The reason I want to get to know them is because I have always struggled with how to handle long passages with prolonged diminished chords. More on that later. But I have recently learned that diminished scales are particularly useful over altered dominants. Chords with sharp 9ths, flat 9ths, sharp 11ths, and 13ths can all be embellished by choosing notes from the right diminished scale. Here is an example of how the notes line up over a G dominant harmony, and how each of the notes of the diminished scale play out functionally.

So back to the long prolonged chords of diminished harmony. Duke Ellington's "Caravan" is a good example of this. You can hear a 30 second clip of it on iTunes here. You can see that the entire A section is a prolonged Gdim7 chord. In F minor, this functions as the vii(dim) chord, or functions as dominant. Can you tell which scale from my first example above the melodic material is based on?

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Airplane's Destiny: Mass Destruction

Tomorrow Austin's reading will be from this book about the Wright Brothers. As I flipped through it tonight to determine how much to read tomorrow, I skimmed this paragraph:
"Although Wilbur died before the airplane's full potential was realized, Orville lived to see airplanes used to transport deadly atomic bombs in World War II and to commercially transport hundreds of thousands of people all over the world."

Good to know. I'm sure Orville is very pleased with the destructive legacy this author feels is so important to mention over commercial flight. In a kid's book, no less.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Don't mess with Natural Selection

We spent as much of the day as we could at the North Carolina Zoo today. It was a hot and humid day and the NC zoo is big and spread out. Lots of walking and an occasional creature to see.

Inside the amphibian exhibit was this display next to a couple of frogs.

Really? who are we to interfere? Isn't this anti-evolution? Maybe I missed something.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Wallet update

My wallet post generated quite a stir. I guess there's a lot of pent-up insecurities out there among guys trying to do the right thing with their money while feeling secure, but not looking like they've got a small print edition of Crime and Punishment in their pocket.

I glanced down my page at an ad that appear for thin wallets. Maybe this is something that can be a solution for us all!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The future of web browsing

Thanks to my cyber-friend Tony Steward for sharing this in his RSS feed. I am so impressed by this I can't wait to install it and start playing with it now!

Ubiquity for Firefox from Aza Raskin on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

What's in Your Wallet?

A few weeks ago I made a decision to stop carrying a wallet. There were a couple of reasons for this. First, I fairly unscientifically concluded that while I think everything is ok, sitting on a lump of leather and plastic on one cheek, but not the other can't be good for the lower back over the long haul. Second, I had a fear, rational or not, that my wallet could easily slide out of my back pocket and could disappear all together. This would happen not in my office or in my car, but in some place like a food court at a mall, where I would likely never recover it again. Finally, I've noticed a specific kind of wear in my pants, right along the fold or edges of the wallet, where some of the fabric is beginning to tear. Fabric of my pants, not the wallet.

Wallets for most guys are a microcosm of most women's purses. Most guys, if they were to dig their wallets out of their pants right now, would find business cards, receipts, the phone number to the local Chinese restaurant, a couple pictures, a miniature day planner, calculator, various credit cards, drivers license, and maybe a stick of gum or something. Even if you don't carry a wad of cash around (and who does these days anyway?), some tri-fold wallets can mount to an inch or more in thinkness. Who needs that?

So back to my decision. After considering a money clip, I opted for a band. Not just any rubber band--but a band designed specifically to snugly hold items the size of credit cards.

So here is my question. Forced to be minimal, what items do you carry? For me, it is my key card to get me around the building at church, my drivers licence, a credit card, my ATM card and my heath insurance card. Other near necessities I've considered adding: my Qdoba card, Blockbuster card, and the AAA card.

What else should I be carrying?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Rachmaninoff had big hands

Anyone who has ever attempted Rachy's Prelude in C# minor will appreciate this the most...

Friday, August 08, 2008

Apps overrun Facebook

The idea of Facebook opening itself up to the world of developers so that little apps could be developed was a clever idea. It drove even more traffic, encouraged even more interaction, and became a stage for creativity and originality.

I have squandered hours of my life (and certain friends, you know who you are) using one app, which has been terminated under the threat of a lawsuit: Scrabulous. I haven't tried the reinvented version of it yet, but according to this article, something like Scarbulous will be reinstated soon if it hasn't already.

The downside to Facebook releasing it's API for developers is that a lot of nonsense apps have been created. Several weeks ago, I decided to begin my personal ban of them, saving up for just the right moment to hit the "ignore all" button. I figure a nice round number like 100 is a good time.
Here we go!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

No posts=I've been gone

-non-stop Charleston to Raleigh. In the driveway. Grateful. on TwitPic

If you've been following my twitter, you know I've been gone for a while. We had a good time seeing friends and family, a little mechanical drama, but when everything is said and done, I have to say there's no place like home.

It's hard to read that GPS. I reset all the numbers before we left. The total miles driven in two weeks is 3087.3 miles. I know that's no record, but it sure did feel like one!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Tools I use on the Mac (Part 1)

My status bar is getting full. I took a little snapshot of it to share some goodies that I have discovered that I find quite useful and most of them are free.

First I have the Plaxo sync panel. This is the little app that runs in the background syncing my calendar and contact info with their server so that I can eventually get that data to my phone as I've written about here.

Whenever a user in my address book joins Plaxo, the contact information they enter is automatically merged with the contact information I currently have, including pictures, job titles, etc.

The next tool is the very handy 1Password bookmark panel.

It allows me to access any bookmark I may have from any browser I use.

It is kind of handy, but I really only use Firefox right now, so I haven't had much need for it.

Next is this cool little app called Desktoptopia.

Every so many hours, depending on my settings it downloads a new desktop background which I can rate from 1-5 stars or reject all together. It's fun because it beats the OS-installed desktops that get a little old after a while. Plus once it downloads the picture, it not only resizes to fit your resolution, but it stores it locally.

Next is Spanning Sync. This little app is great because it syncronizes my iCal info with Google Calendars.

This allows Janet and I to share calendars and have our information almost instantly up to date, plus I can share calendars with the music staff, both internal and public and I can do all the editing I want right from iCal. Plus any of the changes any of the shared users make on their calendar will be reflected in my iCal, thanks to Spanning Sync. According to their blog, they are about to release version 2.0 which will also sync contact info the same way. There is a $25 annual subscription for this service, but I have found it to be well worth it for my purproses!

Next is "Caffine."

What does it do? When it's turned "off," it does nothing but sit in the status bar.

When it is activated, it keeps your computer from falling asleep. It keeps the screen from dimming and even keeps the back light turned on under the keyboard.

This is handy if you are doing something like watching a streaming video, or just want to keep the computer from going to the screen saver on you. Seems like a small thing, but it has become a really handy little app.

Next there's Quicksilver, a little productivity app that runs in the background and waits for you to evoke it using short cut keys like ctrl-space.

It is more than an application launcher, you can do things like create and send an email, create a to-do, launch a track in iTunes, etc, all from this little interface, without having to go into each individual application. You can watch these very useful introduction videos on how to use it here and here.

Finally, there are various computer status idicators, from iSlayer.

I could have activiated many more pieces of information, but I wasn't interested in seeing realtime updates of my memory usage or processor speed. What I have activated, however, in order of appearance, are my fan speed, hard drive capacity, network I/O, and processor temperature.
There are several more tools I use frequently on my PowerMac machines that do not reside in my status bar and I'll post about some other time.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

What would You Do?

This evening, I began preparing for our annual pastor's retreat. This is an ironic event because I am technically neither a pastor, nor are we under duress such that retreating is required. Still, it is a staff get-away sanctioned by the elders as something healthy and even necessary for our team so we do it. Since I've been on staff we head to West Jefferson, a nice little community in the northwest corner of the state in the mountains far away from things like cell phone towers and the internet. That's not actually true (and as such, I'll try to keep you updated on twitter), but it is serene enough that it sometimes feels that way. In my office, I have a lot to do. At home, Janet and the kids wouldn't mind if I stayed around for the next few days, but I do genuinely enjoy the guys on staff, even if it means I have to play golf.

This leads me back to the part about the preparation. The last time I played golf, was on last year's retreat. And the time I played golf before that was on the previous year's retreat. You get the idea. Golf is fine if you have unlimited time, financial resources, and patience, and since I lack in all three, it receives very little of the required dedication from me.

So my preparation for this event entails removing my golf bag from the corner of the garage--where it has sat since--well, since I cleaned out the garage a few months ago--and literally taking a broom and brushing off the dust, cobwebs, a couple of spiders, and whatever other interesting stuff accumulates over the course of a year on an untouched item in one's garage.

I went through the pockets to check and see if I actually had any golf balls. I haven't lost them all yet, so I'm good. I even have a few tees and a glove.

I was surprised, however, to find in one of the golf bag pockets two snack items.

Before I go any further, I need to introduce you to my taxonomy of favorite snack items. There are three things that I will snack on at just about any time: peanuts (I prefer to crack them out of the shell), popcorn (butter doesn't hurt) and Doritos.

What do I find in my golf bag? A little Planters package of salted peanuts, and a small little Doritos bag. The expiration date on the the peanuts reads 2/17/08. That seams pretty clear. However, the Doritos bag has a slightly ambiguous "8/14" printed on it. No year.

You may not appreciate my struggle. I would really like to load up on those snacks tonight! In spite of the dates (they always go to the safe side by at least a year, right? plus the Doritos bag didn't give a year so it could be THIS year, right?), I could either
  1. Eat them anyway
  2. Feed them to my kids (see if anything happens)
  3. Mix them with fresh items, see if I can tell a difference
  4. Save them for a White Elephant gift exchange
  5. Keep them for some of the neighborhood kids at Halloween
  6. Throw them out
Any other suggestions? What would YOU do?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

High Gas Prices Yield unintended consequences

I was reminded of Guy's post of a couple months ago regarding the high cost of gasoline when I saw a brief blurb today about how higher gas prices leading to fewer people driving are leading to fewer highway fatalities.

"...For every 10 percent increase in gas prices, there was a 2.3 percent decline in auto deaths. For drivers ages 15 to 17, the decline was 6 percent, and for ages 18 to 21, it was 3.2 percent."

Should I be gaining any increased sense of security heading into our Iowa trip later this summer?

Yea! Google Browser Sync may be resurrected!

Good news from this Ars Technica article for all who are geeky enough to care:

The popular Google Browser Sync extension for Firefox, which synchronizes browser settings and information across multiple computers, is now an open source project. Google is distributing the Browser Sync source code under the BSD license and is making it available through a Subversion source control repository on the Google Code website.

This is a major reversal of Google's position on Browser Sync, and it will very likely save the add-on from extinction. Shortly before the official launch of Firefox 3, Google said that Browser Sync development would be discontinued and encouraged users to adopt Mozilla Weave or Foxmarks instead. The availability of the Browser Sync source code, however, will make it possible for the open source software community to collaboratively bring the add-on to the new version of Firefox.

Please, somebody who's smarter than me, take the open source and make it work for FF3!

[this is a follow up from this post and this post]

Monday, July 07, 2008

Radio that's "Safe for the Whole Family" Part II

One of the issues of popular music is that if we're not careful, we can thin the text to a place where complex ideas and thoughts are forced into a synonym corner. Crafting text carefully to be clever is one thing, crafting text to be clever while maintaining depth of meaning is another--and evidently much more difficult.

What in the world am I talking about? Let me give examples. This was first brought to my attention several years ago with the song "I Stand Amazed." Written by my buddy Travis Cottrell and Dennis Jernigan.

I see the stars that You have made
I know You call them each by name
To think Father God who heaven displays
Is thinking of me in intimate ways

I stand amazed in all of your glory
That you would die for me I stand amazed

Now I am in no position to "explain" the trinity, nor am I a theologian, but we need to be careful of what it is we're learning from song lyrics that flow well, but inadvertently teach un-truths.

What is wrong with this passage? Did God make the stars? Yes. Does he know them each by name? Sure. Is "Father God" thinking of us "in intimate ways?" Yes, we can surmise from scripture that this is the case. Did "Father God" die for me? No.

Heresy you say? Not at all. Jesus died for us, not "Father God." Poetic license? Jesus is God, right? Yes, but Jesus prayed to the Father to let this cup pass before he went to the cross. Jesus the Son was crucified, not "Father God."

There are further examples from the songs of yesterday's post. These are songs that are currently on Christian radio stations, and in the top 20, no less.

All About Jesus, Steve Fee:

giver of every breath I breathe
author of all eternity
giver of every perfect thing
to you be the glory

maker of heaven and of earth
no one can comprehend your worth
king over all the universe
to you be the glory

I'm alive because i'm alive in You

it's all because of Jesus I'm alive
it's all because the blood of Jesus Christ
that cover's me and raised this dead man's life
it's all because of Jesus I'm alive

every sunrise sings Your praise
the universe cries out your praise
i'm singing freedom all my days
now that I'm alive

Verses describe attributes and actions typically ascribed to God the creator, yet the chorus changes gears to being all about Jesus.

You Reign, MercyMe

Even before there was a drop in the ocean even before there was a star in the sky even before
the world was put in motion You were on Your throne You were on Your throne.

You reign glory in the highest You reign let creation testify by Your name every knee will bow
and every tongue proclaim that Jesus reigns.

Even before Your hand made the heavens even before the breath of all mankind even before we
had to be forgiven You were on Your throne You were on Your throne. [back to chorus]

Yesterday, today and forever Your are God who was, and is and is to come. [back to chorus]

Very similar to Fee, a kind of lyrical "mode mixture" switching between actions and attributes of God the Father (Creation in the verses), but proclaiming "Jesus reigns" in the choruses. Is this a problem? Maybe not. Perhaps that is the point of the song, that Jesus is God, and God is also Jesus, however the change from one character to the other is not very clear, and the listener can easily presume that we're talking about the same Person of the Trinity, that Jesus the Son=God the Creator (Elohim not withstanding)

Song of Hope, Robbie Seay Band:

I will sing a song of hope
Sing along
God of heaven come down
Heaven come down
Just to know that You are near is enough
God of heaven come down, heaven come down

All things new
I can start again
Creator, God
Calling me Your friend
Sing praise, my soul
To the Maker of the skies
A song will rise


So again, God of Heaven came down, but not as "Creator, God," or as "Maker of the Skies" but as Jesus. This is omitted in the song. God the Father is in heaven, Jesus came to earth, sent down from God, and Jesus sent the Holy Spirit.

Love is Here, Tenth Avenue North:

come to the waters, you who thirst and you'll thirst no more.
come to the father, you who work and you'll work no more.
and all you who labor in vain and to the broken and shamed:

love is here.
love is now.
love is pouring from
his hands, from his brows.
love is near,it satisfies.
streams of mercy flowing from his side.
cuz love is here.

Either this is brilliantly poetic (I'll give them that) or it is modally inaccurate. The verse talks of coming to the Father, but the chorus depicts the crucifixion of the Son, yet makes no distinction between the two.

What difference does all this make? Is this me splitting hairs, or is this "hair-esy?" I think it's something we need to watch out for. Being aware of which person is being sung about is important, just like we would want to keep clear which of the Godhead we were discussing in a conversation. The danger is that even if these songs aren't sung in church, the undiscerning or ignorant listener my receive falsehood when he believes the source to be reliable and full of truth.

If these songs work their way into a corporate worship context, we run the risk of misappropriating the richness of the "Word of Christ" and misappropriating the use of music to "teach and admonish." (Col 3:16) Instead these songs may "breach and astonish," and will not edify the body with Truth, and in fact add to confusion, resulting in people like me writing posts like this.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Radio that's "Safe for the Whole Family" Part I

While driving around town with @fiscalfitness the other day, we were inexplicably listening to one of the local Christian radio stations. A discussion ensued about various tag lines used by most contemporary Christian radio stations: "Safe for the whole family," "Positive, encouraging," "family friendly," etc., and why they aren't more overtly "Christian" in nature. Why not something like "furthering the gospel of Jesus," or "Magnifying Christ between Sundays," or "Proclaiming the good news of Jesus," etc.?

The assumption presented in the question is that these stations identify themselves as truly Christian. Maybe that isn't the case. It is easy to presume that they consider themselves such but don't want to say the name of Jesus too loudly. But before we jump on the blame-the-radio-stations band wagon, maybe we should consider the music they play. I did a very quick survey of this week's "Top 20 Christian songs" according to "20, The Countdown Magazine" and discovered some interesting things:

  • Of the top 20 songs for the week ending June 30, 2008, four of them specifically mentioned Jesus or Christ. (Fee, Casting Crowns, Matt West, Natalie Grant)
  • Six songs mentioned "God" or "Lord" or "Father" (Matt Maher, MercyMe, Tomlin, Robbie Seay Band, Tenth Avenue North, Jado Lavik)
  • Six other sings held down the pronoun ministry, using You or Your in ways that could mean just about anyone (Third Day, Jeremy Camp, Building 429, Aaron Shust, Mark Harris, Decemberadio)
  • Three songs were about things other than God or Jesus, or things clearly religious in nature (SC Chapman, Need to Breathe, Afters)
So what is the conclusion? Half of the top 20 songs for the week were not overtly about God. Sure, the artists will say they were, but they weren't overtly about God or Jesus. This proves nothing, other than the fact that the radio station tag lines are accurate after all. Their music is "positive and encouraging." They're not seeking to teach theology in their music. Is that ok? Sure, I'm very comfortable with "kingdom perspective" on activities of life outside of praise and worship music that some of these songs touch on. the problem does not appear to be what the radio stations say they're doing, not at all. The "problem," if there ever really was one, is the assumption "Christian" radio stations must play music that only talks about Jesus or God in order to be Christian. This is not the case, since the station programming doesn't even refer to itself as Christian. In essence, the issue is, there is no issue.


I do, however, have a problem with some of the lyrics presented in some of the songs listed above. This little investigation has forced me to read carefully the lyrics of each song, and I have discovered some subtle "confusion" in some of the lyrics which I will delve into in Part II.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

I set a world record

Have you ever participated in something on the scale of a world record? Well, I did! And though I didn't install Firefox 3 until two days ago, at least I downloaded my copy on the everybody-download-firefox-today day, June 17th.

I like it, it seems to run well, and I have installed it only on the laptop. Silverlight is still not compatible with it, so I can not watch streaming baseball games from MLB.TV on it, other than that, most of my most loved and oft-used extensions have been upgraded. The del.icio.us add-on is especially good. Give it a try!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Perpetually Surprised at Time

Janet and I began reading a A Severe Mercy a while ago. We were on a roll at first, taking turns reading it aloud before bed several nights a week. We let it slide lately, but I have been stuck on a recent passage we read and I've been turning it over in my mind a lot lately.

The story of the book is of a couple who, through a series of life-circumstances, come to find themselves at Oxford and interacting with CS Lewis. This began first by letter as Lewis recommended books for them to read, then would discuss what they read. Their exchanges deal with fundamental beliefs: likelihood of God, likelihood of redemption, and the need for salvation. The portion of the letter below is from Lewis back to them and I am intrigued by the way he frames the idea of time.

It is quite clear from what you say that you have conscious wishes on both sides. And now, another point about wishes. A wish may lead to false beliefs, granted. But what does the existence of the wish suggest? At one time I was much impressed by Arnold's line "Nor does the being hungry prove that we have bread." But surely, though it doesn't prove that one particular man will get food, it does prove that there is such a thing as food! i.e. if we were a species that didn't normally eat, weren't designed to eat, would we feel hungry? You say the materialist universe is "ugly." I wonder how you discovered that! If you are really a product of a materialistic universe, how is it you don't feel at home there? Do fish complain of the sea for being wet? Or if they did, would that fact itself not strongly suggest that they had not always been or would not always be, purely aquatic creatures? Notice how we are perpetually surprised at Time ("How time flies! Fancy John being grown--up and married! I can hardly believe it!") In heaven's name, why? Unless, indeed there is something in us which is not temporal.

I like this because I have felt it, but never articulated it. It's kind of the ontological argument for not belonging here. We don't feel time moving on as it moves on, but only when we look back and realize how much has gone by. I think most of us recognize time moving by with regret, understanding that we will never get it back. Heaven, being timeless, will redefine eternity for us. We think of eternity as never beginning and never ending, but even as we define it, we do so using terms of time. We are prone to define it as what it is not.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Saddleback Conference, Day 4

The final day of the conference was compressed since it more or less ended mid-day with a beach gathering and bonfire at Huntington Beach later that evening. I don't know how well it was attended, and as you would expect on the last day, the attendance began to dwindle as many had to catch flights home.

Emily and I went to Alva Copeland's "Transforming Singers into Outstanding Servants." It was outstanding. Some tidbits from her talk:

  • When auditioning vocalists, the first question she asks is, "Did you come to serve?" If you came to sing, this is the wrong ministry!
  • We're looking for servants who can sing, not people who are looking to be seen.
  • Just like the disciples, sitting around looking at each other wondering "which one is the greatest?" instead striving for
  • servant leadership: group of people submitting to each other to achieve something they could not do alone
  • The platform is not for personal affirmation--the cross is for that.
  • No level of importance is attached to an assignment.
  • Nurture the "glad we can be doing something" spirit in the team. Don't ask them to make sacrifices you aren't willing to make.
  • Do not allow the pursuit of excellence to foster or fuel a performance mentality (Quest for perfection). Excellence is more about discipline and sacrifice to give something that was costly to you.
  • Set aside personal gain, abandon personal agenda.
After her session we went and got a burger at the famous "In N Out Burger" fast food chain. And yes, it was a good burger. I checked out of my hotel room and went back to campus where I explored their new "Refinery" building which is supposed to become their youth hangout facility. The building comes complete with skateboarding ramps,

a little place to buy food and chat with your friends,

an incomplete amphitheater,

a basketball court (behind the windows),

a nice view from the outside stairs going to the 2nd floor

and a game room.

From there, I wandered into the in-progress Deliriou5? concert. I wasn't too interested in hearing them, but I recorded part of their video word-feeding ideas which I thought was clever.

Finally, I met up with The Chapel gang one last time at Laguna Beach where we stood around for a while and tried to figure out where to have dinner.

They left for SNA and I hung out for a while and got some sun-setting pictures before heading off to LAX.

My flight was a 11:55pm departure to Atlanta. It was a four hour flight and I ended up in Atlanta at about 7:00am. I did not sleep well. I think I maybe got a total of two and a half hours. I was real conscientious of the guy next to me for some reason. Anyway, I slept more on the plane on the way from ATL to RDU. I don't remember the take off and when I woke up we were beginning our descent.

It was a great conference--it has been a treat to get to go there because you are surrounded by people just like you. My plea again will be for members of my staff and members of our volunteer team to be able to take it in together. There will be infinitely more musical benefit for us as a ministry and staff than yet another trip to NAB.