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 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.