Sunday, July 29, 2007

Off the grid

The trip is almost here.

Today I packed up my laptop and put it away. It's not going with me.

I expect that in a few days I will be completely, 100% not-reachable. Off the grid. No laptop, no phone, no pager.

Other than the email withdrawals, I am actually excited about being completely off the grid for the first time in like 10 years.

See ya when I return!


Friday, July 20, 2007


This summer I am taking my family on a major vacation. We are going to the island of Yap. Long ago I lived there for a year as a kid. My famly has been to Yap many times, and I wanted to take my wife and kids. So this summer it is.

When we were last on Yap it was a US Trust Territory. US Territories are great because you can go there with no documentation beyond a driver's license. Despite what everyone seems to think this is still true. If you want to travel to Puerto Rico or Guam or the US Virgin Islands etc. you do not need a passport.

The astute readers will notice that I did not include Yap on that list.

Yes, when I called to check on what I would need for the kids I discovered that all of us need passports.


Now, had I not been in school and working and trying to be a husband and dad, i would have taken care of all of this months ago. But life is just beginning to return to normal, and I found this out with very little time to spare.

The LA federal building is a major headache to go to. Heather Barr told me that she waited in line for five hours.

Five hours.

Imagine being in line with two young kids for five hours. Might as well bring along an endodontist for a little elective root canal work at the same time!

You can't stand in line without an appointment. You can't get an appointment because they aren't available. So I called after midnight and found the first available appointment was approximately four days after we have already left.


But that's ok, because you can call and talk to someone as long as you are within four days of leaving, and they will schedule an appointment for you. Of course they will dictate when you can come and stand in line for a reallyreally long time with two young children. I think they also drip water on you slowly.

So this morning I had a brainstorm. We are going to Hawaii first. The island of Oahu has less than 900,000 people on it. By contrast the Los Angeles area is home to over 18 Million people. In addition, since there are only 18 of these places in the entire united states (and two of them are in california), people from as far away as Las Vegas or Phoenix or elsewhere have to come to LA if they want to get a passport in a hurry.

Now, let's think about this for a second. Which passport center do you think is more crowded: The one with 900,000 people who live in paradise, or the one with 18 Million+ people that live in a crowded smog bank? Then we add the other states who have people coming here, and suddenly the solution becomes very clear.

Get the passports in Hawaii.

So I call. I pick the date I want to do it. I say morning. It suggests 9:30 which is perfect. When I checked to be sure that I didn't have to go to LA, the agent told me that she didn't think it would even take an hour at the Hawaii office.

So my choice is go to LA and fight 18 Million people for a spot in a 5 hour line, or take a taxi to the passport office (conveniently located a few miles from waikiki beach) on Oahu and get it done there. No huge crowd, no root canals, no water torture, nothing.

Well, guess what we're doing while we are in Hawaii :-)

Hang Loose baby.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007


I like movies. I like to watch them for several reasons. I find them entertaining, but I also find them very thought provoking. I like to see the way God is expressed through pop culture, even sometimes when the people creating the work do not profess to know Him. When I saw the ad for Babel I was very intrigued.

The awards buzz, including 7 academy awards nominations had me even more interested in this film.

The preview made it seem like Babel would have a very intriguing multi-continental plot involving many languages, and would really delve into the problem of language barriers.

Unfortunately, this is not a movie that lives up to its preview. Babel does deliver on a plot that involves the US, Japan, Mexico and Morocco. The problem is that there is only a loose connection between these places. The parents are in Morocco, the kids are in the US and travel to mexico, and there is an almost unrelated story in Japan that has a very small connection to the main plot.

The stories are all interesting, and they are all in their native tongue with sub-tittles, but other than in a few isolated incidences, language does not create a barrier. If anything, the most significant barrier is for the deaf girl who cannot communicate with speech. The end result is an interesting film that doesn't deliver on its initial promise.

The primary problem for me comes from the Japanese storyline. While interesting in covering the challenges of a deaf person in a loud society, the story is severely damaged by a disturbing amount of unnecessary nudity. This nudity is actually essential to the telling of this particular story, but there is virtually no relation to this part of the story with the rest of the film, so it feels very out of place. I would not choose to watch a film about a girl who gets frustrated by her inability to communicate and decides to flash people out of frustration. But that is what this one subplot "adds" to this film. It's a shame, because the deaf plot is really the most effective commentary on the value of communication.

Even if you were to remove this aspect of Babel, I do not think the film would have worked at providing insight into the language barriers we face in the world. When I first saw the trailer I was very intrigued by what twists and turns the story would take. When I saw the film, I found the loose connections unfulfilling, the cultural clashes to be underrepresented, and the overall film to be a disappointment.

Babel wasn't terrible, don't get me wrong. I enjoyed the film, but I think I would have liked it more if I had never saw a preview for it and wasn't expecting something much bigger and more profound.


Monday, July 9, 2007

And now for something completely different...

If you are a mac user, you should pay attention to this:

Shareware developers work hard, and they create great stuff. Oftentimes, they make very little money. One of the hardest things for them to do is to get people to try their stuff, as if it is somehow not "legit" because they don't have a big company with software for sale in the Apple store.

But oftentimes they make really great stuff. A while back there was an event called "MacHeist" that was a ten day software sale. They sold about $350 worth of software for around $50 or so, and it was very successful.

Well, another company has taken their idea and run with it, doing a similar sale. There are great products offered here:

SRS iWOW - This is an audio plug-in for iTunes, designed to help your music sound better. My music sounds great, but I have Klipsch iFi speakers on my machine. Not everyone has great speakers, and this might help you get better sound of of your mac. UPDATE: Um, this plugin rocks, to put it mildly. I have great speakers, but this plugin really makes things sound great at the volumes I tend to play stuff in my office.

Garage Sale - Ever find that listing stuff for sale on ebay is a pain? This is a great product that puts a mac-like interface on creating an auction.

Cocktail - Easy access to a bunch of unix functions for your mac.

ProfCast - This allows you to create podcasts with video that comes from a keynote presentation (I think it also works with powerpoint if you must). Nice idea!

Amadeus Pro - This is a multi-track sound recorder and editor. Bills itself as a great way to transfer your records to CD...

Fetch - Now this is one of the apps that was personally exciting (yes I'm a geek). Fetch is a great FTP client that has been around for eons. If you've ever tried to do FTP from the finder, you know that OSX's FTP support blows.

Graphic Converter - This program is really handy when someone sends you a picture or graphic in a file you cant' read. Graphic Converter reads 199 different file formats! (and translates them to 80 more common formats...)

Then, if there are enough sales of all of this, there are three bonus apps that kick in depending on how many sales are made. The first is Little Snitch, a program that is designed to prevent programs from "phoning home" on you. The second is Intaglio, which is a drawing and illustration app. The final is Tech Tool Pro, which is usually $100 on its own. If there are 10,000 people who buy the bundle, we all get TTP as part of our $50 purchase price!

Ok, so you are bored, and you can't figure out why I'm pimping shareware. Well, I'm doing it because I like to see people create innovate apps for the mac. If this interests you, go
to buy it. A word about that link: The original people who did this was a group called "MacHeist" and they have decided to try to hijack MacUpdates theft of their idea. What they have done is they are splitting the referral fee with you, so you get even more stuff for the same money. Go through MacHeist and you get four more apps or so.

Now back to your regularly scheduled theology rants...


Friday, July 6, 2007

Growing old

I went to visit my grandma the other day at her nursing home. She is at a wonderful place that specializes in helping people with mental problems live out their last days. It was a bittersweet visit. On one hand it was good to see her, and she seemed happy to be there. On the other hand it's very sobering to see a place full of people whose minds don't work anymore.

There was a very nice courtyard with people shuffling around in it. Two ladies in particular simply moved about the courtyard continuously, unable to figured out how to get out of the courtyard. At one point I opened a door for them and they seemed even more confused. I realized, sadly, that it's best to just let them shuffle around. There was another woman who is always walking around looking for the street. She very politely asks people how to get to the street.

I watched my grandma and grandpa sit together (he still lives at home) and they were clearly happy to be together. My grandpa read scripture to her, and his voice was loud and clear like it had been when he used to preach regularly, not quiet like it usually is. It was neat for me to hear that voice again, I haven't heard it in years.

Then my grandma went to the piano and began to play. One after another hymns poured forth on a very out of tune piano. The other residents took notice and gathered around to listen to her play. Every one was played from memory, and was heavily embelished. A lifetime at the keyboard really shows. After a few songs she was too tired to keep her head up anymore, and rested on the piano.

The whole experience was very surreal, but encouraging in a strange way. At the end of life, God's word is clearly the most important thing in their lives. While my grandma can barely speak or eat, she can still praise God with music, and she does.

Psa. 61:4 ¶ Let me dwell in your tent forever!
Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! Selah
Psa. 61:5 For you, O God, have heard my vows;
you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.
Psa. 61:6 ¶ Prolong the life of the king;
may his years endure to all generations!
Psa. 61:7 May he be enthroned forever before God;
appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him!
Psa. 61:8 ¶ So will I ever sing praises to your name,
as I perform my vows day after day.

It was very touching to see my grandma clinging to God as she waits for Him to call her home. I think this period of time is for us to observe what really matters when our days come to a close. The experience at the home was a great reminder that nothing on this earth is permanent. Our minds will go, our bodies will wither, and only the things of God remain.