Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Buyers remorse?

I hope not!

The Macbook has been acting up for some time, with the output to the monitor I use producing flickering and corruption if started with the monitor plugged in. Starting the MB first, then plugging in the screen has been an acceptable fix, but the fault *looks like* it did when the graphics chip on the Mobo failed just over 5 years ago when I first had it, even though I suspect it's a software fault.

And on top of that, as it's got older it's begun sweating more & more with ordinary tasks: multiple tabs open in a browser, gets hot. Play a DVD, gets hot. Moving a couple of hundred GB around to external drive, gets hot. Taking notes in word during a meeting, gets hot. When I first had it, it was amazing how it was so cool & quiet compared to all the laptops others I knew were using, with an old HP owned by a colleague modulating the (incredibly) noising fans between a loud whoosh and even louder 'something's gonna blow' rushing noise. And that was from a cold boot.

At the time I bought the Macbook a friend also bought a Dell XPS, and for about the same price or rather less if you include Office professional that was included in the deal (I made do with home & student edition at £85 instead of £300). His machine travelled the world repeatedly, far more than mine did, never got reinstalled or upgraded and, scarred & beaten, was finally retired at the end of last year after becoming too slow to bear and some of the keys falling off.

So I'm going back to windows, and with a Dell.

Just ordered one of these through Dell's outlet shop (BIG discounts!) for the business, having talked to Chris about it a little. I *hope* it's not a pretty carbon fibre and ali clad piece of junk, eagerly anticipating raising my blood pressure with faults and trouble, but will be a solid workhorse and a decent upgrade to the Mac. Despite being a 15" machine it's actually a bit lighter than the 13" Macbook, with a battery life that should be similar to what that had when it was new (around 4 hours of real-world use). The spec suggests that it shouldn't need much upgrading during its working life - definitely not something that was true for the MB, sadly, which was only a mid-level machine at the time of purchase.

What else?

Well the warranty was about £200 for 3 years next business day onsite. Seems a lot, but compare that to the £300 I paid for Applecare 3 years return to base warranty - looks GOOD to me.

My other biggest concern outside of machine reliability & performance is transferring emails across. There's bound to be an app I can buy that will do it, but I resent paying for a tool to use just once only & never again. Hopefully the entourage archive file will be in a format compatible with Outlook, & can be imported without pain. Emails are so important to me, because they are my record of interaction with the business world and an archive of essential information.

Why didn't I buy another Mac?

Good question. It was tempting, to enable a relatively painless transfer, but basically it's just too expensive with not enough longevity for the expenditure. I'd been looking at refurb Macbooks for some time, but the last of the original macbooks was introduced in 2012, with a 2 year old mid-level spec at the same price I just paid for the Dell. For a little more I could have had a refurb 2013 Retina display  machine at a low spec, but they cannot be upgraded, and that was going to seriously limit efficient working life. A refurb machine of similar spec was £1539. :p   Apple's change in design policy to make their machines with no user-replacable parts was the complete deal-breaker

So we'll have to wait & see whether it's angels in paradise or nightmare on elm street. Hopefully mostly the former.

Friday, 25 April 2014

We all need to do something new now and again.

Yesterday I was made aware (thanks Libertree) of a software bundle available at a donation price through Gizmag/Stack social.

The bundle included something I've wanted for a while - Snapheal Pro - that I mentioned seeing at the photography show earlier this year. As luck would have it, this particular package was disappointing, because in complete contrast to the demos at the show, removal of unwanted items in the image tends not to be either clean or neat. Hum.

But this is about Rapidweaver, and NOT Snapheal.

This was also included in the bundle. Now I've looked at website creators before, thought 'this will be great' only to end up with WYSIDNWYWITB (what you see is definitely not what you wanted it to be) and sometimes they've been almost unusable for an un-initiate like me, who coded sites in notepad.

So I downloaded, install and gave it a try. The initial interface isn't terribly helpful TBH - a blank page and some icons at the top that don't mean to much. However it came with some decent templates, and after I'd entered site-specific information plus my company logo & ico files things came together rapidly.

There are some quirks, like *some* html commands appear to be automated, but stuff like line breaks seem to need to be entered manually. Weird. But it's making it a lot easier to put together a company page than if I were back in notepad or Opera's HTML editor that I used to build the last CSS-based site.

Hopefully I'll have a corporate web page up quickly & can then start on the photographic business site.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

A natural man-made tension.

An area of tension for me (there are several, the rest outside the scope of this post) is the intersection of art and photography.

One of my declared intentions is to create images that people will want to hang on their walls, to look at and see something that makes them want to get closer, to catch a sense of beauty in stuff that's around them every day. Pictures that will lift the spirits and make someone feel better.

There is so often a tension between art and photography. It's very hard to create a great photograph that's also a pleasing piece of art - IMO of course, since definitions of what construes art vary, and for some, have nothing to do with beauty or pleasing appearance. What I want to do is create pictures that combine the crispness and detail of a really good image with the smoothness and subtlety of colours that one might expect from a good painting. Reality brought close, but gently instead of being sharply thrust in your face.

Last week I was able to download this book free from Amazon for the kindle app, and the images inside made me look again at how I photographed everything - not just flowers.

One of the instincts that seems to come with one's first forays into digital darkrooms is the pressure and expectation to give every image the fullest tonal range possible. Early on in starting to learn to use Lightroom I watched Anthony Morganti's learn Lightroom 5 series of training videos on youtube, and from the beginning adopted the technique he described to maximise tonal range in an image. It's a really useful technique for getting the best possible shadow and highlight detail, but sometimes making one's whites white and blacks black is fundamentally harmful for an image.

Another instinct is to make sure every image used is as sharp as possible, and I'd worked hard to do just that, even though my lenses aren't that good. And while it could create images with an enormous amount of fine detail in them, to benefit and enjoy that detail one had to view them at larger and larger sizes, while they just looked fussy and a bit too hard at web resolutions.

What a lot of waffle. ;-)

I've shot quite a lot of images over the last few weeks and have not had time to do any worthwhile processing on most, but here's a sample of the new approach, and how it's working at this point in time. Very likely my approach will change again, but at the moment, this style combines for me the most pleasing aspects of both photography & art when looking at found objects.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

I've had a lent break from social media

and the week before Easter I stopped doing the internet for personal reasons altogether.

It's made me realise what a lot of nut-jobs there are out there, particularly on Libertree.

I'd seriously like to delete myself from facebook now - what a waste of time that is. There are a few friends for whom it's my sole means of contact, but I'm beginning to think it's better value to try to get them to occasionally look at emails than continue with FB.

Am I a bit like someone who has stopped putting sugar in coffee, then after a few weeks goes back to it & hates the taste? ;-)

So I've re-installed OSX from scratch.

Looks like the Macbook is going to need moving on.

The flickering screen fault in back and getting worse, though only when first starting, but I worry that something is failing inside just like it did when I first had the machine. Applecare finished 2 years ago too.

The fans now whizz up when I'm doing undemanding tasks, as they've been doing for the last few months (though they've just wound back down again as I typed this - maybe it was just Time Machine backing stuff up for the first time?). There is now no arbitrary software on here - just microsoft office, Lightroom, kindle and apple's 'entertainment' bundled apps.

As mentioned earlier, I've dropped Firefox, and am currently trying Safari since it's a) an integral part of OSX and b) has been more energy efficient when running on batteries than FF, so presumable puts a lower overhead on the whole OS. Safari's spell checker has been driving me nuts - why change doddle to doodle : for that matter, why is doddle in the UK English dictionary? At least it can be turned off, but naturally, not in 'preferences'. And the fans started going again while looking briefly on Apple's site - no burdensome Flash there, surely?

So now I'm debating which way to go for real: Windows or Apple?

I need to have a play with a current Macbook running lightroom, but that's looking very much less a viable candidate down to the lack of upgradeability/excessive price for a decent spec, and the version that is still upgradeable is already a 2 year old design (2012 models) that was weak to begin with all the disadvantages that brings. A current MBP of the right minimum spec for use in 2014 is £1249, but there's no way to raise it's game in a couple of years.

As mentioned before, a Dell from their outlet is really good value, and I'm also considering a machine from Chillblast (who?) since the spec : price ratio is very good. I'm not a fan at all of the looks & ergonomics of any of these machines, and then there's the pain of moving emails across (data is a doddle) but that can't be insurmountable.

Looks like I'm going to have to talk with the company secretary about this. ;-)

Connected but not related to watching Noah, or why I prefer DVDs. Also called Toni grumbles.

In Bicester there's a new cinema complex, run by Vue. This was long-promised (along with a bowling alley, so we're half way there) when the new shopping area was built, and the cinema itself isn't bad.

Typical for a modern unit, there are lots of smaller screens, each with standard comfy seats (set too close to the screen) and premium seats (set at perfect viewing distance). The sound system, at least in the room we were in, was loud, reasonably clear, powerful and fairly immersive, if you can cope with crashes and bangs much louder than reality (I suspect seeing a war film in there would be pretty realistic).

We arrived a few minutes late because, well, y'know how they like to show ads before a film, but they still hadn't started the showing until a little while after we took our seats: probably 10min after the scheduled start time. OK. Then they started the adverts encouraging everyone to get their phones out, open the Cinime (sinny me as they called it) app and play a 'game' of question and answer for 'prizes' that I would be embarrassed to play with 10 year olds. We had what felt like 15min of this (probably only 5, but it just never seemed to stop) before actually going on to about 20min of adverts and then back to another few min promoting Cinime again*.

Now as a kid I loved cinema, and the adverts used to be really well shot, great music, exciting images, cool voice-overs. They were a nice warm-up for the film. 40 years on I can still remember ads for St. Bruno tobacco, Gordons gin, local jewellery stores, restaurants, Debenhams and various other products from the era.

These covered, with the exception of the ad for BMWs, the range between weak and humiliating. I couldn't possibly name a single other brand or product advertised.

And as I sat there in my seat I looked down the row at the pudgy bloke & his partner next to us, both holding cartons containing about a cubic foot of popcorn each and between them a bucket with a couple of litres of the low-grade pretend cola sold in places like this. They were sat there glassy-eyed, hand slowly moving from box to mouth & back again, apparently absorbing it all - the cretinous Cinime competition, the lousy adverts, and I wondered what kind of people they were**, and whether they were really enjoying this interminable build-up, just like I wasn't.

Eventually the film started, and I breathed a premature and unfounded sigh of relief.

I'd never heard of the Vue chain until this one opened in Bicester, but I would need a very good reason to ever want to venture back inside one again. Our cinema going is relatively rare, and it's been pretty much Odeon only since moving to Oxfordshire, and has always been a generally pleasant experience. Maybe Vue hope to build a business servicing the 'lower end' of the market, whatever that might be? Call me a snob - in this case it's a title I'd be proud to wear - but I'd rather watch a DVD on my computer for a fiver or less than spend 20 quid to go through that again.

*Another miserable part of these adverts was that they made us late leaving the cinema, and all the eateries around that area closed at 10pm, so that we couldn't get any food. An advertised 7.15pm start and a film running 134min (including credits? for which we did not stay) should not have made us that late.

**I don't mean to be nasty about them and I really did wonder, but you can't start asking people questions in cinemas because that's not done. It does make me wonder what kind of people we're creating through the media they absorb though.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Transformers for the Flintstones in 20012 BC

So last night we went to see a film misleadingly named 'Noah'.

I'm mildly amused by my own comparison, but as with all films of books that then make significant changes to the story, I find myself frustrated by the film.

Generally the acting was excellent, but there's nothing you can do if the source material is iffy. I liked Russell Crow, Ray Winstone (suitably brutal and self-seeking) Emma Watson, Jennifer Connolly (didn't recognise her at all - she looked like Demi Moore) and the young guy who played Ham that I'd never heard of (Logan Lerman).

A major frustration is the re-interpretation of a bible story into 21st century North American middle class pop culture, using CGI to produce some interest for a broader audience and a 'save the environment' message for the other side of the liberal culture. But worse than that, the story as re-created simply doesn't hang together as a reflection of a possible reality.

Others have written much longer reviews - go look at Mikey Mo's blog for both his and Joel Klampert's thoughts.

As for me, it was entertainment, but just like someone giving the hobbits lightsabres in LOTR or Daniel Craig telepathy in the latest James Bond films, substantial out of character and era changes spoiled this for me.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Things will be quiet here for a few days.

I want to give the internet for personal use a break up to easter, including blogging.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Wondering how much longer it will last?

The Macbook that is.

My normal mode is to use the laptop closed, plugging in an external monitor, keyboard & mouse. A couple of days ago when I first plugged in I had a blank screen, even though the built-in screen worked when the lid was opened. Closing the lid and a re-start seemed to fix things.

Today I had the monitor flicker several times, showing lines and corruption before it went and stayed dark. Now it could be a faulty monitor cable, possibly the mini-display port is failing - if it's anything like the USB ports then it's of poor quality and temperamental - and possibly it's the graphics chip again, like it was when I first bought the machine. I unplugged everything, then plugged it all back in, and it came back to life without further ado, but I have this nagging doubt now.

The question then becomes what to replace it with?

I've been researching for some time on what's available. Another Mac is the course of least resistance, maybe, but a Windows laptop would provide more power for the same money and get me out of the Apple world. It's a tougher choice than it was a couple of years back, but I have no Apple-specific software that cannot be replaced (breaths sigh of relief that I didn't buy that software from Macphun I saw at the photography show last month). I'm still using Office:Mac 2008 that I bought back in the beginning, and that definitely has compatibility issues with Mavericks, so I need a new office suite whatever. Lightroom would transfer over OK, ditto Perfect Effects, GIMP, Audacity, Skype & VLC. Fotor wouldn't run in Windows (plan to use it sometime to create collages/triptychs) but that's not really a big deal since I could do the same thing with more effort in GIMP.

Currently I'm quite tempted by a Dell from their outlet store for the sheer processing power and decent screen: full HD, 8Gb RAM and an i7 processor in a 14" lappy for about £700 when I looked a week or so back, but I'm not really in love with Dell's case & build quality. Apple's refurb store also sometimes has interesting options, but to make any useful savings I'd be looking at a 2YO design if I want any kind of upgradability, with a corresponding penalty in performance, or a more expensive, non-upgradable machine if I took a recent design (8Gb RAM, 240Gb SSD as minimum spec. but that's going to be really weak in 3-4 years time, just like 2Gb and a 160Gb HDD would be today).

Actually, just writing that makes me want to not go for a Mac. If I'd have been stuck with the original spec of this machine then it would have been gone >18 months ago, or I'd have continued to use it, increasingly frustrated and fed up with it. No means of upgrade may be good for Apple short term, but it would make Toni an angry user longer term, and much more vehemently anti-Apple than I am now (just mild dislike).

Now, what to do..... ?

I've also been really impressed with Windows 8.1 on the machine I upgraded for Chris a few weeks back. Admittedly it's running an SSHD hybrid drive, but performance is enormously faster than it was with XP, despite that older OS being relatively tiny and the hardware comparatively modern. And maybe that's the answer.

But change is never easy, even when it's good for you.

I just re-read about the Google Chromebook Pixel. Spec looked somewhat interesting (if you could run something useful on it - Chrome is NOT useful to me) and then saw the low spec & Macbook-level price. Uh-huh.

Monitor calibration and the dark arts.

Forgive my whimsy on this, but I do like a good (and sometimes bad) pun.

In the good/bad old days of film photography no-one ever worried about colour balance (except those unfortunate enough to have to use slide film) because everything was corrected automatically for you by the printer. Now no-one worries about it now because the cameras correct for you automatically too. Sort of.

But only sort of.

So if you're manipulating your images in a digital darkroom, rather than in a physical one, how do you know whether you've got things right? You might think you could just look at the image on screen, and when it looks right then it is right?

Uh huh.

There's a whole industry out there, trying to sell you tools of various kinds to calibrate monitors correctly (and yet more guys trying to sell you REALLY NICE photographic quality monitors for quite significant amounts of cash). I am aware that my 2 monitors are quite different: the older Samsung at home having much better resolution of bright tones and a nasty habit of darkening as you move your head around, while the Dell U2414M that I'm looking at is much more neutral.

It's a bit of a problem when it comes to showing other people your pictures. Everyone else's monitors are also a bit different unless calibrated, and that scene with all those exciting but subtle colours may just look dull to them. Alternatively your bright and exciting image may appear garish & crude on their screen. It gets even worse when you get stuff printed, because you want the the prints to look just like they did on screen, and of course they seldom do. And it also begs the question whether your printer (either at home or the shop you went to) is calibrated too.....

When I had those canvases printed a while back they came back *looking* pretty much like what I'd seen on screen, yet the images that I had printed in Bicester for the Somerton picture contest were a fair bit darker & warmer than even this (factory calibrated a couple of years ago) Dell. TBH I was not entirely happy, but also not sure who was at 'fault', if it could be described as a fault.

Chris wanted some small pics reprinting, so I requested a couple of 12X8 prints done from the same files that were used for the Somerton images, but from a different vendor. They came back earlier this week, and a quick comparison in daylight showed one to be virtually indistinguishable from the other, while another one was somewhat lighter and a little more yellow. The smaller prints we had re-done had been adjusted by me through lightroom and viewing on this Dell (I'd had to do resizing too, because they'd been cropped horribly by the software at the original printer) so it wasn't a really fair comparison, but they came back much more neutral and cleaner than the originals.

My conclusion is that one needs to know one's printer (and monitor!) and adjust accordingly. If I start doing professional work, as I hope to eventually, then I'll be investing in calibration tools and keeping a very close eye on printing.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

A little mr. grumpy today: dealing with minor loss.

So just before whizzing off to work this morning I went through and extracted the images from my home computer that I've worked on since Christmas: or would have done.

All my stuff from Lightroom/perfect effects is there still, and that's not a problem.

All my images that were processed in Photodirector have disappeared.

Welcome to the world of non-destructive changes.

One of the things I've had to learn about using professional photo-processing software is that it makes no actual changes to the original image data file. All the adjustments to each image are stored and remembered, so that when you come to view the image later, the software makes those changes to the way the data is displayed without actually altering the stored file. In order to save the modified image in a way that can be printed or uploaded to the internet it is necessary to create a new image with all those changes added to the original file.

Obvious and sensible, no? That way everything is reversible and the original picture is always available for reworking.

But what happens when your software forgets what changes were made? Even forgets which images were imported?

That's the exact situation I found this morning with Photodirector. There were no imported images, let alone any changes made to them. Hunting for the database file turned up a brand new one, as if I'd just installed the software fresh. All my edits and tweaks for about 100-150 images vanished.

I'm not tremendously upset because most of the images I'd developed there were later re-developed in Lightroom, but there were a few, particularly from the Old Brompton graveyard that I'd spent a lot of time & care on, and really don't want to have to attempt to re-do. It looks like IF I re-attempt them then I'll have to save finished images as soon as they are completed, since I can't trust it to remember what was done.

And then probably no more Photodirector for me.

Adobe Lightroom is a much better package for general image development, and when combined with Perfect Effects it's really quite a powerful combination for developing and shaping an image without making huge changes a la Photoshop. But there were some things that PD simply did better: the HDR tool was very powerful for controlling contrast and some of the other processing options gave a different way of seeing how changes might be made, plus it did have a 'smart replace' tool that's very noticeably absent in Lightroom.

And maybe I need to make sure I output finished images from Lightroom too, just to be safe, though recovery is easier on the Mac than it is with W8.

Monday, 7 April 2014

The ups & downs - a bit of grace, a bit of struggle

Saturday I had a tummy under pressure, that I couldn't trust to behave. Yesterday I was a bit tired & vague feeling. Then last night couldn't get to sleep, and when I did, ended up with dreams that made me call out & wake Chris. This morning I started with back ache & now have visual disturbances that make it hard to see properly. Hello Ibuprofen.

And yet.

Saturday evening I had a call from someone, needing someone to dep for them preaching next day, and by the grace of God I was able to pull a word together (Eph 2 v11-22 - part of a series) in a couple of hours. In a way it was nice to be just doing straight teaching on a passage, all very uncomplicated.

Much of the battling that I've been experiencing these last weeks seems to have lifted too, although it would like to come back.

So on we go. Another week, a fresh set of challenges.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Does God turn up after all then?

So I wrote this post on Thursday during the day, about disappointment as much as anything, knowing I was going to be leading the meeting Thursday night.

So I had material prepared & printed up ready to hand out, but really wanted us to have a time of worship first, just to get into God's presence (yes, I know that's iffy theology, but anyway).

And we did.

There was a gentle sense of God being there, maybe not so gentle for a couple of people, but a very gentle sense of His presence, of encouragement, of restoration, of re-setting the compass needles to point back to reality again. And we just kept worshipping, even though it was pre-recorded. And when I paused to start the study time people wanted more, so we just kept going.

And I'm really grateful.

It's not like a validation of my theology, my understanding, my ministry, but in there was an affirmation of who I am in Jesus and to just keep going at what I've been called to do. It's replaced teeth-gritting determination with thankfulness and a bit more peace, and I am so grateful for that.

Free ESV bible for Kindle anyone?

No idea how long this will remain up without charge, but if you have a kindle reader or the kindle app on your phone or computer then it's available for use off-line. Handy if you prefer a 'book' approach, rather than reading at

Free bible link here.

It's a morning of sensations and memories here.

Choosing a tee shirt to wear this morning, I came across the tee that I bought on our last trip to Canada in 2006: petrol blue, soft from being worn & washed so much and with a couple of tiny holes. It was bought because our luggage was lost and we needed clean clothes - Chris still has a bright orange top bought at the same time. We've good memories of friends & really looking forward to seeing them again this summer.

On the way shopping for food, I played a track from a recent Chris Tomlin album and it reminded me of Mark, who played guitar and lead worship for a while at the Chapel. It reminded me I missed him too, and also the way he'd flow so freely with his voice in worship.

In Tesco they had large Basil plants on offer for £1.50, so I grabbed one. It made the car, then the kitchen smell wonderful with it's sharp, spicy scent.

Picked up a guitar just now, and 'discovered' a new turnaround with a D chord that I've not used before. Wonder if I'll remember it long enough to use it for worship tomorrow in the church? I often use a Dsus2, and will very often substitute it for a straight D chord, softening the sound of the open E string with careful strumming. For this turnaround I alternated the Dsus2 by fretting the E string fret 2 as a normal D, but leaving an open G string to get a sound that makes me think of coming home through wheat fields under big skies. It sort of answers the question that the suspended chord is asking, and works strummed or picked. I may try to incorporate that into a sequence like the picked part of Joe Bonamassa's Mountain Time.

Friday, 4 April 2014

An observation about spammers

Since adjusting my settings to moderate all comments I've not seen a single spam comment. Someone is breeding clever 'robots' these days.

A quick roundup on IT stuff, via El Reg.

OK, 3 interesting things have dropped out over the last few days:

Intel sees the future in truly wireless computing. Lots of stuff in the article, but the interesting bit is at the end. We're taking about computers that don't EVER have wires attached: not for screens, keyboards & mice, internet or even charging/power supply. It reminds me of the maxim that any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic, et voila, up it pops.

We all know Windows XP is about to become orphaned by Microsoft (and if you've not upgraded yet then you should!). Not all countries are being lobbied/pressured to continue with Microsoft's products, and it seems the Tamil Nadu are going to run their civil service using Linux. Munich - a little closer to home - moved their city systems across to linux several years ago, so it's not just a weird 3rd world phenomenon.

And finally, I am about to abandon Firefox/Mozilla as browser & email system of choice.


Why, I hear you ask?

Some of the background is here in an article about Brendan Eich, their Chief Executive being forced to resign. I don't want to support or recommend a company that follows the militant gay agenda (in the same way I don't want to support a company that recommends drunkenness, encourages fornication or presents embezzlement as a valid way to make a living) and to me, their idea of equality and inclusiveness looks like nothing of the kind. Opinions are deeply divided on this, but their actions do not look good to me, so I'm looking for alternatives. Most likely browser of choice will become Opera, but I'm not sure about email client yet.

And a fourth one for a Friday afternoon: As we all suspected, organic food will not protect you from cancer. Big ol' study too, with >600,000 participants. Interesting note on pesticides too, though very much expected here. I'd go along with the suggestion at the end, that you'd be better off buying decent quality food & more fresh fruit & veg than spending extra money on organic foods.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Where does charismatic stop and evangelical start?

I'm not sure, these days, and it worries me.

See, I'm a charismatic - in that I experience God moving in my life through tangible things that He does and a part of that is gifts, like speaking in tongues, that He has given us - and yet I'm part of a church which has a moderately non-charismatic, and pretty much evangelical, culture.

There was a time when, with the understanding I have now of evangelicalism (I might have once thought it vaguely related to outreach, even though I knew that wasn't what it meant) I'd have run a mile from it, decided it was too busy following its own traditions and quickly gone somewhere else. The idea that I could compromise my values and expectations enough to actually be part of the leadership, let alone carry some of the responsibility for shaping its character would have horrified me. And as for making some of the promises and commitments  that becoming a church warden has required me to take.... beyond the pale!   ;-)

And yet this is where I find myself.

Earlier in the week I was looking for a recording of something I'd said in church last year, then ended up listening to the whole recording. If you really want to hear it for yourself then it's up on soundcloud as a tale of 2 halves.

It was meant to be an encouragement to the church, something to raise expectations of what God was going to do with us. Listening again it both encourages me now, and yet also makes me ask "why haven't we started moving into those things?".  And also "what has happened to me since then - why am I so discouraged?"

And this is where the cross-over into the evangelical side is happening.

At the end of the sermon we prayed for a number of people, trusting that God would be at work in them, and since that time one of them has expressed a sense of vocation and begun preaching. I don't know how/if the lives of any others were affected. But this isn't what I was expecting or looking for - God moving in the subtle, intangible, hard to pinpoint ways. The evangelical ways, The ways where, you know God is quietly working, lives are gradually shifting and changing, difficult situations survived, everyone mostly getting along, aging quietly.

In one sense it's great, fantastic, but in another, this isn't what I signed up for - incremental Christianity, where it's often hard to tell the difference between the Christians and the rest.

Do I want fireworks in church then?


Well, a bit.

I love that people's lives ARE changing, but I miss the sense of the reality of God breaking in. I can walk around the church building praying happily in both English and tongues, but come time for a church meeting, it's all quiet, respectable and evangelical. If we are so inoffensive in our meeting times, it makes me wonder how much the real Jesus is actually present and how much we're just following another tradition, but an evangelical one instead of CoE, where He gets to occasionally look in if He's lucky?

No stones thrown at anyone BTW - I'm just trying to think through things, and ask why they are as they are. If it offends you then consider this to be me showing my inadequacy.

How do you see Google+?

I'd given up social media for lent - SM being defined in my mind as places you could have a conversation that was interactive and rapid: Facebook, The Libertree Project and various forums in other words.

Then I realised that I had continued using G+. There's marginally more activity there than on my blog, but only just. I wonder how much money Google have pumped into what is effectively an electronic backstreet? I prefer that it's NOT like facebook - full of dumb stuff and motivational posters - but it is SO very quiet. Even when there are videos of tear gas and rioting. ;-)

When is a good image a great photo?

I've mentioned once or twice that I've been using Perfect Effects 8 from On One software (courtesy of a free download) in addition to Adobe Lightroom for image processing, although I've not really talked about workflow yet, and that's planned as another blogpost. The guys at On One are very keen on supporting and promoting their products, and offer an increasing variety of training videos and webinars with their own people and various well known photographers.

So in my inbox yesterday was an invitation to a webinar with Doug Landreth talking about the work he does in his company, Photomorphis. Embedded in the email was an image that demonstrated before and after: that is copyrighted, and therefore I don't feel able to reproduce here for you, although you can see the kind of effects on the Photomorphis site. The striking thing about this was that the 'before' image would have gone straight in the bin with a "what was I thinking". Grey, dull, bland and (to me) poorly composed.

Now it may have been shot like this on purpose, but the question it makes me ask is how many will see this kind of manipulation as a way of rescuing stuff that should otherwise get deleted: iffy composition, poor focussing, poor lighting etc etc. Does degrading an image, giving it a yellow cast and putting a fake distressed border round the outside really make it better, give it artistic value? Sure Instagrammies have been doing this for several years now, but was it really good, even when it was new?

There's an aspect to Doug's work that I DO like, but, as with so much digital manipulation, it's hard to see where enhancement stops and rescue of rubbish starts.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Opinions are like bottoms

Everyone has an idea about what will build a big, strong church. For some, it's hearing the word of God faithfully and accurately preached, for others it's building a sense of family and community, still others seeing God break into reality through miracles and signs, and for some - shallowest of all - it's having a great worship band and fantastic music.

There are a lot of voices, each declaiming 'what you must do to be a success' or '5 ways to avoid failure' - I've just read a few short articles on The Verge about leading worship bands and being missional and they all had good stuff in them. But it also makes me ask why, when we DO do some of these things well it doesn't seem to build people up or draw them closer to God, while other churches seem to thrive without any of the struggles. Makes me also ask where the reality of God is in there, and whether they are actually affecting the lives of the people who are part of them, or whether they go because it's a comfy, happy place to go & feel good without being challenged?

As for me, I'm just trying to hear God for this place.

Why does some music get old so fast?

2013 was the year of Rend Collective Experiment.

I'd known about them for a while before that through one of our children's school friends, who had sung with them occasionally. They had a fresh take in the worship music scene, getting away from the big worship-leading super heroes and megabux commercial worship bands, and were down to earth guys who really had a heart to worship God. The Big Church Day Out reinforced that, and they did a campfire worship time one night that was so very natural, in total contrast to the other acts we watched on a big stage.

I'd tried previously to introduce their stuff in the church, but (since we were using pre-recorded worship tracks to sing with) their music was so produced, so jarring in that form that it was pretty-much unusable.

I've re-listened to Homemade Worship For Handmade People again recently, and Monday night brought some of their songs to the worship team. They just don't work - for us.

And that's the clue really.

A lot of songs can be re-shaped to work for a particular team & congregation, or the CD arrangements are so bland/MOR pop-ish that they can be used verbatim, without change. I love the heart of worship in RCE, but their songs are THEIRS in a spiky, awkward and uncomfortable way for us. They could probably come to our church, lead worship in their style with their material & it would be great. As for us: no can do.

I'm thinking about trying to re-arrange one or two, but I'm not sure it's possible because their signature runs right through the middle, and it might destroy the song itself - and that's no good at all. Some songs have a song-within-a-song trying to escape. It was only when trying to teach the rhythm part of Brenton Brown's Your Love Is Amazing to someone new on Monday that I realised I'd spontaneously re-arranged that song (years ago) to bring out the song inside. Not at all sure that could be done with any from RCE though.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Looks like an opportunity?


Looks like I may have an opportunity to up-sticks and relocate along with another company, with whom I've long had a relationship. The question now is whether such a move would be beneficial or unhelpful. It would also take the business completely out of the local area, and I'm not sure whether that's good or not, but my early aims of providing employment for local people haven't come off, so it won't affect that side of things.

Is it coming closer to the time to move on in a more general sense, or is this a large black hole, opening up before me, that needs dodging around?

If you cared about security of your personal data

Then you would never have uploaded it to 'the cloud' in the first place.

Article here from El reg that suggests IT firms have woken up the the idea that cloud data hosting, particularly in the US, is inherently insecure and practically an invitation to government(s) to go trawling through your files. I don't have anything that I'd especially want to keep secret on my computers, but just like you wouldn't want a surveillance camera in a sports changing area, so I'd prefer not to have people be given open access to my files: it wouldn't hurt me, but it would be a gross invasion of privacy.

If you feel differently - and there seem to be plenty of people happy to appear starkers on webcams - then that's up to you, but I'd prefer to have my privacy respected.

One of the things we need to talk about in church some time.

Is tithing.

Now some hate the idea, seeing it as some kind of socialist law that demands you give up some of your hard-earned wedge without freedom or joy. Others are less self-absorbed and greedy, realising it's just a way of recognising God's grace and provision to them by returning a portion of what they have been able to earn.

There's a post on backyard missionary that I found amusing, about how to reduce your tithable income.

I think that some time we need some teaching on this in the Chapel.

Ain't necessarily so.

Is a line from a song designed to undermine Christian faith and righteousness, to sow doubt and cynicism.

But there's a little truth in there too.

I've been turning over a number of thoughts recently after a friend visited The West Bank and Bethlehem, and came back with doubts about the possibility of peace.

There's a natural tendency to read the old testament & bin the bits we don't like as being pre-Jesus, therefore no longer applying, but that's not satisfactory as a way of understanding or interpreting history as it was recorded. So I've recently been re-reading the histories of the kings of Israel in both the bible and Josephus in parallel, and there's a tendency in Josephus (and Chronicles) to exalt the acts of David & Solomon as unimpeachable and desirable. That would include the annexation of certain parts of Canaan and the final enslavement of the people there.

Now, if you were a Jew, believing that David and Solomon were the perfect examples of those ruling in God's name, you might see this behaviour as desirable and righteous. It then becomes a small step for you to see that your re-acquisition of that same land in the 21st century as continuing their work.

But what if they were merely recorded facts of history, rather than God's best plan for his people to carry through? What is God's heart for those enslaved and what is His desire for them, rather than what are the recorded facts about what has actually been done by various people to them? Food for thought?

For me, Jesus comment about divorce is really telling: Moses gave the Jews divorce laws because their hearts were hard. It wasn't that divorce was good or acceptable under certain circumstances, but that hard hearts created marriage breakdown, and that under some circumstances it was likely better that two broken people didn't remain married compared to the worse alternatives.

There's a big danger that we re-interpret all sorts of things through our wet, liberal, socialist, capitalist, libertarian 21st century eyes and miss God's heart in what happened, lose sight of the fact that He works with sinful, broken people from where they are. But if we try to see God's character behind and through it all, then we can start to see with less obscurity the things He wanted compared to the way things were actually done. Just like now, really.