Monday, 31 March 2014

Reviews can be a wonderful source of amusement and humour.

When you buy a Mac there's a bunch of software thrown in that includes various tools that one would normally download free for a Windows installation. This collection of software, known as iLife, includes photo processing, movie editing, music creation and web design software. Some of it is genuinely good & useful: iMovie is a very useful basic movie editor that's easy to use, Garage band works well for some people, though I've found it unintuitive and clunky. And some is just pretty badly thought through and cut down so that it doesn't offer essential, basic tools that might possibly take sales away from the flagship product. iWeb was one and iPhoto is another (a photo editor without a resize function, really??!).

Last year Apple decided to make their iLife apps free, except when they don't, and I was interested to see that although the latest version of iPhoto is listed under free apps, it actually carries a price of £10.49. Even though I have iPhoto installed. Eh?

While I was on the product page I glanced down at the reviews for the latest version and saw the gem I have (probably illegally) quoted here below:

It’s hard to find the words to adequately capture just how appalling this software is. I came excitedly to Macs from Windows believing that this is exactly the sort of thing OS X does best. Yet the scale of the ineptitude on display in the usability of this software is beyond my comprehension. I don’t have the time or energy or inclination to be specific. I would almost encourage you to download and use it just as a life experience, like being locked in a broken elevator: something you can discuss wide-eyed at dinner parties or with which to shock your children. Rest assured that on each occasion you need to import photos from your iPad, edit the content of events, print out a photo, find a picture on your drive, or almost anything else, you will be exposed to some fresh hell even after you thought there were surely no more obscenities to be found. Using this software is like discovering your car has been stolen, over and over again.

 I am grateful that I don't have to pay £10.49 and experience the sensations of car-theft on a repeated basis in order to attempt to edit my images. ;-)

To round out the afternoons blogging - platonic relationships?

An ex-draft post. The mens group to which this refers bit the dust last autumn, which was a relief in the end.

Last Saturday at men's group we all did the masculine thing of agreeing that platonic relationships were not possible between men and women.


Stooo... piddd.

I nodded along too.

How many healthy men have fancied their mother in law?

But in all seriousness, the more I consider it, the more I think it's about us, our wants, satisfactions, expectations and desires. We can pretty much all get along without the least issue of unwanted desire for our MiLs (and probably a whole bunch of aunts etc too) and why is that?

QED, platonic relationships are perfectly possible.

But on the other hand, present someone delightful with the right chemistry and a desire for friendship and we suddenly find we have to be very careful where we tread. So then relationship becomes much more difficult to keep at a purely platonic level, and may require someone to run away sharpish before it gets out of hand.

There's aspects of this that I'm still thinking through, as to how we can offer encouragement, friendship and Christian love to those of the opposite sex that are attractive to us through no fault of their own. Running away has been effective in stopping things getting out of hand, but it's not necessarily that helpful to the person run away from.

This is pertinent to me still because science is full of women - probably more so than most industries - and if I'm going to share anything of the love of Jesus then there will be times of relative closeness & friendship. How does one do that without getting involved to a depth where things stop being 'just' friendship friendship? Being older helps, but is by no means any real answer, and running away will keep me 'safe' but probably doesn't look great or help whomever one is friends with. One of life's tensions.

Apparently I have 81 posts 'in draft'.

I know there have been times that I've written something, only to think better of it and saved without making it public. Wonder whether it would be worth re-visiting those, especially now that the fire from which some where born has likely damped down or gone out long ago.

Or maybe best to just let them quietly go?

Have you ever noticed the resilience of chicken?

I'm not talking about flesh so tough it can withstand a herd of trampling buffaloes, but rather how, no matter what you marinate or cook the chicken with, it always seems to come out tasting like chicken.

So yesterday was mothers day (for my non-UK friends) and of course we had my mum over for dinner. Grabbed a couple of chicken crowns from tesco, pre-marinaded in 1) lemon and sea salt 2) harissa spicing. I used crowns because I'm tired at the moment, and simply didn't want the hassle of spending 30min dismantling a bird, hunting for little scraps at the end of a longish day, plus the 2 different flavourings seemed a bit more interesting. I roasted them along with ordinary par-boiled potatoes, new potatoes with oregano & balsamic vinegar* and carrots with tarragon & honey.

It all tasted pretty good in the end, and if I'd been served that in a restaurant then I'd certainly not have complained, but the chicken tasted just like roast chicken. Maybe the flavourings in the veg and gravy I served it with overcame any subtlety in the meat? Good job roast chicken tastes nice. :-)

*For years I've been using the word spelled vineagar, and when I noticed the red squiggly line underneath, instead of thinking 'dumb American spelling' went off & checked up. Seems I'm not alone in using this version, but the British English dictionaries spell it without the 'a' so it's time to get edumacated.  :p

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Saying goodbye to some old friends.

Those who have followed this blog may remember the image top left used to be a picture of my feet wearing a bright yellow pair of vans trainers in the snow. Well, those trainers have finally 'had it' after about 9 or 10 years of service, traipsed round various cities of Europe as well as being favourite 'stage wear'.

I'd despaired a little of finding a replacement, but yesterday I found a pair of bright red & black adidas trainers that fit well and appear the perfect replacement. So that's OK then - we all need a gentle way of expressing our slightly outrageous sides. ;-)

Friday, 28 March 2014

Compromise can be difficult.

Tomorrow there's a photographic exhibition & competition in Somerton village hall. Funding has been made available for images to decorate the village hall, and being democratic - sort of - it was decided to let those who use the hall chose the images, hence the competition.

Excellent idea.

Now, here's the tricky bit: images must be no more than A4 size (I've printed 12X8 on the basis that it's a smaller surface area than an A4 sheet - a little longer and narrower) with a limit of 5 images per person, and this last makes it REALLY hard. In addition, because of the nature of the subject - views of Somerton - the need to reflect the sensibilities of the village is frustrating my desire to use the best images I have in order to avoid repetition of a subject.

To explain a little more, the most striking feature of the village is it's church, and given decent light and a helping of photoshop it can look really picturesque. I managed what I consider a really good image with some early morning light, and all would be well & good if I'd not gone back a few days later when the valley was full of mist for a second go. On arriving at the gates to the churchyard I was greeted by a bunch of chickens wandering back down the path, just as if they'd been to church. Chickens have been a bit of a 'thing' here, and so it's a great image that reflects some aspects of the village really well, and the church looks 'interesting' in the mist.

But it's not my *best* shot.

I'm probably going to have to leave out a second favourite too: that waterfall shot processed up as black & white and split-toned blue/brown highlights & shadows looks fantastic, but I doubt any who don't live at this end of the place will recognise it because it's tucked away behind trees and a fence, despite being within 5 yards of the main road. We'll see, because I've done some layouts, and it's important to get them to work as a group as well as individual images.

And all this is making me realise that I REALLY need to build an online gallery. It would be good to be able to sell more prints, maybe even develop it as a business for when the lab side is slack, and I'm sure there are plenty of local people who would like some of these pictures for their homes.

Gave in and used the better shot of the church, but did leave out the shot of the waterfall and the one of the chickens walking down the path.

Hobbycrafts sell a heavy 2.5mm thick card in 32" X 22" (there I go, mangling measurement units!) for about £2.75 a sheet, so bought a couple of those to mount the images on. I ended up spending yesterday evening sizing, cutting & mounting - I'd completely forgotten how much effort was involved if all you have is a knife & a ruler! The 4 colour images all went on a single sheet with a white border around them, while the arch went on a single piece alone with a dark red border.

Did a quick comparison between the printed images and my home screen as well - I REALLY need to calibrate this monitor if I'm going to use it for image processing! I wonder if these will look dark on your screen?

*2nd edit*
Well, I came second for the first picture below showing Somerton from North Aston Lodge. The winning image was a very 'classic' sunset over the flood water we've had recently, nice & timeless. Third place was taken with a view over the canal below the village, and was very nicely composed in blues and greens. A few images were also commended including the dovecote image below.

The images:

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Quiet as the grave.

So today I'm off to London, to the funeral of a friend of the family.

We've not been in touch for a long time - long as in probably 30 years. Mick was a friend of my father's (my mother recalls him being his closest friend) and my parents certainly spent quite a bit of time with Mick & Joan, his wife. I remember him as a soft, slightly fuzzy guy, longish hair (unusual for a man in his mid-40s then) bushy sideburns, a quick rollup and gentle manner. He liked his sea fishing a little, though as I recall, seldom had a chance to actually go, having never learned to drive & running around everywhere on his moped.

I sometimes wonder if Mick was the gentle, grounded end of his partnership. My earliest memory of his wife was looking all exciting in an early-70s style, hair in a pony tail, neat figure and big glasses, standing beside her Morris Minor - in retrospect quite fetching. She was quite prophetic later on, and as an older teen, I recall her having much more Christian input, while Mick would gently stay on the sidelines - even staying in a tent by himself on one church weekend so that he could smoke away from the main party.

So I'm off to say goodbye to Mick, maybe represent the Oxfordshire end of the family, possibly meet up with some other friends that were once part of the same group of teens, subtly influenced by this quiet man.

Not surprisingly it seems there was a lot more to Mick than I'd known, and he'd influenced a lot of people (and been close friends to a lot of people) over those years.

So is this what funerals become when you reach a certain age - an opportunity to catch up with old friends and re-establish otherwise near-silent relationships? Amazing how some have barely changed in appearance and mannerisms, while others much more so (not surprising in view of the >20 year gap). It was mildly amusing to recognise some people who completely failed to recognise me, and also intriguing to be approached by someone who turned out to be the younger brother of one of my best friends from Junior school. How he could have ever recognised me I have absolutely no idea - the oldest I could ever have been was 16 and he would have been 10. However you did it, well done Giles!

The area has changed significantly from when we were even last there just a few years back, and I struggled to recognise landmarks, approaching Thornton Heath and South Norwood from the Croydon side. I wonder if Steve Chalke would recognise the house where he used to live, in Whitehorse road? At least I could remember enough of the area to find my way without sat nav. But the state of the area makes me wonder if we're developing 2 Britains, where the educated and well-employed whites have moved out of the cities and the areas they once occupied have been taken over by those who have made themselves an ethnic majority, locally. With this change has also come a change and/or loss of, for want of a better expression, moral compass, primarily due to a loss of local 'eldership' and respect from within the indigenous population. This looks like trouble further down the road.

Tired now - just went back to work, setting up some assays for tomorrow. Last night we did circuit training, and that combined with a >3 hour crawl home has not made Toni a comfy boy. Incubation over - back to the lab.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

It feels like I've had a bit of a hole in my heart today.

A couple of months back a young friend's husband decided he didn't really want to be with her any more, and for reasons best known to himself, chose to move away. She's pushed through a time that might have left most women a sobbing wreck, finding strength in Jesus and looking after her daughter, plus holding down a job.

Sadly now, she can't stay here any more, finances being what they are, and so a few of us helped her move out, loaded up a van her parents brought up, hugged and said goodbye.

Bums. Who needs more words.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Carbon offsets.

"What's wrong with carbon offsets?"

"Analogy-wise, paying someone in South America to grow trees so that I can burn trees is a bit like me paying someone in Uganda 10 quid to be good to someone else so that the PFY can punch you and the Boss here in the face."

Thank you BOFH.

Everything inside says go! Why should I stay?

I wonder what response that title produces in you? Does it strike a chord, sound familiar, reasonable?

What if I told you I was leaving Heyford Park Chapel because I couldn't take any more and was upset and disappointed about the changes in leadership above me and the things they wanted to do? Would you be surprised: and would some of you would probably be quite pleased, if you were honest with yourselves? And would you then expect me to wander off, losing direction, gradually drifting away from the church and then my relationship with God, as so many seem to have done? It's certainly happened to apparently better, stronger Christians than me, as well as weak, un-discipled and immature ones.

It's a scenario that has been playing out in my mind quite a bit over the last few weeks.

There has been an almost unbearable desire to step down, to walk away completely from the Chapel and church in general, to 'be free' to do what I want to do, please myself, to decide that holy-living was really repression of good and natural desires. Buried in there was a desire to "let people see that things would fall apart if I weren't there" and to let them struggle to fill in the gaps we would leave. This is real - I'm not making it up for effect - and the pressure from feelings, worries and frustrations has almost consumed me a lot of the time. There have been little gaps - like a day spent fasting and an hour or so praying over 'lunch' where it felt like I'd heard God, before a return to almost un-relenting pressure. There was a warning about where this was going too, through someone quite unwittingly making a comment about the fate of another ex-leader, and I could hear God's voice quite clearly behind that one.

Lets just say I've had a lot more fun at other times than this.

What am I going to do?

It's a good question, and much more difficult to answer with honesty than I would like. Writing this helps, because it creates a public line in the sand, and it's also helpful in the way that trying to write forces one to put order on the chaos of emotional thought. It also makes one step back and ask whether this is God's voice causing the confusion, feelings of hurt, upset and frustration..... and if it isn't then who else have I been listening to? You can work that one through for yourselves.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

My computer is making happy sounds again.

There's a 'donk!' noise that sounds like software hitting a barrier, signifying entourage had failed to connect to a mail server account, that I had started to dread ever since the Mavericks upgrade fiasco. Since last night, after returning to Mountain Lion I've not heard a single notification like that.

Good times. :-)

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Let's lighten up a little.

My lovely wife in a lovely place - the coarse garden of Upper Heyford.

One thing I do notice about this image is that, for files >1Mb, Photobucket compression REALLY hurts image quality. Fuzzier than a big muff.

So, we have a far from ideal situation.

Right now I'm restoring the new drive back to Jan 2014, the time before last that it backed up before upgrading to Mavericks. Hopefully that will work acceptably. I can recover nearly all my data from the repositories I created before migrating, the exceptions being latest info from Firefox and the emails received in the last 2 months.

I'm not sure yet how to tackle the emails - really don't want to lose some of them - but I'll probably try the archiving again. I may also see if there's a more rudimentary, yet simpler way to save them.

And I'm becoming increasingly sympathetic toward replacing this computer. Presently typing from the little Philips Freevents I bought last year. In the end Mint Debian was removed, because it's relatively slow and clunky compared to Linux Lite, and I've returned to that.


Back to the old drive.

Looks like Microsoft Entourage is broken in Mavericks, and very worryingly, doesn't want to allow me to archive all my emails, only saving stuff up to about 3 years ago - will have to try again. The issues of poor performance seemed to still be present, even in a fresh install, even when Spotlight had finished archiving. I'm about to create a Mountain Lion install flash drive in the hope that will help fix things. Failing that I'm not sure where we go from here, other than I'm going to be flogging some recently used kit.

The idea of leaving the world of Apple is looking attractive again.

Enjoying a big helping of......

Apple - please wait. And rapidly coming to the conclusion that choosing Mavericks was a bad idea. Looking like what should have been quick and clean is becoming slow and dirty. Very shortly going to have to put the archive drive back in.

10.8 is looking like it was the right choice after all.

Bereft of PC power.

On a temporary basis, of course.
I have a gap in the lab work today, so I'm doing the rebuild on the Mac book, including installing a crucial M500 240Gb SSD. After reading around a little more I decided to install mavericks after all, and created a memory stick with the install files last night. It's been going OK, but Apple lie even more about install times than Microsoft, and if I weren't so cynical I would have thought something wrong when 'about a second' took more than 10 min.

The old Sammy ssd is being archived for now as a safety net. I'm also loading all software in fresh, because things that should have been quick were really slow and getting slower. Worst of all, entourage would frequently fail to collect mail, and it had been fine pre-mavericks. So all my files (except the light room database - nuts) are saved on my backup discs.

So I'm posting from my phone, the one mobile computing device I have available.

*typos corrected

Monday, 17 March 2014

And so it begins.

Moving the business computer across from XP to W8.1.

The business machine has already decided it's time, giving repeated 'recovered from a fatal error' messages.

Matters of observation:
The new Seagate SSHD is about 3/4 the thickness and 1/2 the weight of the Samsung 750Gb drive it will replace. I hope it's genuinely faster too, especially after a few uses.
Windows OEM packaging is 'basic' to say the least, the stickers with the product key now have tiny, fine writing that I now struggle to read.
The heatsink below the fan for the CPU was literally solid with dust. I can't remember how old this machine is now, but I'm sure I never cleaned it out. Not that it seemed hot when I shut it down, so I don't think that was the reason for the fatal errors.

Right, 8.1 installed, Start menu tidied up, graphics driver updated, now we start loading software and data files.

Microsoft have certainly done something right with this, performance-wise. The hardware this is running on is around 3-4 years old, AMD 245 processor, dual cores at 2.9GHz, but stuff opens really quickly and the whole lot has a 'new windows install' snappiness to it in a way that I've never seen with W7(and I've installed it a few times). Once the SSHD starts making a difference then I expect it will be quite a nimble little beastie. Hopefully good for Chris to use.

*edit 2*
I'd not realised quite how tired I was yesterday evening when I posted that - at least, that is my excuse for the lousy writing.

Seems I build that computer in Nov 2009, at very low cost (about £90 for the mobo and processor, tenner for the case, £20ish for the memory, hard drive was already laying around and it uses the onboard graphics and audio). On that basis it's darned amazing how well it all works: and to think I had pretty much written off AMD as producing sluggish chipsets. Makes me also wonder whether it IS time to update the livingroom computer for something less pedestrian, since that came free (broken) 2 years ago, and was hardly state of the art then, even though it was a lot snappier than my older machine (which is STILL hiding upstairs).

Money: who wants to keep it?

Today was my first occaision of cycling to work in 2014

Makes me remember why I stopped in 2013. Meh.

The previous description of being vigorously shaken in a cold, giant hand still works, with the addendum of having all the breath knocked out of your body. Cue much prolonged, uncontrollable and spontaneous coughing in the office - and PLEASE don't make me laugh. :p (wheeze, cough as I wrote that!)

My legs have gone all skinny these days, though the compensation is that it's much easier to get jeans that fit OK. I restarted circuit training a while back, and some of the muscle that was lost over 2013 is returning: last year I was able to wear some suits bought in '97 thanks to a skinnier frame that owed nothing to dieting. I also notice that I don't throw away clothes that are still 'good'. ;-)

In a way I'd love to take 6 weeks out, train up and recover fitness. It would make me dumb for a while - harsh exercise has always done that, and if I'd realised when I was a kid then my 'o' levels might have looked quite different. I also wonder if those of the 'strong in the arm, thick in the head' persuasion might actually have the potential to be bright and sharp if they stayed in & read instead of running around: not because of the reading but because of the running? The irony is that there's something about really pushing oneself to the absolute limit that is quite attractive, and there's almost a competition between bright laziness and happy, sweaty stupidity.

Bodies are curious things.

So anyway, the box of computer bits appears to have arrived ready for the updates to the business computers, and now that I've stopped sweating I need to get dressed and into the lab, having been doing 'admin etc' stuff thus far.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

What a beautiful summers day.

You would never know it was mid March.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

How long can you last?

There's a sort of game I play with my phone, where I see how long it can last between charges. Although I have a moderately powerful Motorola that's more a mobile computing device than telephone, texting, telephony and occasionally looking up the weather forecast are the most demanding things it does - most of the time.

So it's normally run with 3G only, no wireless, and GPS off permanently too. I found leaving each of those on, even when not being used would drain the battery about a day sooner than otherwise. Battery life can be a lottery anyway, depending on where I go and whether the phone comes too, plus the local network (O2) is in and out like a fiddlers elbow, and having the phone hunt for a signal kills it faster than anything except route navigation using full GPS and wireless.

So I play the game.

A few minutes ago the phone just bleated at me - 4% charge remaining after 5 days, 4 hours and a few minutes. I've done some texting, made a few calls, taken a picture and checked the weather a couple of times a day - not heavy use by any means, but not bad at all, and pretty much as good as the best I had from my HTC desire.

Blowing warm and cool?

It's like a moderate version of blowing hot and cold, rather than one of the various meanings that might be used, and it's how I feel about Linux mint for the most part. Blog readers are probably bored to death with my flirtations and temporary marriages to various forms of Linux: sorry about it, but this is another dalliance.

Mint has been 'number two' in the Linux world after Ubuntu (and number 4 across all traditional OSs) despite the latter tending toward being slightly rough at the edges, possibly because for a long time Mint was a 'Buntu rework. I've tried it on and off over the years and it's always been a bit boring, dull, grey, stodgy. They never really got over Gnome desktop environment's fatal attraction to the idea of being a tablet interface, producing their not 1 but 2 replacement desktop environments, both of which looked like gnome 2. Their version of KDE was really a tail-end-charley to keep everyone onboard and was also grey in appearance and vanilla in execution - dull dull dull.

But a couple of years back they started producing a Mint Debian edition: Mint based on the Debian stable edition and available with either of the slightly dull but solid Gnome-alikes, it was lightweight, quick & a bit fresher feeling than typical Mint. I tried it a couple of times, and while I liked the low system overhead it was a bit short on the kinds of tools I've come to demand from KDE. Never the less it's been interesting to watch it progress, and I've tried new downloads on and off.

Last week I downloaded the latest version (2014.03 IIRC) and burned a disc to run live last night on the old Philips Freevents system. Ran like a charm considering it's 'live' off the drive, so I've bunged it on a 'spare' 250Gb HDD that was laying around, literally while typing this.

The installation manager was completely straight forward, as most Linux managers are these days, right up until it came to partitioning. Where's the automatic partition button? Ich habe keine. Not a problem: it offered gparted to erase the windows partition, create 4Gb swap file, then allocate the rest to EXT4 - is that it? Nope - had to go back & resize the main EXT4 partition to create a /root partition, and then, out of gparted, assign /mount point and home partitions.

Installation seemed to take forever compared to what I've become used to, probably thanks to the ancient DVD drive in the Philips, however the screen fonts are crisp enough (on a 12" 1200:800 display) and the usual dull grey wallpaper with Debian red spiral symbol looks subtle and interesting instead of dull.  Irritiatingly tap to click isn't activated by default on the trackpad, just like an Apple, even though scrolling using the right and bottom edges is, and without an *obvious* setting to change.

It feels snappy, though not quite as much as Linuxlite. Have to see how we get on.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Being a missionary in your own country. And sadness.

This morning I have 2 thoughts inside me, neither of which I feel able to express for a variety of reasons, and both of which are connected. One is about being a missionary in your own country and sent out to accomplish something there. The other is an almost unbearable sadness connected to asking a question to which I already probably knew the answer and the sense of loss attached to that. Once asked, like anything else we say, a question can't be un-asked, and I wonder how things will work out in connection with that.

My sense of melancholy may not be helped by the heavy mist this morning, in which I'd love a chance to go take more photos.

Work now calls.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

A box full of bits should arrive Friday.

With the impending death of Windows XP updates and therefore increased vulnerability* I ordered a bunch of stuff to update the accounts PC to W8.1: the OS itself plus a hybrid hard drive to speed things up a little. But this isn't about that.

I also ordered a Crucial 240Gb SSD to upgrade the Macbook. Since running Mavericks things have been MUCH slower than they should be. Starting up is taking about twice as long as before to get a usable machine (the desktop image comes up, but nothing works at first) which isn't a big deal, but apps take much longer to both start and stop, and the whole system seems laggier than before with frequent appearances of the beachball. The memory upgrade might have made things a touch smoother, but no more than that.

So I'm undecided what to do. Revert to Mountain Lion with a fresh install: true 64 bit computing, apparently lower overhead. Install Mavericks from scratch: comes with extra cruft like maps, apparently sluggish and heavier memory use, but longer shelf life.

Actually shelf life doesn't really matter. This is a 5 YO computer, worth probably £300-£350 used with the various upgrades, and it only needs to last 1 more year before moving it on. Right now ML looks like an easy winner (there's nothing I've seen in mavericks that gives it any kind of extra functionality I would use) and it's the obvious candidate for the lower overhead it brings. When it comes time to sell then I can bung on Apple's latest & greatest OS (which everyone seems to run toward like lemmings) and let them deal with degraded performance issues.

The one thing I hope is that I can recover data and settings from Time Machine while stepping back. The present SSD will be 'archived' for a while just in case, but I don't want to move all applications over, and will be re-installing from scratch to try to get best performance.

*Chris, for the first time in years, opened a virus-loaded email the other day. It had been done really well, had all the bona fides, correct images, email addresses etc, and was relevant to some work she'd done. The give away was the attachment in the form of a '.zip' file and that didn't ring the same warning bells as it does in my head.

Avira free edition caught and appears to have stopped it.

For the first time ever I'm thinking about paying for anti-virus software as a 'thank you'.

Mini review "Le Weekend"

The 'Somerton film club' likes to show titles that are a little off the beaten track sometimes, and we watched Le Weekend in the village hall last Friday week.

The opening line on IMDB is "A British couple return to Paris many years after their honeymoon there in an attempt to rejuvenate their marriage.". All I can say is that this is an approximation of the reality, which appears to be a gentle slide toward hell for Nick (Jim Broadbent) and the self-defeating domination and withering of their relationship for Meg (Lindsay Duncan).

It's an interesting, saddening insight into the results of aging on both the relationship between them and their political and moral ideals. Nick is basically a 'nice bloke' who is gently losing control, finding life increasingly challenging as he nears retirement age. You get to see the little insecurities that are part of that process, with him worrying where his keys, money, passport etc are, and being unable to settle without be reassured. He has tried to arrange the weekend away for them to re-live the things they did when they were young and in love, which involves typical French 'budget' hotels, thereby provoking Meg's anger.

Meg, on the other hand, is becoming entirely the centre of her universe, is only really happy when she is in control and by Nick's distress at his insecurity, being at her mercy. There is an early scene in a taxi where she angrily demands 'the money' and then keeps passing cash to the driver to keep taking them around, with Nick showing increasing anguish at each payment while her pleasure is heightened. Eventually they end up at a very expensive hotel, where she passes over the credit card, knowing they can't afford it and simply not caring how things work out.

Of course that's not how it starts out.

With a film of this nature you know that the director is going to feed clues and hints in order to gradually unpack the characters and their history, almost as predictably as pretty girls will fall into bed with James Bond. So initially Nick appears a doddery old git and understandably Meg a tolerant but frazzled wife, struggling to cope with his weaknesses. Information is gradually fed in: you find out about their absence of sex life, that his career as a Philosophy prof at a red-brick is over because he explained reality in words of one syllable to a student, his affair 15 years before that gave Meg the power she now wields in their relationship and that there was a likely affair in her past that she never quite denies while abusing him for accusing her.

Then there are the little insights into their physical relationship.

It becomes clear that Meg is in almost total control, and that any kind of sexual favour (as if Nick should ever be so lucky) has a price attached. So when she accidentally cuts him and he demands to see her breasts, the stage is set for the doggie scene, and it's only seeing the latter in the context of the former that it makes any sense. It's all done very discretely, but there comes a point when you almost have to shake your head in disbelief - I actually said "You WHAT?" out loud at that point of the film.

There is an attempt to redeem Meg to the viewer, portraying Nick as someone who 'married his feminine side' and lost his masculinity, while what she wants is a real man. I can't decide if this a serious effort, a bit of smokescreen or an attempt to show just how unpleasant the natural conclusion of feminist socialism really is. I am SO grateful I did not marry a woman of the character that I seemed to see all around me at one time: Nick's situation was literally the stuff of my nightmares, and I've seen a few men that have fallen victim to women like that. We talked afterward about how Meg repeatedly called Nick a f***ing idiot, as if that was completely acceptable and his feelings could not possibly be of any consequence.

Why watch it at all?

There's a light and redeeming side to the darkness of it all in the unlikely form of Jeff Goldblum as Morgan, an American intellectual bum and kind of money-grabbing idiot-savant. He was a protege of Nick's from their much younger days, and is quite in awe of him, yet he's completely sold himself to corporate life and money-making. He appears by 'chance', having got divorced, moved to Paris and started a new life with his pretty French wife who is heavily pregnant at this point. When he has a chance to talk with Nick alone he 'comes clean',  admits he's a fraud and is terrified of when his wife will see through his facade and dump him. Meanwhile Morgan's wife is talking with Meg and expresses how completely in awe and in love she is with her husband and how happy she is just to be with him. Of course Meg cannot tolerate someone else's happiness and finds just a few words to, if possible, demolish her - unsuccessfully it appears.

There are some laugh-out-loud moments too, though I simply can't recall any of them right now.

The final scene has Nick, Meg and Morgan in a bar, dancing together. Some might try to interpret that as a way of saying 'everything will be OK in the end', but I rather suspect if this were real life then it would be the last memory of happiness in Nick's life before returning home to the dole queue, early senility and regular lashings  with an acid tongue.

Would I recommend it?

It's certainly a stimulating film, and left me thinking about it for several days afterward. I'd not watch it for pleasure or 'light entertainment' but it could be a useful talking point if one wanted to provoke discussion either among seniors about life and expectation, or among younger people on a marriage course.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

There's safety in age.

I understand that there's a scam going round on facebook using the idea of seeing your friends naked as inducement. There is safety in age, because at 50ish no-one wants to see ones friends naked!

So you think you can heal?

Interesting article on the BBC website about evangelicals and healing clearly intended to be an uncovering the wild and the wacky, rather than supportive.

One of the features of Jesus ministry was that he'd send those he healed to the local priest. While this would be have been in order that they might offer the appropriate sacrifices for being cleansed (in the case of leprosy) it would also provide confirmation that the healing was real from an un-biased source that was probably the closest thing to a doctor in those days.

Does God still heal?

I think so, but before I am happy to just 'take it by faith' I want to know that it has been confirmed by someone with appropriate medical training and without bias. In other words, please ensure it is real, rather than a fiction made up to encourage the gullible. There's been enough of that stuff in church history, and I'm not interested in religious myths or stories to 'illustrate a point'.

Monday, 10 March 2014

So how would you like to lose all your energy and enthusiasm today?

I've just read the following line on Backyard Believer:

"It also gives me some sense of focus when it comes to who I seek to work with. I don’t think time spent with the resistant and difficult is ever time well invested."

 You should probably read the rest of the article that it came from too.

I keep asking myself "how should we be doing church together in a way that is meaningful, builds people up, helps them draw near to God, helps them want to submit their lives to Jesus?". My frustration partly comes from being a charismatic in an un-charismatic church, not that I'm desperately wanting people to be singing in tongues all the time, but that I want to see the power of God at work overtly and indisputably in the church, and instead it's always just the 'small' things, almost tucked out of sight.

Where is God at work among us? Good, and complex, question.

Never try to dissuade someone who wants to resign.

It's a piece of advice given by a friend, and one that I think is generally sound.

So I was going through the 'blogs I check sometimes' list, culling those that have stopped functioning as blogs, those I stopped clicking to read pretty much. I was in two minds over Hamo's blog, decided to go visit and found his last post - Just not for me - really reflected some of how I feel at the moment. I know this gets Chris down a lot too - the way some just walk away from church, often walking away from active faith eventually. I've seen that in a lot of people, those who used to be leaders as well as those who were just passively filled seats. Some I almost breathe a sigh of relief over, because they are up & down, in and out, trying to walk along the top of the fence and teetering on the brink. Others I want to give a good slapping - they shipwreck their lives and the poo all over the lives of those coupled to them through marriage or birth.

And yes, I feel guilty/failure/miserable over it.

Back to Francis Chan again. Were they real Christians, or just plants that sprouted for a few moments, then got choked or dried up and died? Am I to blame because they died despite me doing my best to provide an environment in which they could thrive, it was not good enough. Or is it a case of them never really being Christians at all, just going through the motions on the outside with un-redeemed hearts on the inside, following the herd?

I can't take the hard-nosed view on this, though it would make life easier to do so. I have to believe that they had a choice, and that I need to do all that I am called to do in order to help them to make the best choices for their futures.

But I have to say too, that if you decide to walk away from God, however incrementally, then that is your fault and responsibility too and not mine.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Grit your teeth and bite the bullet - buying stuff that doesn't change anything.

It's not like servicing a car!


In about a month windows XP will no longer be supported by Microsoft. No more updates, increasingly vulnerable to malware and internet attack, in order to keep doing the business accounts etc we are going to need to update (NOT upgrade) Chris's computer to a new version of windows. I'm debating right now whether to try to persuade her to try to learn W8 or just going down the easy route and accepting 7, even though it's got a more limited life and is distinctly less efficient. Along with that will go a new hard drive (SSHD to make things a bit more fluid and so I can archive her old drive 'in case').

Presently also debating over whether to do an Office update as well, though £180 for home business seems a huge whack for something to update Office 2003.

The annoying thing is that the tasks we're doing haven't changed that they need new software, nor will updated software improve the way the tasks are performed and will likely provide a very distinct downgrade to performance while they are learned.

I feel mild pangs of conscience over Office 2003. The disc and license was given me by the guys that ran the IT dept. 2 companies ago. License(s) were no doubt paid for at some stage by the parent corp, and undoubtedly no-one (or very few) are using the software bought under the original licenses now, yet at the same time because I didn't buy it I feel a little piratical.

Anyway, time to get Chris to try W8.

I showed her W8, set up the way I have it with direct links to the applications one actually uses on the start menu, rather than all the useless social-networking, weather, news and un-intuitive & confusing junk that's there by default. Clicked through to the desktop, it looked just like a windows desktop.

She asked the question "so what's the difference between this and what I already use?". Smart woman, my wife.

And this is why I don't get why so many get their knickers in a knot over W8. It's just like every other version of windows under the hood for the typical user. A few things are in different places from W7, and although you get presented with a confusing screen full of garbage the first time it starts up, that's easy enough to clear away - I figured out that all the tiles could be changed the very first time I used it - and replace with helpful things.

I really don't get it. Some IT 'professionals' declared it unusable from the off, and that makes no sense to me at all. The 8.1 service pack didn't substantially change how it worked, so much as make it run more efficiently (less like W7, which is slow and bloated) and more like a modern Linux build (which can often be quite heavy, but still reasonably quick).

Looks like I'm going to have to change my order with And hope that the old corporate version of Office 2003 professional will actually work.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

All at 6s and 7s.

It's a family phrase meaning to be out of kilter or off balance. We had a power cut around 4am, which meant no lights, no heating, no phones and no coffee with breakfast. It's a mild day out there and we still had a tank full of hot water, so showers were possible even if the bathroom was chilly afterward.

The we found out my mum was in hospital, having gone in around 1.30am with her heart racing, and my brother having to deal with it from a distance. Seems she's probably OK, but that threw everything up in the air. Chris has gone to see if she can be collected, since she'd be waiting several hours for an ambulance to bring her home again.

So here I am at work, a full day ahead and unsettled. Bleh.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

What do you do when your heros crumble?

I've never been one for idolising people, hero-worship nor as an adult (and this is key) pedestalling people too highly. However in the last couple of weeks I've been greatly saddened to hear of the 'fall' of 2 men I'd looked up to in my early formative years as a Christian.

First off 'Paul' Yonggi Cho, founder of the worlds first mega-church and someone who made the concept of 24/7 prayer through prayer mountain. It wasn't these that impressed me, but the way in which a man of such humble beginnings learned to walk with God and saw Him move and honour what He'd spoken. Of all the things I'd read, the one that stuck with me the most was his way of approaching a time without food, and using it to fast & pray. It is so sad to hear that he and his son were found guilty of embezzling $12million from his church.

The second is a lot more subtle than that, but shook me far more.

As a teen who had been baptised in the Holy Spirit in the late 70s, I was strongly influenced by what might be called the Harvestime movement: Bryn and Kerry Jones, Dave Mansell, Arthur Wallace and Dave Tomlinson were the key players. As an adult I'd not kept up with what had happened with these guys (other than hearing of Arthur Wallace's death) and being aware that there were some heavy-shepherding issues in some churches, mostly (as I understood it from some involved in those churches) down to local leadership being afraid to stand up themselves & relying on every word from other leaders.

Reading in last months Christianity magazine about Dave Tomlinson, and his walking away from all the good things that had been going on and ending up a robe-wearing Anglican priest was such a disappointment. I'm not going to reproduce the article here, and it certainly isn't as simple as I've expressed above, but it seems to me he's exchanged one stream with personality-dependence for another (there's pride in the continuance of the Petrine ministry in an unbroken chain through the bishops, even though I doubt Peter would recognise any Bishop from the third century onwards as being connected to him).

Is he still a Christian, still serving?

Yes, but I wonder how different things might have been if he'd stayed where he was, sought to answer his questions and lead the churches he was responsible for through the difficult times instead of walking away. Easy for me to say, with a small life of mediocrity, I guess. But somehow I find this far more disappointing that Yonggi Cho's fall - not a big, hot sin, but increasingly inward circles of questioning and luke-warmness.