Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Things are getting a little silly, but variety is nice.

This machine now has 4 different bootable operating systems available across 3 HDDs:

openSUSE 12.3
Pear Linux 7 (may well go back to 8 shortly)
Windows XP
Ubuntu 13.10

In addition there is an 810Gb FAT32 partition on one drive for sharing images between Windows and Linux, since Linux can read windows partitions but not t'other way round under normal conditions.

Sure, it's a little bit nuts, but variety is good. I also wanted the FAT partition so I could duplicate image files on 2 separate drives for backup purposes (and I'm shortly going to have to configure software to look after that for me too).

Regarding Ubuntu, I wrote a followup post after installation and trying it for a few hours but somehow it didn't make it to publication. It only seems fair to review it a little more.

After several hours use, it seems to me that they've put a lot of development into most making things work - as well as they ever do in any Linux distro and better than some - but failed to polish and finish well; pretty much confirming my initial impressions. The software centre IS unstable and frequently only works for a short period before hanging and needing restarting, fonts are still kludgy-looking but nothing like the smeary mess they used to be (how ever did they get any kind of user-base in the old days?). It still looks like Linux from >5 years ago. In fairness, there may be a particular segment of Linux developers that like this, and you see similar dull interfaces from Mageia and PCLOS too, though both running KDE, though with better fonts.

Performance-wise it's a mixed bag.

On the negative side, apart from the software centre not being so good (a problem for new Linux users that Ubuntu is supposed to serve) it's distinctly slower than openSUSE (with a heavier desktop environment) and Pear (actually built on Ubuntu). DigiKam 3.4 is noticeably laggy, and while I can't install 3.2 to compare, there's no reason it should be so different. Linux Lite that I've mentioned before is also built on Ubuntu, and absolutely flies, suggesting that Unity is resource hungry. Without adding a package manager updates come by default once per week and there's no way to control repos apart from through the command line. That aside, nothing has obviously broken since installation.

The good side - there's lots of recent(ish) versions of packages, though not all are that up to date (like RAW Therapee and darktable). Another positive, and this may seem a curious one to include, is that DVD playback seems good - clear images, no glitching, no trouble detecting & running the disc. Out of idle curiosity I tried the Avengers Assemble DVD which refuses to play on any other linux build and got a 'Ubuntu internal error' message dialogue pop up after it failed to play. It plays without trouble on the Mac, so I presume there's some proprietary protection going on to block Linux.

I confess the interface has grown on me, and if I were stuck with this for the rest of my life then it wouldn't be tragic, but it just feels so much.... less than it could be.

Later on tonight I'll be downloading a trial copy of Adobe Lightroom 5. It seems daft to spend money on decent cameras and lenses, then skimp on software. If it's significantly better than what I currently use then I'll buy it.

A quick update on Ubuntu - I've been using it more now for general stuff, and I'm wondering if it's not that stable. Various things have fallen over, DigiKam doesn't seem stable and has real problems with folders in a different partition from home. Oddly too, things keep greying out, going very slow before speeding up to normal again. It's OK sometimes for surfing etc, but otherwise unimpressive.

I've also spent time in Darktable and Raw Therapee. For free software they are good, but from a users POV they are not intuitive to use, even when you have a fair degree of experience of the kind of things you want to do. There are some neat tools in there too (like a colour temperature dropper bottle selector for making bross changes) but they are frequently buried or difficult to use.

This laptop has now completed it's 5th year of service, and I'm debating whether it would be better value to, once again, spend about £150 on updating hardware (8Gb RAM and a 1Tb HDD in the DVD bay, plus external DVD drive, battery also needs replacing but that's real money) or take a bigger hit & replace completely. It doesn't really owe me much now, and the Dell XPS a friend bought at the same time (for a little less) has been retired after high mileage. I did have a look at the new 13" MBP in the Apple shop at MK on Monday, and it felt almost too skinny. The retina screen was OK, but not obviously stunning.

Something to consider.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

A further techie Christmas post

Well after Fedora getting very short shrift here I reinstalled Pear 7 (rather than the current Pear 8) on the now vacant HDD. I'd forgotten how far back several versions of the software I wanted to use went on this OS, later updates being saved for more recent releases, and what was bearably old a year ago suddenly felt very creaky this week.

So after investigating what was available I discovered, not surprisingly, that Ubuntu has some of the best update support of all the various Linux distros. I guess it's down to having the biggest user base, being semi-commercial, and presumably also developers working up their software for this platform first. I particular, it seems DigiKam 3.5 (latest version) is Ubuntu 13.10 compatible. Now I'm not really all that fussed about using the latest and greatest versions normally, but because the camera is only a few months old support for its RAW files is missing in all the older versions. Some raw converters show a deep magenta cast across the image while others simply report the file type as incompatible.

OK, download the latest version of Ubuntu, burn DVD, pop it in & off we go. Check the 'download updates' and 'use codecs' tickboxes, allow to install alongside pear & give it an 80Gb partition, name the machine, give it a user ID, password etc etc. no trouble. Then up pops a box asking for email addresses, Ubuntu 1 IDs, and passwords.


There's an option to put an email address in if you don't have an account, which I do, and follow other instructions. The install continued for a while before the installer reported a fatal error and stopped.

Try a couple more times, once with it crashing promptly, another where it went part way & crashed. Annoying.

OK thinks I, lets try it without the additional downloads and codecs, 'just in case'. So I left these boxes and worked my way through to the Ubuntu 1 registration page. At this point I noticed a little radio button that offered the chance to 'register later'. Hit this and bingo, install went in fine. I have a strong suspicion that the installer can't cope with Ubuntu 1 registration, and that caused the fatal errors and crashes.

So, having proved to my satisfaction that the newly installed OS worked OK (but a bit slow!)I've gone back & reinstalled again with the additional software and codecs, just to prove it.There's just a couple of minutes left of the installation to complete, but all seems well, and I may well confirm completion shortly.

As for Ubuntu itself, the Unity toolbar seemed really clumsy, in the same way Gnome 3 is clumsy and constraining, and in the same way W8 can be clumsy (though without W8's style & grace - the tiles are really slick). The search function is there as it is in OSX, to find and launch applications, but this seems a dumb way to work, not knowing where your apps, files etc are. Also the commercial quick links are anathema to a typical Linux user. If this becomes a favoured OS because of the image processing software then I can see customisation and dock software not too far into the future.

Considering both Pear Linux and LinuxLiteOS are built on Ubuntu, it obviously has huge potential. I can also see why a previous generation of Ubuntu users were up in arms about Unity, and why Ubuntu has spawned a dozen alternatively-skinned versions. Both pear and LLOS are so quick and tidy, if only they had better app support for what I want they'd be my go-to OSs.

Right, install completed. There was an error restoring some previously installed applications (!) which is curious considering it was a vanilla install, but hey ho.

Booting now. The bootload has a hideous magenta background that makes it look like the monitor has failed, although the background looks more like a blood-orange. We're in, it seems to work and there's some basic setting up to try. It failed the DVD test, which is not surprising, since it's 'free' software without paid licenses, although the video player did start when selected in response to a DVD being mounted and offer some menu options through scrambled interface.

Off to cook dinner, then back later to play & test.

Friday, 27 December 2013

The Christmas techie post - tipping my hat to Fedora.

And so today.

I'm presently downloading Fedora 20 (I was going to say somethingorother, but decided it wasn't too hard to look) ready for a wipe & install over Pear 8 for my Christmas break Linux fun. This is the Gnome 3 version for a change, since it's a long while since I've used Gnome.

Why replace Pear 8?

Well, it *looks* fabulous, but as it's become more apple-like, so some behaviours also have become unacceptably irritating, like placing application menu items on the top menubar, rather than at the top of the application window. Yes, Apple do this, and it's annoying in OSX as well, although at least with pear, when you close an application from it's window, you actually close it, rather than simply making the window disappear while leaving the app running, like with OSX.

And I'm still searching for my killer image-processing application.

I've been using Cyberlink Photodirector 4 on the Macbook, mostly because it was a free download and was reputed to be a pretty close copy of Adobe Lightroom - judging by the videos it's an almost EXACT copy, and lightroom training videos are quite useful for PD too. Except that under the hood it's weak compared to lightroom, lacking some of the tools, botching others. On the Macbook doing anything demanding makes the fans start wailing as it tries to stay cool. On the XP build (4Gb ram, 2.5GHx core duo processor) it simply runs out of memory when you try to use content-aware replacement on a 20mp raw file.

There's other issues too, mostly due to the Sony alpha 58 camera being relatively recent, and although the OSX version copes OK, the XP version hasn't been updated to cope and displays all raw images with a strong magenta cast due to the software lacking information about colour gamut for this cameras output. This is also a problem for earlier versions of DigiKam and some other image processing software too, but it IS highly annoying.

The fix has been to download the latest (windows) version of Adobe camera raw software and convert the images to .dng (digital negative) format before processing further. Just another lump in workflow, but at least there is a solution. I'm seriously wondering about ponying up for lightroom, except that I don't really want to run it on the Macbook, but I also don't really want a Windows computer. This hardware isn't suitable to create a Hackintosh and whatever I do will require spending more money to create a suitable platform. At this stage I'm just not willing to do that, and will likely just muddle along for now with freeware.

Fedora has finished downloading.

Burt before I go, I'll mention Chris is getting her Christmas present tonight. Behave you, snickering away at the back. I'm taking her to see Cats in the New Theatre, Oxford.

Take a while but never smile at Mr. Crocodile

And don't waste your time with Fedora 20 Gnome edition. If you're determined and interested I'm sure it could be OK, but it *feels* as restrictive as OSX, yet parts of it like the software management tool are unstable, and crash randomly. What looked impressive on a small screen doesn't scale well to the 1920:1200 monitor I've brought home from the office and there is a lack of flexibility and easy customisation in the interface that really should be there. Disappointed. I went to the trouble of installing non-free codecs (had to be done from the command line even though the repos can be added through firefox) and the XINE media player kept crashing on DVD playback. Elsewhere dialogue boxes would disappear under a blue blob on mouseover, often staying masked.

TBH it felt and behaved like an early beta. I've always wanted to use Fedora, and every time I've tried it things haven't worked out well. I'm slightly temped to try Mint KDE 16, but also quite strongly tempted to just reinstall Pear - probably 7, rather than 8 - and have done with it. 

Good morning world... and what shall I write of today?

This morning I wandered over and checked a few blogs. Never did the RSS thing except for a few weeks, because it caused those I knew and cared for to become like communication toothpaste, where all thoughts and intents were blended together into a grey goo. Visiting a blog was, for me, a little like dropping by someone's home: it was their chosen environment decorated in their tastes, and an opportunity to pass a few words (sometimes if they were online it would be like a chat-room).

Of course blogging is very different, as Marc V observed a couple of weeks back, when 1 month of posts would exceed in terms of output the last 2 years. Everyone seemed to have a lot to say, and we were all busy saying it. The good side is that it built community between people who would otherwise never have met or interacted, and I feel priviledged to have been part of that. We have developed friendships that will last beyond blogging, although the convenience of doing so compared to writing letters, say, is enormous.

Where I'm sat now I can hear the wind whistling through the vents in our stove (unlit at this point - chilly) and up the chimney. The weather outside is blustery and cold, but not freezing.

And reading Randall's blog reminded me of the way Christmas is such a pressure for those expected to perform their jobs through this period, to the benefit and pleasure of others. One is supposed to be jolly and exude the feelings of celebration, when instead you've been burdened by the burdens of others.

And God has a sense of humour. For me it wasn't too bad: I spent Monday night putting together video clips, music, service plan, readings etc, all carefully crafted, only for there to be just 6 of us on Christmas morning (plus one who arrived at 11, having read the time written incorrectly in a service schedule). So we sat in a circle, prayed our thanks, Chris read one of my mothers poems and Georgie read some further thoughts. We sang along to a couple of pre-recorded carols from extreme ends of the spectrum, one full of pomp with trumpet fanfares, one the calypso carol from a childrens school (and this is JUST how I remember it as a kid, even down to the attempted ethnic phrasing).

Naturally we got there early, and I was a little on edge, because I don't really like to be responsible for carrying a whole meeting, even when it's pre-planned. Thought I'd held it together until I was reminded about lighting the wreath, and then my face didn't manage to hide my feelings about that. Woops.

Is one supposed to view Christmas as something to survive?

It was all good in the end. We managed a long walk Christmas afternoon and a nice dinner with my mum that evening.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Happy boxingday morning.

Time to prep the message for Sunday then. ;-)

Chris is in the (cold, damp) garden and I'm sat at the cool dry computer. Coffee break is really over now.

Firefox is reverting.

OpenSUSE are 'updating' this OS by replacing the shocking, crashy mess that was FF 26 and returning to version 24. Good riddance on this occasion. Wonder if there's a backward path for the Macbook too?

I'm a firefox fan, but this latest version has been so unstable. Posted using Opera. ;-)

Monday, 23 December 2013

Now.... what shall I do next?

Considering a possible change that will significantly alter what I do in several areas, and wondering whether it's something put in front of me to be seized with both hands, or whether it's a distraction to pull us off course. I wonder.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

This and others

have been my wallpaper recently.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

So here we are in Oxford

And my camera battery has run out. God has a sense of humour.

It's Christmas time.

And the pressure is on to own more stuff.


But the upside is that we get to go 'Christmas shopping' together in Oxford today, which will be really nice - just being out together is great.

On a different side of things, I'm not at all convinced that Win XP and I are going to be happy together, having enjoyed the freedoms and speed of Linux for so long. And it may be because I've installed it on an old drive, but it makes a real din, with the drive seemingly continuously seeking and reading instead of just loading into memory what's needed and then waiting quietly.

And a little more on software - the 'incompleteness' of image processing software is becoming frustrating, where every application does some things well and some badly, but no single package seems complete. If one manages photos well then it tends to lack powerful editing tools or fail at finishing the image. Another will finish the image well with great colour balance tools and sharpening (DigiKam for example) but lacks good RAW processing and deep editing. Another will edit deeply, but will be slow and clunky.

It seems that I'm far from the only one who sees image processing like this, and many (professional) photographers use multiple packages to work on an image; even (especially) those with full photoshop. It's irritating because it slows work down and tempts one to just knock out unfinished pictures.

Hey, I should be grateful really, that I have all this processing power available at all. It wasn't so long ago that I'd have to work up to 2 or 3 in the morning in our bathroom, printing stuff and using ticks from the immersion heater timer to count seconds for exposure. And as for removing unwanted objects.....

On a related front, I'm wondering about trying to create a wallpaper repository. Wonder if there would be any interest? Here's an example from my latest Pear Linux build.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Apparently I have a mental age of 22.

If I were Japanese, that is. Test here.

Returning to windows.

I'm being boring - a computing equivalent of Mondeo-man (for those that don't live in Blighty, the Ford Modeo was a bland, large and convenient family car, a mark of being boring) and taking the easy option. There's a piece of software that I want to use, and it requires either OSX or Windows, and will not run under WINE. I'd have quite liked to make a Hackintosh, but TBH it's too much trouble right now, though I may attempt it later.  I'm also hoping that XP, with it's small footprint and low memory overhead will be a more efficient and faster option than bloated OSX, with it's poor memory management and much larger install.

Mind you, install hasn't been completely without it's challenges.

XP is now >10 years old, and the version I'm using (our 'spare' copy) is an early version with SP1. XP isn't compatible with AHCI, and to install it is necessary to turn off AHCI in the bios, which caused a certain amount of hunting around until I found the correct switch. Then I pulled the CD (yes, it's so small it fits on a CD!) after it had completed the first install stage, and it hunted for the disc, unsuccessfully, even after it was replaced, but in the wrong DVD drive. D'oh.

So, 30min later XP is installed, now with SP2 going on (from a CD I created some time back) shortly to be followed by IE6 (be still my beating heart at the thrill of new software - IE6 was a ghastly piece of junk - a real turd on the pavement of browser development) to enable windows update to take place. SP2 is important because the firewall is at least sort-of functional, and there's no way I'm connecting this machine to the www without it, even through the corporate network that's behind some kind of gateway. There will also be the Gigabyte drivers, NVidia graphics card driver updates etc etc. The M$ service pack 3. I hope by lunchtime I'll have a safe, secure-ish and functional XP PC, ready for the install of PhotoDirector.

But XP is being discontinued, isn't it?

Good point. I've no plans to use this as my regular OS, but solely for image editing. We'll have to wait & see.

I was disappointed at how sluggish it all seemed, until I installed Nvidia drivers for the graphics card. Just wow. I'd forgotten what old software on (relatively) new hardware was like in a new install. I doubt it will remain like this long as it gradually gets buried below updates and the system crufts up, but it's pretty good, even running off a slow old Seagate 250Gb SATA drive. Not so good is Windows update, which apparently doesn't.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Apparently I have above average psychopathic tendencies.

Quiz here.

You can play hardball with the best of them! You know what you want and are not afraid to go for it – even if it means bending the rules occasionally and putting a few noses out of joint on the way. Nothing fazes you. You are decisive, self-confident and pretty much up for anything. You are a ‘means-to-an-end’ person. For you, it’s not necessarily a matter of right or wrong, but of what gets the job done. ‘Bring it on’ is your mantra, but to help those around you keep their heads, you should learn some tricks to help you temper your self-satisfying tendencies...

My score was 70% - average for men is 47%.

It's twaddle really - yes I happily bend the rules, but I care far too much about others and getting it right than is either helpful or good for me, and tend to try to find ways of making others happy at my own & families expense.

Except when it comes to the knife collection. Have you seen my knives yet? ;-)

Friday, 6 December 2013

A bit more on the worship music industry

Came across an interesting link on Facebook (thankyou Paul Mayers) to an article written by Michael Gungor in 2012. He's a man on the inside of the industry, so probably in a better position to know than me.

A little tongue in cheek, there was a time when a way to test a song was to replace the names of Jesus or God in a song with the word 'baby' and if it didn't affect the song's logic then it had probably missed it already.

Poor theology in songs is nothing new, let alone what one might consider heresy. We came across a song recently that gave thanks for the apple being taken so that creation could fall in order for Mary to become queen of heaven. While it might fit Thomas Aquinas idea of felix culpa, it seems to me that Adam's fall was not desired by God, though known that could and would happen and a redemption required. Quite the reverse, the bible talks of the curse of sin - there is no blessing in the fall - and to suggest otherwise seems to make God a deeply unpleasant manipulator. Mary queen of heaven? I'll leave that one to those of the church of Rome to debate.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

If we had been in any doubt previously.

Chris and I both know we are not Anglicans by conviction (to borrow a phrase from a friend). Seeing and hearing rituals in a modern space cleared that one up!

Good to see our friend Eddie installed, collated - and probably stapled - in place last night at his new church in Leavesden.

Monday, 2 December 2013

The more forms of communication we have

The less we talk to each other.

I have just become aware that a good friend experienced a major source of stress and hassle a few days ago. The thing is, I check blogs, read facebook including several groups within FB, follow forums (multiple forums) but because I rarely check up google+ I missed it. Now I'm very unhappy with the way social networking aggregation *appears* to be implimented on phones, for example, but at the same time aggregation appears to be the only way to be reasonably sure I won't miss too much

Yeah, yeah, blogged about this before.

But it also makes me want to chuck all forms of internet based communication bar email (and even that's marginal) and return to paper, phones and face to face. While typing this I received a 'thankyou' 'instant message' from a lovely friend for a birthday message sent via skype on Wednesday last week. You see, few can really keep up with all the different channels, and aggregating skype isn't going to sit well with all the rest.

I know some think the use of social networking makes people dumb, and I largely agree, but worse than that, it makes people both addicts and glued to the computer screen - something I suffer with somewhat too.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Could I be like Jesus?

Why do I do what I do: is it self aggrandisement, ego-tripping, a refusal to accept the preferences of others?

Normally I keep discussions to the thread in which they started, but this one has affected me very negatively and since this is a personal blog, it seems appropriate to post. I was reminded this morning of this scripture*:

John 15:19-21

New International Version - UK (NIVUK)
19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: “A servant is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.

We live in the west, right? No-one is going to persecute me here, are they? 

Well maybe (and that's a long discussion) but they might also treat me in other ways as Jesus was treated if I do what Jesus did. How so? I've been really focussing into the gospels this year, been reading very little else, and one of the stand-out passages for me has been Jesus' cleansing of the temple:

Matthew 21

12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 ‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘“My house will be called a house of prayer,” but you are making it “a den of robbers.

It occurred to me that if this happened in a western context we'd all be horrified. All sorts of people would be up in arms explaining how everyone was trying to come to God in their own way, about how the money changers were providing an invaluable service to the church and that they had amazing testimonies of God touching and changing lives through the way they had provided the right sacrifices for people to buy at just the right time. etc etc. You can make this stuff up for yourself. 

So how might Jesus react when the 'house of God' is full of people making money off the back of His gifting, His inspiration? Worship is a big big business now, and while I'm not suggesting the big names are coining it (at least, not in the UK) when I see smoke, coloured lights, stage moves and the rest I get a real bad feeling about where it's all coming from. Then guys draw in politics and all the rest into what they present. Meh, please don't mix it up with worship in Spirit and in truth.

I wonder if many cases, the artists and their products are the sacrificial animals being sold for use in the 'temple'.

So for me and 'my house' I take the stand where I do: "My selection criteria are sound theology, a focus on God".

There may be a small element of taste involved, but the motivation is primarily righteousness and purity. derby - joe - thank you for helping me think this through.

*All scriptures copied & pasted from www.biblegateway.com

Friday, 29 November 2013

Instruments and weaknesses.

I've been part of various internet forums involving music and playing for a long time, and have noticed that guitars and basses seem to get played by people with certain characteristics.

Guitarists - tend to be over the top characters, even when they're bedroom-bound. No woman is ever lovely enough, music is an olympic sport (you have to play faster and harder than everyone else) and GAS is king.

Bass players - tend to be socialist, depressed or married to someone who is depressed, introspective, technically obsessive and need to be in control.

It's curious, since to look at them, there's relatively little difference between the instruments, yet they attract or engender such different characters. I wonder if it's down to the required approach to music, and whether that shapes their thinking.

These days I play both guitar and bass (though mostly back to guitar right now) so maybe that makes me a little schizophrenic?

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Riding the rollercoaster

Of feelings.

Today we said goodbye to Lisa, mother of Sam, wife of Nathan. She was only 40.

Times like this you come back and ask what's going on, did you not hear right etc etc. There were a lot of memories in todays time.

There's a time to live and a time to die. I know that - read the book, worn the tee shirt, buried the daughter. There is, however, a human continuity that goes on for those whose time it was not yet, and the fracture with those whose time it was is difficult to handle. I rather suspect it's back to God putting a little piece of eternity in each of as, and a sense of what it would be like to not be a fallen part of creation, subject to entropy.

Seeing in stripes

In this office there are vertical blinds made of broad strips of material that hang down - standard office types. When I look through these from a range of about 3 feet it is close enough that only a single eye can see through to a given section of the trees outside.

Now I have 1 eye that is moderately short sighted and one that is long. The result is that I see the trees in vertical bands of sharp detail and soft focus low contrast. And they join without a break or border. It's curious.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

That well seems empty

One of the things we do as a family is to make lists of presents we'd like to receive from each other - it saves all the silliness of getting stuff that cost money and energy that, frankly, one would really have preferred not to receive. I usually ask for a bunch of odds and ends according to whatever I'm interested in, including some worship CDs to pick up new material for the coming year.

So I've had the usual emails from Eden etc who sell such things online here, followed up the links, listened to the samples.

That well seems to have run dry.

There are some big names in there.

I just listened to another bunch of samples of songs crafted around one man's vocal style and stage manner, with odd vocal hooks and strange sounds in the background: sure it probably sounds cool at a gig, but not to sing as a congregation in worship together. There was another where the songs were all awkward, melody doing odd things and not sitting well in a tune, although at least the backing was more accessible.In fact, to be quite honest, all the samples I listened to didn't really seem to have much of a God-centric and congregation friendly focus at all.

I've had other worship albums in the past, and while some have been great, some I've really struggled to find more than 1 song that can be used, and then with a bit of flinching and the feeling that people aren't objecting out of politeness, rather than because they actually like it.

There are exceptions. Keith and Krystin Getty have done some good songs, although their album arrangements tend to be a little too 'Disney epic' with strings and stuff, and they are mostly hymns requiring some consideration, rather than covering a range from exuberant praise through to deepest worship. Matt Redman has been another oasis in the desert, and I really appreciate him writing songs with a tune, but it's nice to have material from a greater range of sources.

Maybe I should be looking to other sources and countries outside of the traditional white 3? (That's North America, Australia and the UK). Would Africa and South America have anything to bring? Salvadore from Spain were one of the highlights at a certain Christian Music pop festival earlier this year.

I don't really want to go backward too much.

Last night at worship practice we went through He Brought Me To His Banqueting Table, which was a song we did in the 80s, though a classic of the style. What style? Well the way we ran through it wouldn't have been too out of place in Soweto apparently, and I'm still buzzing a little this morning from it.

One of the signs that God is at work in His church is that He inspires worship in His people for them all to worship together. I'm not really seeing it so much, at least in terms of material being recorded and published. I wonder if the worship simply isn't commercial enough, and is therefore relatively invisible? Is there an underground spring of worship somewhere that is a source of fresh water, now the obvious spring on the surface has run dry?

Monday, 18 November 2013

A post from a couple of weeks back.

I’ve just received an email about which I have very mixed feelings, advertising The Ligonier 2014 Alaska study cruise with RC Sprouls (father & son) and Michael Morales.

One half recoils a bit at enormously wealthy Christians studying theology in bourgeois surroundings (the boat looks like a real gin palace) while drinking in the beautiful surroundings. The other side says ‘why not choose to take a beautiful holiday and get built up along the way? Isn’t that a good thing?’.

Chris and I were talking in the car about what we might have done with my redundancy money instead of setting up the business and investing our lives in the chapel. The idea of travelling for 6 months or a year (or more) has enormous appeal, but I’m convinced we did what we were called to do. And yet at times it feels like, just by being us, we do more harm than good and we’d have been better off blowing the lot on a year off than sticking round.

This is, of course, living in abstract, and we could never have done that for the sake of my mum, if for no other reason. But y’know.

I guess there’s a bit of bourgeois Christian alive and well inside me too.

What winds me up?

Otherwise potentially sensible people taking a deliberately diametrically opposite stance and trying to argue as though you have taken the extreme opposite viewpoint and they themselves are holding some orthodox middle ground: twisting all you say to fit a view they would be embarrassed by in different circumstances.




Sure the internet is a great place for it. Somebody is wrong on the internets and all that. Makes me sad when it happens in real life too, in church, when you’re trying to have a discussion and build people up. When young Christians see, instead of people growing in unity and purpose together, someone coming up with ‘devils advocate’ contrived answers to pull your discussion off-line and invalidate anything good.

It’s not happened recently in a Christian setting, but a silly online discussion just reminded me.

Somewhere along the line I’ve downloaded an html version of The Book Of Common Prayer. One of the chapter titles under ‘occasions’ is Scrofula, which made me grin a little, even though there’s nothing funny about the condition.

Another was Commination, which was all about recognition of and repentance from sin, and some of the words were good, though the older English does it no favours (smiting has all the wrong religious overtones).

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Really sad this morning

A friend and the wife of a friend lost her battle with cancer yesterday, although at least she was at home with her family, rather than in hospital and covered in pipes and wires. Please pray from Nathan and Sam, her husband and son, and the respective parents and inlaws too.

So much code - so much fail.

It seems that I can no longer post by copy and paste direct from word:mac into blogger without the formatting being seriously messed up. I'd written a couple of long catch-up blogposts, of which the text below is a later sample, only to paste them in & find fonts, spacing and some characters messed up.

Of course where there's a will there's a way, and (hopefully) Libreoffice to the rescue - text without formatting.
Note: it appears that blogger is messed up, rather than the word processing applications. It will no longer change text copy/pasted in to the default blog style, either font face or size, and doesn't interpret spacing well. So it seems the only way to write off line for now is to put them in as html and add spacing etc manually. Nice - not.


Blogpost 5th November 2013
No gunpowder, not especially much treason either. Plot? Lost a little now and again.
Time to resume writing about things and catching up.
First off: I’ve just finished book 1 of Josephus’ Wars of the Jews. It seems amazing how nothing has apparently changed in the way people in that part of the world treat each other over the last 2000 years. While it may not be factually absolutely accurate (which Josephus himself refers to in Antiquities) it does paint a picture against which one can understand Herod the Great’s killing of all the boys under 2 in Bethlehem to try to eliminate Jesus. Compared to him, the Tudors look positively trusting and benevolent.
It has also been helpful explaining the political backdrop and recent history to the period in which Jesus ministered. It was my assumption that the Jews had been invaded and conquered by Rome, rather than the reality, which involved the Romans more or less being invited in to help one of the heirs of the leaders of the Maccabean revolt attain ascendency over his brother. The slope downhill from there was steep and bloody, and mostly down to local politics than Roman military action and greed. Loonies, the lot of ‘em.

In other news, we’re in the middle of the bathroom saga.
We had hoped to have the shower all sorted while on holiday, but life doesn’t seem to be like that, and here we are, several weeks down the line in the absolute opposite of what we wanted, with a bathroom that looks like a building site. Progress is happening gradually, and this week I finally got agreement from the people we bought the shower cabin originally to refund instead of just giving us a credit note. They didn’t have anything else that was a suitable replacement, and after talking with a sales guy they weren’t at all difficult. However we haven’t actually seen the money arrive yet, but hopefully that will be a mere formality.
In terms of sourcing an alternative, it’s curious. I spent an hour with someone in a bathroom centre showroom yesterday, and he was really struggling to understand a) what I wanted and b) why I wanted it. There was a bunch of stuff on their company website he seemed completely unaware of, and kept diverting me from when I tried to talk about it – a little disappointing since talking about this stuff was the POINT of visiting in person . Ho hum. We kicked ideas around and he made suggestions which we’ll probably adapt to move forward. Essentially it’s going to be a custom build (nuts) which will hopefully not create yet more problems – or more leaks.
Why is it people don’t get the idea of a shower cubicle that stands freely, and is designed not to leak from around either the tray or the sides by being self-contained instead of butting against a wall? Love will find a way, but it’s tricky to help someone adjust their thinking when they have ‘always done it that way’.

And on to worship and music.
I so appreciate the guys I’m working with right now, and really not to throw stones at anyone else but it’s wonderful that there’s no tension under the surface, no ‘precious’ bits or demands to “do it my way” (I hope they feel like that about me too!). And the chemistry is good to, with each of us doing things differently from how we’d do them alone, and working together to create a whole. There are times we don’t even need to look at each other to know where we’re going next, and that has caused a certain amount of amusement too. Each one has different strengths they can bring and different preferences, and I hope we’ll follow each of those a bit further too, so that we don’t just sound the same all the time following mine.
But it’s been so good to be able to go along, try stuff out, laugh when it’s not worked (and when it has sometimes, for the sheer fun of it) and to have a sense of worship when it’s flowed. There’s a way to go, but this is bringing healing for me after the previous 5 years.

Camera? What camera?
There is a natural path in me that’s hard not to follow. Once the gates of acquisition are open it can be a real struggle to start closing them, but this is exactly what I need to do. Over the last few years I’ve been really careful not to buy stuff like I did when I had a regular & substantial salary, but then recently we have been able to ease that a little. I don’t buy junk or tat and I don’t buy toys – everything is useful and has a purpose. But since getting the camera I’ve spent hours online trying to identify which lenses to acquire in order to be able to create really good images.
For a lot of people this would be really tedious, but the thing with research about technical stuff is that it fills a work and knowledge shaped gap in me that enjoys and embraces the all consuming nature of that kind of thing. I am therefore trying to back away from all that for now, do the things I should be doing, maybe even spend a little time in quiet and prayer instead of giving myself to anything else. There’s nothing wrong with hobbies, research etc, but when they start to become consuming then you know there’s something wrong. I had become very consumed and not in a good place.
So I’m leaving it at home, making time to pray, to be alone a bit, to do the bits of work I naturally shrink from. Does it make me righteous or holy? Nope. Does it help me walk with Jesus instead of polishing my own pleasures? Yes.

And sometimes I see stuff that makes me shake my head at progress.
I came across the application of LEDs in the kind of spotlights used for building sites, PIR intruder lights etc in place of 500W halogen bulbs recently. We’re not talking about those silly lamps with a 1000 bubble-style LEDs pushing out 50 lumens either, but of a 50W LED delivering a theoretical 5000-6000 lumens, or about 6-8X the output of a car headlight. The lights in the chapel building have given trouble over the years, and it would be really nice to replace them with something using 1/5th the electricity and having 20X the lifespan of a big PAR floodlight. It was then but a small step to look at the other kind of LED lights available, and to find that the cost of crazy-bright bicycle lights was now so low as to be laughable – less than £20 for a 2000 lumen output system. And that’s just nuts.
Chris was behind a cyclist last week whose rear light was so bright that she was unable to see the road ahead. Being sensible she decided to hang back, and could then overtake in a wider, better lit area. There used to be regulations in the highway code surrounding type and output of lights on bicycles, but they seem to be changed now, only requiring a steady white light at the front and rear.

Finally Canada. We bought a book on Saturday (rough guide to Canada) and Chris is gradually working her way through, becoming familiar with Vancouver* and what we might do while there. She had already picked out some highlights (the Capilano suspension bridge, Granville Island and others) and has now decided we probably don’t have enough time to see & do everything. C’est la vie. Next chapter is the Rockies, and I suspect we won’t have enough time there either.
My suspicion is that the Rockies will be lots of woods, mountains, lakes and wilderness. Lovely to look at, but pretty similar most of the time, but we’ll have to see. That’s not in any way a criticism, but natural beauty is ever changing and yet so often the same, and we have been spoilt over the years for natural beauty and sometimes been disappointed. So I’m not going to pre-judge this one, just like I tried so hard not to pre-judge Africa (occasionally fantastic, but mostly dull - or maybe it seemed that way because I am calibrated to appreciate a certain kind of beauty?) and we’ll see what we’ll get.

*I notice that the Mayor of Vancouver is in the news right now, smoking crack cocaine and being drunk in public (he apologised for not staying home to get drunk). A supporter they interviewed was speaking up for him, describing him as a rock star. One can only shake one’s head sometimes, but it seems the electorate do get what they deserve.

Friday, 8 November 2013

A valley full of mist.

And in this case disappointment too, for not being able to photograph it well.

Sunday afternoons

Don't have to be like Douglas Adams saw them, especially in beautiful countryside.

It seems every make of camera has it's own typical colour presentation, and the Sony series are no exception. I recognise these blue tones from Chris's little Sony compact (no longer functioning) that we bought her 7 years ago.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Where is my charabanc.

Having a day out at the Lab Innovation show, here at the NEC. Lots of people have styled lab kit after popular consumer products, with iPod and tablet styled interfaces. In some ways it's a neat idea, but if the gear is working in 10 years time, no-one will remember how to work an iPod.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

So how does the new camera perform?

I had a wander round yesterday, re-photographing some of the objects and places that I've pictured previously in order to get a feel for the difference in performance.

Biggest differences over the Fuji when actually capturing an image are that the zooming capability is incredibly limited (the enormous zoom range of that camera was a powerful tool for creativity) and that depth of field is significant in a way that it almost never is with a compact except when shooting macro. But everything is falling to hand, and having spent a couple of hours fiddling, thinking & re-fiddling I *believe* I know most of the capabilities of this camera in terms of manual and semi-automated operating.

The EVF isn't as good as an OVF in bright sunlight, and it has already made me long for that to be available, but as soon as ambient light levels drop it is a huge boon. The rear screen also seems pretty bright, and that may alleviate some of the hassles composing through a dim viewfinder. Autofocus also seems reasonably reliable, and I've set both that and metering to 'spot' in order to manually control exposure and focus position through viewfinder assessment.

The .jpeg images produced seem generally richly coloured, if a little low in contrast, and the 20Mpx sensor provides a lot of detail. I've been shooting using just the standard 50mm f1.7 Minolta lens (=roughly 80mm on this camera) for a modest telephoto effect and decent degree of sharpness. At some stage I need to try the kit lens too - reputed to be a step above the previous and most other typical kit lenses - though it's probably not really going to be so great compared to the prime, and doesn't have that ability to reduce depth of field to a fingers breadth.

I need to investigate RAW processing a bit more, as the images come out really dull, grainy and with heavily skewed colours through DigiKam. I did have a play in RawTherapee, but without producing sufficient improvements, and have since downloaded RPP as a possible alternative to run on the Macbook.

So for now I'm working in .jpeg format.

This has some possible advantages, in that there is programming for the camera to create HDR images internally, taking 3 bracketed images and combining them, but this is available if you save in .jpeg ONLY. And for now there's no need to use RAW because the low iso .jpeg files are really very clean indeed, and have that lovely smooth tonal gradation and fine detail that doesn't come from 1/2.3" sensors and cheap short focal length optics.

Some examples.

And for the purposes of comparison, here's one I prepared 'earlier' using the Samsung:

Mrs. Vandersluys, I think you would be happy looking over my shoulder.

I have a quiet patch here right now (well, there's LOADS of things I could do, but nothing that will put grit in the gears of the world if it isn't done) so I'm planning out our Canadian trip for next year, step by step, town by hotel, road to mountainside. A certain pair of venerable gentlemen kindly made some suggestions a couple of months back, and the route looks great, but is nearly 2000km long and runs to 4 pages of google maps instructions.

Day 1 from Vancouver we may stop at Kamloops, but I'm inclined to press on to Revelstoke and the wooden hotel Marc referred to us. If we do go to Revelstoke then we'll stop there a couple of days, although Kamloops appeals to the mountain biker in me. Next stop will be Banff, probably for a night, then Jasper for another night. Finally we'll drop out of the mountains and do the last few hundred flat Km in search of the last homely house(s) if you'll forgive my Tolkienism.

Putative route here.

Simples, as meerkats apparently say.

Looking forward to it? Yes I am!

Note - route destinations updated. 

Friday, 25 October 2013

Camera hunting, but closing in.

Fern - you're particularly invited to comment.

I'm in what is probably a common position hunting for a first DSLR in that I've had quite a bit of photography experience in the past, and through my use of digital compacts etc have a good idea of what I want without having actually tried it. This makes it more complicated in some ways, because I won't be happy to do the noob thing of just buying whatever random outfit the salesman thinks is good/has the best margins/most likely to require quick upgrading and then finding out how it all works and what compromises I can't live with.

The issues about which DSLRs currently live or die for me (apart from cost) pretty much in order:

Low sensor noise at high ISO
Good colour control and presentation
A great viewfinder
Live view
Fast and controllable focusing
Articulating rear screen
Great handling
Reasonable weight
Easy manipulation of both shutter speed and aperture manually
Weather sealing

I'm not fussed about sensor resolution as long as the sensor is about 12MP or more, but noise is a really big deal for me and has already reduced the desirability of some otherwise highly competent cameras. I've been searching back through DPReview.com looking at older high-end models, and many of them, particularly in the 2006-2010 period, were showing up with densely packed sensors that were noisy at ISO800 and poor at ISO1600 and above. There have been a few cameras at the budget end, including the Sony a58 and Pentax K500 that don't have the highest resolution, but do have extremely impressive noise control, and would be quite usable at ISO3200 to ISO6400. Many Nikons within my reach do not seem to have noise well controlled at higher speeds.

At a single blow the issue of colour presentation removed Canon cameras from the equation. Canon have an almost trademark color filtration, and while I've seen some utterly superb images created using Canons, the failure of many of the more affordable models to handle shades of red and subtle tones well made it easier just to stop looking. There's also the issue that I don't find Canon bodies intuitive to use, and they all require the motors and image stabilisation built into the lens too, which pushes the price of glass up.....

The viewfinder design has had me slightly running round in circles, even though it may be a red herring. The camera I favour - Sony's a58 - has an electronic view finder (EVF) rather than a standard optical viewfinder, and this is a real double edged sword. The downside is that it can be a little small and dark, doesn't always track moving objects smoothly and may not provide the best focusing information. The upside is that you get true live view, and can see the effect of exposure compensation effects (and sometimes depth of field with aperture adjustment) while you're looking through the camera. This is where the connection with my use of digital compacts it strong, because I would pretty much always adjust exposure on the screen before capturing an image, giving me effectively manual exposure control, even in program mode. The idea of going back to shooting images 'in the dark' and the reviewing them afterward for exposure seems completely daft - you might as well get a light meter out and stand in front of your subject (I still have your old Sekonic, Phil, if you read this!).

OTOH the Pentax K500 has what is reputedly a large and bright OVF giving almost 100% coverage, and that is VERY tempting.

Fast and controllable focusing is a given with a modern camera, isn't it? Well I normally use spot focussing, and on the Samsung this works well. The Fuji however was another story, and it would make it's own choices about what to focus on if you were trying for macro or shooting through glass. It should be less of an issue with an SLR since one can switch to manual. However one thing that really impressed me with the old Sony a700 body I tried earlier in the week was the eye level activated focus mode that would automatically focus on the target when you raised it to your eye - no more missed shots while trying to carefully half-press the shutter button, check it was in focus before fully pressing. That feature would have probably doubled or better the number of successful bird shots I've captured.

A fly in the focusing ointment is that the a58 I favour has been reported as suffering back focusing (focusing behind the target) sometimes, and Sony will not fix this because the cameras are within manufacturing tolerance. This is not unique to these cameras, and the Fuji I sold certainly did this, as does (did?) the Canon SX40 my brother owned.

Many cameras do not have a screen that comes out from the body, and I'm torn as to whether this should be a show-stopper. It always seemed silly to me - it's for people to take selfies, right? Until I got down on hands and knees to take a macro shot and then discovered I wouldn't need yoga to look through the viewfinder or compose on the rear screen. It's also useful if you photograph groups of people, because it allows you to work like a professional, mounting the camera on a tripod, making proper eye contact as you move them around and check composition by glancing down like I did with my roll film cameras. Many Sony cameras have articulating rear screens, and most others do not.

And then there's the rest, which are somewhat related.

In my 20s I'd happily carry 8-10kg of photo gear around all day, but now my shoulder aches after 30min with a bag foll of 35mm gear. So I loved the size and handling of the a700 I tried Monday, but was worried about wearing the 900g (+ lens) mass round my neck. Modern entry-mid range cameras are nice & light, being mostly polycarbonate, and come in around 500-700g, plus modern lenses are also placky and likewise relatively featherweight. A friend recently bought a Nikon D3200 as her first DSLR and has been taking great pictures, but the body is tiny in my hands, and would feel cramped, I think, so something a little larger is required. It would also be great to have separate input dials for aperture and shutter control when in manual mode, but most entry/mid level bodies use just one, the exception being the Pentax K500.

So here's the rub: I have a bunch of old and heavy minolta lenses that would give me 'instant outfit' with a Sony a58, and that camera ticks most of the boxes, yet it isn't flawless by any means, and there are serious questions about viewfinder quality and focusing. These are very cheap right now in relative terms.

The Pentax K500 also ticks many boxes - on paper, hope to try one soon - in different ways from the Sony, and comes with a quite different set of trade offs. It also has image stabilisation inside the body like the Sony, and can take old Pentax lenses with varying degrees of functionality as long as they have a K mount, which opens up a huge range of glass. It also has built-in HDR functionality and a bunch of other desirable program features. And IF I want to change makers, now is the time to do it. But some things are clunky or poorly designed, like the live view and video functions, and it would require buying further lenses.

It's nice to have a new camera with clean sensor and warranty.

Or I could sacrifice a couple of those 'wants' for an older pro/upper mid-level model, with greater robustness, more function control and lower image quality and risk buying something that was too heavy to want to carry all day and left me frustrated about noise or blur.
Choices aren't an unmixed blessing, what ever the Tory party might think.

Let me tell you, looking at camera adverts and reading reviews becomes TEDIOUS after a bit. I know more about the development of various camera lines than I ever wanted to, who uses whose sensors and which lenses to buy. Frankly it's making stuff fall off the back of my mental desk. Think I'm going to just take a best guess & do it to stop the fuss - as someone said, there's no bad cameras at this level being made now.

Lets see if I can negotiate a discount with LCE in Leamington tomorrow.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Is it dangerous to sit & think?

I have a gap between customer jobs right now and the pressure is off in one sense, but I’m sat here thinking about things, peering out of the window from this office.

There’s a large tree about 150 feet away, and the leaves are like a yellow and green froth, while in the middle is a dark, strong and branching trunk that looks a little like a person with arms upraised, supporting all the foliage. Sometimes the stuff around me is just a passing blur, and sometimes I can stop, look, see and then become filled with the love of how things look as a desire to photograph it for others to see too. Yesterday I had to return a shower cubicle to a place near Manchester, and drove back over the Derbyshire dales through a rain storm – quite lovely, and with lighting to live for.

I’m thinking about a replacement camera. The Fuji that was bought for the trip to Africa was good for snaps and the long lens was a powerful tool for creativity, but the actual image quality was a disappointment and a step back from the Samsung S850 compact I’ve had for so long. Subtle colours were great – brilliant even – but noise was always intrusive, even at the lowest ISO setting, and focussing often hit and miss.

The Fuji was sold last week – for 7 months use and more than 5000 frames, the hit we took wasn’t too bad, at less than 2p an image. So this time it will be a DSLR type (as it should have been back then). I have a bunch of lenses left over from my 35mm days that will fit a Sony Alpha series body, so I can do the ‘instant outfit’ thing without huge outlay. The question is now down to whether to buy an older pro-level body or an enthusiast level new design. An older body would have a lower performance sensor, lack of live control of exposure and composition and high weight, but in the case of the A700 I tried, a fantastic viewfinder, better control possibilities, metal chassis and weather sealing. A new hobbyist design would have lower noise sensor (a usable ISO 6400 is promised) live view with articulating rear screen and light weight. And it would be new and come with a couple of years warranty, which isn’t trivial.

So far the idea of going new is winning, but I’m remembering the superb viewfinder on the A700 I handled yesterday.

And I’m wondering about the church, where we go next, what the pressure points will be, what I should be talking about, how we can draw people together and build them up. Some aspects have been fantastic, with a real sense of God at work in us, but other areas have robbed me of my joy, life and hope. It seems no matter how good things are, there’s always a source that will attempt to bring discord and dissention.

I’m really aware that the thing we lack most right now are those who really have a heart to share the gospel, a real heart for the lost. We have a lot of shepherdy people who care about others to varying degrees, but not enough with a burning desire to really tell the world the good news of Jesus. It worries me that it makes us unbalanced and slightly disabled, to use the church-as-body metaphor.

And the other things I feel need teaching about are worship and accountability: how to worship together as a church and how to be accountable to each other (there may need to be some ‘why be accountable’ too). The Church of England is actually pretty good on accountability compared to many evangelicals, having a very clear structure of authority, though it looks *to me* like a terribly complicated system. It doesn’t always trickle down to the grass roots however, so we’ll see on that.

I see accountability as something the person giving an account does voluntarily, rather than being enforced and directed from on high. It usually only becomes necessary to start questioning from a position of authority when people don’t make themselves personally accountable and insist on doing stuff their own way. If they aren’t willing to be accountable in their own local church and to that leadership then they need to move to one where they will be accountable –maverick behaviour is always destructive sooner or later.

And to answer the original question, yes, probably.

I worry sometimes that my inherent quirkiness, awkwardness, inclination to want to hide and to keep silent get in the way. There’s almost always a battle between what I’m called to do and when my nature would have me do – actually that’s true in so many areas – and at times the difficult or unhelpful bits of ‘me’ take over. Guess I should be grateful that I could never be a superstar in the church, with a dozen cars, personal jet, couple of homes and a small retinue that ‘look after’ me at all times. :D

Saturday, 19 October 2013

There's a word that I've been hearing for a long time.

I know in some circles that word has been tarnished by those who have abused it and given a bad name by those who fail to understand it or have an independent spirit, but it's a good word for the church.

That word is accountability.

A significant issue we had as a church in the past was that people would just do stuff. It wasn't that the stuff they did was usually bad, but the attitude behind it sometimes was really based on pride and an independent spirit that refused to recognise authority in others and in church leadership. It has been a mould that, I think God has been working to break in us, and is one of the chief sources of the pain and difficulty we have experienced as a church. And it has been a difficult mould to break.

We have recently re-started having a worship team, and for months I had been asking the leadership team for permission to set something up before agreement was given. Sure something could have been organised independently, the PCC presented fait accompli and arms twisted to make life difficult for them so that they'd have to accept it or face more hassle in how the church ran. But that would have been giving myself to wickedness and drawing others deliberately into the same sins whose consequences we suffered before. Instead, there is peace, blessing, harmony and unity. I don't have to feel pride, because it's not 'my' worship team, but rather the churches worship team whom I have been priviledged to hep organise and work with.

Despite the witticism, it is so much better to seek permission than forgiveness and an independent spirit is not acceptable in those who wish to serve and lead God's people. Yes, there's forgiveness for when we get it wrong, but it's so much better to get it right and not cause ourselves and others hurt and pain when we do it our way.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Insight for worship from a wild and angry drummer?

Rolling Stone magazine interviewed Ginger Baker in a somewhat thoughtless fashion and got given a fairly hard time. Toward the end of the article he is asked a question about practicing and replied:

"I practiced for a couple of years, in 1958 and '59, and since I haven't practiced at all. The only time I bang my drums is when we're on a gig."

 I have a recollection of Noel Redding (bass player for Jimi Hendrix) saying something similar about never practicing and only running through the songs before a gig sufficiently to make sure everyone knew what they were playing.

For me, the whole practice thing has been a double-edged sword. At times I have very specifically practiced to learn pieces that are not part of me or the way I want to play, so that I can use them in specific and limited scenarios. I have also deliberately made myself practice to try to regain stamina and strength after not playing for prolonged periods, most notably recently, where I was returning to playing in church after live worship stopped at the chapel. To begin with I couldn't play for more than about 5min without pain, and I still haven't really regained sufficient speed and precision for lead work, though that's coming back.

There's long been a train of thought that says one must continually strive to be better and better, as though music were an olympic sport instead of an art form. Paul Satriani made a comment probably more than 20 years ago about wanting to play a continuous fast stream of arpeggios - practicing until he could achieve it, and that thinking has had a vice-like grip on the guitar community. But Baker also made an interesting comment about this approach when asked if he still tried to get better & do new things:

"No. You can play what you want to play. What's the point of trying to play things that are difficult just for the fact of doing it? 


 And to a large degree, apart from when I've felt pressured to play what other people play, and occasionally inspired by what I've heard so that I want to learn how to do it too, that's pretty much how I've felt.

Music is a curious thing to learn.

With most creative skills we will normally go away and just do the thing we want to do, often gradually becoming better at it as we do it more. Music isn't taught like that, and from an early stage we are trained to break it down, repeat a phrase, passage or sequence over and over again until we develop muscle memory and the ability to reproduce the piece without thought. Often that is needed because we are playing (guitar, at least) too fast for thought, but the result of this practice is that we reproduce patterns or riffs without thought, and it might be argued, often without creating music ourselves. If we were painters, in order to practice we might simply grab a canvas, sit down and paint, but as a guitarist you're expected to draw that flower again and again and again until it's perfect and identical, each time, every time.

A friend pointed out that one big-name worship bands' live albums were tighter than most ordinary bands could manage in the studio.

My experience of playing in worship has gradually moved me in a different direction from that. There was certainly a time I'd sit & practice pieces to reproduce in front of others, but in the end I realised that although there was a sense of achievement in nailing CD intros, it wasn't adding to the worship because it was just a noise instead of being part of the creative stream. It was a bit like giving a painter a canvas and then telling them they needed to fill it using pre-cut stencils in a specific pattern. And while someone with a decent eye for design could probably create something very pleasing, it wouldn't really be much of an expression of their own creativity. There are times it can be useful to experiment and evaluate certain techniques or sounds, but they need to become our own, rather than remaining like a sticker that we carefully apply to our picture.

Now I'm not saying that we need to all desperately try to work out how we can be us in creating things, but within the worship community so much sounds formulaic that one has a sense there are few who are doing more than just rearranging a collection of words and using a contrived backing track to stop it sounding the same as the previous song. As my good friend Edward would like to point out, we all like our liturgies and patterns. But just as one can become religious about the way things are done in church, so it can be over music and song construction too.

And I'm not really advocating a sloppy anarchy, but for me, one of the important things about playing in worship is that we create and flow, rather than link a series of stencils together.

Monday, 14 October 2013

I clearly have a masochistic streak

Trying to look up flight detail, especially costs, with a view to going with up to 8 people to Bosnia-Herzegovina next year. Our internet connection has apparently gelled in anticipation.

There's a side of me that love to juggle such variables, and it's great fun to explore available details, but there are also times when I want to 'get there already' and then it just creates nightmares. Seeing the adverts for Christmas markets in exciting places (Salzburg, Copenhagen and Helsinki) also appealed considerably, and made me want to make further travel plans.

So yesterday was our first Sunday of freedom.

Freedom from MP3 audio files and the tyranny that goes with recorded worship.

I am so grateful for what God has done with us, as a small group of musicians, and also so grateful for the church's response to us. We're not perfect (and I was nervous too!) but it's a first step forward.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

An illustration of....

.... lack of forward thinking.

This was shot as is (i.e. not cropped) in one of the marquees at the Looe music festival. I'm sure they are all very nice people, really. ;-)

Thursday, 10 October 2013

I never have a problem with forgiveness

But I do right now.

Seeing people I care about hurt because of misunderstandings, not of their making, and I'm really angry. No idea where this is going to go, and I hope sleep brings a change of heart.

Today (Saturday) is better. However forgiveness of sin does not mean we don't live with the consequences of our actions.

Apparently people want to read about tech stuff.

Post my thoughts on the church, theology, guitars & effects, scifi, phiotography or almost anything else and the post will get between 20 and 50 hits. Post about LinuxliteOS and computer-related matters like Windows, OSX etc. and the post will generate 100+ hits. My post about the problems with flash adverts and OSX has 473 views.

I won't change anything - this IS a personal blog after all - but curious what draws people.

Book choice and strange ideas

This may have been mentioned before, but when ever I start the Kobo software on a computer, one of the suggested book choices is Why Men Love Bitches by Sherry Argov. The information given when you hover over the cover suggests that the reader may be too nice, and that men want a strong woman who will stand up for herself.

Nuts, really.

I’d say that men want quite a variety of things in a woman, but neither mindless fawning nor a headstrong ‘bitch’ are going to actually work out well for more than a very small minority with skewed tastes (read mental/social health issues). I’ve known one woman who told me that men liked being given a hard time, but I’m pretty sure that was all about justifying some of her own behavioural issues than observing a positive response in those she dealt with - it may be easy to mistake tolerance and love from a partner for positive acceptance for those with this type of personality flaw.

From this perspective of more than 30 years marriage, having deliberately tried to break stereotypes in the beginning, I’d suggest that most healthy individuals want partnership with an equal, but one who puts the relationship before their own specific wants. I’ve seen a few marriages fail too, and generally that’s been where one or both halves have put their wants (not usually needs) above the level of the relationship.

I’m also reminded of Janet Street-Porter, that model of demureness and timidity (tongue in cheek) who loves marriage, having been married so many times. I’ve no idea whether her on-screen persona is a reflection of who she is off-camera (seems pretty likely though) but it strikes me that while the ‘bitch’ persona may be able to rapidly start relationships, she will kill them pretty darn quickly too.

Anyway, that’s enough coffee-break psychology for one morning.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

How, Why, Where?

Life is full of challenges.

I quite like Douglas Adams quote:

“The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why, and Where phases. For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question 'How can we eat?' the second by the question 'Why do we eat?' and the third by the question 'Where shall we have lunch?”

The thing is, today's weather has not been exactly clement, and yesterdays wasn't either, despite occasional moments when we did actually get to see a little sunshine. We'd quite like to go out for dinner, but don't really want to chance getting drenched on the way out or home again, having already experienced the joys of feeling water running from my jacket down my trousers. There's also food in the fridge and a couple of DVDs (courtesy of a trip to Tesco after yesterday washed out) that we could watch.

Looks like tonight is probably sorted then.

Maybe that's the answer? We shall have dinner right here*.

I can hear the raindrops hitting the door and window again – and today was apparently going to be the 'nice' day.

Tomorrow is our thirty-twothed wedding anniversary, and we're likely to spend it at the Eden project, which is likely neither Eden, nor a project any more.

*Note to self: NEVER buy pre-prepared pizza and expect something nice to eat. Pizza doesn't survive pre-preparation and re-heating, at least, not when bought in supermarkets.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Do you wish it was different?

Just re-read the Mooch post. It was intended to be both descriptive and funny, but comes across as sarcastic and slightly bitter. That may well show both a side of my character that I'd prefer not to have and a form of humour I enjoy.

I'd like to be kind, generous, witty, gentle, insightful, loving and humorous, and some of the time I manage one or occasionally more of those things. But also quite a bit of the time I don't, sadly.

Doing church as just church

Blogging from last week

I've brought a couple of books with me: books that 'should be useful' or 'good to read' kind of books, as well as all the wacky scifi (I like Cordwainer Smith) I have on the Kobo.

So tonight I sat down for a few minutes with Floyd McClung's 'You see bones – I see an army' that it seemed right to buy earlier in the year. I'd begun to read, but got no further than the first of the introductions that so frequently seem to get in the way (too many books have intros that make me put them down and forget them).

Anyway, he was talking about the things the church is intended to be, and I had a realisation that I've stopped treating Heyford Park Chapel like an Anglican church and have just been trying to treat it like a church that I'm there to serve & help to grow. There are still the rules, the heresies, the stuff that gets in the way of building a healthy community, but to a large degree they don't really matter that much. I'm confident that God will either deal with them as the time comes or we'll end up just doing the stuff God has called us to and the other stuff will fade away.

One of the fascinating things about starting the APEST teaching series is that the church our material originated from uses 'Go-Communities' – essentially smaller churches committed to changing the community they have been planted in, even though they are part of a larger (in their case, MUCH larger) church group. And HPC is just like that: we've been planted to change our community, even though we are part of a much larger church structure. The likenesses can be broken down after a bit, true, but it's an encouraging realisation.

And it feels like a small beginning, but somehow, with all these giftings being released and enabled in the church we are going to see it growing too. And that I am really looking forward to.

Just an idle thought: is there a uniform for troubled souls?

So I followed up the link to Rose Redd in the post below (if you follow it, be aware of the rude auto-playing video - that is to say it's rude to make audio/video autoplay when you land on a website, rather than the content being rude). Quick check in the bio - talks about being troubled at 12.

When I saw the lass on stage there was a look that was familiar from so many of the troubled teens I'd known. There's no one thing I can point to, but it seems to be a combination of hair dye, gothy clothes, piercings and a certain attitude that may spring from experiencing the world too young. Whatever, it's almost as though there is a uniform, even though everyone is different.

Makes me want to ask WWJD?

Makes me also grateful for parents that stand by their children, what ever they go through.

How much can one mooch?

Another blogpost from last week.

So yesterday (Sunday) we had a day of mooching round Looe again, the music festival being in its final day.

Chris has concluded she only likes music she already knows, which is an eensie bit inaccurate, but I understand where she's coming from. There are many things that are improved, knowing where they will go, and music benefits from a certain degree of fulfilling expectations: it makes following the tune/pattern easy and aids singing along no-end. This music festival has been informative for me, because it's helped me realise how much making good music relies on having a tune people can follow and hooks that are memorable. Repetition of dull or uninspiring phrases or riffs is not a substitute.

While wandering through the town we came across the little stage we'd seen the day before, only this time there was a girl with dyed crimson hair and matching lipstick standing there with another girl and a chap stood toward the back. The girl called herself Rose Redd – guess it's a gimmick that made her stand out, if a little corny – and was only 19 (looked late 20s to me – what do I know?) and her younger brother was playing bass. They did a bunch of cover songs, all acoustic, and she had a good voice. Of all the acts we'd seen, she was probably the only one we found worth stopping to listen for a while. I'll probably look her up – www.roseredd.co.uk is apparently her home page – when we get back. As usual, mixing wasn't great, though much better than the day before, and the guitars badly needed compression & limiting, becoming thunderous when swapping from picking to strumming.

In the evening we went back to the town for a fish'n'chip dinner. The festival was finishing that evening and the place was packed with fat older women dressed in hippie gear or with dyed hair, groups of teenagers, guys looking like refugees from a merchandising convention in various festival tee shirts and people in their early 20s looking a bit lost. Couples were seen having serious conversations to each other in various places. An odd atmosphere.

We were trying to find somewhere that would provide dinner at a reasonable price. Our legs were tired and we really wanted to sit down, so hoping to find something 'traditional' in the way of a chippy. There were 'real' restaurants that were happy to charge £14 for Cod & Chips, and LOADS of take-aways (we don't seem to do take aways any more – in discussion over dinner Chris reminded me she NEVER did takeaways, which was something my family often did to save money, and she's gradually trained me out of the idea) but hardly anything right.

Eventually we wound up at a place called 'Daves'.

Daves had a queue about 15 people deep coming out of the entrance for takeaway, but they also had an area for sitting down at the rear, with a separate till, so in we went. A traditional chippy, greasy, not too clean, busily serving hundreds of 'skinless Cod & chips' covers to the great unwashed festival crowd. We chose from the menu & I went to the counter to order. An orange sign on the wall said something like “No, we won't do it your way. This isn't burger king, and you'll damn well have it our way or you won't have it at all”.

I ordered cod & chips twice plus drinks, then sat down again.

Cutlery arrived in a tin bucket. The beech wood print formica tabletop had crumbs of food left behind and the place mats splodges on, defying the wiping marks from when it was last cleaned. The walls were also wood-printed boarding and the lights were in round orange shades. From the ceiling hung a net with plastic crabs, lobsters and various nautical nicnacs. Down one side were booths, and in the booth beside us were a couple in their 20s, she pretty with a soft face despite a good figure, dark-hair and wearing a black leather motorcycle jacket with gold scarf around her throat, he shaven-headed in a distressed green tee shirt and jeans. They were fed first, and the girl got a HUGE plate of chips with cheese on top plus onion rings, while he got cod & chips. Behind them were 2 women and a man, probably in their 50s. They'd had some banter with the waitress about getting bread and butter and paying for it.

After a while our cod and chips turned up.

Traditional fish'n'chips. So we piled on the salt, then on with the vineagar – without adding these essential ingredients fish'n'chips are incredibly bland. The fish was fine, but the chips had that texture that suggested they'd been prepared in a way that didn't involve whole potatoes, and they left a slightly bitter taste afterward that seems a mark of modern long-life cooking oils.

We finished, wandered off to listen to the main stage from the far end of the east beach now they had one of the more serious acts on, building up the the finale. They sounded OK but not terribly exciting, though the guitarist was capable of some good stuff. There was one point where they were getting all 'atmospheric' that Chris was reminded of the Stonhenge scene in Spinal Tap, and she had a point about the musical cliches. We went home for her to watch Downton Abbey and for me to read.

Monday was a new day.

If we were to return home now (Monday night) I'd believe the colour of Cornwall is grey, because that's the colour everything has been (apart from Dave's greasy diner). Can't complain though – at least it wasn't raining this morning, mostly.

So we fancied going for a walk, taking the bus over to Polperro (next town along the coast, £5.80 on the bus) and walking the 3 or 5 miles (yeah, right) back.

Polperro is the first bit of Cornwall I've seen that made me think it might be special. Looe is like Hastings in the 70s, only smaller, but Polperro had tiny streets, houses built together in impossible ways, a small river running right through the middle and a harbour that sits comfortably with the word quaint. There are also various shops selling arty bits & pieces, some of it nice, but none of it stuff that sensible people buy except to give to other people in revenge for souvenirs they've been previously given. There was an art shop/studio selling various people's paintings, and while some were excellent, some were so weak that Chris said she would have been embarassed to show anyone if it had been hers, let alone sell it for £125. Different strokes & all that, but she had a point.

So we walked.

It took a good 2 ½ hours to get back to Looe, and our legs had more than had it by that point. What can I say about it, other than it was a walk above the cliffs, with the sea to our right and green to our left. The path was sometimes muddy, sometimes rocky, and with many short but very steep climbs. There came a point where we had gone over the top of a hill & looked down toward a cove about a mile away thinking that we could see the entrance to Looe. Fat chance. By the time we got back it felt as though we'd walked more like 8 miles than 5 or 5 ½.

Chris took the key and went on ahead to slowly climb the steps up to our house while I bought chicken for dinner and a bottle of merlot for later. It seems ridiculous to have got so tired on such a relatively short walk, but there we are. The hills were quite steep, so I guess that must be the reason. Combined with the viciously steep hill that we must walk up every time we go out, we'd more or less decided that was it for the day, so stayed in and read/wrote up this blogpost. Dinner was Tikka Masala & rice, which was fine by me.

Hope we'll sleep well tonight.

Pictures will be along - eventually - probably.