Friday, 25 January 2013

I'm not the most socially progressive person

But when I read this report about Chinese factory workers, even my conscience was touched.

See, the thing about it isn't the children - bad though that was - that were working in the factory. No, it's the whole manner in which this industry operates by using oppressive labour practices in order to make goods as cheaply as possible.

Here in the west we have an insatiable hunger for new and shiny stuff, and all for less and less money. There was a time I'd look at a motherboard and wonder at the amazing complexity of the thing, all shipped to the UK and sold for about 30 quid or less, yet at the time I'd sleep easily knowing that it couldn't be knocked up in some dirty sweatshop somewhere like the tee shirts that get sold for a quid or so.

Only it seems I was wrong.

Not that the sweatshops are dirty, but we in the west are indirectly profiting by stealing from the poor, even if we aren't the ones subjecting them to long hours for little pay. Yes, they may be glad of the opportunity to earn money, possibly being able to have dreams and aspirations that were unthinkable for people of a similar social background 30 years ago, but that doesn't mean that we aren't still guilty of causing the grinding oppression now.

The ethics of this are deeply troubling, because we've set in motion a train of events that we don't control. If the west were to suddenly be conscience-struck, stop buying the products of that oppressive system then the result would be even greater hardship- poverty and starvation in all likelihood for real. Yet by continuing to buy we're just perpetuating the system. Certainly companies like Apple, HP, Dell and many other household names are all guilty of helping create this system in their willfully blind pursuit of profit, but there doesn't seem any way we can make them turn round to put it right. Stop buying Apple stuff and Samsung's phone business will increase. Don't buy Dell and Lenovo will reap the reward instead.

Unless the mega-corps get a sudden attack of conscience, I don't see how things can be changed. And they certainly don't mind which countries workers are oppressed - worth bearing in mind for the future of our children and their children too.

I'm not a scaremonger or conspiracy theorist, seeing illuminati and capitalist power-brokers behind every curtain, but there is a legacy building up, and it's not looking good for the future.

I don't often quote the bible on this blog, but I'm going to do so here:

James 5
Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.

NIV via biblegateway. 

You know what gives this teeth - I'm trying to buy a new smartphone. :p as they say.

Monday, 21 January 2013

So today I will be mostly

Finding those quiet places so beloved of Randall. Having a day of prayer and fasting with some of the other guys responsible for leading HPC.

When I've more time I'll talk about discovering I've switched from being an extrovert to introvert, but right now I need to get away.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

And today I have mostly been.....

Doing sermon prep.

I should have started last night. Normally I try to write beginning a couple of weeks advance so that thoughts can form and be reconsidered, but a combination of laziness, distractions and having something on every most nights has kept me away. 

So all that snow has been overlooked. No walks were undertaken, no images captured. We did manage shopping this morning after slipping through the grey slushiness of Tesco carpark, but that's it. More and more I feel like I'm in some kind of endurance race, where one just has to keep going whatever happens. That's not necessarily a problem, but these days my life is decreasingly mine. The down side is that I'll take 'little moments' for myself that just waste time and achieve nothing useful - it's not rest, but it doesn't do anything useful either. Guess that's just 'me' coming through.

Tonight we're having dinner for family celebrating Ben's 25th birthday, and the food is now underway for that. But it's been an odd, quiet Saturday.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Good morning to a (mostly) white world.

We've had a gentle dusting of snow overnight - not like a couple of winters back, where everything went solid white and cars couldn't make it up the hill outside our house.

But yesterday was beautiful. Patchy fog, but with everything covered in hoar frost and the sun bleeding colour through in places where the mist had cleared. Across the valley was simply lovely, with light mist in places and clean white in others.

Sooooo back to work in a drab lab. All the wee samples have been processed and are now being tested. Glad I don't have to walk to work this morning.

9.55am and the snow is falling thick and fast. I have an assay running, but when that's finished, assuming I can still drive then I'll likely be leaving. Hopefully Chris won't be getting stuck either, since she's working this morning and then helping my mum this afternoon.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Sorted (now I can breath a sigh of relief).

Found a Motorola Razr i deal for £40 down and £15.50 a month for 24 months. That's half what I (well, the company) currently pays for the current phone. Call time drops from 600 to 200 minutes, but other than that, it's the same. This is actually more than £100 cheaper than buying a phone outright and using GiffGaff at £10 a month for 2 years.

They say that if it looks too good to be true etc etc. Well, I couldn't see anything 'hidden' and the supplying company is The Carphone Warehouse, so a major brand, so hopefully not a fly-by-night operation.

And now I know FAR MORE about mobile computing devices than I ever wanted to.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Well after all that.....

Days of research, planning conversation strategies and then a 12min wait on hold, it turns out O2 don't carry the phone I wanted, and I'll have to sort it myself regardless. Ho hum.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Todays little gem.

Found in The Register discussing the Google Nexus 4 phone:

"Gosh it hurts when they go and define words by how people use them. :-)
It's almost like pedantry doesn't matter - shame as it's a great hobby."

What more can one say? Grammar and spelling nazis, feel free to gnash your teeth.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Keep your hands off the tiller?

It's an interesting model of church leadership.

This morning after the church meeting, Georgie (the other warden) and I were talking about how the church is growing and progressing. We feel as though, for the last few weeks, God has been adding new people to the body here, often mature Christians and also often younger people too. We've had one lady join us who started tithing (we never mentioned it, and there was no prompting at all from us) within a couple of weeks, and it's not the money at all, but the sign that someone else is committing themselves to what God is doing here.

I'm really thankful.

Some kind of explanation is necessary. I'm not one that has to see a big church to believe God is at work, and in fact probably the opposite. A discussion with a friend who also heads up the worship in another church didn't go well when they pointed out that good worship will always draw people and bad worship drives them away: my experience was that the ones who left were often fickle instead of being committed. It didn't seem to end the conversation well, and it would have been better face to face than by messenger, but I've seen plenty of congregations acting as a barometer of worship quality, and to be honest, if that's all the commitment people have then, on one level at least, I'd prefer they went somewhere else for their culture-fix.

Maybe not quite, because if that's all they do then they'll never get discipled, never grow beyond being consumers, never start being part of the answer, even if they aren't exactly part of the problem.

But I digress.

Since having responsibility like this it's very hard to not watch numbers. The whole thing is magnified by the need to maintain a church register (you know we keep a list of everyone who comes, right? Nah, not really) so we can show how many were there as well as who led, what was said etc. So counting heads is required, and suddenly when you're down to 8 for a midweek meeting and 20 for a Sunday where a year ago you'd see 40 and anything up to 100 including kids then it needs a bit of faith to believe God is going to do what you've stood up and said - preached even - that He's said he's going to do.

So the great thing about faith is that it's the thing hoped for but not yet seen. But if you only ever hope and never see, was your faith based on any kind of reality? So it's good for my heart and soul to see that God IS faithful, and that He brings encouragement and reassurance that He will do what He's said He will do.

So what's this about tillers?

A constant theme running through our dealings with God over Heyford Park Chapel has been His insistence that it's His church. He's talked about filling what is quite a large building, He's talked about walls crumbling but foundations remaining strong and sound, about the need to be joined together: all kinds of stuff. And one of the key things is that He will build the church. The very worst thing that we (as a leadership team) and me (as a leader) could therefore do would be to come along and take hold of the tiller and start guiding the church into the shape and direction we want it to be.

This is not a problem, because my nature is to want to see what God is doing and line myself up with it - seeing churches run like show business based around a few 'stars', or trying to market themselves with the latest patterns is really disturbing. I am a natural lieutenant, and want lead while following.


When you're out the front, it can feel awfully lonely sometimes, and there can be times when deciding something can seem like a good idea (boy, did we foul one of those up!). When you're alone talking to God it can be very easy to step away and start planning how one will do certain things to make other things happen and start slotting people into places, re-shaping meetings etc.

At the same time I can see that as a church we still haven't really sorted how we disciple, still haven't got lines of pastoral care going on, aren't relating to each other as we need to.

And we're learning to depend on each other.

We're all 'characters' and that's all fine. Let's hope we can all keep our hands off the tiller. As a leadership team we're away praying and fasting in a couple of weeks, and that is no bad thing - it's hard to steer when you're on your knees.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Well, it's as clear as mud.

This morning I spent a couple of hours in Banbury, trying phones, not being sold things and generally gathering data. Conclusions are thus:

The Motorola Razr i is a first class Android handset, being fast & smooth, feeling really nice in the hand, having a good screen, acceptable camera and brilliant battery life. The store demo model had been running for 1 day 18 hours and was down to 75%. Sure it wasn't being used hard, but that's real world *phone* usage. Downside is that this phone is that it's highly unlikely to ever get software updates, and it's still on Icecream Sandwich, which is a bit meh.

The Sony Experia T - on special offer with O2 - is a niceish phone, great screen, not too large, but can be laggy (I saw one example in carphone warehouse that was every bit as bad as my HTC Desire on a bad day). The camera was being pushed as the best available, but was unimpressive in store. It also has a reputation for poor battery life. Not a candidate, even at £16 a month.

Had a look at the Samsung SII, SIII and SIII Mini. The SIII and SII were both larger handsets than I wanted, with the SIII a 'Phablet'. The SIII Mini was the right size, but it's a budget spec phone at a mid-range price, and felt a bit nasty TBH, especially after the Razr and Sony.

Windows phones were tried and found to be good but flawed. The tile system is excellent and intuitive, handling great, animations beautiful and smooth. It's hard to over-emphasise how good the animations were, as they made every Android phone afterward seem gritty and jerky. I tried a couple, with the Nokia 820 being most likely candidate since it's neither excessively large nor too expensive. Some annoyances: certain applications insist on only operating with the phone horizontal and it's all a bit 'toys R us' looking at times. Biggest killer is the premium prices, especially for the 920, when they need to find ways to increase user base. If the 920's camera was in the 820 then I'd have been keen, even though the pricing was a little high. Battery life is also short on the 820. Sadly this is probably a no-go.

Surprise final entry - the iPhone 4S. I tried one, really not wanting to like it, and in some ways I don't. It's terribly Mac-like, and feels claustrophobic, restrictive in a what you see is all I will do, ever, desperately smug kind of way. Yet some aspects, like the iBook reader worked really well, and were much more impressive than, say, the Kobo app on my HTC. The camera was also noticeably good, the screen is very sharp and clear and, joy of joys, it's no bigger than my current phone and feels nice in the hand.

So it will likely come down to what deals I can get. Razr vs 4S. I've found a deal for the 4S at £25 month including phone, but recall seeing the Razr at quite a bit less. The 820 is STILL attractive, but probably won't fly. Personally I think WP8 is potentially a lot better as a phone OS than either Android or iOS, both being adaptations of traditional desktop interfaces, but I'm not willing to pay to help see it developed further.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Tomorrow is 12th January.

And 12th January is the day my over-priced O2 mobile contract finishes.

The contract is overpriced because when I arranged it originally I specified that it must cost no more than £25 per month for the phone and retain the same number of minutes & texts as I already had available on my SIM-only deal. Well, they managed that bit of it, but there was a 'hidden' extra charge of £5 a month, where bolt-ons were juggled around to provide data etc. I *should* have called O2, made a fuss, got exactly what I wanted, but I'm not a natural complainer, and the longer it got left the harder it was to fix.

So there's a strong inclination to move phone providers.

On top of that, there's the burning question of whether to replace the phone or root it, mind you, it's a 2 year old phone that was already being obsolesced, so something a little quicker that didn't keep running out of memory with just the minimum of apps installed wouldn't do any harm, and if it could talk to the Macbook, so much the better.

Ironically, the new Windows 8 phones actually have sync software for Macs, while Android does not. I've no axe to grind about windows - it's just another operating system.

A WinPho - the Nokia 920 - is well up the list of possibles. WP8 isn't flawless, but then neither in Android 2.2, which I still happily use. In favour of the 920 is the best mobile camera readily available, with a Carl Zeiss f2.0 stabilised lens and some very impressive image processing algorithms that make iPhone 5 images look like they were shot with instagram permanently on. Call and data reception are said to be truly exceptional, and 3G reception is supposedly so good as to be close to typical real-world 4G data rates. And on top of that it includes access to Nokias' turn-by-turn mapping services, allowing maps to be downloaded and used off the phone, rather than using mobile data. Against is the fact that it's built like a brick, shaped like a brick, sinply huge (and I'd prefer a smaller phone) and is expensive to boot. Despite all the claims about no-one wanting WinPho, this phone is priced at least as highly as the Samsung SIII, and at the end of the day that may kill it as an option as much as anything. The smaller Nokia WP8 phone is an entirely ordinary phone with all of the issues that go with WinPho and not of any interest.

A close competitor, the HTC 8X is also interesting, but lacks the excellent camera, decent memory, battery life, and although smaller and lighter than the 920, is still bordering on being a tablet. The screen is apparently superb however, but that's not enough.

So what have Android got to offer?

The SIII and the HTC One X + are both interesting, both huge again, though a little less so than the 920. The SIII has the better (but not wonderful) camera, the One X + a better screen. Both are 'top end' consumer phones, and blingy, rather than nice. I know quite a few that have and like the SIII, but it doesn't appeal, although a trip to the shops tomorrow might change my mind about that.

There are, however, a couple of dark horses in the Android camp - the Samsung SII and the Motorola Razr i (irritating name). The SII has a reputation among reviewers as being one of the best phones for connectivity and real-world use. It's smaller and relatively overshadowed by the SIII, but is also a LOT cheaper on contract, and there are some great deals out there. Likewise, the R i has been a bit of a sleeper, but is showing some real promise. Although this is a phone with a 4.3" screen, external dimensions are close to my 3.5" HTC Desire, being about 5mm longer and the same width. The screen runs almost edge to edge, and is high-res at over 320ppi. Camera is OK, storage upgradable with SD cards, battery life decent, processor snappy and memory adequate. This is looking like the hot candidate right now, especially as I can buy one SIM-free for £320 or less and then use a £10/month giffgaff SIM for unlimited calls, texts and 1Gb mobile data. Total cost for 2 years mobile ownership then becomes £560 or less, which has to be a winner.

Anything else?

I'd pretty much written off Apple - the price of new phones is simply insulting, and most deals similar. However I've found a deal site where the offers are entirely acceptable. You know the adage of 'if something looks too good to be true', and that's a pretty good rule of thumb, but it will certainly bear further investigation. An iPhone should pair well with this Macbook (that will be around for another year) and aren't a bad phone, even if they aren't great phones. In a way I hate the idea of buying more Apple kit, but at the same time, it's daft to ignore a good and useful deal.

Comments and advice from those with recent phone-acquisition experience all very welcome too.

The density of the plot has been increased somewhat with another couple of hours research. I'd forgotten all about the Nokia 808 Pureview, reviewed here, even though I mentioned it on here early last year - seems it's available in the UK now, and *sometimes* at a sensible price (3 new for £350 through Amazon right now, though price seems to fluctuate to >£500 at times). The upside of the phone, apart from the pro-quality camera, is that Symbian and OSX play well together and Nokias mapping applications work very well. The downside is the low res screen (poor even compared to my Desire) and the generally clunky Symbian OS. And it's a big 'ol lump.

A re-read about the Nokia 800 series WinPho 8 phone suggested it's a lot better than my comments about indicate, so that's another possibility after all, especially as it has a removable battery & can take SD cards.

We'll see.

Second edit

Just asking myself if a resolution of 640 X 480 would be adequate to read an e-book on a 4" screen. The conclusion is that I'm not at all sure it is.

Yubba dubba doozey - first post of the year!

And it's going to be about...... An extra chord?

Pretty much all popular music these days has it's roots firmly placed in the 3 chords of the blues. We've had jokes about the 3 chord bash and Status Quo, we've had to suffer U2 who tried to create a viable musical form that deliberately avoided the 3 chord pattern (and all the thousands of U2 sound-alikes that still suck the life out of worship music). It's been mutated through rhythmic patterns into reggae, funk, soul, rock, metal, pop and all kinds of stuff over the years.

Lately however - we're talking in relative terms of probably the last 20 years - there has been a development in this musical form. The fourth chord!

Sure it's been present as long as creative people have been writing music, but it seems to have become as ubiquitous now as the 3 chord pattern was to blues. Those who know more about music and psychology could probably talk about how it can be used to modulate emotions or somesuch stuff.

But it's not just pop music either: this appears through worship music too, since worship musicians usually end up copying what they hear on the radio, see on TV and enjoy listening to. When it comes to playing along to a typical current worship song, as long as I know the starting key, it feels like I can play almost any song now because it will use a variation of this progression, and it's usually easy to hear where the song is going.

This isn't a bad thing, but sometimes it feels like the same old stuff is being churned out again and again. I received Paul Baloche's new CD for Christmas (thanks Pete & Alison) called somewhat unfortunately The Same Song. The first time I played it through, listening to the title (first) track I found myself singing How Great Is The Love over the top of the chorus, and the 2 merged fairly painlessly. Paul isn't alone in having the 'problem' and listening to other artists, you can hear arrangements being pushed quite hard to try to distinguish between previous otherwise similar songs.

Worth bearing in mind that for congregational worship and singing we need songs that go to predictable places and have a natural flow, and trying to create songs that are 'clever' can destroy that, no matter how good the lyrics. This may partly explain the enduring nature of some hymns, because the tune is varied enough to be interesting, but remains predictable and easy to follow. But for those who lead worship, or indeed for those who write songs, we need to be careful about how we use this extra chord.