Friday 31 October 2014

What are you reading right now?

It's become a question asked much more frequently on forums since e-readers have become popular. Whether there's a connection with the rise in electronic books or not I have no idea, but they have certainly made books much more readily accessible to a generation or 2 turned on to electronic media consumption.

In my case I'm half way through Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian wars, that records the battles between the city-state of Athens (a tyranical democracy) that was gradually subsuming the Hellenic races, and the Peloponnesian alliance (also called Lacedaemonians, and including the Spartans) who wanted to retain their freedom. Sound familiar?

It's interesting to read about historical events in areas we have visited and know a little, but more to the point, it really brings home how little people have changed and how, generally speaking, bungling governments and organisations are. As is so often the case, a few key individuals appear to have shaped history, whether by brilliance and careful planning, or by self-seeking and failure. Men are sometimes cruel, sometimes cowardly, sometimes brave and sometimes driven by emotions of various kinds to do things they regret and wish to undo later.

There is a passage that sticks in my mind after the Lacedaemonian forces have been defeated and surrendered on Pylos, the survivors having been taken back to Athens as prisoners and hostages. They had a reputation before that point of preferring death to surrendering their arms, and a passer-by distainfully asks one of the captives if the men who fell were honourable. His reply was that arrows and spears cannot choose the type of man they kill.

A translation of the book is available as a free download here if you want it.

How much is historically accurate I cannot say. Ancient historians appear to have disregarded the truth happily in order to create a better story, to affirm their prejudice or to shape their book to suit their patron at the time, even while sometimes complaining loudly about the errors of other writers.

This has not been the best time to develop a cold

Like there is ever a good time?

Colds do odd things to my head: I can't concentrate, often think & say irrational stuff, give me mood-swings, make critical mistakes with work, enable me to make bad choices and are generally not helpful. You should see some of my un-corrected typing! (or maybe not). I am full of admiration for those who keep working through their colds as though merely carrying just a little more weight.

This isn't intended as a grumble, so much as keeping the personal blog personal. We just need to finish this phase well, before we start the next, and I'm aware there's a big battle going on in the background to attempt to cause maximum harm.

Monday 27 October 2014

While we were out with friends

and their children were running around on stuff at Cogges manor farm in Witney, I managed to grab a quick portrait of Chris. She was not especially aware of this, I think.

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Christian films - very mixed feelings.

There's a story here on the BBC website about a pastor wanting to import Christian films from the US and have pastors able to pray for people after the films.

I love the idea of being able to reach out into the community, for those who would not hear the good news of Jesus Christ to be reached this way. On the other hand, having seen a few Christian films, my over-riding reaction is that they aren't really helpful, painting a 'nice, American Jesus' picture, while often dangling the viewer emotionally over a false premise. Maybe, as much as anything, I cannot accept this kind of performance because I don't want made-up stories entering the Christian heritage as truth or fact. The traditional streams of church have done the made-up story thing too well, with a resulting loss of credibility and intergity.

This is definitely a case of praying 'God's will be done' because I can't step back far enough to be un-biased.

Friday 17 October 2014

I wonder what you'll do?

After we've moved churches.

I'm talking to you - the ones in the shadows at the back, who used to be part of Heyford Park Chapel and now come around here to see whether there's any goss to be had, any stories to share. Will you keep coming by or will you get bored and move away?

FWIW I very much hope you guys do go back to the chapel, once we're out of the way. I hope Stephen turns out to be someone who can help you grow, find Jesus, find a home with God's people and see you built up. I'm sorry we couldn't work things out together and walk down that road for that stage in our journey. 

Thursday 16 October 2014

How much compromise is acceptable?

If it was suggested you could compromise your integrity a bit to be more successful and popular, to extend your reach to more people, why wouldn't you do it? After all, your core values were un-changed, and what you were trying to reach them with was really good: surely that would be worth it, wouldn't it?

The right answer may, or may not be obvious.

I've mentioned before how horribly compromised I've felt (compromised to death was, I think, the expression) but I'm grateful someone else who is less lubricious than me has said "enough". There will inevitably be fallout, but it's much better to deal with fallout for the right reasons than knowing you're acting from expediency.

This has been a time of learning, and I'm not in then least sure I have enough backbone for church leadership. (edit - enough backbone AND enough gentle lovingness - the 2 are needed together).

Monday 13 October 2014

If anyone still cares - Mint Cinnamon

I've settled - for now - on using Mint Linux Cinnamon distro at home as my main OS of choice. Reasons: basically it seems solid, works quickly (and everything works - networking, printer, NAS etc etc) and is easy to use. On Sunday morning I came to print some music for the first time since installing and the printer was not yet set up, so I went to the printer control, clicked 'Add', it showed me our samsung ML1210 was connected. When I selected it the software downloaded the appropriate driver and 30sec later I could (and did) print. It feels like the bad old days of hunting for drivers, HPLIP and CUPS profiles is long gone.

Elementary Linux has been installed on that 250Gb 'testing' drive for more experimental use. Plus I still have my windows drive attached for when I can be bothered to call microsoft and re-activate it with the new hardware, though there's less and less chance of me doing so right now with this Dell Laptop available for editing images at home.

In my last Linux post I mentioned KaOS Linux. This looked really good at first try, but networking seemed difficult, with a refusal to recognise any devices on the network. I know that's not a characteristic of KDE, because openSUSE was fine. There were a couple of other oddities that made me decide in the end not to follow it any further. I might well bung openSUSE 13.1 on the testing drive too in order to have access to the different tools available in KDE, though logic tells me that I should just install equivalents into Cinnamon & work entirely from there. I don't know why, but I *prefer* the KDE desktop, even though it sometimes behaves a little oddly and is very resource-heavy.

Once again, if anyone is thinking about trying Linux then I'd definitely recommend giving Mint (either Mate or Cinnamon) a go - everything works out of the box, or for things like printers, can be added with minimal effort.

Life is a rollercoaster (imagine that sung by 10CC).

This business of moving churches makes the emotions flap considerably: because of what and particularly who we're leaving behind, because of the feeling of leaving gaps that put extra pressure on others to fill, because of things we see happing to friends that we feel powerless to help with. All kinds of stuff.

Yesterday I led worship in church, which is pretty much always an emotional and draining experience. I used to get really charged up playing guitar, but actually leading, singing the sings, trying to feel where things should go, being a little the pivot around which that phase of the meeting turns leaves me really drained and tired.

Then we went for lunch.

The church we're returning to is re-structuring into a new form of small groups, and a couple of days before we had been very kindly invited to come along for lunch and to get to meet everyone again in one of these groups. Most people we knew already, and in one sense it was like we'd never been away, yet at the same time there's a sense of being a very different person. I've had a lot of corners knocked off in this past while, and no longer feel the same inside - it's not that they've changed, so much as I have (they will have changed too, of course).

Chris described the feeling as coming home, to be welcomed and so obviously loved and wanted and cared for and honoured.

To me it was different from that. It's made me realise what I've been missing this last few years: there's a sense of not just being valued, but a richness of spiritual experience and family that I'd not felt in *this* way since moving - an presence of God in the relationships that can't be touched but can be felt. It felt a little like the prodigal son, returning from a foreign land where the wealth had been spent trying to survive and then having the fattened calf despatched & a feast (well, hand-crafted bread & soup) prepared.

I went in cautious, heart gently flapping, trying to watch my words and feeling a heaviness, but over an hour or 2 that lifted, and I felt I could be myself with these people.

It's life Jim, as we knew it. :-)

Wednesday 8 October 2014

So which lightbulb do I buy?

Technology has made so many things better, I won't bother to even describe it because you'd be a determined luddite not to recgnise the fact, and no explanations from me would help you. But an odd aspect of the changing way we have developed lighting means that no-one really has much idea which bulbs to buy now.

We had, as a country, a brief love affair with the compact fluorescent light unit. A great idea in some ways, due to ease of manufacture and efficiency, the quality of light from a fluorescent tube has always been ugly, even with modern coatings  (though OK if bounced off a painted surface). Worse though, they contain mercury, which makes disposal quite specialised and they are NOT something one can just pop in the bin: far from ideal when not everyone can really be bothered to dispose of stuff carefully.

But hot (pun intended) on their heels came the LED. This one-time curio is enormously more efficient than an ordinary incandescent or even fluorescent bulb, but the technology is maturing and developing rapidly. So rapidly that no-one has no idea what kind of bulbs to buy now.

I've been getting a catalogue from CPC for a while, and they supply, among many other things, LED lightbulbs in a wide variety of performances and styles. What we obviously want is a nice simple way to buy light units, and instead of using watts as a guide, instead one should use lumens (the measure of light actually put out). Except that some manufactures are a little more conservative than others, plus there is the issue of colour temperature, since many LEDs actually put a LOT of their light output into the blue end of the spectrum, and a difference of 20% output is not unusual between std and warm white. There are also a lot of older designs around (often quite expensive) with multiple low output LEDs instead of a single large and efficient unit (the multiple small jobs also produce a messy beam & hot/cold spots) and it becomes a bit tricky. Finally, if buying spots to replace small halogen GU10 spotlights that seem almost ubiquitous in modern light fittings, there is a issue of beam width, since the old halogen units have a relatively soft, wide beam instead of the narrow, harsh beam one gets from cheaper LED units (and the older incandescent spots had a softer beam still that was very pleasing and flattering).

This was all pleasantly academic for me until we bought Chris a mother & daughter combined uplighter & spot recently, and had to find bulbs for it. I've been replacing as many bulbs as possible with LEDs, and went straight to our stock of spot bulbs, plus popped in a spare 7W LED screw fitting bulb replacement.

The result, while not exactly dazzling, was WAY too much light, and the spot was like a searchlight. After some fiddling an swapping about I found a GU10 unit from Ikea that struggled to manage it's 120 lumen output for the spot (around the equivalent of a 10-20W halogen unit) and a 20W fluorescent unit for the uplighter (11W would have been enough, but all my 11W fluorescent units are bayonet fitting, rather than screw).

So I'll say again, no-one really has a clue what bulb to buy these days.

Final whittery post - getting stuff off my chest.

I've always said that I like badly produced science fiction, but it seems that's changing, or rather the scifi being produced these days is missing the point.

Scifi has pretty much always been unbelievable, to a degree, which is what keeps it charming. Or it's made very believable, with full-on realism, which can make it rather slow and intellectually stimulating, if a little boring.

So. Star Wars. Space ships cannot fly between planets and attack each other like Spitfires and Messerschitts from a scene in The Battle Of Britain because the laws of physics can't be repealed and it's obvious that 2 spaceship-size objects closing together at the few hundred kilometers a second required for space travel can't then dogfight. But the charm of the movie makes us happy to suspend all worries about reality and enjoy the show, just because.

So. 2001 A Space Odyssey. A film made with incredible and entirely believable realism, set at a glacial pace (in keeping with pretty much everything Clarke wrote) and mundane with it's making fascinating things ordinary - like eating chicken sandwiches while flying across the lunar surface in a shuttle bus. And yet one comes away wondering about so many things afterward that might actually be possible in that universe.

Many recent films have been trying to blend the 2, with greater or lesser degrees of success (Avengers and Ironman did well, Thor less so).

CGI has made things worse.

I've seen 2 films recently that have convinced me CGI is not helping: Guardians Of The Galaxy and Pacific Rim.

GotG was seriously sucky, but was clearly intended to be a spoof. I've heard that some audiences stood and cheered at certain points, where a baddy was brought down, though that's hard to believe because it's all so hokey. But the super-real GCI made it feel wrong because the denial of various physical laws had become too unbelievable and it broke the acceptance of what could not be, while the story line lacked that Star Wars charm which prevented one from objecting.

Pacific Rim is an 'obvious' Boys Own fun film. I mean, giant robots fighting enormous alien monsters - what's not to like? But there's that super-real CGI thing again that makes you start asking questions instead of accepting the solutions as presented in the film (like why make man-shape robots and all the rest when you can build nuclear powered plasma cannons in smaller, armoured vehicles or aircraft etc and blast the monsters from a distance, etc etc.). I'm not one to question these things normally, but you know something has gone wrong when I DO start worrying about the faults instead of thinking about the fun and spectacle.

I'm tempted to mention the second Tron film in this, because so much of Pacific Rim felt borrowed from it (and from The Matrix) and that film felt like a transitioning point in the use of CGI, but by it's nature the unreality of that film was acceptable still, except for the idea of applications going for a drink after work. :p

Or maybe it's just poor story writing, with CGI being used to cover up the weakness? I'm still waiting for someone to film Ringworld, as an antidote to Marvell.

We don't need no, publication.

Last Friday a good friend responded to my request for an invitation onto Ello.

I've been back once since.

Just reading through comments in the Blogroll Redundant post I noticed Fern said "But, lately another trend has kicked in, as people feel really fragmented, spreading themselves too thin across too many platforms."

This is true. If there's anything worth saying then I say it through the blog. If I need to see how friends dispersed round the globe are doing then I look at facebook, and to a degree Libertree, because many of the people there have become web-friends too. Most of my friends from the second fastest declining secret forum are also Facebook users, and the SFDSF has become a place of tumbleweed and cobwebs.

Ello reminds me for all the world of Google+ when it started: new set of strangers, odd interface with clever tools that don't really make conversation easier, cool intents from the management. It doesn't have the libertard feel that, say, Diaspora had at the beginning, and I'm already asking why I would want to use it. I should spend more time in there before making a final judgement, and it may be that it will grow and become the obvious 'free' alternative to facebook it would like to, but I also keep remembering it's VC funded, and therefore there MUST be a profitable exit strategy.

Things that make me grumpy - software updates that automatically reboot.

Like Dell's back up facility. It did at least give me the option to not start the installation and then also to finish the installation, but did not include the warning that finishing would cause a reboot. At least I didn't have any unsaved changes in a document at the time, or I'd have gone from grumpy to very cross.

Last night was my last PCC meeting.

This is an unusual place to be.

When we moved to Heyford Park Chapel we took a full year of meeting with both churches, transitioning between them and adapting to the new situations we found ourselves in. The change was a seamless ramp of activity. This time it's like getting ready to emigrate, as some other friends are doing with their transition back to Africa, with a clear and absolute break point.

We talked about Christmas: the meal, the possibilities for services. There's a sense of relief that this year I'm not the one responsible for organising everything, and that I won't have to go searching for suitable music, sort catering or write a Christmas message. That sort of thing was always do-able, but always a pressure too - I'm not happy being the centre of attention like that.

It's not like we're stepping off into the unknown, yet in a way we are. Churches change, as do people, and we have all been through quite a bit separately.

While we were meeting a couple of the guys that used to be part of the music and worship side at the chapel were getting together in the main hall, singing and playing and sounding good. I'd love it if, by my stepping away, other people were able and encouraged to step up & take my place with God organising it, instead of it just being my contingency plans.

Roll on November.

p.s. I wonder if many of us from the community church we're returning to have been through a period of training in ways that we simply could not have been trained if we'd stayed put? There's others, friends, who have also been to other churches, worked with them or run around a little in a wilderness for a while, then returned.

Friday 3 October 2014

So today is our 33rd wedding anniversary.

It was about this time on that Saturday that I drove over to Chris's family home to try and see her before the wedding: superstition said it was bad luck to see the bride on the wedding day, and I wanted to do all I could to break superstition. Plus it WAS nice to see her and anticipate what was coming later.

I won't write something gooey about love, but I'm very much looking forward to the coming years with her.

Thursday 2 October 2014

Blogroll redundant?

Not because I use a feed, but because so many of my good friends have now effectively stopped blogging. This isn't an attempt to bully people into posting, so much as an observation of change, mixed with a bit of sadness.

I've just done the Linux equivalent of Star Trek.

Although mine was more of a 90minute mission, and didn't involve killing any guys in red shirts.

I'd thought that I'd more or less got my head around the main Linux desktop environments by now. They all followed a few common themes, which had become reasonably predictable and mainstream:

KDE is windows for those who want security and freedom on their computers, without fear of infection or spyware. Distributions using KDE pretty much work out of the box, as much as Windows 8 does, and if you've used anything from Vista onward then it will feel reasonably familiar. Of all the DEs it has the most functionality baked in (open an audio CD and it will offer you the audio in several different formats and bitrates - you'll never even realise you're ripping, it's so seamless) and as a result it's a real heavyweight for a linux DE. Occasionally it will fall over, but then if you've used windows (or OSX) you know how that feels already.

Gnome 3 was a hare-brained idea to emulate iOS in Linux, and it's a fascinating experiment in how to sod up a perfectly good interface. It was so cleverly done that a couple of years later Microsoft borrowed heavily from it to create the metro/modern way of working for W8. I want to love it, but it's clunky, obstructive and a little too TOYS-R-US to really make me want to stay for long.

XFCE/LXDE - both have slightly different ways of doing things, both are super-lightweight for a modern GUI and both have strong reminders of windows XP. Linux Lite OS that I use on an old laptop (1.6GHz dual core, 1 Gb RAM) runs XFCE (if I recall correctly) and it's quick & responsive. Ironically it's not a DE that I've fallen in love with, even though it's so good, because it just feels a little clunky: just like XP does when you've been using a slick modern desktop. Definitely recommended for an older machine with limited RAM.

Ubuntu Unity seems to be a real marmite option, with most either loving or hating the odd colour scheme, launch bar on the left side by default, font choices etc. I tried it last Christmas in whatever was the current distro then, and found it buggy and a bit unstable. Ubuntu's popularity is inexplicable to me.

Cinnamon/Mate (Gnome 2 updated) is the continuation of what one might consider the classical Linux desktop by the Linux Mint group. I have 2 Mint installations with Mate and Cinnamon on this machine (using Mate right now) and visually they are the same, though I believe the significant differences are under the hood. Both are quick, neat, lighter than KDE, a little old fashioned looking and without so much built-in functionality (want to rip a CD - install a ripper). The feel is slicker than XFCE/LXDE and the interface more pleasing if your computer is less limited.

Finally there are the Rat Poison/crunchbang desktops that are practically not DEs at all, and work without a mouse, everything being driven by keyboard commands. Not my cup of char, and I stay well away.

What's new then?

Tonight I tried 3 distros on live DVD as a first look-see.

Elementary have a new version in beta, code named Freya that is rather sweet and reminded me a lot of Pear linux. As well as the OSX-style dock many of the icons and functions seemed similar and felt familiar. It was nicely responsive, looked attractive and made me want to see what the full release will be like. There's a current version, but I'd heard good things about the new beta and wanted to try it. Here's a video (there are probably lots) which gives an idea of how it looks. For me it worked without any fiddling, but I wasn't trying to use slightly fussy recording software like the reviewer in the video.

Bodhi linux uses the Enlightenment DE, and is designed to be minimalist and fast, yet interesting and attractive. There were a lot of warnings and caveats with this one, both in the instructions for download & DVD burning and then during the boot process. There also seemed to be pressure to donate with this distro that I've not felt with other linux versions.

So when offered the choice during boot I went for a desktop with more widgets. It looked pretty, but the clock was set on US central time without an obvious way to change. Then I couldn't get the network manager to work properly. Navigating the desktop was a bit different too, with an 'everything' menu launching when pressing alt-escape. It *looked* fascinating, but also felt like a desktop designed by a small group of friends to work *just for them*. Cool, neat, but I'm not part of that group.

KaOS uses the KDE desktop, but have re-worked the appearance and components to give a very clean, smooth DE that looks fresh and interesting, and different from the (often clunky) implementations of KDE that we see with Kubuntu, Mint KDE, PCLOS and even to an extent with openSUSE. All their packages are built specially for their version, and designed to work well, rather than being the very latest version available. I comes bundled with Calligra office, which seems clunky & old fashioned compared to Libreoffice, but would probably serve fine if you didn't want to install LO. I'll partition & install this to run alongside the existing Mint installations for a while to test performance & see whether it is stable and appeals longer term.

There y'go then, a little more exploration of places unknown. That was quite fun.