Is this more than you bargained for yet?

Each time we move I become more convinced that our responsibility as Christians is to wait patiently, openly and expectantly for God to let us know what He has for us to do in whatever new place He’s put us.
Sometimes that instruction comes immediately. Sometimes He asks us to wait for His timing.
Sometimes His plan is revealed subtly and in pieces. Sometimes its as incontrovertible as a phone call out of the blue that throws your summer plans into total disarray.

Garden Work

Gardens are the big project this summer — for Nicole anyway. Mine is the deck, but that’s a different story. Nic’s goal is to have a decent-sized vegetable garden going up the hill in our backyard, and she and her dad have complex plans for how to achieve this.
Last weekend we decided we’d ease into it by cleaning up the gardens along-side the house. They desperately needed it.
We’re not completely done, because Home Depot ran out of the brick edges we were using, but I’ll finish that up while Nic starts the bigger garden project…
Before:
Before
During:
During
After:
After
After
This weekend is a busy one for us, with more to accomplish than we’re sure we know how to do. Hope you all enjoy yours. The weather around these parts is supposed to be amazing!
PS: New pictures coming in the sidebar…

How to stay on top of technology without spending a fortune…

Technology can appear daunting. It seems like every time you buy something, it promptly becomes worthless. I used to sell computers to people (during college) and they’d often complain that what they bought would be obsolete in months anyway.
And sometimes that’s true. I have two friends who bought plasma TVs, while we went LCD. In retrospect, ours was a smarter purchase, since plasma is now a dead technology (and an expensive on the old power bill to boot) but at the time, they probably made the best decision they could. That we bought our TV a little later than them meant that we had more information and more options available to us.
However, its not always the case that staying on top of technology needs to be a money pit. Although you’ll never make money (directly) through purchasing electronics, you can sustain a fairly constant level of new technology adoption without going into debt — if you’re smart about buying and then selling your gear.
That “selling” part is important, and timing is crucial. Craiglist, Kijiji and eBay are your friends. And knowing when your kit is approaching the drop-off point in its value curve is important. Here’s a couple (completely unscientific, observation-based) charts I put together while I was pondering this…
Home Theater Equipment Value Curve
Home theater equipment, like TVs, receivers and DVD players have an initial fall-off in value after their release, and then tend to hold that revised value for quite a while, gradually sliding down until the technology is obsoleted — at which point their value plummets.
The best time to buy is after the initial price has dropped a little — don’t buy anything the day its released. After that you can safely hold on to it and use it for quite awhile before its time to unload and upgrade.
Game Console Value Curve
Game Consoles behave on the market similar to other home theater devices, with a few exceptions. One is that their value will plummet every 4-5 years when the next greatest gaming device ships (or is rumored to be near-shipping.) The other is the collectibility rebound where the device becomes “retro” (the geek equivalent of “antique”) and it becomes cool to own it regardless of age.
Apple Device Value Curve
Apple’s computers and other devices hold their initial value for a long time, and only once in their existence come close to being worthless. They also have a collectibility rebound which brings their value back up quite high and tends to maintain it there forever. If you have a Mac that’s older than 10 years old, hold on to it, you’ll becoming out of that valley soon. If you have a Mac that’s 3-4 years old, you can probably still sell it today for almost enough money to get a brand new machine.
Windows-based PC Value Curve
Windows-based computers have the simplest chart of all. Their value begins declining the day you bring it home, and continues to do so until you find yourself using it to prop open the garage door. Selling your PC will never, ever be worth your trouble.
As I said earlier, this is not “buy low, sell high” — its not the stock market, and you’re unlikely to ever make money by buying a new TV. But if you follow the curves carefully — buying below the initial peak, and selling before the value drops off — you can probably keep your tech at the same relative point, with only a minor infusion of cash at each upgrade opportunity.
The first Mac I bought for myself was $1800 — 10 years ago. I suspect that when I bought our Mac Mini for $600 8 years later (after easily a dozen computers in-between), I was still rolling over some of that initial investment.
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Jon Topless

I know this is what you’ve been visiting the site for! Here’s what I look like without clothes (or skin) on…

(Click the pictures for a bigger version)
Although the problem likely started when I was much younger, the biggest issue is the damaged disc in my lower back. I blogged about it years ago — while in New York, I bent over to pick up a computer monitor and ended up flat on my face on the ground. The problem recurs because its never really been corrected. The best doctors available in New York could only recommend some stretches and prescribe narcotic pain killers. Canada’s doctors were no better (but with longer waits to see them.) I’m currently seeing a specialist who goes to our church.
Since I’m at it, I figured I should work on my feet too. Part of my over-all problem is insanely tight muscles. My reflexes startle doctors who test them, but its only because I’m wound so tight. My feet are no exception. My arches are abnormally high, and although years ago I had corrective orthotics made, I’ve never really given them a chance because they’re kinda painful.
For the next month I’ll work on wearing them, and pursue back treatment, and we’ll see how it goes…
On the plus side, my back did hold out long enough to get some good work done on the gardens around our house this weekend. We’ll post pictures and details on our summer projects later.

Vacation

Most of this past week I’ve been on vacation from work, which means my computer has been shut off. I do have a laptop or two that I checked on occassion, but I’ve been otherwise pretty unwired all week. It was nice, but I’m a little behind on e-mails, comments, blogs, facebooks, diggs, flickrs, and other ‘net activities… I’ll probably stay that way until next week, but here’s a couple highlights:
– BBQed and ate supper (that’s dinner, if you’re from New York) on the deck last night. The sun shining, a cool breeze blowing, a little Sufjan playing. It was wonderful.
– NetFlix caught on to the massive, gaping hole in their geolocation system. I’m disappointed, but it was good while it lasted. Oh Canada, why can’t you catch up with this whole Internet thing going on?
– Saw a movie in 3D — Monsters vs. Aliens. You had to wear silly glasses, but it was still pretty neat. I’d like to see the new Terminator done in 3D.
– We had a free babysitter all week, but that’s good because I threw out my back last weekend. I’m pretty much healed up, but pursuing new avenues of resolution for this very persistent and frustrating issue. I’m hoping to get at least another 45 years or so out of this body — its too early to be hobbling around like an old man all the time!
– Continuing my new hobby of collecting obscure, obsolete media, I got a MiniDisc player. It needs a little work, but we had fun listening to some of our old mix discs from the late 90s…
– Ben is pretty much ready to use the potty — we (Nic) just needs to help him make it happen. He gets embarrassed if he wets his diaper while in bed, and takes it off and tries to get a new one on. We appreciate the gesture, but would prefer it if he waited for us to help with that!
– Abi has 4 teeth now. The bottom two are very obvious, the tops ones are only visible when she grins really wide. They’re big, but super cute. She also runs like the wind…
She’s known how to walk for weeks now, but refused to do it. Then last Thursday, she decided she was ready. The first day was a little shaky — she walked like a zombie with her arms in front of her. The next day was better. By day three she had variable speeds, could turn 360 degrees without falling, bend over and pick things up, then carry them around while she walks. She can open the sliding door to the back deck, and run out on her own. Its amazing!
Pictures are uploading, so check out the sidebar until we get around to posting something more interesting…

Constant Linear Velocity

laser-discSo I finally got a couple LaserDiscs to go with my new player. This technology, predating even the Compact Disc, was a truly wonderful and terrible invention.
I used to have a MiniDisc player, back before iPods even existed, and I was a big fan of the format. The discs just looked so cool and futuristic. And I remember debating with my dad about the future of the media. He insisted that MiniDiscs would never take off — not for any technical reason — but simply because they were too small to be marketed. He referenced the LP of his day, and how owning an LP felt like you owned something of value. The design of the cover art, and the size and heft of the media in your hand made it something people wanted to collect and own. And that a MiniDisc, sold as they were in two-inch squares, could never compete with that tangibility.
I’m not sure if that’s why MiniDisc died, or it was simply because Sony refused to embrace digital media until it was too late, but I do know now what he was talking about…
But first, a technical review.
LaserDisc videos look better than a VHS tape (which was its primary competitor) — way better in fact. It could display more lines of video, and could contain multiple audio tracks. Some of the later LaserDiscs I own sound as good as a DVD. They definitely don’t look as good, though.
There are some purists who would argue that the digital compression used to create a DVD creates visible artifacts that a purely analog medium, such as LaserDisc, would never have. This is true, and there are possibly moments in a given moive where the LaserDisc might look better. Over-all, however, the sheer number of lines that a DVD reproduces ensures a sharper image. Additionally, the weakness of the digital compression is also its strength: a lot of video “noise” is eliminated in a compressed video, but shows up clearly in analog.
LaserDiscs could have many of the features of a DVD — but it came at a cost. A “Standard Play” (or CAV – Constant Angular Velocity) disc had random chapter access, freeze frame pause, and frame-by-frame stepping, all like a DVD. Unfortunately you could only fit 30 minutes of video per side this way. That means a 2 hour movie came on 2 discs, requiring you to turn the disc over, halfway through each disc. More modern players, like the one I found, could flip the laser head around the disc automatically, saving you from getting up to flip it yourself.
An “Extended Play” (or CLV – Constant Linear Velocity) disc had most of its features neutered to get 60 minutes of video on each side of the disc. You could pause, but not with a freeze frame. You could skip chapters one-by-one, but you couldn’t skip from chapter 1 to chapter 11 in one jump. And there was no stepping through frames. The functionality of a CLV disc was only a little better than a VCR.
LaserDiscs could have director commentary on one of its audio tracks, but it couldn’t have menus like a DVD. When you put a disc in the player, it just starts playing. If you power down the player, it will forget where you left off — although I’m sure there are better players than mine that wouldn’t. Actually, lots about LaserDisc is dependent on the quality of the player. Most Standard Play features could be simulated on an Extended Play disc if your player had read-ahead memory — but those were expensive players.
Also, although there were at least 3 different surround sound encodings supported through-out the life of the LaserDisc, AC3– the digital standard most used in DVDs — wasn’t introduced until late in the game, and most players supported it with an odd RF connector that needed to be re-modulated for a AC3-capable receiver.
DVD vs LD
None of that, though, changes what was wonderful about LaserDisc. I have 7 discs in my collection now (costing from $0.99 to 4.99) and each of them feels like a work of art. Much like LPs, the box art looks magnificent with all that space for the artist to work with. LaserDiscs lent themselves to “Special Edition” versions — especially when compared to their retarded VHS competition, so movie studios went all-out including booklets and extra discs with special features on them — like DVDs now, only again, with much more space to work with. And there’s real weight to them. When you hold a LaserDisc box set, it feels like something tangible — something valuable.
That I ever thought a VHS tape was cool technology only shows my ignorance. While I was collecting my Star Wars VHS tapes — two spools of magnetized tape forcibly threaded through a head that pressed on the media to read it — real collectors had these giant shiny laser-read discs wrapped like works of art.
That this technology existed in 1976 and had no real competition until the late 90s only shows the ignorance of consumers in general. In cupboards everywhere, our cassette tapes are rotting now, their quality diminished after each time we played them, while LaserDiscs remain a beautiful and desirable media…
If anyone spots the original Star Wars Trilogy box set on LaserDisc at a garage sale or Flea Market, pick it up for me, would ya?

Fear

Our culture is full of fear. Ours must be one of the most frightened societies in history.
Our fears are dramatized for us on the evening news, exaggerated so that single events appear as nation-wide disasters, so that one person’s tragedy becomes a likely outcome for any one of us — at any moment!
People seem to love being scared. So much so that we’d rather be frightened than informed. Facts are replaced with a new form of superstition — one that has a turban-wearing terrorist lurking behind every dark doorway, just waiting to snatch up our children. Never mind that the odds of being attacked by a terrorist in North America are less than the odds of being struck by lightning — perhaps that only goes to show just how risky it is to even go outside at all!
On a few occasions this fear of the unknown — a fear that would be comical if it wasn’t so debilitating — has evidenced itself around me as a complete dread of anything outside a person’s comfort zone. This term “comfort zone” used to refer to the norms of life in which someone was comfortable. Now it might best be called the “safe zone.” Because anything remotely outside it leads to paralyzing terror.
And its not just places or people groups that scare us these days. We’re scared of economic collapse, we’re scared of nuclear weapons, we’re scared of viral outbreaks. We have more to be scared about these days than we do to be hopeful about.
Its no wonder then, that God’s kids aren’t getting out into the world to help people. We’re all inside our homes, quaking in our boots that those prisoners getting released from Gitmo might be right outside our door just waiting to steal our jobs blow up our buildings!
With summer time comes opportunities for short term missions trips. Our church is planning a couple of them, and they’re all great opportunities to tangibly act out God’s love for the rest of the world. But there are those who won’t pursue these opportunities out of fear. There are those who’s only knowledge of the world at large comes from the shocking news stories they see on TV. Those who believe that the gospel is best served by staying around home, and helping out their local church where they’re safe and sound and never have to risk anything. Those who have chosen to ignore the New Testament mandate to “Go ye into ALL the world.”
The Bible actually has a lot to say about fear, and some good stuff to say specifically about the fear of those who believe differently than us.
Matthew 10:26-31 says: So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows
Paul the Apostle spent a total of at least 7 years in jail, was flogged repeatedly, shipwrecked and travelled the known world without the aid of a motorized vehicle. Fear never slowed him down. Uncertainty about where he would sleep, or what he would eat never caused him to make permanent camp where he was safe. And the thought of being a little uncomfortable didn’t shut him up about the news he had to share.
So why are we, in the richest nations in the world, with the most resources available to us, the timid ones?
Why are Chinese missionaries, coming from underground churches in a country where their government might imprison or kill them for what they believe, reaching Muslim nations more effectively than we are?
Why do our churches need hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for their buildings and programs, when a pastor in India needs only a Bible and a bicycle to change his world?
Why do we need guarantees of safety and provision before we’ll even think of setting out for a foreign country, when there are people doing ministry in malaria-ridden jungles just hoping their line-of-sight Internet holds out long enough to send out this week’s prayer letter?
Is it because we have forgotten both God’s command to go, and His promise of provision and protection within His amazing plan for each of us? Is it because we have forgotten what it means to be a Christian? To have such a message of love burning within us with so much passion that if we are silent the stones will cry out?
Christ died a most horrific death on the cross for each of us, yet somehow we are unwilling to risk a little traveller’s diarrhea, or soldier through a little jet lag, to go to a country where our every need isn’t already met for us, so we can share the message that saved us.
There is a fear that is healthy. A fear that the grace of the New Convenant may have caused us to forget. A fear of a most awesomely Holy God, who has commanded His people to go and to make disciples.
This Easter, if you are hiding from those commands out of fear of people or places or things that make you uncomfortable or unsure, imagine the fear Jesus must have felt on the cross, the wrath of His All-Powerful Father for the sins of the world poured out on His broken body, and remember that He faced that fear for you.
And He claimed victory on your behalf. He’s already won. Through Christ, we have defeated death. Instead of acting like frightened, conquered people, we should go boldly and share His love and freedom like victors…