Sunday, December 26, 2010

Goals Update

In July I wrote down some goals for the 2010-2011 school year. Time to check in on how I'm doing:

Become a better guitar player
I'll give this one a thumbs up. I've been privileged to play at church a few times now, and because our worship leader picks a lot of more complex songs, I've been forced to learn a bunch of new fingerings. And I learned how to use a cut capo. Which is sweet. And feels like cheating.

Produce at least one short film project
Working on it. More to come in January.

Record at least one song
Currently working toward recording a 7 track CD, hoping to start recording in Q1 2011.

Spend more time listening and less time talking
*Most* of the time doing well. Still working on this, though. I guess I always will be.

Pay off my student loans and obliterate my debt
Student loans are gone. And my credit card debt will be gone by 11:59pm on December 31st, 2010. Debt to parents (will never be repaid, but speaking in strictly financial terms) I'm aiming to pay off by May, if not sooner.

Proactively listen for God’s Call in my life
Oh yeah. Rocked that one a few months ago. Backsliding a bit now, but working my way back up.

Read at least 1 book
...

Learn to relax
Hm. I don't know. I haven't really thought much about it. I'll say I've made progress, but have plenty left to overcome.



I'm going to add one additional goal to this list. Because I hate small talk:

Be courageous, don't fear diving straight into a deep question

Never give up, never surrender!

Much as I love Galaxy Quest, that's not actually what this post is about, that quote just happens to be the first title that popped into my head.

I saw this quote on my friend Jason's Facebook wall tonight:


‎"Never give up on something that you can't go one day without thinking about."


No idea who said it originally.* Doesn't matter. This quote simultaneously puts words to questions I've pondered for... days? weeks?... as well as answers them. Questions about people, relationships, projects, careers - I'm amazed just how widely applicable this mantra might be in my life.


*The Google appears to corroborate its anonymity. And also, as one might expect, plenty of sites propose a slightly modified version: "Never give up on someone..."

Friday, December 24, 2010

Friends

Months ago my friend Suz shared some ruminations on friendship, giving me a new perspective:
Friends are truly a blessing from God. I don't have this many friendships because I'm an awesome person, but because God had put these relationships into my life.

Sometimes I forget myself and assume it's all because of me. It's not.

Trust. Again. Because that might be what Christmas is all about.

Impatience is my best friend, tempered only occasionally by fleeting moments of clarity and peace. Blame it on an American culture of instant gratification, call me a Veruca Salt, or you can say I'm ambitious and highly motivated; impatience can play both fault and virtue, depending on context.

As a virtue, impatience makes me get things done. For fighting apathy, that is a powerful ally.

As a fault, I think my impatience boils down to trust. Trust in God, specifically. Or lack thereof.

My situation is thus: there are several relationships in my life that I would desire to be deeper. And that growth may very well happen. In time. But my impatience demands immediate results, rather than trusting God to mould those friendships in Her timing, rather than mine.

Why I would mistrust God in this particular regard is a question beyond me. Yes, I'm perpetually arguing with God over theodicy, but as regards the people in my life, my friendships, my family, God has always worked gifts and miracles beyond my comprehension. In this area of my life, I have no reason to doubt. So why do I still?

Christmas this year, for me, is a story about trust. I choose to believe that something resembling Luke's Gospel narrative took place. And therefore I'm in awe of the trust of Mary. Being an unwed mother was... a bit of a bigger deal in the ancient times. Joseph could have elected to have Mary stoned. He could have disowned her (he was about to do so, in fact). Yet Mary trusted God. Well, she's human, she must have freaked out a little at some point! Yet we are told she had faith, she trusted her well-being to a God that, in that time, was not known to humanity as a personable God.

Who am I, that I think myself greater than Mary, to not trust God?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Education is the antidote to war

From Scott Adams, author of Dilbert, on the creation of ideas as viruses to effect positive change in the world.

Education is the antidote to war.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Minnehaha Puppet Pals

For the 2010 Annual Christmas Talent Show at my school, a re-enactment of the Potter Puppet Pals' "Mysterious Ticking Noise". (see the original at www.potterpuppetpals.com)

Monday, December 13, 2010

True Love

Wuv. Twue wuv. Universally embraced by songwriters, filmmakers, novelists, story tellers of all kinds. Love is a cross-cultural standard to which all humanity can relate. And with that universality comes the reality that everyone defines love uniquely.

I've long lamented English's poor choice of words for the matter (ancient Greek has at least 4), and so to define love in all its forms would prove impossible, or at the very least, beyond the scope of this blog post. What I'm focused on at the moment, quite simply, is marital love: the love shared by two persons (of any gender) who have committed their lives to one another. And more specifically, I want to draw out one aspect of that love: "for better or worse".

It's easy to love when life is peachy. True love, and I believe only true love, perseveres through hardship. In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) I find my absolute favorite scenes depicting this deep and powerful love. Charlie Bucket's house is in shambles, there are gaping holes in the roof, his parents have Charlie's 4 grandparents, as well as Charlie himself, to care for, and then Mr Bucket loses his job. Mr and Mrs Bucket have every right to lose faith in the world and in each other. Sadly, were they a real-life couple in modern day America, one might expect the next chapter in their story to be divorce.

Instead, Mrs Bucket reassures her downcast husband that they will persevere. Their love transcends their adversity, and hope exudes from their very beings. I tear up every time I watch those scenes, honestly.

For me, the Buckets represent an epitome of true love. Unconditional. Unreserved. Unabated. It's beautiful. Some day, when I'm married, that is the kind of spouse I desire to be.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Story Time with Jeremy

After the snowpocalypse this weekend, my neighbors invited me over for dinner. We had a delicious chili and enjoyed time relaxing inside, tired from all our shoveling (they had it worse than me - they had two cars to dig out, in addition to shoveling the sidewalks).

As bedtime crept closer, their 3-year-old daughter handed me a couple books and asked if I’d read them to her. This intimidating query caught me off-guard.

Anyone who’s known me more than a few minutes knows that children scare me. Not as much as dogs or worms, but kids are right up there in the top 5. With that being said, since I actually know my neighbor, she doesn’t scare me as much. I’ve still had exactly 0 experience reading bedtime stories, so I suspected this might be some sort of adventure. But how do you say “no” to a 3-year-old?

I said okay, and opened the first book, a story abut Hanukkah. And as I read it, I kept praying there wouldn’t be any big words that I couldn’t pronounce. I’m a good reader, my vocabulary is decent, and I was always the ‘Hermione’ in my grade-school classes when it came to reading out loud, but still the pressure’s on, and I don’t want to look like an idiot in front of a 3-year-old! (or her parents!)

So book one was kind of survival mode, flying by the seat of my pants, “don’t suck”, however you want to phrase it.

Then we opened book 2. The Night Before Christmas. Ah. Now this one I know. You know you’re off to a good start when you’ve got the first page memorized :)

What surprised me about The Night Before Christmas was the vernacular - I looked it up, the poem was first writ (or at least, published) in 1823. Aha! No wonder it contained such unusual words. As an adult, I appreciated the skilled craftsmanship of each stanza, though I wondered how much my neighbor understood of it. I mean, what's a sugar-plum? And what is this window "sash" that he opened? People don't talk like that anymore (I say, with a slight tinge of sadness to my voice).

For all its high language, this poem slips pleasantly off the tongue, making it easy to read aloud. And so as I settled into a rhythm with the words, my mind raced elsewhere and I realized: I can do this. Not just reading a book to my neighbor, I mean, as in, someday, when I have kids, I can do this. I'm soooo not ready to have kids yet, but I have a small sense of peace that, when that time comes, it'll be okay. The concept of being a "Daddy" isn't as scary as it used to be.

I know that reading a story when the child is in a good mood is but one tiny portion of what parenting requires, and the more pleasant portion, at that. I've heard the screaming and temper-tantrums when the Little One isn't in a good mood, when she's not as cute and cuddly, and I'm not quite ready to tackle that part yet. But for me this one small step feels like a huge victory. The idea that I could ever be comfortable around a child, that's encouraging.

And I'm sure that makes my Mom happy to hear :)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Storm of the Century

I grew up hearing tales of "The Halloween Snowstorm of '91". I don't remember that storm, I was 6. However, today's Snownami / Snowpocalypse / Snowmageddon I'll probably remember, at least for a while.

My Mom sends me emails of "oral history", stories from our family, usually events long before I was born, occasionally things within my lifetime. Here's an excerpt of what she wrote today:

Oral History in the making...

Believe anything you hear about our blizzard. We're closing in on 16" of fresh snow and the winds are virtually "blizzard" qualified, even if not literally so. The airport runways were all closed down for the first time since the Halloween snowstorm of 1991. Mall of America is closing early. The U of M is closed. Those three places rarely close, so that's a measure of conditions, here. The buses were pulled off the roads early afternoon, after 1/3 of them got stuck. Downtown Mpls. has 10-ft drifts from the blowing snow. The Holidazzle Light Parade downtown was cancelled for only the 10th time in 19 yrs.

And from MnDOT:

Mn/DOT is advising no travel in the Twin Cities metropolitan area due to difficult road conditions.


That's significant, because this is Minnesota - we know how to deal with snow. When MOA closes, public transit shuts down, and MnDOT says stay off the roads, you know it's serious.

I spent over an hour and a half this morning shoveling. Usually I skip my driveway, knowing I can just drive over the snow. Today not so much - with a solid foot of snow, there's no way my car would make it through that. And of course I haven't had my snowblower tuned up for a couple years, so it didn't start. This necessitated hauling / throwing a lot of snow by shovel. My arms and shoulders hurt afterward.

And then it kept snowing all day, so by evening I needed to do everything all over again. My sidewalks acted as if I'd never touched them in the first place - all that time spent earlier in the day seemed for nought. (I'm sure tonight would have been loads worse had I not shoveled earlier, but it sure didn't feel like it) My neighbors were out shoveling, as well. We talked briefly, then spent another hour shoveling out their van from the driveway.


Some photos from the day:

Backyard


Front yard, facing neighbors


MSP Flights Cancelled; Photo from Bruce Bisping, startribune.com

Sunday, November 14, 2010

January 2012

This is post #2 of 2 about my trip to Los Angeles.

Three weeks ago I flew to LA. My objective: hang out with my friends and have a fun vacation away from work!

I never expected the trip would change my life forever.

Though I didn't advertise publicly, part of my purpose in visiting LA was to determine whether I could see myself living there as a working filmmaker. I went in more or less assuming "no way! Too big, too scary", yet tried to maintain an open mind just in case.

And so, from the moment Brooke picked me up at the airport, to the final car ride with Anne back to LAX, I asked questions. Lots of them. Trying to get at people's experiences, from practicalities like cost of living, to their emotions about leaving home and re-establishing a friend-base in a new city.

Every answer I heard reinforced one central theme: making "the move" is possible.

I began contemplating, how exactly would this work? What would happen to my house, where would I work, what about health insurance? And I prayed a lot.

Finally, on the car ride to the airport, I had my moment of clarity: "I have to do this. I don't know how it's going to work, I just know it's what I need to do."

Coupled with my friends' encouragement (or "insistence" might be a better word), I resolved that I will make the move to Los Angeles in January 2012.


In my mind that's a long way off. Everyone I've told so far, though, insists it will fly by, and the most common reaction has been "you're moving so soon?"

However one looks at it, I've got 13.5 months to get my life in order. Or something like that. So over the next year, I will:

- pay off my current debt
- pay ahead in my house payment, as well as find a future renter(s)
- save enough to survive for several months after the move without a steady income
- record my first CD project
- write / direct / and/or produce one more short film

I remain hopeful that I'll maintain part-time employment at Minnehaha, since most of the web and database stuff I do can be done from anywhere in the world. And I want to keep my foot in the door for possible summer-time employment, when business around LA is quieter.

I could get a job at an Apple Store when I move, but I'm saving that as a last resort, because in my mind it kind of defeats the purpose: I'm moving to LA to work on movies, not sell in retail. I have to allow myself time to give filmmaking an honest shot.

This feels like the right time to make this change. One of my greatest fears is, years from now, reflecting on my life and asking "what if...?". One of my coworkers actually told me a few months ago, "if you're still here in 5 years, I'll be disappointed in you". So it's time to take a risk, and see what happens.

My parents are supportive. I gave them the two-minute version when they picked me up from the airport, and then a few days ago we were able to sit down for a longer conversation. The next year may be nerve-wracking as I try to accomplish everything on my list, but I am indescribably happy to have a solid goal toward which I'm working.

409 days, and counting.

Reflections on Los Angeles

This is post #1 of 2 about my trip to Los Angeles.

Three weeks ago I flew to LA. My objective: hang out with my friends and have a fun vacation away from work!

I've traveled to California (San Francisco) twice, but never Los Angeles. Thanks to hyperbole from television and talkies, I partly expected a martian landscape, red rocks, devoid of familiar terrestrial lifeforms, and perhaps covered in smog.

Well, let's back up. First, boarding my flight was delayed almost two hours because... drumroll, please... the pilot's windshield wiper was broken. No joke.

My delayed landing actually worked to my advantage, though. Originally, my friend Anne was going to pick me up, because her roommate Brooke (I would be staying at their apartment) was in meetings all day. But with the flight delay, Anne had to get to her night class and wouldn't have time to add in a round trip to the airport and back, so Brooke picked me up on her way to dinner with other filmmakers.

Which means, my very first night ever in LA, I...
  • experienced freeway rush hour

  • drove on a mountain (okay, Brooke was driving, but it's boring to say "I rode around a mountain")

  • ate dinner at a deluxe, Harry Potter themed restaurant in Beverly Hills

  • met a bunch of filmmakers / actors / writers, including the writer of Zombieland

  • tried to wrap my mind around the florae

Seriously, it's not just the palm trees that caught me off-guard, they have legitimately entirely different species of trees in California. Which is weird to me.

What was also weird: nearly every day we drove by the WB and Disney backlots. That's a new "normal" to which I never quite acclimated.

And almost every day we saw grip trucks parked around town and production signs posted on street corners. Brooke always called out "look, they're shooting a movie there", and that's just part of normal LA life. I could get used to that.


On my second night, Brooke and Anne hosted "Bad Movie Night". A few months ago, I started this tradition in Minneapolis after an abysmally awful local independent film came out on DVD - I gathered my film friends, including a couple folks who'd worked on the movie, and we mocked it MST3K style. Anne and Brooke caught wind of this and insisted I bring the DVD with me to LA. We had a blast. In attendance were also Rachel (Brooke's business partner, whom I knew only vaguely previous to this trip; I think we worked on the Prairie Home extras casting team together a few years ago), Nathan (my lead actor in my "Harry Putter" movies), Matt ("Draco" in Putter 1), and Anne's new LA friend Bernadett (one of the sweetest, most humble people ever; meeting her is a story unto itself). Awesome night, with a group of truly awesome people.


Other miscellaneous stories:

It rained overnight one night. Otherwise, hardly ever a cloud in the sky, and stable temperature (cold at night, just right during the day). And aside from the tractor race outside my window Thursday morning (aka, a lawn mower and weed whacker), the city was quieter than I expected. Traffic was not as terrible as I'd feared. Nor were prices - Targ├ęt was more or less consistent with Minneapolis. Gas was about 30 cents more expensive.

How do you spot the tourist from Minnesota? I was the only one who always forgot to bring sunglasses. Thank goodness Brooke and Anne started reminding me.

Anne and Bernadett were in a Halloween one-act - Anne played a possessed girl who gnaws on her own leg, whom Bernadett wants to kill her in order to protect their other friend. And that was only the second one-act of six. Very uplifting evening.

Bernadett's birthday happened while I was in town, we took her out to breakfast to celebrate (and obviously didn't let her pay!).

One day Anne took me to Griffith Observatory, a space/science history type museum on top a hill. Awesome place. I want to go back when it's dark sometime, the view of the night sky must be breathtaking. The views of the surrounding valleys also were spectacular.

And while we were at Griffith, I glimpsed "the" Hollywood sign on a faraway hill. Surreal. And a bit smaller than I'd imagined :)

On November 1st we went to the beach, just for the sake of saying, "It's November 1st, we're at the beach!" Granted, the ocean was a bit cool for swimming, but we dipped our feet in and drew in the sand. Fun.


I didn't make it to an official church service during my stay, but I experienced some truly amazing late night worship and prayer time, just on my own, me and God, with an album from Jesus Culture playing softly on iTunes. It shouldn't surprise me that God was there, too, so many miles away from "home"; nevertheless, our conversations came as an unexpected and pleasant surprise, and I felt a closer connection with Her than I have for a long while. He and I had some really good conversations.

This spiritual high, along with constant and uplifting encouragement from my friends, allowed me to leave inspired, with some clear life goals to achieve in 2011. Those will be covered in part 2, coming in a couple days.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Old song, new message

“Lord (I Don’t Know)” is one of my favorite Newsboys songs. I listen to it when I’m depressed, sad about the world, when something awful has happened, when one of my friends has died.

“Lord, I don’t know where all this is going
Or how it all works out.
Lead me to peace that is past understanding
A peace beyond all doubt.”

This morning the song sprung up in a new light: joy, excitement, anticipation, a genuine and overwhelming feeling of looking forward to the future and "all that is to come". Same song, completely new message for me.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

What's holding you back?

Ate a delicious Noodle-y lunch with one of my best friends today, and a variation of this question came up. The context was: some people don't want to grow, don't want to see what their potential has in store. They're stagnant. Satisfied, perhaps, yes, but unmoving. We were specifically discussing this in terms of faith, but it can applied in almost any area of life.

At another lunch, a few weeks ago, with one of my pastor friends, I raised a similar question: what, if anything, is holding us back from taking that "next step" (whatever it may be) with God? I told him that was our homework for the next time we dined together.

And as is pretty typical, I've been avoiding my homework.

After it came up today, though, I've been thinking. What is holding me back? Am I being held back?


Aversion to anything "Bible" is definitely one area in my life. Everyone who's ever had a theological conversation with me knows how much I despise "religion" and "the Church", because I've seen the Bible used as a weapon too many times. But a couple nights ago, I actually picked one up and read something 'for fun' (well, I didn't actually pick one up, I picked up my phone, because there's an app for that). And the verses I read were inspiring. (1 Corinthians 12)

A single session of reading does not a Bible-lover Jeremy make. But it's a start.


Another area for growth is related to that passage: applying my spiritual gifts. It's easy to "talk God" in certain contexts, like Sunday mornings, or church small groups. It's more difficult to remember to use that gift outside of those situations. Like at work. Or spending time with family. It's not that this is "holding me back", per se, I'm just identifying it as an area for improvement.


Aside from those, well, maybe 'trust' is another holder-backer, but even that I'm growing, making progress. So I guess really what I've learned is that the next step for me is open that darn book. Shoot. Fine Holy Spirit, you win this round. But I don't have to be happy about it!

What's holding you back?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Gift-Giving to Jeremy for Birthday/Christmas

To my family and friends, if you’re planning on sending a gift my way for Thanksgiving / my birthday / Christmas, then this post applies to you. Yes, you!

I'm trying to reduce my collection of random "stuff", so I'd rather not receive material gifts this year. Truly, your presence at any celebrations is more than enough. However, if you still feel inclined to give me something, please consider these alternatives instead of a traditional gift:

- a handwritten or typed note about our friendship
- a donation to AWAKEN, Heifer International, or ELCA Good Gifts.

Seriously, I don't need or want any more "stuff". Let's see what kind of good we can do in the world instead!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Felix Felicis. (or, moving as the Spirit calls)

My friends and I are watching Harry Potter 6. In the latter half of the movie, Harry uses a magical potion, Felix Felicis (aka "liquid luck"), in order to gain valuable information to aid Dumbledore in their fight against evil.

I love how Harry's entire demeanor changes when he's "high" (for lack of a better term). He's entirely confident - not arrogant, but 100% sure in his actions, even when they don't make any logical sense.

Professor Slughorn: Harry! I must insist you accompany me back to the castle immediately!
Harry: That would be counterproductive, sir!
Professor Slughorn: What makes you say that?
Harry: No idea!

And so it struck me: maybe that's what it's like to live and move fully "in the Spirit". Here's aspiring to that.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Down to Earth

In June one of my friends obliterated his Facebook account (http://friendshipobliteration.blogspot.com). But before committing social suicide he sent me this message:

When I first met you in high school, you were the preeminent “audio/visual” guy. The teachers looked on you with respect, and many of us in the grades below you beheld you with awe. It was surreal, seeing a student who was well-liked enough among the faculty to be treated with such veneration. If anything, I was inspired. As a freshman, I assumed that this sort of prestige would have made you into kind of a diva; so it surprised me when I talked to you for the first time and discovered that you were a pretty practical and easy-going dude. I haven't seen you in a few years, but your Facebook page seems to indicate that you continue to be both a technological exemplar and a down-to-earth kinda guy. Neat.


I’m still speechless.

Pride and humility have definitely been stumbling blocks for me. It’s hard to remain humble, yet also acknowledge my own skills and abilities. Whether true or not, I feel as though I fail more often than I succeed.

My high school self apparently had it all figured out :) This encourages me. In addition to helping me re-focus, knowing that, at least at one point in life, I seemed to be doing well, gives me hope for my future in this life-long struggle.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Trust

I was in Ames over the weekend for AWAKEN, and to visit friends. Saturday night I was feeling mighty contemplative, so I stood outside for a good 15-30 minutes admiring the light show of a distant thunderstorm.

The word that kept coming to me was "trust". With so many questions about my future (specifically wondering which people will and will not be a part of my life), the sense I got was simply: trust. Trust, not in a flippant "it will all work out", but in a sincere, holy, "God's got my back" kind of way.

I'm a worrier. It's stressful. And I think I need to give that up.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Adoption

Children scare me.* And yet I imagine some day having my own. Presumably my perspective will have changed by that time.

While driving recently, children were on my mind. And so was adoption. It's probably the first time I honestly asked myself the question, could adoption play a role in my future life?

I think it probably could.



*though not as terribly as worms; children do not generally evoke the same girlish screams of terror, full-body tremors, and irrational dread of stepping on them. Not usually, anyway.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Watering the seed

Over the last two weeks I’ve had opportunities to speak into people’s lives words that *I think* God wanted them to hear. I’m learning to trust my heart more than my head (NOT an easy feat), and along the way doing my best to take those baby steps toward discerning God’s words from my own.

What’s remarkable is the times that someone has replied, “that’s exactly what I needed to hear”.

Wow. Really? Like, what I said just then, it actually meant something?

Cool.

What’s also notable, though, are the times with no noticeable reaction. Maybe I was speaking from my own head, maybe I wasn’t “channeling” “properly”.

Or maybe, God’s working in those times, too.

I was talking about this with my pastor and his wife tonight, and the image of a seed in a pot popped into my head. I think it’s a useful illustration:

- sometimes we are called to plant the seed.
- sometimes we are called to water it for the first time.
- sometimes we are blessed to see a plant poking through the soil.
- and sometimes we get to see the flower emerge.

Greg expanded on this, noting that rarely do we ever know what kind of seed we’re planting, what kind of plant it will one day become. Teachers must deal with this all the time. Or at least, teachers of younger grades: they teach the same age over and over, year after year, without ever getting to see the end result. The high school teachers, the college professors, they're the ones who see the finished product, YEARS after that Kindergarten teacher planted the first seeds. (I'm thinking of you, Mrs Brandon :)

So while sometimes there may seem to be no results, maybe that just means I’m not privy to see that part of that person’s journey. And that’s okay. I don’t need to know. All I’m called to do is trust. Isaiah 55:11.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Pride and Passion

I was blessed with the opportunity to speak in chapel at Minnehaha earlier this month. Here's the video.



Special thanks to Jeff Crafton for the opportunity, Rich Enderton for video taping, and Brian Hallermann for lighting and recording me.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Learning to channel. Or, how I'm learning to shove my brain out of the way.

It's JD's fault.

Over the last two weeks, my approach toward other people has been fundamentally (and I hope irreversibly) altered. It's a journey that began years ago with a tiny blue string from DaveO's sermon at FCA (about how people are important, and a chord of three strands is not easily broken).

The journey may have begun longer ago than that.

My Grandpa Stan died when I was not even a toddler. Mom and Dad always tell me how similar we are; I wish I'd known him. Yet I'm inspired by their memories. Mom tells me Grandpa could talk to anyone he met, anytime, and carry on meaningful conversation. He had a gift.

It's easy to talk to people I like. Or find attractive. Or share common interests. I suppose it's a starting point. Training myself not to discriminate, though, that's the challenge. And finding legitimate interest to hear what they're saying, another challenge.

But somehow it's not *quite* as challenging anymore. I've learned I love to learn, and I've learned I can learn from almost anyone. And the best way to learn is to identify, and then ignite, someone's passion - they'll talk your ear off.

There's more to the story (the part that actually explains the title of this post, I guess). If you want to know, ask me.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Compassion

God put this word on my heart tonight.

I know I have struggles ahead. I know specifically what at least three of them will be. And I know re-training myself to default to compassion is the first step.

After a cursory glance through an online concordance, it looks like “compassion” is a prelude to reconciliation and healing (Luke 15:20; Matthew 20:34; Mark 1:41; Matthew 14:14; et al.) Reconciliation is the challenge I’m least looking forward to.

Let the journey begin.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Constitutionalism

On September 17, 1787, the Constitution of the United States was adopted by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

When learning about the Constitution in US History courses, well, I never really cared. The long-forgotten arguments about loose vs strict constructionism, three-fifths compromises, even the Bill of Rights - to these all seemed hopelessly lost to the past, not particularly important in my world today.

My opinion has changed.

As I’ve grown more politically aware (at least of some of the politics within my own country, if not so much globally), suddenly some of those remount shards of knowledge seep back to the surface, ready to become applicable in “real life”. And I’ve grown a tremendous respect for those early politicians whose jobs were to craft this document destined to become “the Law of the Land”. How they predicted some of the issues that would arise, it astounds me. Their foresight in establishing an amendment process, their vision that their 13 states would one day be joined by more, and a three-branched government to provide balance of power; these astound me now.

The Constitution was written by humans (like everything else on earth). Yet somehow, it is holy in its own right. It is indeed “set apart”. It is, indeed, worthy of my respect, as were the men who first signed it 223 years ago.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Give me pills!

August and September are notoriously unpleasant for those of us with allergies. Every year around this time, there comes a day when I find myself absolutely miserable, eyes watery, kleenex massacred all over the floor, breathing becomes a chore.

Thank you, Autumn.

Most days Zyrtec keeps my allergies in check, but last Thursday life was unbearable. Unable to focus at work, I called the nearest clinic and explained I needed an appointment with any doctor, and I needed it as soon as possible, because I needed prescription-strength allergy pills.

Going to the doctor's office is usually not high on my list of "fun things to do". But I've had allergy prescriptions in the past, so I knew there was a solution, the only thing yet between me and relief was getting the Doc's signature to bring to the pharmacy (okay, electronic signature, but you get the point).

Meanwhile, going through my mind was, "yes, Doctor, I weight 145 pounds, I don't smoke, no fever, just give me the pills!"

Don't worry, Mom, I was nice about it.

In reality it was under and hour (though in "I'm-not-feeling-well-give-me-pills" mode it felt much longer) and I was on my way home with an Rx of Fexofenadine, a nasal spray, and a steroid to help kick-start the feeling-well-ness. I'm pretty sure the steroid is what gave me a nasty headache yesterday, but at least I can breathe again and don't look like I've been crying all day. So I think that's progress, right?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I fought the caulk and the caulk won

Who knew my Mom had super-human strength?

Well, it turns out she doesn’t, but she knew a secret I didn’t: caulking one’s bathtub goes much much easier when you use a caulking gun, rather than struggling to squeeze caulk from the tube by hand. Which is how I started my weekend a few Saturdays ago.

It was a bright and sunny day, the perfect day for being productive. I retrieved the tube of caulk from downstairs, found a scraper thingy (technical term) to help remove the old caulk, and went at it. Several hours later, most of the old caulk was gone. Mostly. Sort of. It’s harder than it looks! (or I made it harder, one or the other)

And then the real battle began. After a couple more hours squeezing the darn tube with limited success (except bursting open the back end of the tube), I finally broke down and called Mom to ask what she knew that I didn’t.

That’s when she told me about the gun.

Now, I can’t claim life was “easy” after that, but at least I could make progress.

The caulk is done now. Lumpy, kind of jiggy-jaggy, and varies from paper-thin to burrito thick, but it’s done.

And I will never be hired as a professional plumber, I can tell you that right now.

Friday, August 20, 2010

I Look Different!



For several weeks I've desire to dye my hair again. A couple years ago I went red (and pulled it off rather successfully, I might add), so this time I decided to go the opposite direction: blonde!

My Mom's hairdresser Denise did a fantabulous job crafting my hair into a golden marvel. I didn't know exactly what I wanted, but this turned out better than I expected! Only once so far has it caught me off-guard seeing my reflection.

The best part, though, is probably the reactions. Here is a sampling of some more colorful thoughts from Facebook friends:

What happened? Did your shirt crawl up and take over the top of your head?

Auditioning for Ronald McDonald, or just preparing by getting in the mood for the big movie screening on Saturday? :)

Is this from all the [computer] re-imaging? Some kind of waves coming out of the machines? This sounds like a workers comp claim.

WHOA!?!?!??!?!??!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

wow! the new party look!!

That's quite an iPhone app!!!!

KILL IT WITH FIRE Oh it's just your hair?


So yeah, I'm enjoying blonde life.

The next hair color (after this) will either be orange, or be put to a vote on Facebook.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

First time in Jacob's Well band!

Today I played in the Jacob's Well band for the first time! Trial by fire, but I'm pretty sure I didn't completely suck...

I've served as a sound engineer at JW since February, at least once or twice a month, and in that time been blessed to meet most of our wonderful musicians (the worship team has over 30 people who rotate each week). Over the months I've asked if I could eventually slip into the band rotation, and this week I was invited to trade in my headphones and join them up front.

I mentioned today was "trial by fire". I had several factors working against me today:

- No mid-week rehearsal. Normally the band rehearses on Tuesday night, giving plenty of time to work through any kinks or trouble spots in the songs. But Nate, the leader, is a brand new Daddy, so there was no rehearsal this week (quite understandably!)

- Ears. I've never used in-ear monitors before. They're sweet, but the Aviom console to mix what I was hearing in my ears had no labels, so it was hard to figure out which channels I needed to turn up to hear what I needed to hear. (Nate graciously ran through the list slowly so I could write it down before we got going too far).

- Click. I've also never played to a click. Though now I don't know how I'll ever play without one. So this isn't a bad thing, it's just "one more new thing" thrown into the bag.

- You've Got a Friend In Me. Jazz? How the heck do I play jazz? And the song's in Eb (half a step lower than standard guitar tuning, which makes it much more difficult to play). Fortunately, I have a "backup" performance guitar, so I re-tuned that and then switched between the two guitars between songs. Made life much easier. Relatively. Not only are the chords crazy, but the changes go crazy fast.

- Most importantly: I haven't played in a band for a long time. It's been well over a year since I played publicly with a band. I don't get stage-fright, the audience doesn't bother me, but anticipating keeping tempo with 3 other instrumentalists had me worried. (unnecessarily so: that click is awesome)


So I survived. I have room for improvement (always will), but I didn't suck, so all in all off to a good start. And it means I can continue breaking a stereotype by crossing the boundary between tech and musician. Frankly I think it makes me better at both jobs, because as a Tech I know what the musicians need/want/expect, and as a musician I have a solid grasp on what the tech may need me to do.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Not User-Serviceable

My Dad gave me one of his old computers tonight - the hard drive was toast and needed to be replaced, though other than that, a perfectly operational 17" Intel iMac. Sweet.

Some quick price-comparing on internal 2TB hard drives yielded comparable results between Micro Center and Newegg, so I ordered on Micro Center's site and selected in-store pickup. Literally 5 minutes later I received an email saying my hard drive was ready to be picked up.

When I got home I started disassembling the iMac using these instructions from iFixit. Half-way in I discovered I lacked two of the important screw-drivers: T6 and T8 Torx. Shoot.

Never fear, Dad (as always), is here! Well, not literally, he wasn't at *my* house, but I called and asked if he had those tools; of course he did - Dad has everything. And a Spudger. I'd never heard of that either, but he had one.

So, a couple hours later (I'm sure the pros are MUCH faster, but this was my first significant take-apart, so I'm cutting myself some slack) the iMac had a new hard drive, and I had 0 parts leftover after reassembly! Even better, the machine still starts up!

Here are some photos from my adventure.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Goals for the 2010-2011 School Year

Yes, I've already graduated college, but I still work in a school, so my calendar still revolves around the school year. That's really just a convenient excuse to do a mid-year New Year's resolution. Of sorts.

(Actually it's all my friend Joanna's fault: she wrote a blog post back in May listing some of her goals for the year, so that made me want to do something similar. And my friend Matthew has always encouraged me to write down my goals, so here we are.)

Goals for 2010-2011:

  • Become a better guitar player

  • Produce at least one short film project

  • Record at least one song

  • Spend more time listening and less time talking

  • Pay off my student loans and obliterate my debt

  • Proactively listen for God’s Call in my life

  • Read at least 1 book*

  • Learn to relax


*Confession: I'm a slow reader, and college really turned me off from reading. So reading a book for pleasure would be an accomplishment.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Network Logins Failing on Snow Leopard Clients

Two issues resolved today. Issue #2 is more interesting than Issue #1.


Issue #1:
Open Directory accounts are unable to log in to OS X 10.6 client machines, but are able to log in to OS X 10.5 clients. The login window accepts the username and password and expands, briefly showing the username and icon, but then fails to complete the login and shakes.


Apparent Cause:
In my case, Snow Leopard choked because my users' "Home"s in Workgroup manager were set to /dev/null.


A Solution:
Set the user's Home in WGM (or NFSHomeDirectory in the inspector view) to /Users/shortname, where shortname is the user's shortname (given in the Basic panel in WGM).




Issue #2:
When logging in to a network account, OS X 10.6 clients are prompted for credentials when connecting to a share point on the Open Directory Master. This defeats the point of single sign-on, since the credentials are the same. (OS X 10.5 clients connect to the server successfully without prompting for a username and password.)


Apparent Cause:
OS X 10.6 clients do not create a Kerberos ticket for network accounts until the user's second login on the client machine. (OS X 10.5 clients create a Kerberos TGT immediately on first login)


A Solution:
Modify the /etc/authorization file as described in this article from Apple's KBase:

http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4100

Locate this key:
<key>system.login.console</key>

Add this string at the end of that block:
<string>builtin:krb5store,privileged</string>

Note:
This solution says it is for Active Directory users, but it successfully solved the identical issue for Open Directory accounts.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

This is who I am - Ladonna Witmer

Jacob’s Well watched this today. Powerful. True. More eloquently than I ever could, Ladonna expresses how so many from my generation, myself included, feel toward “the church”. And I think this acknowledgement is one that more people, from both sides of the generational gap, need to hear. Need to truly hear.

youtube.com/watch?v=KWKedCKJOsI

Friday, July 16, 2010

Reconnecting Snow Leopard User Blogs after changing Open Directory Masters; Also: fixing the Internal Server Error (500) when viewing User Blogs

This is one of those technical posts that may only be useful to approximately 3 people in the entire world. My future self probably being one of them if I run into these problems again.

Last week at work our new Xserve arrived to replace our Open Directory Master. I first attempted to use the server setup migration assistant to transfer services, but, as I suspected would happen, the Open Directory didn’t quite look the way it was supposed to, so I blew away the new server and started from scratch. For several reasons, I decided not to migrate the OD at all, but rather re-create all users from scratch on the new server once it was up and running.

Now, because I automated the user creation process, several users' usernames changed.1 This was a mistake.

My web server, an Open Directory Replica of the former master, had several user blogs in the Collaboration folder. Not a big deal, I should just be able to change a plist here or there and transfer those blogs to the new usernames.

Fail. No, that won't work - while the Collaboration folder hierarchy is relatively simple, unfortunately every file (seemingly) contains a reference to the author's shortname. This makes life very difficult if, all of a sudden, your users' shortnames have changed after you bind to a different OD Master. Specifically, it resulted in the yourdomain.net/users list of blogs returning an internal server error (500), and any specific user's blog (if you type in the full URL) returned a 404.

Here's how I fixed it.

Step 1: Delete and re-create any users whose shortname may have changed. Re-create them with their original shortname. You can add additional shortnames in Workgroup Manager later, but their first shortname is the one that must match with what's in the Collaboration folder.


Step 2: Open Terminal, type sudo serveradmin stop teams

This stops the teams service so you can do some file cleanup.


Step 2.5: Make a backup copy of your Collaboration folder (default path /Library/Collaboration). I ended up restoring and starting over several times in the course of my experimentation, and having that backup made life much easier.


Step 3: Delete these files: (if you use a custom path for the Collaboration folder like I do, adjust accordingly)

/Library/Collaboration/dataVersion.plist
/Library/Collaboration/globalIndex.db
/Library/Application Support/Apple/WikiServer/directoryIndex.db
/Library/Application Support/Apple/WikiServer/sessions.db



Step 4: Open /Applications/Utilities/Console.app and select the /Library/Logs/wikid error.log


Step 5: Switch back to Terminal and type sudo serveradmin start teams

This starts the teams daemon, which should automatically rebuild the blog and wiki indexes. Now watch the log closely. If it stops and hangs on a user or group name before you see the word "Running", then you'll have to fix things. Look at the last user or group listed in the log, then switch to Finder and poke around that folder (inside the Collaboration folder). (also stop teams using the command above)

If you're not able to navigate inside the Collaboration folder (little red permission denied circle), open Server Admin, click the server name, click File Sharing across the top, navigate to Collaboration by double clicking the hard drive in the list, then below, where it has permissions, set Others to Read & Write, click the drop down button below that, choose "Propagate Permissions", check "Others Permissions", then OK. And remember to change that back to Others None and propagate after you're done.)

Now, I didn't have any issues with my groups, but I'm guessing that procedure will be similar to this:

In Collaboration, look in Users, then the username that the index rebuild hung on. In there, compare the list of files in the "discussion" and "weblog" folders - for each .plist in discussion, there should be an identically named folder in weblog. If there isn't, then delete that .plist file. I don't know how or why these extra files come into existance, but when it happens, the server looks for the blog entry with the same number, and when it can't find one, it sticks out its tongue and stops indexing.

For safety, I also deleted the discussion.db file in the discussion folder. May not be necessary, but it gets rebuilt automatically, so no harm.

After your folders are in sync, start teams and lather, rinse, repeat until the log file indicates the teams daemon is "Running".



After all this, one of my user’s names still isn’t showing up in my master list of blogs, but typing his username into the URL manually loads his entire page of posts (if you get a “no posts” message, even after successfully reindexing, make sure that user's discussion and weblog folders are in sync - sometimes the teams service started up even though a blog wasn't actually indexed).


Lastly, on a related but different note, if you find that you can no longer authenticate to your blog even after typing your correct password, make sure your OD master has the WebDAV-Digest option turned on in Server Admin under Open Directory > Settings > Policies > Authentication. (then reset your password so the server saves the new hash)

That one took me several hours to figure out, I finally got a clue after seeing this line in the PasswordService log:

AUTH2: {0x4c3f90ef3b3b2bc20000003c0000003a, gustafson} WEBDAV-DIGEST authentication failed, SASL error -13 (password incorrect).

Previous to that I was only seeing this error in the wicked error.log:
Failure: twisted.cred.error.UnauthorizedLogin: Bad username or password: gustafson

If you found me from Google and solved your problem because of anything I wrote here, let me know!



1 I wrote a nifty PHP script that queries our online directory for student and employee names, compares it against the Open Directory, then automatically creates new users and emails me a report. I highly recommend reading Apple’s User Management guide and the dscl [Directory Services Command Line utility] man page.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The 48 Hour Film Project 2010

After returning from Apple’s WWDC in San Francisco last week, I had a 9 hour layover at home before my parents picked me up for our road trip out east. We visited relatives in Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, then I flew home ahead of them on Friday to help with the 48 Hour Film Project kick-off event. While I was not planning to join a team (I was tired after two weeks away, preceded by an intense week prepping and shooting for the 50-Fifty Reel Challenge), I also knew that, if asked, I probably wouldn’t need much arm-twisting before signing on.

Minutes into the kick-off event, Crow and JD, the producers I’d worked with on the 50-Fifty, asked if I’d be interested in joining their 48 crew (technically not “theirs”, since they weren’t producing this time, but rather, “the team on which they were working”). Andy, one of the directors, echoed their request shortly thereafter, and I officially agreed. Who needs sleep, anyway, right?

Following the kick-off, with genre (Suspense/Thriller), character, prop, and line of dialogue in hand (figuratively), we journeyed to Andy’s house, eagerly awaiting news from the writing team upstairs. Knowing there would be an early call in the morning, I went home around 11:00 to get some sleep. When I woke up the script was patiently waiting in my inbox, and I took off for the set.

The shoot overall went well. Aside from Crow and JD I’d never worked with any of these folks before. And I didn’t have a specific job title, so I kind of did everything: AD, camera op, sound mixer, assistant to the DP, PA, etc. What was so awesome about this shoot, though, is that, despite the time pressure, stress, and many of the crew being sleep-deprived, no one stepped on anyone’s toes. I was throwing ideas at the DP, we were both throwing ideas at the directors and the AD, and the collaboration just worked.

I had an hilariously embarrassing moment in the middle of shooting: as we were prepping for a shot, I couldn’t remember one of our crew member’s names. Thinking he was in the other room, I whispered over to Crow, “hey, what’s that one script supervisor’s name? Is it Aiden?” Someone pointed and I realized Aiden was actually sitting right in front of me. Oops. But at least I got his name right. And provided the fodder for a running joke that continued the rest of the shoot.

There were some awesome crew members on this shoot. Smi, our second camera operator, exceeded all expectations. And Jason, our “Boom Goon”, was phenomenal - we literally never had boom shadow or the mic in frame. I don’t know how he did it. And Erin, the 1AD, who was so good with details all around. Definitely people with whom I want to work again.

We wrapped shooting about on schedule and sent the second set of tapes back to the editor to start importing while we cleaned up the apartment where we’d been shooting. It’s quite amazing how quickly that place returned to normal, given the extent of set-dressing/trashing that had been done to it.

Back at the director’s house we ate dinner and gathered the last few pickup shots with our primary actor (who, by the way, was absolutely phenomenal! He’s a theatre guy, never done film before, but he was by far one of the strongest actors I’ve ever worked with).

Crow, JD, and I all went home to shower and change clothes before coming back for the long-haul. When we returned, we set up our LAN party in the dining room: their PC for importing and clipping the sound recordings (did I mention we rolled sound separate from the cameras? It’s like we’re legitimate movie-makers or something), and then my MacBook Pro, second monitor, and some hard drives as a secondary editing machine.

After battling the wireless router (it had run out of IP addresses with all the new computers in the house), we waited. At some point in the middle of the night, we knew the editor would need to leave to go get sleep (what’s that?), so I’d be taking over at that point. Until then, there wasn’t much for us to do.

Then tragedy struck: my voice recorder stopped working, displaying a “memory error”. This has absolutely nothing to do with the 48 competition, but it’s part of the weekend’s story. I’ve had this voice recorder for 5 years, it’s become perhaps even more essential to my daily living than my phone, so I panicked. Crow and I took a middle-of-the-night run to Walmart, the only store still open at that hour, to buy a new one (which, unfortunately, turned out to be a cheap plastic wanna-be, so I returned it a few days later and ordered a quality one from Amazon).

Around 4:00 or 5:00 am, Katie, our editor, was dead tired and needed to go home. She gave me a copy of the Final Cut document (she’d already copied all the footage to one of my external drives earlier in the evening), and, thank you Apple, when I opened it on my computer everything “just worked”.

The directors and I continued doing tweaks for many hours. It got light outside. The composer showed up, we gave him a new rough cut to start working with. Finally around noon we had picture lock. I think. My memory is vague.

Leading up to that, I kept asking “who’s going to do sound syncing and mixing?” Uh-oh. There was no one lined up to sync sound from the recorder to the final picture. And the on-board camera mic recordings truly were not useable. Not a good situation. Worse: no one, including me, knew a good way of syncing all the video and audio clips. I had a couple ideas, but none were ideal due to their labor-intensive natures.

My first thought (which we ended up going with) was to find the marker/clap point in the video, find the same clap in the audio, then do some math to identify the correct audio in-point to set. For each and every clip. Granted, it’s only a 6 minute movie, but that’s still a lot of work.

My second thought was to strip the audio portion from the QuickTime source files and replace it with an identical length track of the audio recordings from the field recorder, spliced together to sync with the video. In an ideal world, that would have worked swell, but I realized (far too late) that in the time-limited world in which we were dealing, this was an inefficient idea. Oops.

On two friends’ suggestion I also tried a program called “Pluraleyes”, but I couldn’t get it to work in the time we had.

In any case, I knew I also had to do color correction, so my laptop would be unavailable to start working on sound for quite some time. We needed Katie’s laptop back if we had any hope of finishing on time. She graciously agreed to drop off her MBP and let us use it, even though she couldn’t be there to help. We owe her so much. With her computer, Crow was able to start audio syncing while I finished color. Now, Crow has never used Final Cut before, because he’s a PC guy. But the interface was similar enough to, and in many cases simpler than, Vegas, which he has used in the past. So with very few questions to me, he was off and running.

At this point I hadn’t slept for 30 hours, so I was getting a little loopy. Apparently I’m funnier, and also more laid-back when I’m tired.

Under time pressure, the color correction took about 30 minutes for every 1 minute of movie. Roughly. Some shots were much easier than others. At several points in the process I declared that really it’s no longer about making the scene look “good” as it it about making it look “less crappy than it was”. That got a good laugh.

Oh, have I mentioned the A camera footage yet? Somehow the XL-1 that was our A camera got switched to “frame mode”. As best I can tell, this is Canon’s way of screwing with indie filmmakers to make the footage look like crap. Truly. I am still completely baffled why they would add a button that changes your frame rate to 7.5fps and crapifies your footage. And somehow, mid-way through the shoot, this button got pushed, so some of our best camera angles for the latter part of the film were unusable. We snuck one or two shots in that weren’t too awful. I applied a motion blur and tween that, on a short clip, makes it almost decent looking. Hopefully the audience will think we added a pseudo-slow-motion filter to those clips on purpose, because that’s what it looks like.

Late Sunday afternoon (movie is due at 7:30), color was done, and then I started helping with sound. We were missing a lot of sound clips initially, so I kept JD busy pulling those up on her computer and flash-driving them over to me. Once I finished the first half of the movie with syncing, I grabbed Crow’s FCP document, copy/pasted those audio clips into my master (another thing that “just works”, thank goodness), and then walked away so he could start mixing things together.

Somewhere in there the soundtrack came down from upstairs, so I dumped that into the timeline. Didn’t have time to listen to it, of course, but at least it was there.

At 6:30, with an hour left before the deadline, we had to go. The car was waiting, along with an AC inverter, so we moved my computer and a hard drive out to our “mobile office”.

Arriving at the drop-off, we had a little more than half an hour. Crow finished audio balancing, the directors and he took one last watch, then I exported and burned the DVDs. We turned the finished product in with about a minute to spare.

Last year I helped with the 48 check-ins, and I was amused by the folks sitting in the lobby doing their final renders at the very last minute. Now I know how they must have felt. And we were lucky: we got ours in on time. A lot of those other teams didn’t. We felt even more lucky because hours earlier the directors were pretty much expecting we wouldn’t finish on time, given all the audio issues we ran into. At one point one of them literally said “we don’t have a movie, do we?”

But it turned out. Katie did a great rough cut, which got me to a place I could finish it. The sound sync issues got resolved, and now I know how to do that next time (I’m even writing a little helper program to do the math for me). And the story itself. It won’t be *the* winner, but it should at least be one that people talk about afterward. I think we have a product we can be proud of. I keep coming back to this mantra: I could have done better, but not in the time we had; I did my absolute best given the situation, I could not have given it any more.

By the time I got home I’d been awake for 40 hours straight. To my recollection, I don’t believe I’ve ever stayed awake that long in my life. It was exhausting, and I’m still recovering, but it was also totally worth it, and I’d do the whole thing again. Not next weekend, but eventually.

“Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways at the last minute, champagne in one hand, strawberries in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming "WOO HOO - That was Fun!”

Video Phones - The Future is Here

It's more than just marketing, I do believe this will change everything. I teared up when I saw the two people signing; a phone for deaf/hard-of-hearing folk, wow. Finally, after over 10 years since the Earth: Final Conflict props made me wish for video phones, the first generation has arrived. It won't be perfect, it will take time to go mainstream, but it's here. We're here. The future has arrived, and we get to live in it. How cool is that?

(Full video available on Apple's site: http://www.apple.com/iphone/features/facetime.html#facetime-video)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Paul Isaacs

Last night, my friend and coworker Paul Isaacs died from cancer, passing peacefully, surrounded by his wife and daughters.

Though I never had Paul as a classroom teacher, he became a mentor in my life in ways words can’t describe. The way he lived his life was a model I respected and admired. His wry sense of punny humor cracked me up almost every time. And his down-to-earth, welcoming voice calmed and gave a sense of peace.

As I’m discovering, befriending members of an older generation comes with a price. Though God alone may count our days, there exists an inherent likelihood that my older friends will die before me, perhaps long before me. I continue to struggle to wrap my mind around that reality. Simply put, I don’t want to.

Life rarely waits for anyone to “be ready”, though. And so, on the same day that I attended a wedding, heard God’s love spoken into my life, worshipped, prayed, cried, and even ran mundane errands, Paul had his last hours.

I found out this morning, the first email came from a mutual friend and coworker a little before 9:00. Official word from Paul’s principal came almost an hour later, after much of Facebook already knew. Finally, later in the day, we were given the go-ahead to post something on the school’s home page.

Days like today ignite in me a passion to work in the news industry. We live in a flat world, the word has to get out, people have to be told. To wait an hour, or worse, half a day, is unconscionable. News ought be instantaneous to the greatest degree possible.

Today God and I aren’t on good terms. If I’m honest, I’m pretty much pissed. Paul was younger than my parents, he has kids about my age, and he was a good man. If ever one needed proof that “only the good die young”, Paul epitomizes that. How God could allow this, why God offers healing to some but not others, these are the questions I’m battling. And I’m angry, and I’m sad, and I’m frustrated, and I’m torn.

And it’s okay, because God is big enough to handle my anger, my frustration, my questions. And it’s okay, because some day I will find peace. Maybe not answers, but peace. Paul did. His family did. I can too. Eventually.

Just not today.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Multithreading with PHP

It’s "not possible" according to Google. And maybe true multithreading isn't, but by modifying another user's code I found on PHP.net, this solution worked pretty well for me:

http://www.php.net/manual/en/function.proc-open.php#97713

Now a script that would have taken well over 10 minutes to run takes my server only 1 minute. Sweet.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

A Loving Argument

Argumentative by nature, I’ve been in my share of heated debates. Recently I posted a controversial news item on my Facebook wall, and one of my friends sent me a message challenging what I had written. That’s nothing new - for me, Facebook is all about starting conversations.

What is new, though, is the attitude of his letter and our subsequent responses back and forth. I’ve had written debates with this friend before, and today I realized what distinguishes our disagreements from just any typical argument: we share a love and respect for one another that transcends our differences.

Truly, writing my responses today felt very different from any other confrontational message I’ve written. And it took me a while to pin it down. But once I did, it hit me deeply. And it also set me at ease. Yeah, I’m still out to prove a point, to “defend” my side of the issue, but I didn’t feel as intense/aggressive/antagonistic as I normally would. I also realized: I’m actually okay living with the disagreement, because I respect this friend, and even though we disagree on a lot, that just means we have more to talk about :) The brotherly love is stronger than the argument, and that’s really cool to experience.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Fjeldberg Lutheran Church

Last week I visited friends in and around Ames, IA, and Sunday morning, before heading home, I attended a service at Fjeldberg Lutheran Church in Huxley. It’s a traditional-style ELCA congregation, but they caught me off-guard by using a slightly altered liturgical setting that I hadn’t experienced before. Throughout the whole service, there were definitely elements of the familiar: the creeds and Borg-like recitations I’d grown up with. But there were also new things, musical responses where I wasn’t expecting a musical response, or even more scary: different music with a traditional text.

Okay, it wasn’t really scary. It was actually a nice change from normal. Previously I’d assumed all traditional Lutheran services are made more or less equal. Apparently I was wrong. This service was just different enough from both my parents’ church and the student congregation at St Olaf to make it unique in it’s own right, while still retaining enough elements of the traditional to remain familiar.

And so I determined that it’s more challenging to follow along in a service that uses only a slightly different liturgy, verses a service that’s completely non-liturgical, where you’re always on guard for what might be coming next. At Fjeldberg I was never sure when to let my guard down, when it was safe to sink back into rote memory, and when there was going to be a new melody thrown at me.

I got plenty of practice sight-reading last Sunday. And I loved the challenge.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Partly Cloudy with a chance of Sermon

In watching all the special features in my DVD collection, tonight I watched the Pixar short called Partly Cloudy (this short was played before Disney's Up in the theatres). Ever since I first saw it in the theatre, I knew there was a deeper theological meaning I should be getting (albeit perhaps eisegetically; I won't claim that Pixar intended this deeper meaning). And then tonight, watching it again, I once again felt that tug: "there's something deep here, figure it out".

After pondering for a few moments and failing to think of anything brilliant, I turned to Google. Who would have thought a search for "partly cloudy pixar theological message" would turn up anything useful? But it did.

http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/theanchoress/2009/07/07/caritas-in-veritate-by-b-16-pixar/

Some, and by "some" I mean "all", of the quotations from Pope Benedict's encyclical went over my head, but the author's explication of Partly Cloudy's theological implications down right made me tear up. Taken with the blog author's interpretation, Partly Cloudy becomes an incredibly poignant 5-minute movie illustrating God's unique love, and unique Call for each of us.

I know Your Call won't always be easy, yet here I am Lord. Send me.

(turns out the video link on the blog doesn't work; the video is available here, though: http://www.redbalcony.com/?vid=24992)

Red Condor / Visi Bouncing Emails with Error Message "554 Failed: Malformed MIME header (in reply to end of DATA command))"

For the last two weeks I've on-and-off been puzzling over this issue: every email sent to users at visi.com from a PHP script I wrote bounces back with this error message: "554 Failed: Malformed MIME header (in reply to end of DATA command))".

Today I finally found the solution.

In my early searches, Google had nothing useful to say, so I'm writing this post in the hopes of helping some future PHP programmer who's banging his or her head against a wall in angst.

Here's the setup: for our online back-to-school / class registration system at Minnehaha (that I wrote), there's a PHP script that allows users to reset their forgotten passwords. Part of this process involves sending them an email with a unique identifier. The problem is that email wasn't always being delivered: users with visi.com email addresses did not receive their message. After examining the web server's logs, I discovered the error message above, something about a malformed MIME header.

I emailed Red Condor, Visi's filtering service (their name showed up in the log next to the bounce notice), and they wrote back in about 10 minutes. Literally. I was floored at how quickly their tech support responded.

Our first place of investigation was my custom headers. I need these so that the message is sent as HTML instead of plan text, but since it's human-made, it's the most logical place for a mistake. The PHP code looks something like this:

$headers = 'MIME-Version: 1.0'."\n".
'Content-Type:text/html;charset=iso-8859-1'."\n".
'From: Name <name@domain.com>'."\n";


One possible culprit was the line endings. The mail message spec dictates that all lines in the header need to end with \r\n (carriage return and a new line. For those too young to know what a carriage return is, Google for "typewriter"; it's an old-school laptop our parents and grandparents grew up using). If you'll notice, in my code above, I only have \n, not \r\n. IMPORTANT NOTE: If you're running PHP on a UNIX or Mac OS X server, the mail() command will add \r for you! So if you manually put in \r\n, you'll end up getting \r\r\n, which is bad.

So as far as I could tell, my headers were all correct.

Next, I manually grabbed my entire inbox from the mail server and examined it in a hex editor (Mac OS X users I recommend a free program called Hex Fiend). All my line endings were as they should be (Hex values 0D 0A).

I emailed back and forth a few times with Red Condor, and my tech support person suggested I capture the email coming from the server before it gets to the mail server, and then send them those bytes. I spent a day trying to figure out how to get PHP to dump an email into a file before giving up. I thought I'd never find the solution, until...

RC tech support suggested I try a packet capture.

Well that sounds fun. I know the concept, and I found a free program (CocoaPacketAnalyzer) to let me do it easily, but could I really find what I was looking for?

Yes, turns out.

I started a capture on the webserver, told the script to send an email to one of my Visi users, and then examined the packets that were sent. After a little searching I found the packet with the actual mail message, and here's the gold: all the bytes were correct except for the X-PHP-Originating-Script header, which had the dreaded \r\r\n trailing it.

How the heck do you get rid of that? It's not an error in my custom code, it's an error in PHP's mail() code!

Our network consultant Dan suggested I disable that header to see if that would solve Red Condor's rejection issue.

Google was helpful on this front: you can disable the X-PHP-Originating-Script header by setting mail.add_x_header = OFF in your php.ini file (and then restarting web services, obviously).

Turns out, disabling that header ALSO removed the extra \r. In my next packet capture, the extra byte was GONE and the email sent successfully, no more bouncing.

It's always something so small, so innocent. I don't know if Red Condor was rejecting the X-PHP-Originating-Script header or was just unhappy about the extra carriage return byte, but either way, I'm happy it's solved!

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Two Coins

Joanna and I have been hitting it hard this past week polishing up draft 2 of the FAR AWAY screenplay. We finished around 1:30am this morning, and I once again sent the script out to a lengthy list of friends and filmmakers for feedback.

Because of all the work we’ve been doing on the script, I’ve had no time to keep up with my RSS and podcast subscriptions until tonight. So this evening, as I was catching up with the posts from IMMD (ItMadeMyDay.com), I read this:
My 8 year old son wanted to donate money to Haiti after hearing a radio story about how difficult it is to get food to people right now. I expected $10, he gave $100 (half of his lifetime savings)! IMMD

Wow.

I mean, sure, even though January and February are both rather fiscally difficult months for me, I threw some money at the Red Cross after the earthquake. But not half my life savings. Not even half my paycheck for that week.

Now one can make an argument that, unlike the 8-year-old, I have other financial responsibilities: a house payment, food expenses, gas for the car, etc, that keep me from being able to donate at that percentage level. I don't think these are invalid, or even inappropriate, excuses. But they are excuses, nonetheless.

Last year I donated more to charities than any previous year in my life, and I'm hoping to best that again in 2010. Granted, having a full-time job sure helps :) But even so, I know I won't come anywhere close to what that 8-year-old did.

As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. "I tell you the truth," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on." - Luke 21: 1-4

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Hiro Nakamura’s Real Super Power

NBC’s Heroes has recently taken over my life.

Okay, that’s slight hyperbole.

Many months ago, after getting hooked by a friend, I bought the first and second seasons on DVD, and now, after being home sick for over two weeks, I’ve not only had the chance to watch them, but also found myself addicted.

When I started watching the early episodes, I cringed whenever the Japanese heroes, Hiro and Ando, had a scene - I found them annoying and purposeless. As I’ve continued to watch, though, Hiro has become my absolute favorite hero (well, aside from Claire, of course).

Why?

Because he has the awesomest super power. That’s right: awesomest.

Hiro can stop and manipulate time, jump forward into the future and backward through history, as well as teleport himself and others anywhere on the globe. That’s pretty cool.

But Hiro’s real super power, the one I so admire, is his ability to see the world not as it is, but for what it should be. Hiro is an idealist, and I wish I shared in that super power.


After watching some of the DVD special features, I have also grown a tremendous respect for Hiro’s actor, Masi Oka. In addition to acting, Masi is/was a special effects software engineer, meaning he wrote the software used by the special effects animators on some big Hollywood movies. And Masi has worked as an animator at Industrial Light and Magic.

Seeing a computer-nerd-turned-actor who understands both sides of the camera absolutely warms my heart, and thus I have developed a great personal respect for Masi.


So, to all three people reading this blog: if you watch Heroes, who’s your favorite hero? Why?