Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A good day

My guitar magazene and Christianity Today both came in the mail today!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Radio controlled cars of the future

Some guys mounted a camera onto an RC car - with the controller, they can pan and tilt the camera as well as drive the car. They then drive around while watching the camera through goggles. This is neat, but would be a lot cooler if a) they had video and b) they rigged the goggles so moving your head would control the pan and tilt of the camera.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Psalm 1

1 Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.

2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.

4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.

5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

Recently, I've felt like a tree who's roots have become dry and withered, pulled back from the water. My energy and motivation for engaging in the work of God has been pretty low. I get distracted so easily - blown around from one activity to another, filling my time with different things so I can avoid the main things that God has for me.

Lord, renew my desire for You and your Word. Draw me to your stream. Watch over me. Help me sink my roots in deeply. I want to prosper and bear fruit. The energy for ministry comes from You!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Why it makes sense to build your own PVR

Right now, if you buy a TiVo, they are knocking $150 off the price if you pay for a year of service up front. So why on earth would anyone pay over $350 to build a custom PVR rather than go out and buy a TiVo on sale for $50?

First of all, putting together your own PVR is still cheaper if you plan on keeping your TiVo for at least 2 years. At $150/year of service, a solution that doesn't have any recurring fees looks pretty attractive pretty quickly. Even if you buy the $300 lifetime plan, it still comes to about the same amount

Secondly, the features you can add to your own box are much superior to what you get with a TiVo. Why settle for a TiVo with a tiny 40GB hard drive when you can put a 120GB or 200GB drive plus a DVD burner in your own box. If you want to get a TiVo with a DVD burner, you're up to $400 with a year of service, and you still have a small HD. With a DIY box, you can always upgrade your hardware and your software. Want to add more Hard drive space? No Problem. Want to upgrade to an HDTV tuner or add another tuner card so you can record multiple shows at once? No Problem. Want to use a different interface or even write your own? Go ahead.

Also, Open Source PVR software such as MythTV can do a lot of things that TiVo can't : Run video game emulators, play your music collection, check the weather, and more. Any sort of media that you access with your computer, you can now have on your home theatre. With the coming of IPTV and downloadable video, you are setting yourself up for the future of how we receive and enjoy media.

Finally, with a customized box, what you record is yours to use however you wish. TiVo has already shown that they have the ability to control what you can record and how long you can keep it. This is only bound to get worse, especially if you have hopes of burning shows and movies to DVD. With a TiVo, your ability to continue to do this is at their whim.

TiVo certainly has the advantage of being easier to set up - bring it home and plug it in. However, for those of us that enjoy putting things together, this is one more reason to make our own PVR.

Update - megazone writes:
All standalone TiVos also have TiVoToGo, so you can always build a central file server and move shows to/from the server as added storage, archiving, etc.

TiVo has supported music for a couple of years now. You can play songs from anywhere on the net. You can also view photos over the net.

Weather? Standard on all standalone TiVos is access to Yahoo Photos, Weather, and Traffic. As well as Fandango movie listings and ticket purchasing, and Live365 music. Podcasts are also supported.

Then there is Home Media Engine, which is an open API for anyone to develop applications that can be accessed via the TiVo. There are a number of applications out there, and the leader is Galleon - Galleon has many modules to access more weather info, Shoutcase streams, video blogs, etc. Another example is HME applications can be hosted anywhere on the net.

Friday, January 13, 2006


I'm impressed
With the exception of the wire strings, this instrument is entirely constructed out of LEGO parts--the keyboard, jacks, jack rack, jack rail, plectra, soundboard, bridge, hitch pins, tuning pins, wrestplank, nut, case, legs, lid, lid stick, and music stand are all built out of interlocking ABS (Acrylonitrile-Butadiene-Styrene) plastic bricks and related pieces.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

My first foray into our legal system

There is a small parking spot on 1st Ave that is not restricted with a one hour limit, and this is often where I park my car for a few hours if I'm running between Coe, my office and Brewed Awakenings. This past November, I returned to my car to find it ticketed.

Now, I understand that the intent was to regulate the entire street - they probably didn't mean to leave a 10 foot space free from time limitations. However, I was parked fully in front of the sign, which points away from my car and technically doesn't cover the spot where I was parked. If they want to cover that spot, they need to either move the sign forward or make it point both ways.

So I called the parking office and said I wanted to contest the ticket. Apparantly, before you can go to court, you have to file an appeal by mail. I printed off this picture and several others showing clearly that I was parked in front of the sign as well as a verbal discription of the situation. A couple days ago, I received a response - the ticket was upheld. I'm not sure their reasoning, they didn't say.

So today I'm going to the parking office to set a court date. They make it really difficult to actually go to court, understandably - they don't want everyone contesting their tickets - but its still annoying. I have to physicially go down to the office and request a hearing, I can't do it over the phone. And they try to scare you off by telling you all the fees you might have to pay. If you lose, you have to pay court costs on top of the ticket. Plus you are responsible to pay for the police officer's time to appear. The lady at the parking office thought I might have to pay for this even if I won. Which I highly doubt, but this would be outrageous if it were true . Why should I have to pay for the cop to show up at court? Would they compensate me for my time if they lose?

Anyway, I'll keep you posted on how things go. I'm really looking forward to arguing my point, having all sorts of posters and diagrams and of course a really long pointer...

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


Sharon Nichols, one of my old students, is in Egypt working on her egyptology degree. Check out her blog

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Building Lego Robots

Why am I not busy doing this kind of stuff?

Monday, January 09, 2006


Funniest thing I've seen in a while

I for one, welcome our new galactic overlord

If he gets elected, I hope we find out what the deal was with that giant cellophane 'S' - I mean, what the heck was that all about !?

Stories from Coe: Four new Christians!

God has been at work here at Coe. Last month, I took Jamie, one of our student leaders down to the University of Iowa for some training in evangelism, and we had the opportunity to lead an Iowa student to Christ. This so motivated Jamie that when she returned to Coe, she decided to share the Gospel with some of her friends that she had been reaching out to over the past semester. As a result, three more students have made first time decisions for Jesus in one week! One of them is a guy who has been attending Bible study for the past month, and was a part of the Greene cleaning day. He has been really excited to learn about Jesus, and has now decided to give his life to Him. The other two are Japanese international students (pictured). They had been meeting regularly with Jamie to investigate Christianity, and on hearing the Gospel, they responded enthusiastically. Soon they will return to Japan and bring the Good News with them. Praise God for His goodness and faithfulness, and celebrate with us as we welcome these new believers into the Kingdom!

Stories from Coe: Cleaning Greene

This semester, one of our student-led Bible studies on campus decided to put their faith into action. They had been studying Jesus’ parable of the ten minas in Luke 19, and had been struck by how the first servant’s investment must have been really risky in order to turn one mina into ten. So they decided to do something a little risky themselves.

It was a typical Saturday in Greene Hall (the guy’s dorm where the fraternities are housed) – empty pizza boxes scattered down the hall, trash cans overturned, beer bottles spilling out onto the floor. The InterVarsity students got together and began to clean. They cleaned and mopped the hallways, they picked up and vacuumed dorm rooms. They washed dishes, and took out the trash. They went around and collected laundry from people and did over 20 loads! Afterwards, they bought pizza for some of the guys.

The residents of Greene were blown away by the extravagant effort to serve them. The IV students made sure to tell them that they had been studying the Bible together and just trying to do what Jesus Himself would do. They wanted the focus not to be on themselves, but how amazing Jesus is. Please pray with me that such serving would continue to characterize our fellowship, and that it would result in more lives given over to Jesus.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Are you biased?

Try this test which measures how much racial bias you have. It makes you sort words (like happy, good, evil, bad, etc) and faces of whites and blacks. I was much faster when I had to link positive words with white faces and negative words with black faces than the other way around. Because you have to respond quickly, the test does a good job getting at the subconscious - you really can't 'cheat'. According to this, I have a strong preference for white faces over black faces. It is scary to see how much prejudice we carry around with us that we aren't aware of.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

another ePaper gizmo

ePaper is a new display technology that uses tiny electrostaticly charged black and white balls. The cool part is that the display doesn't require any power once set, so an image will persist even after the power is turned off. This makes a lot of things possible that wouldn't be practical with an LCD. Like this.


I borrowed the DVDs of a TV show called Firefly that aired on Fox a couple years ago, and was the source of the recent movie Serenity. Its sort of a Space-Western, think Han Solo meets the A-team. Its kinda low budget, but its really funny! Highly recommended so far.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Making my own MythTV box, part 1...

Well, I'm thinking of putting together a DVR. I don't particularly need one - we don't even have cable - but it should be a fun project to work on. Also, I often see something that I would like to record - a show, commercial, etc, because it would make a good illustration for a talk. Plus it will be nice to burn DVDs of our favorite shows.

Anyway, I have my Athalon 1800 Linux box that I really don't use very often. I need to add a lot to make this work, though:

First is a TV receiver card. The main decision here is whether or not to get a card with hardware MPEG-2 compression. Without H/W compression, the CPU needs to do it. My machine can probably handle this, but especially as I plan to use this box for other things as well, I think I'll pop for the extra $40 or so. The Hauppauge PVR-150 seems to be a pretty standard card.

Second, I'll need a bigger hard drive. Right now, I have a 40GB drive in the machine, with about 10GB used. At about 1GB/hr give or take (depending on the quality of the recording) this isn't enough. People seem to like Seagate's 120GB Barracuda drive.

Now I'll need a way to get video back to my TV. I don't wan't to only watch my computer monitor. I have several options here - I could get a TV card with composite video out (ie the Hauppauge PVR-350), I could get a VGA to composite video converter, or I could get a new video card that has composite video out. The first option is more expensive, and the second option I worry about picture quality. I found I can get a good video card with S-video and composite from GIGABYTE for under $40.

I don't have any sound yet - my box has neither a sound card nor speakers. Again I have several options - if I got the Hauppauge PVR-350 sound would be automatically routed back to my TV. This is a tempting option, because it would elimintate the need for the new video card. I would still have to buy a sound card (I think), but I wouldn't have to buy speakers. That makes it come to about the same price (PVR-350: $169, compared to $86 PVR-150 + $40 video + $34 speakers = $160) . However, the audio controls would be on the tv, and need a seperate remote (actually I probably could configure it to use the same remote with lirc). Plus, aftermarket speakers should provide much better sound than the TV, especially since I want to use this box to play mp3s. Additionally, the PVR-350 is out of stock at newegg. So I think I'll buy some speakers.
I don't want the top of the line (I'm not really an audiophile), but I don't want a peice of junk either. So after some minimal research, I decided on a Sound Blaster Live! card and Logitech X-230 speakers.

I need to connect this to my network, and I am in a different room, so I need to get a wireless adaptor. This card looks good.

Ok, we're almost done (I hope - this is getting expensive!). Last thing is a DVD burner. I was surprised to see how much they've come down in price - $40 for a Lite-On DVD Burner!

Finally, I plan to use MythTV software. Theroetically, it would be fun to try to write my own, but we'll save that for another rainy day. For now, I'll use some free software to get this up and running. MythTV seems to be a solid open source package, with a lot of features, plus it runs on Linux, and I want to keep this as a Linux box. Of course I can always try other software later if I feel like it.

Ok, lets tally it all up:
Hauppauge PVR-150 $86
Seagate Barracude 120GB $86
GIGABYTE video card $38
SB card $32
Logitech speakers $34
Wireless adaptor $28
Lite-On DVD Burner $40
Grand Total: $344 Yikes!

In comparison, I could buy a TiVo for $150. But this will not burn DVDs, has much less storage space, dosn't give me better speakers than my TV, plus it costs a an additional $13/month (so after about a year, it becomes more expensive). Also, with a homebuild system, I will never have to worry about any restrictions on what I can record and how long I can keep my recordings. Most importantly though, I wouldn't get to build my own system that I can tweak whenever and however I want. If I really wanted to build an analogous system to TiVo, I could probably do so for a comprable price (cheaper video capture, smaller HD, no DVD, no wireless, etc).

Ok, so now I need to decide whether or not to actually do this. Its a lot of $$ for something we really don't need. I do have Christmas money I could use, plus I'm getting ready to sell some old guitar stuff on ebay. So I can probably convince Andi to let me do this. We'll see. Stay tuned to see how it turns out...

Keep an eye on the rest of world

Want to see whats going on in another part of the world right now?

via Digg

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Kingdom of Heaven

Gabe and I watched "Kingdom of Heaven" last night. It takes place during the crusades, about a hundred years after the Christians have occupied Jerusalem. Orlando Bloom is a blacksmith in France who discovers his father is a knight of the Crusades. After his wife commits suicide over the loss of their child, and he kills a priest who mocked her fate, he decides to follow his father to Jerusalem in pursuit of forgiveness for him and his wife (who is thought to be in hell because of her suicide). Rather than discovering forgiveness, he decides that God has left him.
He refocuses his energy on being a great knight as his father was in the service of the Christian king. There are two main factions of Christians - those who want peace with the Muslims, and those who are war hungry and continually kill all the Muslims they see. Eventually Orlando's character comes to see that really all that matters is doing good, protecting the people. All that extra religious stuff just creates hate and evil.
It is an interesting commentary on todays situation - with the Christians as the terrorists. However, the movie lacks any sublety or complexity - the Muslims are portrayed as wholly virtuous, religious Christians as wholly evil and bloodthirsty. Christians who do display compassion and care for the people and their enemies do so only as they minimise or dismiss their faith. For a movie critical of the effects of religion, it is quite preachy.

One of the most disturbing/powerful scenes from the movie for me was when one of the bad guy Christian Knights is in negotiations with the Muslim King, and he does something to really offend him. The king pauses and then pulls out a sword and slashes his throat. As he staggers off, covered in blood, dying, the music swells up with a choir singing, "O sacred Head now wounded", a beautiful hymn about Jesus' suffering. The link between this nasty character, his bloody death, and Jesus' crucifiction and the Christian religous experience was for me incredibly disturbing. It made me sick.

I don't know how to react to this movie. On one hand, It really saddens me and angers me to see the Church portrayed in this way. Jesus is made to represent hypocrasy, evil, selfishness, greed, and elitism. Commitment to God is shown as the cause of war and hate and death. On the other hand, how much do we the Church support this? I'm sure much is an accurate (albeit one sided and incomplete) portrayal of how Christians have acted through history. What does this mean for current attitudes about terrorism, Iraq, and other issues of justice? Jesus himself made a lot of people angry preaching against false religion.

Ultimately, though, the movie fails to provide a satisfactory answer to these questions. Its ethic is correct (people are what counts, leaders ought to serve those they lead, we ought to seek out peace). However, it assumes that the only hope we have to acheive these things is to leave our religion behind us. The reality is that humanity will always be like this, and the only hope we have is in Jesus. Rather than leaving our faith behind to discover righteousness, we need to pursue more deeply and be committed to the teachings of Jesus. It is Jesus who teaches us to love the poor, the evils of hypocrasy, loving of your enemy. The answer to false religion that produces evil is not no religion, but true religion.