Tuesday, 1 September 2015

The biggest miracle about St. Peter

I've been reading Jeff Lucas' book Faith in the Fog since picking it up at Transform.

It was billed as a book about faith in times of depression and burnout, and looks at the story of Peter and the other disciples in the gap between Jesus crucifixion and resurrection, specifically when they return to Galilee and go fishing. I'm not going to review it now, particularly since some of it is applicable to me and on-going recovery, but having got near the end and considered his painting of Peter as an ordinary bloke being restored and commissioned for the future, something struck me as a major miracle.

No smooth-talking, manipulative, ruthless and smart individual cheated him of his role.

Over the centuries the church has not lacked for this kind of character, and even when redeemed, such people so often seem to end up floating to the top of the pile while the honest, more open types end up moving sideways. Perhaps this is one of the things that attracted me to a fundamentalist/charismatic approach to church, that those who God raised up seemed less into their politics and much more concerned about what God thought of the whole thing.

So to me, it's far more of a miracle that Paul didn't come along and gently slide him out of the way, and later on when it HAS happened (James now heading up the church) he's still a key figure.

And it goes to show, this religion business is complicated. Did I just suggest that James had ousted Peter from heading up the church in Jerusalem? I have no details on this, but a not too sharp reading between the lines makes me wonder if he wasn't the influence that kept the Jerusalem church Jewish and focused on its feet instead of using those feet so that it became the outreach headquarters for the ROTW. Peter, after his vision of the sheet & animals might have had some very different, very disruptive ideas if he couldn't be 'encouraged' to remember how to be a good Jewish boy. Cue Antioch stepping up to the plate.

I don't want to read too much into it, but I find it a major miracle that he didn't end up being the guy who put the chairs out.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Never let it be said British weather is unreliable.

You can be sure of rain on the August bank holiday weekend.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Mini Haha - no little injun.

Some time back I mentioned needing to replace the poor old Peugeot 307 - it had only done 120K miles, but was already beyond economical repair in terms of cost vs resale value.

Now, after years of driving cars that were designed to work for everyone else, Chris had suggested that I should find something 'for me', though of course common sense prevailed and that didn't happen, which is why there isn't a 70's Porsche 911 targa or some other impractical fanny magnet ( ;-) ) sat on our drive. However I am grateful to have had her support and encouragement to find something other than another cheap/large as possible family estate car to plod around in for the next 10 years (high point of the 307 was to see how many MPG could be squeezed out, and it once managed over 740 miles on a single 65 liter tank :p ).

Well, after much research and a few test drives I ended up having to decide between a Mazda 6 sport estate and a Mini Countryman. The practical limit I set was that whatever car was chosen, it MUST be able to take my mothers mobility scooter sideways across the boot, and Chris must be able to lift it in. That ruled out a bunch of cars that were too narrow, including a hot Volvo estate, Alfa 164 sportwagon (I was disappointed about that - gorgeous car, crazy high sill, tiny boot) a couple of smaller 4X4s and a Fiat 500L like we had in Canada last summer. I was VERY tempted by a BMW 3 series estate, but just didn't feel comfy in something quite so opulent.

The Mazda I really liked in many ways: full of toys (speech recognition to control the computer, Bose audio, cruise control & sat nav etc) and with a decent engine turning out 180bhp, it was easy to drive and potentially very quick. It was large, comfy-ish (18" alloy wheels made it a bit jiggly) but still just a bit boring and not the drivers car I'd hoped, plus there were a few signs of not being cared for as well as it might have. 

The Mini OTOH was less loaded but every bit a drivers car. Loads of feedback from the road, also jiggly but with handling that keeps the car down flat and makes you enjoy the sensation of cornering and accelerating. Space was surprisingly good inside, though bear in mind this is about the same size as a VW Golf, and the design has really caught the flavour of the original , though in a much larger vehicle

I ended up trying 3 before finding the combination of right car at right price, the first of which was just outside Oxford and too expensive (and under-spec'd) the second from a mini specialist was just a dog with stuff that didn't work and lots of damage (advertised as immaculate too!). Number 3 was good though, with mostly the right accessories and a good long service history that could be believed, Cooper D spec meant a slightly more powerful engine (same output as the pug, but revvier) and it had leather trim plus 3 seats in the rear for 'family' use.

We collected it from the dealer in Northampton around 9am on a Saturday morning 5 weeks ago, loaded it up and then went off camping at Transform 2015 in it. Confidence or foolishness? ;-)

And the verdict after 5 weeks of ownership?

It's tricky. People have kept asking if I'm pleased with it, but a simple yes or no doesn't work for me. I mentioned it's a drivers car, but it's also a car that you have to drive - there's no brainless mode, especially in traffic - and every gear change, every corner needs input and care to execute smoothly and accurately. When we had our friends with us recently we had to use 2 cars getting around, and there were times when it took work to keep up with Chris in the beetle because I needed to drive smoothly for the sake of my passengers. At the same time, when you get it right then it feels really good, and the car goes round corners on rails. 

It's idiosyncratic. For example, the key is a large fob that goes into a spring-loaded slot in the dash, and to start the car the clutch must be depressed before pushing the starter button by the key. When driving in traffic, if you stop in the queue then the engine cuts out and re-starts automatically when you put your foot on the clutch UNLESS the driver has taken their seatbelt off, in which case it won't start at all. This particular car had the 'visual boost' pack comprising a large screen in the central speedometer with information about CD/radio, car servicing, phone contact information etc. but nothing about fuel consumption or temperature: all that is confined to a small 2 line display in the rev counter above the wheel. Talking of which, the info displayed there is limited, and one has to scroll through it with button pushes, but before we sorted this out it seemed that we would see randomly selected info about temperature, fuel consumption etc in the display.

It's comfy. The leather seats have the usual adjustments plus a lumbar support that can be made more or less prominent, and off excellent support and comfort, particularly holding front seat passengers when cornering hard Rear seat passengers do have decent leg room with the rear seats (splittable 60:40 and slideable) fully back, but less support than those in the front. Suspension generally is firm, and poor Luke got bounced out of his seat a couple of times when we went over big bumps. On the motorway and at speed on other roads this makes much more sense, and the ride is good with enough compliance to be fine but without any of the softness that went with a French car. Having said that, swapping over into Chris's beetle a week or so back, that felt as if it glided over the road, which goes to show that not all German cars have a hard ride.

It's (probably) economical. The first couple of tanks of fuel are never going to be representative of what a new car can deliver, and this one has required very different technique for driving than the Pug. With that car one would accelerate up to speed, let the car settle and then gently back off on the accelerator to just before the point when the car would decelerate. It seemed that this was designed in somehow, and with care, instead of getting 40mpg at about 65mph one could get 60+mpg on a flattish road. Remember I said the mini was a car that must be driven? The throttle control is really precise, so after accelerating to the chosen speed, any backing off results in the car going slower There is no slack, no vague or economical zone, and the engine does just what it's been told. So far I seem to be seeing an average of around 45mpg vs 53mpg for the Pug.

It's got long legs. They geared this thing TALL, probably for economy and emmissions, but it again makes for a challenging drive, especially when pulling away, and there's no chance of slipping the clutch in on tickover and giving a generous bootful to just power away, because it either just creeps away (still not as gutless as a Ford Focus though!) or, worse, stalls. Gotta drive it away from a standstill too. The upside of this is that you can hang on to a gear while accelerating and, with the revvy nature of the engine, it just keeps pulling when other cars run out of breath. 3rd is good for 80mph without strain, which is as fast as I've been so far. 4th gives the same revs as 5th used to in some of the earlier diesel cars I've owned and 5th is higher than the Pug top gear, plus there's a 6th too for motorway cruising. 

So this afternoon, while it was raining, I gave it a wash.

Washing cars seems pointless most of the time, especially round here, as within days they get coated with mud again and a thin layer seems to offer more protection. ;-)  But with a new car it's good to wash it at least a couple of times to increase familiarity and have a chance to check the vehicle over. So I found a couple more stone chips that I'd not spotted before, water has been getting into the front foglights, and they need cleaning out & sealing before winter. Other than that it seemed pretty good. And I washed Chris's car for her too. :-)

So overall it's a demanding little beast to drive, but I'm glad I made the change now. Another 10 years time and I'll be ready for something fat, squashy and effortless, while keeping fond memories (I hope) of Mini Haha.

Sorry for the phone cam pic.

I'm leading worship this morning

That's not a boast, but after the posts about the Holy Spirit being present and evangelicalism & entertainment it makes me ask of myself "how am I going to do this?".

Is it enough to invite God to come at the start of the meeting, or does there need to be more knee-time? Is it better to prepare a song list well in advance (the 'well' being variable, depending on who you are) or to sit down at 6.30am on Sunday and get something, fresh from the Spirit?

There are plenty more questions one could ask - and I have - but there's also a point where you have to say "Lord, I've done what I can, but for this to actually mean anything then YOU have to turn up and make a difference". And while my head knows different, my heart says that without God being directly involved then I might as well stay in bed with my wife or go shopping/running/walking etc instead of going to the nice Christian club for a bit of karaoke.

OTOH I'm quite looking forward to our meeting this morning.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Psalms can be 'funny' in The Message.

Courtesy of biblegateway.com:

47 1-9 Applause, everyone. Bravo, bravissimo!
    Shout God-songs at the top of your lungs!
God Most High is stunning,
    astride land and ocean.
He crushes hostile people,
    puts nations at our feet.
He set us at the head of the line,
    prize-winning Jacob, his favorite.
Loud cheers as God climbs the mountain,
    a ram’s horn blast at the summit.
Sing songs to God, sing out!
    Sing to our King, sing praise!
He’s Lord over earth,
    so sing your best songs to God.
God is Lord of godless nations—
    sovereign, he’s King of the mountain.
Princes from all over are gathered,
    people of Abraham’s God.
The powers of earth are God’s—
    he soars over all.

I was looking up psalm 47 to use for this morning's meeting, and biblegateway was still set to display The Message version. Methinks someone had a bit of fun crafting this particular translation.

What does church make you think of?

Is it a nice place to go? Is it comfortable, a little smart and witty with clever observations from the preacher, a great, tight band covering cool newish worship music, and all run to clockwork?

Would you feel OK sat there on a nice fat chesterfield leather sofa with a glass of wine in your hand, happily watching proceedings as they ran as smoothly as a TV show?

Would you feel GOOD in there?

How would you feel if it was a bit awkward, the band wasn't very loud and so you had to sing as well, as part of the worship? Would gaps and pauses make you feel embarrassed or self-conscious, even worse if someone near you prayed aloud, read a scripture or - horrors - thought God was saying something? And how about if the person preaching threw their notes away because they felt that wasn't what God wanted you to hear, and instead you got something a bit rambly but like God was talking to you?

How about if, instead of nodding assent to well-rounded prayers, you found yourself face-down on the floor?

Something in me likes the former, but something in me loathes it even more and loves the latter. I struggle to get up early and spend time with God, but when I do, it's often face-down on the floor, because that's where I need to be. I don't want the stifling, life-removing, slick production values of a TV show in church, but rather the need to get face-down, so that when I leave I can be face-upward and know I've met God in a way I can't do just alone in my livingroom.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

25 years ago today around this time...........

I can't remember what I was doing, except it revolved around another baby.

Time has gone so quickly, yet so slowly too.

Sunflowers again.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

We've had a great week.

Our good friends, Marc and Dixie, plus Madeline, Luke and Olivia stayed with us last week - the house is quiet and empty without them, and we really enjoyed their company.

Naturally we visited places with them and took pictures, and I'd like to present one of my favourite photos from that time, involving a certain 'Winnie'.

Transform 2015 - a perspective.

A couple of weeks back we were at Transform 2015 – the bible-week offered by the Salt and Light group of churches, of which Bicester Community Church is part.

We have been going to bible-weeks for a long time now (since 1979) and seen a lot of different things, organisations and ways of doing stuff. Some have been big at 10,000 plus, and some, like this one, quite small at less than 2000. The bible-week has often been the place where the organisation that is responsible for that particular church group lays out its vision for the next year, and this was no exception, but there’s something that concerns me, and I’ll come right out with it: I’m afraid that Salt and Light is no longer working like a single organism, and is increasingly embracing evangelical values while letting go of its spiritual roots. I don’t want to unpack that in a public place like this, so I’ll park it here, but I am not alone in having concerns about these things.

So, what was the worship like? Isn’t that something everyone goes for?

It was very loud, very powerful, lots of coloured lights and smoke, very high quality musicianship and singing. PA was a bit iffy the first couple of days (reverb on lead vocals was iffy ALL the time) and then better speaker placement helped. If it had been a gig with a favourite band then one would probably have been happy in the end, after a rocky start. And that should tell you something from the aspects I’m not mentioning.

OK then, how about the speakers? Weren’t there some big names from the evangelical world there?

Yup, there were.

I fell asleep several times during the preaching: on a couple of guys that were shouty, one lady who was quiet and gentle and one who had some amazing stories but was often a bit strident. Maybe I’m getting old and have ‘rose-tinted hearing aids’. Some of the guys said some good things, one wittily repeated the stories he used in Christianity Today magazine and had also put in his books (available on special offer, just while I’m here).

Don’t get me wrong, there was some good stuff there, I made notes during several messages and think I probably heard God talking to me. I was really glad when 5 guys responded to an altar call one night, even though that speaker had been one I slept through.

Then there was a seminar for those with creative gifts (initially I'd understood it to be a worship seminar) from a guy who was clearly anointed to lead worship..... where he mentioned how one can feel short-staffed and lacking in personnel with a team of 60 to run the stage, lighting, sound and multimedia as well as the band. He was trying to show how he understood what it was like to be in a small church with just a couple of musicians.

There’s a nagging going on, that phrase about having started with the Spirit……

Or maybe I’ve become old, cynical, jaded, burned out in trying to help lead a difficult church, desensitised through personal failure and lack of spending time with God.

It’s not like many of the guys in leadership here are strangers that I can throw stones at in ignorance. I’m on first name terms with quite a few, although most that I know best are around retirement, and recognise them as men of God, spiritual, mature, wise, good and upright. And yet I also wondered if I were seeing a theology shaped by society, rather than the bible first and foremost, like the leader who tore me a new one about how women must be in leadership when I tried to talk to him at a friends wedding 4 years ago.

Maybe this should make me more sympathetic toward the Anglican church - or harsher in my assessment of it. God, please save Salt and Light from becoming another denomination.

Was that a bird, a plane? Nope, that was a blogpost.

You may have noticed a lack of photographs appearing in the blog, and indeed a general lack of blogging. There are several reasons for this, partly connected and partly not.

I may have mentioned already that we decided that the business was not going to work on an ongoing basis, and that really required that I get a job or 2. And having managed to do that, it is obvious that I should have less free time for many things, including taking and processing pictures. I have been noticing a decline in my desire to blog anyway, simply because the original driver for that – community – is no longer present, and unlikely to return. The blogosphere has become a marketing medium, and I have been a little slow to catch on that personal blogs are probably now pointless. .

And talking of pointless, I love having photos printed; holding a print in your hand confirms that the image you created is now real and physical, rather than being a suggestion of possibilities on a computer. I guess an un-printed image isn’t *real* to me.

But again there’s a rub.

Chris once asked “What are you going to do with all those pictures?” and as much as I like to flatter myself, to a large degree the hobby is pointless. No-one is going to buy the pictures unless I market myself hard (fat chance) and they might not buy them anyway. I can inflict them on a few polite friends to whom I donate prints in exchange for some kind words, though it is possibly unfair to present others with junk not of their own choosing, that they can’t easily discard because it was a gift.

So I’ve mostly stopped taking pictures too, though I shall take more when we go on holiday, simply for the memories and because the scenery will be quite different from anything in the UK.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Doesn't time start passing rapidly as you age?

Nearly 2 weeks have gone since my last blog post - so what's happening?

Well, as of the weekend, I have a cold - drippy nose, aches and pains, not sleeping well. Same as it ever was.

I'm still getting stirred about needing to show grace to people, making a positive difference to them.

Still getting stirred about the need for the church to be reaching out, but not evangelising (shudder at that word).

Becoming aware that with increased affluence comes increased responsibility: I have a decent income for the first time in more than 6 years, and it's odd to be able to just buy things if they would be useful once again. But 'buying stuff' needs to not happen because we have a house full of stuff, & we all know what happens when you tear down barns to build bigger (just mis-speled that bugger!) ones. ;)

We're replacing the old Peugeot 307 shortly, and I'm quite looking forward to something different arriving.

Ben managed to drown his phone while wake-boarding in Turkey, so I've picked him up an 8 month old Nokia 1020 32Gb with camera grip-case. It's ideal because he wanted a decent camera in his phone, and this is near the pinnacle of phone cam development with a 41MP sensor that uses those extra pixels to reduce noise. I think it will do well for him, but what surprised me was how nice it was to use, really quick, fluid and responsive, and with a great screen too. And surfing was really slick, unlike the laggy, awkward experience that Android provides normally. I could become a winpho convert.

Looking forward to Transform 2015 next week, though I have some misgivings, not least of which is that OCC and Salt & Light generally have become another 'nice' evangelical movement with a history of some amazing men of God who planted the thing originally. I hope I'm wrong, because this country doesn't need another mediocre evangelical church stream right now. And I guess a major fear is that I'm adding to that mediocrity as I'm getting older - it's almost impossible to believe the many of the traditions were once radically on fire for God.

That will do.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Character is a funny thing

What to say after that??!

Very much aware that my own isn't wonderful, and glad now that I don't have responsibility for leading a church after all. 2 Peter 1 had some interesting things to say about character, and also makes me think that God was aware and warning the early church of the dark ages that were to come, when instead of being persecuted they were empowered and given authority.

A persecuted church seems to thrive and produce men & women of faith. An empowered church with political authority and legal clout seems to produce rules, fear, bitterness and anger and all the other things we get warned about.

I was also saddened recently to hear that some previous friends marriage has come apart. I don't know any real details, but it's never good when that happens, even when separation seems the least bad option.

Yup, character is a funny thing.

Monday, 6 July 2015

The revolving door of the blogosphere.

There's been a minor tweak to the blogrolls, with Futureshapeofchurch being let go due to inactivity and Jazz's blog added to blogs I occasionally read.

Facebook has now superceded blogging as the means of personal communication for most ordinary people.

A little more (or a little less) grace.

So I'm still wading gradually through Philip Yancey's Vanishing Grace. For books that are not gripping, without a professional pressure to read and that I yet feel the need to be educated by, my approach is to read a couple of sections at a time occasionally during dinner.

You're still reading it? Really?

Yup. I'm hesitant to describe this as a book that's life-changing, because that carries entirely the wrong connotations - and as you can tell, it's easy to put down - yet this is also partially true. I'm aware that my approach to those I disagree with is not always gracious, and the book has certainly been causing me to consider ways in which I might be different, just as John Bevere's book on offence made me reconsider how I prayed for those who appeared to want to hurt me.

So there's a learning going on.

I'm also acutely aware that as Christians we need to be reaching out, being Jesus in the places we are, and in those circumstances relying on the Thumper principle isn't enough to look like Christ. How would Jesus encourage people, affirm them, build them up? How would he speak life to someone who was revelling in their sin?

I'm not there yet.

It's been a while.

And I don't feel tremendously inclined to blog much, though I will a little.

We're hunting for a replacement for the Peugeot 307, which now *feels* old and tired, even though it's done less that 120K miles. Bits have been trying to fall off for years, and although it's still amazingly economical, it requires about 2X the residual value spending to make it good. Requirements: personal, that it's more enjoyable todrive than the Pug - practical, that my mother's mobility scooter will easily fit in the boot and it has 5 seats in the back.

Faves, between 2 and 5 years old, are:
Ford Focus estate
BMW 3 series estate
Kia Cee'd estate
Skoda Octavia
Mini Countryman
Fiat 500L (like we had in Canada)

I drove an Octavia Scout with 4WD last week. Handling was brilliant, ride much firmer than the pug, but the cockpit felt claustrophobic, and my head was almost on the ceiling. That's not the end for the Octavia, but I also need to try something else. Will try to arrange a test drive of a Focus shortly: they have a really good reputation for refinement, but there's something about Fords that makes me want to run away (had a Fiesta for a week a couple of years back - not great).

The Beemer makes me nervous, because of the investment and cost of repairs, and they don't have a pristine reputation for reliability either. And there's the snob value, which is both attractive and repellent. The Kia balances that, in that it's almost an anti-snob car, but I keep hearing hints that the performance doesn't measure up to the marketing, and that the 7 year warranty is needed.

Which brings me to the Countryman and 500L.

Both very similar cars in some ways, looking like MPVs that someone shrunk in the wash. The 500L we had a good time with, driving for many hours across Canada, so we know it's comfy and handles OK (not exactly WOW inspiring though) but I'm concerned about a lack of power for a car that's not small. The Countryman OTOH could be everything that the Fiat isn't, with a great rep for handling, decent, enthusiastic engines and even available in 4WD (great for snow round here). The questionmark I have is over size, because the width appears *just* enough to fit the scooter in, and the rear seats come as either 2 or 3 seats.

Cars that have fallen by the wayside are the Alfa Romeo 159 Sportwagon (heart says YES, but the boot is small with a VERY high lip) and BMW 1 series (ditto). I've also seen a few affordable 2 seater convertibles, but we need something sensible to balance the beetle.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Ship happens

No, that's not a typo. I'm waiting for dry ice to arrive so that I can ship frozen materials out, plus a bunch of other things too.

It's slightly odd managing things here, trying to find ways of guiding tenants while niether terrorising them, nor coming over as wet and ineffective.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Clearing my desk.

So it's Sunday afternoon and I'm moving all my stuff out of the office in readiness for the new tenants taking over my space in the Innovation centre. It's a slightly emotional time - I've been completely fine about it until then last hour - to be leaving 'my' space here, even though as lab manager I'm just across the corridor. It isn't the same though, and this desk isn't 'mine' in the same way.

Tuesday all the frozen stuff for one of my customers will be shipped off to Ireland and a lab there that will carry on the work for them. I have another customer for whom I may rent a little space and just do a couple of days over a weekend purfiying antibodies and doing conjugation work, if they don't want to get someone else to do it.

There's lots of kit to be sold or donated still, and I've only just started throwing away the mountains of paper that are no longer of practical use.

Movin' on etc. Time to get back to binning!

Thursday, 18 June 2015

So by Monday my labspace will belong to someone else.

A while back I took a day to pray & fast about work, resulting in 2 job offers the following day and a decision to close things. Next week a new company starts in the shared lab, in the space I formerly occupied, and I need to clear my junk & make room!

It's a little hard moving on, though the real pain will come, I suspect, when moving the paperwork, accumulate over more than 6 years. What to bin, what to keep? I've been here before, except then more had to be kept, where as I plan to discard as much as possible this time. May be looking for temporary space for a filing cabinet though. :p

Monday, 15 June 2015

For my sins, I'm reading Vanishing Grace

Philip Yancey has been a somewhat liberal, evangelical and influential voice in Christendom, writing about 'difficult' things. He likes to quote bits and use examples from Brennan Manning and various similar others who have been through destructive personal experiences and suffer addictions, even while retaining a high profile as authors and thought leaders.

It makes me want to ask whether our sin and failure is part of God's plan for us.

There's a line of theology that suggests Adam's fall was intended by God all along, in order that He might send Jesus to redeem humanity. Could this cycle of sin & failure, grace and restoration be something God actually wants for us - as this book strongly hints at - or are we actually called to live righteously and walk without sinning before God, as the letters from Peter among other parts of the bible suggest fairly unambiguously?

And that then leads to the obvious question of whether, If God intends for us to fail and need forgiveness, that is actually sin at all, since it's following the will of God?


p.s. It's not a book I'd say that I'm enjoying - full of beating up the reader over the failings of the North American Evangelical church to be generous and show grace or compassion. It's being a useful read, but not something for pleasure.

It has made me re-see Bicester Community Church, and how we were planted out as a community of grace through a gentle and gracious leader, and how that graciousness has been encouraged and protected over the years. There's a root of the same grace in Oxfordshire Community Churches too, that has fed the grace and helped it grow. A generous nature I appreciate all the more now.

Friday, 5 June 2015

I didn't really want to talk about May 21st a couple of weeks ago.

Liza -  we'd love to stay in contact, and thank you for your kind words.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Some of you will have a new task-bar icon.

And some won't, especially if you're running OSX or Linux.

Microsoft included an 'upgrade to Windows 10' button with their weekly updates today, to 'encourage' a more enthusiastic uptake than they had with W8. I've been curious about W10 for some time anyway, and today I joined the windows insider program, downloaded the W10 Insider preview evaluation copy & installed it on the same partition as my current W8.1 Pro installation. Installation wasn't completely without hiccups, since after the initial install I was required to make some choices about the setup, resulting in a download that froze the screen, requiring an eventual hard off & reboot.

Initial reactions are very positive compared to the evaluation copy of W8 that I tried a couple of years back. Most things seem to work OK, the interface is clean and simple, with many icons as line drawings. Colours can be a bit mungy, but nothing like as ghastly as Windows 7 icons. The task-switching facility in the taskbar is nice and Project Spartan (otherwise known as Explorer for W10) seems quick, clean and crisp. It also has a wonderful facility designed to help with reading the text on a web site, where side menus and other distractions are moved out of the main window, text is enlarged into a single clean font and any images are left embedded in the text. The result is a very clean web page experience - sure you lose the original formatting, but most of the time that's no loss at all.

I have the feeling there's LOADS of new features here that I'll never see or use, simply because I'm not that nerdy any more.

Desktop is running on Windows basic drivers because I've not yet installed Nvidia's driver (325Mb!) but unlike yesteryear, it will deliver the monitor's native 1650X1080 resolution and looks tidy into the bargain.

In some ways this is still very traditional Windows. The visual makeover is only skin-deep, and although the new menus look fresh, drilling down quickly brings up a W8.1 style control panel, which isn't a bad thing really if one is already familiar with such things.

And in some ways this looks just like a Linux distro running an older KDE 4.n version of the desktop, with the dark, semi-translucent taskbar and line-drawing icons, the flatish desktop icons, the different backgrounds, the odd behaviours of screen edges etc etc. This is none the worse for it, except that where windows was once slick & crisp compared to the competition, now it seems to have copied the competition from a few years back. For comparison's sake, I'd say that OSX icons are much more polished, but the OSX screen font is very poor beside windows' own.

Compared to that Debian/Gnome install I did last week this looks a bit clunky and unsophisticated. It was telling for me too, how the Debian install 'just worked' for me as a user, with minimal need to learn where things were or what to do, while this install feels like a leap into the unknown, and needs much exploring. Having said that as though it were a negative, it feels like, for the first time in many years, Microsoft are developing exciting software again. However conversing we Chris, we also both feel that we'd like an OS to 'just work' for us, rather than provide lots of exciting tools and diversions that get in the way. But no OS designer was ever going to strip out the bells & whistles, now were they?

In a while I'll install Libreoffice, lightroom and some other applications, but I shall probably download that Nvidia driver at work over a connection that's around 10X faster than this one.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Debian8 with Gnome 3

This version looks REALLY good.

The screen fonts, wallpaper and tool bars have a very pleasing, apple-ish level of polish that's often missing from Linux installs, and it seemed stable and functioned well (Debian has a reputation for stability). It wasn't as quick as I might have expected and Iceweasel (the firefox-based alternative browser) is a bit clunky, plus it's loaded with games by default (why, for heaven sakes?).

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Technology succeeds and fails

to impress me.

That's probably not a surprise, and familiarity is a big source of unreasonable contempt for me.

The prompt for this post was use of a cheap Lite-On external DVD drive. I've become less impressed with Linux Mint/cinnamon of late, and even though the machine I'm using is relatively powerful for most of my needs, stuff like browsing seems really sluggish and scrolling jerky and hesitant, so it's back to Distro-hunt again.

I just plugged the drive into this laptop, popped a blank disc in it, right clicked on the Debian-gnome .iso file and selected burn. The drive spun up with an amazing amount of energy for such a tiny, slender device, I was quite astonished - normally when used for playing DVDs it whispers away quietly to itself.

In half a minute the DVD was ready, and I'm presently installing Debian-Gnome on my testing drive, replacing elementary thats really had almost no use. I really liked the idea of Elementary: it looked a lot like Pear Linux (and that's a good thing) though somewhat cruder and less refined. But it seemed a bit glitchy, sometimes unstable, and coupled with the attitude of the developer I've not really been interested enough to pursue it.

So enter Debian.

The guys at Mint do a version of Debian that I'd tried a couple of times and found reasonably quick, but it was always MINT Debian, and seemed like more of the same. This time I wanted to try Debian 8 from the developers themselves, hence giving it a go. I've also been interested in seeing were Gnome 3 has got to with their desktop environment, so this was a chance to do both. I also have a Debian image with XFCE as the desktop environment, so if Gnome proves too clunky, as I suspect, there will be a lightweight alternative to evaluate.

I'm also feeling somewhat impatient. Several versions of Debian were available for download, and I'd *thought* that selecting the first would give me the default desktop on the disk, rather than core OS only as it turns out, and so I have another 30min to wait while Gnome is downloaded to compete the install.

Ho hum.

Might just carry on blogging then.

My good friend Marc Vandersluys, blogging at The Eagle And Child (link to the left) was puzzling recently about the point of SciFi, and not 'getting' what was interesting to make one want to read an entire book. He was struggling with being thrown into a sea of information without a rope of understanding to cling to and allow him to make sense of apparently arcane details:

Despatch 11437~990 to the vice Glorg, sector Syllaphis 2: Greetings Humpherl, the moon is now total and we await your teardrop.

I love this voyage of discovery, of piecing together and being forced to draw conclusions as to what's really going on, having to continually link evidence and information to create a picture and understanding out of words that are mostly familiar, but meanings that are not. It's somewhat of what I do for work, and it's somewhat like using Linux - a bit of trial and error, a bit of exploring new worlds and new ways of doing the same things. And in the end, scifi is pretty much ALWAYS about people doing the same things in slightly new ways, even when it incorporates aliens with apparently different requirements.

Now, I recogise I'm starting to ramble a little here, but the install is nearly over.

I read much less scifi these days and far more classical literature - which isn't so very different really - but I have recently stumbled across an old BBC TV series that I found refreshing and WAY more adventurous than I'd ever though possible for TV, though this was from the 80s, when people had more than 15 sec attention span for stuff they didn't understand.

I downloaded the first episode of Sapphire and Steel, starring David McCallum (ex-Man From UNCLE) and Johanna Lumley (ex New Avengers). There's a chemistry between them that helps overcome the wooden 80's style TV acting, but better than that, the story is presented in a way that makes you look for a rope in a tossing sea. Brilliant, and everything that Hollywood scifi isn't, including an absolutely miniscule budget and zero CGI. I strongly recommend finding, downloading & watching (it's >2 hours long).

Anyway, back to my title.

Last Saturday we went looking at tablet computers, not least in order that Chris might become familiar with Android so she could use my phone, and we had some tesco vouchers to use up. Tesco's Hudl 2 has a great reputation as a budget tablet with good performance and great screen, but in the store it seemed childishly gaudy, with a slightly laggy performance and uninspiring feel. The cheap windows 8.1 tablet next to it had a much lower res screen, yet felt so much better to use. I also tried a Lenovo Yoga 10" tablet in staples (very heavily reduced) and the performance and design again seemed much better.

The Chris asked me why I wanted a tablet.

That rather killed it, TBH. Tablets are primarily media consumption devices, rather than working tools, though they will double up for sat-nav, lightweight portable email platforms, e-book readers etc etc. And I've lost patience with my Kobo.

But I realised I wanted a toy, not a tool.

I'm typing this on an i7 quad-core laptop with 16GB Ram and QHD screen - it's a real workstation. Chris uses the Macbook for watching DVDs when sat on the settee, and it's my travel computer too. There's the livingroom desktop that I'm just fiddling with right now. Chris has another desktop computer upstairs for accounts and there's the little Philips 12" laptop that I bought for Africa (in case someone stole it - effectively disposable) that Ben used during the winter. We're computered out, but I'm fascinated to find out if a tablet can be more that just an overgrown phone, as well as replacing the Kobo.

So we didn't buy anything. That's not to say we won't in the future, but probably for the best right now.

And that Debian is STILL installing - makes Windows look positively rapid.

Friday, 22 May 2015

So I'm, trying to juggle 3 jobs.

The first is, of course, shutting down the lab side of my business. There's kit to sell (some sold already) materiel to dispose of and a need to do some manufacturing for one customer, some custom work for another before it all goes. And a butt-load of paperwork to sort, file, recycle etc.

Then there's my development job. It's very different in a way, from so many things I've done, yet at the same time draws on physical chemistry, engineering and instrumentation experience as well as development process experience. Love it, get a little frustrated by it, wish I were doing it full time (2 days/week isn't anything like enough to acheive what's needed in the time frame) and really glad to be onboard.

Finally job number 3, managing  the main shared lab facility. Again there's not enough time, though in a few weeks that will be less of a problem. The biggest frustrations are a mix of IT (because everything is done in the cloud, it's all remotely managed and I can't 'just' fix it now & work) and trying to sort out someone else's quality system. Even though I respect and appreciate the originator of that system very much, it had them working hours into the night and is hugely labyrinthine and deeply customised, and at the same time basic good practices weren't always followed (like marking obsolete documents as such when issuing updates). And there's no 'logic' to the system that allows one to locate all temperature monitoring documents in a single subsection etc.

So I went and made a coffee, having had a less-than-efficient morning trying to print a copy of a record document and top up liquid nitrogen containers. The window to the kitchen was open the out-door scent coming in was fresh and cool. It's not all bad then. :-)

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Francis Bacon and the masters

Is the title of an exhibition at the Sainsbury centre for visual arts in Norwich. I know this because my mother, in her great generosity, passes over her copy of The Week magazine, which summarises the news by drawing from a  wide variety of both British and international sources without significant political or obvious cultural bias.

To illustrate the article on this exhibition they had, side by side, The Crucifixion as depicted by Bacon, and the picture that inspired him by Alonso Cano. Granted both pictures were small in print, but one of them appeared to be a finely crafted image with expressive use of light and shade, carefully detailed and and with emotions poured into form, while the other looks like the bored doodling of a teenager who is depressed after listening to heavy metal. I'll leave you to guess which is by whom.

To quote a quote from the article "But there is in some cases 'not obvious relationship' between the exhibits" (the inspiration and Bacon's work). And "Many of these connections are 'tenuous' and among all the masterpieces it is 'easy to forget about Bacon altogether'". I feel quite guilty for finding this so pleasing.

The magazine is often drily humorous with the comments it extracts for an article. The obituary for Keith Harris (he had a ventriloquist act with a green 'bird' called Orville) was completed with a quote from Harris made to Louis Theroux, who had asked him how he felt about Orville and their 25 year relationship. "I created a monster, in a funny way" Harris replied. "He made me into a household name, but he put me into a pigeonhole".

And finally.

In an article regarding the performance of Twitter as a listed company, Lucy Kellaway of the FT was quoted as saying that CEO Dick Costolo spouted nonsense: "As we iterate on the logged-out experience and curate topics, events, moments that unfold on the platform, you should absolutely expect us to deliver those experiences to the total audience." The observation was made "What better way to undermine a brand dedicated to 'saying things snappily' - it's like discovering the Burberry chief Christopher Bailey secretly buys his clothes from Primark."

That was the week that was. ;-)

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Ever hear a noise that distressed you?

Maybe distress is the wrong word, but when you're sat in front of your laptop and can hear a hard drive going flat out when the machine is apparently idle, if you're IT-inclined it should make you very worried.

Putting my ear close to said laptop made me no wiser, and the noise, if anything, diminished. It seemed to be coming from off to my right, but small rooms with hard walls like this office can reflect sound, making it bounce and seem to come from elsewhere.

I stood up & the noise diminished. It MUST be the laptop.

Sat down, seemed to be coming from the printer off on the right (printers don't normally contain hard drives, especially when they're nasty budget units from HP) but listening closer suggested the source wasn't the printer.

Much perturbation.

Finally tracked it down.

It's the electric clock, and it makes the noise when the second hand is descending, so there's about 30sec of hard-drive style noise, then a slightly gritty quiet. Had me fooled for about 3 weeks of 2 working days/week.

At least I've managed to get the office wirelessly networked now, so we're not tripping over cables and passing stuff around. Next step will be a NAS for file storage and backup and (hopefully) a mono laser printer so we stop burning cash on ink refills in the HP.

This is the job where I have IT input. In the other, for various reasons, the organisation has decided to use 'cloud computing', which kinda works and kinda doesn't. It's like 1995 all over agan with sluggish behaviour, sometimes unreliable apps and never being able to find your stuff when you want it. But they will probably pay me, eventually.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Silence isn't golden (it's just silence).

2 of my favourite bloggers have both posted pieces about silence, neither of which I've really read yet. Blogging has just dropped off the radar for me recently, and I've been silent because I've not been saying anything here. i.e. there's nothing clever about it from my end.

So I'm re-shaping my life a bit more: beginning to shut the business, trying to mentally juggle 2 jobs outside of that, doing more guitar playing, more amp building, more running, more work on the house, more life elsewhere. Photography happens sometimes too, though I'm slacking on the darkroom side of the committment to that particular craft, so images are stacking up on my hard drive waiting for creative input.

Here's a couple of recent pics: Chesterton Windmill in Warwickshire.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

There's an imbalance somewhere.

Among the many friends I have through facebook (numbers of which I keep trying to reduce) there are 2 guys who have both, quite independently, posted up about being depressed in the last 24 hours. I know both of them from the same mountainbiking circle, and we share many of the same friends.

One of them had a large number of affirming and positive (if sometimes shallow and thoughtless) comment. The other had none.

I don't understand how one of the guys could be so overlooked to the point of seemingly being ignored - and his situation is much more 'desperate' if that's the right phrase, though with depression that can have little to do with it - than the other's.

People are odd. I suspect there'll be a raft of posts now the duck is broken.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Just thinking about how hard it is to build people up.

When, if you were offering directions to get somewhere, the advice you'd give is "you'd be best not starting from here".

Friday, 24 April 2015

So today Ben goes again

Down for 6 months hard labour in Turkey - I think we're going to miss him more this time round.