Friday, November 30, 2007

Attempting a backyard skating rink

The "secret project" I mentioned yesterday is a ice skating rink. The girls finally figured it out today. It took Amy a bit longer: she thought it had something to do with a water slide or a slip 'n slide type of thing. I'm not sure where the logic of playing in water in below-freezing temps came from, but that was her explanation until this evening. That's when she went out and discovered that the water had started to freeze.

I found some instructions for building a backyard ice rink. As a first time trial attempt at building one, I decided to stay small and go with a 16'x 32' size. Even then, the slope of the yard is such that I discovered this evening that I'm going to have to install another board on top of the one at the lower elevation in order for the water depth to be sufficient to cover the whole enclosed area. (I wonder what sort of fortune it would take to have a contractor come in and level the backyard...) Fortunately, the previous owners left several hundred dollars' worth of pressure-treated lumber, so building supplies aren't a problem. The only problem is braving the cold to do the building work.

I must be getting better acclimated to the cold, because I was out and about in below-freezing temperatures today with just a light sweatshirt. It was quite dry, so that wasn't a problem. If it was raining or snowing, it would be a different story.

Anyway, I hope that the construction, the filling, and the freezing can all take place before the weather warms up by the middle of next week. It would be nice for Shelley to be able to skate at least one day before it gets too warm and we have to wait for the next cold snap.

Christianity Today Movies on The Golden Compass

Christianity Today posted an article on the soon-to-be-released movie, The Golden Compass, that has been recently generating a considerable number of fear and rumor e-mails as well as blog posts. (The longer blog post by Jeffrey Overstreet from which the article was condensed can be found HERE.)

Here is an excerpt:
Should Christians be afraid of The Golden Compass? Should anybody?

“I’m trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief,” said Philip Pullman, describing his fantasy trilogy to The Washington Post in 2001.

But mercy, no. Let’s not be afraid. Discerning, yes. But not afraid.

Remember all of that hysteria about the movie version of The Da Vinci Code? Christians got all worked up about it… and it turned out to be the most boring movie of the year. In retrospect, our “concern” probably helped the movie become a financial success in spite of how lame it was...

... Do not get hysterical, mount massive boycotts, or behave in ways that the Magisterium in Pullman’s books would behave. You’ll just make Pullman’s stories more persuasive, and you’ll confirm for the culture around us that Christians only really get excited when they’re condemning something.

My own take was similar to Jeffrey Overstreet's comments. Here is the link to my blog post from a month ago.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Some cold weather coming this way

Earlier this afternoon (though when I say "afternoon" in this northern context, it can be getting dark already) while out on the back deck, I slipped and fell on a thin layer of ice that had already formed. Fortunately, no bumps, bruises, or breaks.

Over the next several days, the weather forecast is showing lows dropping into the teens and twenties, and the highs not going above the freezing point. Our first winter cold snap is coming upon us.

Shelley would like to see the city set up an outdoor skating rink. Last year it couldn't be done because there was so much snow that fell before the first really cold weather came in. This year, there is no snow yet on the ground.

I've been busy working on a secret little project that the kids are seeing, but they don't yet know what it is. It involves power tools, with which I share no natural affinity. Can you believe that in my life so far, today was the first time I had ever used a circular saw? But I survived the hideous ordeal and discovered that the way the saw just slices through lumber could be a reason why some people enjoy the likes of this beast...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A busy few days

This past weekend was quite full for us, primarily due to the Messiah performances on Saturday and Sunday.

It all began Friday afternoon at about noon for me. The run-through rehearsal of the performance began at 2 p.m., but since my solo is the very first item after the overture, I had to start warming up my voice around noon. It takes a minimum of one hour (and preferably 1.5 hours) of warming up to get all of the muscles responding and air passages cleared up. So with that done Shelley and I went to the rehearsal. Overall the rehearsal went well.

Immediately afterwards was the city's Christmas tree lighting with a parade. The parade is one in which anyone who wants to participate is welcome. The little kids get glo-sticks and the older ones and adults get candles. With each person bearing a light, we walk from the north end of the city to the center, where the tree is located, about a quarter mile. There was a little proclamation, the tree was lit, the high school band played a few carols, and then we were done. Free hot apple cider was provided.

Sabbath, of course, meant I led out the Sabbath School and had the sermon. We had a quick, though not necessarily light, lunch. I tried to avoid most dairy products which could affect my singing in adverse ways.

Since the performance was at 7 p.m. with all participants gathering at 6 p.m., that meant I began my warm up at 4 p.m. That is enough time to go through about 20 minutes of vocal exercises, and then sing through the all of the choruses we would perform in the Messiah. Shelley and I were dropped off at the auditorium at 6 p.m. We went through some last minute items and then we were off to the first performance.

I felt quite nervous leading up to the solo. But as I began, I calmed down a bit and everything went very well. It was probably the best I had sung this piece. The rest of the performance went quite well also. The auditorium was mostly full, probably around 300-320 in attendance.

Sunday's performance was a matinee, starting at 3 p.m. We were to gather at 2 p.m. so my warm up began at noon. I felt much more relaxed this time -- perhaps too much -- because when I began the solo, I must not have had enough tension or concentration because I squeaked a bit on an E, and then that mistake distracted me and I lost count for a bit at the bottom of the first page. Fortunately that was enough to increase the tension and concentration. I spent the next page making sure I was concentrating and counting, and then the rest went fine.

I think two previous days of hard singing was starting to take its toll on my entire vocal system. My lower back and diaphragm muscles didn't seem to have quite the strength they did the day before. For me, the first half of this afternoon's performance felt so-so. Not bad, but not great. The second half seemed to go much better though.

Following the performance, we had refreshments. Apparently the night before, refreshments had run out. With our church providing some 30+ dozen cookies and some others also providing, there was plenty to go around Sunday afternoon. In fact the remaining cookies were divided into three large platters and we brought one of them home.

Yesterday evening, the appliance repairman came by to look at the dishwasher. After taking it apart, things did not look very good. It looked as if we would be going out today to purchase a replacement. But as luck might have it, when he attempted to tighten what was probably a stripped bolt on the impeller, it managed to catch and he was able to tighten it. I'm running a load right now to see if it properly washes a load.

So that's my tale of the past few days.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Can you really grill a turkey?

Yes you can.

This whole week, whenever I mentioned to someone that I'd be grilling my turkey in a Weber, I'd get questioning looks. Follow up questions often are, "How does it work?" or "How does it turn out?" Elise told me that when she mentioned that to a coworker, she got the response that, "Well, it might work if the turkey is first boiled."

From my experience, grilling a turkey is much easier than roasting it in an indoor oven. All I do is take the thawed turkey, salt it, and then throw it on to the heated grill. I need to add extra charcoal during the process (the grill with the sides that open up for adding charcoal really helps). That's all there is. No basting, no oiling, nothing else. After the set time, double check internal temperature with a meat thermometer, take off the grill, let it rest, then carve. Take the pan drippings out for gravy (though I was too tired yesterday to do this step).

The outside of the turkey ends up resembling jerky -- dry and very flavorful, particularly if you used good, hardwood charcoal. (For this, skip the bargain charcoal and go for quality.) The inside remains tender and juicy. Even if you overcook the turkey some, because the outside cooks to a crisp, it seals in all of the juices and keeps the inside tender.

In my opinion, I prefer how the grilled turkey turns out over over roasted ones.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

I'm tired!

I've been on my feet much of the day, cooking up our Thanksgiving dinner. The menu for today was --

Salad with curry vinaigrette, topped with pear (canned) slices and dried currants

Soup: Green soup (a creamed pea soup, Indian style)

Main course:
Side dishes:
  • Bread stuffing (Stove Top boxed) with apples and cranberries
  • Green bean casserole
  • Mashed red potatoes
  • Cranberry sauce
Dessert: Pumpkin pie (purchased, not made)

Drinks: Martinellis

Elise helped out with some of the preparation and put together the green bean casserole. Amy cooked the cranberries to turn it into sauce.

All of the food ended up being enough to probably serve 15-20 people. Hardly a dent was made in the side dishes, and much of the main courses were left to be served another day.

In the middle of the day, our dishwasher started to give up the ghost. I tried to see if it would run one more load, but there just doesn't seem to be enough water pressure through the nozzles. I suspect that the pump might be going out, as something is making strange noises, like it is struggling to operate. So we are back to hand washing all of the dishes. I guess I'll call the city's appliance repair guy and see if this is something that can be fixed, given that the dishwasher is a vintage model. If not, I guess we might be replacing it earlier than I thought.

This being Thanksgiving and the appropriate thing to be thankful in all things, I'm trying to figure out how a malfunctioning dishwasher fits into the giving of thanks...

Links to some Thanksgiving thoughts

Since my sermon will be on the topic of thanksgiving, I thought I'd save my thoughts on it until then and post a couple links to other blog posts on the topic.

(If I come across some others that I enjoy, I'll add them to the above list.)

Doorway booster fan

Elise mom safely arrived here yesterday afternoon. She brought with her a few items that I had ordered and had delivered to her address (saves MUCH on shipping from some online retailers). Some of those items were doorway booster fans to improve air circulation from the area of the heater into the remote areas of the house.

Installation was simple, even for someone like me who finds screws and nails a challenge. The main issue, as some of the reviews note, is that these fans are quite loud. I have two right next to each other at the end of the hallway where two rooms join, so they are probably extra loud. They do come with on/off switches so if you need quiet, it can be had with a flick of a switch.

The big question is: Does it work? My preliminary observation is that it does. The temp in the corner of the living room, prior to installing the fan, had been falling to 55-56 at night. It only fell to about 58-59 last night -- just a degree or two lower than the heater's thermostat seting. And in order to get the room warm enough during the day, I had been using two electric heaters. I removed one of those and the room seems to be getting warmer, just from the one plus the heated air now forced in from the hallway.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Cold, Clear Dawn

It's definitely late fall, early winter here in Petersburg. Today is one of those days when I know why I live here rather than some other place, particularly some bland suburbia.

It's chilly this morning, right around the freezing point, but the light show was something else. Even though I've seen the same thing multiple times in the past, I don't think I'll ever tire seeing the mountain tops appearing to be "on fire" like they did today.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

A bit more snowfall

Overnight, we got a thin layer of snow on the ground. I bought a snow shovel a few weeks ago. I hope that I don't have to actually use it this year. So I guess you might consider it a sort of a "charm" to keep away the snow...

This being Thanksgiving week, family flying up from Oregon, and the Messiah performances over this coming weekend, it will be quite busy, particularly towards the end of the week. I need to get the bulk of the Sabbath School discussion and sermon preparations done by the end of Tuesday to make sure I'm not pressed for time.

The Ministerial Association has been asked to provide the refreshments for the Messiah concert goers. Our church agreed to provide some of the refreshments for the Sunday performance. So Elise, Amy, and Deloris are busy today, and probably next Sunday, baking cookies.

Through the early hours of the morning, I couldn't figure out why our bedroom temperature was only reading 61F or so. Usually, it would be around 64 or 65. I discovered the reason this morning: Sometime during the night, our downstairs heater unit had overheated and shut itself off. Turning it off and back on fixed the problem, or so I thought. Just a little while ago I saw it shut itself off again, after running for a few hours. I hadn't seen it do this before. The only suspicious item was a folded bath towel placed atop the unit, right above the burner area. I checked all the other things that the operator's manual recommended checking and nothing else seemed to be a problem. I removed the towel, turned the unit back on, and am now waiting to see if the problem recurs.

Bible Reading 2007, Week 47

The total quantity of reading assigned this week is rather short -- perfect for a busy, holiday week.

This week, the readings are in 1 and 2 Thessalonians.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Sermon: Will the Real Abundant Life, Please Stand

(Click HERE for MP3 sermon audio.)

The sermon today comes from John 10:1-21, with an emphasis on vs. 10. This is the verse where Jesus proclaims, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." What is "life abundantly?" How does one get it and for what purpose?

I attempt to provide some possible answers to these questions by taking a look at this passage and this verse in the context of John chapters 7-9 that immediately precede today's passage. My contention is that today's passage is the climax and the summary of the previous three chapters and it is best understood within the context leading up to it. So whatever the abundant life is, it is related to something already provided in John's writings.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Cocoa taste test

The December 2007 issue of Consumer Reports has a small article on cocoa drink/hot chocolate mixes. I noticed that the lowest rated ones are the ones we have in our house.

Just for kicks, I decided to taste test the two that we have and compare it against a custom blend built up from raw cocoa powder. The result was exactly as expected from the article. When compared to the rich, thick, bitter-sweet, chocolatey taste of my custom blend, the mixes were like drinking syrupy sweet, thin, runny, colored water. When I concentrated hard enough, I could almost pick out the chocolate flavor in the mixes.

Elise tells me it isn't really about how close these mixes come to tasting like chocolate. She says it's about comfort and familiarity, and about being nice and warm. For myself, I prefer the chocolate -- as does Shelley. But Amy seems to prefer the mix. She says my blend tastes too much like dark chocolate (and we are not talking about Hershey's Special Dark, which I find much too sweet).

Just when I'm about to give up...

Just when I'm about to give up on my attempts to continue the children's choir due to lack of interest... both in terms of hardly anyone coming, and of those that coming, not showing much interest when they're there... things seem to improve, if just a bit.

For the last couple of months, other than our children (and Shelley works Thursday evenings, so she only comes for the last little bit, when she chooses to do so), it's just been a couple others. They were present in body, but their minds, for the most part, have been elsewhere. So I had been getting more and more discouraged about the whole thing, wondering if my efforts were being swallowed up into a black hole, and if my energies would be better utilized elsewhere.

So tonight, since I hadn't heard from them or anyone else about coming to our choir rehearsal, I kind of let it go. When 7:00 p.m. came and went without a peep from anyone, I figured that no one had come. And then some eight or nine minutes later, I get a call from the church wondering where we were...

In a rush Elise, Amy, and I dashed out the door, into the car, and hurried along at 25 mph towards the church. Once there I was quite surprised to see four girls already there. It took me a several minutes to get my mind into choir mode, but once there, things got better. All the kids seemed to be more into the rehearal, and I could actually hear singing from them.

Next Thursday is Thanksgiving, so we won't meet again for two weeks. Tonight gave me a little boost in motivation to continue for at least a little bit longer. If the girls that were present tonight continue, we just might have enough to put on the little Christmas musical that we've been working on.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Recipe: Tofu Stuffed Mushroom

Our children went to friends for dinner tonight, so I got to experiment with a dish that only Elise and I would like -- nice, big, juicy mushrooms!

In the past, whenever we'd go out to eat, Elise would find stuffed mushrooms on the menu, but the stuffing usually consists of some sort of seafood or meat. So she'd end up a bit disappointed and have to settle for something else.

I had about 5 oz. of tofu left from some other dish I cooked a few days ago. It was crying out to be used before it spoiled. The idea of stuffed mushrooms came to mind. I browsed a few online recipes to get the general composition of the stuffing material and then went to work.

The final result, even to my tastebuds which clearly know the difference between meat and meatless stuff, was quite acceptable as a replacement for meat-based stuffing. I think the tofu would likely not be recognized by someone just casually popping it in their mouth.

I had some stuffing left after the mushrooms were stuffed, and I had a bit of kale sitting around, so I stir-fried them together (with a bit of lemon juice) to create a second dish.

(I forgot the heavy cream in the original blog post.)

Tofu Stuffed Mushrooms

Makes 6 stuffed mushrooms


  • 6 fresh, large, white mushrooms with tender stems
  • 5 oz. firm tofu
  • 1/2 tsp. each dried rosemary, basil, and thyme
  • 1/4 tsp. dried sage
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil, plus a little extra
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or crushed
  • 5 oz. yellow onion, chopped very fine
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp. heavy cream


  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Wipe mushroom caps with a clean towel or paper towel. Carefully pluck the stems off of the mushrooms. Slice and discard any woody portions from the stems. Mince the tender stems and set aside.
  3. Drain and rinse tofu. Wrap tofu in clean paper towel, place on plate and microwave for about 2 minutes. (This helps remove some of the moisture from the tofu.) Finely chop the tofu and set aside.
  4. Place rosemary, basil, thyme, and sage in mortar and with pestle grind into fine powder. Set aside.
  5. In a frying pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add garlic and saute for 30 seconds. Add onions and saute until tender. Add the mushroom stems, tofu, and bread crumbs and stir to combine. Add the herb mixture, salt, and pepper. Stir. Add cream and stir to combine all ingredients well. Taste for salt. (It should be on the salty side.) Remove stuffing mixture from heat.
  6. Lightly oil the bottom of a baking dish or pan. Stuff each mushroom cap with the stuffing mixture, making a small hill, and place into the baking dish. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until mushroom caps are tender. Serve immediately.

Monday, November 12, 2007

A bit of family history

In the Fall 2007 issue (not yet online) of Pacific Union College's Alumni journal, ViewPoint, the text of the commencement address delivered in June 2007 by Dr. Julius Nam, assistant professor of religion at Loma Linda University School of Religion, is published. (The audio of the address is available HERE.)

In the address, he recounts the story of Teruhiko Okohira who came to the United States from Japan, and ended up at Healdsburg College (which later became Pacific Union College). From there Okohira-san, with William Grainger, returned to Japan as missionaries.

Towards the end of the address, Dr. Nam recounts the following:

Third, this story shows how we all are historically, existentially, and organically connected to each other. Let me tell you the rest of the Okohira-Grainger story. Through their work in Tokyo, a young soldier named Hide Kuniya became an Adventist and joined the work of the church. In May of 1904, two Koreans in Japan -- waiting for their ship to Hawaii in a few days' time -- met Kuniya and became Adventists. One went on to Hawaii, but the other returned to Korea. On the ferry back to Korea, the man, Mr. Sohn, met an educated gentleman named Mr. Lim, who became an Adventist by the end of the voyage. Lim established the first Adventist church in Korea and his ministry resulted in a Mr. Kim becoming an Adventist. Kim shared Adventism with another Kim, who introduced Adventism to a Mr. Bon, who became an evangelist and went around Korea preaching the Sabbath and second coming of Jesus -- including to a Mrs. Lee, who passed on Adventism to her three children -- the eldest among them, my mom. So here I stand today because of the uncommon passion and service of Okohira and Grainger.

Hide Kuniya happens to be my great-great-grandfather's brother (am I off by a generation?), one of the first Seventh-day Adventists and an Adventist pastor in Japan.

I just found it interesting to find a bit of family history in a place I wouldn't have expected. So maybe it is a small world, after all.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Children's Story: Blind Spots


  • A half-sheet of paper for each person
  • Pens or pencils


  • Introduce the subject of blind spots
  • Pass out paper and pens/pencils
  • Have each person draw a large dot on the left and an "X" about 3 inches to the right
  • Have each person hold the sheet of paper out at arm's length
  • Have each person close their left eye, and then with the right eye look at the left dot
  • Slowly move the paper in toward the face
  • At some point, the "X" should disappear, and then reappear as the paper is moved closer in
  • Talk about the fact that we all are born with physical blind spots (due to the optical nerve connection, no light receptors are present at that point, resulting in the blind spot)
  • Switch gears a bit and discuss blind spots as they relate to driving
  • Start with walking and how there really aren't any blind spots because it is easy to turn around and see everything behind
  • Move up to a bicycle and observe that it is still relatively easy to look all around
  • Now move to a small car and all of sudden, there are areas which cannot be seen no matter how hard one turns about and regardless of how well the mirrors are adjusted
  • Move to a large pickup/van, an 18-wheeler -- the blind spots get bigger and bigger
  • Relate these ideas to the concept that as a person becomes more self-absorbed, self-centered, selfish, and proud, the box they live in become bigger and bigger, and their blind spots bigger and bigger
  • As the spiritual blind spots get bigger, it becomes more difficult to see the needs of the world and its people, and a person becomes less and less loving and caring, and consequently less and less useful to God
  • The Bible doesn't say anything about God or Jesus riding with us in chariots (since cars and such hadn't been developed yet), but has a lot to say about walking with him.
  • (Perhaps a bit too much of reading something into the Bible, but hey...) Maybe that's because God wants to remove the blind spots that plague us and the only way to do that is to slow us down and make us travel at a pace and in a mode where we are fully aware of the world around us.

Sermon: Am I Also Blind?

(Click HERE for MP3 sermon audio.)

Today's sermon is based on John 9. This is the story of the blind man from birth whose sight is restored by Jesus.

This sermon discusses the relationship of blindness to a person's response to Jesus and what he says and does.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Sermon: Two Great Sinners

(Click HERE to listen to MP3 sermon audio.)

(The web hosting provider that hosts my sermon audio files has been moving their servers over the weekend. That's why this is being posted today and why if anyone has tried to access audio over the weekend, it wasn't working.)

I started the voice recorder about a minute into the sermon. What happened before the recording starts is I asked a couple of questions: Have you ever been misunderstood? Have you ever misunderstood someone? And then I gave a couple of examples of cross-cultural misunderstandings. Where the recording starts, I'm struggling to find some other examples -- which is why you hear a lot of long pauses.

The sermon itself is based on Luke 7:36-50. This is the story of the sinful woman who washes, kisses, and anoints Jesus' feet during a dinner at a Pharisee's (Simon) house.

I discuss some of the cultural nuances I learned about this story from reading Kenneth Bailey's Through Peasant Eyes. These details help explain and amplify the significance of the woman's actions and the contrast between her and Simon. It also helps show Jesus was quite a counter-cultural person.

The message brought out in the sermon is nothing new. My reason for speaking on this topic is to present a relatively familiar story in a fresh light to discover some motifs that we might have missed earlier. And by doing so to find new ways to incorporate the messages of the story into our daily lives.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Bible Reading 2007, Week 45

This week we will be reading through 1 and 2 Corinthians.

Recipe: Navy Bean Chowder

Today was one of those "happy accident" days. I was looking around trying to figure out how to prepare some dry navy beans that I had purchased. I found a recipe that gave me some inspiration. I did some major alterations to it, and then I overcooked the beans so that it was too mushy to be useful as a side dish item. But hey, it looked like it could be turned into decent soup... which is what I did.

Makes about 4 cups
Serves 6 to 8


  • 1-1/2 cups dry navy beans
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp. each dried thyme, rosemary, and basil
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • Salt (1/2 to 1 tbsp.) and ground white pepper (1/2 - 1 tsp.) to taste


  1. Soak dry beans according to bag directions. Drain and rinse.
  2. Place beans into a medium pot, fill with water so that beans are covered by 2-inches of water on top. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 30 to 60 minutes until slightly less than desired tenderness is reached.
  3. While the beans are cooking in step 2, chop onion and mince garlic (or use garlic press). In a mortar and pestle, finely grind thyme, rosemary, and basil.
  4. When ready, place chopped onions, minced garlic, and ground spices into pot. Stir to mix, bring back to slight boil, then cover and continue to simmer for another 20 minutes.
  5. Reserve 1/2 cup of cooking liquid and drain the rest. Place beans and reserved liquid back into the pot, and add 1/2 cup of heavy cream, butter, and olive oil. Stir to mix and bring to boil on medium heat, then simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about 5 more minutes.

Time change snafus and such

I woke up this morning and as I normally so, wonder what the time is. Now earlier, Elise's alarm had gone off (presumably at 5:30 a.m.) because she works today. My alarm had gone off at 6:30 a.m. (again, presumably), because I like to be up and about by 7 a.m.

So when I started to reach for the clock, I suddenly realized that the time had changed from Daylight Savings to Standard Time during the night. I looked at my clock (which gets its time from the atomic clock radio signal) and it was off by 2 hours. Elise's clock still read the old DST time.

I finally gathered that it was actually about 6:30 a.m. I wondered if Elise had figured out the change. Since she was no longer in the house, I assumed she had gone off to work an hour early. Just a little while ago, she called and part of the conversation was that indeed, she had gone in early... as did the other day shift nurse. So the night shift nurses got to go off work early this morning.

I've never been a fan of DST. I've always thought it was a dumb idea and couldn't figure out why it was supposed to "save energy." I got part of an answer in Friday's WSJ column. The whole exercise is based on stale data and assumptions that have likely changed since the research was last done over 3 decades ago.

This year was particularly annoying because of the extra 4 weeks of DST -- 3 weeks in the spring, and 1 week in the fall. Quite a bit of time-based electronics (such as VCRs) are hard-wired in their DST changes and the VCR at our church missed recording a program because it changed the time back one week early this year. I have a sneaky suspicion this wasn't the only unit that experienced this particular snafu.

We are having a bit of dry-ish days here. The constant, heavy rains over two weeks resulted in quite a bit of water to seep up into parts of our basement. That is now finally receding with the help of the dehumidifier that runs 24/7.

All of us are suffering, to varying degrees, the cold that was gifted to us a week ago. It feels like I'm over the worst of it, which was nowhere near what our girls experienced. They had some nasty coughts, but I haven't had that and hopefully will not.

Friday, November 02, 2007

I don't like upgrading PCs

Yesterday, I was forced into upgrading our oldest desktop PC. For quite a while now, whenever we'd try to start it up, the boot process failed early and it would try to boot up from the floppy drive. I tried changing the CMOS battery but it didn't make a difference. The thing has been getting progressively worse. It used to only take a dozen or so startup attempts before it would recognize that there was a bootable hard drive and boot up. Lately it was getting to 20 and 30 tries. Yesterday, it exceeded those numbers and I finally decided to bite the bullet and do a motherboard upgrade.

In anticipation of having to do this, I had a case and power supply brought up some months ago. Because I've always found motherboard replacements to be so unpredictable in what happens to the operating system, I was holding off on this upgrade as long as I possibly could.

The hardware part of the upgrade was actually quite painless. The instructions for the case were pretty good, and the diagrams in the motherboard manuals were also quite good. I got everything hooked up, the CPU and heat sink installed, the video card installed, and was amazed that when powered up, the boot screen appeared. (I've had more than one instance in the past where the initial power-on did not succeed, for various reasons.)

Then the troubles started. I moved the hard drive from the old PC to the new. I also moved the CD-RW drive over. I booted the computer again, and Windows actually came up. It started encountering new hardware and asked for driver disks. Uh, oh... I had forgotten plug in the CD-RW power cable... I shut Windows down so I could plug it in...

That done I booted up -- and Windows almost started. Right before the login window, it popped up an error about the Registry having problems flushing its writes, etc. Ha! I've written error messages like that before in software I've worked on. It's one of those error messages that really says, "I haven't a clue what went wrong, but something did, and I can't continue," but in more technical terms. I searched the web for a solutions but couldn't find any. So I went to bed, annoyed and frustrated at being so close, yet so far.

This morning I started working on it again. This OS, being an upgrade from Windows ME many years ago (though the drive is only a few years old, having had to replace it at one point), the main file system was still FAT32. I'll get back to this in a little while.

I first tried a repair install of Windows XP, but I couldn't even use that option because the OS partition didn't have enough free space left. I then tried the Recovery Console to attempt to salvage the Registry files. That too, was not successful. I tried to install an upgrade of Windows Vista, but the upgrade I have requires the upgrade to be started from within Windows XP... Catch-22!

I'm sure I tried a few other things. Oh, and in the process of all this, Windows activation expired. Normally when major hardware changes are made, the OS gives you 3 days to re-activate. My mucking with trying to recover the Registry and such caused an immediate activation. I was not able to activate at startup because, as I later suspected, I have a web filtering program that requires sign-on before it allows Internet connectivity. If activation is required before applications start, but an application is needed before activation can access the Internet... Another Catch-22.

Throughout all this, Windows would occasionally boot up. That's how I encountered the immediate activation requirement. I finally used the phone to call in the activation, and that was successful. I still didn't have much hope for Windows to successfully boot up consistently.

But I decided, what the heck, I'll convert the FAT32 partitions to NTFS (because NTFS is more reliable) and see what happens. Of course that requires a restart. So I did that and went away to let the conversion happen.

After quite some time, Shelley informed me that something was happening on the PC. I looked and the restart worked and Windows was at the login screen. Well, maybe the darn thing is really working, I thought.

There were numerous updates that had to be applied, and some of them required restarts. And what do you know? The computer has been working now without error.

Adding up the time, I think I spent a good 7 hours on this upgrade. Which is why I was holding off on it, and which is why I don't like performing major computer surgery. And no, I still have no idea why it didn't work last night and it is working this afternoon.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Some thoughts on The Golden Compass

A couple of months ago, one of the pastors in town brought attention to a movie, The Golden Compass, coming out in December. It is based on a book of the same title, first the His Dark Materials trilogy.

At that time, I decided to find out for myself what Philip Pullman, the author, really wrote. When something can be of such controversial nature as this book trilogy and movie are, I believe it is important to not place too much faith on information from other sources (which are far too often biased in one extreme or another). I checked out all three volumes and read through them, in the span of around 15 hours.

I bring this up again because today, I received an e-mail (a forward of a forward) from the Alaska Conference regarding the upcoming movie release. In the forwarded section of the e-mail, a reference was made to The Golden Compass being anti-Narnia and also it about being "killing God."

Mr. Pullman, in interviews and in his own essays, has voiced his disdain for C. S. Lewis and the Narnia Chronicles. However, to leap from that to saying that his trilogy is anti-Narnia seems a difficult logical leap... I suppose one can say it is anti-Narnia because Narnia is based on the presupposition that divinity exists and the supernatural is at work, whereas Pullman's work presupposes only naturalism (as any good atheist would).

In regards to "killing God," if God was really like the god described by the trilogy, and if religion was really like what it depicted in the books, I would be an atheist and anti-religion also. In my opinion, the trilogy isn't about killing God or gods... Based on the presupposition that God and gods don't exist anyway, it's about putting away the notion that divinity exists.

If Christians believe that this world was created and is sustained by God, Pullman believes that science (naturalism) can and will eventually explain everything. If Christians have faith in God's workings, Pullman places his faith in the workings of science and nature.It's just the object of faith that is different. Just as Christians seek to understand more the object of their faith, the characters in Pullman's work also tries to understand better their objects of faith. In this respect, my opinion is that the trilogy is very much about the need for humans to have faith in something. For Pullman, again, it is naturalism.

Another major criticism laid against Pullman, the trilogy, and the movie is that it is anti-Christian, and particularly anti-Catholic. I'll agree that it can easily be interpreted that way. But primarily, Pullman is writing a polemic against religion's abuses and about how (religious) systems seek to serve and protect itself. Throughout the trilogy I found myself nodding in agreement with Pullman's criticisms of religion, religious systems, and one of their specific examples: Christianity. Catholicism, being the largest, most visible, and having the longest history in Christianity, naturally bears the brunt of criticisms. It's not that the Catholic church is necessary worse than any other religious system -- it's one that is most easily identified and criticized.

One final point to consider before moving on to how I think Christians ought to respond...

Some of the online criticisms I've read note that Pullman is trying to "evangelize" children into atheism. That may be true. And if so I believe he has as much right as anyone else to try to "evangelize." If the Christian belief system is so fragile that it cannot withstand the assaults of atheism, then Christianity has no business claiming to be a worldview, let alone claiming to be the best.

I don't ever recall Jesus asking his disciples to go into all the world and "defend me and the Father." What I see recorded in the Bible is Jesus saying, "Go into all the world and speak the truth about me -- speak about how I've changed your life." I'm reminded also of Daniel 3 -- the story of the three Jews in Nebuchadnezzar's furnace on the plains of Dura. Their response was basically the same: Nebuchadnezzar, your challenge is against our God. We don't need to defend him. He is powerful enough to defend himself. But even if he chooses not to, we will remain loyal to him.

I think what I mentioned in the previous paragraph should inform and shape our response as Christians. If we react impulsively (and in fear)against the movie and the trilogy, we only prove the author (and other atheists) correct in their arguments that Christians (and other people of faith) are narrow-minded, judgmental, opposed to freedom of information and choice, controlling, seek to quash anything that threatens their beliefs, etc.

My opinion is that Christians should use incidents and works of this nature to inform us, to instruct us where we might deserve criticism, and to open dialogue with those who might think differently. We should use these opportunities to humbly admit that we as individual Christians have failed to live up to Christ's standard, that we as a group (the Church) have also failed to live up to Christ's standard. And then we should try to direct the conversation to the ideal of love.

Underneath all that Pullman writes in the trilogy, the main theme is the importance of love and compassion. (This comes through in the third book, at least in my mind.) I don't know if what he writes is his personal belief, but I read somewhere regarding authors of novels that they are revealing their inner self in their works. If that is true, then Pullman wants to believe that the universe runs on love and compassion. When these are violated, the universe falls apart. This is common ground that true Christ-followers share with Pullman, and perhaps many other atheists. Rather than attacking and criticizing them, this can be a starting point for further conversations.

An interesting additional point, particularly for Seventh-day Adventists is in regards to the Christian beliefs of the body, soul, and spirit. Many Christians believe in these three being distinct and, as the teachings about the spirit going to heaven right after death show, the implication is that each can survive separately. The first book in the trilogy takes this doctrine to its logical conclusion. If the body is evil and the soul is good, why not actively bring about their separation? (Where the spirit goes is addressed in the second book.)

Adventist Christians (most -- I leave room for those that don't) believe in the wholism of the person -- that the soul described in the Bible consists of both the body and breath of life (spirit) -- that one cannot be separated from another, and together form the living entity that we call soul. As soon as one element disappears, all cease their existence, except in the mind of God. In a backwards way, Pullman's work shows the absurdity of believing in the idea of separate body, soul, and spirit; and affirms the Adventist belief on this matter.

I end this series of thoughts on The Golden Compass with the warning I began: If you are going to discuss this topic with someone, I encourage you to personally and carefully examine the primary materials (i.e., all three books of the His Dark Materials trilogy) and reach your own conclusions. Depending on hearsay (or hearsay of a hearsay) will undermine your own credibility and the credibility of Christians in general. (And that goes for using my thoughts here. These are meant to encourage you to examine the work for yourself.)

Halloween visitors

Since today is November 1, yesterday must have been Halloween. When we moved into this house, we were warned to have plenty of candy available on Halloween. The street on which we live is one of the traditional trick-or-treating avenues. This being Petersburg (which means it's usually wet), most of the kids get driven from one section of the street to another, where they pile out, knock on the four or five doors about, get their treats, then pile back in and drive a few more yards down.

We lit a few candles in the windows, and turned down the lights to give a bit of ambience. I didn't keep count, but my guess is that we probably had around 50-60 youngsters, from tots to teens, visit us last night. The city sets an official trick-or-treating period of 2 hours, from 6 to 8 p.m. During that time, homes that are giving treats out are to turn on the porch light. That is really convenient for everyone because it means that those who don't want to participate don't have to, and those that do know when to start and when to cut off.

Elise's mom called during that time and we were reminded of how different things were back in the Portland area. I recall that there wasn't much in the way of trick-or-treating by small children anymore. Most of them were taken to shopping malls to go around the different stores to collect their goodies. Those that came around to houses were typically those within the neighborhood. Older kids might come around, but they weren't really dressed up.

Here, Halloween is still similar to what I recall from my kid days. It still has an innocent fun and a community feeling to it. (The bars have parties for adults.) Our kids were down with nasty colds, so they stayed home last night.