Gracie Could Use a Hand

I’m sure many of the people who happen to read this have no idea who Gracie Martin is or why they should care, so let me volunteer a little information.

Gracie is a talented singer, multi-instrumentalist, and worship leader here in Springdale. Her incredible voice is the main reason I wanted to be part of the SpringCreek Fellowship praise band a few years ago. She’s a new mom, devoted wife, loving daughter, and dedicated Christ follower.

After being at SpringCreek for a while, I began to learn of the myriad of health issues Gracie faces. I also noticed that she never complained about her problems even when she had trouble getting out of her seat and making it up the two stairs to the worship platform.

In my mind, it would be easy for someone like Gracie to be bitter. Here’s this talented, 25-year-old woman with her whole life in front of her and she’s having to deal with debilitating arthritis, a ruptured disk, painful psoriasis, and other assorted health problems. It seems to me she might have a right to complain.

I mentioned this to her once and she said that she’s blessed; that there are other people all around us who are in worse shape than she is and she’s privileged to have Jesus as her Lord.

Gracie and her husband Jacob became parents a few weeks ago with the birth of their son Max. Gracie’s health worsened during the pregnancy, reaching the point where she has been referred to the Mayo Clinic. The doctors there may be able to accurately diagnose the source of her problems and prescribe treatment but protracted illnesses and the procedures to deal with them are often expensive.

I encourage everyone who can spare a few dollars to donate to The Martins Go To Mayo. The money will be used to offset the cost of procedures, consultations, and other expenses surrounding the Martin family’s trip to Rochester, MN. Gracie is an unassuming person who doesn’t ask for much. I know she and Jacob will appreciate any help you can give them.

A Critical Review of Mac OS X

Last Spring, I took my wife into Apple Land. Being the geeky guy that I am, I looked at my spouse’s dying computer (slow and down to one working USB port), her low-grade phone, and her old, laggy tablet and figured it would be a good time to jump whole hog into the Apple ecosystem.

My wife is a lifelong Windows user but I talked her into switching over and she soon had a Mac Mini, an iPad Air, and an iPhone 5s. Her favorite from that lot is probably the iPhone since its camera and data connectivity is a quantum leap over what she had before. The iPad is in second place with the Mac bringing up the rear.

I don’t think she really dislikes the Mac so much as we are still in a learning curve. It takes some time to get used to looking for the menu of a given application at the top of the screen or remember to look in the Apple menu for a given option.

A plus for the Mac includes Hand Off, a function which allows you to “hand off” whatever app you were using on the Mac to the iPad or vice versa. (Feel nature calling while you’re looking at a web page on the Mac? Grab the iPad, swipe up from the bottom left corner, and the same web page will open up for you right where you left off.) We both really like the Magic Track pad. That slick little platform makes it easy to zip around a big screen. The computer’s speed is also a big plus since we got the mid-range Mac Mini with a 2.6 mhz i5 dual core and eight gigs of RAM. We don’t need to bother with an antivirus so we don’t have to deal with it slowing down the system. It’s also handy to be able to set a reminder on the Mac and have it pop up on your phone while you’re out and about.

I initially approached the Mac thinking it would be as bullet proof as I’d heard. Alas, such was not the case. The first problem occurred when I was setting up the computer. I had already created a user and, not knowing any better, had chosen to set up the iCloud Keychain since that was a default option. The system hung. We waited a few minutes and … nothing. Still a spinning beach ball, the Mac equivalent of a Windows hourglass. I had to shut down and restart the computer, create another user with the same name (had to have a different Home folder of course), skip fooling with the Keychain, and we were able to boot log into our shiny new Mac.

And then, since I wanted her Home folder to have the same name as her first name, I reassigned folders and deleted users until I had her user set up the way it should have been in the first place.

After a few days, we discovered the monitor had to be turned off and on to start working again after the Mac woke up from sleep. I searched online and soon found that this was a known problem with a lot of Mac Minis; the wake up signal wasn’t making it through the HDMI cord to tell the monitor it needed to rouse itself from slumber. There wasn’t really a solid consensus on what the solution to this was so I followed the recommended workaround and replaced the HDMI cable with DVI-D. The monitor worked fine after this.

Coincidentally, an Apple sales person was at Best Buy when I went in to do the cable exchange. I told him about the trouble I was experiencing and he had no idea what I was talking about. He recommended I call Apple Care. I didn’t take him up on it.

People talk about Macs being intuitive. This isn’t really the case. Once you learn how to use a Mac it’s intuitive. If you have no previous experience with how to navigate Windows, a Mac’s layout and controls may be intuitive. However, if you are like most folks and coming over the Windows world, you are going to have to relearn a lot of stuff.

Take cutting and pasting a file, for example. There are hoops to jump through if you want to move a file by right clicking on it instead of just dragging it from one folder to another. You right click the file you want to move, select Copy, open the folder you are moving it to, right click on a blank space, hold in the Alt key, then select Move Item Here. That’s one key stroke and Google search too many.

On the internet front, my spouse found she couldn’t watch videos on the Encore website so she downloaded Silverlight. They still wouldn’t play. I tried removing Silverlight (more on program removal later), reinstalled it, and still no joy. Cross platform fail. Hey, at least Safari got pin tabs in El Capitan.

Installing a program on a Mac is really simple. Assuming you don’t get something through the App Store (which works the same as the App Store on an iPhone or Google Play on Android), all you have to do it pull the downloaded program’s icon into your Applications folder. That’s it. No progress bar or installation windows to click through.

But whoever is in charge of the way programs are uninstalled from a Mac needs to get up to speed with how things work in the 21st century. I uninstalled Microsoft Office 2011 before installing Office 2016 and found that you have to manually remove every little piece of the program by tracking down the files and folders and putting them in the Trash. Apple needs to get a clue and find a way to automate this process. I felt like I was using Slackware with a prettier UI.

We’ve had some hiccups in the last few days with Word, Excel, and Skype but I’ll cut M$ and Apple some slack since both parties are still adjusting to the changes brought about by El Capitan. Some disruptions are to be expected after an OS upgrade.

After it’s all said and done, OS X is simply an operating system just like Windows or a Linux distro is an operating system. Choose whichever one meets your needs and budget. I like OS X despite its weirdness, my wife kinda likes it (she might not like Windows 10 any better), and if Linux didn’t exist I would probably be using a Mac for software development. OS X isn’t head and shoulders above Windows; both platforms have their issues. Pick one that floats your boat and go for it.

A Brief Pen Review and Shootout


And now for something completely random –

Last week my old faithful office pen, a Bic Atlantis, gave up the ghost and went to that great recycling dumpster in the sky. Do I do the obvious (also the simpler, cheaper) route and just get another Atlantis? Of course not! I decided I needed to go on a quest and see what else is out there besides the two dozen dried up old Bic Stics in my cabinet.

A quick Google search turned up this article, so I took the reviewers’ advice and picked up some Uniball Jetstream fine (.7 mm) tips. The ink in this pen flows so easily it was a little freaky at first. It’s nice, lays down a nice clear line (no feathering or bleeding through the paper), and is starting to grow on me but writing with it is so smooth I have to slow down to feel like I have control of the pen.

Next up was the Pilot Acroball fine (.7 mm) tip. It didn’t feel as slippery as the Jetstream and still wrote a nice, clean line but the padded grip’s contour is in the wrong place for me; I was constantly readjusting my fingers on the pen trying to find a grip that felt natural.

Third on the list was the Zebra F-301 fine (.7) tip. This is one short, thin pen. It seems durable with the stainless steel barrel and is easy to write fast with (did I mention my handwriting sucks?) but it’s so skinny it just feels weird in my hand. And the ink is noticeably lighter and less stark than the two pens I tried earlier.

I picked up a pack of Pentel Energels in .7 mm medium tip yesterday. These things are hands down my least favorite pen in my stack. They just belch out huge streams of ink. The feel is mushy and hard to control. I might like these better with .5 mm tip but the medium tip model is just not my cup of meat.

I tried a few of my wife’s pens as well. The old school Bic Stic was typically hard to get started. Her Pilot Precise V5 was okay but didn’t really move me one way or another. The fine tip Sharpie Pen just feels too much like an old fashioned felt tip and I never liked those things.

But then, suddenly – Eureka! I found a two-pack of Uniball Signo 207 .5 mm micro tips at one of my friendly neighborhood Walmarts. Since the Signo 207s are gel pens, I wanted to go with the .5 mm tip instead of the .7 due to my bad experience with the Energels. The pen lays down a nice, clean, bold line with a feel that’s easy to control. (It’s number three in my eyeball comparison of which pens lays down the thickest, clearest line.) The slightly cushioned grip area doesn’t have any contour, so I can hold the pen however I feel comfortable. It fits my hand well and I don’t feel like I have to work to make the pen write what I want where I want to put it.

So, there you have it. Way more thought put into a subject that I never really paid much attention to before and I’m adopting the Signo 207 as my new pen of choice. I would suggest that, if you’re fed up with your cheap ballpoint clumping up and spitting out ugly globs of ink in the middle of your notes, you lay down a few dollars and try a little nicer grade pen. There are worse things to spend money on.

Below are samples of my gnarly handwriting with the pens mentioned above. My loving spouse ranked them in order of which one laid down the thickest ink. My scribbles in the right margin indicate whether the pen is gel, hybrid ballpoint, felt tip, ballpoint, or roller ball.


A Geek and a Spare Desktop

So, a few weeks ago I pulled my old Windows 7 laptop out of the closet and found out it still worked. (Won’t hold a charge and the battery and DC adapter have already been replaced but it works fine while plugged in.)

I did a clean install of Win 7 Pro with drivers (glad to finally have an excuse to use that back up image), downloaded a metric buttload of updates, installed Chrome, Java, GData, and Minecraft, and gave it to my 8-year-old son. He was ecstatic to be able to play Minecraft with his sister and I got my old Linux desktop back.

The desktop is an old eMachines T5234 32-bit that originally came with Vista (ack!). It didn’t take long for the power supply to crap out, so that got replaced by a much improved unit (a Thermaltake, maybe?), an extra cooling fan was installed, and I maxxed out its RAM to a full 2 gigs (crazy!).

I had used a plethora of Linux distros on it over the years. Over the course of the two years or so my son had it, the desktop had ran Slackware, Fedora (when Chrome started getting wonky), and then CentOS (when Fedora started locking up).

It had been a few years since I had tried to install a modern Linux distro on the machine. This time around, I focused on the LXDE desktop to try to get the most of its limited resources (the aforementioned 2 gigs of RAM, an AMD Athlon 64 dual core, and a NVIDIA GeForce 6150SE chip) and quickly started running into problems: openSUSE had insane video tearing, Fedora had disappearing menu icons, Lubuntu 14.10 was almost stable but Firefox caused massive video tearing when launched. Ditto for Linux Mint with the MATE desktop.

A Debian netinstall with LXDE exhibited the same video problems when I upgraded to Testing. I did a fresh install with Stable and it was, well, stable. However, IceWeasel ESR was sluggish on Facebook and I found myself switching back and forth between Chromium for speed and IceWeasel when I need to use Flash. (Should have checked to see if a pepperflash plugin was available for Chromium.)

I wound up going back to what was already on the desktop when it came back to me: CentOS. No video tearing with the old reliable Gnome 2 desktop (Gnome 3 is an abomination. It’s like the Gnome developers looked at Windows 8 and said, “Pshaw. We can make a desktop suck worse than that. They ain’t seen nothin’ yet!) and CentOS is as stable as the day as long.

Same blessed problem with Firefox ESR, though – it’s just too sluggish! I tried to find some way to install Chrome but Google isn’t showing the Chromish love to old Linux kernels. A popular user repository installed an old version of Chromium and scripts for pepperflash. Problem was that pepperflash didn’t work.

Which left me with the nuclear option: Arch. This distro’s installation process isn’t as scary as Linux From Scratch or FreeBSD but it’s not for the faint of heart. I had tried to install Arch at some earlier point in this saga but it refused to boot despite having been on the same machine in years past. My problem was likely rooted in trying to preserve my /home partition in the install process to avoid having my old data wiped out. I rsynced my home onto an external hard drive, wound up using GParted to partition the eMachine’s drive to Arch’s liking, and made it through the install process.

After several hours of pain and suffering (most of which involved trying to figure why the flip the USB drives wouldn’t automount), I had a working, lightweight LXDE desktop. It didn’t come with Firefox (Arch doesn’t come with much of anything; you build it yourself) so I installed Chromium and a working (!) pepperflash plugin from the AUR for speedy browsing. And there haven’t been any video issues thus far but it’s only been a few days.

Arch is a bleeding edge, rolling release so maintenance will definitely be required. At this point, however, I’m a happy camper. Everything is working the way it’s supposed to and the old desktop is almost speedy when unburdened by extraneous cruft. (Well, it’s not like I’m using it for video editing.) My digital life is good.

There may be a full write up on my Arch experience in the future. It’s a fun distro but bleeding edginess can sometimes cause kiniption fits. We’ll see how things work out.

Windows 8 Follow Up

Fickle geek that I am, I succumbed to Microsoft’s fiendishly clever marketing campaign and upgraded my Windows 7 Home Premium laptop to Windows 8 Pro last night. (Richard Stallman appeared in a flash of smoke as I clicked the Send button to finalize the $40 upgrade payment. I kept him from inflicting serious bodily harm upon my person but he did manage to pull all of the proprietary codecs off my CentOS desktop.) Continue reading

Forests And Trees

I got a little carried away this afternoon in looking at Romans 5 for our group Bible study tonight and wound up reading it to Dawn in five different translations. I was planning on only using a couple for comparison’s sake but verse 14 is just confusing in the New American Standard Bible (NASB) and that was the one I read first, “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.” Continue reading


Several months ago, I was thinking of jazz musicians back in the day who would lay down tracks in a studio or play in a club and the chemistry that they created. If you could just cut out small pieces of time to preserve those moments, you could preserve the feeling the musicians generated, the ambiance, the emotions of the moment. Recordings do this to an extent but you don’t always get the full picture, it’s like looking at individual paragraphs bereft of the whole story. I got a burst of inspiration and came up with the story that follows.

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Continue reading