What Did Jesus Look Like?

The 2015 BBC News article What Did Jesus Really Look Like? is still interesting, even in the afterglow of Christmas. The article is a great blend of historical fact and art history tracing how Jesus has been portrayed in Western art through the centuries, where some traditions started (the beard, halo, and flowing robes hail from Byzantine influences), and some deductions about how he may have actually looked.

Traveling with my iPad Pro 10.5

One of my reasons for purchasing the iPad Pro was to replace my Chromebook as a travel computing device. Here's what I've been using my iPad for on this trip:

  • Reading downloaded ComiXology comics on the frankly beautiful screen using ComiXology's Guided View mode. Seeing individual panels filling the whole screen helps these old eyes. I could have done the same on the Chromebook using the ComiXology web site, but the Chromebook's screen isn't as good. Also, using ComiXology's iOS app, I could download the books I wanted and read them on the airplane or anywhere else without needing a wifi connection.
  • Checking and responding to email, of course. I use my Apple Bluetooth keyboard when I want to type anything longer than a quick message. The iPad and this keyboard are a great combo, with all function keys and many common keyboard combos that work just as expected (but no Forward Delete!).
  • Reading comics and Kindle ebooks on the airplane, something that would have been more cumbersome with the Chromebook. I have never read Kindle ebooks on the Chromebook, as reading them via the web was my only option. I carried a separate Kindle Paperwhite for those occasions.
  • Writing this blog post using the Squarespace editor. There are some restrictions to editing on a mobile device, but I can create and publish posts. The Chromebook, however, would have offered the full suite of editing and styling functions from its web browser Update: I originally wrote this in the Squarespace editor when the wifi went out before I hit Save, so that I lost all the edits for that session. Lesson learned! I'm now drafting this in the Drafts app. The Chromebook also offered offline editing but that kind of violated its whole reason for existing, so I never used it for extensive writing.
  • Downloaded the Doctor Who Christmas special via the Amazon Prime Video app. Again, I could have viewed the video on the Chromebook if I had a stable wifi connection. Where we're staying on the road, the wifi connection is iffy (wiffy?) (no). 
  • Used the You Need A Budget (YNAB) app and my credit union's app to track my expenses. I could have done this via the Chromebook also, though YNAB's iPhone app makes it dead easy to capture expenses on the fly.
  • Slipped it quickly into and out of my backpack, where it weighs less than the few books and notebooks I keep in there. The Chromebook was bigger, bulkier, and it's AC adapters were impossibly awkward in size and weight when I wanted to travel light. The iPad Pro is a clear improvement.

I'm not really doing anything different on the iPad than I could do on the Chromebook. I'm reading, watching video, writing, surfing the web. But what I'm doing is easier and more fun on the iPad. It's the best all-In-one computing device I've ever used.

Six More Little Words

The same coach I mentioned in the previous post asked me in a later session to sum up a motto or philosophy for myself in six words. Instead of compressing a single philosophy into six words, I thought of three two-word phrases to (as always) give myself options. Still, they add up to a single philosophy, I think.

The six words I picked were:

Eyes open. Straight ahead. Keep walking.

They're good words for me, I believe. I tend to duck my eyes at things about myself I don't want to look at, I distract and divert myself, and instead of marching ahead, I sit, stop, and ponder. Sitting and pondering is not a bad thing to do, but I believe I've resorted to that behavior more often than was warranted. Taking action, moving ahead, doing the work even if I don't know where it leads: these are the behaviors I'd like to become my default tactics.

Three Little Words

I worked with a coach one time who asked me a question that I regret I can't recall. Something about "what three words sum up what gives you energy or passion" or "can you tell me what really lights you up, in three words?"

The question I don't remember, but I remember what I answered. Not a phrase but three separate things:

  • Fun
  • People
  • Create

When I experience fun, it's when I'm creating something or solving a problem or am with people whose company I enjoy, where I can forget myself. 

But it occurred to me that those three words can be arranged in sentences:

  • People create fun.
  • Create fun people.
  • Fun people create.

And I think it's that last one I got stuck on, because I believe it to be true for me and the people I know who are creators: fun people CREATE.

I thought that those would be good words to put on any calling card I make for myself. Hell, I'd like to replace my LinkedIn page with Fun People Create. 

I wrote those words on a card and placed it beside my monitor at work. It's become part of the furniture now so that I hardly notice it anymore. I would like to notice it more. And I would like it to be true for me.

 

 

Still running Sierra and iOS 10.3

Computers -- or playing with them -- has been a hobby, pastime, and necessity for the last couple of decades. It used to be that I could not wait to download or install the new version of an application or operating system; the thrill of the New powered that desire.

But with my iMac, 3-month-old iPhone SE (my first ever smartphone), and iPad Pro 10.5-inch (my first ever tablet), I'm taking the upgrades slow. 

One reason is that they're so dang big -- 1-2 GB for iOS, and 5.2 GB for the High Sierra installer. We're on a relatively stable but slow DSL connection so I would need most of the night to download the latter. (I use the free Amphetamine app to keep my iMac from going to sleep.) I would also need a Saturday or Sunday free to deal with the frequent reboots and minor disruptions.

The other is that Apple's software upgrades have been famously fraught with frustrations, from the root login problem in High Sierra to the battery drain and other issues in iOS 11.

It's a shame, because both upgrades seem to be essential ones, especially for the iPad Pro. But both OSs are still too young and Apple, which prides itself on its devices' rock-solid reliability, still seems to be scrambling. I'll wait till it all cools down.

For the iOS upgrade debacles, I am following Forbes.com's Gordon Kelly. While the tech press and Mac sites trumpet each new upgrade, Kelly instead draws his conclusions based on what real users are reporting on Twitter. His recent article on the iOS 11.2 upgrade -- the one that everyone hoped would bring stability to this wearying story -- convinced me that I was wise to bide my time.

I will probably wait till the new year to upgrade, when I have time and when the dust has settled.

How I'm Learning Now

My day job for the last two or so decades has been as a software technical writer. Basically, I write the how-tos that people generally avoid reading. 

I always default to buying a book when learning a new product. I did this for my iPhone and for Squarespace; I have bought innumerable e-books from Take Control to help me learn the ins and outs of certain concepts and software packages. 

But now I find myself acting like you all: it takes considerable willpower for me to crack them open so I refer to them only when I have a problem. Example: when I bought my first iPhone in September one of my first purchases was Que's My iPhone. I skimmed the first chapters, gleaned a few things I didn't already know, and have not gone back to it.

I'm currently involved in a project where I'm using iMovie for the first time, and at work I find myself using Git and LaTeX. So now I'm watching Lynda.com or YouTube to introduce and acquaint me with the software. 

I find I am naturally and unconsciously defaulting to this sort of just-in-time training -- and visual training at that -- while my "rational" brain still favors just-in-case training.

Do I learn any more quickly? I can't say. Some videos are just narrated slideshows, which is worse than reading because I can't skim ahead (though I can play the video at a faster rate and race through the material faster). I like Lynda.com's software video tutorials because they walk  through a sample project so I can actually see how something like editing is done within this bewildering interface. I'm more of a visual learner than I thought.

So as I get acquainted with my iPad, I will stop myself buying newsstand magazines or books and instead watch some videos. And for what the videos cannot give me? There is always The Google.

My New iPad

New and first iPad ever, actually, only a few weeks old. It's the 10.5-inch iPad Pro and it is a beaut of a machine. Remarkably light and thin, beautiful screen. It's a luxury that is not yet a necessity.

Liz has had an iPad Mini for 4-5 years now and absolutely adores it. She reads the digital version of our local newspaper on it, surfs the web, listens to music, researches our trips, and generally does not need a traditional old-fashioned PC or desktop computer at all. Her iPad Mini is a constant companion for her: the perfect size for carrying and using anywhere. 

My friend MikeU bought the 9.7-inch iPad about 5-6 years ago and it became his laptop replacement at work. His aim was for the iPad to pay for itself. With the addition of a Logitech case/keyboard and Evernote, the iPad became his note-taking device at meetings and led him to eschew paper-based Day-Timers after nearly 20 years. But he rarely used his iPad for entertainment; for him, it was primarily a work machine.

I bought my iPad as I thought about our upcoming trips. For the last several years, when we've traveled, I've packed an Acer Chromebook laptop with its ungodly and ungainly AC adapter and cord. I liked the full-size keyboard for writing emails, I could use my Bluetooth headset, and the screen was adequate for watching the Doctor Who Christmas specials. I did not want to use Liz's iPad to check my email or type messages on; iPads are personal devices and I didn't want to mess anything up on her True Love. Besides, what if I wanted to surf the web too? Better for us to each have our own devices.

The appeal of the iPad Pro for me was primarily to make traveling easier: it's lighter than the Chromebook, the AC adapter is very low-profile (in a pinch, Liz and I could share one), I could use the iPad while squished into an airplane seat, and I could customize its display as I liked. The attraction of the bigger screen means I can now read comics via Comixology and get something like the experience of having the pamphlet in my hand, with the extra advantage of zooming into a panel when I want to study finer details. And there are Kindle ebooks that are meant for use on color devices, so I can now enjoy them on my new toy.

So why am I not more excited? I am a little skeptical of this expensive device. Expensive not just in terms of money, but in the time I feel I need to take to get it set up and to learn its ways.

My Kindle Paperwhite is still fine for reading and has its own advantages: smaller even than the iPad Mini, longer battery life, cheaper and thus more easily replaceable, it doesn't push light into my face, and -- crucially -- I can't do anything else with it. It's built for distraction-free reading, while the iPad encourages distraction. 

My iMac is my principal home computer and I already tend to do most everything I need to do on it: writing, YouTube, file management, even Comixology though it's not terribly pleasurable. The iMac is my everything-device; I am used to the power of the full-fledged Mac OS and desktop apps.

My iPhone SE (my first smartphone ever, bought in September) replaced my trusty and beloved iPod and it quickly filled a key niche in my digital ecosystem. The iPhone hosts my iTunes music library, email, camera, podcasts I listen to in the car, Evernote, and my budget app. Its smaller screen prohibits me from reading on it for long periods (which is a good thing). It's my general purpose pocket computer and it has become as necessary to me as Liz's iPad Mini is to her.

So while I look forward to using the iPad on our upcoming travels, I remain skeptical of its value to me when I'm at home. Where does it fit in my media consumption diet? Where does it fit when I want to write emails or a blog post? These are things I'll find out over time, while I work out how necessary this luxury item is to me.

 

"Teacher" -A Short Documentary

In the spring of 2017, I was searching for a new creative project to take my mind off of work upheavals. I signed up for a Durham Arts Council short course called “Make a 5-minute Documentary in 7 Weeks.” I’ve done screen capture edits at work with Camtasia Studio, but had never worked with capturing or editing digital video. I thought this would be a good enough challenge to get me making something.

The final product took longer than 7 weeks to create (lessons learned to follow!) and is about 8 minutes long, but I was pleased with the result.

The documentary is of my banjo teacher, J. Michael Pope of Beautiful Music Studios. I think it captures the heart of his teaching and its deeply spiritual underpinning. I captured the video, edited it in Final Cut Pro, and uploaded it to YouTube.

The purpose of being a serious writer is not to express oneself, and it is not to make something beautiful, though one might do those things anyway. Those things are beside the point. The purpose of being a serious writer is to keep people from despair. If you keep that in mind always, the wish to make something beautiful or smart looks slight and vain in comparison. If people read your work and, as a result, choose life, then you are doing your job.