Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Drydock '08

The sweat drips from my nose, and splashes, sizzling, onto the soldering iron.

It's roasting hot, and the cables are all around me, as squashed into a small space behind the audio rack I put the finishing touches to the new audio lines I just ran across from the desk opposite.

It's dry-dock again.My third, now, and this time, I'm just not enjoying it.

I have quite a lot on my plate at the moment, what with trying to sort out many technical issues in the A/V equipment, and also get as much as possible done to allow us to expand and use what we have better throughout this coming year.


Also, the other members of the A/V team are busy with other projects, and I'm helping out a bit again with the deck ladder-repair and making crew.


Bink!

That's the sound that the lights make when blackouts happen.

We just had another powercut.

Vrum bzzzzzt! Klunk! Klunk! Klunkklunkklunkduhduhduhduh!

That's the sound that the fanrooms make when the power comes back on again.

The power just came back on again, by the way.

So, anyway. Right.

Yeah, there's another fairly huge but unofficial project on which has pretty much sucked all the free time out of one of my team for the last 10 months - even from well before he joined AV - and also has been increasingly impinging upon the time of the rest of us.

They created an(other) unrealistic deadline to finish it before the end of this drydock, and I knew he would push all his time and energy into it.

So I pretty much gave him his work time to get this thing finished.

Which is good, I guess.

I mean, he's not dead, which if we'd pushed hard at the AV jobs as well, I think he would be.

He just wouldn't have slept at all.

We barely did anyway.

I was up until 3 one night working on an animation for the project.


Anyway.

Many of the AV tasks I had (I wrote down 58 jobs I'd have liked to either do, or investigate the feasibility of) have not been done, and most of them I didn't even get a chance to investigate how possible they were.

So.. somewhat frustrating.

The first version is done now, which is good.

Anyway.

Still plenty of logistics and miscommunication issues to sort out.

So.

What else...

I've been making sure I keep time for myself, not burning out, and part of that includes focussing more on painting and artwork.. we've begun "creative communities" on board - basically an internal art/photography/creative writing club, with picking a theme per month.

The theme last month was "Freedom".

This month it's "Love".

Here's a painting of mine - "Searching for Love"

I helped out a bit with the ladderwork again this drydock.

Pretty much the same as last year.. this time we stretched the rope slightly more thoroughly.. Check out before and after stretching:



Quite impressive.

I feel somewhat drawn out and stretched myself.


I don't think I'll snap.. but hopefully I'll be all the more resilient to whatever life throws at me in the future because of it.

And my current work in progress.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Being Nasty at the desk, and nice the rest of the time.

Well... it's been busy.

It is busy!

We've left Australia, and are sailing currently to East Timor. The programme team have a new manager, who is bent on reforming them and is changing many ways of working, becoming more team based:

brainstorming rather than ivory tower development of programmes,
Flexi-time working, everyone chipping in rather than fixed hours, and so on.

The AV team isn't really part of the programmes team (go figure), but we work a lot with them, and so I've been trying to push my team into being at as much of this voyage's programme team time as possible. Attending devotions with them, being at the creativity sessions, and so on.

This morning we had a fairly good session, which I led, I was trying to get them to think outside of the box in reguards to how we use our venue. The on board "Main Lounge" is most frequently set up with all the programme happening in one "stage" section at the front, and then rows of chairs at the back, or tables in a cafe setting. Often the most transformation the room gets is having curtains put up, perhaps fairy lights and lots of flags (you know, the whole international thing).

Anyway. We can do so much more. Once we started imagining things, ideas like turning the whole room into a Japanese Garden, with an island in the middle and a moat and bridges and stuff came up. Building a slum from Manilla out of the whole room, hanging the curtains to turn it into a ginormous beduin-style tent, and so on. One group even thought of having a "Indiana Jones" type set up, with different areas of the lounge being different places around the world, tying up some of the audience with a knife suspended above their head and then dropping it on them if their team-mates didn't answer the questions of a quiz correctly...

Some of the ideas may take a little modifying. Health and Safety, you know.

Still, it was a good session, and then we looked through a lot of our video clips collection, to talk about what we can use, how we can use videos we have more effectively, and so on.

This evening was the weekly prayer-night, which this week was being run by the on board School. It was somewhat chaotic, as these kinds of things are wont to be.

Anyway, the guy who was leading the musicy part of it didn't bring me a song list at all (which is mentioned on the pre-event A/V form, which he otherwise did fill in), and then half an hour before we began, during his sound check time, he brought up two new songs which needed to be entered into the database while I was trying to sound check them... He know's it's supposed to be 24 hours before an event that they give in any new songs.

Still, I told him off, but put the songs in anyway. So, quite hectic. It all went really well in the end, and sounded pretty good, all the songs worked, and so on. Apparently I made an impression on him though, as after the evening was finished, he showed up at the sound desk with a large bar of chocolate to say sorry for being so late all the time!! Amazing!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Makin' a movie

I'm working on another short film/video project. Here's a few frames from it for your enjoyment.






I'm still quite tired and frustrated and so on, but a bit better. I've had a day off since my last post, which was good, and another few days off in the next few weeks too, so that's good too. I'll be writing a longer text blogpost soon.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Handover

I'm tired. I'm stressed.

I won't pretend to hide it.

I'm pissed off at the system, thoroughly fed up of how things currently are - in my work, my life, and in many things around me.

Yet, still, most things are going fairly well...

I'm now the "AV manager", and discovering more and more how disorganised and messed up it is.

We have small forms in the drawer under the computer which are used during the sunday service on board, we give out the little forms, then people can fill them in if they want to, so that they can give to the weekly offering (usually to help a local ministry, or work in India, or similar) direct from their on board account, rather than having to use cash.

Anyway, this morning, the guy running the service came up and asked for them.. We had 10. Not good enough! So, I told him a few ideas of who he could ask for more, but this was at half an hour before the service, on a Sunday Morning. Not the best time to go looking for people to do random work like that.

We need to have once a week or so someone to check how many we have, say on a Friday, and then to get at least 200 before the Sunday morning.

Not a big deal, right?

Well, no, not a problem at all. Just the problem is that there are *hundreds* of little issues like this. Every day. And *NONE* of them are written down. When I started, there were no current weekly checklists or anything.

I don't want to become a lists and rules based dictator, but how on earth else do you manage to get everything done that needs to be?

When I took over this job, there was maybe 1 hour of discussion between me and the predecessor about stuff, but none of these little details were noted. Each day day I find mord

And it was the same thing when I became waterman, 2 years ago. There's no consistancy! As soon as people leave, things get dropped.

It's why ships tend to have such strict and over the top and detailed procedures - everything gets written down.

Anyway. It's just intensely frustrating. I'm so bad at admin, so weak at organisation, so forgetful about details, so easily overwhelmed by situations, so inexperienced at leadership, so unknowledgeable about everything technical I should know about, so young!

I guess in one way it's kind of exciting. I mean, whoopee! So much stuff to learn! So much I can improve!

Yet it's kind of hard to say that and not at least have some irony and sarcasm in it too.

Yes, it's good to be stretched and have all this improvement to do, but at the same time, it's "live". We're not playing with blank bullets. Every round is for real.

Every time I start a video playing in a programme, it's not school, not training. People are in the programme, watching, and notice if things don't work.

The audience have paid, usually. The programme organiser has spend hours arranging everything, and if I screw up, it's her work that gets ruined.

Trying to set priorites, and figure out what actually is realistic and achievable...

And then how to make sure it happens. And each day discovering more things which have got dropped and then not only do we need to carry it, but we have to stop, pick it up, clean it, do repairs on it, and then start carrying it again.

I could go on. My list of current frustrations and things we're doing badly is pretty much endless.

And I know I'm a perfectionist, but this isn't perfectionism.. This is realism.

  • Wireless Microphone Batteries Dying mid-show
  • Cables going glitchy
  • Videos playing during rehearsal but then refusing to play in performance
  • Audio levels on all videos being different and needing constant riding
  • Audio patch-panels/jackfields acting
  • The trash not getting taken every day
  • The room looking a mess all the time
  • Cables not getting fixed or taken out when they break

Those are all itty bitty technical details. But they effect almost every programme we do.

And why?! Why have they not been fixed? And how can they be fixed easily, or at least dealt with, or worked around?

Well, they can. But we're lacking any way to report problems, to deal with them, or do anything in a purposeful or directed way.

And it's not just about technical details. Those are the easiest for me to see - of course - and those are the bits that are our job. From a programme side, this show up as mics dying unexpectedly, feedback, disruption, long pauses, lack of flow and professionalism, etc, etc, etc.

And we've all become so accepting of it! And that's wrong. We cannot accept crap, when we are capable of beauty, and if we're not capable of exquisite complex beauty, then we must simplfy until what we do is excellent at that level.

There's so much attitude and team thinking that has to change too, and just as soon if not before the technical bits can get solved. I really am trying to focus on the people, in the team and those we work with/for, and that's a topic for a whole other post, or possibly whole other blog. So I'll just stick with the technical day to day bits today.

Everything is so reactive. Like the offering forms this morning. Having problems show up, and then deal with them.

Honestly, we - the ship - has been doing programmes for so long now that ALL of these things should have become non-issues. And once we can get out of this constanct scrambling to pick up the pieces of something that's just exploded, or running around like headless chickens to stop something from exploding, then we can actually start enjoying it, and being creative and actually going somewhere positive and improving.

But man, it's tiring right now.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Un-named Haiku

This blog post is short.
It is for my friend Bridget.
The sentence count: three.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Getting to know me, or not.

Good morning, blog. Although, actually, it's more like evening, seeing as how it's 7pm and everything.

It's probably morning somewhere in the world.

I have a friend on this ship who has a fetish for "Awkward moments". I'm sure he wouldn't like it to be called a fetish, but whatever, he really loves them. He savours them, as a connesour, specially saving them up and preparing them, finely planning moments of Awkwardness in the same way that a conductor of an orchestra prepares the finale of a grand opera.

He'll often say stuff intentionally to make people uncomfortable.

So I asked about a week or two ago, why?

And his response was something like,

(a) it's fun,
(b) I enjoy seeing how people really are.

And the second one is the bit that I took issue with.

He said watching how people react when they don't know how to respond gives a great insight into them, and let's you see them without the pretence and acting that accompanies so much of human interaction.

What's there to take issue with?

Well, seeing people when they don't know how to react, is that really how they "really are"?

It seems to me to smell slightly of the whole humans-are-nought-but-animals thing.

And also, the "You know the real person by seeing how they behave under pressure". - Likewise, the same.

There is some truth to it, of course. It's much easier to act nice and give a good image when you are relaxed and can concentrate on impressing others, or on behaving well, than when things are stressful and you're under pressure and don't have time to think about what to do next.

Others have also said that you know how someone is by what they do in their spare time, or when no one else is looking, and so on.

Some people seem to do well under pressure, and be able to think quickly and clearly. Others don't. Some people find it easy to find jobs to do and to use their spare time productively and pro-actively.

So... it's often very useful to know how someone behaves under pressure, but I don't think it really shows who they "really" are.

This would have been all nice and theoretical, and all that, except for this week.

I got sick.

And, it turns out, I don't act very nice when I'm sick.

Usually, when I'm healthy and fine and everything, I tend to use a lot of hyperbole, sarcasm, and irony in my general day to day language. It tends to be (I hope!) fairly good natured, and over-the-top enough that others realise it's not intended seriously.

"Could you play this CD for me?"
"Nope. It's completely impossible - the computer can only play CDs on Thursdays."

and so on.

Well, the thing is, recently I've started to tend to mix double meanings and more biting sarcasm into what I say, and, usually, it doesn't mean anything - to me.

Ie, "hey, the programme schedule says you're doing a song later, but you haven't put a form in saying you want any microphones or instruments or anything, so it's just a Capella, right?"

It appears though, my sarcasm and hyperbole and so on don't pan out so well when I'm tired/sick or stressed.

We had a wedding yesterday on board. About half way through the ceremony, right in the middle of a song just as I was mixing the band and having to be constantly mindful of the two wireless mics the MC and someone else had and things were quite hectic, when one of the people who was videoing it (a local) came over and asked "Do you have any power sockets? I need to re-charge my camera batteries".

"Yes, right here." (pointing at the sockets)

"Ah." (he pokes around)

"They don't fit..."

"Oh, right. Um, yes. It's European, sorry, the whole ship is set up with European sockets. It's a European ship, after all."

"You mean you don't have any standard sockets??" (disbelief in his voice)

And this is, I'm afraid, where my stunning wit came to the fore again, and really didn't help the situation at all.

"No, no. They're all standard sockets." *helpful smile* "European standard."

Very helpful, wasn't I. - I don't think!

Yes... I don't think. Maybe that's the problem.

I'm struggling a lot right now with trying to balance work with relationships. Not in that I work too much and don't spend enough time with people, but in that when people do things which really mucks up my work, I find it very hard to still be nice.

Part of it is I just really have no idea how to be nice.

Middle of a programme, pressing buttons and cueing video clips and trying to make the whole thing smooth and beautiful, and someone comes into the AV room from behind me, is standing right where I need to move to press a button on the video mixer, and asked "hey, would it be possible for you to play me a DVD in the other room in an hour or so?"

How do you respond to such things?

"Go away. I can't listen to you now." - Not really polite.

"Dear brother! I would be more than glad to hear from you, and to help you in any way I can, even though you've broken two of our published policies in the last 10 seconds, nevertheless, I completely forgive you and forget all about it so if you come back to me in 20 minutes then I'll be very happy to hear your request and see how I can most elegantly acquiesce to your desires." - too long, and I'm already late for a cue.

"Ask me later." - Usually what I'll try and say but, unfortunately, what people want is something they need more input for. And usually they leave it right until the last minute before asking us. Usually the reply I'll get from them (while they're still standing in the way of my mixer) is "Well, I need to know now so I can arrange a laptop or something if you can't do it."

"Oh, are you running the programme now? Since you're in the right place to press the buttons, does that mean I can leave?" - Unfortunately, something close to what's likely to be my first response.

And it's not that I really bear them any ill-feeling, or even that I mean to be nasty, mean, or sarcastic.

Sometimes as well, I've noticed I have a tendancy to use hyperbole, sometimes in ways which just don't make sense to anyone other than me:

"Oh yes, it's horribly frustrating when people forget to hand in their forms on time. I feel like screaming like a little child and jumping overboard whenever they do." - yes, it's frustrating, but not that frustrating.

I dunno.

I feel kind of like I've picked up some really rude sarcasm and humour somewhere. And especially when I'm tired, frustrated, under pressure, and sick, it really comes out and is just plain nasty to everyone.

Is this the real me, coming out at last?

Or is the real me the nice one?

"When a man's at his worst, then you see him the best."

or

"It's not how good you are, but how good you want to be".



*sigh* I have so far to go...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

From Carlisle...

Wind tore across the darkened misty moors of the Lake District, pounding along the side of the tent like a tidal wave breaking upon the highcliffed shoreline of a forgotten arctic land. Outside of the tent, tiny rabbits huddled together in their burrows shivering due to the icy drafts, while inside and close by rain-drenched men struggled through the mud to complete their epic task.

Less then 3 hours previously 6000 people had been standing while the melodious hymn of Amazing Grace washed around them, many, even 200 of them touched to the heart made their way forward to pray and be prayed for, to receive the greatest gift in the history of the world.

3 hours later, the knowledge of this gift was the warmth that glowed inside the men labouring to bring their flight cases, amplifiers and speakers into a truck and depart from the now empty canvas cathedral.

Finally the dismissal was given, and as the last few items were loaded in the the crew slowly dispersed. The 4 OMNIvision men removed their mud covered shoes, and climbed into their small car, and drove out through the dark unlit pathway to the main road, and off into the night.

Soaking wet, muddy and weary in mind and body, their spirits were none the less high as they left the town and none of them were expecting the sudden sliding skid towards the roundabout and the ominous crunch into the other car which told them the journey home would be longer than they had anticipated.

The driver -- a Scot -- immediately turned their car towards the side of the road and drove up onto the curve to inspect the damage. They climbed from the vehicle shocked but glad that none had been injured. The other car was significantly dented, but the driver was unhurt. After the routine exchange of sarcasm, licence and telephone numbers and insurance policy contact details, the other driver perked up and laughed. Quoth he "At least it wasn't my car, it's a company one, I'd have been really pissed off if it were mine!", whereupon he grinned, hopped in to his, or rather his company's car and drove away.

The four traveling companions were not so fortunate in their predicament. The bumper was only attached by one nut and dragging along the ground. Inside, the plastic wheel frame was twisted into the wheel, and the headlights were no longer attached and pointing in various directions. With still more than 100 miles of motorway to cover before reaching their destination, it was decided that to attempt to complete it in that mangled condition would be folly.

A phone call for help from the Automobile Association was made, and they settled back to wait for the assistance to arrive.

It was not long until it arrived, and their disfigured ride was lifted on to the tow. The driver, a friendly Newcastle man was quick and efficient, and as he climbed into the cab a few minutes later, he turned and said "No hado sinye fine sell bacun ahl droye temsix unwil mitwethe rileh tuhye hom. Shubetheh intwenni mints."

Our Scottish companion seemingly spoke this language and so replied, sitting in the passenger seat next to the driver, they passed the time chatting about the evening.

The two Germans turned to the fourth member of their party, a native of the land, although one who had spent most of his life abroad, and asked for interpretation. His eyes were as confused and uncomprehending as theirs, and much merriment was made by the continentals for his lack of understanding.

After about half an hour, they reached a certain motorway service station and they stopped there and moved the car across to a longer distance relay truck, and after buying coffee, bade farewell to the first driver, and climbed into the new cab and made acquaintance of the second.

The next 2 and a half hours passed fairly quickly, and they arrived at Carlisle before dawn had touched the skies with her pink streaked palette. The derelict car was left inside the shed, and the four weary travelers collected their belongings and went their separate ways.

I myself am one of these bold companions, and survived this ordeal with the a moral which I will now pass on to you: If you must drive around at midnight on wet and slippy roads in cars which have seen better days after yourself having worked for about 15 hours hauling heavy cases all over the place and are tired as anything, then drive slowly. Especially when approaching roundabouts.


In case you hadn't guessed, the above is from when I was in Carlisle, I wrote it as an email, but was informed that it needed to be posted as a blog article. So. Now it is.

Here's some food.
And some coffee.
I like coffee.

So, it's currently a voyage on the way to Sydney, we just finished our first port in Australia, Brisbane, hanging out in AV, blogging and emailing and listening to Flanders and Swann.

More up to date blog posts to follow, of course.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

At LAST...

OK. So, due to popular demand, this service will resume shortly.

It's now then.

I'm back on Doulos, I took the train down to Manchester, from where I flew to Dubai, from Dubai to Bangkok, from Bangkok to Sydney, from Sydney to Auckland, and from Auckland to Wellington where I joined up with Doulos again.

That was an epic adventure, in itself. There was a bombthreat in Dubai, with some English nutcase got himself drunk, and just as we landed got into a fight with a steward, and declared he had a "device" that he would use to blow up the plane. Of course, the crew had to take it seriously, and so we were sitting out on the tarmac for about an hour or so surrounded by police and firetrucks and SWAT teams and so on, before they managed to sort him out and let us off the plane.

Oh well, another day in the life of the brummie-not-yet-at-sea. Well, the trouble then came when about half of us from that flight were now late for our connecting flights, and so had to stay 24 hours in Dubai airport for the next plane.

If you're going to get stuck in an airport for 24 hours, it might as well be Dubai. I know it quite well, of course, and they did very nicely give me a hotel room overnight, and 3 meal vouchers. It was a bit complex trying to figure out sensible times to eat them, as I needed to leave the next morning at 6am, and was about to fly to Australia, so was trying to get my bodyclock as sorted as I could. So anyway, I slept the whole day, worked the night, and ate my mealtickets-worth at random times when I was awake.

So, right. I eventually got to Wellington, where some of my great friends were there with a ginormous paper origami crane bird thingy they'd made, attached onto a crown of old toilet-roll-cardboard, with dangly bits and all which I had to wear. It was so good to see them again. (In case you wondered). I'll see if I can find a photo of the amazing crown. It wasn't really my style, as such, but one does try to fit in, after all.

so. That was like a month ago now, and I'm settling in quite well. AV has been undergoing a few changes, some good, some... well, I have a differing opinion about them to the people who instigated them.

We're now in Brisbane, Australia. It's cool. I like it here. It's good to be back on the ship again. Many people are about to leave, and there are 60 odd new people... But, new in that they joined 6 months ago, just as I left, so they're already "old hands", yet I don't know them!

Anyway. It's traditional for me to start new paragraphs with "Anyway" for no apparent reason. Here I am, I've started writing again, and so new posts will be forthcoming, fear not. I have a few more stories from Carlisle which I'll be posting soon, but I figured it's best to get the blog going again up to date, before launching into the past.

Oh! Right, yeah. I moved cabin, so I'm now in a smaller but very nice 2-man cabin, with this funny Brazilian guy. I managed to bring my coffee-maker with me from the UK, and it looks a bit strange of course, so he was wondering what it was. I explained and he nodded and said "oh, that's nice.". Then, a few days later, when I started making coffee (using the steamer to steam some ex-vanilla-icecream that had melted, to make vanilla-lattes), he just sat and stared, and said "Dude!" occasionally. He is now, in his own words, very happy to have me as a cabinmate, and has forsworn local cafes in lieu of his own cabin. I still like the local cafes. I still have so much to learn.

So, that's the basic overview of the last 2 months or so, I'll fill in the details as and when I get time. Thanks for listening! (Or reading, or whatever)

Friday, May 30, 2008

There and back again

Before I begin today's tale, there are a few things I must first explain. The first is that the UK has these things called "Bank Holiday Mondays", which basically means most people with office-type jobs don't work on random mondays throughout the year. Nobody whom I've asked seems to know what these Bank Holiday Mondays are in aid of, nevertheless, they seem quite keen on them, generally as they happen to be some of the people who don't work on these aforementioned Bank Holiday Mondays.

The second thing I'd like to mention is that I'm kind of used to the Doulos work week, which means that also, most people don't work on Mondays, however, we do work every other day, including Saturday and Sunday.

So being here in Carlisle, where the team has 2 days off per week (Saturday and Sunday) is quite a rare and interesting experience. Then these Bank Holiday Mondays on top of that, wow! It's surprising they get any work done at all! We had one of these Mondays about 2 weeks ago.

The third thing, is that you should now promptly remove all of the above from your current thoughts, but allow it to drift uninhibited and unwatched into the depths of your subconcious general knowledge. This will put you in a better frame of mind for listening to the rest of the tale, but also put you in roughly the same state as I was 4 days ago.

I got up as usual, showered, dressed, and made myself a rather tasty cappuccino with my breakfast. I headed early to the Shed to start getting some audio files ready for posting later on this week. So I got to the shed about 10 past 7, my housemate was still asleep when I left, and while I was walking to the Shed, I thought
"Once I've got these files going, I'll try walking to the Office (which is on the opposite end of town) for 9am devotions" (that we have together with the Office staff 3 times a week).

So once my audio files were happily working, I set out from the Shed at about 8:15 and started walking at a reasonable pace towards the office. I kind of hoped to see the bus at the bus stop as I went past, and maybe see my housemate on it.

No sign of the bus.

"Hm," I thought, checking my watch.

"8:23.. that bus must be a bit later than I thought."

I picked up the pace a bit, thinking, "I wonder if I can get to the office before the bus and my housemate do!" and briskly hopped down the steps to the underpass, and headed through the park.

One cool thing about Carlisle is the rabbits. There are wild rabbits all over the place! I'm sure the local farmers hate them and so on, but I quite enjoy seeing them all over the place as I walk about early in the morning, and while along the footpath I saw a rabbit jumping out of my way.

I continued up the main road, noticing a large car boot sale in the yard of the Catholic church, St. Augustine's.

(USAian translation: a "car boot sale" is a kind of a communal garage sale not in a garage, where people bring stuff in the trunk of their car (which they call a boot) to some church or other parking lot and hopefully make a bit of money for the church or whoever as well).

I'd still not seen the bus, so thought "It's 8.45, I'm sure it can't be behind me, and should have overtaken me by now, if it was, which means it must have been ahead of me when I passed the bus stop, so I must be quite a way behind schedule if I'm going to get there by 9.."

So I again increased my perambulatory velocity, and strode purposefully past the church, and up the hill towards the industrial estate.

The road was longer than I thought, and so soon it was 8.50 and I still wasn't at the office, so I again sped up and was charging along the road at as fast a walk as I could happily manage, wishing I hadn't worn my safety boots that day. I felt sure blisters were developing on my heels.

Eventually I got to the estate, and negotiated the roads between the shops and warehouses, noting the fact that it was now 9.05. Oh well, I'd be a bit late, but not too bad. I got to the office, and paused at the door.

There were no cars in the car park. That's a bit odd.. And no-one arriving late.. that's even odder. I was about to go in anyway, when I remembered that I don't remember the alarm code, and if in fact no-one was in the building, I'd have no way to switch it off, and the police would show up and drag me away and lock me up for years and years, and I'd never see my beloved ship again.

The thought didn't appeal to me too much, so I rang the mobile of one of the others on the team, to ask what was going on.

"Hallo" said he.

"Hallo" said I.

"Where is everyone?" I queried, "I'm at the office, and no-one is here."

"Ah," came the response, and with it enlightenment, "It's Bank Holiday Monday."

"What?!" disbelievingly quoth Yours Truly, "Another one?!"

Whereupon he laughed and verified that yes, it was another Bank Holiday Monday.

I sighed, squared my shoulders, and slowly began to make my way back towards the opposite end of the town, and the Shed again.

As I left the estate, I began to laugh, realising that I had indeed managed to reach the office before my housemate, but that it had done me no good at all, and all I had gained was the knowledge that the bus is indeed faster than walking, and perhaps a few more blisters on my feet.

What I really wanted was somewhere to sit down, drink coffee and rest my poor feet for a while. Pubs in the UK don't seem to open before 11am, so I couldn't even stop for a beer anywhere, which would have been equally welcome.

As I got to the church, the thought crossed my mind that perhaps they might have coffee and cakes there. So I popped into the yard, and went in search of coffee. They did have some, but nowhere to sit, and no cakes, only what a sign called "a biscuit" which rather put me off, so I wandered though the cars, and managed to find a few things I'd been looking for: a couple of small espresso cups, a mug tree for the kitchen, (40p the lot) a few more books (20p each), a cork pin board for my office (50p), a maglite and multi-tool (3 quid the pair), and a small filter machine for 2 pounds which I could take to the conferences.

Bundles of cheap second-hand clutter in bags, I continued to hobble on my merry - if slightly painful - way.

A few streets on I was accosted cheerfully, if rather extremely frailly, by an old lady who wanted to know if it was a Sunday, or in fact a Bank Holiday Monday, as they all seem the same to her. Apparently I either must deceptively look knowledgeable about such things, or I'm just perhaps the only person in this country who seems to pay any attention to other people around them. It's really weird. No-one ever wants to make eye-contact.

Anyway. I explained about having been bitten by the situation myself, and we chatted for a while. She told me (twice) that she was from the highlands of Scotland, that I shouldn't ask her why she was living in England, and that the reason she was living in England was because her husband had told her (when they were much younger) "We're going to live in Carlisle", so they did.

A brief aside: I promised my friend Kris from Doulos that I'd mention her in a blog post, and so I'll just mention that the little old lady I met was about 50 years older than you, Kris, and about half as tall.

Anyway. A very sweet lady, and quite funny and friendly too. She told me I mustn't go to work, but should go home.

I didn't however, and instead went back to the Shed - after meeting briefly a beggar in the underpass who was being ignored by the rest of the general population walking past him in that peculiarly oblivious British way - and spent the rest of the day finishing those sound files. By the end of the day my brain was almost toast after having stared at audio waveforms for almost the whole day, and half of the week before.

At least I got some exercise, I suppose.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Photo time

I'm feeling a little bit Italian, right now. Not much, but just a bit.

This morning I made myself and housemate espresso before getting the bus down to the Office, where we have devotions with the office people 3 times a week.

Then for lunch, I had a mozzarella and sun-dried tomato panini, from the local "Sandwhich club" which Euan and a bunch of others often get lunch from to bring back to the Shed.

Then for dinner, I made lasagne. Myself, I kind of like this whole cooking thing. Especially when I remember to not try and burn down the house (I'll tell you about it later...), and don't squish eggs in mid air all down the side of the cupboards and on the floor, and also when I don't by accident tip the slice of cheese-on-toast over and dump hot cheese all over the base of the oven.

Yes, all of those have happened this week. I'll explain later, but right now I want to talk about my lasagne, as it really was quite OK-ish, maybe. I'm always terrifed about making food for people. But it's one of those "I'm scared because I'm scared" things, rather than "I'm scared for a good reason" things. And I'm trying to learn to (a) tell the difference, and (b), ignore the first kind of scaredness.

Well. I thought the Lasagne was alright.

Anyway. He did have seconds, so it can't have been *that* bad.

And he did say he wasn't hungry really, before eating.

Maybe that's cos I'd said I'd never made lasagne before, and he's seen all the other chaos of the kitchen I've had this week.

Anyway. So at the end of the lasagne, post washing up, what's the first thought to my mind? Well, after the Espresso, Panini and Lasagne filled day, only one thing remains!

No, it's not a good red wine. I wish we had some for dinner too, but we didn't. It is, of course,

Gelato!

OK, so we don't have any Italian icecream in the house, but we do have some old random English ice cream which past housemates have left.

And I have an espresso machine.

So, Hot frothy chocolate, and icecream! What a way to finish the day.

My otherwise quite unflappable very German
amused-in-a-quiet-way-at-Daniel's-cullenary-insanity housemate is truly
shocked at the idea, and tells me I will explode one of these days.

All that sweet stuff right before bed.

Maybe he's right.

Those Germans can be quite sensible, at times.

Nevertheless,

"Shiver me timbers!" I cry, and reach for the chocolate sauce!

It's been a while since I posted any photos here, so here are a few choice pics for your enjoyment, and for the general visualness of this blog.

So, because of the whole coffee obsession thing that's going on right now, here is the first ever coffee-type thing which I managed to get out of the machine:



Kind of bleh... Which is why I moderately proudly present:

Cappuccino! Well, almost. It tastes better than it looks. And, being a computer image obsessive person as well, I had to play with the colours. Dunno if it makes it look any better, or worse, but it was fun, anyway:

OK, so enough playing. Now for some shots of work. Here is our DVD duplication zone of the Shed. Thankfully this isn't really my job, or else I'd go much crazier than I currently am. I'm making the DVD masters, which are then duplicated here.
What I have to contend with is this:
As one of my friends insists on saying "Stupid Mac!" or alternatively "Brood of Saruman!" We're developing quite a system of which computers are which species of evil around here.

And so as to not end on such a pessimistic note, here is some more coffee. Trying to get some finer foam, and aim towards latte art, at some point. Still, a long way to go, of course.

And some colour playing with, and adding some fake DOF and so on:

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Of Boys, Toys, JWs, Anoraks, and St. Augustine (or, The Coffee Maker, Part 2)

I always knew a few people who loved trains. I even knew one or two people who built model rail-ways at home, usually in some deserted far off loft or study.

I've suddenly discovered, much to my surprise, that this is not one or two isolated individuals, but in fact apparently a large percentage of the male population of this part of the UK.

I never expected to learn that.

They call themselves Anoraks, and about a third of the people I'm working with belong to this group.

OK, So trains can look quite cool, and I am working with the media and computers team of the company, so it's no surprise, I suppose, that you find a higher pecentage of people here with high IQ / arcane / obscure hobbies...

But it's not just little nerdy geeks with glasses wandering around with notebooks and flasks of tea getting all excited about 7.25" gauge K1 engines and 1937 liveries, it's a lot of guys, of every background, upbringing, shape, size, character and personality.

We had finished setting up for one of those J.John conferences, and were hanging out round the back waiting for it to be time to start, when this anglican vicar looking bloke wandered up, and they all ended up chatting about trains.

And all the rest of the guys too: those few who don't have a thing about machines that roll around the place on parallel tracks get excited by all kinds of other things.

There's a bloke here who gets very excited about trucks, vans, busses, and other large automobiles.

When I say "excited", I mean in the kind of "eyes light up, bounces up and down and starts talking animatedly and waving his arms around" kind of way.

And he's not a tiny geek. He's an (roughly) 8 foot tall construction yard manager from London.

I watched two guys across the room at a pizza evening last week. They were discussing the intricacies of the AT command set, and the fun to be had trying to fix router systems by logging in backwards through a modem to solve networking problems.

Let's turnout to a diverging track for a few moments, and I'll see if I can work us back to this rail at the next set of points.

I went out yesterday an bought a whole load of books at charity shops. I finally got a copy of St. Augustine's confessions.

"Even now I cannot fully understand why the Greek language, which I learned as a child, was so distasteful to me... "

I found this sentence funny, in itself, but lets keep reading for a while, and a few pages later get to this:

"For I understood not a single word and I was constantly subjected to violent threats and cruel punishments to make me learn.

"As a baby, of course, I knew no Latin either, but I learned it without fear and fret, simply by keeping my ears open while my nurses fondled me and everyone laughed and played happily with me.

"I learned it without being forced by threats of punishment, because it was my own wish to be able to give expression to my thoughts. I could never have done this if I had not learnt a few words, not from schoolmasters, but from people who spoke to me and listened when I delivered to their ears whatever thoughts I had conceived. This clearly shows that we learn better in a free spirit of curiosity than under fear and compulsion."

Here we go! A rallying cry for Home Educators world wide, written over 1600 years ago in 397 AD!

OK.. so it's a bit longwinded, and in Latin it's not really the kind of thing you'd stick on a banner and wave at demonstrations.

Unless you're at very well educated classical demonstrations, or something.

"... in those days 'one and one are two, two and two are four' was a loathsome jingle, while the wooden horse and its crew of soldiers, the burning of Troy and even the ghost of Creusa made a most enchanting dream, futile though it was."

And Augustine is worried by all this. He calls it sin, and says how sad and fruitless it was.

Yet, I can't help but think it's not quite so black and white as he does, nor in fact sinful to be enamored by stories and battles and glory, and not by Arithmetic.

If Arithmetic is your thing, hey, go for it. I'll ask you for help with my accounts. And a certain amount of maths is useful for everyone, sure.

Now let's take another track again, and yes, we are headed back to the first line.

Yesterday, before I went out book-shopping, two JW's came and banged on my door and told me they were here to encourage me to read my bible. I had literally just closed my bible to come and answer the door.. So of course I invited them in for tea or coffee or something. Not that I ever got around to making it.

Anyway. They spouted scriptures at me for about half an hour, gave me a couple of "Watchtower" magazines, and then headed off home to make tea for some of their friends they were expecting.

A few things struck me. Firstly, they seemed to put all their faith in their organization. Well, no surprise, I mean, they're followers of Watchtower. The magazine basically defines who they are.

They asked questions about what I do, and tried to distance me from the rest of the church and the people I work with. Yes, I don't agree with everything absolutely that the rest of the people I work with believe, but so what? We are different, and although I am not a complete relativist and believe there is no truth, I do believe that our view of the truth will be different from everyone elses. God made me to reflect his light in a way that *no one* else can. We're all small panes of glass in the magnificent stained glass window that God is building, each one of us reflects and refracts the light differently, each one of us is a different shape.

Take a look at this awesome stained glass window at coventry cathedral.

So yes, some times there are bits of glass which look like they might be part of the window, but in fact are from a totally different light source, and instead of pointing you towards sunlight and freedom, they actually have you shooting for a big ugly wall lamp.

Not all roads do lead to the truth, but the truth is bigger and more beautiful than any one person can fully comprehend.

The JWs didn't seem to get this, and seemed to want me to join their organisation.

Great! Just what I want to join! A group of people calling themselves Christians who are even more strictly extra-rule-keeping, pharisaical, exclusionist and cultic and anti-everyone-else than the ones I currently hang out with! Whoohoo!

I mean, heck, even if they didn't totally abuse and twist scripture more than the whole Purpose Driven thing does, and even if they didn't have a completely messed up un-biblical view of Jesus, the trinity, the church, the bible, and virtually everything else, I think that's about the last thing I need.

So now, how are we going to get back to the Anoraks, and what was the purpose of quoting Augustine? And why on earth could this possibly be anything to do with coffee makers? Well.

My housemate has been laughing at me because of the coffeemaker. And he hasn't even read my blog post about it all. He's laughing, because of the explosions of milk and so on.

I learned very quickly:

"Don't open the steam valve while holding the nozzle above the top of the milk, unless you like getting milk and steam all over the kitchen".

Useful thing to learn.

Anyway. He kind of teases me about it being a toy and a mad hobby of mine, and if I like getting clouds of steam all over me, and having milk all over the place to clean up, then he's fine with that.

I'm glad he's fine with that.

And the coffee actually is coming out quite well, these days. I'll post some photos, soon. I'm not really spilling anything anywhere, or exploding anything any more.

The point though, for this post, is how it is kind of a hobby, I suppose. Yes, a good cup of coffee is *really* nice, but also it's more than that. I really want to learn, and am enjoying the learning/developping thing more than the actual coffee, I think.

And I guess it's the same with the train-people and the truck enthusiasts.

I don't think it's wrong to get all excited and enthusiastic about "stuff". I think God made us that way. A lot of evangelicals seem to be almost gnostic, and have a kind of misplaced ascetic idea that "if it's fun, or you enjoy it, then it's wrong", kind of like Augustine seems to be leaning towards.

Sure, if it distracts you or pulls you away from more important things, or becomes an idol, or god, then there's a problem. And I think it almost did become an idol to me. Even before I bought the silly machine. Now how sad is that?!

But God made us to enjoy delving into deep things, seeking out answers, becoming experts and specialists. We're not all the same, and God's creative genius made the universe so enormous that there's plenty of room for all of us to explore and become brighter and brighter, and keep on refracting more of His glory.

It's about time for me to go home and make some lunch, and have another go at making some really tasty coffee...

Friday, May 16, 2008

Work in Carlisle

OK, after that huge long ramble about my personal life, now a bit about work.

Written almost a week ago, which is a bit confusing for me reading it now, but the internet has been sketchy.

I'm quite busy. In a good way, I think. We've got these conferences of J.John, which are kind of messing up everyone's schedule down in the shed. Basically it's every Tuesday and Wednesday, in 2 different cities. So we send crew down Tuesday morning at 6am or so, rig all day, gig in the evening, pack down, finished by about 2am or so, then the same again the next morning, finishing everything and back to Carlisle at around 3amish.

This week was week 3, out of 10, and was my first time on crew. The team leaders here had figured out a complex scheme to try and reduce the load on the crew, by sending different shifts of people from Carlisle, so that no-one had the complete 2 days of 6-am to 3-am, which is kind of killer. Anyway, I was in the car that shuttled down at 6am on Wednesday, arrived about 10 past 8, rigged all day, did the conference/thing, de-rigged, and then came back. I got dropped off home at around 4am.

I was expecting to be doing graphics, mainly using a programme called songpro (evil programme. the latest incarnation which they have here is even more evil than the old version we have on the ship...) for displaying lyrics on the screens during the singy bit and also some titles and playing videos too. The guy who was supposed to be doing the graphics the first day, however, didn't go back to Carlisle, but instead stayed on for the second day, and said it made no sense for him to no do graphics, since he knew how it would all work with the band and everything, and so could get it perfect.

Not everyone from the first day crew, however, came back the second day, so I ended up "shading". I hadn't been shown yet how that all worked, but had a basic idea. At the most basic level, shading is kind of just doing changing the Iris levels, gamma and blacks and colour correction live on the cameras, from the OB truck, during the whole show, so that cutting between shots it looks the same, and so that the image on screen looks good and is "Legal" TV levels all the time. So once we'd rigged, I spent as much time as possible playing with the controls, figuring it all out.

I also had a bit of time before the event to play with the Jib a bit. Now that's fun. I thought the crane on the cranedeck was multi-tasking while swinging a big stick around. Well, the jib is even more complex, as not only do you have the big stick, but you have a *lot* of people sitting around underneath it, and have various screens and stuff to not bash into while swinging the big stick around, and also all the usual pan/tilt controls for the camera at the end of the big stick, and Zoom and Focus as well.

As with shading, I think it's one of those skills that I'll get better with, with time and practice. Hopefully I'll get both. I didn't kill anyone or destroy anything or knock down the tent while I was trying it, so I don't think I've been banned yet..

Anyway, sitting next to the director in the truck for the whole event was kind of stressful, in a good way. It does need to be right, all the time, and I'm not all that great at it yet. By the end of the show he had stopped reaching over to grab the shading controls from me and fix things I was messing up, and wasn't having to shout at me to fix things myself quite so much. I think that's a stage in the right direction, for sure.

The whole rigging/de-rigging thing wouldn't be so bad at all, if we only had out equipment to set up. We're only doing video for these conferences, so it only takes us about an hour or two to get it all done. 1 fixed camera on a tripod, 1 on a dolly, and one on a jib, 4 screens and projectors, and all the cabling.

However, the sound and lights guys really don't seem to know what they are doing so much, or have enough people to rig it all, so we end up doing huge amounts of the rigging of all their gear too! Including building their speaker-stacks. Heavy, backbreaking kind of work.

Still, fun.

On the way back, we did get a bit lost. We also blew a tire at 2.30am. That was fun. So we had to figure out where the spare tire was, and how to get the wretched thing out of the enclosure. It was only 4 of us, coming back 2 hours after the rest of the team who had been there for the 2 days (but with a longer break in the middle) had left. Stupid Ford car. Inordinately hard to get the silly spare tire out. We managed it, however, and eventually got home. After dropping off two of the other guys, we were stopped by the police just to check who we were while driving about in the backstreets of Carlisle.

My room here is really nice. Small, comfortable. One really nice thing is how the sunlight comes in in the morning. It's really great. But, if you only get to bed by 4, having the sunlight coming in at 7 really isn't so wonderful. By 7.30 I couldn't sleep any more, so got up, had breakfast, and went into the shed. I was kind of supposed to have the day off, after the conference long day, but the video of the conference needed to be edited and made into a DVD, so that we could sell them next week. So I got started on that.

Next day, Friday, I'd basically finished the editing, of the first conference, anyway, and was missing the tape from one of the cameras, which strangely enough I've since found out the director had found in the tea-bag box he had taken home with him... anyway, at lunch time on Friday, 6 of us headed down to Manchester for the Northern Men's Convention, which we were doing Lights and Video for, again. Ian stayed back, as he's waaay too busy and we could manage without, which meant Euan directing, myself doing graphics, shading, and lights, another guy doing the songpro stuff (evil programme), and the 3 cameramen. Fun. They looked after us much better than the J.John thing, providing sandwhiches and drinks and so on. We rigged on Friday, slept at a Travel Lodge inn, then did the conference all day Saturday, and headed back to Carlisle that evening, arriving back around 10.30pm or so.

The shed gate/door thingy jammed, as we were putting the van inside, so I ended up at the top of a shakey wooden ladder with a big crowbar whacking the thing to make it go back again. I miss Deck Dept...

Today is Sunday, and I spent the morning reading my bible in Costa Coffee, and drinking a rather nice Cappucino, and then popped into the shed to get my email, and start off the DVD duplicating (which I didn't have a chance to do last night). Stupid duplicator makes about 12 bad DVDs for every 10 good ones. At least we can put 100 or so blanks into it and just let it run though. So kind of better than the one we have on Doulos, which does 10 at a time, and has to be manually re-loaded, and printing on top of them has to be done 1 at a time by hand. Except for the stupid problem with the bad DVDs....

Anyway. When I'm not rushing around to these conferences, and editing the footage from them and making DVDs, I'm also working on the back-end to the new OMNItube website we're making. I'm writing the code to do automatic video conversions to produce streaming flash video versions of the hi-res files we're going to be selling, which is not really so much fun, but fairly productive, and an interesting project, getting to know the deep murky internals of Joomla CMS and the PHP language... I've got most of my end of the programming done, so hopefully can finish on that soon, and pass it all back to the web-designer, who will finish the site. (I hope.. I have a nasty suspicion that the designer wants me to do quite a bit more work on the site than I really want to do. I'm happy to just do the deep back-end programming bit that he can't do.. meh. We'll work that out later..)

Tomorrow we should have a load of new equipment and stuff showing up, including a "Jumbotron", which is an ENORMOUS screen/projector thingy, several thousand folding chairs, a load of translation equipment from Billy Graham's organisation, and so on. I've no idea where we'll put it all. The shed is kind of stuffed already. We also will be preparing for the next J.John conference which is Tuesday, again, so I'll have to finish the second DVD and make sure they're all duplicated...

Also the new Bus is being got ready to be driven on Thursday over to Germany, where it'll get most of the steel-work done, before being driven back here for the re-fit, which we need to do in the next 6 weeks or so, ready for the really busy conference season in the summer.

As we only really will have 2 days between conferences or events *ever* during the next 2 months or so, and we need to either have the Truck (which we'll be gutting to fill the new bus) or the Bus (which will need to be completely fitted with all the gear from the Truck...) that changeover will be complicated, and very busy too.

It is busy here, and there is a lot to do. However the scheduled work time is relaxed, and one can take a lot of time off, officially. Whole weekends, for instance. From what I've seen, there is a huge need for more organisation/management here. I'm normally opposed to the whole over-managment emphasis that most of the west, and especially the ships have. I'm sure that there is way more beuracracy on Doulos than is healthy, and that gets in the way of real work. The team here seems to kind of has the opposite problem, I think. Partly, and perhaps mostly, it's because of how much the director has been away, recently. And when he is here, he's got so many conferences and all that to actually be at and direct. Last week, he said he had 92 hours of conference work he need to be at, as well as getting all his usual 100 or emails every day to work through. That's insane, and that's totally without being at the shed to make sure people are actually doing stuff that needs doing at the time. The guys are great, doing good jobs, very clever and so on, but some of them are perhaps not as focussed, or focussing on what needs to be done at the time.

Yes, I know. I'm not immune from that myself. I'm very easily distractable and end up taking way more time on stuff that really doesn't need it. :-) Hopefully being here and seeing it taken to an artform will help me avoid and combat that tendancy in myself.

Anyway. That's a sort of longish overview of what I'm doing at the moment. It's fun. I'm enjoying it, but I miss the ol' M.V. rust bucket like crazy.

Oh? You wanted to know about the coffee maker?

Well, I bought it. Wasn't that hard at all.

All kind of anti-climatic, actually. I mean, after all that agony and everything.

You know, I do kind of wonder if I went though all that just because I was supposed to write that blog entry, or something.

It's really cool, makes good coffee.. It's obviously not expensive. Some parts of it are very cheaply made - I don't think they'll break or that; but just the way the metal is finished inside - and some of the joints really are not polished.

I still haven't learned how to use everything properly, the whole "stretching milk" thing I think will take a bit of practice. I'm not actually using an espresso type of beans, actually, but a random fair-trade colombian blend I found. Tastes pretty good to me. There's still a bit of a "new plastic" taste to things, which hopefully will be gone soon. If not I'll have to run some vinegar through it or something.

The hot chocolate made with steamed frothed milk is veeery good though :-)

And it's really nice to have decent coffee at breakfast time, or when coming back from work.

Instant coffee: just say "argh, no, yuk! bleh, what a horror and a disaster, oh my goodness, what an awful idea, good grief do you think I'm crazy or something?"

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Of Coffee Makers and Consciences (part 1?)

One of the things I love about the "Peanuts" cartoons are the tiny little things that I love. If that makes sense. For instance, this one thing I love about the Peanuts cartoon, is Snoopy's book that he writes occasionally "Has it ever occurred to you that you might be wrong?" as part of the whole debate thing with Lucy. I love those books.

Anyway.

Has it ever occurred to you that you might be mad?

It's been of late the rather disagreeable experience of mine to have occurring to me with disturbingly increasing regularity the possibility that I myself might be in a somewhat insanitous state.

I challenge anyone to diagram that sentence, and send me the picture...

Insanitous sounds rather unhygienic, but it's not. I just mean "mad", in a slightly more complex way of speaking.

To take simpler mode of address, I'll quote Freddie Mercury:

"It's finally happened, I'm slightly mad."

Anyway, the current evidence I have towards this conclusion is The Strange Affair Of The Coffee Maker In The Daytime.

I feel remarkably Adrian Plassish as I type this, in a "this is dead serious to me, but I get the feeling people will laugh at me about it, because it's so stupid..." sort of way. Like his paper-clip story.

Settle back, gentle reader, and prepare thyself for an epic journey into the mind of one convinced that he is no longer all quite there.

It all began like this...

This house is great. I'm really enjoying living here. right now, I'm sprawled across one of the *three* sofas in the living room, with my laptop, and a pot of Earl Grey tea.

Seriously, how can life get more chilled out than this?

What could there possibly be to complain about?

Well, there's no internet at home. Is this a bad thing? Well, kind of. But also, it does stop me spending inordinate amounts of time online, which I did over the whole furlough, to my shame. 3 months to rest and do anything, and most of the time I spent online. Silly. So, it's probably a good thing that I'm not online here, and can just write emails that I need to write, and then send them from the Shed. And spend the rest of my time at home cooking, reading, playing clarinet, and exercising. Oh, and sleeping, of course.

Secondly. And far more seriously. There is no coffee maker here.

I say it again, for emphasis.

There. Is. NO. Coffee. Maker. Here!!!

Shocking! But true!

There is a kettle, and a teapot, and plenty of instant coffee, of the "Fair Trade" and the "Nescafe" varieties - both of which are vile - but a brewed mug of the real stuff? Not a chance.

So, how can I solve this crisis, I wondered, then had the brainwave: I can buy a coffee maker.

In the UK they have this really weird store called Argos, where everything is in this funny HUGE catalogue that you can get, and then you write down the item order numbers, or SKU or something, give it to the clerk, and it gets brought in to you via conveyor belt, or so. No browsing around the store, just the catalogue.

Anyway, we happened to have an Argos Catalogue in the house, so I looked inside for coffee makers. Of course, there are plenty. About 20 types of filter machines, and about 30 types of espresso machines, in various shapes, sizes, colours, etc, etc, and every other type of coffee maker I can think of. And 2 things caught my eye.

Firstly, that there was a filter machine for 6 quid. Woah, now this looks like my kind of budget!

And secondly, an espresso machine for 17 quid. Hm. That's about 100 pounds cheaper than I've ever seen before, and just about within my pricerange... so very tempting.

3-5 bar pressure, not amazing, but probably acceptable, milk steamer/frother too... so would be good for hot choc as well. Mmmm.....

And I've wanted to learn how to make espresso for ages.

So. Here it seems is a perfectly normal life situation. Nothing to stress about, nothing to worry about, just a simple domestic "which should I buy? Hm, the espresso machine, OK, lets' buy it, done."

10 minutes, all told, and not even really worth blogging about.

Except! This is no ordinary story! Not to be stumped by even the more mundane of situations, I find myself wrestling to gain even the fleetest of footings while hanging on to the horns of a stampeding dilemma!

I have been fretting about this! I have been wandering around the town wondering if I should buy the wretched thing or not. I've prayed about it, numerous times, and still have no reached any kind of satisfactory conclusion!

Should I buy it? Should I not buy it? The question is easy enough to state, and the pros and cons can easily be listed.

17 pounds is really not all that expensive, and I checked online the website, and found it had apparently gone to 11 pounds. So, even more reason for this to be a minor and inconsequential affair.

The thought occurred to me "If you had this machine, you wouldn't need to buy expensive coffee at cafe's After 9 cups you would have saved money!" See how insiduous advertising is? I don't need all that coffee, and I might not have bought it anyway, thus I've not saved money at all, but in fact spent more! I'll write about this more some other time.. 

Anyway, I frequently find myself wanting to drink a decent cup, and the only place available is expensive, and so if I did buy this machine, and if I had been buying one coffee a day there, then by the end of a week I would indeed have saved money. But, no.

I just haven't been able to bring myself to go and buy it. Every time I set out towards the store, I've felt an almost compulsion to not buy it, and the weird sensation that I'm doing something wrong.

I was asking God, "Do you want me to buy it? Do you not want me to buy it?" and then asked "If you don't want me to buy it, don't let me.", which is a dangerous sort of prayer, and then after work 2 days ago, while praying this, I went to the store, and low and behold it was shut.

Hm! Is this some kind of sign?! Or is it just that they close at 5pm, and it took me until 5.45 to get to the shop?! Is this divine guidence, or just a coincidence catalysed by lack of time management and me not remembering which road it was on?

Do I even believe in coincidence anyway?

As a good evangelical, I know I should not.

But I'm not a good evangelical. I know that God is in control of everything, but I also know that the world is so sufficiently complex that if we want to see correlations and coincidences, we will, without God going out of His way to make sure certain things coincide.

But, argues the pig headed annoying evangelical so-and-so who lives in my head: If I'm asking God something, couldn't He also make it so that things don't coincide, just so that I don't see the coincidence that I asked about?

Yet that also totally stuffs God into a box, and is very unfair to Him.

Why on earth should God go out of His way to modify something running really quite well (ie, what time a certain store closes) on the earth just so that one of his slightly deranged sons gets an answer to some pointless question he asked in an absurd and arrogant way!? I mean, what if I asked for the moon to turn somersaults and the sun to go back one hour? Even if that did happen way back in the O.T...

I dunno. I mean, before, when God has got me to stop sinning in certain ways, I've really not wanted to stop, and so I've asked Him for help, but in ways that are really not helpful. The kind of thing being "If you don't want me to lie to so and so about why I haven't done what I promised, then please could I not see them today...".

This kind of thing. I mean, yes, it's asking God for help. And yes, it's kind of admitting a problem. But is it really sane to expect God to tweak reality because of my selfishness? I mean, I know He loves me, and I know He can modify reality more easily than I can breath, but, well, isn't it kind of forcing Him into a box? Trying to exert power over Him, and manipulate Him like a Genie?

And "trying to manipulate God like a Genie" is one of those things that definitely falls into the "Unwise bordering on Stupid, yet Amazingly Typical and very Human" category.

And the thing is, usually, if I start praying things in the form "If you want me to not do... then please do..." it's usually ended up being something that I really shouldn't do anyway, and a fairly good hint that I already know what the answer is, and what I should or shouldn't do.

Imagine the little boy saying "God, if you don't want me to steal the sweets from the sweetshop, then please would the shop owner be standing next to the box I want to steal from when I come into the shop", knowing full well that the shop owner is always sitting behind her desk on the opposite side of the shop, and can't even see that aisle.

Well, duh!

Yet that's exactly how I behave to God, quite frequently. And then, even if the situation I have asked God about *does* happen to be a "no" thing, then I'll repeat the experiment again, with more obscure clauses, or else repeat again and again until it's not so. And this is *so* stupid. I mean, if I really want to sin that much, then I'm gonna find a way to do it, even if it means totally ignoring what God is shouting and jumping up and down with a big sign on a stick telling me about.

Yet, the issue at hand isn't some kind of sin. This isn't stuff which is even kind of borderline/dodgey, such as using "bad language" on stage at the theatre (one of the issues I fought long and hard with, and with God about, a few years back).

This is a flippin' coffee maker!

I mean, for crying out loud!

OK, so I can imagine maybe God has some kind of plan, to teach me a lesson in something, or some life skill or something, and so this coffee maker was part of it, but I can also imagine Him putting his head into his hands and saying "Good grief. Just buy the stupid coffee maker already, Daniel. Look, I'm not going to send you an army of angels just to tell you to do your blinking laundry just because you feel doubts!"

And also, I can kind of imagine maybe that God doesn't want me to buy the coffee maker. I've not been so great with my money, in how careful I am about it all, in remembering to give regularly, or in being generous, or whatever. And there is so much poverty in the world, and the current joke here in the office is about the "rich missionaries" with their iPods and iPhones and iBooks and living at Starbucks and being far too damn comfortable. Jesus never told us life would be comfortable, as His followers. He told us it would suck, majorly.

Yet He also said that workers deserve their wages, and that we shouldn't worry about what we eat or drink, as if we look first to God's kingdom, He would provide these things anyway.

And it's not that I'm worrying about coffee. I'm not addicted, and can quite happily go for a week or two without tasting a sip of coffee without headaches and all that. I just like the stuff!

Yet I am worried. About getting too comfortable. About becoming a sleeping Christian, not really in the world, not really living radically, as a revolutionary of Christ in this world. About picking up the strings and rags of this earth, and becoming attached to them, and not scorning them for the true garments of heaven.

Yet Jesus also spent His time at parties, as J. John said in one of his sermons, if Jesus was a stuffed up christian bore at the parties, why was he invited to so many? He'd have been told to stay at home! We are supposed to live life to the full, to not skimp and be prudes and wusses and all that.

I guess it all boils down to this:

Is it better to wait and not do anything because it's not what God called us to, or to do something we think is from God, even if it's not?

If I have a course of action in mind, but no "calling" or direction to it from God, is it still a good/the right action to take, or should I only act on instructions?

Or, is this kind of nagging doubt really from God? Or just my messed up personality? Insecure INFP that I am, and everything.

Is it better to do things only we *know* are from God, or to do things that might be from Him, even if they're not?

And can we know for sure, most of the time, anyway?

*sigh*

Life is so complicated.

And all this just for a coffeemaker.

The whole "having peace" about something just doesn't seem to work for me. I don't really "have peace" about things very often.

Is it better to do something we think might be God's will, or to not do something we think might be against it?

Action and anti-action! And inaction and anti-inaction.

And this has been going on for about 4 or 5 days now.

Back to Peanuts, apparently I'm fairly similar personalitywise to Charlie Brown.

If ever we (Charlie Brown and I) seem kind of indecisive and wishy-washy, this is why. We're going through this kind of trauma about every single thing in life. From whether to kick the football or not, whether to write the valentine or not, to whether to buy the coffee maker or not...

A part of me, now, says "Just do it, lah" like one of my Malaysia friends had. I mean, God is so much bigger than I am, and if I screw up, He'll catch me and help me back on my feet again.

It's just, well, He also gave me the ability to look at issues and find more deep consequences of them. Shouldn't I use that?

And if I don't try to figure things out, because I know it just ends up with inaction and all that crap above, then how do I know what to do? What can I trust?

Instincts? Dangerous. Others? Unwise. Myself? Stupid. A pair of dice? Ridiculous!

A big part of me says "Yeah, I'll buy the coffee maker. No biggie."

The other half shrieks and says "You don't need it! And you MIGHT be going against what God has told you, because you are not sure, and so are acting in doubt, and according to the bible: that is sin! It's not worth it, just for a coffee maker!"

Either it's just a normal bit of being human, in which case I am weak and indecisive and a wimp, or else I'm slightly schizophrenic.

Either way, life promises to be - if nothing else - interesting.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Almost a week in Carlisle...

What ho, blog. It's me, the author of this blog, writing again. I do that, every so often, you know.

I'm sitting in my house feeling very domestic, and kinda lonely.

House did I say? Yes indeed. It's a fair sized place, 3 bedrooms, dining room, kitchen, sitting room, bathroom, etc, etc. And only 2 of us living here at the mo. And my housemate is frequently gone, filming abroad or doing a bunch of conferences for "J John". I'll be helping with that from next week.

Anyway, I'm feeling very domestic as I just made meself a slightly over-large mexican meal, so feel kinda stuffed, and have done the washing up, and have a load of washing in the machine, making churney sorts of noises at me, as those machines have a want to do.

I've been here in Carlisle for about 6 days, and it's been a very random week. I arrived Tuesday evening, and this dutch bloke, one of my new colleagues, gave me a quick tour of 'the shed' where we work (an old bus hanger that they've taken over and have a bunch of OB-trucks (Outside Broadcast), busses, and so on and offices in.

My housemate, and most of the people who work in 'the shed' were out doing the first of these conferences for J John, and so were not around. So I was wandering around this house, making myself at home, buying fruit and stuff, in someone elses house, whom I'd never met. Weird feeling, to be sure!

Wednesday and Thursday we had a set of "fund raising training" seminars we had to attend, with the whole staff of our company here in Carlisle (quite a lot, about 30 or so), and a few others from other groups about the place. So that was lots of sitting around and classroom stuff, basically.

The conference people had got back very early Thursday morning, and were asleep most of the day, but then we met up that evening, and basically most of the single guys who work at the shed came and invaded our house, we cooked some pizza, and watched a stupid rubbish movie.

(If anyone offers to watch "You, me, and Dupree", don't. It's a waste of time, vulgar, and so totally down-the-line american comedy it's just not funny. Virtually no american comedies are really funny, but this one is just resoundingly boring. About the *only* redeeming feature, and this doesn't by any way redeem so far as to make it worth while, is that the young married couple don't get a divorce, decide at the end to stick togeather, and that their guy friend doesn't have sex with either of them. Bleh.)

Hey, the pizza was alright.

Friday was my first "real" work day, I got myself a tiny wee office, have a funky mac book pro to work on, with Final Cut Pro Studio on it, and was editing/top and tailing the footage from the J John conference, so we can make a DVD and sell this week's talk at next week's conference. This is apparently going to be one of my tasks while I'm here. Not too difficult, but took me waaaaay longer than it should have done. I guess I'm just out of practice, and trying to get my bearings in the office, and all. I'll get the footage from this week on Thursday, so hopefully can get this one finished a lot faster.

Saturday I set off very early on the train, and after 4 hours and a changeover in Glasgow got to Edinburgh about 10 am. There I met two of my old close ex-Doulos friends, and spent Saturday and Sunday hanging out with them, and seeing Edinburgh. One of them is working in Cardiff, and had flown up for a long weekend, and the other is studying at Uni. in Edinburgh. One of her friends was out for the weekend seeing his girlfriend, so I was able to stay in his room at the upstairs flat in this student accommodation.. Very nice! Small rooms, very Logos Hope cabin-ish, except 1 person and 1 tiny bathroom per "cabin". But really modern, clean, cool places. I kind of felt "wow, if this is what 1st year student accommodation is like, I'd kinda like to be a student!".

Then again, my housemate is out still, so I'm basically sitting here in my own complete house, which is also really nice, so I can't really complain or anything!

I'm also more likely to end up on Logos Hope, actually, which is pretty similar, cabinwise.

We met up with a few other ex-Doulos people, and also the Logos Hope advanced preparation "line-up" team for Edinburgh. We ate lunch together at a pub, and then my two friends and I went for icecream, and then wandered back to the train station, where I caught a train back to Carlisle at 18:45.

Strangely enough, the train back took about 1 hour. 4 hours to get to Edinburgh, 1 hour to get back, and the same price both ways. Funny British train systems!

Today, Monday, we went in to "The Office", which is where the rest of our company people in Carlisle - mostly admin, finance, and computer techies - who are not with the media group in "The Shed" work. There we had devotions, and then I met up with the Personnel bloke, who got me some money, and so on.

So. That's been my week. Pretty mixed up, so far, and also pretty relaxing. I'm sure once I get more involved in stuff, it'll get busier, but for now, it's quite chilled out.

We officially get whole week-ends off here! It's quite exciting, after the Doulos 6 day 50-something hour week. Again, of course, when it's very busy I'm sure I'll be working harder and longer, but hey, I'm enjoying it now. :-)

Just thinking about it, I've been travelling a lot, recently. Sunday I was in Edinburgh, the sunday before we spend most of the day in the Troodos Mountains of Cyprus, the Sunday before that we were in Cairo, and the Sunday before that I was in Famagusta in North Cyprus.. wow.

Anyway, so, I'm off to make some hot chocolate and cook a small apple pie I bought, so while I'm enjoying them, here are a few pictures from Edinburgh for you to enjoy. Scotland really is beautiful, and Edinburgh is a cool city. I hope I get a chance to go back there at least once before I head back to the ship.



Thursday, April 17, 2008

New Template up and running. Perhaps.

As well as the Cairo Curse, I'm also having to put up with the Curse of Being a Web Designer.

That is to say, never being happy to leave something well enough alone.

Anyway, on this machine the blog looks fairly happy now, using the new blogger template system, and some new stuff I'm playing with.

Some random geek knowledge for you:

The traditional/oldschool method of introducing new technologies/research,  or protocols for public use was to write an "RFC" or "Request For Comments".

Basically those were (usually) longish documents available online freely, waaay back even on ARPANET, and have shaped the internet as we know it today.

More information about RFCs can be found on the wikipedia.

What was the reason for this brief history lesson?

Well, none at all, really. Except that I would like to request comments on the new theme / style of this blog. Any comments?

(yes, I know the images are missing from the side-bar. I'll try and code a new sidebar image thingy tomorrow in perl or something so I can get the more modern pics too...)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Last week in Cyprus blues...

Well, we're back in Cyprus. Egypt was fun,  I like Cairo.  I don't like the Cairo Curse however.

The Cairo Curse is the euphamism for a local stomach bug which quite a few people seem to get.

I got it.  Woke at 4am on the day we were travelling back, and wished I hadn't.  Not a very pleasant day, all in all. Anyway, I'm mostly recovered, I guess. Still don't feel to wonderful, and realised today I leave Cyprus in 7 days.  So that means I have a heck of a lot of stuff to do.

So I started doing the ones I can manage without leaving my room, speaking, or walking too far.  Such as updating my blog to the new blogger template system... Alas, it's all going a bit pear-shaped right now, and as I have to finish making a slideshow for tonight (I'm doing a Doulos presentation thingy at the Anglican church "upper room", if anyone sees this and is interested, 7pm, all welcome....), and the template thingy didn't quite back up all as I wanted it to, it may take a bit longer for me to update to the new template than I hoped.

 So if the site looks a bit of a mess at the moment, I'll get it fixed and pretty for tomorrow.

I'll also blog about Egypt as well.