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,


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.


"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.


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?


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.