Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Productive Activity

Jehovah has always been an active personage. These actions are productive and act in the interests of good for everyone. To be like Jesus, a “son” of God, we need to imitate both our Creator and Jesus. For those claiming that they are active, either playing games, reading, or sports, none of those things benefit others nor can they claim to be productive. That is, there is no end benefit or product that helps anyone, possibly including even themselves. For those that claim they are providing a living for their family, while admirable, if they are not also promoting God’s interest in saving lives and advancing his Kingdom, how can they claim to be doing the work assigned to us by none other than Jesus himself. Indeed, what kind of a "son" is someone that doesn't do what his father tells him to do?

My reflection on this article.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Hemingwrite vs Other Options

The Great Human-Experience novel! (Forget "the Great American" novel--I aspire to much higher goals.) Every time I read an article about writing or writers, I get a hankering for the “putting pen to paper.” But those days of using such writing tools are actually long gone for me. I keep challenging myself to become more and more “digital” and living my life in the cloud. (Heaven knows my head has been in the clouds most my life!) Most of what I write is with a computer. I no longer own a desktop PC, I am completely mobile with a laptop, tablet and phablet.

Just today (12/12/2014) I was reading about a new device whose market focus is writers. It is called the Hemingwrite and is currently being crowd-funded. My knee-jerk first impression was that it is so 1990’s retro--looking very much like other LCD small displays with nearly full-sized keyboards. (The latter can be had for under $100 on Amazon, while the Hemingwrite is reportedly going to cost between $400 to $500.)

The Hemingwrite promotes itself by claiming it is a “distraction free” writing tool. OK, I guess if you are an obsessive compulsive that needs to check your email, social feeds and texts every few seconds, that might be a benefit. But won’t you have your phone right next to you anyway? Those wanting to work distraction-free on computers can easily do so by turning off wifi or closing the email agent (thus preventing emails) and muting or turning off their phone (a blood-curdling scream is heard in the reverberating distance). That is a much cheaper solution than buying yet another device to lug around. And speaking about “lugging,” the Hemingwrite is not a lightweight! It weighs 4 pounds, which is heavier than some laptops and decidedly heavier than all tablets today.

But coming back to how I “write”  these days: Lately, the idea of “writing” with a keyboard seems like a contradiction in terms and completely unnatural. Real writing is done with pen (pencil) and paper. And so I’ve come full circle. Instead of using a keyboard, I’ve recently discovered it is much more natural to use Smart Note (the “paper”) and a Samsung 12" Galaxy Note Pro with stylus. (In fact, this article was written using those items and subsequently exported and polished inside Google Docs.)

I already mentioned that the Hemingwrite weighs 4 pounds and will cost upwards of $500. Compare that to the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 which is $800 but weighs only 1.7 pounds. (Alternately, the Samsung Note 10.1 weighs only 597 grams and costs as little as $300.) Both run Android and have a great stylus, a much clearer and larger screen, promote natural handwriting that is converted immediately to typewritten text, plus numerous other bells and whistles. Using the aforementioned Smart Note, that text can be exported to PDF, uploaded to the cloud, or copied directly to any text editing app even an SMS texting app. Adding pages, inserting, deleting, and editing text is easy using the app’s “natural” gestures.

Really, my stylus-based solution is much more cost effective and productive than the Hemingwrite. But what if you absolutely want, no indeed, demand a keyboard?  Then your options are even less expensive yet more powerful. Chromebook laptops are as cheap as $200 on Amazon and can create offline and online documents . Once you are online, the offline docs are backed up to Google Drive. Don’t like Chromebook? No problem. How about a nice inexpensive Windows-based system also within the $200 to $300 range. Most of those have at very least Notepad or Wordpad. Beyond that, free programs such as Apache OpenOffice can be installed.

In short, I feel Hemingwrite is a step backwards, an unnecessary and archaic device adding more weight to carry around. Its predecessors had their heyday. Today’s solutions are cheaper, lighter, and more robust.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

MyScript Smart Note (Android App)

When I first acquired my Samsung Note2, I thought I would be able to take handwritten notes on it in full screen like a tablet. Turns out that the best it could do was use sticky-note-sized area to write notes that were not transferable to editable text. Alternately, using the Samsung keyboard with the SPen I could write on a space at the bottom of the screen and it would immediately convert it to typewritten text within the text input area of several apps. For example, within an email, there are fields for recipient, subject, and body of an email. Within each of those text areas, depending on which was the current selection, when I start writing at the bottom of the screen (the area reserved for the Samsung keyboard), it would immediately convert what I wrote to typewritten text.

Lastly, there is an option, but only within some apps, that opens up a scripting window and permits several lines of text to be handwritten. This is a feature only found on the Samsung Note devices. But its implementation is limited and again the screen area is very small. So I bought myself the Samsung Note Pro 12.2 thinking that it would provide a larger input area. Yes and no. The area is only slightly larger and the ink size is correspondingly larger so that it is a “wash,” (no benefit). What I wanted was a full-screen entry area akin to a typical sheet of paper.

Enter MyScript Smart Note. I had seen iterations of this app on the Play Store for years but disregarded it because I thought I already had the functionality that it was bringing to the table. Turns out I was wrong. It brings exactly what I’ve been missing--full screen editing. One benefit for non-Samsung Note users is that the app is useful to them as well.Although using a finger as a stylus is possible, if you don’t already have one, I’d recommend getting a stylus if you want to use this app.

Besides full screen input, MyScript Smart Note provides very intuitive editing motions for inserting, joining and deleting text. If you buy the full version (under $3) you can add pages, add workbooks and more. Although the videos the company provides show many of the editing functions, it is more geared as a marketing video than a tutorial. In the right top of the app’s screen is a three-dot icon. Tap that and then tap help to get the full in-app tutorial with detailed explanations.

To be clear, MyScript Smart Note does not becoming another keyboard usable in other apps. It provides a full screen input area within itself. The text can later be copied and pasted into any other app. The document itself can also be exported to PDF. There are other features such as drawing and inserting pictures that I didn’t cover here.

As an ending note, my first app from this company was its calculator. With it, the user can hand write any formula and it is not only converted to typed text but it formula is resolved to whatever the result would be. For example, if you write “2 + 2” and wait just a moment, the app will display “2 + 2 = 4.” I find this much more intuitive and easier than using a 10-key calculator and I actually have known how to touch-type (without looking) on a 10-key since my teens. (My father was an accountant and taught me.)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Public Speaking vs Acting

Below is a speech that I delivered numerous times in Toastmasters. Its intent is to encourage and motivate new members to embrace with positive anticipation the prospects of public speaking.


By show of hands, how many of us do not get nervous when we speak in public?  (Anticipate that no one will raise their hand). So now that we've established that nervousness is common, we can ask “How do we get from cramps to composure?”

Really, it boils down to mindset.  Think about it: Does confidence and poise come from the food we eat? No, nervous people eat the same food as those displaying confidence.  Well, how about from the clothes we wear? Well, the activist college student in jeans is just as confident as the Board of Directors are in their 3-piece suits.  So it can’t be that. Really then, that brings us back to mindset.

So what can we do to affect our mindset? We will discuss three things, our viewpoint of our audience, our viewpoint of ourselves and our viewpoint of making mistakes and accepting critiques.

Speaking With Your Friends

So what I’d like you to do is this: First, forget this concept of speaking to an audience.  We’re going to take one step back from that.  Instead, imagine the most comfortable setting you can in a group of people.  What would that be for you?  Is it a party, a small gathering for a meal, friends on a camping trip around a campfire?   Lets say we’re at a campfire right now. Imagine we are under the starry sky. Can you hear the crickets? They’re all around.  What I enjoy about campfires is roasting marshmallows. Look here’s the crackling fire in the middle of the room. Here’s my trusty twig. (Marshmallow catches fire, blow it out and eat it.) Boy that sure brings back memories.

Now, imagine yourself relating, sharing with your friends and fellow campers something you take great pleasure and joy in: fishing, mountain climbing, dirt biking, skiing, whatever you really like talking about and doing.

You can not make a mistake telling of those things because they come from your heart.  In fact, you know what happens in that setting if you do make a mistake? You’ll immediately say, “Oh, no wait, that’s not what happened. Here’s how it went.” And you’ll all laugh and carry on like it was no big deal.  When in front of the club (or formal speech setting) imagine yourself speaking to them in that most friendly setting instead.  Then the fears will be reduced because you are speaking from the heart to friends that want to hear you, instead of from the head to a club in a formal setting.  Yes, enjoy the SHARING process, and the speaking/teaching process will come naturally.  Really, a good teacher is one who knows how to share and makes learning fun.  But what of us who are quiet even among friends? Well, you may have to start out by acting.  Herein is the viewpoint of self.


“TO BE; or, not to be.” 
Have you ever thought you’d like to be an actor?  Well, every time we get up here, we have a chance to act.  Though we may be scared out of our wits, we can act confident.  Though we may feel sheepish, we can act like a lion. 

Really, we are all actors.  We all act (conduct ourselves) the way that has come to feel natural to us.  So as speakers, we are challenged just like actors to carry ourselves in a way that for the present seems unnatural.

In movies, I think a villain is the best example of this.  If we leave the theater hating the guts of the actor that played the bad guy, that actor deserves an award.  The same with us, when we get up here, no one needs to know that we have butterflies.  Before we leave this “stage,” we will have them convinced that we have been doing this for years. 

Passionate actors do two important things.  First, they study their role.  If modeled after a real-life person, they study their model. We likewise can study those we admire as model speakers.  Second, they practice.  Some actors have been known to practice their roles to an extreme, trying to become that person during every waking hour, even off camera.  We likewise can practice confidence and poise in our daily life, business dealings and in meeting new friends who never need to know how we were before we took on this act of confidence. In fact, that would be a great exercise for shy ones--with each new person you meet, ACT like the friendly, sincerely outgoing, person you want to be. Since they have never met you before, they'll never know you were any different. In time, the act will become part of your real personality.

Mistakes & Critiques

“But what if I make a mistake.” 
Don't you find that the more you worry about making mistakes the more you actually tend to make them, and the less joy have in speaking?  To handle the nervousness caused by fear of making a mistake, we need to reverse the 'more worry, less joy' syndrome.  This means being filled with joy and desisting from all self-defeating fears. Don't concentrate on the possibility of erring.  Concentrate on the material you researched and diligently prepared.  Concentrate on enjoying the sharing process. When you do make a mistake, and we all do, move on past it. Don’t try to dwell there while continuing you speech. That’s like trying to keep one foot firmly planted in one place while expecting the other foot to take you down a path.  Its physically impossible. The same goes for our mind. It can’t stay fussing over a mistake and keep focused on the progress of your train of thought. Just move on--just like you do when sharing a story around a campfire.

Your choice of words and the manner in which you present them, whether in private conversations or in public speeches will always be critiqued and that is actually good.  Proverbs 27:17 indicates: "By iron, iron itself is sharpened.  So one man sharpens the face of another."  Sometimes that sharpening can cut, but if we take this in a good-natured fashion, it can heal into a scar of a uniquely strong character.  Don't be afraid of the critiques.  Instead, look forward to it like shoes look forward to a good polishing -- it can only help you look better the next time. Again, we are all here because we chose to be.  Since we want to be here, lets enjoy every facet of the experience including the brief, silly little embarrassments called mistakes.


Let’s wrap this all up now and review the three major points: Talk WITH your audience as if you are sharing with a group of friends.  Since you are already acting to begin with, choose to ACT CONFIDENT, composed and experienced.  And finally, CONCENTRATE ON THE ENJOYMENT of your presentation instead of the possibility of making mistakes or wondering what your audience thinks of you.

I've heard some suggest that you imagine your audience naked. I've heard others say to imagine yourself as being a giant in a room of tiny people. Both those conceptualizations demean your audience. They are neither better nor worse than you. They are your peers that have come to hear you. That is why I recommend the campfire scenario because it encourages viewing the audience as supportive and compassionate friends.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Asus ZenWatch

It has been a while since I've written about something other than scripture commentary. I came across a product that really excites me....

Geeks don’t have to necessarily be nerds. I know several people who, although they love technical toys (the main qualification for being a geek), they are not necessarily disheveled, socially awkward people (the typical definition of a nerd). In my lifetime, I’ve got to admit I have been called both a nerd and a geek. I finally learned social skills, so I don’t get called nerd anymore.

But it seems now-a-days, being a geek is actually a good thing. Others come up to you looking for advice about consumer electronics and software. Most recently, I’ve had a few ask me about smart watches. I’ve told them that those devices still seem to be in their infancy. I didn’t like the bulkiness of the watches, their function and software seemed awkward to navigate, and the displays left a lot to be desired.

But all that changed (for me) recently with Asus’ introduction of the ZenWatch. I’ve watched a number of videos on the product using Youtube. It is stylish enough that I can see it crossing the boundary of “for geeks only” into the much vaster audience of mainstream consumer products. That the watch is thin is mostly what appeals to me. It is just a tad thicker than my current watch, the Skagen Titanium Multifunction 809XLTBN. One reason I am thinking of leaving the Skagen behind is because the dials have gotten too small for my aging eyes to decipher. I wanted a day and date watch but I can no longer read those indicators. (Another reason is that when a month has less than 31 days, you manually have to correct the date. If you cross the IDL, then you have other things to adjust as well.)

The ZenWatch, on the other hand, seems very easy to read and has a number of optional clock faces to choose from. Since it is a digital electronic, the time, day, date, etc are all automatically adjusted. The added benefits of syncing to my smartphone (Samsung Galaxy Note3) make the ZenWatch even more desirable. Admittedly, it runs Android Wear the same as other brands do and has other hardware features similar to the competition. I have no problem with using this software. It is still maturing but I can live with that. 

Why not choose a Samsung smartwatch seeing as I’m using a Samsung phone? Good question. The answer is that I don’t like any of their designs. All their watches are fat (thick). Then there is the whole thing about them threatening to use Tizen as their OS. (Thanks Samsung, but no thanks. I have a laptop on Windows, a phone on Android, and I don’t want yet another OS on another device.)

As of this writing, (Nov.20, 2014) I am only able to find the ZenWatch on Google Play and at Best Buy

(Before the 2014 watch releases, the industry reminded me of small children--cute, maybe a bit pudgy and socially awkward, but lovable because they're young. The ZenWatch and maybe one or two others remind me of teenage years--while losing the "baby fat" and gaining more experience, they are still not truly adults. In the coming years, I expect that smartwatches will enter their young adulthood (20-somethings to 30's) and, just like their analog ancestors, divide into two camps of round and square faces. With further miniaturization, I anticipate the casing can and will take any form the maker wants and not have to worry about the constraints of technology. For those that prefer slim, trim forms with robust innards (muscle machines), that will be possible. For those that prefer more ornate casings, they will be able to have that too.)

Update: 11/22/2014: I went to my local Best Buy, intent on purchasing the ZenWatch. They don't have any. The closest store (with a stock of just one) is 3 hours away. Asus really needs to get its act together. This is ridiculous. They knew their own release date probably well in advance of the announcement. Yet they have no appreciable stock of the item.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Colossians 2:8 Taken As Spoil

I had always thought that the word "spoil" as used in the KJV meant that we would become like spoiled food--unusable. The KJV phrased the first part of verse 8 as: "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy...." But other translations render this as "take captive." That is when it dawned on me that this is the other meaning of spoil. This is more serious than becoming like spoiled food and worse than being taken as prisoner. Being taken as spoil indicates the reward of a pillager. Since pillaging is associated "especially with wartime efforts" (per the dictionary), that increases the gravity of the loss. Now, what has been taken captive, what has been taken as spoil, is not only our own loss of faith, but also refers to a loss that God and the congregation endure--losing a beloved fellow believer. The main pillager is Satan. He considers captive ones a war trophy and he doesn't hide the fact. In fact, he is boastful and arrogant, taunting Jehovah "Look what I got."

But how can philosophy take a person captive? During wartime, it has been documented that enemy propaganda was used to discourage POWs and others that were behind enemy lines. The propaganda was designed both to promote defection from the opposing side and to crush the hope that some had in their country's ability to liberate them. Likewise, Satan's philosophies are designed to promote defection from serving Jehovah and crush our hope that there really is a God that cares for mankind and wants to save us from Satan's dominion.

Yes, we are in a war and cannot afford to lose any of our dear friends. We each need to be on the lookout for the other's welfare, especially while on this battlefield.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Adam and Eve: Justifiable Disobedience?

A young man about 12 years old really impressed me with a question that had him baffled. It demonstrated what a deep thinker he is. He asked, "If Adam and Eve were perfect, wouldn't their perfect sense of justice prevent them from disobeying their Creator?"

Going to the source material is always the best solution in these matters . Genesis 3:4-5 explains why justice got skewed in Eve's mind. She was told by “the serpent” that God had been unjust by preventing her from reaching her full potential. The serpent (a guise of Satan) had Eve so cunningly and thoroughly deceived that she may have even thought to herself that even if she asked God whether the charges are true or not, she wouldn't be able to trust the answer. In her mind, God's truthfulness and justice were in question. Therefore, being disloyal to a God that wasn't truthful to her was no longer an issue. In other words, since God was unjust in preventing her from achieving her potential, then she didn't feel she owed justice and loyalty to God.

Compounding the issue, after Eve ate the fruit she didn’t die on the spot, so when she gave it Adam, she may have said (although there is no record of it in scripture), “Hey, I ate it and I’m still alive.” Sadly, she was blatantly lied to by Satan and then she allowed personal (selfish) desire to enter the picture.After their eviction from paradise, they were treated just as a parent who rejects a wayward child, “You are dead to me.” Indeed, Jehovah God treated them both as dead, never again speaking to Adam like he did in the garden.

In reality, there were things Eve could have done to verify any doubt she had. But the account is quite plain as to what the real reason was for her disobedience: Eve “saw that the tree was good for food and that it was something desirable to the eyes, yes, the tree was pleasing to look at. So she began taking of its fruit and eating it.” (Genesis 3:6)