Tag Archives: Geek

Geek Depression

I just got over a serious case of “geek depression.” It’s a state of mind/life which tends to come about when I’m posed with a tech problem for which I know there is answer, but can’t find it. Usually this happens when I hit a wall in my areas of understanding, and bounce off.

“Geek depression,” at least for me, includes an almost obsessive relationship with a given obstacle. I know it’s there, I know what I need to do to get around it, but I can’t make it happen. Until the problem is solved, it takes up more and more of my time and energy.

My typical progression in the malady is consistent. At first, I’m challenged and excited to see how the problem can be overcome. Next I get frustrated that the solutions which people have found elsewhere don’t work for me. Finally, I slink towards mental exhaustion as I attempt to overcome the obstacle again and again and again to no avail. That’s the low-point, where I just want to toss the offending device, project, system out the window so it won’t bother me any more.

Geek depression is no fun, but it does have some interesting side-effects. First, I inevitably learn a lot while I pour over a problem again and again and again. This leads to the creation of new skills, and a deeper understanding of the project which caused the offense. In the past, I emerged from bouts of geek depression understanding Samba, MySQL, PHP, Apache, Linux, and Video editing – just to name a few. After this current bout I found out much about running a VPN, and I’m beginning to get a (seriously) rudimentary grasp of iptables. I gained this knowledge as I hit the wall and bounced off – again, and again, and again, and again. The frustration of an unsolved problem seems to be the crucible through which I delve deep into a topic.

I begin to rebound once I hit the state of mental exhaustion. Invariably, I end up seeing an alternate path by which I can achieve my desired goal, and I begin to explore. By the time I discover this new path, though, I’ve learned. A lot of what I’ve learned is the language and syntax needed to accomplish my task, and this makes all the difference. These new paths tend to lead me to my desired outcome. Even if they do not I don’t usually slip back into geek depression. Instead, I allow myself to walk away and try new things.

Is geek depression my ideal way to be spurred to deep-learning?  Not in the slightest – but sometimes its stress leads to something awesome.

Note: Yup. I’m aware “geek depression” is really just “depression.”  Geek is just a modifier to describe the particular trigger for my affliction.

Thank you!

Judy and my kids

Here's Judy with myself and my kids. She hadn't seen them since they were babies!

I recently wrote a blog post which looked back at my connection to some of “pastoral ancestors,” for lack of a better description. I have another side of my personality, though, and therefor am the descendant of a whole other line of teachers. I'm not just pastor, I'm a geek-pastor! I need to thank the people who have helped me with this side of my nature as well, because it's certainly part of my calling. Actually, I need to thank one person in particular, because without her I would have never been set on the path I'm now walking. Judy, this one is for you.

In 1998, less than a year after I got married, I applied to a work-study program assisting in the computer lab for five hours a week. I went in to interview, and got the job. Starting out I was pretty terrible. It was an all Mac environment and I hadn't touched a Mac for years. Over the months, however, I began to feel more comfortable. By Late May the work-study grant had a lot of money left, and I was told to work as many hours as I liked until the end of the school year. Given that I was finished with my seminary classes at that point, I pretty much worked full time until school let out. It was wonderful.

The real turning point came for me the next school year when the district was opening up a new building. The increased size of the facilities had a position opening for a new technology assistant. When I told Judy I was interested in the job, she blurted out, “You're hired.” There was a bit more to the hiring process than that, but those two words changed my future.

The new building was scheduled to open up after Christmas break, which gave us a week or so to set up the computers for the new school. Computers for three labs, every classroom, the offices, and the library all had to be provisioned, set up, and tested. I will never forget the process we had going, what a wonderful week.

When the school opened, it was like being unleashed into a new playground. A brand new network, and video distribution system had to be tested. We needed to come up with ways for faculty to use their technology in the classroom. Students had to be trained in the new expectations placed of them because of all the new tools they had at their disposal. Teachers also had to be talked down from a panic state when things didn't go according to plan. What an ideal environment!

In order to figure out how to use all these tools well meant, of course, I needed to delve deeper into the world of computers then I'd ever gone. So, I began dabbling in JavaScript and CSS. I downloaded Linux and started playing with a *nix command line for the first time. I learned photoshop, used a digital camera, and even edited video with the very first iMovie. Eventually, I started messing with Apache and MySQL.

Every time I learned a skill, I became more confident that I could teach others, or come up with a solution to problems I encountered. It didn't matter that many of the skills I learned weren't directly related to my assigned tasks (as long as those got done). I was learning how the process of computing worked, and that was the key — it made me better at my job.

Sadly, I had to leave the school sooner than I would have liked, but my experiences at Miles River Middle School are what have given me the audacity to actually believe I can manage a database, create a book, learn new software, or leverage new technology for pastoral ministry. It was Judy's patience, empathy, and encouragement which set me on this particular aspect of my journey. So, if you have ever been the recipient of some computer assistance and wondered where on earth I picked all this stuff up — just think to yourself, “Thank you, Judy.”

Thank you, Judy. As you get ready for retirement, I hope you look back on all your years teaching and know how much of a impact you have had!

 

Mobile Suite Showdown – File Management

Productivity apps on the iPad continue to be one of the top selling points for the device. It’s no surprise, then, that there are several office suites available in the App Store. This post is going to explore the three main “all in one” suites which are available on the iPad – Documents to Go, Quick Office, and Office2 HD. Apple’s iWork is also available in the App store, but the “separate app” nature of the suite sets it outside the scope of this comparison.

Each suite will be explored for file management, editor layout, editing features, and importing/exporting. We’ll primarily look at the word-processing features of each suite, but will also compare the spreadsheet and presentations modules for each app. Today we’ll be looking at the first comparison – file management.

Quick Office File Manager

File management

Each app has, on the surface, a similar way of handling files. A list of files is presented, with various ways to access files which have been imported by different methods. The differences in methodology, however, highlight some of the biggest differences between the suites.

Quick Office

Quick Office makes use of a slick three-pane interface with services in the left-pane, a file list in the center, and file information in the right. Users can also drag and drop files in to different folder, between services, or down to the special icons at the bottom of the screen (for trash, email, and export). Data is presented cleanly, with inviting icons and good visual feedback. Using the left-pane to list connected services is also a good choice. Files can also be searched for in the ever-present search box – a nice touch.

There are some aspects to the way Quick Office handles files which hinder my work-flow. First, folders aren’t listed at the top of the file list by default. This means scrolling through a list in order to find a particular folder (the search box doesn’t seem to return results for folders). Additionally, support for some key Google Docs features is limited. Google Docs allows users to star documents which may not have any other connection other than being “important.” In Quick Office there is no way to see which documents have this flag (or add it to an existing document). As a Google Docs user I rely on this feature heavily, and would love to see it included into Quick Office.

Office 2 HD file management

Office 2 HD

Like the other suites in this category, Office 2 HD gives the user a list of files which can be viewed by a user – but it’s implementation isn’t as slick as Quick Office. First, this suite uses only the left third of the screen to list files, wasting a good amount of real-estate when browsing for a particular file. Second, it always defaults to files created on the device or brought in via a local computer. To access other services, the user has to tap the “back” button upon opening the app – this feels unintuitive. While Office 2 lists folders prior to individual slides, it lacks a any kind of search feature to locate files. This omission is all right for small collections of files, but for people who write constantly, it’s lack may be a deal breaker. Moving and exporting files is also not as easy as it is in Quick Office, and the email function is hidden behind the blue arrow next to each file name. Miss the triangle, and the file ends up opening instead. All in all, the file management features of Office 2 HD leaves much to be desired.

Documents to Go file management

Documents to Go

This suite uses a single pane approach to file management. This makes the interface adaptable for the holding the iPad in either portrait or landscape orientation – it’s also frees the app to have the same file management UI on the iPad as it has on the iPhone. Given that Documents to Go is a universal app, this makes sense of a design standpoint, it fails to put the larger screen real-estate of the iPad to good use. Still, there are some nice features in the file UI for Documents to Go. Documents which have been locally downloaded have blue icons, and a file size next to the document name. Remotely stored documents are greyed-out, giving a quick visual clue for which documents are locally accessible. Folders are handled separately from individual files, creating a easy way to browse them. Also, even though it’s hidden behind blue arrow, a user can star items which are being accessed through a Google Docs account. There is also a special selection in the menu for “starred items,” a nice touch. Search is handled by a soft-button at the bottom of the screen, which returns results for the currently accessed account. Other soft-buttons at the bottom of the screen include – local (for documents created locally on a device), online (for online accounts), recents, store (to upgraded to the “premium version” – this is a waste of space), and settings. The interface isn’t as clean as Quick office, nor as cluttered as Office 2 HD, but screams “basic.”

Conclusion

The special Google Docs features, easy folder access, and visual cues for which files have been locally cached are wonderful strokes of genius in Documents to Go. The sheer slickness, easy of navigation, and persistent search box make Quick Office the clear winner for file management in this field.

Oh Blogsy!

A couple of days ago I wrote that I hadn’t found a decent blogging tool to us on my iPad. That was then, now I’ve found Blogsy and I can say that blogging on the iPad is looking up! It’s not yet perfect, but it’s pretty darn close! Here’s my thoughts.

The Good

Blogsy has a lot going for it!

The icon

I know, the icon is a pretty odd place to start a review of a blogging tool, but in this case it fits. Apple love beauty, but far too many app icons look like they were thrown together at the last moment and declared “good enough.”. By contrast, the Blogsy icon is a gorgeous classic manual typewriter which is the same shape as all other iOS apps, but creates the illusion that it breaks these constraints. The keys in the icon read, “Live long and prosper,” and the upper row also has symbols which create the Vulcan salute. The paper in the typewriter reads, “Get back to work! You’re wasting time!”

Why spend so much time on the icon? Because it reveals the character of the developers. They know that writing should be an enjoyable, and even playful, experience. Their icon tells their users, “Enjoy this experience!” Even better, the exchanges I’ve had with developers tracking down a bug (which may have just been user error) have shown that their icon tells a true story. I means a lot.

Rich Text

I can write HTML, but on the virtual keyboard it’s insanely difficult to do. Blogsy still edits from an HTML interface (which they call the “write-side”), but has an elegant “rich-side” interface in which writers can do some significant formatting to the text. I’d like to see a full-justification option, but it’s very impressive nonetheless. This is, in fact, my greatest complaint about blogging on the iPad. I am having some issues with Blogsy displaying as it would appear on my blog, but when I publish things look perfect.

Drag and Drop

Inserting images into posts is a pain in the neck. Actually, it’s a pain in just about every app on my iPad except for Apple’s iWork suite. While there could be some improvements (which are coming) Blogsy knocks this feature out of the park. Bloggers can use the side-bar to drag in images and video from their accounts on Flickr, Picasa, and You Tube. They can also use a built in browser or google image search to drag in images from the web (with a warning that this some people don’t like this).

What is missing is the ability to drag in images from your device. This seems like an odd feature to miss for the 1.0 release, especially if you have an iPad 2 and want to drag in images or video to your posts. The folks Fomola, however, will have this feature in an upcoming release.

Documentation

When you open Blogsy they have a pre-written post which explains many of their features before you touch anything. It’s well laid-out and informative, but has one “cheat.” There is a table in the post, but no table function in the editor – it’s an image. It doesn’t impact the post – but I figured I’d toss out “gotcha.” There is also a series of videos which they produces and show Blogsy in action. These are informative and short.

Support

Blogsy has a great support. They respond quickly to emails for help (keeping in mind they’re on the other side if the planet). They also have an active twitter account @blogsyapp and are a lot of fun to chat with. As a bonus, the artist who created the Blogsy icon saw me mention it and also chimed in. They are socially connected, fun, and helpful. People in IT support positions everywhere should take notes.

The Not So Good

No software is perfect, so here’s some glitches.

Gestures

When you want to publish a post in Blogsy you can swipe three fingers upward and you’ll receive a confirmation dialog to publish it. This is a good feature. To switch back and forth between the Rich and Write sides, you swipe left or right and the page flips with a beautiful animation. This is a intuitive way to go back and forth, but I end up suffering from too many accidental switches when I’m trying to select text. I think I’d like Blogsy to go to a two-fingered swipe to get from side to side.

Images

Dragging and dropping images is wonderful, but when you tap an image there are buttons for alignment in the menu which appear. I still don’t know what these do, and when I select them it messes up how my posts are displayed. I figure that I’m not using the buttons for their intended function, but it’s kinda un-intuitive if you are used to manually inserting images into and HTML document. I’ve already mentioned not having access to images on the device, but that is coming. I also don’t get my expected text-wrapping inside the Rich-Side of Blogsy, but my posts are displayed normally as long as I don’t mess with the alignment options in the image menu.

Editing

There must be a reason why we can’t get rich text editing in any blogging app on the iPad, but I’d really like to have it! Until that time Blogsy has come up with a good solution.

Platform Support

I use WordPress, so Blogsy is idea for me. I’m looking for a good blog editor for my friends who use Joomla. I wish Blogsy had it!

Conclusion

With the arrival of Blogsy my MacBook is going to used much less, and my iPad just got more useful. For a 1.0 release, this is a polished application with improvements already in the pipe! For an introductory price of $2.99,you’re a fool if you want to blog on your iPad and don’t pick this up!

How far we’ve come

I saw this video in my Zite feed today. I showed my son the “state of the art” cellular phone at the time if this video, and then held up my iPhone. He just stared at me.

Mobile technology has advanced at an insane rate over the last 30 years. What have our congregations done to help people adjust to this connected reality?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Hands On With the iPad 2

Well, yesterday I stood outside and got myself an iPad.  Now, a day later, I’m ready to share some thoughts on actually using it.

The bad

It might seem odd to start with the bad things in a review, but with my iPad I feel compelled to share the one thing that I feel Apple got “wrong” with this device.  Simply put, it’s the buttons.  Or, rather, every toggle on the device except for the home button.

Ironically, my problem with the toggles is a side-effect of one of the iPad 2’s greatest features, it’s thinness.  On the iPad 1, the straight edge served as the perfect venue for the volume rocker, the lock switch, and the sleep button.  On the iPad 2, that straight edge is gone, and the buttons are almost under the screen.  This is a minor annoyance for the sleep button, which I don’t use anyway since I got a smart cover.  It’s an inconvenience with the volume rocker, as I’m not used to it’s location yet and I need to fish around for it.  The lock switch, however, is a bear.  Unless your finder is directly on top of the switch, it’s really difficult to toggle – I’m actually afraid of damaging it!  I guess I’ll get used to its odd angle (compared to the screen) and the particular way it needs to be toggled, but compared to the iPad 1 it seems like an odd design flaw.  The hardware buttons really do take some getting used to.

The Good

So what about the good?  My son has an iPad 1 so I can compare it with that device, it makes the good of the iPad 2 stand out even more.  There’s a lot to love.

First, when I showed my wife the two devices side-by-side this morning she said instantly, “The iPad 2 is a lot brighter.”  The LED lit screen on the iPad 2 is brilliant and is noticeably brighter than its first gen cousin.  I’m going to check it out in bright sunlight tomorrow to see how the screen fares there, but indoors, it’s stunning.

Second, this thing is fast.  Web-browsing is noticeably faster, and animations are smooth.  In fact, the animations showed no stuttering even while installing multiple updates and receiving desktop notifications.  I haven’t seen a breakdown that tells us how much ram it has yet, but it’s obviously got more than the iPad 1.

Third, I love the smart cover.  Yes, it only protects the front of the device – but it’s just dang cool.  When it’s folded back flat against the back of the iPad it actually makes the device easier to hold and it keeps it from sliding around when on your lap.  The “stand” function is also really cool – though I do wish that it could somehow work to stand up the iPad when in portrait mode.

Using it

The cameras are OK.  The two times I’ve use it, both under artificial light, the picture has been rather grainy.  I need to do a comparison, but my 3Gs seems like it does better video in lower light conditions (of course, that could just be because I can’t see the graininess on the smaller screen).  Facetime works as advertised, the audio quality is excellent and the picture quality is pretty good as well (I want to try it out with someone on an iPhone 4). I haven’t installed Skype yet, but I’ll do that soon.

Typing on this device is about the same as the iPad 1, which means “good” but not great.  I typed my “in line” blog entry on the iPad and wasn’t frustrated at all, which is saying a lot, but I did find myself accidentally hitting the space bar from time to time.  I did get used to it, but it was a minor annoyance.  I’ll get a bluetooth keyboard for this eventually if I’m going to do any serious writing on it.

Video streaming is wonderful.  HD videos in my dropbox play without a hiccup and the quality is perfect.  Youtube videos play equally well, and html 5 UI elements on web-pages show absolutely no lag whatsoever.  Apps in general are responsive and seem to launch faster than on the iPad 1.  This thing is fun to work on.

I actually haven’t played a single game on the iPad yet.  I have one installed (Harry Potter Lego), but I got this to be a work device, so I’m trying to keep the clutter of of it as long as I can.  I do foresee angry birds on this in the near future though!

Final Thoughts

I own a first generation iPod Touch and an iPhone 3Gs.  When I got back to install someone on the 1st gen Touch, it feels slow.  It’s not really any slower than when it was my primary iOS device, but the shift to the 3Gs was just that dramatic.  The shift to the iPad 2 from the iPad 1 isn’t quite as dramatic, but it certainly feels similar.  It is a very dramatic switch.

Give me a day or two, and I’ll post a bit on how I want to make use of the iPad in ministry.

The Congregation as *nix

Note: If you don’t know what *nix is, this post will utterly confuse you. Instead, let’s go get coffee and chat.

Being part of a Christian congregation is frequently frustrating for me. This not because I don’t love the people, nor is it because I look at the congregations I’ve been part of and think, “Who needs this?” Rather, the frustration comes because most of our congregations are set up with systems that work the world of the mid 20th Century. There are multiple boards, various levels of permission structures, and several territories which must not be touched, looked at, or mentioned. I’m not wired to work that way. If there’s a good idea out there, I don’t want the person to sit around wondering which board as the authority to “give permission.” If there’s a (typically dusty) button which says, “Do not push,” well… that thing’s getting activated! I tend to be a rooted individual, personally, but when it comes to group interaction I’m wired for a more dynamic reality. To me, a congregation should be POSIX compliant – it’s a *nix.

Operating systems that are POSIX compliant (such as Unix, Linux, and BSD) are wonderful things. Instead of creating a huge, tightly-woven, thread of processes which are mostly “all up” or “all down,” a *nix system has lots of little processes which do one thing, and can be tied together to performed larger tasks. If a process is not needed, it can be shut down and the system will keep running as normal. If you’ve ever had to re-boot a windows machine when you change the network name, installed a driver, or updated the network settings – you’ve see what the alternative to a *nix is like. Everything runs at the same time, and to restart (or alter) one aspect of the system requires the entire thing to be temporarily inaccessible. In a *nix, you simply turn the one process off and then back on.

The Church, over the last 60 years or so, has been more like Windows than *nix. Or, rather, it’s been more like several windows machines trying to collaborate on multiple tasks without networking. So, if an idea comes in that needs a new process to run – the Church (metaphorically) looks for the system that has the closest approximation to the idea and then “installs it there” (usually by a board appointment). The promise is, in a sense, “eventually we’ll get the software needed to do what you want – but until then you want to stay at this system because if you aren’t here when we get to it you might not get to use it.” By the time the one system (i.e. board) is ready to act on an idea the users figure out that they need resources on another machine – only to find that’s it been shut down, and all the people who know how to access it have gone home for the month. If the users of the first system remember to bring up the idea with the users of other needed system when they come back (a month later) it is usually found out that the data (the proposed idea) from the first system isn’t compatible with the data from the second system. Then the first users are sent back to reformat the idea into a language that works on the second system. By the time this is done, the users of the second system have shut it down and gone home – for another month.

It is in this way that congregations put new ideas to death. It’s what I refer to in another metaphor as, “The Bureaucratic Nightmare.”

Now, instead of having several systems (which constantly have to be rebooted every time you even a slight change) I like to think of the Church as one system with many processes going on – like a *nix. These different processes can be turned off and on at will, and are designed to work together in order to accomplish larger functions (that’s the beauty of POSIX). If there comes a time where a particular process is no longer needed, it can just be shut down completely – allocating the resources it used to other processes which are needed. This creates a dynamic reality that can flow with the current situation.

There are two things about this idea that I want to share.

First, while I am frustrated by the “Bureaucratic Nightmare” which exists in many congregations, I don’t want us to consider the people who came up with that type of system as unintelligent. The systems created by a Bureaucratic structure worked when they were developed. If they hadn’t, they would have never survived. In fact, at least in the context of Western Civilization, I’m certain that the structure I’m naturally wired for wouldn’t able to function at all prior to the advent of mobile technology. It’s mobile, and the arrival of “pushed” data, that creates a human-network where small specialized processes (the ideas people have) can be easily tied together to accomplish larger tasks. Before mobile, a *nix metaphor for a congregation would end up hanging while data waited for someone to get home to answer their voicemail and, if it wasn’t too late, call back. With mobile we can send out a request and expect to receive a reply in minutes, if not seconds.

Second, even a *nix has an underlying core, or kernel, which governs all the processes on the system. The kernel tells all the other processes what resources are available, and sets boundaries for the processes running on the system (among other things). In a Christian congregation, our kernel is the truth of God revealed in Jesus Christ – the Gospel. That kernel is what keeps us “running” – and without it we wouldn’t be a Christian congregation.

So, here are my musings. Enjoy, and may your reboots be few and far-between.