The Christmas Haul

December.30.2006

While I think we all know that Christmas is much more than a time to give and receive presents, my inner child is still enjoying the many new toys that appeared under the Christmas tree with my name on it. In addition to these, I also have my birthday gifts to enjoy as well. In other words, I am in gift overload.

It’s funny too. I actually told Jamie on the way to Appleton for Christmas that I wished I had put more “practical” items on my Amazon Wish List instead of just videogames and books. Fortunately my family cares too much about me to let me become a hermit and got me some great gifts to enjoy the outdoors too.

So without further ado, here are some of the highlights of the gifts I am enjoying. This list is in no particular order so please do not be offended if your gift came in “second place” according to this. It’s just a list. I love them all.

Dead Rising – Any game that allows the player to run over zombies with a lawnmower is okay in my book. I’ve heard the game can become annoying in some ways, but I love killing me some zombies.

Bully – I have always enjoyed movies that show the turmoil of the school years (Breakfast Club, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, etc.), so this game is a great fit for my type of humor.

Snowshoes – While I am doubtful that it will actually snow anytime soon, I am enjoying the prospect of it. I think owning these also scores me some more points towards being a borderline lumberjack.

Garmin GPS – This is actual a return purchase after my dad bought Jamie and I a camcorder. Since we already had a camcorder, I picked up a GPS and got Jamie an iPod. I am excited to do some GeoCaching with this little guy soon. Again, borderline lumberjack.

Velvet Elvis – I have really wanted to read this book by Rob Bell for a while so I can’t wait to finish up the last of the Left Behind books to move on to something I actually want to read.

Again, this is just a fraction of the gifts received. I am so ridiculously blessed. Thank you much if you were one of the family members doing the gifting. Rest assured that your gift is helping me keep my sanity in my downtime here at camp.

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Songs for Christmas

December.13.2006

When it comes to Christmas music, I am an inherently cynical person. It is very difficult to find something I truly enjoy. The typical Christmas music always seems so trite and commercialized that it just flies in the face of what I view Christmas as. Instead of a truly holy miracle, it is cheapened to a synthetic Santa pulled by plastic reindeer.

For a while I was appeased by the remakes by current Christian artists as I felt they often put emphasis on songs I had otherwise overlooked. However, over the years, that has even worn on me. I was still hearing more production values than their heart.

However, on a recent Relevant podcast, they talked about a new Sufjan Stevens Christmas album. I have always been an outsider on the Sufjan Stevens phenomena, meaning to pick up one of his albums but never quite following through. But after hearing a few of these songs on the podcast, I knew I had to hear the rest.

The songs just sound so authentic. You really get the feeling that he means the words he is singing. That he is happy for the coming of Christ and the eventual salvation that He would provide. It doesn’t hurt that the album is huge too. 42 songs huge.

And what would you pay for something like this? $100? $50? How about only $15?!? Yeah. I was shocked too. If you go to Amazon it’s like $22, but on iTunes the album download is $15. Crazy. A must buy in my opinion. It will be in heavy rotation for me through the holiday and some songs (Come Thou Fount) will live long past January for me.

Now for the second half of my best free mac apps list. Hopefully you find some nice new software from this list. Feel free to drop me a comment with some more software if you have something you think is great as well.

6. AlphaBaby – Okay, so maybe this isn’t my favorite app, but it is my daughter’s. I decided that instead of scolding her for her computer curiosity, I have instead found a way to encourage it. Since she does not have the understanding or motor-skills to actual use a computer, I found a program that instead just creates colors, shapes, sounds and letters depending on what keys she hits. If she hits a letter or number, it shows that letter or number in a large bright character. She enjoys the show and hopefully is becoming comfortable with computers at the same time.

7. GoogleNotifier – Back in junior high, I think we all had a hotmail account. It was the universally accepted standard in web-based email. Today, that standard is Gmail. I strongly suggest anyone in the web-based email market get Gmail. It is feature-rich and it works with the ever evolving web 2.0 suite that Google is developing. GoogleNotifier works with Gmail and Google Calendar to post a notification when events or messages are received. A great functionality addition to an already great system.

8. iStumbler – As is the case with most people who are slightly above the computer knowledge curve, it is assumed that I have a telecommunications degree. Whenever someone I know is hooking up a wireless network, I am called with the assumption I know what I’m doing. Thankfully, at this point I do. But I didn’t always have the tools I needed. One of those tools that I always use now is iStumbler. It helps locate wireless signals and their strength. I have used is numerous times to diagnose problems and to find the overall signal range of installed networks.

9. gDisk – One additional thing I love about Gmail is the overall storage space. The problem is that I will probably never use even half of the space they allot users. If only you could use this storage for personal use of documents and other media…and that’s where gDisk comes in. gDisk is a standalone application that basically creates a directory in your Gmail account for personal storage. Kind of neat.

10. iAlertU – A few years ago Apple decided to put a motion sensor in their line of laptops as a way to protect harddrive failure from dropped laptops. While I’m sure it has helped in that capacity, the real reason I appreciate that sensor is for this next app. iAlertU is quite literally a car alarm for your laptop. Using the remote control, you turn the app on with the classic car alarm sound. Then, if your laptop is moved even slightly, the alarm goes off and it even takes a picture with the built-in iSight camera to catch the perpetrator red handed. I still won’t leave my laptop unattended for long, but at a coffee shop it’s not a bad security measure.

Well, I hope that is helpful to someone. I strongly recommend anyone on the Mac/PC fence to make the jump. It is a great time to be a Mac owner.

I have always found lists of the top free Mac apps to be incredibly helpful for me to find new and useful apps that just make my life easier. There are a ton of just incredible programs designed for the Mac OS and each time I find one it helps to validate my love for the OS.

For those of you who are stuck on a PC, I apologize for the worthless nature of this post. (Or maybe this will help you leave the virus plagued jungle!)

1. RapidWeaver – I have been using this program a lot lately as I continue to work on redoing the camp’s website. I have been doing web design at an amateur level for a long time now and this is by far the easiest and still feature-rich tool I have ever used. It really allows you to dig in as much or as little as you want and have a great looking site regardless of your decision.

2. FolderShare – I know this is a Microsoft program, but it is really pretty ingenious. Here is how it works: I have desktop computer. I have a laptop. I have a work computer. I have a server at work that I sometimes need access to. While I could setup a VPN to access certain files on these computers, that still doesn’t allow access to everything on all the computers. FolderShare does. You install this program on each machine and it gives you a listing and search function of every file on every machine. Once you find what you need, you download it. You can also use it to sync folders in multiple locations (like a VPN). Oh yeah, and it’s seamlessly cross-platform.

3. Connect360 – The way the Xbox 360 was designed is genius…if you are a PC owner. The machine is capable of pulling music, photos and video off of other computers on your home network. However, if you have a Mac, this feature does not work right out of the box. That is where Connect360 comes in. Now I can listen to any song in my iTunes library while I play. And it preserves all of my playlists, genres, etc. And I can listen to podcasts. Amazing.

4. VirtueDesktops – Ever get bogged down in layer-upon-layer of application windows? I always do. Between email, internet, word processing, and some graphics program, it gets difficult to navigate what’s going on. With VirtueDesktops you create seperate workspaces that flip as you change applications. You can setup common applications to be on the same workspaces so email is always open with Word and so on. It really helps productivity.

5. iPhoto Library Manager – The one downside of the entire world switching from traditional to digital photography is the storage. Sure, it seems like storing photos on a computer is more sensible that dozens of green and red photo albums, but there was another side effect to digital photography: more pictures. These two factors combine to create gigantic photo libraries. This app helps you by splitting your iPhoto Library into separate libraries making it easier to navigate and operate iPhoto.

That is enough for now. I actually have a list of 10, so if you really want to see 6-10, you’ll have to check back soon!

The Deadliest of Snowshoes

December.2.2006

This is one of those stories that you wish you could undo, but at the same time, it is perfect for blogging.

So today in the office I decided to make the transition from fall decorations (pumpkins and scarecrows) to winter decorations (wreaths and trees). The real motivation for this was a pair of old snowshoes that my father-in-law gave to me. I have been eager to have them up in the office as a decoration and also to get them out of my office.

Ideally I wanted to hang the snowshoes in a criss-cross (not to be confused with 90’s rap all-stars KrissKross) fashion on the wall. It couldn’t be that hard, right? So I got out some string and tied them together. After several minutes of fighting with them to get them just right, I realized I didn’t need string at all, I needed some wire.

Being the burly woodsy guy that I am, I decided it would be faster to pull the snowshoes apart, rather than untying them. It was just kite string, right?

So I started pulling. I guess I didn’t really realize just how hard I was pulling though. That is, I didn’t realize until the string eventually snapped and sent one of the snowshoes right into my forehead. Ouch.

I just stood there stunned for a second. Did that really just happen? I reached up and felt my handywork and found a nice welt where I was hit.

After swallowing my pride, I tried to get some more work done. After about a half-hour though, my head was hurting pretty good and it was already 4 pm. So I went home.

When Jamie saw me, the first thing I said was “I got attacked by a snowshoe.” After she stopped laughing she told me I had a red mark where it hit me. I didn’t even think to look in the mirror, but sure enough, there it was.

Now my only fear that I will wake up with a big bruise or even a black eye from a freakin‘ snowshoe. Great.