Who says?

I have had a link to Confessions of a Christian Agnostic up on the links list (used to be under friends we don’t know), but I have never referenced it directly. I do so now. But before that, I will bring your attention to the other links up there: SoMA Review, Bad Christian,and Orion. These are all publications of a sort that reject the form of church and Christianity that spatters our world and culture today. Of the four, Christian Agnostic is the most encouraging, and the least feisty. In a way, that means it is the best for me. I can read it every day without getting all worked up. It is a calendar of little essays (I really cannot stand the term devotional) that brings one back to the basics of faith by questioning the things we have accepted as part of our faith. It is a good daily reminder of what this whole thing is about. By “whole thing” I mean life, not church or Christianity. Orion on the other hand, tends to get me a little riled, and makes me want to jump to action, which is usually a good thing, but sometimes just frustrating. Here are a few of that type of article: What Fundamentalists Need for Their Salvation and The War on Common Sense.

These sites appeal to me because I question the foundations (walls, towers, keep, dungeons) of church. I find myself questioning everything. Some questions are the usual “Why do we worship like this?” type, while others are a little more pointed like “Why is spiritual leader an occupation?”, “Is theology important to faith?”, “Why can’t someone ‘become’ a Christian without praying?”, and “Can someone be a Christian without knowing what a Christian is?”

I love the people, it is the shadows on the wall that I doubt. I have seen so many different shadows on that wall, but nothing quite lives up to real life spirituality hinted at by Jesus, and sometimes felt in nature. I don’t just want to escape to reality, I want everyone to join me there. Anyone willing?

Credit for the words that fit my questions goes to this piece from Simon Cozens

The birth of the Sun

Merry Solstice, and may the gift of God bring light into your darkest days. May your Yuletide celebrations be bright, and harbingers of the joy to come.

Our holiday celebrations all have roots in the idea that there is hope, that the best thing to do when things get black is to make light. While I care little if others celebrate like I do, I do think it is a time that ought to be enlivened with joy, fellowship, and warmth.

Whether you are enjoying the rebirth of the sun, or the birth of the Son, you should rejoice in the hope that each bring. Light, conquering the darkness, and the bringing in of something new for the world are embodied by each. I will celebrate both, and I hope you do too.

Work that CCD!

Ok, I thought I would share some of the hard lessons I have learned about making your little consumer digital camera actually take good pictures. I have a little Canon A40 that has a 2 megapixel sensor. Not anything special. I have had it for about three and a half years, and have learned to push it to it’s limits, which I think are surprisingly few considering the age and cost. So, here are the things that I do to get the best out of my little pony of a camera:

  • Use the lowest ISO I can. I pretty much keep it at 50 at all times. This will give you the most detail, and clarity of picture, when your hands are stable enough not to blur the subject. It used to be that people did not use ISO 50 film in their cameras because the likelihood of blur is so high. Well, today we can take as many pictures as we want, and toss the blurry ones without thinking about the cost. So I just keep it at 50 as much as I can, hold real still, and take lots of pictures. Those that turn out can look great. The other thing about higher ISO on digital cameras is that you get tons of noise (digital equivalent of grain) as soon as you take it up to 200, a common speed for normal photos in film cameras. The exception is the dSLRs, which have better sensitivity without noise, but some still hit the usability ceiling at ISO 800. The dSLRs also have far more pixels so prints at smaller sizes can hide some of that noise more easily than our little consumer cameras.
  • Get to know my white balance settings. The automatic WB does not always do the best job in every situation, and there are usually several options. Both incandescent and florescent lighting indoors tend to look awful when you use auto WB. The tungsten setting is better usually for incandescent, and many cameras have a florescent option as well. Use them and see what they look like. If you are familiar with your WB settings, you drastically improve your ability to take pictures that look closer to real color.
  • Use my zoom for normal shots. When your camera is fully zoomed out, it is at wide angle and will cause some distortion in your subject. If you are taking portraits, you definitely will want to step back and zoom in so that your kid, or spouse, does not look like a chipmunk.
  • Use my program mode. Depending on your camera, you will have a program mode that lets you use either aperture priority, or shutter priority. This means you can set one or the other and the rest will be automatic. I have mine set to a constant ISO, and I can adjust the shutter to get more or less exposure. This makes it easy to bracket shots and pick the one that has the best exposure. Someday I also hope it will allow me to create HDR (High Dynamic Range) photos, but that is another post.
  • I get close. Most subjects look better if you can make them intimate. One of the great things about photography is that it allows you to capture scenes or subjects that we are not used to seeing. In our busy busy world we usually do not take the time to inspect the things around us. A photo can put you there immediately, and draw your eye to a special feature. Not everything looks better up close (the unshaven cheek of a man, for instance, looks pretty nasty).
  • I take lots of pictures. This is the biggest difference between film and digital. Unless photography is your career, or you have plenty of expendable income, you think about the cost of each film image you take, and the resulting prints. for a long time this paralyzed me, since I was not a photographer, nor did I have expendable income. We had rolls of film that had been in the camera for an entire year. So once I had a digital camera, I took pictures all the time. I still run into memory limits on my card, but it is not a cost issue. Once I felt freedom to capture everything, I was able to hone my 1337 s|{1||z.

Well, I think that is about it. I love taking pictures, and my little camera has done pretty well for me. I miss my SLR, but that can wait. I love my Canon A40 too.

Mmmm, spam.

Google recently released a new RSS feature for gmail. It places a little box above your mail that has one of the feeds of your choice. I put all the family and friends blogs in there, and I can cycle through them to see if there are updates. It is a little klutzy because you only see one at a time, and it does not sort them based on updates or anything like that. Nice little feature, that I am sure will mature into something better. Then I went to my spam folder/area and I noticed there was a similar box, but instead of my feeds, it had feeds of spam recipes. Recipes for real food using SPAM. Interesting. I wonder how Hormel feels about having their SPAM that close to the bad spam…

I have also been trying out the “google home” feature that allows you to select content, very much like my.yahoo. It is clean, just like all google interfaces, and it is easy to add content. What I wish it would do is allow you to control each content area and determine how much to show (ie. how many RSS posts, when they were last updated, and how many days of weather). I think that Yahoo is still way ahead in customizability (if that is a word, which it’s not), but then again, they have been at the portal thing for a very long time.


One of the joys of having elementary aged kids is the bugs they bring home from their classmates (or teachers, I guess). Ethan was out all last week with an awful cold. He is still trying to recover. I worked from home on Thursday to take care of him while B ran out to take care of some errands. That night I woke up at about 12:30 with a bad headache and congestion. I have been out of it since. Shoveling snow probably did not help, and that is the most likely cause of the backaches today. I was planning on roasting coffee this weekend…

On that topic, one of the things that B picked up while she was out was a Poppery! We have now spent about $25 total on roasting equipment. $19 for the dog bowl and heat gun, $3 each for the popcorn poppers. If this Poppery lives up to its reputation, it should produce good even roasts, and deposit all the chaff into a bowl. Nice!

[Edit:] It is a Poppery II, and it made good popcorn last night.