Preserving Lightning

Few inventions have changed the world so much as the microcomputer – certainly few have evolved as quickly, or have pushed forward as rapidly. These days, despite the incredible technology contained in them, computers have become something of an appliance. Granted its an appliance that the average home user faces with more frustration than most (your microwave is unlikely to get a virus, and your fridge probably doesn’t have its viewable area limited by those 18 toolbars you unwittingly installed) but they are common-place now. Most households with teenagers in them probably have more computer screens than TV screens these days.
appleii It’s easy, then, to think that they were always there. To forget the heady days of not 20 years ago when having a computer in your home meant you were on the cutting edge of technology. Or 30 years ago when getting computer lab time at your school meant something special. How even without Internet, those devices hooked up to a TV or crude monochrome contained within them undiscovered new worlds.
Most computer geeks of my generation can remember their first BASIC program – the first time our computer performed a novel action, at our own instruction. The first time we grasped the understanding that through this portal, our imaginations could be unleashed.
If you remember this, then you’ll understand the nostalgia that hit me in the face when I discovered that, not too far from my home, is a one-of-a-kind museum of classic computing. In a converted old opera house in Ontario hum 40 computers of yester-year. From the ubiquitous Commodore 64 and PCjr., to the rare and treasured IIgs Woz Edition and Apple LISA, from the Atari 800xl to the Amiga, and even a microcomputer without a keyboard and monitor — where input was entered on switches, and output returned on lights — these computers are all running, just like they did 15-35 years ago.
And they only represent a small fraction of the collection! Hundreds of other machines sit in storage, where they’re restored and rotated through the museum proper. A software library for each of these computers, original shipping boxes, magazines, instruction manuals, and advertising collateral have all been meticulously collected by a self-professed geek, and a team of volunteers.
The scope of this multi-decade project is more than impressive – it’s important. Few other collections like this exist in the world, and much of the history of modern computing – young though it may be – is at risk of disappearing into junk piles and garage sales until there is nothing left to mark the path we’ve followed to get here.
I read an article recently that said that NASA is having difficulty retrieving the data from the original moon missions – because the computers on which it was recorded no longer function. This isn’t recordings scratched into stone tablets centuries ago – this is information less than half-a-century old that we are loosing access to!
If you benefit from e-mail, or Skype, or a word processor or financial management software; if you’ve photoshopped a family picture, or dabbled in editing your home videos; if you’ve booked a vacation online, or surfed for recipes or home improvement tips then you owe it to the people who’s life’s work gave you these things – the inventors of the home computer, and the revolution that it brought to civilization – to check out the PC Museum, and donate a couple dollars to the preservation of the story of how we got here.
Take your kids, and let them press the keys of keyboards that sparked a generation of imagination and invention.

Ben's First Computer

Last week I decided it was time for Ben to have his first computer. He has his first game system, and his first pair of skates, but if he’s my son, he should start learning how to use a computer. I was pleased when he took right to it.
*Geek Content Follows*
In the late sixties, a man named Douglas Engelbart dreamt up a connected computer system, navigated with a pointing device that came to be called the mouse. His original invention had an array of buttons. Its fabled that by the time the mouse became commonplace, it was an almost religious debate over how many buttons it should have. The Xerox ALTO had 3 buttons, but Steve Jobs insisted fervently that there should be only one. Even today, with Apple’s new high-tech multi-touch mouse, the default behaviour is to treat all clicks as a left click.
It’s a tribute to Dr. Engelbart that our 3-year old intuited the use of the mouse within only a couple seconds, after I put my hand over his and showed him how to point and click. It’s a tribute to Steve Jobs that Ben’s graceless button mashing only ever invokes a left-click operation – no confusing menus for him to get lost in.
See, Ben’s first computer is a Macintosh Performa 6320 – a 14 year-old Mac that I would have killed to have in my room when I was in high school.
*End Geek Content*
I picked up the computer, along with a Mac IIsi, for a grand total of $25 – thanks to a find on Kijiji. They smell horrible (having been owned by a smoker) and were filthy dirty when I brought them home. But I lovingly scrubbed one down, and cleaned up the system software and some extension conflicts, and it’s purring along (and starting to smell better) like it was a brand new computer.
It came with a package called KidWorks 2, which includes a drawing program with cute sound effects. Ben loves it and calls it his “Drawing ‘puter!” I popped in a Patch the Pirate CD (thanks Mom and Dad!) and it started playing right away, and within moments he was happily playing away with classic content on a classic computer — the perfect place for him to start learning. It even has a TV Tuner!

Asia 2010

When I was 6 years old, my family moved to Bangladesh for a year. Among other things, this left a very young version of myself with an incurable restlessness that my wife would eventually learn to understand, and even share – on occasion.
Five years ago, we responded to a growing passion for missions by booking a trip to Asia. The intent had been to bring a team of students interested in missions… and then just one… and then even that didn’t work out. I’m not sure what to chalk that up to, but it was clearly not His timing for anyone else to go. Thankfully, He allowed Nicole and I to make the trip.
We stayed with new friends in Penang, Malaysia and learned from them, and lent our skills to the daily needs at their YWAM base. We went to Thailand, and learned about the efforts there to rebuild after a tsunami had wiped out thousands of homes and lives, and lent our strength for a few days building a house. We saw both the beauty and darkness of Kuala Lumpur. And we came home changed.
Then we moved to New York. The intent had been to learn about moving to another country, while growing my career and getting involved in serving. Like our trip to Asia, we learned a lot, and found we had a lot to learn – and still do.
But we’ve grown in the past 5 years, and it seems that maybe this time, God will allow us to bring someone along while we go, again, to learn about missions in Asia. Sunday we booked our tickets. We fly to Hong Kong on June 7, for a whirlwind tour of as many countries as we can manage – and this time, its not just our hopes and dreams that we are going to explore.
We discovered, not long after we met her, that our babysitter’s older sister has had a burden on her heart for Asia since 4th grade. Even as a 9-year old, Tatum took this challenge seriously, and began studying Cantonese and saving up her babysitting money, in the hopes that some day she could get to Hong Kong. She’s a young adult now, proficient in the language, a dozen connections cultivated on the continent, and money in the bank. All she needed to get her parent’s blessing was someone willing to take her.
With us itching to get back to Asia, and my parent’s living in Malaysia and connected in Cambodia, it doesn’t make sense for us not to accompany her.
The planned itinerary includes Beijing, Hong Kong, Phnom Penh (Cambodia), Hanoi (Vietnam) and Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). Its an ambitious trip for only 2 weeks, but we’re looking forward to it. Asia is a beautiful continent, with so much to see, and so many people who need Hope. We go for the adventure, for sure, but more than that, we go out of obedience. The Word says to go into all the world and make disciples, and as 29-year olds, we take this challenge seriously.
Our own kids will be sitting out this trip – perhaps in another 5 years they’ll be old enough to come along and get something out of it. For Asia 2010, we could use prayer that all 3 of us are able to discern and follow His direction as our trip takes shape.

Birthday Cake

As I mentioned earlier, Ben was very specific that he would not agree to being 3 years old until he got a blue McQueen chocolate cake. So, Nicole very expertly made him this…

…which we happily consumed with the help of Nic’s parent’s, the McLeods, and Ben’s little buddy Nathan. Pretty awesome, eh?

Love Like Rockets

A few days ago I tried to start putting down 2 years worth of scattered thoughts on how God seems to work in our lives — from my limited experience. And the conclusion I drew was that our planning role might not be as big (or shouldn’t be as big) as we like to think. That maybe God isn’t so much concerned with how we plan to do things, as He is with our obedience to His plan. I’ll talk more about how I think that looks, but let me tell you how I think planning on obedience works…
First, look at what’s in front of you. Do you have a job? Kids? Bills? Debt? A mortgage? Homework? A youth group?
There’s your 1 year plan right there. God wants you to be faithful with the little things – He put them in front of you for a reason. Work at those things, and do them well.
Second, and this may take some time, but it’ll be worth it: look at what God has built into you. When you’re in church, what sermon topics tug on your heart? What softens you, or makes your eyes water up a little (or a lot?) What things have you seen on TV or in the media that make you feel like you have to do something to change what you’re seeing? What are you passionate about, and what gets your blood pumping? What thing could you do all day long without ever getting tired of it?
Figure out what your passion is, and you’ve got your 10 year plan — that’s the thing you’re supposed to be doing 10+ years from now.
Between now and then, however, are going to be challenges and lessons.
Perhaps the first challenge is that you can’t find that thing or that topic or that situation that causes a righteous zeal to well up within your soul. May I suggest, then, that the author of your soul – your Creator God – cannot speak into your life, because you aren’t listening. Your first order of business, and the discipline you must develop for the rest of your life, is to draw closer to Him. The more you know His heart, the more you will hear His still, small voice whispering into your life.
Perhaps you are already drawing closer to Him every day, and you already cannot sit through a specific kind of sermon, or a certain song, or read a particular verse, without feeling a fire burning in your marrow, or tears streaming down your face. Your 5 year goal, then, is to find out what stands between you and the passion and burden God has placed on your heart, and tackle those things with all your being, knowing His strength and His provision will make a way for you to obey Him.
Maybe debt stands in your way. Maybe its education that you need to get. Maybe its a specific skill you need to develop. Maybe its nothing so tangible as any of these; and instead you are simply in need of His equipping, and His molding in your life. Whatever it is, work on it as your next step.
And the most important thing about this 1/5/10 plan? Don’t write any of it down. Because as you pursue Him, and are obedient to Him – in the every day, and in your life in general, He will transform your will, until the things you want out of life are the things He had planned for you to do since He knit you together… and those things might turn out to be very different than you had originally figured on.
But that’s OK, because it turns out that the plans made by our amazing God? Those plans are way better than anything we could have come up with on our own.

Tall Tales

So I sat down at a table at drop-in tonight, and asked the guys there what their hobbies were.
The first guy, a 16-year old pastor’s son, answered that he was a heroin junkie who’d just spent the last 20 years in prison. The next kid said he worked in Toronto as Superman, but had flown in for the evening. The next answered that he worked as a night janitor at a University where he liked to solve complex math equations left on the black board by professors during the day.
All 3 did this with straight faces and not a moments hesitation.
Pretty sure I have the best volunteer gig ever.

Happy Birthday, Benjamin

We didn’t forget his birthday — it was December 27, and he turned 3.
He’s adamant, though, that he’s not 3 until he gets a cake. And not just any cake. A blue Lightning McQueen chocolate cake.
With the busy-ness of Christmas, and his insistence that he wasn’t ready to be 3 yet (“Soon, daddy. Three soon.”) we thought it would be best to celebrate his big day a few weeks later. So this weekend we’re having some family, and a couple of his friends (and babysitters) over for the requested cake.
It’s hard to believe he’s 3 years old already! So much has happened in his little life time. Happy birthday, buddy! We love you.

Jumping Rooftops

In the secular world, wise people will tell you how to run your life. They’ll tell you that in order to succeed you need a 1, 5 and 10 year plan. That you need to write that plan down, and that you need to work toward the goals you established when doing it. Very few people succeed by accident – most are working toward something specific.
For 10 years, and with satisfactory success, we followed that advice. In fact, one of our first conversations together as a couple – even before we were married – was planning. We worked hard toward our goals, sacrificed, and accomplished pretty much everything we set out to get: 2.5 children, a house, a succession of better jobs, travel and adventure, and adequate financial stability.
For the last 2 years, I’ve been disconcerted that we haven’t had a plan. Our plan went as far as New York, and we weren’t really sure what was supposed to happen next.
In the past couple months, during which we’ve still had no set 1, 5 or 10 year plan, its occurred to me that despite this missing, and apparently key, part of our lives, things have unfolded pretty well anyway. And I’ve begun to wonder if maybe it’s not the planning that’s responsible at all. That maybe things happened not because of us, but despite us.
Maybe the key thing we need in life isn’t a plan. Maybe it’s obedience.
I’ll have more to say on this in future posts… we’ll make a series out of it.

Predictions for this decade: Digital Content

In my first year of college, over 10 years ago now, I got my first cell phone. I’m sure my parent’s thought I was crazy — why would a student need their own cell phone? But I was young and full of credit, and it seemed important to me to have one. I certainly felt important carrying it around… despite the fact that it was a giant brick by today’s standards. At any rate, my cell phone had a feature called “SMS” where by my roommate and I could send each other short text messages. Although we had other friends with cell phones, I never could seem to convince them to use the service. I suspect most of them didn’t even have a clue they had it…
10 years later and texting is all the rage with kids these days, and all I can say is: I told you so.
Here’s another trend that I can’t seem to convince my friends of, but that I’m sure is going to change everything… in just a few years when this generation of kids grows up: digital content delivery.
The other night we wanted to rent a movie. I had in mind to find something from the late 80s or early 90s, so using only my remote control, I browsed Drama flicks from those decades. After finding a few of a theme that seemed interesting, I browsed for similar movies. Then, thinking perhaps I’d like to watch one with Harrison Ford in it, I searched for films starring him. Eventually, we settled on something completely unrelated using the recommendation engine.
The device that makes this possible is an AppleTV — but it doesn’t have to be. An XBox or a PS3 can do similar things. I happen to like the little Apple box myself. From the factory, it lets me browse and listen to my music collection, or buy new songs or albums instantly from the iTunes store; it lets me view my photos, or connect to Flickr and see my parent’s latest snaps from their travels. With a little hacking, it connects to my downloads directory on the computer upstairs so I can watch current TV shows with PVR-like functionality, or any of our library of 200 owned digital movies. And if we happen to miss a show we’re following, we can order up the episode from the iTunes store with the touch of a button.
We don’t have digital cable, we don’t rent a PVR from the cable company, and we never set foot in a Blockbuster, but I’d wager that we have a better TV and movie experience than anyone who pays $60 or more a month to some old-world provider. We have only a cheap Internet connection, and a $160 box from Apple, that give us literally a world of entertainment at our finger tips…
And just like the obscured usefulness of SMS 10 years ago, I can’t wait until the rest of the world catches up with this technology. You’re gonna wonder how you lived without it!