Behold a pale horse

I had genuinely hoped that I could wrap up the year in blogging with this post: a plea for moderation and communication. That if we could all just agree that hiring a failed real-estate agent/reality TV star/serial woman abuser to be President was a bad idea, then we could go back to the business of comparing notes on differing opinions and trying to ride the swinging pendulum of politics forward together. I continue to hope that, once Trump is gone, our disagreements — although important — could once again take a back seat to neighborly love, and community.

My sister disagrees with me — she thinks now is not the time for moderate views. She might be right. 2020 is winding to a close, and there’s a glimmer of hope in this pandemic, but the crazy continues to ramp up. Not one, but three loving Christians, reached out to send me a link to Giuliani’s unhinged and bizarre press event as evidence that all the conspiracy theories about a stolen election were true. These followed the now-annual holiday rant from my favorite irate uncle, declaring Trump to be the end of Christianity as we know it. The crazy uncle might be closer to the truth.

Folks, Giuliani’s press event came on the heals of the Trump campaign’s most recent loss in the court of law. Every suit alleging electoral fraud that has been brought before different judges in different States has been dismissed because the Trump legal team could present no evidence. Faced with an oath to the truth, and the threat of perjury, not even Trump’s lawyers will stand behind his claims in court. A press event, though, has no oath — and no consequence for lying. When they failed to prove their case in the legal system, they decided to take it to YouTube. An aunt who I love dearly sent me that YouTube video, and when I sent back 8 links to 8 different analysis and news sources spanning the political spectrum, all fact checking the event as largely false, she blocked me on Facebook. Good Christians don’t want to hear the truth, they just want their man Trump to be right… they just want their political candidate to win.

If that’s not you, if you actually care about truth and character and the Biblical qualifications for leadership, turn off YouTube and read the details of 11/11 court case:

The court: I understand. I am asking you a specific question, and I am looking for a specific answer. Are you claiming that there is any fraud in connection with these 592 disputed ballots?
Mr. Goldstein: To my knowledge, at present, no.
The court: Are you claiming that there is any undue or improper influence up on the elector with respect to these 592 ballots?
Mr. Goldstein: To my knowledge, at present, no.

And if you’d like to accuse me of cherry picking, here’s the full transcript:

Also in PA, you can see the revised allegations here.
You’ll see that they started by claiming fraud, but when challenged by the judge for evidence, they revised the suit until there was no case at all.

When Tucker Carlson, Fox News’ most vile conservative mouthpiece, asked Sidney Powell to come on the show and present the evidence of the claims they made in their press event, her only response was to tell him to stop bothering her.
Update: Turns out her allegations were too crazy even for the Trump campaign.

In fact, the entire event crumbles under a conservative, Christian fact check.

Is it possible that there was some manipulation of votes in some counties? Sure.
Is it possible that more than 470 counties, in strategic areas, coordinated a complex plan without communicating with each other, that somehow involved Venezuelan technology, to steal an election by more than 6 million individual votes and 74 electoral college votes?
Or is it more likely that those counties were hardest hit by Trump’s complete failure to manage a pandemic, and they all decided its time to hire someone who knows what he’s doing?

Let me try my plea a different way. You can be conservative — at least 50% of us should be! You can believe in Jesus — His message is hope and love, and everyone should have a chance to meet Him. But if you equate Trump with Jesus, and Trump’s lies with conservative, Christian values, Ephesians 2:2 is for you: you are walking in the ways of this world and the spirit who is now at work in you is disobedient. You are condemned by your acceptance of lies, and you condemn your fellow believers when you endorse or expound on conspiracy theories.

I’m looking forward to going back to sporadically blogging about the kids or an old computer I fixed. I’m tired of trying to be a voice in the middle pointing out crazy on both sides of the aisle. I’m even more tired that all the crazy seems to be coming from the side that claims Jesus — more than tired, I am ashamed. I am heart broken. Trump lost — not by much, but by enough to make clear that he is not a leader, he is not a spokesperson for the church, he is not a fit president or even a fit business person. He is an adulterer, a cheat, a liar, a selfish thief. The best thing to happen in 2020 is when he lost the election. Get over it, and start acting like Jesus told us to again.

Managing Social Media: Google

The company that started with the motto “Don’t Be Evil” has spent the last decade or so flirting with ideas that are awfully close to evil. That doesn’t mean that the organization is bad — any more than a hang nail means a human being is dying — but Google sure could use a pair of nail clippers.

When GMail first came out, I was ecstatic to get an invite. They were transparent about the trade-off at the time, and we all accepted it as reasonable: Google has automated systems that read your mail so that they can personalize advertisements to your interests. If you send an email to someone about how you burnt your toast that morning, seeing ads for toasters in the afternoon seemed fairly innocuous — even a little amusing! At the time, though, Google’s coverage of your digital life was just search results. Adding e-mail felt natural and not really that intrusive.

Fast forward to today, and what Google knows about you is downright terrifying. They don’t just know where you go on the Internet, they know where you’ve been, how often, and when you’re likely to go there again in the real world. And their influence doesn’t stop at knowledge: because of the virtual monopoly of Chrome, and its underlying tech called Chromium which powers most browser alternatives, Google has started making unilateral decisions about how the Internet should work — all in their favor, of course. They don’t like it when you’re not online, because they stop getting data about you. And it doesn’t matter if you’re not using one of their properties directly, because 70% of the 10,000 most popular Internet destinations use Google Analytics. Its actually a great product; it helps web developers understand their audience and build better offerings — and all Google wants in exchange is to know everything about you.

And let’s talk about YouTube, a virtually unavoidable Google property, full of useful content, and a site that historians might one day determine was a leading cause for the end of our democracy. YouTube is awful — and its entirely by accident. Google deflects privacy concerns by pointing out that the analysis of all this data is done by algorithms, not people. There’s probably no person at Google that actually knows how to gather all the information you’ve given them into a profile of you personally. But there doesn’t need to be: their software is sufficiently empowered to manipulate you in ways you aren’t equipped to resist.

YouTube’s recommendation algorithm has been disowned by its own creator as reckless and dangerous, and while its been tweaked since it was launched on the world like SkyNet, the evil AI from the Terminator movie franchise, and now has human over-seers to guide its machinations towards less destructive content, its still a pernicious and outsized influencer of human thought. Look no further than 2020’s rampant embrace of conspiracy theories for proof positive that recommendation engines are not our friends.

Google set out to do none of these things. I’ve been to their campus, and interviewed for jobs with their teams. To a fault, everyone I’ve met is full of idealism and optimism for the power of the Internet to empower individuals and improve society. I actually still like Google as a whole. But if the Internet is Pandora’s box, Google is the one that pried it open, and can’t quite figure out how to deal with what was inside. Humanity is not inherently good, and accelerating our lesser qualities isn’t having the positive outcome Google’s founders might have hoped for.

So, how do you throw the bath water out, but keep the baby? Can you use Google’s awesome tech, without contributing to the problems it creates? I don’t know, but here’s a few of the ideas we’re trying:

Diversify Your Information Holdings

I’ve said this before, and it bears repeating: don’t put all your eggs in the same basket. If you have a Google Mail account for work, have your personal account with another provider. If you use Google Classroom for school, use OneDrive for your private documents. If you have an Android phone, don’t put a Google Home in your bedroom. This isn’t just good security practice, preventing an attacker from gaining access to everything about you from a single hack, its good privacy practice. It limits the picture of you that any one service provider can make. Beware, though, of offerings that appear to be competitive, but are actually the same thing under the hood. The privacy browser Brave may tell a good story about how they’re protecting you, but their browser is based on Google’s Chromium, so its effectively the same as just using Google’s own browser.

Castrate the Algorithm

The YouTube recommendation engine is getting better. They’ve taken seriously the impact they’ve had, and they have smart people who care about this problem working on it. Until they get it right, though, you can install browser extensions that just turn it off altogether. You can still search YouTube for information you want, but you can avoid the dark rabbit trail that leads to increasingly extreme viewpoints. Choose carefully, because browser extensions are information collectors too — but here again, at least you’re diversifying.

Tighten the Purse Strings

Use an ad-blocker, and contribute less to their bottom line. Ad-blockers are relatively easy to use (again, reputation matters here), and available in multiple forms, from user-friendly browser extensions that can be toggled on-and-off, to nerd-friendly solutions you can run on a Raspberry Pi. We’ve eliminated about 80% of the ads we see on our home Internet by using DNS-level filtering — and its remarkably easy to do.

Do a Privacy Check Up

I’ve been involved in software development for 20 years — data really does make software better — but did you know Google will willingly relinquish older data they have on you? All you have to do is ask. Whether you’re an active Google user, in the form of an Android device or one of their enterprise offerings (like Google Classrom), or just an occasionally searcher with an account, you should take them up on this offer and crank up your privacy settings.

Search Elsewhere

Google is still pretty much the top of heap as far as search results go, but they’re far from the only game in town — and the deltas shrink daily. Bing is remarkably close in the search race, although its backed by an equally giantic corporation that is probably no more altruistic with their data acquisition, and DuckDuckGo does a decent job most of the time. Why not switch your default search engine to something other than Google, and switch back opportunistically if you can’t find what you need?

Check Who’s Watching

Just like Facebook has its fingers in most of the Internet, Google is everywhere. A service called Blacklight lets you plug in the address of your favorite website, then gives you a report on all the data collection services that website is cooperating with. The scariest ones are probably the ones you trust to give you news and information. Use RSS where possible, anonymizers, or different browsers for different purposes… which brings me to my final suggestion.

Stop Using Chrome

Oh man, I could go on for pages about how scary Google’s control over the Internet has gotten — all because of Chromium. If you’re old enough to remember all the fears about Microsoft in the 90s, this should all seem familiar. Just like the PC was Microsoft’s playground, and anyone who tried to compete was in danger of being crushed under the grinding wheel of their ambition, the world wide web has become Google’s operating system, and Chrome is the shiny Start Menu that graced every screen. Everything uses Chromium, even Apple’s browser, and Microsoft’s new Edge. It allows Google to basically dictate how the Internet should work, and while their intentions may be mostly good, the results will not be. I’m practically pleading with you: install Firefox and use it as your default browser; switch to a Chromium-based browser only when you have to.

If I sound like a paranoid old man by now, I’ve earned it. I’ve literally been working on the Internet my entire career — my first experiments in web development date back to 1996. I love this thing called the web, and generally Google has been good for it. But a democracy isn’t democratic if its ruled by dictator, and the Internet isn’t open if its entirely controlled by Google. As citizens of cyberspace, you own it to your community to help it stay healthy, and as individuals, you owe it to yourself to practice safe web surfing.

Some, I assume, are good people

Almost everyone, except Trump and his most loyal followers, have come to the conclusion that Biden is our next president. Regardless of where you stand politically, this is a good thing for the country — and for the rest of the planet.

I watched a video of a John McCain townhall, from what feels like a lifetime ago, where I think the Trump strategy might have been born. Ignorant people get the microphone, and make racist, bigoted statements about then-rival Obama, and Senator McCain with dignity and class, politely but firmly shuts them down, explaining that while they disagree on politics, he respects his opponent, and believes Obama to be a good family man, who is serving his country. I imagine it was moments like that where someone like Trump (or Bannon, or Conway) realized that they could appeal to a wide range of Americans by ejecting civility and playing to people’s ignorance — leaning into stupidity and legitimizing into a political platform of its own.

That’s exactly what Trump has done: he’s legitimized the worst of human behavior, and made himself a vocal champion of the ignorant thoughts that people might harbor, but previously wouldn’t dare to say out loud. The oppression of decency is over-thrown by a leader who, according to his base, might be “rough around the edges, but gets things done!”

This year’s election didn’t throw out conservative politics — nor did it halt the cancer that is over-taking that body. But it did excise a significant tumor, and gave the patient an opportunity to improve its quality of life. What remains to be dealt with, though, is the lingering odor of decay that surrounds the site: the devastating collateral damage that comes from close association with the sickness that is Trumpism; the possibly irredeemable damage to the testimony of people who claim Christ, but also claim Trump is His messenger.

I cannot, and will not, defend Trump, or the horrifying shift toward base and degrading behavior that was exhibited by his fan club. But I do have to say some things in defense of the almost-half of the country that felt compelled to vote for him…

For better or worse (and I am convinced it’s for worse), America has a two party political system. The result is an increasing series of false dichotomies that drive people inexorably into one of two camps. Are you for gun control, against babies, for gay marriage, and against religion? Then you’re a Democrat! Are you opposed to taxes, do you hate women, love God, but hate gay people? Then you’re a Republican! And if those simplifications sound stupid to you, then you must be a swing voter, and therefore a pawn in the machinations of a 24-hour news cycle that wants to sell you one of two insane world views.

And of course we all know that, but that doesn’t stop anyone from vilifying the other side. Given how reprehensible a human being Trump is, its all too easy to say “I can’t be friends with anyone who votes for Trump!” And given how extreme some left wing positions have become, its understandable that some people can be convinced that Kamala Harris (a former criminal prosecutor!) is actually a secret operative of Antifa. But labeling the other side with broad strokes obscures the fact that there are only two choices; two buckets into which all discourse, debate, thought and study, has to be sorted into.

I am for Obamacare. The country I come from has universal health care, and while its far from perfect, the fact that getting sick in Canada doesn’t carry a risk of bankruptcy is an important foundation for actual freedom! But while I think the idea has merit, the actual application here in the States has serious flaws. My car mechanic is a friend, and his health insurance went from $30 a month to $300 a month when the Obamacare mandate took effect. That’s not right — its supposed to help people, not cripple them. Unfortunately, our government can’t have a discussion about how to fix the implementation, because one side will fight to the death to keep it as is, and the other is doing everything in their power to reverse it entirely. That’s not a functioning government; that’s two toddlers in a sandbox fighting over a toy they want.

I am opposed to abortion on principle. I believe that at some point during gestation, the fetus is imbued with the image of God, a consciousness emerges, and that tiny baby is a human being that should have the same rights as the mother. But I don’t know when that point is — the Bible doesn’t clarify this, and science can’t explain why or when consciousness occurs. Up until that point, whenever it is, the mother’s rights should prevail over all other decisions. Our society was not set up to give women autonomy, and to use the law to take control over when and if a woman chooses to become a mother is to endorse a systematic rape. I don’t have a uterus, so my opinion on this matter isn’t worth much, but for whatever its worth, the morality of this issue for me hinges on a moment I don’t understand, during a process that, despite everything I learned about it while Nicole carried our three kids, still seems mysterious and miraculous. For legislators (usually old white dudes) to determine that they know exactly what is right in every situation, and can declare their opinion to be a law applicable to every woman all the time seems ludicrous, indefensible and cruel.

Two cells divide during the early stages of pregnancy. Is this the image of God? I don’t know — and I don’t think you do either…

I believe my church should have a right to perform a religious ceremony based on the teachings of our religion. In my religion, we define marriage as being between a man and a woman. We’re allowed to do that, because I’m pretty sure that’s what “freedom of religion” means. I do not believe a government should be able to redefine a religion, and force my pastor to do something he doesn’t believe. But I also do not believe that my religion is public policy — it is freely chosen by its followers, or it is not really faith! This separation of church and state goes both ways, and is fundamental to this country. But my church’s religious ceremony has nothing to say about someone else’s sense of self, or feelings of love for another. We teach our kids that love is love, that God loves everyone, and that we should never judge someone for who they are, or act in a way that belittles their journey or their feelings.

I can’t vote, but given these brief opinions on today’s hot button issues, which way would I vote? Would I vote to keep a flawed Obamacare, to progress toward late-term abortions, and for an increase in gay rights? Or would I vote to eliminate any progress toward universal healthcare, jail women who seek the protections of Roe v. Wade, and strip the rights of two dudes (or two ladies) who love each other? And if the answer is not clear, then you must have empathy for Trump voters (and for Biden voters, if you consider them equally reprehensible) because these things are not simple issues.

Some, I assume, are good people

There are some who voted for Trump because he embodies and emboldens their ignorance. They revel in the permission to act badly. But there aren’t 70 million of those people. Many millions of them exist in the gray space in which neither party represents them, and where they are forced to choose the one that seems like it might steer the nation in a direction that looks a little less confusing, and a little less uncertain. And while millions of voters may have chosen the other old white dude this year (the one whose main platform was not being Trump) they aren’t really aligned with Biden either. As a nation, 2020 has exposed some deep flaws in our structure, in our systems, and in our hearts, and we should forgive each other when we don’t agree on how to move forward — because none of us are really sure how we recover from this year…

There’s a lot of opinions out there — mine are worth less than a single vote. Its OK to disagree with each other. But if you label any opinion that is not your own as a crime against humanity, then you are a victim of this two party system. Worse, you are willingly complicit in a polarization that seeks to eliminate all discourse, all compromise, all cooperation, and drive people further apart. If you voted for Biden, make friends with a Trump voter in 2021, and walk a mile in their shoes — try to understand their fears and their vulnerabilities. If you voted for Trump, take down your stupid lawn sign, walk away from that sore loser, and buy your Biden-voting neighbor a coffee (or a beer) — find some common ground. Go forward together from there, cause if we don’t, then we all lost this election…

Winter is Coming

Monday’s headline reads “Ohio surpasses 200,000 Covid-19 cases,” while the story inside reports than 18,235 people have been hospitalized in the State, and that the median age for the infected is 41. We turned 40 this year, so that last fact is hardly comforting. It is comforting that deaths are going down – we are getting better at treating this thing. But the stats don’t really tell the whole story: this is a country where hospitalization can leave a family financially devastated. I had two very minor surgeries this year – the kind of incisions you might inflict on yourself if you accidentally sat on a pocket knife you left open. The combined bill was over $20,000. Fortunately insurance covered all but about $3000 – which we were able to manage through our HSA (Health Savings Account.) But we are hardly the norm – medical insurance remains far from universal, despite the last President’s best efforts to drag the nation into the First World.

For the two previous weeks, our county had been at the “Orange” risk level – a data-based assessment from the governor’s office, in cooperation with the State’s health department. According to the school district’s health and safety plan, this should have led to a switch to hybrid schooling – reducing the number of kids in the classroom by alternating in-person days. Instead, the county health office agreed with the school board to make no changes. On Thursday, the risk level was changed to “Red” – which, according to the same plan, should have indicated a move to fully online schooling. On the same day, the high school emailed parents about a potential (later confirmed) case, and a teacher was identified in a nearby school with a confirmed case. Two more confirmed cases followed on each subsequent day. In response, the school district held a public meeting where they explained that not only were they not going to move online schooling, they weren’t even going to implement hybrid mode; there would be no change in response to the obvious risk of infection. As explanation, they proffered that having children at home could lead to child abuse, and that kids were better off at school even with the virus. Besides that, they justified, only one family had pulled their kids out of school, so obviously no one is worried about Covid-19 anymore – why should the school district be any different?

We’re that one family. We’re the lone, crazy isolationists, crying “won’t someone please think of the children?!”
And so it goes in small-town, Trump-voting America. Reality doesn’t matter any more – individual rights are more important than your neighbor, the downtrodden, your community, or the world in which you live.

So here we are, preparing for a long winter. The odds seem evenly split over who wins this hotly contested election, but one thing is certain: the loser will not go quietly. We are unlikely to see a clear verdict on election night, and it seems increasingly likely that any ambiguity in outcome will lead to acrimony in the streets, and in the courts. A trip into our town is a journey through a forest of giant Trump signs – good people, convinced that a horrible man will have a better second term than his devastating first. Good people, so incapable of putting others before themselves that our government – alone among the G8 nations – has declared that it cannot control the pandemic (but has somehow claimed victory anyway.)

Source: Ohio.gov

We bought a chest freezer, and we’re stocking up on food. We pulled our kids out of school, and Nic has, once again, re-arranged her life around their online class schedules. We’ve started tucking away emergency supplies, like we did in March when this thing first hit. We had a few months of relative normalcy this summer, when activities were outdoors and the risk was lower, but the data already indicates that things are getting worse again – only this time, no one cares. Between pandemic fatigue, and people believing the whole thing is just a left-wing conspiracy anyway, all but us crazy folks are just going to pretend it doesn’t exist any more.

There’s a lot to be said about how the media spins a message to support one viewpoint or another: I’ve got no patience for the Left’s attacks on Amy Coney Barrett’s faith or humanity: you can disagree with her, you can certainly disagree with the rushed, hypocritical process by which her nomination was pushed through, but her judicial record and her personal life are admirable, and she doesn’t deserve the vitriol spat in her direction all month. And if I hear one more Fox News talking point about how Biden is an agent of the radical left that is going to destroy America – while the sitting President flails incompetently, accompanied by their cheers – I’m pretty sure I’ll just vomit on the spot. But it’s the ability to totally disregard inarguable data in favor of a clearly biased interpretation of events so that they align with one of two twisted ideologies that really boggles the mind.

Our plans for the holidays are now very modest – and very tentative. We can’t visit family in Canada, because Canadians know better than to open their borders. In-country air travel is statistically very safe, so if we can, we’ll visit friends in a less insane State for a big event in their lives. And we’ve jettisoned plans to go somewhere warm, because all the warm States are even crazier than ours. Instead, we hope to enjoy a couple secluded get-aways closer to home. We don’t know what the election will bring – and there’s a significant chance our long-term immigration status will be impacted by the outcome – but we do know that God is in control… even though the country that claims He is a part of it has completely forgotten how He told us to behave

Mac Classic II

I normally only post these projects in their own separate little nerdy section of the website, but this one was special, ’cause my son had the lead…

My son and his Classic Mac

The Classic II was no one’s favorite Macintosh. A compromised system architecture (a 32-bit chip throttled by a 16-bit data path) made it a poor replacement for the now-legendary SE/30, it did find itself a niche as a low cost compact computer for education. That was the history of our Classic II: purchased from a retired teacher, who’d acquired it after it was retired from a classroom.

The cosmetic condition wasn’t well-disclosed on the Facebook Marketplace listing: previous attempts to remove the permanent marker identifying it as classroom computer “#30” had resulted in stripped finish and smeared marker on the top of the computer — which had been covered by a mis-matched off-white paint. The keyboard had similar markings, although without the attempt at removal.

Cosmetics aside, the computer was also deader than advertised: “works as great today as it did 15 years ago!” bragged the listing… but powering it up did not include the happy chime (or even a sad one) and the display very slowly warmed up to a dim checkerboard pattern. Clearly this particular Mac needed some love. Given that I purchased it for only $60, and that only true fans would mourn its possible death, I decided this would be the perfect project for my son to go solo on.

I took care of the plastics, removing the paint with hot water followed by a baking soda scrub. The permanent marker mostly came off with a 50/50 mix of isopropyl and acetone. A dunk in a liquid peroxide 40v at a 20/80 mix with hot water and a few hours in the sun, and it came out looking pretty respectable — given its history.

Ben built an inventory of the through-hole capacitors on the analog board, which I double checked, and I identified most of the SMDs on the logic board. A trip to Mouser.com and a few days for shipping, and we had a box of new parts. It took the better part of two months, but after school every day Ben would de-solder 4 or 5 caps, then re-solder and mark the replacements. He did the whole analog board, with only a few touch-ups from me. One pad lifted on removing a stubborn cap, but did not break. We tested for continuity, then reinforced with hot glue.

Re-assembly is a pain on these old compact units — especially after a couple months during which we forgot exactly how it came apart! But we got it back together, ran a long extension cord to power strip in another room, crossed our fingers, and powered it on. When the circuit breaker did not trip, we peaked around the doorway and saw the screen bright and clear and booting happily from the old hard drive! At this point, I had cleaned, but we had not re-capped, the logic board, so we weren’t entirely surprised that there was still no happy chime, nor sound when triggered from the Control Panel. Off it went for another tear down.

Before starting the logic board, we practiced a hot air and solder paste technique on a junk board. While that went very smoothly in rehearsal, it did not work as well on the old Mac. The paste spread too far, and formed little bridge balls in undesirable areas. We decided to go with our more proven approach with traditional solder. Removing SMDs is nerve-wracking no matter how you do it, but I’ve had the most luck with cutting off the top and gently pulling the remains off their pins, before using heat to dispatch the remnants and clean the pads.

After taking lots of pictures, Ben patiently removed all of the old SMD caps, and replaced each with a tantalum cap. Some angles were difficult for our little lefty, and he cleverly came up with a sideways mounting approach (that I ultimately re-did with my right hand). After each grouping, we’d slide the logic board back in and re-test. After the second set, the happy chime was finally heard! Ben completed the remaining caps the next day, and he gave it a fresh OS install using my Floppy Emu — his first end-to-end restoration! Not bad for a 13-year old!

After he went to bed that night, I went to perform a few final adjustments, including the scary high-voltage tweaks to calibrate the display. As I removed the case, the insides slid unexpectedly and cracked the neck of the CRT’s vacuum tube. I was heart broken — there’s no repairing a vacuum seal! Fortunately, I have a couple spare-parts Macs in a closet, and after some advice from the nerds online, Nicole and I discovered that the CRTs can be swapped — as long as the yoke connector is (very carefully) ported over to the doner. There remains a small amount of bowing in the bottom right corner that we don’t recall having seen on previous power-ups: possibly the tube, possible that we didn’t mount the yoke connector with exact precision. Given how close we got to perfection, despite all its been through — and the risk associated with fragile high voltage electronics, we decided to call it a win.

I offered to sell the Mac and let Ben keep the profit — including about $14 worth of capacitors, the spare CRT, and about $10 to replace a missing keyboard cable, we spent less than $100 on this restoration. It could likely sell fairly quickly for $150-200 — not a bad flip for a 13-year old. But he’s opted, at least for now, to have it in his room. We don’t allow Internet-capable devices in bedrooms, but a 29 year-old Mac is fairly safe — and he’s certainly entitled to have it in a place of pride!

Note: This post is available in Portuguese at Macnarama.com

M*A*S*H

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
– Ephesians 6:12

This is the second post of thoughts on the responsibility of Christians in what is undoubtedly the roughest year of my life time — if you haven’t already, read part one first. We live in a rural “red” neighborhood, surrounded by Trump signs, and we really have no choice but to try to reconcile the goodness we see in our neighbors, with the man most of them want for President. Its really challenging, because by no objective measure can Trump be called a good person.

Love

Most of those we know who vote for him are not apologists — they acknowledge his faults, but maintain that his party is closest to their values. Whether those party’s values are most like Christ is debatable, but as someone who can’t vote, I can have empathy for the position they’re in. And I guess that’s where I’d like to start off:

Both sides will tell you they’re not being understood; they’ll bemoan the death of nuance in political conversation (even as their chosen leaders shout each other down). Many people from both ends of the political spectrum are capable of reasonable conversation, and of hearing the other’s viewpoint respectfully — but the national discourse obscures that rationality, the two-party system drives people to increasing polarization, and cognitive dissonance forces people to defend their choice rabidly. Mark 12:31 says “Love your neighbor as yourself” — a statement that requires you to feel for someone else; to understand their context, their fears and needs, their ideals and their goals. Empathy starts with acknowledging the validity of another’s viewpoint… even if you don’t agree with it.

Its tough for me to say this, and even tougher to do it, but for me, this means that it is counter-productive to write-off anyone with a Trump flag as an ignorant racist idiot (despite Trump’s gleeful courting of ignorant racist idiots.) Its also means that it is neither true, nor reasonable, for Christians to claim that anyone who votes for Biden is voting to kill babies. Every issue, idea and problem that a country is facing cannot be sorted into one of two buckets. And an earnest voter, forced to stack rank the issues, then choose a candidate that they hope and pray will aggregate to some over all-improvement, deserves respect, empathy and consideration.

If you’re an American and you earnestly believe that a vote for Trump has the most potential for Christ-like outcomes, this Canadian accepts you.
However, if you’re an American, driving in a Trump parade, shouting “Black Lives Don’t Matter”, then even the most enlightened person has grounds to condemn you. And that brings me to my next point.

Humility

If you have arrived at the decision that Trump is the best candidate to represent you on Christian issues, you must realize that you have chosen a man who is nothing like our Savior, that most of his personal positions are not found in the Bible, and that your rational is, at best, a matter of faith: you’re putting your faith in a deeply flawed human being on top of the faith that God’s providence will work good through that man’s sin. If you can get there, and keep your footing on that wobbly ground, then fine — but you don’t get to attack others who don’t share your belief system, haven’t rationalized this dumpster fire the same way as you, and who have legitimate complaints and fears about the outcome.

The issues on which Conservatives Christians are willing to extend themselves beyond science, politics or the general consensus are, by definition, issues of faith. Positions on how the earth was created, when life begins, how to help others find fulfillment and satisfaction in life — they can be looked at with a scientific lens, but for most of us, they’re going to boil down to what we believe. The Bible tells us that some people are not going to believe what we do, and while that sets us apart, it also gives us a responsibility — not to judge, but to love. If an omniscient God can love a sinful human, then what makes us think that we, as sinful humans, are entitled to hate other sinful humans?

Your leap of faith is not a reason to spite your neighbor. Your political party does not represent your Savior.

Reason

And finally, brothers and sisters, while we do believe there is a war going on, it is not a war against elected representatives, or your neighbor who votes for the other political party. The war is a spiritual one, and the lost are not foot soldiers for the devil — they are casualties of that war. When poor black communities cry out for justice, and your response is to condemn their sense of entitlement, you are on the wrong side of the spiritual battle. When women tell us dudes that their needs aren’t being represented in our systems, and your response is to accuse them of murder, then you are not practicing wisdom from above.

Again, this doesn’t mean that the world’s solutions are necessarily the right ones — but to shut down the conversation and brush aside all other perspectives as just being sinful, is to hypocritically claim that your faith automatically makes you right on every issue. Turns out Christians have a history of being wrong on important issues that they thought the Bible spoke to, but actually didn’t. Christians justified racism by saying black people were descended from Ham, and thus cursed — a horribly vile and sinful perspective that has caused more than a few centuries of problems. We put God-fearing but curious scientists in jail because their findings threatened our very human and very flawed understanding of Scripture…

Christianity does not grant us omniscience. It doesn’t even guarantee reason — but our Savior does call us to it.

So What is a Christian’s Role?

When I was young, my parents used to sneak off and watch a show called M*A*S*H. I didn’t know what it was about (although the theme song is permanently implanted in my brain) but my parents sure seemed to love it. As a parent now I understand they probably mostly just needed a few moments of grown-up humor, and a respite from the constant demands of young children. Recently, we started watching it ourselves — mostly for the same reasons.

The main characters in M*A*S*H are in a war — the Korean war, which continues to be a quagmire for the US even to this day. Set in a time of political upheaval, huge clashes between the American left and right, and generational tumult that largely pointed to a younger, more liberal voting block as being responsible for the moral decay of USA, M*A*S*H is interesting not because of the now-very-mild adult humor, but because of the responsibility of the main characters…

Regardless of what was happening in America, or the politics of the war, or the side a particular combatant was aligned with, when a wounded person arrived at the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, the men and women of the unit dropped what they were doing to fight for the life and dignity of that human being. Personal opinions (or shenanigans) aside, they acted in a way that recognized the Imago Dei of every fallen solider.

Christians, this is us! We are in a war — but we know how it ends! And in this war, we are not called to be soldiers, we are called to be doctors. Our love for the lost does not permit any attack on their position. Our mercy for those in need does not allow us to label someone else as “other” or to treat them un-kindly. We don’t have to agree with them, we don’t have to condone sin, but we must be willing to lay down our opinions, our preferences, our fears, our projections of guilt — because our Savior laid down His life for ours, when we were the foulest of sinners. And even then, He did not condemn us.

There was a time when Christians were famous because of our mercy. There was a time when a hospital was a Christian ministry, when the greatest centers of socialized education were Christian, when caring for the poor was understood to be a Christian vocation. If your interpretation of the Bible is that those things are not the government’s responsibility, then show the world an alternative! Show the world that Christian love puts others first.

Maybe the world would be more interested in our ideas if we took the Trump signs off our lawns, and became known in our communities as people who love and serve others again.

A Hot Mess Inside a Dumpster Fire Inside a Train Wreck

The biggest question I’ve been wrestling with for this whole crazy 2020 is: what is a Christian’s responsibility right now?

We’re supposed to be salt and light. We’re supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves. We’re supposed to care for the “least of these.” We’re supposed to take care of orphans and widows. All that would suggest we should be pretty broken hearted about a pandemic that has killed tens of thousands. White Christians should be pretty upset when we hear our black neighbors telling us they feel disenfranchised and abused by our systems. We should feel sorrow for immigrant children taken from their parents and locked in cages. All of these reactions seem to me to reflect the heart of a Savior who laid down his life for people who rejected Him.

And if all that seems obvious to you, then can you explain why Donald Trump is the man chosen to represent the “Christian right” in this “Christian” nation? Cause I can’t…

But we live here, and I have no choice but to try, because if a horrible man like Trump represents me, then there must be some justification for it – and believe me, people are working hard at it. Every time I post something about what a dumpster fire Trump’s America is becoming, some helpful Conservative pops up to explain to me why either A) Trump is really a good person, and its just the media making him out to be horrible, or B) Trump is a bad person, but God is using him for His own good purposes, so we need to support the President anyway.

Never mind that I can’t vote, and have no say in what happens in November, some Republicans feel really, really obligated to convince others that Trump isn’t the worst human being to ever make a mockery of a Presidential debate. So let me try to read it back to you – and then, for the sake of my own sanity, and despite being totally impotent on the matter, I’ll follow up with a second post on what I think we should be doing…

Argument #1 – Morality is the Only Thing We Can Legislate

Christians are called to work toward God’s Justice (which is different than “social justice.”) In this theory, we have an obligation to engage in secular government in order to bring about outcomes that are more like how God would want a nation to run. We recognize that this is a fallen world and that any outcome will be imperfect, so we often have to choose the “lesser of two evils” and continue to work toward gradual improvement. Issues like abortion, Israel and the Middle East, the definition of marriage, and for some reason, the right to carry a gun, all need to be protected, to keep secular society from slipping away from being Godly.

This argument is problematic, because:

A new game show for 2020 where American’s get to choose the Best Awful!

This doesn’t mean advocates of this argument are wrong. Certainly any life created in the image of God should be considered sacred – although the Bible isn’t clear on when the image-imparting event occurs during gestation. Certainly we should desire an end to strife in the Middle East. Certainly a family unit is an important part of society and clearly special to God. And certainly there’s some Biblical justification for defending, or providing for, yourself and your family. But there’s no real evidence that Trump cares much about these things – we’ll give him points for some progress in the Middle East, but its laughable to consider a man who hires prostitutes to pee on him, has been married 3 times, and courts violent hate groups as his base, is God’s chosen representative for these “Christian” issues.

Argument #2 – Onward Christian Soldier

The second argument is blatantly evident in Fox News, and other conservative media bylines: we’re in a war. There’s a “war on Christmas”, it’s “time to stand up for our rights” and we’re “fighting for our lives!” Any move toward socialism is an outright attack not just on democracy, but also on our faith, and it’s our job to fight back. Masks during a pandemic are really just the first wave in a new assault on Christianity that seeks to close our churches forever, and if we don’t fight now, our children are doomed to live in a Godless communist society. And this argument drives me nuts for a bunch of reasons:

  • First of all, Jesus was not a warrior, nor did He ask His disciples or followers to become warriors. Jesus chose to be born into government oppression, the early church met in secret, and when the apostles “stood up” for their faith, it wasn’t by demanding that fellow believers fight for them – it was by patiently enduring hardship, devotedly writing letters from prison, and dying for their faith (not killing for it!)
  • Second, Jesus actually promised that we would be persecuted, and that such persecution would get worse – but at no time did He tell us that we could change that! In fact, not only did He tell us not to fight back, He proclaimed that the battle was already won, and that as believers all we need to do is wait it out – and his followers counted it all joy!
  • Third, there are many countries that are more socialist than America – many of them rank higher on the freedom index than the US of A, and God isn’t dead in a single one of them. Canada is a great country, with lots of government services, lots of freedom, and a vibrant Christian community, that has launched some truly impactful missionaries and ministries into the world. There’s no evidence that God is afraid of a progressive President – why are we?

Argument #3 – The Constitution is God’s Other Scripture

OK, Americans who are more invested in the Constitution and the history of this great nation than I am have made some progress with me here. The founding principles of these United States are really good ones, the founding fathers were mostly pretty good dudes, and while they left some stuff out (like that whole slavery thing, and that part about women being people too), they did include a mechanism to address their blind spots, and historically, this country has been a pretty great one. We should absolutely not rush into changing those original intents just for the sake of change. A run-away left-wing would probably do some damage eventually, so if the three branches of government are balanced with a variety of viewpoints, and its leaders are committed to due process, legal understanding, and a diligent interpretation and application of the Constitution, then this country would be functioning a lot better.

But then things start to get a little crazy. “I’ve got my Bible in one pocket, and the Constitution in the other” is the kind of idolatry I’m talking about. In the Old Testament, God gave real specific instructions to the nation of Israel on how it should be run – based on laws, and frankly, some accommodation for the historical reality in which they found themselves. Then He took the nation of Israel apart, because they couldn’t get it right, sent His Son to fulfill the law, and left us with instructions on how to live our lives and care for our families and communities. In effect, He said, my people are now the Church – and this country you call home doesn’t figure much into the plan. We are sojourners in a foreign land, and as such, the two key commandments for us to live by are: love God, and love your neighbor. The United States doesn’t appear in the Bible, there will be no “Americans” in heaven, and God didn’t actually write, or inspire, the Constitution. It’s a human document, modified plenty of times, and while a decent human creation, its not actually Scripture.

Citizens should vote. There are some believers who are called to serve in government – He’s gifted us all in different ways, and we honor Him by doing those jobs well, and applying Biblical principles to our decisions within those roles. This is admirable — and I get that its pretty difficult right now. But we aren’t supposed to be building or fighting for a Christian nation, we’re supposed to be loving our neighbors. Donald Trump doesn’t love his neighbor – he mostly just loves Donald Trump.

Within a democracy, there will be different interpretations of what policies are most loving; rational debate can be had. Is job creation more important than social programs for helping the down trodden? Does reducing taxes create more opportunities for people to live happy lives, or do social safety nets give people a better sense of security? Should an armed police department respond to every incident? These are great questions! Let’s have those debates, do some studies, and try to figure it out! But claiming the Bible always sides with your political party is not only wrong, it is putting something else before God.

So if God isn’t a Republican, Trump isn’t a Christian, and voting for him isn’t going to make this nation more Christ-like, then what is a believer supposed to do? Well, I have some thoughts, but I guess those will have to wait for part two

Managing Social Media: Facebook

The Delete Facebook movement has been around for a while now, and I have to admit, the idea is tempting. The downside of allowing a single company to have such an outsized view into our lives has become increasingly obvious, while the benefits have dwindled. By design, Facebook is more than just a social network – its evolved over the years to become something of an Internet hub. Sure, there’s a lot less people playing Farmville, but it’s still the closest thing to a ubiquitous messaging platform we have on the Internet, so it’s hard to just turn it off. Short of writing a letter and putting it in the mail, Facebook is the one place where I can get a message to most of my extended family. And there are things to be said too (both good and bad) about Facebook Groups, where strangers with common interests can meet and create connections — most of my hobby projects have been significantly helped by members of one Facebook group or another.

So quitting Facebook might be going a little too far for most of us, but maybe putting some limits on Facebook’s reach can help. Here are some easy steps you can take to control Facebook’s visibility into, and impact on, your digital life.

Delete the App from your Phone… Then Put it Back

Facebook’s mobile app, whether on Android or iOS, has a staggering privacy impact. Except on the latest OS versions, most of these permissions, once granted, are permanent, and accessible in the background. Recent improvements to underlying platforms have revealed numerous “bugs” that have all the appearance of spying on users – even while the app is not in use. For example, Facebook helpfully asks for access to your Address Book to facilitate “finding friends” but can use that information at will to quietly strengthen its social graph (the powerful database that makes Facebook so interesting to advertisers and political parties.) Recently a former engineer reported that Facebook experimented with uploading all your pictures in the background to “improve performance” when you chose to post a picture on their site.

Obviously, it’s nice to have your social network in your pocket – it’s convenient and helps pass the time. But, giving away all your personal data seems foolish. Fortunately, there is a work-around, and its actually quite nice. By design, your mobile web browser is a “sandbox” – websites can’t get the same permissions as Apps can, so they’re intrinsically safer. And to make it more convenient, both Android and iOS allow you to “pin” a website to your home screen so that you can launch it just like an App. The experience is slightly diminished from the full App, but its remarkably elegant, and significantly less intrusive.

The process is slightly different for each platform, but it amounts to:

  • Open Facebook in a web browser
  • Find the browser’s menu, and choose the option to Pin to your Home Screen
  • Find the new Facebook “App” icon on your Home Screen and launch from there
  • Use Facebook more-or-less as normal

A nice side effect of this change is that Notifications go away. You can always launch the “App” to see what’s new, but you won’t get things pushed to you constantly. Facebook Messenger is a separate app, which seems to have less privacy issues, so it can remain installed to allow message notifications.

Put Facebook in a Box

This tip applies to both your phone and your laptop or desktop computer, although the process is a little different. It requires you to get used to having multiple web browsers – and keeping Facebook in a secondary one.

Firefox believes that good fences make good neighbors

My strong recommendation is to use Firefox as your daily driver – it has an extension that can limit Facebook’s reach automatically. Chrome and Edge both are reasonable for privacy, Brave is better, but in other ways all of these browsers contribute to Google’s unreasonable control over the evolution of the Internet – but I’ll get to Google in another post. Suffice it to say, choose your main web browser and make sure you’re signed out of Facebook (and Instagram) completely on it. When you visit facebook.com from that browser, you should get prompted to sign-in – otherwise, assume Facebook is tracking you all over the web.

(Update: if you have to have Chrome, check out these extensions to help keep you safe.)

Facebook uses a browser fingerprint it establishes when you sign-in to their site, combined with tracking that same fingerprint detected through their pervasive advertising network, to piece together your browsing history — this is why Facebook ads seem like they’re reading your mind: they really do know everything you do online. Never use “sign in with Facebook” to log into a non-Facebook website or service. This is another way they track your activity. Your main web browser should be anonymous to Facebook at all times.

Once you’re confident that your primary browser is Facebook free, install and setup a secondary web browser that can be signed in with Facebook. Use this secondary browser for your Facebook community, and limit other web surfing. On a computer this is really easy – your computer comes with a web browser that should be your secondary browser:

On a phone this is a little harder, because you can’t completely change the default browser – the built-in engine will still handle embeds and links no matter what you do. But you can still follow the same pattern – create the Home Screen shortcut “App” using the built-in browser and install another browser to do most of your surfing.

Prune Your Timeline

Aside from its privacy issues, Facebook also functions as sewage run-off for some of the Internet’s worst information pollution. Political viewpoints turn angry during an election year (or pandemic) and sometimes it gets to be a little much. You may learn things about your social network that you wish weren’t true – or maybe you just need a break from all the memes.

Sometimes you have no choice but to just remove connections (de-friend people) if they won’t listen to reason. But often a genuinely decent person has just listened to a little too much Fox or NBC News and you need to take a break from the partisanship. It’s OK to “snooze” people or unfollow them. This allows you to stay connected, without having to get inundated with their ideology.

I don’t mean to suggest we shouldn’t hear ideas and perspectives that are different from ours – in fact, I believe it’s healthy to hear both sides of a debate… as long as both sides are rational, thoughtful and based, at least in part, on objectively verifiable reality, or reasoned interpretations of events. But not all opinions are created equal, and not all sources of information are valid. I’d advocate first for a loving attempt to reason, out of concern for a friend, but I’d also advocate (especially as my kids are moving into an online world) for a limitation of the pollution you expose yourself to online.

The Facebook timeline algorithm is tweaked for engagement (sucking you in) and for maximizing advertising impressions (keeping you on the site so you see more ads). It’s not a good source of information, any more than if everyone in town went to the same park and all started shouting our opinions at each other. Prudently manage who and what shows up on your timeline, or ignore the timeline entirely, in favor of personal interactions or Facebook groups that are healthy for you.

Set App Timers

If you use the Facebook app, or a dedicated browser, both Android and iOS will allow you to limit your time in those apps. You can use this for any App that you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through more than you want to. In iOS, it’s called “Screen Time”, in Android it’s called “Digital Wellbeing”, but in either case you can find it in Settings, and easily set a timeout in minutes per day. Of course, you can over-ride it if you need to, but it’s a good reminder to manage what you’re consuming in a given 24 hour period, and make sure you’re including other interactions and sources of information.

Protecting Your Brain

We don’t let our kids use social media yet – their brains are still forming, and they don’t have all the tools they need to discern what they may read online. But adults aren’t immune from the cognitive biases that can trick our brains into unhealthy patterns. Facebook is a relatively new kind of media – one that empowers peer-to-peer sharing and information dissemination much faster than what we had a generation ago. It has many incredible benefits but inherits all the same problems of previous kinds of media, while introducing a slew of others that humanity isn’t really equipped yet to understand. There are efforts underway to understand and improve how this kind of media works, but until those things mature and inform the evolution of the Internet, it’s up to us as users to think about and manage how we interact with technology and other people using it.

Deer Jon

A week ago Friday I was under the knife for a second time, a deeper incision this go around, for a blood clot that developed near the base of my spine (which is a euphemism for “my butt”). I’m not sure whether to read this as a sign of success or just that I’ve gotten better at pain management, but I seem to be regaining function at a faster rate than last time. In fact, I was feeling so good that a careful arrangement of diet and a few modifications to the morning routine gave me the confidence to try having a little family adventure this past Saturday morning. Nicole found a historic property not too far from home that looked to provide a gentle walk, and some fun exploring for the kids, so we dressed in layers, and set out to enjoy a crisp fall morning.

I drove the family SUV, in a show of paternal competence, and we got about 15 minutes from home. Nicole had just updated the GPS with a route to our destination, and I glanced down at the map view, then back up at a shattered windshield. My first thought was that I had something in my mouth, and one of the kids must have thrown something. I picked fur out of my teeth and tried to look in the rearview mirrors — only to find them missing. “That must have been a deer” I said, as I eased the SUV over to the side of the road. “Um ya. You’re bleeding!” said Nicole. I looked down at a tiny pin prick of blood on my index finger. A quick survey found that to be the only injury to anyone inside the vehicle. Abi started, then stopped, then started crying again.

I recall a flash of brown in my peripheral vision. Nicole says she saw the deer the instant before it hit, but didn’t have enough time to shout a warning. Ben, who was in the back row, says he saw the deer somersaulting past him after the collision. The best we can figure, it was hiding in the bushes beside the road and chose a poor moment to try to leap over us. Almost the entire impact was to the windshield — a dent in the driver’s side door panel, and the missing rearview mirror, suggest that his back legs were trailing a little. The engine compartment and surrounding body panels were unaffected, save for a streak of mud. The roof has no dents, although the headliner surrounding the windshield on the interior of the vehicle was ripped back, and the attached electronics and mirror were dangling by their wiring harness. The car was drivable — save for the fact that you can’t really see where you’re going. Thankfully, the deer was a baby — not a fact that comforted the girls much, but it certainly limited the damage. The deer died instantly, as far as we can tell.

A helpful local cop arrived within about 20 minutes of calling 911, a tow truck about 20 minutes later. Our good friends John and Karen arrived in between to commiserate — and give us a ride home. Our insurance agent has been great, and approved a local shop to do the work. The vehicle’s safety equipment did its job — no air bags or collision detection were triggered, because of where it hit (although the rain sensing wipers did turn on!) but the windshield protected us. We will be out of pocket $500 for the deductible, but the rest will be completely taken care of with OEM parts by insurance. Hopefully the family wagon will be back on the road before the snow starts!

It was not the adventure we had in mind for our weekend, but we’re thanking God for His protection. It certainly could have been a lot worse. We were all a little shaken, but after regrouping at home for lunch, we salvaged the Saturday with a round of mini golf and some ice cream in the afternoon.

Church Streaming 2.0

Even though we knew it was probably going to happen, when the lock down order came in from the governor, we didn’t really get a lot of time to adjust. The kids were in school one week, and at home the next. Church was meeting in person on one Sunday, and exclusively online the next. A series of probably-Providential events had happened before this, none of which were deliberately timed by me, but all of which turned out to be helpful in getting our little country church online in time.

At the start of 2020, we didn’t even have Internet in our church building — we would upload sermon audio using a 4G hot spot. That audio was recorded on a 2008 iMac that I found on Goodwill Auctions for $140, and I had just replaced the 2006 Windows Vista eMachine that was in the pastor’s office with a 2009 iMac that I got for $80. With this “new” hardware installed, we decided it was time to petition the church leadership for a stable Internet connection. No one was opposed philosophically — they’d just never had a need before. At the February board meeting, they agreed to my proposal, and later in the month, I camped out at the church for a day and a half to wait for, then help, the Internet installer figure out how to connect our 160+ year old church building to the digital world.

The lock down order came only a couple weeks later. The Internet was unreliable, because the rural infrastructure near our location had issues, the more-than-a-decade-old iMacs were far too under-powered for their new task, and a decent webcam was suddenly very hard to find either online or in near-by brick-and-mortar stores… but in a little over a week, we managed to cobble together a streaming system, do some basic training for the pastor’s family, and hold our church’s first online service. All while hoping this would be a very temporary situation. It was not.

At some point in the summer, it became obvious that the system was too fragile for reliable live streaming, and it became more pragmatic to have a pre-recorded service in-the-bag. This created a more fault-tolerant, less stressful experience, but it didn’t change the chewing-gum-and-bailing-twine nature of the system: it all just barely worked, because none of the pieces were ever intended for the tasks that had been thrust upon them. While it became safe enough for most church members to attend an out-door service this summer, others who are at higher risk to the virus, could not attend — and with colder weather looming and no vaccine in sight, it became apparent that online church was going to be a reality for at least a little while longer. The pastor asked for some options for a more permanent system.

I priced out three bundles — good, better and best; cheap, not-as-cheap, and spendy. The elders settled on a combination of pieces that straddled the mid-range. I got to switch from trolling Goodwill, to a picking out a choice refurb from Backmarket (a great place to get used high-end hardware). The new Mac Pro is commonly called the “trash can” for its cylindrical design — Apple later admitted the look left them “designed into a corner” then basically abandoned the high end market for most of 7 years. Its from 2013, but was way over-powered for the time, and still outperforms most of the stuff you’d find at Best Buy today.

We switched from the commercial Windows software, vMix, to an open source package that runs native in macOS called OBS — a favorite of video game streamers and YouTube stars. It starts up in a fraction of the time, and handles virtually limitless inputs with ease. Switching to an HDMI camera with optical zoom, instead of the cheap USB webcam, allowed us to position the rig at the back of the sanctuary — instead of consuming the front half of the room — which made it significantly easier to connect to the sound board, and have an independent audio mix, which will improve both the in-house and online experience, once we tune it.

Ben helped me set everything up, and we even rigged up an iPad based remote control, so if needed, one person can run both the in-house video screen and the online stream.

This week, we’ll do some training on the new system, and probably work out a few kinks, then I’ll report back to the hospital for a follow-up surgery for a blood-clot related issue I’ve been dealing with all summer. Next Sunday, I hope to be worshiping from bed at home while recovering from this thing once-and-for-all!