Sunday, January 31, 2010

Modern Cyber Life, Joyous More Than Ever

I've given in. I'm doing a total reformat of my desktop computer's hard drive.

I finally got the desktop view early this morning, and I verified I had an Internet connection. That was something, but not enough. Still slower than dirt.

So I set it for another Standard Recovery and went to bed. This afternoon, when I came back to it, it was back to the black-background Windows XP logo screen and again, stuck. When finally I gained the desktop, a few clicks of the mouse revealed that most of my data was gone or hiding anyway.

What had I to lose? Out came the recovery disks and I'm feeding them to the PC one by one even now. The next few days will be a parade of software reinstallations. I've saved a list of what I had on it, but I guess that if I forget a program or two, that means I didn't use it that much anyway.

The Joys of Modern Cyber Life

First, some background:

Last summer, I got a feeling the DVD/CD drive in my desktop computer wasn't exactly working right. First it wouldn't play some CDs. Then it refused to burn some tracks I needed to practice for our big Welsh choir concert that was coming up Labor Day weekend.

But . . . that drive was put in only last February. It couldn't be broken already! Maybe the problem was with the CDs. Or with the burning software. Or whatever. Besides, did I have time to spend four-plus hours on the phone with HP working out the problem? No, I did not. And what if they charged me the $99 for out-of-warranty phone tech support even before I could find out if the new drive itself was still in warranty? I had too much to do. I'd deal with it later.

Then this past Christmas, my friend Ruth* sent me a CD version of the Gutenberg Bible on PDF. And I couldn't open it. And it crept upon me that if the "new" drive was still covered by a warranty, it certainly would expire by early February.

Gotta do something. Yes. Then I found out I could do Live Chat on the HP site for free. And yes, it did take several hours. Twice. But regardless of everything the techs and I tried, we came to the fatal conclusion that that optical drive was fried. And guess what-- the warranty only lasted for 112 days (weird, huh?). Meaning it expired just before the time the trouble began. The HP rep offered to direct me immediately to their sales department for a replacement, but I wanted to shop around.

So I did. And found out that had the model I needed for about half the price. I emailed a friend who does business servicing computers, and he offered to put my new drive in for free. So I ordered it.

Whereupon, the TigerDirect website transferred me to a catalog page. On it was an ad for an IBM ThinkPad laptop computer.

No, I wasn't immediately in the market for a new laptop. But I currently had no laptop that really worked. I mean, how much can you do with a machine that only runs Windows 3.11? And this was a ThinkPad. With a TrackPoint mouse. Which I had to have on my next laptop, since I hate mice. And the price was really, really, good-- well under $300. Yeah, it was factory reconditioned, but my first laptop was a refurbished model, and it still works, after its fashion.

I consulted my computer geek friend again. And ordered it.

And it's a jolly good thing I did. Because the new optical drive arrived, I took it and my desktop processor over to my friend's, and a couple days later he calls and says, "I"ve got good news and bad news. Good news is, I've got the new drive installed and it's working. But your computer's working reeealllly sloooow. I tried installing some new CD burning software on it and after two hours it timed out and wouldn't finish!"

He thought maybe it was because I had certain programs running in the background and suggested I take them off. Like my Carbonite backup service. Fat chance of that. Carbonite pulled my chestnuts out of the fire last April when I got that trojan horse, and no way I'm going back to external hard drives.

He did what he could, but when I got my machine back it was basically unusable. Don't know what happened or when, but something had messed things up prodigiously. I mean, taking a half hour just to boot up? And I could not get on line. At all.

I've spent the past few days trying just about everything to get my system straightened out. A thorough anti-virus scan (which took nearly three days last weekend) flushed out a trojan horse (Timeo Danaos et ferentes donas), which I disposed of. It improved performance . . . for about ten minutes. Then it was back to cyber molasses.

Meanwhile, I've got the new laptop, and thank God for that. But I couldn't get online from it, either!!

Grrrrrrrrr!!!!! I swear, sometimes I'd like to yank all this computer junk out and just hurl it out my third floor study window!! And forswear the whole IT life entirely!

Except if I did that, I couldn't post on my blog or Facebook about how frustrated I am about it all.

So that meant more tech support, this time on the phone with my Internet service provider. Twice. First guy thought maybe the service was down, even it they had no indication of that on their end. Working with the second guy, a few days later, I found out that the problem on the laptop had to do with a password problem and was purely coincidental. And he got me set up with my home wireless network-- up to then, I had a connection only by the kindness of my neighbors who let me piggyback on theirs.

But the desktop computer is still a big glowing doorstop. I've spent the past few days slowly, painfully, getting files that Carbonite couldn't back up (due to no Internet connection) onto a flash drive and, temporarily, onto the laptop. Tried everything I could to avoid doing a system recovery, but it was inevitable.

As I write, I'm waiting for the Standard Recovery to finish working. That's the kind that's supposed to preserve your data, though not programs you've installed yourself. Technically, it should be done by now. But it seems to be stuck on the Windows welcome screen with a big hourglass and a line saying "Please wait...." Bluddy ick!! I've been waiting at least the past twenty minutes!

Can't be helped . . . Gotta try a hard reboot.

Booting up. Back to the Please Wait window . . .

Nothing's happening . . .

Oh, look, screen's gone black . . .
No, wait . . . Computer setup window. Joy. More to do and it's 2:30 AM already.

Fear not, I won't subject you to the process. Not what I call entertainment for the blog-reading public. I'll get back with you when my computer's working properly again.

Or not.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Well, I'll Think About It

This evening I attended an informational session down near Pittsburgh to learn about a fast-track program for teacher certification here in Pennsylvania.

It's sponsored by a legitimate organization, started a few years back in conjunction with the US Department of Education. Their program is recognized here in the Commonwealth and, so far, in eight other American states. In lieu of two years of college it offers one year (or less, if you work faster) of on-line training, with more rigorous-than-usual tests at the end of it to guarantee the quality of the graduates (the presenter said that countrywide, the pass rate was only 50%). After initial certification, a stint of mentored classroom teaching is required, then the same graduate hours required of graduates of traditional programs, to gain one's Level I and Level II state certifications.

The initial cost isn't too awful: $825 for the training and testing if one signs up before the end of this month, or $975 thereafter. There's the cost of the grad level tuition and fees after that, but presumably one would be working when it came time to do that.

The thing is, do I want to do this? Would this be a departure for me, a resignation of my architectural and pastoral dreams? Or in regard to the ministry end of things, would having a teaching certificate allow me to take on a tent-making position at a church?

But that's not really it. The question really is, do I want to teach in a public school? Things are so messed up today; I can't see how I could do it without putting my foot in things politically. And I'm not just talking national politics, either.

Though I suppose a certificate would make me more attractive to a private or a Christian/parochial school . . .

I don't know. I'm not worried about passing the tests at the end of the course, no. It's just, I don't know, is this something I want to make a commitment to at this time of my life? Or is $825 a "small" enough amount for me to take this on as a What the heck, why not?

I'll have to think about it.

And pray about it. Yes, definitely, pray.

Friday, January 01, 2010

I Find It Works

The January 2010 issue of Modern Reformation kicks off a year-long look at the problem of Biblical illiteracy in America. The article I'm presently reading points out that there's a big difference between mining the Scriptures for quotes and actually reading them for meaning and transformation.

So as my contribution to the cause, I'd like to outline the Bible reading plan I've found valuable the past few years. It isn't a through-the-Bible-in-one-year scheme. You can go with something like that if it appeals to you, but it seems rather forced and artificial to me. I mean, the idea is to get the sense and meaning and life of God's word, right? not to play Beat the Calendar.

My plan is based loosely on the Anglican daily lectionary in that it features a Psalm, Old Testament reading, and New Testament reading morning and evening of each day, but with nothing skipped.

Here's how I work it. I divide the Old Testament up into two basic groups:


The Torah/History books; that is, everything from Genesis straight through to


A. The Wisdom books (minus the Psalms): Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of
B. The Major Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah-Lamentations (taken together), Ezekiel, and Daniel
C. The Minor Prophets: Twelve books, taken in four groups of three each
Same with the New Testament. Two groups:


The Gospels and Acts


The apostolic letters and Revelation.

The Psalms stand alone and are read for prayer and praise and preparation as much as for their pure content.

Now, this plan takes advantage of the fact that modern Bible translations customarily divide the text up into sense-units, or pericopes, with a heading for each. Much more fruitful to go with those, rather than the arbitrary chapter divisions as so many plans do.

All right. Here's how it works on its simplest level: Suppose the day you read this, you decide to make a start. In the morning, turn to Psalm 1 and read it. I always conclude with the Gloria Patri, but that's a habit I picked up in theological college and if it's not helpful to you, leave it aside. Then read your OT1 portion, beginning in Genesis. If you're using the New International Version, that would be Gen. 1:1 - 2:3. In the New King James Version, it's Gen. 1:1 - 2:7. Then turn to Matthew for the NT1 reading, Matt. 1:1-17 (NIV & NJKV). Though when I first began I opened with the Gospel of John, for the sheer pleasure of pairing its "In the the beginning" first verses with the Genesis creation story. If you're not concerned about being thrown off, I recommend it.

Then in the evening, read and meditate on Psalm 2. Then for your OT2, read the first portion of Job. Finally, go to Romans 1:1-7, or however it's divided in your translation, for the NT2.

(And, frankly, it should be a translation, and not a paraphrase like The Good News Bible or, heaven forfend, The Message. You want solid food, not dips-n-chips.)

So you read along like that, morning and evening. Long portions or short, you read them. Though I do divide Psalm 119 up into eleven sections of two Hebrew letters each. And some portions of Job and Isaiah, for instance, can use subdividing, too. Whereas portions of Song of Songs simply plead to be conjoined.* Use your discretion.

Anyway, for a month or so things should be uncomplicated. But then you run out of Psalms. What do you do then?

You start over with Psalm 1 and read the book again. But this time, read the odd-numbered Psalms in the evenings and the even-numbered ones in the morning. I find I get different insights depending on the time of day I encounter them. I adjust by bringing in one of the gospel canticles to fill in. You can work out the best way for you.

The histories will last you for a few months and the Gospels with the Acts will keep you occupied for awhile, too. But what happens when you finish the Book of Job?

True, you could keep going with the rest of the Wisdom literature, then tackle the Prophets, major and minor, in book order. But I favor layering my OT2 reading. Like this: Job, then Isaiah, then Hosea-Joel-Amos; Proverbs, then Jeremiah-Lamentations, then Obadiah-Jonah-Micah. And so on.

You'll find you get through the letters of Paul and Peter and so on before you finish the Gospels and Acts. That's fine. Read the Epistles again. That's where the meat of Christian doctrine is, so they bear reviewing.

As you finish each section, you can switch which OT or NT division you read morning and evening. And you could vary things by starting next time with the major prophets, say, then go on to the Wisdom literature. If there is one drawback to this plan, it's that if you do vary the order, after a few repeats you might forget which books you've read that year. So I recommend keeping a calendar of when you start and finish a given book.

The object, though, is to read Psalm, Old Testament, and New Testament together twice a day, in meaningful portions. They balance one another. Prophecy and fulfillment; sin and solution, divine promises made and divine promises kept; types of Christ and Jesus Christ the perfect antitype of them all. If you keep this up, you'll find that you never read the same three Scripture passages together twice. Different passages will be able to shine light on each other and illuminate you to the truth of God's living word. I know I've been amazed at the juxtapositions . . . though maybe I shouldn't be, since the Bible in all its parts has but One True Author.

Happy new year and may the Holy Spirit bless your reading!
*Note dry but racy theological joke.