Sunday, January 10, 2010

The VCR Is Not Dead!

Sunday, January 10, 2010
Yesterday, I spent about an hour watching old VCR tapes. It was part of my attempt to cull down my worldly possessions before moving house (again). For some reason, I am particularly good at accumulating useless crud. I watched the old tapes because I had no idea what was on them and needed to know whether they were worth keeping. As I stood there, old VCR chugging over, playing an archaic media form that few people still use, I had a realisation - I really miss VCRs!

This set off a plethora of nostalgic memories. I remembered how I would try to record shows back-to-back on tapes, but no matter how precise I was, I would always get a couple of seconds of previously recorded shows between each episode. Also, the comforting feeling of hitting "Record" before going out and knowing that the show would be waiting for me when I got back. Inversely, the overwhelming frustration when I knew I had hit "Record", but the VCR hadn't taped it. I was one of the few kids whose dad knew how to set the VCR timer and actually have it work (most of the time). G-Code was supposed to make it an easy three-step process, but the reliability of execution was still hit-and-miss. Sigh. The good old days!

This got me thinking about the significance of the VCR. That little box of electronic gizmos symbolised mankind's dominion over television. With the VCR, you could filter out all the unnecessary and unwatchable rubbish that they expected us to sit through. It was possible to watch the absolute cream of the television crop with judicious use of the both the "Record" and "Fast Forward" buttons. Nowadays, without the VCR, we have relinquished control back over to the TV programmers. Sure, there is Foxtel IQ and DVD recorders, but how many people have these devices? Most of us don't record anymore. And it's a real shame too - because there's so much rubbish on TV these days....

Friday, December 18, 2009

Don't Be So Judgmental!

Friday, December 18, 2009
It's a common complaint that Christians are too judgmental. Unfortunately, sometimes this complaint is valid. However, I believe this often comes from a lack of proper understanding of the concept of judgment and what a Christian should and shouldn't do.

I'd like to relate a practical example - I once read an article that quoted the singer Beyonce Knowles. She claimed that all of her hit songs had been given to her by God, ascribing her success to Him. Now a person acknowledging God in their life is a very positive thing and one must assume from her comments that she has a personal relationship with Him. However, what should we make of her antics in her videos and some of the more suggestive references in her songs? Anyone who has seen her videos knows what I'm on about - she dances in a very suggestive way and dresses in revealing outfits. One of her latests songs, which features Lady Gaga, encourages men to lust after her on their video-capable mobile phones. As a Christian, what is our response supposed to be to this type of thing?

Some Christians would come straight out and say that Beyonce is in sin and needs to repent. Others would withhold from judgment, quoting Matthew 7:1 "Do not judge, or you too will be judged." (NIV) However, I would argue that both approaches are less than ideal. There is another passage with is rarely quoted by Christians. I am about to lift two scriptures out of their complete context, so read the whole chapter if you want to verify what I am saying:

"For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him?" 1 Corinthians 2:11a and
"The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment:" 1 Corinthians 2:15

Firstly, we are not aware of what is in another person's heart. We cannot know what motivates a person or why they act the way they do. Therefore, it is not right to judge other people's motivations. We must withhold from making heart judgments. Who knows what Beyonce would do if she had the revelation that her actions are unGodly? She may be ignorant that she is doing anything wrong. We have to remember she comes from a country that has very weird ideas about Christianity and sexuality. Who knows, if we were in the same situation and had been told the same things by our own culture, we might do exactly the same thing!

Secondly, a man who is walking in step with God's spirit will naturally have a sensitivity to things that are Godly and unGodly. Sin will naturally offend him, the things of God will naturally fill him with joy. When you walk close with a righteous God, His intolerance for sin can't help but rub off on you. Therefore, a spiritual man will be able to see the sin in other people's live. However, it doesn't stop there. If you walk close with the Lord, His love will also rub off on you. So you won't be walking around simply seeing people as sinful scumbags - you'll begin to have a heart for those lost in their sin, desiring to see them repent, not so they can become part of an exclusive club that looks down on anyone who does wrong that you happen to be a part of, but so they can experience life abundant. Instead of looking down your nose at people, you'll long to see them in God's kingdom for their own benefit. It may seem a subtle difference, but it's a radically different way to see judgment than both of the first two options. It puts the emphasis on the right things eg. love and grace, and removes the wrong things eg. legalism and religion (the negative definition of that term).

Saturday, January 17, 2009

He Said What??

Saturday, January 17, 2009
I was shocked, stunned, outraged and horrified to read that a Muslim cleric considered 10 year old girls suitable for marriage. However, I'm not talking about any old Muslim cleric, lecturing to followers in some tiny province in the Middle East - this is Saudi Arabia's most senior cleric. The story can be found by clicking here. This man is the 'grand mufti' of the country and would hold a lot of clout and influence.

This man is encouraging fathers to give their daughters in marriage before they hit puberty. According to the story referenced above, this kind of this is already happening in Saudi Arabia. It's hard to imagine how anyone could justify this in their minds or even determine that this is a logic, humane course of action. Thank God I was born into a western country.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Why Science Fiction Is So Good

Wednesday, January 14, 2009
It almost seems like a redundant question - "Why Is Science Fiction So Good?" I mean, how can anyone not love it? All jokes aside, I'm fully aware that a lot of people still consider science fiction inferior to more 'serious' forms of entertainment. 

Unfortunately, most people don't do the genre any favours. There are way too many people who get interested in Star Wars and from that time on, consider themselves serious fans of science fiction. Never bothering to see the classic films of science fiction or read the breakthrough novels of the golden years of the genre.

Anyhow, here are the three main reasons I believe science fiction is so good:

1. Possibilities and Ideas
Most people seem content reading kitchen-sink drama novels and wasting their life on shows like Neighbours. Wouldn't you rather spend your leisure time exploring the possibilities open to mankind? Ponder the future directions we may take and theorise the scenarios? I love science fiction because of the ideas it presents to the viewer/reader. What other genre give such freedom to explore the nature of consciousness, the morality of genetic manipulation, the ethics of societal intervention and the effects of war on the human psyche?

2. The truly foreign nature of the genre
Where else can a person experience a truly alien culture except between the pages of a science fiction novel? A hundred years ago, a western visitor to Japan would have been overwhelmed by the strange, alien nature of the country. However, advances in communication have transformed the alien into the commonplace. The only place I can experience a reliable sense of otherness is in a great sci-fi read or flick, like David Brin's Uplift Universe or Doc E.E. Smith's Lensman series.

3. Escapism
Reality is just so limiting. At the end of a hard day, I would like to get away from the doldrums of day-to-day life. What better way then by immersing yourself in another universe?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Why Would Anyone Throw This Away?

Monday, January 12, 2009
A few days ago, I found something entirely unexpected - an Ipod. The kids next door had accidentally kicked a ball over the fence, and asked me to look for it. While searching for their ball, I happened upon a green rectangle, the size and form of a 2nd generation Ipod nano. Somehow, it had found it's way to the side of our house, in that no-man's-land where cobwebs and weeds take over in that narrow strip between the house and the fence.

I apologise for posting such a dodgy photo, but if you look at the very top of the Ipod, it has a little bulge. One of the components is sticking out a slight bit, pushing the top section up and away from the rest of the frame. After fiddling around with it and hooking it up to my Mac, I discovered that it's in complete working order - the only thing wrong with it is the aforementioned bulge.

I got to thinking - why would anyone throw out a fully-working Ipod? When I hooked it up to my Mac, I discovered that the owner had called it "Tha Shit". Also, it had been uploaded with a lot of rap and R&B songs, most of which I hate with a passion. Why would the owner have thrown this away? Surely there are better things to do with a fully functioning Ipod?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Visualise This For Me

Saturday, January 10, 2009
I recently read an online article entitled: Is Google Making Us Stupid? To summarise the article, the writer ponders the way the internet is shaping our thinking processes. It's a very interesting article, because it compares the advent of the internet with the introduction of two inventions that changed human history: a) the written word to record information and b) the use of the printing press to spread knowledge to a mass audience. Not only did the world change with the introduction of the two, but also the consciousness of the community. The way the human brain processed and stored information changed with the introduction of these two technologies.

One thing hinted out throughout the article was that the medium we use to receive information can change the way we think. Let me give you an example - a while ago, I started reading a well-known comic series from the 1960's, which is drawn in a very distinctive style. While working through the series, I caught myself at random points of the day visualising images in that same distinctive style of drawing. Also, I recently read the book Cold Mountain. I had previously seen the movie adaptation and found myself visualising the actors from the movie while reading their respective characters in the book.

This makes me wonder - how have our modern sources of media changed our thinking, particularly our visualisation processes? If someone reads a lot of manga, do they start visualising the novels they read in manga style? If a person watches a lot of film noir, do they tend to visualise dark, rainy cities? How have the CGI special effects in movies and TV changed our modern imaginations? 

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Slow and Steady They Say...

Thursday, January 8, 2009
As an avid reader, it always fascinates me to find out how quickly other people read. I've been accused of being a slow reader, but I'm beginning to think that's not a bad thing. In our time-poor world where everyone is rushing to find the important content and disregard the rest, I'm choosing to plod on at a leisurely pace.

When reading fiction, I tend to read as fast as my mind can sub-vocalise the prose. I think it's a good discipline to maintain, reading the story at the pace the writer intended it. Also, I re-read sentences I don't understand. I don't keep going, hoping I'll pick up the meaning later. This might mean that I read slower than most, but I think it's the proper way to do it.

I was horrified when a friend told me that when he reads, he'll skip pages if he gets bored. Another friend, who had a fairly impressive reading speed, admitted that by the time he's finished a book, he can't remember what he's just read. How can the first friend I mentioned convincingly claim he's actually read a  whole book, and how can the second claim he enjoyed reading a story if he can't remember it?

It used to be that some people would read to ease their mind. The slow, deliberate act of reading words on a bag would calm the heart's anxiety. In our hyperactive world that demands results right this instant, we need something to slow us down at the end of the day. Perhaps we could find solace again between the covers of a good book. Instead of attempting to stuff information into our tired, over-worked brains, we could focus on slowly, calmly plodding along through a good read, allowing our mind to be massaged and nourished by the well-written prose of our choice.