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“A good deed in a naughty world”

To some the world of advanced digital technology is not only replete with incomprehensible terminology, but it is also shot through with avarice, protectionism and greed. Perhaps it is time they turned their eyes towards the Raspberry Pi Foundation and its tiny affordable computers. In the words of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, their project shines like “a good deed in a naughty world”. Their simple computer, devoid of expensive software or glitzy casing, will be available for as little a $25.

A visit to their website reveals a disarming honesty about their approach to the project. They want to get children programming, and believe that the best way to do so is to market a computer that all can afford:

  • We want to see it being used by kids all over the world to learn programming.
  • We’re a charity, so you can’t buy shares in the company. If you want to support us, we’d love you to buy one. We’ll also be offering a package where you can do a buy-one-give-one purchase, and we’ll be accepting donations too once we start shipping.

We are so unaccustomed to such an approach that we tend to look for the catch. It might just be, though, that there isn’t one. Here a group of brilliant and generous inventors have pitted their wits against an observed problem and come up with a solution. As Chicago Guy writes on his blog, Steve Jobs and his designers came up with an invention which could put 1000 songs in somebody’s pocket, Raspberry Pi have come up with a device which could 1000 songs in everyone’s pocket.

If the comedy sketch below is ever made again, they might just have to work a raspberry pie into it somewhere!

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Reflections on #CNMAC11 – number one

If you ever read comics as a child, you will know that speech bubbles have smooth edges, like this:

A thought bubble, on the other hand, has fuzzy edges, and looks like this: The secret, it would seem, is in the fuzzy edges.

Earlier this year, in the most popular post this blog has ever seen, I wrote about the possibility of tweeting in church, and maybe even of running a Twitterfall during a sermon. On Saturday, at the Christian New Media Conference, I got to see what that might look like. The thing is, despite my earlier post on Twitter as a speech bubble symphony, in fact this was more like an exchange of thought bubbles, with their fuzzy edges. Scrolling down the screens was everything from incisive parries with the speaker’s argument to updates on the rugby, and comment’s on the speaker’s attire! In short – we were made privy to the exchange of thought which accompanied the act of speech in the room.

When I went a little later to a seminar hosted the altogether lovely Sister Catherine Wybourne, she introduced it by assuring us that there would be no such gimmicks as the Twitterfall to be seen. In all truth, I am glad, as my Twitter thought stream would have run something like this (click for larger view) :

Such ramblings would, I fear, have interrupted the flow of what was  a profoundly spiritual and intensely practical session about Christian presence on the Web. Sister Catherine introduced the seminar with the description of its participants as ‘you and me and Christ making a third’. To add my unnconnected thoughts to the party would have been one too many.

In plenary sessions (which would equate to a church service, in many ways) the thought exchange accompanying the word exchange was enriching and enlightening. In smaller settings it was intrusive.

I wonder why?

Grieving for Jobs’ loss

Yesterday the blogosphere was awash with tributes to Steve Jobs, and today the print media will be the same.  Many people for more erudite than I will encapsulate his particular contribution to the interface of humanity and technology. As we often do when remembering, they will screen out the more unfortunate aspects of his autocratic personality, which is only natural.

That said, I have been troubled by the openly hagiographical nature of some of the writing. Steve Jobs was a brilliant innovator and a relentless visionary, but he was not any kind of saviour, surely? Vast numbers of human beings in poorer parts of the world will have been untouched by either his life or death. Perspective is under threat as the wave of Apple nostalgia rolls down, I fear.

Of the many pictures yesterday, the one below is the one which troubles me most. I’m not quite sure why, but here are some thoughts:

  • It looks like a shrine, of the type that we reserve for religious veneration or remembering the victims of a tragedy
  • The words “thank you Steve” suggest an unrealistic individual relationship with what is actually a vast corporate machine
  • Candles are meant to be flickering, fragile,living things. Seeing them on the ipads and iphones seems to symbolize our disconnection with the natural world with its cycles of life and death, rather than connecting us with them.
  • Would love to hear your comments and reflections too.

Image: a.abcnews

…or AG

There’s been a very British storm in a dainty china teacup brewing over the past few days. Somebody claims that somebody said in some meeting of some people at the BBC that the distinction of BC (before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini, or in the era after Christ) should be dropped in favour of the religiously neutral BCE (Before Common Era) and CE (Common era). It seems far from certain that it was said, and even if it was – how much does it matter? Those of us who are Christians and privileged to live alongside those of many faiths and none cannot expect everyone to adopt our peculiar historical perspective, surely?

The storm seems to have subsided now, and the millions of people using Google today and seeing the image below are probably reflecting far more on life BG (before Google) and life AG (after Google) than they are on that other debate. The verb “to Google” has crept into the English language, and for many the mouse click, rather than the page turn, has become the default setting when searching for anything from a recipe for kedgeree to a reference on sub-atomic physics.  As of yesterday, New Testament scholars can even turn to Google for a close-up look at high resolution images of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Before and after are relative terms. God was there before BC, and time didn’t start belonging to him only when AD came in.  In a similar way – Google didn’t invent the information it finds for us – it was there all along.

Happy Birthday Google – thanks for all the fun. Like most people turning 13, you’ll probably feel the world turns around you. It doesn’t actually. Its axis was set before a pixel was illuminated or a googol googled. Before CE was BCE, and before BCE was BC, and before BC was God Himself, whose motto, not unlike yours, was ‘don’t be evil’.

Image: Google.co.uk

Just for fun

A few days ago I was having a conversation with somebody about the extravagant creativity of God. We were sharing our mutual delight at the bizarre and intricate detail of those parts of creation which have been hidden from humankind for centuries until technology was available to discover them. Think, for example, of the extraordinary creatures who lurk at the bottom of the ocean floor. Was God just ‘having fun’ when he made them, I wonder?

This morning somebody sent me a link to drawastickman.com. If you click on the image below, it will take you there too. So far as I can tell this is just good fun. Its not advertising anything*, its not promoting a cause, its just trying to get us to have fun. When you complete your stick man adventure (you will have a go, won’t you?) a phrase appears on the bottom of the screen: be creative – every day. To do so is to live up to the image of God within us, I believe. Whether we do it in words, in pictures, in musical notes, in baking, or in a myriad of other ways – creating is our greatest tribute to the Creator.

*See comment below

Reasons to stick with Twitter

Yesterday I started reading Elizabeth Drescher’s new book “Tweet if you love Jesus“, and I was not more than 10 pages in before I encountered the old adage that Twitter is all about telling the world what you had for breakfast. Needless to say, the author would like to counter that particular point of view!

In the past hour I have had one tweet reminding me that today is International Day of Peace, and another telling me about a very different kind of disturbance in my little corner of the world. Click on the image below and you will see a very rough estimate of the number of deaths going on in different conflicts all around the world at this very  moment.

In a world where some people are worried about the foxes in their back garden, and others are worried about armed rebels in their front door, I am grateful for anything which keeps me posted about the world beyond my office.

Let’s face it – its always international day of something, isn’t it? Today, though, the little blue bird has disturbed my thoughts with his raucous chatter – and I am grateful to him.

Zoom!

On Sunday I was writing about how our time online disconnects us from the passage of time. If we are not careful we lose all connection with the passage of the seasons. If you don’t believe me, click on the image below, and then click at the end of the white line in front of you. See what I mean?

The Great Global Treasure Hunt

Back in 1979, Kit Williams published a book entitled Masquerade. In it were cryptic clues to the whereabouts of a golden jewelled hare brooch worth £5000 at the time, buried somewhere in the United Kingdom. Three years, lots of false starts and angry landowners (whose fields had been dug up by treasure hunters) later, the brooch was found. The discovery was mired in controversy, and the experiment was not repeated.

Yesterday a clean, tidy 21st Century version was launched: The Great Global Treasure Hunt on Google Earth.  Clues provided in the book will lead to numbers, which can eventually be put together into latitude and longitude co-ordinates for the location of a 50, 000 Euro treasure trove on Google Earth. No digging of any kind will be required on the surface of the real Earth, but the successful treasure seeker will win a prize of 50,000 Euros.  In every way it seems like the clean, environmentally friendly, digital successor to its 1970s predecessor.

I was only 7 when Masquerade was published, and have dim recollections of the bearded Kit Williams being interviewed on the news and tales of people digging up fields where they shouldn’t in their quest for the treasure. At the time I was more interested in the kinds of tales in the magazine pictured below than I was in the quest for a golden brooch.

Image: 2.bp.blogspot.com

Maybe its my early years in the company of World of Wonder which made me sit up and take notice at the words below by the creator of The Great Global Tresure Hunt, Dedopulos.  He says that some clues in the book may be spurious in terms of finding the treasure, but:

May just take you to some beautiful or amazing part of the planet which I feel you should know about. I must confess, I will feel bereft if this quest does not engender, among the participants, a sense of wonder at this amazing world.

As a preacher and a Christian I am all for engendering a sense of wonder in this amazing world. That said, my view of that wonder has changed since the days when I had my head stuck in World of Wonder. These days I would see every flash of wonder as a clue on the trail to the greatest treasure of all.

Automated apologetics

For a long time when I was first a Christian, I used to think that “apologetics” sounded as if I was apologising for my faith. Nothing could be further from the truth. Apologetics is the means by which we explain what we believe to others.

Below is a video pointed out to me a few minutes ago by @rossdawson on Twitter. It shows two ‘chatbots’ (artificial computer generated personalities) lurching their way clumsily towards some sort of metaphysical understanding. This made me laugh out loud when I watched it. Mind you, perhaps like Moliere of old it is a “rire dans l’ame” – where I recognise that it is funny because it is all too familiar.

Enjoy!

… or sound addition?

It was the late Alistair Cooke, a radio journalist with a magisterial grasp of language, who claimed that a seven year old boy had once said to him that he preferred radio to television because the ‘pictures were better’. If he had been listening to Cooke’s evocative broadcasts that would hardly be surprising. We have all had the experience, though of rich and powerful images evoked in the mind by the written or spoken word. Often these images are more intense and long-lived than any image  created by brush or pixel. The makers of Booktrack(explained below) have now stepped in with an application which creates a soundtrack to the mental images created through reading. As a person who has devoted much of my creative energy in recent years to advocating the power of story, I should applaud this venture. However, I have some reservations…

Who decides what sound effects go where, I wonder? Presumably it cannot be the author. They cannot have copyright over the sound-scape created by the book, since they never had control over it. The addition of specific sounds by booktrack, though, limits the creative focus of the text. In the short film above, a women reads a Quidditch passage from Harry Potter with her children. In the background we hear the sounds of a whistle, a crowd cheering and broomsticks swishing by. Readers of the Potter saga will know, though, that often the sport itself is the least important thing when it comes to Quidditch matches. Instead, the author places our focus squarely on the rivalries underlying the sport, or the dark brooding unrest beyond the arena.  When a book moves to film we all have to accept that there is a degree of reverse interpretation which goes on.  In other words, next time we read the book our mental picture is coloured by the film. We are all used to this by now.  However, people reading a novel for the first time with booktrack will form a particular sound-enhanced picture at their first reading which it will be hard to erase, surely?

Whilst puzzling on that one, those of you engaged this year with Biblefresh initiatives to bring the Bible to life might like to ponder the following question? If you had to choose background music for the calming of the storm and the Sermon on the Mount respectively, what would you choose?

Richard Littledale

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