virtual sweatshop, real clothes
This is really, really interesting. There's a pair of artists at Sundance who are paying characters in the Second Life virtual world virtual currency to operate a virtual machine that generates graphics files of designer jeans. These files are then printed on cotton and assembled into jeans that are wearable by people in 'realspace.' It's interesting on a number of levels.
There's the relationship between 'virtual' and 'real,' certainly. There's another set of issues this raises, though: One can buy Lindens, the virtual currency of Second Life, with your ('real') credit card. The workers in this Second Life/'realspace' factory get paid in virtual currency worth roughly 90 cents for each hour they work. Makes me wonder what the Second Life workers' stories are. Possibilities I can see as to who is attracted to work in a Second Life sweatshop:
- a kid who doesn't have a credit card, or wouldn't be allowed to use it to buy virtual currency;
- someone who is addicted to Second Life and would be interacting with its environment and characters for hours anyway, and so figures s/he may as well get paid for it, even if the pay is horrible;
- people who find it fun to work the virtual machines and/or like their co-workers in the virtual factory (the artists who put this together mention this one specifically).
Curious? Here's some video of the artists at Sundance demonstrating and talking about their work:
My MacBook Pro
Thanks to all who weighed in on the MacBook vs. MacBook Pro decision! I'm now typing away on my shiny new MacBook Pro. The deciding factors? I didn't like the glossy screen on the MacBook, and was concerned that it would make it harder for me to do graphic design with reasonably true colors. I was a little nervous about the MacBook's graphics capabilities given that my primary reason for needing a new computer was that my PowerBook G4 was no longer cutting the proverbial mustard in processing graphics. But mostly it was my experience with buying first-generation products shortly after their release. The MacBook Pro has been out long enough to get a speed bump up, and I was able to read a lot of reports from satisfied users before I bought. The MacBook was brand new, and reviewers only had 24-48 hours' experience with it.
I'm VERY pleased so far. The graphics I was editing that were giving me several minutes of the "spinning beach ball" for every change I made are getting processed quickly. I've only had the computer for seven hours, so I can't say much more than that about how it behaves, except that the screen is GORGEOUS -- it really is brighter than my PowerBook's was (not that I had any complaints about the PowerBook's screen!).
And gosh it's good to be back to full computing power. I was limping along on borrowed computers for months, and couldn't use many of the applications I'd come to depend on for all kinds of things. I'm glad that I've got the ability to improvise, and I got to know all kinds of downloadable freeware far better than I would have otherwise, but I'm not a detail person; I prefer to have systems for doing things in place so I can concentrate more on content and less on how to produce it. It'll probably still take a while for me to get fully back up to my usual "everything just works" mode, but I'm very glad indeed to be headed in that direction.
Hurrah for speedy computing!
MacBook or MacBook Pro?
Two good things have happened:
- I got my PowerBook back, complete with restored data, so I'm FINALLY back up to speed technologically. Hurrah!
- My ankle and knee, while still swollen and sore, are getting better -- I'm not sitting around with ice on them all day any more. This is a very good thing indeed.
And there may be a third fun thing happening soon: a new computer! My honey is sick to death of her heavy, bug-prone Dell laptop provided by the college where she works -- particularly since I'm the techie in the house, and I really can't do all that much to help her when something isn't working with it. We've never been able to get it to print on our wireless network at home, for example, and it seems to be doing strange things of late with USB flash drives -- her computer won't see files that are most definitely there.
Meanwhile, I've been hungrily eyeing the MacBook Pro laptops. I've got a 15-inch PowerBook G4 now, and I'm pretty happy with it, but I've been doing a lot more with graphics lately and I'd really like to get back to recording music, so I could use some additional speed. I told my honey that I want to get a new laptop at the end of the summer for use when I start at the Episcopal Divinity School in September and pass my PowerBook to my honey for her use. She agreed that was a good idea.
But yesterday she announced that she really wants to go back to a Mac laptop NOW -- maybe even before we head out of town on Monday (not to return until the end of General Convention on June 21!). That sounds pretty appealing to me -- we just might do that.
The laptop I had before I got my PowerBook was a 12-inch iBook G3. I loved how small and light it was, but it started feeling very slow very soon, so I swore I wasn't going to buy another entry-level computer. Furthermore, it was a first-generation product I bought as soon as it came out, and it required service a LOT more than anything else I'd bought from Apple -- much as Karen's first-generation Bondi blue iMac had. I swore I wouldn't buy brand-new entries in a product line again, but would wait to see what reviewers and users said, and for any kinks in the new product to get worked out. And finally, it made a huge difference to me to get a little extra screen real estate, so I was very glad to get the 15-inch PowerBook a couple of years ago.
For all of these reasons, I figured I was going to get a MacBook Pro. I'd heard that an iBook replacement was going to come out soon, but I thought I'd want the larger screen, faster processing, and more established performance of the Pro line. Then I started seeing benchmark tests on the new MacBook (non-Pro) line. They're only slightly slower than the MacBook Pro, even on tasks like photo editing, their screens display a fair amount more than my 12-inch iBook did (though not as much as my 15-inch PowerBook). And a tricked-out one is about $900 cheaper that the 15-inch MacBook Pro. I must say I'm tempted.
But then I remind myself of everything I was thinking when I moved up to the PowerBook from the iBook. I also must say that I don't like the MacBook's glossy screen. But $900 is quite a lot of money, and maybe I'd get used to the glossy screen over time.
Anyone have any advice?
I love gizmos. I'm not generally all that interested in how they work as long as they're working, but I'm very much interested in what one can do with them. I've got a new gizmo now -- a Treo 650 -- and one of the things I can do with it is moblog -- short for "mobile blog." I have not, however, thought of any particular reason it might be all that helpful to be able to do this. I still can't resist trying it out, though, so here' a one-time special feature: Wednesday cat moblogging, with picture taken and entry posted using my Treo. Enjoy!
Have any of y'all ever used Tinderbox or something similar? I'm trying to find ways to organize the tons of information I need to stay on top of the The Witness and other projects I've got going. For most things in my life requiring organization, I use electronic rather than hard-copy ways of managing information. That way, I have just about all of my information everywhere I go (though I now carry around an 80MB external hard drive to supplement the 80 MB internal hard drive in my PowerBook). Perhaps more importantly, I find that information stored electronically is much easier to search. That's crucial when you've got a mind that works like mine. I can usually think of at least a dozen ways of looking at any given thing, which is great for things like writing software manuals (I can figure out in an instant a dozen ways that readers are likely to look in the index for a given piece of information) and coaching people in conflict (I can usually grasp the points of view of most people involved, plus a few additional points of view that might make a decent “third way” for the group to move forward. But that's a really inconvenient way to think when what you're trying to do is set up or find something in a filing system.
So, right now, I'm using a system to track contributions and potential contributions to The Witness that I developed when I was editing a newsmagazine in college: the BAWaB (pronounced “bah-wab”), or “Big-Ass White Board.” There are columns for article topics, author assigned, due date, date the reminder should be sent to the author, publication date, and so on; when all the columns have been filled in for a given row, the row can be erased, as I've done everything with it that needs doing. It works. But honestly, I'm not sure I've got enough wall space for all of the articles I'm tracking, and I only have access to the BAWaB when I'm in my office — if I need that information while I'm traveling to a guest preaching gig or somesuch, that's hard luck.
Tinderbox looks like something that could be used as a technological BAWaB, and probably way more than that. It also looks like it might be difficult to learn, so I'd love to hear about your experiences with it or similar programs.
I'd also love to know about any Mac OSX-compatible programs for contact management and calendaring programs that you use. I used Now Contact and Up-To-Date happily for years, but then a horrible glitch arose: something went wrong with synchronizing my Palm Pilot with the Now programs, and my To-Do list items multiplied — dozens of times or more for each item — and now I've got over 21,000 items in the list, and no way to get rid of them except delete them one by one. Understandably, I think I might want to get a new application. Apple's iCal and Address Book are fine for the very basics, but what I loved about the Now programs is that I could enter notes as long as I wanted for every meeting, every phone call, and in loads of other fields. When I was trying to remember who the parishioner was who did graphic design and asked me that question about the book of Revelation, I could pull the information up in thirty seconds or less. I could also link contact information with appointment information, so when the reminder to call someone came up, so did my history of conversations with that person — a very, very handy thing! Address Book and iCal just don't do all of that. Entourage isn't quite as powerful either, and furthermore, I switched from that a few years back when someone sent me an email bomb exploiting a well-known security hole in Microsoft's software and it erased all of my email and contacts.
So, what's a gal to use? What do you use for this sort of thing? I'm looking forward to hearing from you.
technology is very cool
My good blogfriend Gordon Atkinson (better known as Real Live Preacher) has moved to new cyber-digs, and I'm really impressed. It's powered by Drupal, the free, open source, PHP-based content management system I recommended for the parish I used to work for (but did they listen? nope.). Because it's open source, lots of people have developed and are sharing (free!) modules to do all kinds of fabulous things, and Gordon's employed Matt Sturges, a talented PHP programmer, to take full advantage of Drupal's capabilities. I was fortunate enough to preview the site before it went live to the public, and I was already drooling. Now that it's "gone live" and I've seen it in action for a couple of days, though, I think it's fair to say that Real Live Preacher is a genuine online community, not just a blog. It had been moving in that direction for a long time -- there are few places online where so many people share so much via blog comments -- but now the technology behind it has caught up with that interpersonal dynamic, and I'm really looking forward to seeing what comes of that. Congrats, Gordon and Matt!
I've particularly enjoyed chatting with RLP readers real-time on the site, and this morning I met Keith, who's got me drooling over possibilities for using my PowerBook to compose music. I'm sorry to say that I've hardly written a thing musically over the last ten years, so it was wonderful to spend some time in our friends' wabi-sabi mountain retreat playing with GarageBand, which came free with my PowerBook G4. I got the PowerBook instead of replacing my old iBook with another one of the same lower-cost and lower line partly because I had starting using my laptop a lot to compose visuals for multi-sensory worship liturgies (like the one I describe here) I was doing with the youth groups where I worked (I was working my way up to doing similar services for all ages, including adults, when my parish position was eliminated). My iBook was starting to pose some serious limitations for what I could do liturgically, so I thought a more powerful machine was justified. But I also had hopes that when I got a computer that could handle it more easily, I'd start composing and recording music once more.
It's amazing what you can do these days using just a laptop, a good pair of headphones, and a couple of adaptors plus GarageBand. I started writing a little R&B-inflected number, I digitized a demo I recorded in analog about 15 years ago, and just for fun, I started playing with GarageBand to come up with deep-house style remixes of my old acoustic material.
And then this morning in the Real Live Preacher chat room, I met Keith, who's a composer. Now I'm completely drooling over what I could do just with a little portable MIDI controller like this and my PowerBook. Add an interface like this, and maybe an assortment of software instruments, and I think I could do ... well ... a LOT. All of these things are luxury items and out of reach at the moment (especially until I find my next job!), but I've got to say that my heart's beating a little faster at the prospect of being able to do with $1000 what you used to have to have a $15,000-plus studio to do. And thinking that way has motivated me to start writing music again, which cheers me even now.
power corrupts ...
... PowerPoint Corrupts Absolutely. I love this article from Wired. In my experience, the vast majority of PowerPoint presentations at best add nothing to the presentation, and at worst actively detract from it (e.g., by taking up lots of time fumbling with cables and projectors). In most cases, I'd say, PowerPoint mostly takes a presentation with little solid or particularly memorable content and extends it, both in terms of length and in terms of how much effort it looks like the speaker put into preparing.
Of course, if your PowerPoint presentation really does make your presentation clearer and more memorable, I'd say you should use it, but I agree with the Wired article that the problem with PowerPoint is the extent to which it is becoming ubiquitous -- not something that you do when it adds something (and ONLY then!), but something that, in certain settings at least, one HAS to do whether it really adds anything or not.
I'm sorry to say that some church settings are becoming ones in which PowerPoint ubiquitous. I find it particularly worthy of eye-rolling when someone suggests that to make your sermon/liturgy/lesson work for GenXers and other 'postmoderns,' the main thing you need to do is turn it into a PowerPoint presentation. In particular, I think it's not very helpful when all you do is take song lyrics and add images that correspond literally to the words (i.e., if there's a line containing the word "eyes," putting up an image of an eye alongside it), a practice that often removes rather than expands interpretive possibilities and makes it harder, not easier, to enter the story or world of the song.
I do sometimes use projectors for liturgy and presentations (though I much prefer Apple's Keynote for presentations, and iPhoto for slideshows), but I think the key to using technology effectively in sermons, liturgies, and presentations is to get a strong sense of what works well and what doesn't work well -- and for whom -- by actively seeking out HONEST feedback over time as you try out technologies. When I preach, I try to ask people a few days or more after the service what they remember about the sermon and how they felt about it. I know that a sermon was really successful when I hear people not only remembering something I said, but applying it to a situation they're discussing. The last time I saw a PowerPoint sermon, though (I wasn't the preacher, and in fact had warned the preacher that this would probably happen), what people were talking about afterward was how difficult it was to make out what was on the screen in the bright morning light of the sanctuary, and how little they got out of the sermon when so much of what was said was something like, "If you can make it out in this photo, you'll see what a sheep fold actually looks like." Your mileage may vary, but in preaching I usually find it most effective even for visual learners to paint pictures with vivid storytelling and call upon people's imaginations for the visuals. Partly that's because I have a lot more training in biblical interpretation than I do in visual arts, but mostly, I think that's because giving people materials with which to imagine something and then inviting them to imagine it invites them to take an active role in shaping their experience of the sermon, and people better retain something when they have a sense of owning it personally.
In short, and to paraphrase Jesus, technology was made for humankind, not humankind for technology, and I think it's important with respect to any element of worship to ask what it serves, to assess how well it does that, and to pare back on anything that doesn't well serve the encounter with Christ and the Body of Christ that is the center of worship.