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Friday, March 17th, 2006 - 8:58 PM

"New EsoHost"

Some of you may have noticed that my site went down for approximately two days. This is because I chose to change hosting services. I am paying a little more with my new service, but I feel I am getting a whole lot more. I have a few new technologies at my fingertips that should benefit my learning experience.

For several hours while my site was down, and before I uploaded my entire chunk of files to the new server, I had an extremely awesome index page out on the net. Knowing my luck, it probably propograted around the world, and all search engines and browsers will have it cached for the next 300 years or so. See the stylistic, tasteful, bold seed of genius here. Oh, and turn on your speakers for the full effect.

Oh, and by the way, if you notice any weird behavior or PHP/MySQL error messages, please notify me by clicking here. I have already resolved a couple issues, but there may be more. Thank you very much!

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Tuesday, March 14th, 2006 - 11:31 PM

"Evangel Men's Retreat 2006 at Camp Jonah"

Jonah Ministries Camp Jonah is located in Trout Lake, Washington.

Traditionally the men of my church invariably go to Camp Tadmor near Lebanon, Oregon for their annual retreat. There we bask in the beauty of Oregon's celebrated forests and other natural wonders. This year we experimented with a new location, and creation was just as much or more invasive in its allure. Partially due to a change in policy at our normal camp we found our way to Camp Jonah, located in Trout Lake, Washington.

Jonah Ministries was founded 10 years ago by a tender-hearted woman and her family. The former Trout Lake School has been converted into a charming facility that serves as base for a great number of theme camps, retreats, and other fun and faith-building events. Witnesses to the experiences of Camp Jonah are always coming to the same conclusion: It's about the people. The willing servanthood of the staff is peerless. Our group was made to feel extremely welcome. The entire campus and all its resources were opened to us without reserve. Grandma Duke and her helpers prepared delicious and plentiful meals for us. Normally all the men sign up for a list of chores, including preparing meals and cleaning up afterwards. Things are different at Camp Jonah. The hospitality is exemplary. There was no chore signup sheet this year!

I chose to work a half day on Friday and left Portland around 1:45 with Pastor and another elder friend. The drive there and back resulted in some of the relational highlights of the weekend. I always enjoy the on-the-road discussions. I've always been a big fan of road trips. Our path led us east through Hood River and northward to rural Trout Lake. We were greeted by the unexpected surprise of a great store of snow.

This was my favorite shot to capture from the trip I recognized these conditions to be rare for an extrodinarily beautiful photo.

As Friday evening progressed, the flakes came down in alternating flurries and enormous heaps. The next morning revealed 8 or 9 inches of freshly fallen flakes: Fantastic! Fortunately all the fellows found their Friday flights free from fright and misfortune, favored by our fostering Father.

Saturday we were forded with three afternoon activities: snowmobiling, caving and [gun] shooting. The cave exploration sounded most interesting to me, so I opted to go that route with a group of 7 or 8. A good ole bus faithfully transported us to a backwoods junction where we met 3 snowmobiles ready for drivers and passengers. The entrance to the cave was about a half mile down a snowy path, so all the hopeful subterraneans were taken there by snowmobile. Some rode in tandem, while the "lucky" ones like me were stringed behind in inner tubes. The rope tugging me was excessively long, and so while the snowmobile and its riders hugged the corners, I didn't! It was a blast going over enormous banks and ramps, getting creamed by piles of snow, and dodging perilous trees.

Entering the Cheese Cave The path to the cave floor was covered in ice.

The cave entrance was covered by a wood structure and surrounded by piles of snow. To start the descent, one has to carefully traverse a slope with aid of a rope attached to the structure. Near the start, there is a 15-foot sheer drop-off that must be negociated with a supervised ladder (bring your own). After this is a steep downward climb interrupted by ice and rock. The cave floor was coarse and rigid, but not difficult to engage, especially if your middle name is Steady McClure McGee and such.

Down the rabbit's hole The more I think about this image, the more imaginative my daydreams become: Batcave, secret wardrobe to another world, Wind in the Willows, etc. Too bad the lamp wasn't on, casting luminous shadows. What an astonishingly rare and fantastic image that would be!

The cave is an enormous lava tube, much like those found in central Oregon. I would estimate it to have about a 30-foot diameter, circular in shape. The walk to the end is about 1/2 mile. About midway down there is a well-constructed staircase leading to the cave's ceiling. We were told that an old house resides above this cave entrance, and a locked door greets those who ascend the stairs. Interestingly enough, the cave's temperature varies by a mere 2 to 4 degrees year-round. It is one of a handful of such known caves in the world and ideal for its former use of storing and cultivating cheese some decades past. The broken remains of wooden shelving can be found near the stilted staircase.

This year's edition of Evangel Men's Retreat was a unique experience not to be forgotten. On the spiritual side of things, Pastor's goal was to help the men become aware of their need for each other and to develop friendships that go beyond the "How's the weather" archetype. While such a goal may have been too lofty to attain in one weekend, I think the recognition of the shameful lack of such relationships in our culture and an attempt to begin a comeback was highly beneficial.

I was privileged to ride home with Pastor and discuss the various implications of such relationship building and the aftermath of the retreat. I find such privy moments to be precious and valuable to my growth - and sometimes recovery to a more solid walk with Jesus. At the moment I am struggling to connect with an invisible God and develop a vital communion with the One risen and glorious, full of power and compassion. I long to see Him face to face and to experience the moment when all sorrows will be left behind. I am absolutely certain that the path closest to His side on this earth is the only one that can fulfill the desires of man. Though I stumble, doubt and sleep, He always takes my hand to restore me.

See my favorite photos from the trip.

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Monday, March 6th, 2006 - 10:24 PM

"Graphics Tablet Exploration"

An example of a Wacom graphics tablet

Quite a few years ago I became aware of the existence of graphics tablets. I don't recall when this discovery happened, but I do remember that my hopes to own such a cool tool quickly faded when I saw the sticker price. Way back when, the cheapest Wacom graphics tablets cost about $600 or so.

A graphics tablet is a computer peripheral that allows input via drawing on an electromagnetic pad with a special pen called a stylus. Essentially, this means that one can draw and see the results of their movements on screen - much like a handheld or Palm device, but with far greater resolution and accuracy. The pen also works like a mouse, able to move the cursor, click on windows and buttons, and perform any other normal computing functions.

The benefit of such a tool is obvious to an artist. It allows more of a traditional drawing motion, rather than using a mouse. Drawing with a mouse is very awkward and limiting. Drawing with a graphics tablet feels more natural. In addition, most tablets are sensitive to varying levels of pressure. Pressing harder with the pen may cause a drawn line to be thicker, darker, or vary in color. The possibilities are virtually endless. I'm really excited about this new functionality because one of favorite observations in my own drawings is varying line thickness and quality. Such effects are impossible to achieve with a mouse. Most middle to high end graphics applications support this pressure sensitivity to some degree or another. To name a few supporing titles: Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, CorelDRAW, Corel Photo-paint, Corel Painter, Macromedia (now Adobe) Flash, Macromedia Fireworks, Macromedia Freehand, Paint Shop Pro, the GIMP, and many others. While there are several companies who produce graphics tablets, Wacom is currently the undisputed leader in the industry.

When I asked my boss at work if she had ever used a graphics tablet before, she remembered that she had seen one in our art department. We looked and asked around, and sure enough, there it was! I have been using the Wacom graphics tablet at work for virtually everything (except keyboard input, of course) for the last week or so. It definitely takes a while to get used to, but I am pretty excited about the possibilities. I just recently ordered one online after noticing an extreme drop in price since I last looked several years ago. I'll write more about it when I have more time to experiment at home. I have access to all the aforementioned graphics applications (except Illustrator) and will do my best to test the tablet in all and describe what I find to be the pros and cons of the pen's behavior in each.

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Monday, March 6th, 2006 - 8:38 PM

"Love Spells Freedom From Bondage"

Unleashed Unleashed is a breakout performance by Jet Li

Jet Li pitches a ground-breaking performance alongside Morgan Freeman and Bob Hoskins in Unleashed (2005) (aka "Danny the Dog"). It is a rare occasion to see Jet take on a significantly dramatic role, and his performance is more than adequate in this brutal yet touching story. The basic plot line follows a mobster who employs a savage collection agency in the form of a collared, dog-like slave called Danny played by Jet Li. Danny is a one-man army - trained from birth to be a heartless killer, without a shred of conscience or independent thought. Bart, his self-declared "uncle", keeps him caged up with nothing to learn from, save a children's pictoral alphabet book and a teddy bear.

Bart is no uncle, however, and uses Danny as an attack dog to do his dirty work. Jet Li portrays his character perfectly, one of the few action stars with enough acting ability to convincingly exhibit an untouchable and violent force, yet with a look of naive innocence. From a dramatic critique, I believe this to be one of Jet's best performances. I have always admired his acting ability. I believe he is similar to Jim Carrey in that both are best in their specialties: Jim in comedy and Jet in martial arts and action. Nevertheless, both are able to conjure up the faces and postures necessary to deliver a convincing and sobering performance.

While the plot to Unleashed is not without flaw or inconsistency, it is a unique and provocative idea. The movie is unfortunately cluttered with bad language and the occasional objectionable scene and fairly extreme violence. Jet Li demonstrates a rare fighting style remarkably unlike that of any other of his movies. Instead of perfectly calculated, beautiful movements, the strikes and movements and stunts are far more rugged and barbarous. The fights appeared real, as could be found on the street, with not a punch pulled. It was pretty hard to watch some of the scenes (I turned away during the sensual trash), but the violent behavior fit in with the narrative.

Like a dog on a leash: master and slave The secret to Bart's power over Danny somehow lies in the leash

The power of this film was the authenticity of the performances. Bob Hoskins brilliantly plays the part of Bart: a hedonistic, commanding and shuddersome master. His hateful treatment of the simple-minded Danny is vile, yet it shines the light of clear comparison to a spiritual counterpart. All throughout Sam is a clear depiction of Satan and his unending assault on mankind. His spite for Danney closely resembles what I imagine Satan has for human souls. He holds them captive in a blind life, allowing them to only see the hopeless and controlled images he desires. His pleasure is to make individuals feel so incapable or unworthy of freedom and value that they have no choice but to follow his destructive suggestions.

Love is the key to Danny's freedom Sam's love and expression of interest introduce the path to freedom

Danny is saved from his endless oppression by way of a blind piano-tuning stranger: Sam, played by Morgan Freeman. Freeman is a brilliant actor - one of the best of all time. He almost invariably portrays in his films a character with a huge heart (Batman Begins, Glory, Bruce Almighty, and many others). Sam and his step-daughter Victoria show Danny a type of love he has never known and blindly and unconditionally accept him as part of their family.

Light and dark or good and evil are not only represented by people in this film, but in objects. Through most of the movie, Danny wears a rigid metal dog collar. When his master removes the collar, he is transformed into a killing machine. The collar seems to have the magical power to hold him captive to a physhotic pattern of control. This is the dark object; the light one, however, is a piano. One day, while on a collection route with his cruel master, Danny encounters and is strangely drawn to a blind piano maestro. He longs to hear and play the sound of the piano, as if some instinctive attraction to the object and its output exists. It is the piano, along with the familiar love of Sam and Victoria, that frees Danny from his prison. Further comparisons could be made to the piano tuning and Christian growth. As the Master (God) works us more and more and we submit ourselves to His will, our melody becomes more in tune, and the resulting sound rivals that of Mozart in its beauty and depth.

You have no power over me anymore Danny demonstrates his final transformation by rejecting the bondage of his master

This object oriented symbolism can be directly tied to Christian concepts as well, though the analogy is not perfect. The collar and the evil master can represent sin and the resulting slavery of mankind to a sin nature. The music and love of Danny's adopted family represent God and His people's redeeming love for the lost. Through the loving actions of Sam and Victoria, Danny discovers his true self and by a process is unleashed from his bondage and taught how to really live as well as how to reject the lies of his former master. He is now a slave to love, a love that promises to never let go. This unending compassion is undeserved and unexpected, but it is real and powerful just the same.

Though the imagery and language of this movie warrant a serious warning if not outright avoidance of this movie, I must admit it had a pretty powerful message. Probably none of these spiritual connections were intentional, but I'm thankful for having noticed them.

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