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     What’s going on, 2010
    Filed under: — David @ 12:20 pm

    I just looked back and found that it’s been five years since I last did a year-end blog post. That’s mainly because my life has shifted away from the things I set this site up for.

    Shareware - People still occasionally send in payments for Icon Machine, which I appreciate. A few other projects have come and gone in the past 5 years. The current one I’m calling Budget Machine, and I’m hoping I’ll get it to the point where Lisa and I can use it some time this year. Whether it’ll go farther than that, as open source or shareware, remains to be seen. I’m also imagining doing a web-based iPhone/mobile counterpart, which I think I’d be more likely to expose to the public (with appropriate disclaimers).

    Games - I never got very far on doing mods for Unreal Tournament 3. Having less time, and seeing the UT series get progressively less mod-friendly (from my perspective), there was too little motivation.

    Icons - I occasionally work a little on updating Paper Folder to 512x512, but with this kind of design it’s an inherently awkward process. Now that I think of it, it’s probably the hardest one I could have picked.

    Real Life - Lisa and I recently celebrated our second anniversary. We remodeled our condo, and got cats. We attended family gatherings in Utah, Italy, and Disneyland. It’s been fun (and at times a bit grueling, but that’s life). At work, Picasa continues to move along, having recently reached version 3.6. I continue to look for opportunities to broaden my experience.

    The coming year is harder to predict. No major events are planned, other than the arrivals of a couple of new nieces. There’s also the possibility that we too will find ourselves having to repurpose one of our bedrooms. We’ll see.

     The Book of Mormon is true
    Filed under: — David @ 7:45 pm

    I want it absolutely clear when I stand before the judgment bar of God that I declared to the world, in the most straightforward language I could summon, that the Book of Mormon is true, that it came forth the way Joseph said it came forth and was given to bring happiness and hope to the faithful in the travail of the latter days. — Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

    Elder Holland’s talk was for many, including myself, the most memorable of the last LDS General Conference. Its boldness was unusual, refreshing, inspiring, and awesome.

    I think the most shocking moment was the use of the word “pathetic” to describe attempts to write the Book of Mormon off as a work of fiction. Normally when the word pathetic is used in a Conference talk, it means something like “pitiable”, but here it was more like “miserably inadequate”. Some people may take offense at this choice of words, especially those who have read the Book of Mormon and decided that it is not true.

    Based on my own experience with the book - from which I read at least a little almost every day - I find it very hard to raise any sympathy for that position. The depth, richness, and layers of meaning that I regularly see in it are a continual source of amazement and learning for me. As I progress from Nephi to Jacob, Alma, Moroni, and others, I’m always struck by how different their voices are.

    I’m sure there are plenty of other people on the Internet that have made lists of why the complexities of the Book of Mormon should disprove any theory that it was fabricated by Joseph Smith or any of his associates. I don’t think I need to repeat their efforts. Not only would it be redundant, it would distract from the real point.

    I once heard a rumor that somewhere in the Salt Lake Temple there is a secret room full of ancient artifacts, any one of which could prove the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon if it were shown to the world. And yet the church keeps them all hidden away. I have no reason to believe that this story is actually true (these rumors abound in Mormon culture), but it illustrates an important point. We have the Book of Mormon to teach us faith in Christ. No logic or physical evidence can do that.

    The Book of Mormon itself describes the ideal test. The catch is that it must be done on an individual basis.

    I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

    I recommend this test to anyone who reads this, because I have tried it myself. It passed the test. Many things in my life have followed from that: my belief in actively attending church, in seeking and recognizing the active influence of God in my life, the eternal nature of our souls, and the core importance of marriage and families. All these other things have likewise withstood every test I have seen.

    This is why I feel motivated to follow Elder Holland’s example and declare to the world, here on my little platform, that the Book of Mormon is true.

     Lego lessons
    Filed under: — David @ 10:14 pm

    As I was watching General Conference, I kept noticing one of my birthday presents on display on the shelf over the TV: the LEGO Creator “Cool Convertible” set, currently assembled as a convertible, though it also comes with instructions to make a truck and a mini loader.

    The thing about LEGO sets is that at first I think, cool, I could build all kinds of things with these pieces. But then as I follow the included instructions, I realize that it takes a lot of time and skill to create something as cool as what you see on the box. Following the instructions is easy, but I honestly have little hope of coming up with something like that. At least, not without quitting my day job.

    As I was putting it together, I kept noticing one bag of pieces that had two little black swords, and wondering what in the world they had to do with building a car. Finally, near the end, the time came to place them: in front of the dashboard, as windshield wipers. That’s the genius of these sets. There are very few really specialized pieces. It’s all about taking the existing ones and figuring out how to use them to build what you want.

    What did this have to do with watching a church broadcast? I kept thinking of gospel parallels, and they started coming pretty easily.

    I believe that God has a plan for us, and it’s like the LEGO instruction booklet. I never could have come up with it on my own, but I can follow it. Sometimes I find that I missed a couple of pieces, or that I’ve put them in the wrong place. The only way I can proceed is to go back and put things right.

    The coolest thing about the convertible is that it actually converts. You just twist a lever on the side, and the trunk opens, the roof folds back, and the trunk closes again. Twist it the other way, and the reverse happens. The hood opens to reveal the engine. The doors open, and they even have little side pockets. These details could have been left out, but they were included as delightful surprises. Life also has occasional delightful surprises. (On the other hand, life can have disappointments, obstacles, and disasters. This is where the analogy breaks down.)

    Just as the little black swords were confusing until it was finally time to place them, there are many things in life that seem wrong and confusing until the time comes.

    Some statistics: LEGO bricks are manufactured with an accuracy of two thousandths of a millimeter, and out of every million bricks produced about 18 will fail to meet that standard. Bricks made today will fit those made as long as 50 years ago. I love stories of people maintaining a history of high quality standards. Especially when they’re making toys.

    Filed under: — David @ 5:52 pm

    (This post is a little belated… it’s a little harder these days to find time for blogging.)

    Compared to my last week-long trip - to Disney World - my trip to Italy involved about as much walking, and even more Pinocchio. It was also hotter. I don’t recommend Italy in August.

    This trip was a first for me in many ways: first to Italy, and Europe in general; first time visiting a country without having studied the language; and first time visiting another country simply as a tourist.

    Some things that I learned:

    - Real mozzarella cheese is an entirely different animal: buffalo. It’s white, and comes in balls packed in water. It’s pretty much nothing like the stuff that gets grated onto American pizzas.

    - When evaluating a gelato place, look at their pistachio. If it’s green, keep walking. If it’s grey, give the place a try. You want a gelateria that doesn’t try to impress tourists with artificial colors. The best place we found was I Caruso in Rome. It’s not very close to any tourist spots, but fortunately it was close to our hotel. We went back for more on the following two nights of our trip.

    We saw Castiglione del Lago, Siena (the day after the famous Palio horse race, by chance), Florence, and Rome. Overall I liked Florence best. It’s less spread out than Rome, and none of the neighborhoods we passed through made me nervous.

    What caught me off guard about Rome is how there are ruins spread out everywhere. You can be walking down the street and come across the Pantheon, or some other lesser known Roman building. It made me wonder what it’s like to live in one of those apartments that overlooks something hundreds or thousands of years old.

    I hate to say it, but the Sistine Chapel was actually disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, the paintings are wonderful. But for some reason I thought the architecture would be more intricate as well. Instead it was a big box. But more than that, the whole experience was not what it could have been.

    The Sistine Chapel is part of the Vatican Museum, which is mostly laid out as one long winding pathway through various exhibits with statues and paintings and such. Mixed in with the older sections, easily identified because the walls and ceilings are intricately painted, are newer sections that look like they were built in the 60s and don’t seem to have been used for much except herding museum tourists. After alternating through these for a while, you find yourself in the Sistine Chapel.

    When you’re done looking at the paintings, and listening to a recording asking you in five languages to be quiet, you exit through another barren hallway from the 60s. It takes about two hours to get through the whole museum. It’s all indoors, so having gone through it I couldn’t tell you where the Sistine Chapel is on a map.

    But enough complaining. In spite of the heat and all the walking, my first visit to Italy was a blast. I love learning about the history of places, and visiting sites like the Roman Forum really gets the imagination going. It’s mind-blowing that these buildings, statues, and paintings can last so many hundreds of years.

    Filed under: — David @ 9:35 am

    The iTunes Store is now 100% “iTunes Plus”, which is their higher-quality, no-copy-protection format. Supposedly you can upgrade past purchases to iTunes Plus, but this is not entirely true.

    Just some quick statistics:

    Purchased albums in my iTunes library: 33
    Albums that the iTunes Store will let me upgrade to iTunes Plus: 13
    Albums that I can’t upgrade but are still in the iTunes Store: 8
    Albums I bought that are now missing from the iTunes Store: 12

    Surprisingly, the missing albums include the soundtracks to the first two Harry Potter films, The Fellowship of the Ring, and The Triplets of Belleville.

     Crutchammer, part 2
    Filed under: — David @ 6:37 pm

    Yesterday we watched the new Wonder Woman animated movie… or some of it, anyway. Although this wasn’t the worst of its offenses, it sums it up pretty well that we didn’t get much farther than the part where the magic lasso is used to force a man to give a definition for the word “crap”. In a movie like that, they shouldn’t bring up the definition of crap because it just leaves them wide open. I’ll restrain myself.

    As with the previous Superman: Doomsday, this is a direct-to-video PG-13 movie. And even more than before, they use the added “freedom” of the PG-13 rating to make a more “adult” oriented movie, limping around on the crutch/sledgehammer of sex (partial nudity with strategic camera angles and hair placement in a gratingly cliché bathing beauties scene) and violence (including a decapitation in the opening battle, plus two on-screen groin kicks, or maybe more since we quit early).

    But even if it had been more tastefully done, the story just dragged, and it’s only 75 minutes long. What happened after Justice League that made Bruce Timm (the producer here) and friends forget how to make a good superhero cartoon?

    One of the things Lisa and I both liked about The Dark Knight was that while there was more violence than we’d want small children to see, the film doesn’t dwell on it. It’s usually quick, and/or offscreen, so you can stay focused on the story and the characters. We’re not categorically opposed to violence in movies. Just before Wonder Woman we watched Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and enjoyed it thoroughly. Again, even when there was action and violence, the focus was still on the characters. Wonder Woman never achieved that.

    As a follow-up to the previous post, I found my copy of Watchmen yesterday. Flipping through it, I saw that it is indeed an R-rated comic book. But I’ll stand by my claim that you could tell the story just as well in a PG-13 film. Sure, it wouldn’t be as “gritty” or whatever, but that’s a gimmick, it’s not the story.

    Filed under: — David @ 8:16 pm

    A quote from an Entertainment Weekly article on the Watchmen movie:

    The director also believed that an “adult” superhero epic needed to be explicit about its “adult” content. He wanted to hear the characters’ philosophical musings. He wanted to see the blood spurt. And instead of the chaste kisses of most superhero movie romances, he wanted to see some naked getting-it-on.

    “I wanted to make sure everyone understood: This is not a kid movie,” says Snyder. “Violence has consequences. And doing that with a PG-13 just dilutes that message.”

    Is it really necessary for an “adult” film to use the sledgehammer of sex and violence to tell us that it’s not for kids? Sorry, that was a rhetorical question, so I’ll just answer it: No.

    Okay, violence has consequences. How does that message require spurting blood and explicit sex? (And why keep kids away from philosophical musings?) I admit it’s been a long time since I read the original Watchmen comic, so I don’t remember exactly how “adult” it is, but I have long maintained that the phrase “gratuitous nudity” is pretty much redundant.

    Lisa and I have been watching a lot of old movies lately, both rented and on the TCM channel. The other day we watched All About Eve, which as the DVD’s documentary points out is tied with Titanic for having the most Oscar nominations, and yet its biggest “action sequence” consists of Bette Davis descending a staircase.

    Standards have loosened since the days of All About Eve, as far as the allowable levels of sex and violence in movies. But I believe they’ve become a crutch as well as a sledgehammer… an interesting mental picture, I know. It certainly wouldn’t make it any easier to walk.

     MacWorld 2009
    Filed under: — David @ 6:46 pm

    Finally, I can tell people about my day job - I’m one of the developers on the Mac version of Picasa, which was finally announced to the public last week at the beginning of the MacWord Expo.

    I was at the expo for a couple of days, giving demos and answering questions. Although it was tiring, it was fun because there was such a positive response to the product, in spite of the fact that a new version of iPhoto had just been announced.

    It was my first time going to MacWorld since about 2001; before that I had gone pretty much every year since high school. It was interesting to see what had changed, which was mainly in the overall focus of the products. Lots of digital video and photography, lots of iPod/iPhone accessories. Aside from that, though, nothing much struck me as different. This was ironic, since this year turned out to be so significant in the history of MacWorld. No Steve Jobs keynote, and Apple won’t be coming back.

    I had stopped going to MacWorld because WWDC was much more interesting. But I had forgotten how MacWorld gave me a glimpse into the larger Mac community, which WWDC really doesn’t do at all. So even though I wouldn’t go to shop for a new hard disk or something, I’m still tempted to go again next year just to see what people are doing.

    The new iPhoto does looks cool, with its new Faces and Places features. I look forward to trying them out. If I had known what they were going to add to iMovie, I might not have put Final Cut Express on my Christmas list. I’m still disappointed that iDVD is getting left by the wayside. I think Apple is still premature in abandoning physical media like that, especially after having originally been late to the party with CD burning. I still want to burn my high-def movies to DVDs, and the only software I’ve found to do that easily still requires Windows. I explained my situation to one of the Apple reps at their booth. Hopefully he’ll pass it on.

    I’m less likely to get the new iWork. Numbers is the only app in the suite that I use regularly, and none of the new features are all that exciting for me.

    As for the new 17″ MacBook Pro… yeah, definitely tempting.

    This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

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