Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Sword of the Spirit

Earlier tonight, I, by random chance, happened upon some old Christian videos I used to love as a kid. They were a series of productions my old church did back in the 90s. They had a pretty huge impact on me (seriously, they're the reason my favorite color is blue), but I'll get to all that later. What I wanted to mention tonight is a Bible passage that I remembered from way back then.

Hebrews 4:12:
"For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."

The Amplified translation says it even better:
"For the Word that God speaks is alive and full of power [making it active, operative, energizing, and effective]; it is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the dividing line of the breath of life (soul) and [the immortal] spirit, and of joints and marrow [of the deepest parts of our nature], exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging the very thoughts and purposes of the heart."

Saturday, January 5, 2013

iPhone 5

So it's taken a while, but I finally got a new phone. Figured I'd write up my thoughts on it.
Form Factor
The fact that the iPhone 5 is taller than its predecessors—but not wider—really helps its form factor. Other wider phones like the Samsung Galaxy S III creep into mini-tablet territory, while the iPhone 5 is still comfortable as a phone. The fact that it's ridiculously light and thin helps too. It's definitely something meant for the greatest degree of portability while still functioning on the upper tier of smartphones.

The new 4-inch display is pretty gorgeous, just like the 3.5s on the last two models. The fact that it's bigger, though, really does make a difference. The increased real estate helps a ton as far as being able to see and do more, but the slim look helps keep everything

iOS 6 is incredibly fast and light. Rarely if ever is there a stutter in its functioning speed. Switching apps is almost as easy as blinking. There are eighteen thousand simple ways to do most basic tasks on the phone, making the overall experience pretty incredible. However, there are some pretty annoying oddities. For one thing, clearing the multitasking app memory is an arduous task, requiring you to click the tiny red "exit" circle on each and every app that's still "running." Furthermore, the notification system is confusing. It can be difficult to tell at first whether an app is set to give you notifications or not, leading to some very weird issues with pop-ups on the lock screen. It all needs to be made more clear.

She's smart.

The new lightning connector is WAY faster than the old 30-pin. Syncing huge files using the lightning connector and iTunes 11 takes less time than copying the same files to a USB drive.

iTunes 11
Speaking of iTunes 11, it really is pretty amazing. It took me a couple of days to get used to it, but it honestly is much faster and usable than previous iterations. Apparently this only applies to the Mac version, however, and the PC version is still terrible.
The new "EarPod" earbuds are pretty amazing. They actually have nice bass and sit very comfortably in my ears. A lot of people like to bash these $29 earbuds by comparing them to $200 in-ear earbuds, but that comparison doesn't hold for more reasons than price. In-ear earbuds are a different class entirely, since they act like earplugs. Personally, I can't even use in-ear earbuds because I have small ears. Even though most high-level earbuds come with smaller adjustable plugs, I've not yet found a set that was small enough to be comfortable for me. Because of that, I can only actually use earbuds that sit outside the ear canal, like the EarPods. For that reason, the EarPods are far and away the best earbuds in the universe for me. The only drawbacks are that they don't block out outside noise (as to be expected from non-in-ear buds) and they spill quite a lot of noise away from your ears. If you're listening to these on medium-to-high audio levels, expect a sleeping person next to you to wake up and whack you in the head.

So yeah. I like my new phone. It ain't perfect, but it's perfect enough.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Christmas Trip 2012

This Christmas, my mom and I took a road trip to Green Bay, Wisconsin to visit my Aunt (mom's sister), Uncle (mom's sister's husband), and four cousins. Also, my Grandma Jane was flying in to meet us there as well. You know what, here.

A photo from around a year ago. They all look a bit older.

-Celine (18, center-left) is the oldest cousin. Little bit dorky; likes geeky things (sort of); going to college in Madison, WI.
-Sierra (17, far right) second-oldest. Used to be my little sidekick when she was little. She's pretty cool.
-Colin (15, center-right) second-youngest. Kind of a weird kid, though he's actually really smart. Tends to spend entire days at a time playing video games.
-Rhiannon (11, far left) youngest. Everyone calls her "Rio." She's kind of adorable, but also really smart. I think she might secretly be a super-genius or something.

So there. You know my cousins now.

This is the long, picture-filled tale of my vacation.

Three days before we left, my mom mentioned that Wal-Mart was having a sale on new iPhones ($127 for an iPhone 5 with a 2-year contract), and we might be able to go in and upgrade our phones before our trip. This sounded pretty amazing to me, since our then-current iPhones were nearly five years old, literally barely working. It'd be both really fun and extremely useful to have a brand-new phone on a road trip, what with the GPS and everything. The next day, we went to Best Buy (where they'd price-match Wal-Mart and also let us keep our current plan). They were all out of 16GB iPhones and couldn't access AT&T's servers to sign up any new customers anyway, so we went home. That left only one day before our trip, and only a few hours of that day in which to pick up the phones. In those few hours, we quickly found new phones at Best Buy and walked out with them 30 minutes later.

Suffice it to say that my new iPhone is awesome. More on that in a future blog post.

I woke up on the morning of our trip fully expecting to be on the road by 9AM, as I had been told I would be. As it turned out, my mom didn't actually have a route planned out, nor had she packed, showered, or in any way prepared at 9AM. We didn't end up leaving until 12:30.
I-35 North, most of the way to Oklahoma City
To say that spending two days stuck in a car with my mother was difficult is an understatement. For one thing, she did 95% of the driving, yet she wanted to know, in perfect clarity, each and every turn we were making the entire way, far in advance. I couldn't simply explain it to her either; she needed to SEE it in front of her.

Another thing: our rental car had a GPS system (which was nice because it meant we didn't have to use up all our phones' data in two days), but my mom had immense trouble following it. It wasn't that she didn't understand what the GPS voice (who I later named "Jenny" after Jen Taylor) was telling her, it was that she didn't trust it. To be fair, sometimes Jenny would take us down a different route than we'd pre-planned, but what was odd was how badly my mother would take obviously-correct instruction. When either I or Jenny would tell her "take the next right on State Parkway," she'd look ahead, see the sign that said "EXIT -> State Pkwy," and say "do you mean that one?" If I didn't respond in the next two seconds, she'd slightly panic and say "THAT ONE, AARON?!?" then give me a lecture about how I needed to "be there," "do my job" (as the navigator), or "help her." Once or twice I got a "you totally don't care."

Something bizarre occurred to me during this trip: my mother is seriously getting older. She's over 50 now, and she's losing a bit of her mental grip. I didn't even realize until pretty late into the trip that she didn't understand how to read the digital map on the GPS system. An incredibly obvious map, it should be said. I wasn't sure whether to be mad or feel bad for her.

The first night, we stayed in St. Louis. We met up with my grandmother, who'd had to divert to St. Louis due to the crazy storm that grounded all flights going through Chicago (and therefore connecting flights to Green Bay).

The hotel we stayed at was really really nice (four stars). Due to some random room-jumping, somehow my mom and grandmother ended up in the same room and I ended up in a room by myself. :D
The view from my room the next morning. It's nicer than it looks.
The next day, we resumed our journey, my grandmother having taken up residence in my former navigation seat. That helped to take a lot of tension out of my "job," though I was still responsible for finding local Starbucks and whatnot along our path (my mother NEEDS her coffee or she... well, complains about needing her coffee). Of course, that got difficult, since if any of my directions took us any further than one block away from the freeway, I got an earful about it.
Grandma Jane
Around 8:30-ish, we finally arrived in Green Bay.

A funny thing: I basically lived in my cousins' house for nearly a month in the Summer of 2006, so walking inside felt less like visiting someone else's house and a little more like coming home.
The O'Tooles got a new dog and she's very playful. My grandma likes her.
If these people were facing the camera I'd tell you who they all are. Eh, what the heck. Left>right: Uncle Michael, Mom, Aunt Christie, Colin, Rio (Rhiannon).
My uncle really really likes the Packers.
The view from the back porch. That's the Green Bay out there. You can't tell but it's frozen.
Facing the front of the house
Sierra is wearing a funny owl hat.
Odin is a very large dog. He likes me.
View from under the back porch
My grandmother got us a 750-piece puzzle to finish over the vacation. It never got finished, for reasons I will explain in a bit. Anyhow, the above picture was actually supposed to be about the fact that my mom and my aunt are trying to explain how to use ebooks on an iPad to my grandmother. It's not working well.
Looking down from the 2nd story toward the tree (and Uncle Mike)
This is why the puzzle never got finished. It's a nightmare of near-identical reindeer. We got maybe 70% through it before we left for home.
Sierra and Celine at the mall doing Christmas shopping.
Sierra wrapping stuff
Check that out. You can't even see the water because it's covered with snow. Can't see where the ground ends, the water starts, or the sky begins. Just a giant sheet of white.
Chilling at home with Sierra and Rio, eating macaroni and cheese with diet Sprite while watching a marathon of Christmas cartoons. Pretty epic.
Celine and Rio messing with their phones/iPods
Sierra watching Supernatural via Netflix
Christmas Day came and went. It was pretty nice. I got some neat stuff.
The complete Superman: The Animated Series DVD set. YES.
The Ultimate Matrix Collection on Blu-Ray. :D

Watching Spongebob with Rio.
So a funny thing happened during this trip. Uncle Mike's sister, Maggie, came by with her baby daughter, Camilla. My initial reaction was "oh hey, someone I don't know... great." Then it occurred to me that even though I'm not related to Camilla, she's still technically my cousin. I have a new cousin! :D
Grandma is regretting buying such a ridiculous puzzle.
On the 26th, the whole family bundled up and headed to Denny's for a Hobbit-themed breakfast. Then we went out to see The Hobbit (about half of us hadn't seen it yet).
Odin and Camilla ended up being good friends.
The last night before I left, I ended up hanging out with Rio for a bit. She showed me her paintings, and we traded ideas on which iPhone apps to use to keep in contact after I left. She said she'd miss me when I was gone.
The road home
The St. Louis Arch at night
You can't tell from the photo, but someone on the Western side of St. Louis actually rigged up an entire forest with Christmas lights. It was pretty epic.

When I got home, I immediately ran back out to Best Buy to spend a bunch of the gift certificate money I got. I bought a TV. :D
It's actually way bigger than it looks in that picture (39 inches), and it looks amazing. Seriously, it's so vibrant and detailed, it makes Tangled look like an actual window into a real place that exists. I WANT TO GO TO THERE.

Whew. Actual thoughts on more of the trip to come tomorrow.