Sunday, April 25, 2010

free windows 'helper' software that i use every day

those of you who know me well know that i really enjoy a bargain. i also like customizing my computing environment, tuning it to my preferences whenever possible. the intersection of those personal delights (some would say "idiosyncrasies") is free software, and one of the advantages of computing in the windows environment is that there's lots of it. i like finding and testing programs, so you don't have to - always glad to take one for the team!
  • wordweb: this is the one free app for which i know no equivalent on the mac; it almost makes windows worth using. almost. but if you're stuck using windows, i highly recommend it. ctrl-right click on any word in any program, and up pops a window with dictionary definitions and synonyms. it can even look up references in web-based resources like wikipedia. awesome!
  • find and run robot: very similar to quicksilver for the mac, this little app allows you to run applications and open documents by typing in a few letters of the app or file name. for those who find it more efficient to keep your fingers on the keyboard (instead of moving them to the mouse), you'll love this.
  • bullzip: this one allows you to print pdf documents from any windows app. not a big deal for mac users, where that functionality is built in, but a very nice addition for xp users. this is the way i store web articles to read or print later; select the 'one page' version of the article and print to pdf. read it at your leisure.
  • lastpass add-on for firefox: this is not a stand alone program, but an add-on for many of the common web browsers -- firefox, internet explorer, safari, chrome (across platforms, no less) -- that allows you to keep all of your passwords locked away and fills them in automatically (when you want) for online forms. the information is encrypted and available from multiple computers, all by entering your e-mail address and your designated password (make it a good, difficult one! and you'll want to be sure to adjust your options so that the program logs you out automatically when you are idle too long or when you close the browser, lest all of your passwords be available to whoever visits your computer when you're away!).
  • adblock plus add-on for firefox: blocks advertisements and banners while you browse, and it's very customizable -- which is a good thing, since it is so effective that it blocks some videos from playing when there's an advertisement at the beginning. no problem -- just disable abp for that one page or site.
i wouldn't want to run windows xp without these. what freebie apps do you consider indispensable?

Thursday, April 08, 2010

rice, rice, baby

n always loved rice. when she was little -- 2-3 years old -- there were times when it's all she wanted to eat. she even created a rice motto: "rice. plain rice. nothing on top -- nothing on the side."

fast forward to late march 2010. little n, now a 17 year old high school senior finishing up at bellevue college, is waiting to hear from university admissions departments. she is actually visiting b in nyc when she gets the news -- and breaks it to us (over the phone, of course) with a group of columbia students cheering in the background. she's been admitted to rice university in houston -- one of her top two choices. within days, pitzer college, her other top choice, notifies her with a bright orange mailing that says 'congratulations!' all over it. the financial package from pitzer is good. but the package from rice, including a $16,000/year merit scholarship, is over the top. after doing a bit more research, she makes her choice -- rice! so starting in august, n will be an owl! at this point, she is hoping to study kinesiology.

in nyc, n and b celebrated with a night on the town. when she returned home, we went to the cheesecake factory, where n dove into a huge plate of chicken bellagio, and m ordered her chocolate coconut cream cheesecake before dinner (to make sure she had room for it, of course!) -- these ladies know how to celebrate!

fuller seminary
leadership theorist bobby clinton notes that the seeds of our destiny are often found in our personal history. we've found this to be true for both our girls -- even in the trivial (but beyond coincidence) cases of their choice of university; it's as if Someone had the whole thing planned. hmm...

félicitations, rice baby. eat 'em up!

Sunday, April 04, 2010

reflections from resurrection day, 2010

my family has always preferred to celebrate today as 'resurrection sunday' (vs. easter). i remember discovering, as a brand new believer, that easter was the day when christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. i was shocked. before that, i wasn't quite sure what easter was supposed to be about - something to do with eggs, bunnies, and possibly chocolate - but i never would have guessed anything having to do with Jesus or the resurrection. christians have a major marketing/messaging problem for this particular holiday.


years ago, the evidence for the historicity of Jesus' actual, bodily resurrection from the dead was a key factor in my coming to faith. simply put, it seemed outrageous that christianity depended on the reality of this single event, and it was perplexing to me that otherwise intelligent people could believe such a story. it's one thing to say that you think Jesus was a very important historical person, and that his spirit lives on today through those who embrace and try to embody his teachings. it's quite another to say that you not only believe that it's literally true; you're willing to stake your life on it. it wasn't until i got to college that i met anyone who was actually willing to argue that claim with me. i was surprised that there was a serious, intellectual argument that could be made for such a thing - and it wasn't long before my life was turned upside down.

i still remember how surprised i was to wake up one day and realize that i actually believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. i knew enough by then to know that that particular conviction didn't make me a christian - being a christian is not just a question of having the right opinions about Jesus, but of allegiance and trust - but i was shocked at myself all the same. my whole life hadn't changed yet, but at that point, i knew that change was inevitable. i remember wishing that there were some way back to the time before i knew what i then knew, some way to un-ring the bell. but i knew i had been captured, and there was a part of me that could only grin ruefully and give the proper respect to the clearly superior intellect - not of any man, but of God himself, who seemed to delight in orchestrating my journey with books, people, and conversations popping up at just the right time.

(for those who might be sorting out their thinking on the resurrection of Jesus, allow me to recommend the essay of friend and former student neil shenvi, now a member of yale's chemistry faculty. neil is a clear thinker and a thorough researcher; he even has bibliographic links for the hearty soul who needs more to contemplate. i am also happy to engage in this conversation with you, if you're interested).


over the years, Jesus' resurrection has gone from being the incontrovertible, objective fact on which christianity is founded to also becoming the on-going hope of my life. i was reminded throughout today that the resurrection of Jesus is God's greatest object lesson and enduring proof that there is no situation that is beyond redemption.

how terrible must it have been for those first disciples who left everything behind to follow Jesus, only to see him rejected and brutally murdered! what were they thinking on that saturday when Jesus lay silently in the grave and every hope was extinguished? surely they were awash in grief and loss, but i wonder to what degree they felt the deep pain of regret, second-guessing those critical decisions they had made in staking so much on this one man? did their pain drive them to God, or did it leave them numb, not quite knowing where next to go with him?

i have some friends who are in difficult situations right now. a couple are battling cancer, and the news has not been favorable for at least one of them. another friend had a husband suddenly leave her; now she's a single mom, struggling to figure out how to make life work for her children and herself. yet another is separated from their spouse; i think people would understand if they knew more details, but they don't feel at liberty to share, leaving them isolated from family and church friends who would otherwise be their biggest support in a time of crisis. hey, in the past year, i've faced my own share of trials - the collapse of the bridge (and the awful accusations and inevitable losses that came with that), and more recently, challenges with another round of apparent autoimmune issues (the most persistent of which is a wicked, itchy rash that won't go away).

perhaps not surprisingly, such situations can lead to uncertainty about what faith in God means now. some are drawing near to God; others are... holding on as best they can, which i think they would admit is not always so well. in very different ways and to varying degrees, all of us have been facing death - literal physical death for some, the death of a good reputation or of a (God-given?) dream or of a vision of life with loved ones for the others.

but in a sea of fear and uncertainty, the resurrection of Jesus is an anchor. it is the constant, steadying reminder that God is never finally beaten, that not even death is an impediment for him and can even be his means for deliverance. who would have guessed that Jesus would not only overcome death, but that his death and resurrection would be agency by which God accomplished his saving work? who would have imagined that the cross of suffering, shame, humiliation, and rejection would become God's indispensable instrument of transformation and joy and healing?

the old song says, "because he lives, i can face tomorrow" - not because there will be no more losses or grief or uncertainty or death, but because we know the One who holds the future. death could not hold him - he is risen and is alive forevermore!

i am the resurrection and the life;
he who believes in me will live
even if he dies.
john 11:25

then i saw a new heaven and a new earth,
for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away,
and there was no longer any sea.
i saw the holy city, the new jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
and i heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
"now the dwelling of God is with men,
and he will live with them.
they will be his people,
and God himself will be with them and be their God.
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain,
for the old order of things has passed away."
revelation 21:1-4