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Producing By Hand (and other ways not to pray …)

Disciples pray a lot — but not often in a structured, prompted way. Episcopalians, however, love their structure. They created the Book of Common Prayer.  They love the script; they love letting their souls assent to the written words. They put the prayers into their own voice.

So in May my co-teachers and I led a “lock-in” retreat for our 8-12 year old Sunday School class. 8 pre-teens, 4 adults — nothing could go wrong, right?

Well, to start with … a lock-in isn’t just a fun, run-around, open game night in our church.  It’s like Sunday School Boot Camp … (but still fun!).  We do different themes each year.  I’m pretty sure two years ago was “faith.”  Last year was “living like monks.”  This year: “prayer.”

So what better way to show Episcopalian youth to pray than to create a new “prayer book” for them?

I modeled it off of the creative Wreck This Journal device.  The journal’s helpful for finding new, innovative methods to mess with texts.  I highly recommend it if you ever feel like you’re in a rut.  It gives you lots to do.  But as a prayer prompter — it needed a little tweaking.

And that’s where it went wrong …

One of my co-teachers is a crafting explorer.  She’s claimed a super-majority of her basement for her scrapbooking enterprise.  She values memories.  And she values creating things by hand.

Her idea for creating our journals: she had an awesome adhesive tool that rolled the printed page onto sticker-material.  Combine that with her digital cutter that cut custom vector shapes and it looked like we had a great solution.  The kids would each get an 80-page prayer prompt journal and each would have a custom sticker for that day’s prayer prompt.

It was an awesome idea until you factored how much each person’s time was worth.  The adhesive was mostly reliable.  But when the margins of the print got a little off, and the digital cutter started bisecting prayers — at that point, it was no longer sustainable.  Each prayer needed cut by hand.  To the point that it would take each person about 2 hours to cut and paste each youth’s prayer journal.

The arts-and-crafts approach would have been great for the personal touch; for production, however, we needed something simpler.

custom prayer journals

Enter Blurb.

If you have a passing familiarity with graphic design or desktop publishing then Blurb will be a natural next step.  It’s a simple, upload-print-bind operation that gives super-reasonable prices.  In the end, the 74-page bound booklet was $6.95 on Blurb; even without for the personnel time (each person’s hourly rate) for the stickers, it would have cost over $11 per booklet to produce them by hand.

Prompt: Deface an image of yourself; repair your view.

I’m thankful for my co-teachers for the patience and willingness to try.  I’m thankful for Blurb for providing a professional solution.  I’m thankful to be in a church that will spend this kind of money on a one-of-a-kind gift for their youth.  Most importantly, I’m thankful God put these youth in our care.  They bless our church so often.

A Call to Place – Food

I’m at the Disciples Youth Ministry Network (DYMN) 2012 Retreat this week in Oracle, Arizona.

After meeting some friends at the airport, they asked what I wanted for lunch.  “Anything I can’t get in my suburb of Chicago!”  So one of my friends called up his mother-in-law (a local) and we found El Charro in downtown Tucson.

Copyright 2012 Adam Frieberg

The Chicken Chimichanga at El Charro was exceptional

When we arrived at The Historic COD Ranch we saw that everything centered around hospitality. The rooming arrangements, the layout of public space, and especially the food! all screamed hospitality. Our retreat starts in only a couple of hours (leadership got here a day early) … but already the meals have been delectable … and simple, yet rich.

Eggs at COD Ranch. I don't even like eggs, but these were great!

Vegetarian pizza with olives, feta cheese. As Chuck Pickrel said, "If all meals were this good, I could be wholly vegetarian!"

Fresh Salad at the COD Ranch

Hope showing how awesome the peanut butter / chocolate chip cookies. (If you're happy and you know it ... ;)

The DYMN planning team has started wondering if we should have one or two places that we always come back to. Places that let our souls bond, and let us remember easily why it’s important to always keep building relationships. If DYMN goes that route — my vote for one of those places is the COD Ranch. I’d love to call this DYMN’s place. And not just because of the food!

On Software Developer Limits

As a matter of fact, if you try to launch an unsigned or unvalidatable app on a Mac with Gatekeeper enabled, the default button is “Move To Trash”. Pretty hardcore. Kind of awesome.

Panic, the developer of my favorite code editor on Mac, wrote a great review of the need for the recently announced Gatekeeper feature, which protects Macs from villainous programs/code.  While I don’t do any Cocoa or Carbon development (I’m all web-based, baby …) — this feature sounds like exactly what’s needed.

Mac users will proceed at their own risk … knowing Apple has their back.

Back from flickr

The usage statistics for last month showed people going back to my article on why Flickr was better than Picasa Web Albums.  I feel I should set the record straight:

I’m back on Picasa, 99%.   Picasa Web Albums, now known as the photo section of Google+, have fixed most of the “sharing” features I decried (it’s now the CORE of the social network).  They’ve also taken care of the organizational aspects.  No longer am I stuck with a one-off app that does photo uploading at a throttled speed. Google+’s photo section now uses a gorgeous AJAX-based photo uploader that is the promised simplicity of drag-n-drop.

There’s still a couple of things that would seal-the-deal for Picasa Web Albums Google+:

  • Enable the oEmbed functionality that Flickr and YouTube have.  Being able to post a link to the album in a blog and have it automatically embed the slideshow / gallery view would be appreciated.
  • Give an option for Downloading Full Album.  Right now I post the higher-res versions of photos to my Amazon S3 account and send a link manually.  Giving a Download All option in Google+ like you used to have in Picasa Web Albums would also clear that issue.
  • Prepare for Apple TV.  I realize this is probably a port Apple made on their end with the iOS version of Apple TV … but flickr has a section, why can’t I see my Google+ photos as my screensaver rather than my flickr photos?  Do that, and I’m yours … 100%.

People have asked me, “why flickr?” or “why Google+?”  “Why not Facebook?”  While Facebook has more of my friends than any other network — Picasa reached me first.  When I was studying abroad in Italy during college, Picasa was there, ready to share my photos with my friends / family back in the USA.  Once I had over 30 albums in Picasa, the conversion hurdle became too great.

In the end, all of those photos I’d migrated over to flickr … I stayed with my Google+ and in one click, I was back to the beginning.

Ping me (ask me) if you have questions or need advice for your church’s image hosting setup.

On Creative Ruts

Last November I was in a creative rut. Lots of maintenance work for my jobs, little “new stuff” =(‘ed) the time for pushing myself a little.

So at the Deacon ordination of one of my seminary friends, I decided going into it, to photograph as if I would convert the whole album to black and white. Exposure was different, color saturation didn’t matter; and, in the end, I pushed through. Limiting myself with that constraint completely unleashed the creativity.  Limits are good.  :)

And the ordination service was extra special as Ian Gerdon, also a friend from the Disciples House, left his wife and newborn son in South Bend and came to Ben’s ordination. It was an unexpected (but expectedly awesome) reunion for many of us!

While black and white photography may be “natural”, there’s certainly a case to make for HDR photos that are still creative and more realistic (even if being more manufactured).

Here’re some HDR blends I took at my parents’ house in November 2011:

Technological Evolutions I’m eagerly awaiting …

I have a love/hate relationship with technology.  Printers – it’s mostly hate.  Mobile internet – it’s a mix.  User interface cleverness – it’s mostly love.

Here’re six things I’m waiting on for technology:  (I’ll cross-out these as they develop)

  • Region-free iTunes purchasing agreements.  Ordering UK albums shouldn’t be so difficult for American consumers.  Thankfully, there’s always , where I got the Downton Abbey soundtrack.
  • Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited on the iPad.  I’m a sucker for good plot … ‘nough said.
  • Communication Arts as either a periodical or app with in-app purchases on iPad.
  • WordPress meta-support for taxonomies as there is for post types.  For the non-geeks, this isn’t a big issue.  But I’m ready for my wp_ update functions on taxonomies to include all the additional custom meta fields I add to the category user interfaces.  (I have at least 4 projects waiting on this … which means I should carve out the time and try to tackle it …)
  • Scaling bandwidth limits for Verizon Mifi mobile internet plans.  If Google can raise my total storage incrementally each day, why can’t my bandwidth limit also increase at such a rate?  (Oh wait, it’s quarterly earnings season … I know why now …)
  • Widespread 3G access across rural parts of midwest U.S. on Verizon’s network.  “Can you hear me now?” The classic Verizon ad would now be “can you download me now?”  And in many churches I travel to across Iowa and Minnesota, the answer is “well, give me a couple of hours, and those pictures will come down …”  Having 3G as a base speed would be nice.  I realize it’ll take some bandwidth upgrades for the remote cell towers … but seriously, my grandma in Fairfield, IA has fiber internet in her home.  Pick up the pace, you pseudo-monopolistic, great company!

On vacation

It is common today to locate one’s “true self” in one’s leisure choices.  Accordingly, good work is taken to be work that maximizes one’s means for pursuing these other activities, where life becomes meaningful.  The mortgage broker works hard all year, then he goes and climbs Mount Everest.  The exaggerated psychic content of his summer vacation sustains him through the fall, winter, and spring.  The Sherpas seem to understand their role in this drama as they discreetly facilitate his need for an unencumbered, solo confrontation with unyielding Reality.  There is a disconnect between his work life and his leisure life; in the one he accumulates money and in the other he accumulates psychic nourishment.

On the other hand, there are vocations that seem to offer a tighter connection between life and livelihood.  Can such coherence be traced to the nature of the work itself? …

“Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work – by Matthew B. Crawford

I’m off!

As I seem to only update this blog on vacations, I wanted to recap/foreshadow my experiences.

I just got back from officiating my cousin’s wedding in Sundance, Utah.  Not only was it scenic, but the couple (Jenny + Jake) are themselves exemplars of beauty.

Heidi and I are mid-trip for a fun week with friends in Portland, Maine. This is the second year in a row that we’ve taken this trip and it’s GREAT. While the “reds” in the tree leafs aren’t as vibrant as in the past, the friends and food are even better than we remembered (both here and on the way here …).

Here’re shots from the train:

On Pricing

I think we’ll always be willing to pay extra for the benefits we get from getting something first, getting it curated or getting it customized. But for most of what gets purchased in pop culture, none of those three are at work.  – Seth Godin

So about Santa Fe …

If you didn’t know, Arizona is pretty much on fire.

The week we were in Santa Fe wasn’t “horrible,” but it wasn’t the normal scenic lusciousness either. The crystal-clear mountains were murky. The air was cough-able.

Here’re the pictures from the first day of our trip:

Heidi and I didn’t realize how much the smoke was affecting us until we left. Then we found out George and April + family decided to leave after we did because of the air conditions. They went on an impromptu vacation to visit family out of state. Hopefully the weather was better there!

Here’s their family:

I convinced this antelope buck to leave the tree sprouts alone — with my bare hands!

Santa Fe is known for its chiles. (Red, Green, or Christmas). Spread over their enchiladas, I preferred Green — but I think that’s just because those were the specialty for the restaurants Heidi and I went to.

And “The French Pastry Shop and Creperie” in downtown Santa Fe was incredible. It made me miss the Medici Bakery in Hyde Park. Anyone who loves high-quality croissants or crepes should make this a priority.

As much as you can “have a blast” at ancient ruins, we really enjoyed Bandelier, Pecos and Chimayo.

Here’s Heidi and I at Bandelier — mid-day in full sunlight made my external flash essential!

And in perhaps the craziest sighting: at the Shiboni art center, I found a bronze Horned Frog. Made this TCU Alum proud: