Fri, March 09, 2007

Check Your Computer for 2007 Daylight Saving Time

As you are no doubt aware, the U.S. Energy Policy Act of 2005 extended daylight saving time (DST) in the U.S. by four weeks. Starting in 2007, DST begins on the second Sunday in March instead of in April and ends the first Sunday in November. Canada adopted the same rules as the U.S.

While there are a number of sites that describe how to update your computer with the revised DST rules – I used the TZEdit.exe application on some older Windows boxes as described here – I found few that tell you how to check whether or not your computer is properly updated.

Since the JavaScript date object allows access to a computer’s time zone information, it should be possible to determine whether or not a computer is properly configured just by viewing a web page. After you have updated your computer with the new DST rules, you need to restart your browser to test it.

The line below indicates whether or not your computer is set up properly:

Sat, November 25, 2006

Continuing the Journey

Look at that — a new post and a new theme. When I began work on the lamppost theme last year, I also had an idea of doing a Dawn Treader theme. It’s been frustratingly slow to develop. According to the file timestamps on my computer, it appears I first started working on it on March 31, 2006. It’s been an off-and-on process since then, mostly of five or ten minutes at a time with long gaps in between. I finally decided it was time to let it go. So, in the best “it’s good enough, but will likely be changed again soon” spirit of the web, here it is.

I enjoyed the playfulness of the animated snowflakes in the previous theme and wanted to try another animated theme. I experimented with various animations of the waves, but they all conspired to make me seasick (like Eustace) and most had prohibitively large file sizes. In the end, I’m close to the picture as it is described in the book, with just a hint that it is about to come to life—a slight ripple in the pennant at the top of the mast. I hope you enjoy it.

It was a picture of a ship—a ship sailing nearly straight towards you. Her prow was gilded and shaped like the head of a dragon with a wide open mouth. She had only one mast and one large, square sail which was a rich purple. The sides of the ship—what you could see of them where the gilded wings of the dragon ended—were green. She had just run up to the top of one glorious wave, and the nearer slope of that wave came down towards you, with streaks and bubbles on it….

“The question is,” said Edmund, “whether it doesn’t make things worse, looking at a Narnian ship when you can’t get there.”

“Even looking is better than nothing,” said Lucy. “And she is such a very Narnian ship.”

“It’s a rotten picture,” said Eustace. “Why do you like it?”

“Well, for one thing,” said Lucy, “I like it because the ship looks as if it was really moving. And the water looks as if it was really wet. And the waves look as if they were really going up and down.”

Of course Eustace knew lots of answers to this, but he didn’t say anything. The reason was that at that very moment he looked at the waves and saw that they did look very much indeed as if they were going up and down….

The things in the picture were moving… Down went the prow of the ship into the wave and up went a great shock of spray. And then up went the wave behind her, and her stern and her deck became visible for the first time, and then disappeared as the next wave came to meet her and her bows went up again…. Lucy felt all her hair whipping round her face as it does on a windy day. And this was a windy day; but the wind was blowing out of the picture towards them. And suddenly with the wind came the noises—the swishing of waves and the slap of water against the ship’s sides and the creaking and the over-all high, steady roar of air and water. But it was the smell, the wild, briny smell, which really convinced Lucy that she was not dreaming.


— from The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader” by C.S. Lewis.

Wed, January 18, 2006

Reading the Bible

The Come Receive the Light radio broadcast for January 7, 2006 featured Father Thomas Hopko speaking about how to include Bible reading in your day. Father Thomas is a wonderful speaker and he gave many good suggestions: read the scriptures regularly, keep the readings short so it can be done, don’t read when you’re likely to be tired. He also discussed the merits of various translations and the differences between reading and studying the word. I highly recommend you listen to the broadcast (Real) (or listen to the MP3).

I especially enjoyed his retelling of a story from the desert fathers:

Our topic today is not so much Bible study, it’s Bible reading, what was called in the old roman church — the old early Orthodox church in the latin version — lectio divina. That’s where you just read it to read it. You spend five, ten minutes with it a day and you just read it.

There’s a story in the desert fathers, how one fellow would be listening — they weren’t reading in those days because they didn’t all have books — but he was listening every day to the reading of the Scripture in the gathering of the brothers (in the synaxis).

So he comes to the old guy one day and he says to him, “I’m leavin’. This is a waste of time.”

And the old guy says, “Why?”

He said, “Because I can’t remember anything. I go in there and I hear this and the minute I go out and I can’t remember anything.”

The old man says to him “Well I tell you, before you leave, do something, okay? Do this: Get two buckets and put them by the door of your cell. Every day at the prayer of the hours you go to the spring and you fill up one of the buckets with water and then you pour the water out. But every day the same bucket. You fill it up and you pour it out.”

So the guy says, “Okay.”

So after a year the old man comes back and he said, “Did you do what I told you?”

The guy says, “Yes.”

He said, “Well, let’s look at the buckets.” So the buckets are sitting there and he says, “What’s in them?”

He says, “Nothing. They’re both empty.”

Then the old man says, “Why is one of them very clean and very nice and the other one is just filled with spiders and cobwebs and dust and dirt?”

The young guy says, “Well obviously, father, the clean one is the one that I filled up and poured out the water every day.”

The old man said, “There’s your answer: they’re both empty.”

In other words, the word of God has to pass through us and cleanse us. But sometimes we may not retain it. And John Climacus said the same thing, he said “The remembrance of the word of God is not done by the brain, it’s done by the behavior.”

So I think we need just to read it — just expose ourselves to it. And I would even say to people if you don’t understand something, let it go. Just let it go. Cling to the part that you do understand. And of course if you’re reading gospels and not maybe letter to the Romans or some Old Testament book might be tough, but the psalms and the gospels they are pretty straight forward … and we’re familiar with them. But we just need to keep repeating and repeating.

Tue, January 17, 2006

Kodak Kills the K

Kodak has decided to break out of the box. It is eliminating the widely recognized somewhat K-shaped box that has contained the Kodak wordmark for the last 70 years. The new logo — really just the Kodak brand name set in a new custom typeface with lines above and below — continues to use the company’s red and yellow colors.

Comparison of old and new Kodak logos

It is hard to believe that Eastman Kodak would throw away its brand, as UPS did earlier, but it appears they feel it will help them get away from being known primarily for film photography. According to an article in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle Kodak wants the new logo to provide a “contemporary look but be flexible enough to apply in new ways and new venues across Kodak’s varied businesses –everything from tiny handheld digital cameras to computer software to the letters on Kodak buildings around the world.”

It probably is unfair to compare the old logo with the new one. Kodak had already stepped away from using the old logo on packaging, opting instead to simply use the lettering from the old logo without the box. When comparing on that basis, at least the new one is moderately distinctive.

Old Kodak wordmark

In other boring logo news, Intel has decided to change theirs as well. Since the company is eliminating the Intel Inside phrase it is worth mentioning, but getting rid of the dropped E and adding a swirl sounds tired before it even gets much exposure.

Thu, December 15, 2005

Narnia: An Expanded Beginning

I’ll now continue looking at the differences between the book and movie versions of The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe that I began with the introduction. In this installment, I’ll look at how the movie expands the beginning of the book.

The movie opens with the German Luftwaffe bombing London and eventually shows the evacuation of the children into the country. This seems a reasonable change—it takes the single sentence from the book “This is a story about something that happened to [the four children] when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids” and gives it a vivid setting that previous generations may not have needed. It also allows the introduction of the four children. From the beginning of the movie we see squabbling between the children and feel that they are motivated by a sense of loss—despite the bombs falling nearby, Edmund refuses to take cover in the bomb shelter until he has rushed back into the house for a picture of, we assume, their father. There is also a heart breaking scene as the children say goodbye to their mother at the train station prior to going into the country.

The train ride from London into the country seems one of the more joyful moments of the film, perhaps because of the music and colorful shots of the train—or perhaps just because there’s something wonderful about watching a beautiful brightly colored steam engine. We get to see other children being dropped off at a station and like the four children the audience wonders where they will end up. The wondering is underscored in the next scene as we see the four waiting at an otherwise empty station for someone to pick them up. There is a bit of humor as they scramble for their bags when they hear a car approaching and are then disappointed as it drives by.

They are picked up at the railway station by Mrs. Macready in a horse-drawn cart. Unlike the book, they do not meet the professor at the door of the house. Mrs. Macready in giving instructions to the children emphasizes that there is to be “no disturbin’ of the professor.” In the book, it is Mrs. Macready herself who does not want to be disturbed when she is showing people over the house.

The first scene of the children talking together in the house fits the general feel of the book, but the dialog has been changed—as in many other places in the film—to sound more like what children would say. Lucy’s complaint that the sheets of her bed were scratchy felt a bit out of character for her—she does not complain—but honestly she seems the most true to the book of any of the characters in the film. I found the changes in the children’s dialog to be an improvement in most cases. Instead of saying that Susan is always “trying to talk like Mother” as in the book, Edmund sarcastically retorts “Yes, mum.”

While this new expanded beginning to the story flows reasonably and the children come across as realistic, it starts the story off on the wrong foot. We are introduced to the story through a fearful evacuation and bickering between the children. This makes it more depressing and frightening than enjoyable. In contrast, the story in the book is significantly more playful:

They were sent to the house of an old Professor who lived in the heart of the country …. He himself was a very old man with shaggy white hair, which grew over most of his face as well as on his head, and they liked him almost at once ; but on the first evening when he came out to meet them at the front door he was so odd-looking that Lucy (who was the youngest) was a little afraid of him, and Edmund (who was the next youngest) wanted to laugh and had to keep on pretending he was blowing his nose to hide it.

As soon as they had said good night to the Professor and gone upstairs on the first night, the boys came into the girls’ room and they all talked it over.

“We’ve fallen on our feet and no mistake,” said Peter. “This is going to be perfectly splendid. That old chap will let us do anything we like.”

“I think he’s an old dear,” said Susan.

It is nicer to start the story off on a positive note. Although the evacuation of the children from London is historically interesting and provides a context for their journey, I’m not sure how important it is to the story. What is relevant is that they were sent together into the country. Indeed, I know I didn’t think about the historical motivations for their visit to the Professor’s house until I read some early information about how the movie would begin. Instead I had always viewed it through the eyes of the children, much like a trip to visit my grandma—as an adventure!

Most troubling is that we are introduced to the characters and their motivations through scenes and dialog that were not created by C.S. Lewis. I was shocked to hear Peter condemning his brother “Why can’t you just do as you’re told?!” and see Edmund cowering with his beloved picture. From the beginning the movie goes out of its way to try to create excuses for Edmund’s choices (I’ll return to this in a later installment.)

The movie also changes the characters—in the book, Peter is the leader, a role he grows into completely as High King. In the movie we see more doubts. In the train station, Peter watches a soldier and we get a sense that he is almost old enough to go to war. This was not a motivating factor in the book but is significant in the movie—they leave one war only to be drawn into another. Another noticeable change is that in the book Peter, the leader, is the one who suggests that they explore the house. “And that was how the adventures began.” Instead, after a dull scene with “the worst game ever invented” the movie has Lucy suggest that they play hide and seek.

All of this worked out to make me uncomfortable with the movie from the beginning. While I recognized all of the characters and they somehow fit with those from the book, I wanted them to be more kind and pure. The changes just didn’t seem necessary. Perhaps verses from Philippians were echoing in my head:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.

Wed, December 14, 2005

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: Differences between the book and the movie

Having now watched the new movie version of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe twice in the same number of days, I decided it would be worthwhile to write down the changes I noticed. A more thorough analysis will be possible after the movie is released on video, but I hope this will be helpful in the meantime. I should say up front that I enjoyed the movie, but as a fan of the book, I was disappointed by many of the additions, omissions, and changes.

Warning: the following contains numerous spoilers. If you have read the book, but want to be surprised by the film adaptation, read no further until you have seen the movie. If you have not read the book, what are you waiting for? Go read it now, especially if you intend to see the movie.

What I love about the The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (TLWW) book is its truly beautiful and enchanting story containing a Christian allegory. The movie falters in those moments where it robs the story of its purity and truth. As a child reading the story—or having it read to you—you are taken from an ordinary world into an extraordinary one. As Lewis wrote in his essay “On Three Ways of Writing for Children” the reader of a story like TLWW “does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.”

I felt like the movie struggled to make the characters more real, more believable, and more like children of our world. This seems a fundamental flaw of the film. In his dedication, Lewis makes clear that TLWW is a fairy tale. I feel the movie almost tries to eliminate the magic of it.

In an interview, the movie’s director Andrew Adamson says “I want it to feel real and for kids today to actually relate to the children. So I’ve really tried to make the story about a family which is disenfranchised and disempowered in World War II, that on entering Narnia, through their unity as a family become empowered at the end of the story.” As admirable as it is to elevate family harmony in a world of broken and hurting families, this is not the main theme of the book. While repentance leads to improved relationships, perhaps most obviously in our families, the film seems more focused on the relationships than on repentance and redemption.

For those that had hoped for a movie more precisely like the book, another interview with Adamson is more revealing: “I actually set out really not to make the book so much as my memory of the book because I realized in reading the book as an adult that it was kind of like the house that you grew up in, much smaller than I remembered. And I wanted to catch the more epic story that I remembered which I think was expanded by my experiences over 30 years, by the fact that I had read all seven books, and that the world had actually expanded C.S. Lewis in writing all seven books.” The option was there for Adamson to hook into the allegory and expand in harmony with it instead of expanding the story to make it more like his memory.

Despite the differences, the movie clearly follows the scenes and plot of the book. I’m saddened that the differences could have made it a more powerful and deeper film, but instead the changes generally do little to advance the plot or enhance the characters, but mainly try to make the film more exciting. Even with the changes, the movie is true to the book and for that I am thankful. I hope that it is very successful and increases interest in all of the Chronicles of Narnia.

In future installments I will talk about the specific changes made between the book and the movie. I expect I will discuss the following (not necessarily in order):

  • Expanded Beginning
  • The Children
  • Edmund’s Journey
  • Aslan
  • Characters and dialog
  • New scenes
  • Omitted scenes

Thu, December 08, 2005

Aslan is on the move

Yes, that’s better. The lamppost is burning brightly and the snow is falling. Did you hear the bells? Father Christmas must have stopped by here bringing a new website look to suit the season.

It is with excitement and some dread that I anticipate tonight’s opening of the film adaptation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. The book has been a favorite since it was first read to me as a child. Since then I have reread it many times and discovered much more to enjoy and contemplate. And the tradition has continued: I’ve loved reading it together as a family recently. I see the delight and enchantment in my children’s eyes that I had when I first heard the story.

It will be a challenge for the film to match our imaginations and be true to the story. All editions of the book have included the wonderful illustrations by Pauline Baynes, so fans of the book will expect a certain “look” for Narnia. From what I have seen from the trailers and “making of” segments, the movie is quite similar to the artwork by Baynes and the descriptions by Lewis, so I expect it will be fine. Having seen the black and white line art for so long, I was at first surprised by the vivid colors of the movie, but the more I think about it I believe it fits.

I’m somewhat concerned about the parts of the story that appear to have been expanded. I find it very interesting that Lewis chose to cut away at some of the most intense moments in the book. I fear they may show more than necessary of the death of Aslan. “The children did not see the actual moment of the killing. They couldn’t bear to look and had covered their eyes.” It is almost certain that the battle scenes will be longer than the few words Lewis uses to describe them. In the book only half a page is devoted to the battle and it is over almost as soon as the girls and Aslan arrive. Still, it would be fun to see Edmund fighting his way toward the Witch and smashing her wand instead of hearing it described by Peter afterwards as in the book. Once Aslan rose from the dead, I never had any doubt that all would work out, so perhaps showing this would not take away any suspense.

Despite all this, I’m greatly looking forward to the movie. After seeing the world premiere of the 9 minute super trailer during Narnia Night at Asbury College — which was an incredibly impressive and enjoyable evening with many friends of Narnia — I expect it will be a fantastic film and a box office hit.

Then signalling to the children to stand as close around it as they possibly could, so that their faces were actually tickled by its whiskers, the beaver added in a low whisper — “They say Aslan is on the move—perhaps has already landed.”

Wed, August 17, 2005

Savor the flavor

After watching and helping me scoop grounds into the basket to make my morning cup of coffee, my son exclaims “Daddy, I know how they make coffee — they get some dirt and they put it in a machine and then it comes out and it’s coffee.” I sit down and carefully explain to him how coffee is grown, picked, sorted, roasted and then ground. I grab some coffee beans and remind him that he has watched me grind them before. He runs out of the kitchen and proclaims “Mommy, it may taste like dirt but it’s really from the coffee bean.”

Sat, July 02, 2005

An Iconographer? Me? 2.0

Once again it is time for the Icon Writing Workshop. I’ve been looking forward to this for weeks and have already been immersing myself in icons. Today we open with prayer and then will begin tracing the prototype.

I’m just the tiniest bit more confident than last year. At least I know what to expect. I’m excited and realize I’m very much a beginner. I spoke with master iconographer Xenia Pokrovsky a few days ago and she likened it to learning to play the piano. You don’t start out playing some complicated piece, but work up to it, learning a bit at a time. You start to memorize some of it. You have to practice the scales and chords so that playing the notes becomes part of you. Practice, practice, practice. You learn dynamics and improve your ability to flow through the piece. And someday, you know it.

I was delighted to see several prayers included in our workshop materials. Below is one that is a variation on the one that Fr. David prayed for me last year.

A Prayer Before Beginning an Icon

Oh Divine Lord of all that exists, Thou has illumined the Apostle and Evangelist Luke with Thy Holy Spirit, thereby enabling him to represent Thy most Holy Mother, the One who held Thee in her arms and said: The Grace of Him Who has been born of me is spread through the world.

Enlighten and direct my soul, my heart and my spirit. Guide the hands of Thine unworthy servant Timothy so that I may worthily and perfectly portray Thine Icon, that of Thy Mother, and all the Saints, for the glory, joy and adornment of Thy Holy Church.

Forgive my sins and the sins of those who will venerate these icons and who, kneeling devoutly before them, give homage to those they represent. Protect them from all evil and instruct them with good counsel. This I ask through the intervention of Thy most Holy Mother, the Apostle Luke, and all the Saints. AMEN.

Wed, June 22, 2005

Usability Testing is Painful

Based on my observations of usability tests, I’ve known intellectually that when a website has usability problems, it can be a tremendously frustrating experience for those struggling to successfully use it. That theoretical knowledge became painful reality last night. It’s been a long time since I’ve been as angry, frustrated, and beaten. I was shouting at the website on my computer “I want to send you money! How do I complete the sale?”

The worst part was that I was fairly sure the site was broken. I’d used the site many times before and it had worked fine.

No, perhaps the worst part was that as a website designer and developer, I thought that perhaps I’d just overlooked something. Banner-ad blindness, you know. I took a long careful look, again, at the shopping cart for the “Complete Sale / Check Out” button. No button.

Like most people in usability tests, I blamed myself. What am I doing wrong!? Am I logged in correctly? Yes. Does the help on the site say anything? “Press the Complete Sale button…” Where? I search the rest of the help for anything, anything that might tell me what I’m doing wrong. Nothing. Wait, are my Greasemonkey user scripts or Firefox extensions breaking something? Nope. Was I blocking the images or something? No. Is my computer infected with spyware? I grabbed the latest update and tested to find a bunch of false positives, but nothing apparently wrong. Perhaps I should try another computer. Nothing. How can a hugely popular site be missing the button to complete the purchase!?

I was almost at the point of doing something crazy and trying the site in Internet Explorer when I stopped myself. If the site doesn’t work with my browser, do I really want to send them money? No. Sale lost!

When a website breaks, as in this case, there’s no obvious way for the user to know that the site is broken. At least in a physical store, if there’s no clerk around, I know it. The web user is left to wonder and blame himself, even when he should know better.

After sending off a sad email to the site’s customer support, I gave up, defeated. The next morning, the site’s shopping cart was fixed and worked as I’d expected it to. The button appeared in a sidebar that just hadn’t been there before. Too bad I no longer wanted to purchase anything.

I’ve gained a lot of sympathy for those we torture during usability testing. I now know why I’ve seen them close to tears while we think “It’s obvious! Just go back two pages and press that other button. Why are they getting so emotionally involved?”