Thursday, September 26, 2013

Are you Still using Adobe Reader?

Well, quit it.

So you're using Windows, and you need to view a PDF.  Although Microsoft did think to include an XPS reader, they didn't think to include a PDF reader for some reason.  So I guess you'll have to download Adobe Reader, right?

Well, hold on now.  Do you have Chrome or Firefox?  Well you should, and they both already do that.  Plus they do other things too, like browse the internet.  If you just want to display a PDF, they win over Reader for load time hands down.  Plus you can have multiple documents open in tabs at the same time.  There's even a Chrome plugin to convert PDF to Word documents for free.  Adobe charges $20 a year for that service, but I'll admit I haven't actually tried either.  Also, to be fair, there are features Adobe Reader has that Chrome and Firefox don't.  The truth is, they can't even do two page reading mode.

Now before you go running back to Adobe Reader, give Foxit Reader a try.  I'll warn you from the start that it appears to me to be as bloated as Adobe Reader, so I don't use it for basic displaying of PDF's.  I use Chrome for that.  However, if I want to do something Reader can do but Chrome can't, such as two page reading, or annotation, I reach for Foxit.

And if I want to something Reader can't do... I still reach for Foxit.  Things like fill out any form.  It can can even display multiple PDF's in tabs like Chrome and Firefox, and installs a virtual Print-to-PDF printer, so you can create a PDF from anything that can be printed from any program.  Now you may be thinking that Adobe Reader can fill out forms too, and you'd be right.  Some PDF forms can be created in a way so that they can be filled out in Adobe Reader.  Foxit on the other hand, can type anywhere on any PDF.

But how will you display your Adobe Digital Editions® PDF's?
Alright, ya can't.  The only way to display Adobe's proprietary DRM documents is to use their product.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I write because ...

I write because I enjoy it — I love putting the pen to paper and forming letters, words, sentences and, finally, paragraphs. Seeing thoughts physically appear on the paper is enlivening! And I find the physical act of writing a joy to engage in, especially when the pen I am using is a favorite fountain pen
And I have a gift: the ability to articulate realities of the world and clarify meaning(s). Frequently, in conversation, I am able to reword other people’s thoughts, reducing them to their essence and producing insight. My wording captures, perfectly, what they mean, and frequently adds a subtle distinction that is important, but missing in the original. "That is exactly the meaning I'm looking for but I would not have thought of that word," or "yes, that a very good way to put it;" or, simply, "Excellent!"

I have learned, however, that sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. I conceive but do not offer my rendition — because my rendition reduces their words to their essence and illumines their thought as shallow, banal, selfish or just plain bullshit. This has not been received well. At these times my gift feels more like burden than gift. And my situation seems like God's prophets about to speak to his chosen people … the prophets were stoned, you might recall.

And how does this gift relate to writing? Before actually trying it, writing seemed like "simply" a different medium for exercising the same gift. Now, however, writing does not seem at all like involvement in a conversation; it seems more like public speaking without the speaking.
In conversation, the 'other' supplies the raw material and I the essence and insight hidden in the words. Writing is much harder. It is noticing the significant, writing about it so we both know about what I write, and seamlessly supplying the essence and insight. And this, if the writing is going to interest anyone, has to be new ... new insight, new data, new facts, or a new view of established truth. And it has to be fair.

It is difficult. It is the work of a lifetime; it is my work, and I am starting late.

For a homework assignment, I wrote ( and shared with my classmates ) autobiographies of 6 words, 50 words, and 200 words. The spiritual movement in those stories moved several classmates. That taught me that my story, properly written, can touch people in a meaningful way. Learning this delighted me.

So ... out of all the worldly stories there are to write about, I need to select from only those in which I was involved. That reduces the choices from an infinite number to a number that is only completely overwhelming. Yes, writing remains difficult.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Fresh Start

If you're not a techie, or are not interested in computer security, you will find this post very boring.  You've been warned.

I recently purchased a couple of used computers with Windows 7 and Office 2010 already installed.  I should probably have reinstalled everything for safety and privacy reasons, but I was lazy.  The subject of my last post got me thinking, and I've had a couple of glitches.  I think it's time to reinstall.

Every tool I downloaded is 100% free.  I made USB's instead of discs because I don't have a disc burner.

1. Magic Jelly Beans
The free version will get the product keys for Windows and Office.
I downloaded the Darik's Boot and Nuke ISO.  I made it a bootable USB from the ISO using Pen Drive Linux.  I used this to do a secure whipe of the hard drive.  This step is not completely necessary, but is a good practice.
3. Windows 7
I downloaded the proper install ISO from Digital River which is the official source.  I made it a bootable USB using Microsoft's application.
4. Office 2010
Again, I downloaded from Digital river.

Start to finish it took about an hour of my time, because I didn't just stare at the screen while the various process worked.  I am also a techie, so I don't begrudge that time.  After install, I took a couple of steps to keep it safe.

5. TrueCrypt
I set up whole drive encryption.

6. Virtual Box
Virtual machines are useful for a number of reasons.  The reason I'm talking about it now may seem like overkill.  I installed Ubuntu in a virtual machine.  One of the reasons is to use it as my primary browser.

7. NoScript
This lets you selectively decide which sites should be allowed to run scripting.

With out allowing universal scripting, I'm less likely to run malicius code.
Linux is less likely to be vulnerable to malicious code.
Since I'm not saving changes to the machine state, any problem is unlikely to survive between sessions.
The windows install is extremely insulated from attach through the browser.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Scriptural Discrepancies ... some insight

One awakening from my retreat earlier in September.

I have had this trouble with Scripture: The commentary explains away contradictions by saying the author is only retelling the story to make his point, and there are two pre-existing traditions the biblical author used ... and, presumably, the two traditions have conflicting details. This has never done much for me or my Biblical reading.

As an example, see the Genesis story of Joseph's being sold and taken to Egypt.

Gen 37:27 One brother proposes selling him to the Ishmaelites, and all agree with this proposal

"'Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.' And his brothers agreed."

Gen 37:28 Midianite traders got him but sold him to the Ishmaelites who took him to Egypt.

"When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt."

Gen 37:36 Midianites sold him in Egypt to Potiphar

"Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard."

Gen 39:1 Potiphar bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him there

"Now Joseph was taken down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there."

Scriptural Quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition

The Commentary "explains" this as two Traditions, pre-existing stories. As I said, this never did much for me until …

… until I reflected on one of my own stories, The Tale of the Deer ( Click here for the long, previously blogged, version ). Ellie and I experienced deer crossing the road in front of our car. We were alone. At first we disagreed on the direction the deer were going; later we agreed on that but disagreed on who changed their story.

It occurred to me that:
  • we did not consipire to disagree
  • we had two conflicting stories about an event that had occurred something like three to four weeks earlier
  • had we not spoken to each other and discovered these discrepancies, I would have told my story and she hers. Some people would have developed the “walter tradition” and others the “ellie tradition.”
  • both traditions would be true ( not deviating from the actual facts as the story teller knows them ) but only one ( at most ) is actually how it happened.
As a result of reflecting on this, I have a much better appreciation of how two traditions, based on identical and long ago event(s), differing in detail, can develop. Ellie and I are not able to reconcile "The Tale of the Deer," and that event took place rather recently. All biblical authors dealt with events that were very much older than our deer tale.

I am no longer bothered when there is a discrepancy in the story and the Commentary informs me that there are two traditions. I chuckle a little, am able to say, “of course,” and move on, looking for the point of the story.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Reflections Regarding my Five-day ( nearly-Silent ) Retreat

Meister Eckhart, a German theologian, philosopher and mystic ( Wikipedia ), wrote, "Nothing resembles the language of God so much as does silence." Though I didn't know about this particular quote, but believed its truth, I chose a silent retreat. Read Retreat? Charge to it!. It was simultaneously wonderful ( I would do such a thing again, in a heartbeat ) and disappointing ( I was not immersed in silence -- I was not speaking God's language ).

To give you a flavor of my experience, I quote from some of the writing I did while there.

Please note: I do not wish to provide information about where I was; words in braces { such as this } are general words substituting for the specific items. Sometimes, they are general words for specific items I choose not to reveal.
  1. As soon as I walked in the door, however, the silence was palatable, I thought. I knew I am alone, nobody here knows me, cares about me, wishes to talk to me.
  2. Aside from the silence feeling like a presence from the moment I walked in the door, "so far so good," I said bravely.
  3. I am aware of a sense of isolation and alone-ness. And it feels incredibly freeing.
  4. I realize I am stalling, killing time perhaps, before doing I am not sure what. .
  5. As I am sitting at breakfast, I realize I prefer, and possibly much prefer, this being silent routine. There is no pressure, expectation, hope, desire or anything to find someone with whom to make conversation of any kind...
  6. Not all of the { round trip } walk was silent.
  7. The silence is hard now; harder than it's been for sure. I'd really like to open my email, or text someone { Ellie, Benjamin, Andy ... }, or just go to and see who won yesterday's ball game, and today's.
  8. We cannot earn what I am seeking.
  9. I wept.
  10. "Five days is a long time." It does not seem long enough.
  11. I wonder if I know how to be with God
  12. I am back in my room; the constant and ubiquitous noise is back. I am dumbstruck by something utterly startling: this is not a quiet place to come to for a retreat! I am dumbfounded.
  13. My "weeping?" A couple, perhaps three, silent and giant sobs. My body kind of shook.
  14. all I get is an elderly monastic offering to help me with the prayer books for morning prayer?
  15. Talking with { my 2 atheist friends } would have been more like preaching to the Romans, or the Gentiles.
  16. I feel a fool ...
  17. A breath of God. And we meet Him where we least expect to find Him ... many sources suggest this.
I did perform to my plan by joining the community in prayer, fasting ( I did fast one entire day ), eating in the small room, reading and writing, sitting silently ( not a lot of this ), walking, praying and trusting.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Privacy Concerns

I haven't kept up with the news lately.  Even when I did, I was much more on top of tech news.  I recently got back into one of my favorite podcasts, Security Now, with Steve Gibson.  What I found surprised me.

I'm speaking of course about the NSA privacy evasion.  Now I admit that I have more research to do, but the case of Lavabit alone should be making us all worry.

Lavabit was a small company that stored your email under encryption.  Over the years they happily complied with court orders to hand over a specific customer's information.  I say "was" because his time they were asked to do something so terrible that they chose to close the company, and shred their customers data instead of complying.  What was that order?  It would be illegal for them to say, so so much for free speech.

I think we could guess that they were given an order to allow the government a back door into all of their customers data.  This is the data they promised to keep private.  Their whole business is there to keep this data private.

Would you start a tech company in America?  Who would trust an American tech company with private data knowing that any company that's still in business is only still around because they're handing your data over to the NSA?  How long will America be on top?

The truth is, when we found out that the government is listening in on overseas phone calls, I wasn't concerned.  That didn't sound too unreasonable to me.  I wouldn't have a high expectation of privacy calling overseas.  I guess we shouldn't have been so lax.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Thoughts about my Upcoming Five-day ( Silent ) Retreat

Benjamin posted this for me; thanks Benjamin.

I am going on retreat next week; I will be staying in the Guest house at a Benedictine Monastery. Sunday through Thursday. I will be silent, alone, nothing to do but “be” and “listen for God.” I am very excited. I have not done this kind of thing … ever.

I have been on more than one retreat. Those have been group experiences (I have been part of a group on the retreat ); they were preached retreats ( there was a retreat master whose job was to preach in such a way that the group would be led to thinking, and sharing about the theme of the retreat ). Usually I was also part of a smaller group that went on the retreat together. 

In this case there will be no group, large or small; there will be no retreat master; no preaching; no discussing; no sharing; not even a theme. I will be by myself, to do whatever I want to do.

I was inspired to want to do a retreat of this type by a series of YouTube videos. The videos form a 12 part/3 hour BBC documentary of a priest who immersed five ordinary people who expressed a desire for more silence in their lives in a 7-day completely silent, undirected, retreat. ( You can see this video, starting with Part I, here: ) Even though my retreat is shorter than the one in the video, I still claim inspiration from the video.

In addition to be being excited, though, I am also at least somewhat nervous. The video shows five people struggling mightily with the silence.  They did not know what to do with themselves.

They had each other. I will be alone. Prior to their retreat, none of them practiced much silence. My wife and I have pretty much made silence a way of life and I have incorporated a period of quiet, personal prayer into my daily routine. It seems that I have a better background for this than they had. Nonetheless, as a good friend said to me about this, “Five days is a long time.”

my preparation
I have prayed for the grace to make this a good retreat.

I read half of a book titled, “How the Light gets in; Writing as a Spiritual Practice,” by Pat Schneider, hoping that her experience(s) will help me in my writing while on retreat. It’s unlikely I’ll finish the book before the retreat starts, but I think I’ve gotten some good insights.

my plan
I will …

  • join the monastic community in prayer ... that is, Mass and Liturgy of the Hours, morning, afternoon and evening.
  • fast a little; the Guest House offers three square meals a day, but I will refrain from partaking of lunch.
    (Perhaps I will skip eating entirely for one of the days; that remains to be seen. )
  • eat in the small room, for those who wish to eat in silence, that is adjacent to the dining area
    ( That should make it easier to avoid the temptation of talking during meals. )
  • take reading material, writing material ( pen, paper, journal ), and a technical gizmo with which I can also write
  • read and write 
  • sit silently in my room
  • walk the guest house and the grounds of the monastery
  • pray
  • trust