The Star Trek Impact

Star Trek turns 50 today. The original series episode "The Man Trap" premiered on NBC television on September 8, 1966. It's been around for 50 years, and for half of that, I have been a diehard fan.

Few things have influenced me as much as Star Trek.

I can remember being ten years old and sitting and watching my first bit of Trek: 1991's feature film The Undiscovered Country. Arguably one of the top three films in the franchise, I saw it and I was hooked. 

I jumped on episodes of Next Generation and watched reruns with my dad. I asked him all sorts of questions. A casual Trekkie himself, he was not prepared for the barrage of inquires about the show, nor was he prepared for the pandoras box which he had opened up by showing me the world of Trek.

Of course the real fanaticism didn't hit until Deep Space Nine and Voyager. As a teenager, I watched those shows with fascination. As a young adult and United States Marine later on, I watched with all new eyes. The episodes concerning the War with the Dominion on Deep Space Nine really hit home as I caught up on the series when I came back from Afghanistan and Iraq. Issues that faced the Voyager crew every day about being 70,000 light years from home resonated with me as I struggled and missed my own family across the globe. 

The tech side of me loved the show, but it was the characters that drew me in. The stories were captivating and still amaze me when watching reruns to this day. 

As so many other Trekkies will say: Star Trek is more than just a TV show. It's a vision of the future filled with adventure that we can all be optimistic that will one day come true. 

As the new show, Discovery, hits the airwaves (and the internet) in January, I hope a whole new generation can enjoy and be impacted as much as I was from this franchise. 

Live long and prosper. 

If You Stand For Nothing, You'll Fall For Anything

In a microcosm, this video is everything that is wrong with how we view ourselves in this world today. 

What kills me about this video is the staggering postmodern view that young adults have these days. A postmodern view says, "You do you, and as long as you don't harm me or get in my way, everything is fine. We're all fine by believing whatever we want, and everyone is fine."

In the video, the 5-foot-9 white male asks the students if he is a woman, a Chinese woman, a first-grader, or substantially taller than he appears. The students can't seem to give a straight answer to any of those questions, for fear of not being politically correct. 

That's the problem. We have gone so far off the radar of politically correct that we can't even tell a 5-foot-9 white guy that he's not a 1st Grade Asian Woman who is well over 6 feet tall. 

There's a point when this has gotten ridiculous, and I think we've reached it. 

How Quickly We Forget »

A luxury once tried becomes a neccessity.

In the case of the mobile web and its status in 2015, we have forgotten what it was like just a decade ago.

In 2005, Windows Mobile, Motorola and Blackberry ruled the mobile browsing world with horrible WAP (Web Access Protocol) browsers, or what they liked to call browsers. The web experience, for the most part, was terrible and confusing. Which is why no one used it.

So this week when The Verge published their article attesting to how bad the mobile web is, I had to take a look back.

How quickly we forget.

It all changed with the iPhone. Suddenly you could view entire websites on Safari, and pinch to zoom on those sites to see in greater detail. Then, years later, circa 2012-ish, the mobile web started to take form. No longer did you have to build different websites for mobile and the desktop (even though, to this day, many websites still do just that), but you could build once and deploy everywhere. Squarespace is a great example of this - the very website you're reading right now was built on Squarespace, and I didn't have to write one bit of code for my mobile website, which always looks fantastic.

So for a blogger on a prominent internet tech website to write an article criticizing the mobile web when their very own site is part of the problem greatly irritates me.

The problem is not the mobile web. The problem is monetizing the mobile web. The Verge loads no less than twenty ads, trackers, and services that no doubt make them money for every page view but slow down the web experience on mobile terribly. iMore dealt with this criticisim a week or two ago.

And all this comes into the discussion because of one thing: Safari Content Blockers.

You see, in iOS 9, Apple is providing users a way to block all those ads and trackers (which take the form of various scripts in the webpages that you don't see), and that's not making some many websites who depend on these trackers for revenue very happy. I couldn't put it better than Marco Arment:

I’m interested in running a content blocker not because I don’t want to see ads, but because I feel the need to fight back against being opted in, without my knowledge or consent, to third-party collecting, tracking, and selling of my personal data just by following a link.

And if such blocking becomes a big problem for publishers, it’s up to them to switch to ad delivery methods without these privacy invasions.

And there's your big concern. Have you ever been browsing websites and then see ads on Facebook or Amazon for something you looked at recently? That's an invasion of your internet privacy. While some websites argue that just you visiting their site allows them to legally track you and catalog your data, that doesn't mean it's right.

Websites and the companies that monetize them are going to have to get better at the experience and better at not invading your internet privacy. Up until this point, it hasn't been an issue because people have largely ignored it.

12 Things You Should Know About the Apple Watch

Having just gotten an Apple Watch, I disagree with about 75% of this article, especially this:

Don’t buy the Apple Watch (yet) unless you are a developer/designer who needs to develop for it. I’ve tasked myself to fully integrate the Apple Watch into my every day in order to understand it’s full potential. To my surprise, the process of doing so felt a little bit like a burden since I had to constantly remind myself to actually USE it in order to form my opinion.

Read Tobias van Schneider's entire article over at Medium.

The Headphone Enigma

Recently I've been on a quest for the perfect headphones. I've been traveling a little bit more in the last year and didn't want to spring $300+ for a stereo system in my car, and I've realized that I could just headphones and be just fine and be able to use them in my office as well. As a minister, I'm sure that some of you would like to know my thoughts and opinions on this as you may be in the market for some new headphones as well. My results were...surpising.

I wanted wireless headphones, ones that connected to my iPhone (and othe devices) via Bluetooth. And as it turns out, wireless headphones aren't cheap.

For the longest time, I've used the Apple earbuds as my primary way of listening to my music and podcasts. I don't need lots of bass, but I do sometimes listen to heavy bass music like chiptune and techno music. 80% of the time though, I'm listening to spoken-word podcasts and sermons. So my needs aren't too dynamic.

The first pair I tried was the Beats Powerbeats 2, the wireless version. I found the quality of the hardware to be outstanding. The over-the-ear pieces give you a firm anchor for your earbuds - once set correctly, they're not going anywhere. However, I found wearing sunglasses painful when worn long-term. Because of the over-the-ear design, sunglasses or even regular glasses were a problem. You can mold and move the earpeices around, but it still creates a bump that you can't get over with glasses. As someone who wears sunglasses and headphones while driving, I could tell quickly that these weren't going to work for me.

The sound quality on the Powerbeats 2 was pretty great - on par with my standard Apple Earpods to which I have set the sound quality bar (more on that in a bit). Bass was deep, treble was just as it should be. I could switch seamlessly from a spoken-word podcast to music with deep bass.

The next headphones I tried were the wireless Jaybird Bluebuds X. These had come reccomended by many sources, namely my brother-in-law who is much more experienced with headphones than I am, and MKBHD on Youtube, whom I trust with virtually any product reccommendation. So I had high hopes for these earbuds.

I was dissappointed, though. They were uncomfortable and did not have the greatest sound. Music sounded good but a bit tinny. Podcast voices weren't as rich as they should have sounded. The system with which Jaybird wants you to wear the headphones was uncomfortable in that there was a plastic/silicone piece that was supposed to fit inside your ear. Mine didn't. At least not very well. Granted, I've never had good luck with earpieces of any type, so it may just be me. But I could have gotten used to that if the sound was outstanding - which it wasn't.

My last pair of headphones I tried were the Bose QuietComfort 20i's, which I actually got by happy accident. Long story short, I've made a new tech friend here at Graymere who bought me a set. Wonderful, I know. Bless him.

The QC20i's aren't wireless, but at this point I was willing to try anything, especially for a free set of headphones. I found that out of the whole bunch, the Bose earbuds were defintely the most comfortable. No over-the-earpiece and the inner silicone piece was much more comfortable than that of the Jaybirds Bluebuds X.

The best part about the Bose earbuds was the noise cancelling. Although the tiny little block that's attached to the base of the connecting jack is a bit cumbersome, it allows you to switch on the powered headphones and then go to another level with noise cancelling, which is superb. Can't wait to use this on a plane when I head to Texas in August and mowing my yard with it.

The sound quality, as stated before is pretty great. Podcast voices sound full and rich and music is full with just enough treble to make other sounds pop. I'll be keeping these for two reasons: 1) Because they're good for certain purposes, but not all, and 2) they were a gift from a friend.

So what's my conclusion? What headphones do I reccommend?

I'll stick with my Apple Earpods. Here's why.

I don't know if my ears are just used to the sound or what, but they are really the best headphones out there, not just for the iPhone, but for any listening on any device. They are comfortable (sometimes I forget they're in my ears), light, and most importantly, they produce great sound. I'm still perplexed that Apple ships these standard headphones and they are the best out of all the headphones I've tried. They're wired, which makes me want to try these out just for kicks, but they really are, in my opinion, the best earbuds you can buy right now. And they're only $30 - if you didn't already have a set lying around that came with your iDevice.

So like it or not, sometimes the cheapest is the best. After all the reading and researching and trying out, I found that the best headphones were the ones I already had.

Spark by Readdle Wins the Battle for iOS Email

Let's just face it: email stinks. But Spark by Readdle hopes to make you like your email again. 

Ever since Apple opened up iOS a few years ago to include third-party email clients, there have been no shortage of good and sometimes great email apps. Mailbox was pretty great and promised to help you blaze through your email. Dispatch offered nerd and customization options and hoped to triage your email. Entirely new email services like Google Inbox took a slightly different approach to email - categorizing by type and offering a super-simplified interface. Other email clients such as Cloudmagic offered to help you manage many email accounts easily while offering an outstanding UI. 

Spark by Readdle offers all that, and more. 

This is not Readdle's first rodeo into productivity on iOS, not by a long shot. Readdle is one of the first (if not the first) with productivity apps for iOS. They were making productivity apps for iOS before it was even called iOS. They have an impressive catalog of apps that help you manage notes, documents and calendars. In fact, if you follow me you'll know that Calendars 5 has been my default calendar app of choice for over a year now on iOS. 

So when Merlin Mann began talking about "an impressive email app by Readdle" in some of his recent podcasts, I immediately contacted Readdle PR to see if I could get a sneak peek. And to my pleasant surprise, they obliged. 

I've only had a few extra days with Spark, now publicly available as of this morning, but it is a truly great iOS email app. Here's some reasons why. 

Swipe to delete, snooze, and pin for quick email triage. If you do email of any kind, you probably get a lot of stuff you don't want and just a few things a day that you do. Spark doesn't vary much from other clients like Cloudmagic, Inbox, or Mailbox in that it lets you swipe quickly to get through your email in a flash. Other mail clients offer this, sure, but Spark has implemented lessons learned from other apps very well. 

Most important stuff at the top. New emails, emails you've deemed important by pinning them stay at the top until you move them. Read emails automatically go to another section once you've tapped out of them. 

Multiple inbox support is wonderful. Managing multiple email accounts, even getting them to display inline in your inbox is no problem for Spark. Adding new accounts is easy, and you can set individual settings and notifications for each account. 

Nicely formatted message threads. Hate getting those emails back and forth from the same person and seeing all that nasty formatting? Me too. That's a thing of the past with Spark. The app is very innovative by cleaning up all the junk and letting you see your message thread in a nicely formatted way. 

Game-changing searching. I'm a big Gmail archiver, and I want to be able to get info from an email anytime I want. Spark's search is really great. But here's the kicker - it's not just search, it's smart search, based on your natural language. For instance, if I wanted to find all the attachments from grayer.com email addresses, that's what I would type - "all emails with attachments from grayer.com emails" - and Spark finds it. This is incredible to me and a game-changer. I'm always needing to find what I need but don't know exactly where to find it, so this natural language and fuzzy search is fantastic. 

These are just a few of the reasons why Spark by Readdle will be my default email app for the forseeable future. This was, by no means, a comprehensive review - for that, you need to hit up Federico Viticci's review at MacStories - but I hope I've given you enough to just go try this free email app on the iPhone. It's a fantastic 1.0 product, and with Readdle's track record, it will only get better and better. 

 

Why I Don't Care About What's Happening in Indiana

I don't care at all about what's happening in Indiana.

And that's no April Fool's joke.

Why? Because it doesn't matter.

"How dare you, Chad! It DOES matter! The very foundation of our religious freedom is at stake!!"

No, it's not.

"If we don't take a stand NOW the church will be destroyed!"

No, it won't.

"We have to stand and fight!"

No, we don't.

In his article, A Letter to Christians In Indiana, From Jesus, John Pavlovitz writes what he thought a letter would look like - from Jesus, to Christians in Indiana. It had nuggets that I really believe Jesus would say, such as:

This isn’t what I had planned. This wasn’t the Church I set the table for. It wasn’t the dream I had for you, when I spoke in those parables about the Kingdom; about my Kingdom.

And this:

My kindness, my goodness, my forgiveness; you were created to be the method of transportation for all of it.You were made to deliver the greatest good news to a world so desperate for it. This wild, extravagant, world-altering love I have for my people, was intended to travel from my aching heart, through your trembling hands, to my hurting people. This has always been your calling. It has always been your purpose. It still is. This very second it is.

And this.

Do you really think that the grandstanding and the insult-slinging and the side-choosing, that it feels like me? Do you truly believe that the result of your labors here in these days, is a Church that clearly perpetuates my character in the world? Is this the Gospel I entrusted you with? To be honest with you, I simply don’t see it. How did you drift so far from the mission? How did you become so angry, so combative, so petty, so arrogant, so entitled?

I don't know what the law does or does not say. I don't know what the intention behind the lawmaker's hearts was. But I do know one thing - for us as Christians to get torn up about this isn't what Jesus intended.

My Marine instinct says to fight. My Jesus says to love.

Yes, the church may be on a one-way track for a collision with the law and the liberals, but that doesn't concern me. My job is to preach and teach the Gospel to every creature. My job is to show the love of Jesus to everyone I know. My job is to make sure that I can encourage others to do so as well.

So if you find yourself getting really bent out of shape about all this, remember two things: 1) the media will do anything to stir up a dramatic story, and 2) this isn't what Jesus wants us to focus on.

The Holy Bible, Version 2.0

I, like many others, were saddened and frustrated by Fourth Avenue Church of Christ's indulgence of a very talented young woman being put in the pulpit this past Sunday. The leadership at Fourth Avenue is obviously speaking where the Bible does not speak and making inferences where it does not. 

It makes me wish we had updates on the Bible. 

Just like we would update to iOS 8 or Android 5.0 and see all the new designs and features, I wish we could receive updates and changes and amendments to the Bible - direct from Jesus Himself. 

I'm not saying there's bugs in the Bible that need to be fixed. I'm not saying the Bible is inaccurate in any way. 

It would just be nice to get some updates on things that happen in our society that maybe the Bible isn't specific on, or there's not much content on. Maybe it would look something like this:


The Holy Bible, v. 2.1.1

What's New in this Version

  • Extra explanation and clarification on Matthew 19.9 (12 scriptures added)
  • More on Jesus' life between 12 years old and 30 years old
  • Extended discussions from Jesus, Paul and Silas on Women's roles in the church

No matter how conservative or liberal you are, you have to admit that this would be great. 

But, unfortunately, it's not. 

The Bible we have is the whole, inspired Word of God and should not and cannot be changed. While it would be great to get 'version updates' direct from Jesus on certain scriptures, that's just not how it is. God isn't sending an update to the Bible from his cloud anytime soon, because what He has given us is it. It should be the first and last word for the governance of our lives as Christians. And when we impose our own wants and wills on this holy book then we are just flat wrong. Interpretation is one thing, adding or taking away from what God has said is another. 

Do not be deceived, this is not the only 'movement' going on in our churches. There must be a clear divide to what the Bible actually says and what we want it to say. 

Because that 2.0 update isn't coming along any time soon. 

Racism and the Church

My wife and I often talk about the differences between our childhoods growing up. She grew up in a small suburb of Indianapolis while I grew up in the heart of the south in Huntsville, Alabama. We often talk about racism and the attitudes that people in different areas of the country have on the subject. As witnessed in Ferguson these past couple of weeks, we can readily see that racism is still very prevalent in our society in 2014. 

But what about in our churches? 

I'd like to share a few ideas about racism in our churches - what is sure to be a hot-button issue that no one talks about. 

The Church of Christ is designed to work together. Families, members, bodies - these are the terms used to describe the church in the Bible. When we think about the church as a structure, we need to think about it as a building. If a building is going to stand, then the stones need to be in the right place to support that building.

We have a common master in Jesus Christ. We have a common message in the Gospel. We have a common mission in the Great Commission. 

We share the image of God (Genesis 1.29). We have the same parents - Adam, then Noah. Our family is not those who share our blood, but those who have been washed in the blood. 

We have to learn to work together. 

Popular personalities and the "drive-by" media have split us apart - we need to understand that those people are not our people. We need to turn off the world and turn on the Bible. We have a great nation, but Christ's nation is paramount. Our allegiance is not to a flag, but to Christ. 

Doctrine splits us. We don't work together. Personality, not problems, keep us apart. 

Your children? They will believe everything you say. They are innocent. If you are racist, they will be too. 

Our skin is just a shell. We are all made in God's image, we are all God's children. "Mixed marraige" isn't black and white, it's Christian and non-Christian. 

Racism does not come from God (Genesis 1.26-27). We have made the shell everything, but God hasn't. We have been crowned with glory and honor (Psalm 8.5). Has there ever been a human being not crowned with glory and honor? God is concerned about every human life. God made man. He made us all. We are his workmanship (Ephesians 2.10). 

Racism does not come from Jesus. Jesus is not concerned about the shell, he's concerned about the soul (Matthew 16.26). If we were to weigh the two, the scale would always tip on the side of the soul. Jesus died for all men. Have you ever looked at someone and said, "Jesus didn't die for that person?" Racism is absurd, and the one who professes it is more absurd - and in sin. 

Nobody does not need the message of Christ. The message of Christ is for all, not just a select few (1 Corinthians 15.1-4). We did not invent the problem of racism in America. Egyptians would not eat with the shepherds. Jews didn't deal with Samaritans. Peter preached that God has made no distinction, but he also struggled with it in practice. So do we. 

Working together simply isn't enough. There is division in the military, but they work together. Quite amazingly, in fact. We work together in war. Anybody can work together to accomplish anything, for good or bad. Previous enemies can work together. The church is just more than working together, it is issues of the heart. The issue is the condition that my heart is in. I decide to do what's right. 

Racism is a human invention, not a Biblical one. We must see as God sees, see past our own prejudices, disregard the shell, and work together for the common good of humanity - and more importantly, the church.