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. 

Highlights from the Apple Keynote

If you'd like to know what Apple said and announced today in one succinct list, look no further. Looks like a lot of great improvements coming to all four platforms. 

watchOS 3

  • 7X faster
  • Apps launch instantly, info is updated in the background
  • Swipe from left to right to switch watch faces
  • New watch faces - Simplicity and Activity
  • Activity sharing with other watch users
  • New app: Breathe - helps with breathing exercises to combat stress
  • Free upgrade in the Fall

tvOS

  • Sling TV app announced today
  • New Apple TV Remote app, also functions as a controller
  • Siri on TV: search by topics now (i.e. "Find high school comedies from the 80's)
  • Also: "Search YouTube for ---" 
  • Launch apps for Live TV: "Watch ESPN 2"
  • Install apps with Siri as well: "Install MLB app"
  • Single sign-on for app authorization to watch TV
  • Dark mode

macOS

  • Renamed from Mac OS X
  • New version named macOS Sierra
  • Auto Unlock - authenticate from you Apple Watch
  • Universal Clipboard - images, video, text pasted from your iOS device
  • iCloud Drive - all your files available everywhere
  • Optimized Storage - older files compressed to free up space on your Mac
  • Apple Pay - now on the web, securely authorize using Touch ID on your iPhone
  • Tabs - in multiple-windowed apps like Maps
  • Picture-in-Picture - video inlay on top of apps
  • Siri - find files, follow-up commands, play music, search the web, message
  • Available in the Fall as a free upgrade

iOS 10

  • Biggest iOS release ever
  • User Experience: redesigned lock screen with 3D Touch support
  • Clear All with 3D Touch (finally!)
  • Control Center also redesigned
  • Slide from the right to access Camera instantly, slide left for Widgets
  • More info on 3D Touch app widgets
  • Siri API for developers - devs can now write apps for Siri
  • QuickType - now with Siri intelligence 
  • Photos - advanced computer vision on the phone such as facial recognition
  • Advances AI to analyze content of photos, on the device
  • Maps - new design, open to developers
  • Music - all new Apple Music app designed from the ground up
  • News - all new design, clear sections
  • HomeKit - new app called Home, control your home, integrated with Siri
  • Phone - voicemail transcripts 
  • VoIP API so Slack, Facebook, Skype can be taken like regular phone calls
  • Messages - rich links, play videos right inline, bigger emojis, bubble effects

Twenty Years a Christian

Today, I have been a Christian for 20 years.

But what does that mean?

Especially with a presidential campaign looming, being identified as "Christian" has been relegated to being part of a certain demographic. It has been "downgraded," if you will, to a social group.

But at it's basic core, what does it mean?

I sat weeping on a couch in a dormitory at Freed-Hardeman University as a fourteen year-old boy who didn't know a lot about the world. I had just been told a story that particularly impacted me, and I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that it was time to put on Christ in baptism. That was twenty years ago.

It's still the best decision I've ever made.

It wasn't a decision that was made lightly. I was peer pressured into it. I didn't do it for my parents. I did it because I wanted my soul saved.

So after I got back from church camp that week, I walked through the aisle at the invitation songs, said "I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God," and put on Christ in baptism.

People that try to degrade the act of becoming a Christian by saying that you can just pray a prayer or "call upon the Lord" are just flat wrong. That's not what the Bible says, that's not the example Jesus set, and we've tried to shortcut and degrade it just like we have everything else.

My life as a Christian (so far) has been extremely challenging, probably just as it has for you. But I'm a different person than the 14 year-old boy that got baptized in the summer of 1996.

What am I trying to say? I'm not really sure. I guess I'm trying to encourage you to not degrade the experience of being baptized. To me, it was the most vivd and important event in my life. It needs to be much more greatly emphasized to our teens today. It needs to be known that perfect people aren't baptized - sinners are.

I can point to a lot of significant events in my life, but even getting married and seeing my beautiful boys born into this world isn't as important as that summer day twenty years ago when I put on Christ in baptism.

Be glorified, O Christ.

ERGO Bluetooth Earbud: The Perfect Podcast Listening Companion?

"Why don't we make wireless earbuds?" I said.

I think it was the the third or fourth time that my headphone cords had gotten caught on my push mower's handles while mowing the yard that I asked that question to myself the other day. "At this point," I told myself, "we really should have the means to create something like wireless earbuds."

I know what you're saying right now too - "But Chad, we already have wireless headphones!" Yes, you're right, we do. But not truly cordless or wireless.

99% of the "wireless" headphones these days actually have a wire that connects them. They are Bluetooth and therefore not physically connected to your device, but they still have those wires that get in the way.

So over the last week or so, I've been on a crusade to find a true, wireless earbud. And no joke, I found a decent one for thirteen dollars.

You read that correctly. While not without cons, this earbud has sparked my imagination for what the future could hold.

It all started when I read Jon Li's excellent article entitled The Future of Technology is in Your Ear. He did the same experiment with the $13 wireless earbud named the ERGO Invisible Bluetooth Earbud. I invite you to read his excellent article, because he and I agree on a lot. Here's my observations.

Freedom without wires (of any kind) is awesome. If the ERGO did one thing well, it was that it casted audio to my ear wirelessly from my phone in my pocket without problems. There are no wires to speak of, just a small earbud with one button that fit into my ear and didn't jostle out with moderate activity. Getting in and out of the car without hassling with wires was great. Walking around my office talking on the phone with it was wonderful.

It might be perfect for those who listen to podcasts. It was great for listening to podcasts, which is what I'm listening to most of the time. Spoken word doesn't need a lot of bass or range, it just needs to be clear. I did find that the treble was a little high on some shows, i.e. people's "S's" would sound harsh. But the earbud got plenty loud for me at only 50% volume while driving in the car.

Not so great is listening to music. This is an earbud that's not designed for a lot of range or fidelity, and with it only being in one ear, it's not ideal for music. To me, listening to a podcast in one ear while being able to hear what's around me was kind of great. So if you're a music lover and listener, you better pass on this.

Receiving calls is fine. In the few phone calls I used this earbud for, it did a pretty good job considering it's only $13. My person on the other end said it always sounded as if I was talking on speakerphone, but they could still hear me just fine. So, maybe not ideal for long conversations, but short ones would probably work.

Battery life is pretty terrible. The first day I got the earbud, I didn't charge it at all and got almost two hours of listening to a podcast through it before it gave me a low battery warning. Ever since, two hours seems to be the most it can get. And for a tiny earbud that's only $13, you can't expect much. The Batteries widget on the iPhone is helpful as well, but even leaving the earbud on charge for several hours, it never registered above 70%. Again, thirteen dollars.

I think about all the implications of this kind of device. There are other true wireless bluetooth headphones out there, but none this cheap. This little device made me really start thinking that if someone like Apple with Beats really put the wood behind the arrow on something like this, how awesome could the future be - in your ear?

Blackmail by Snapchat

There are some things you hear that you simply can't believe. You say, "No. No way. That's not happening. Is it?"

There's an epidemic going around with Snapchat and our teens. Snapchat, if you didn't know, is a photo/video/texting service that allows people to quickly send messages and funny animations back and forth between their friends. Lots of services do this, but the distinguishing feature of Snapchat has been that the pictures and videos are only available for a short time, a few seconds, and then they disappear.

In case you didn't know, Snapchat, as quoted by its own creators, was originally designed for sexting - sending nude photos back and forth so that they self-destructed after a few seconds, to never be seen again, and to only be seen by those viewing it at that time.

Only it doesn't work that way.

Because we always find loopholes. Whether it's with scripture, our taxes, or Snapchat, we always find loopholes to justify what we want to do.

Teens are now using Snapchat to blackmail one another.

Let me walk you through a scenario. A scenario that a friend recently told me about that actually happened.

Girl meets Boy. They hit it off. Both are upper-middle school, age 14. They immediately friend each other on Snapchat, because if you're between the ages of 13-18 these days and don't have Snapchat on your phone, you might as well be wearing hand-me-downs and shoes from 1998.

Things are fine for a while between Girl and Boy. They send goofy pics with text on them, all of it harmless.

Then one day, Boy asks Girl to send him a nude picture of herself. She does.

Why does she? She wants approval from this Boy. She wants to be sexy. She wants him to like her. She also figures that, "Hey, he's only going to be able to see this for 10 seconds, right? Because Snapchat photos go away."

Only they don't. Not when the Boy takes a screenshot on his phone.

It's a handy tool on iPhones - you can take a screenshot of what's on the screen by hitting the power button and the home button at the same time.

The Girl had not thought of that.

So the Boy blackmails her. "I have the photo," he says. "Send me a video of you doing _ or I send this picture to all your friends."

Now, there's lots of things that should not have happened here. But regardless, this is apparently a regular occurrence between teens on Snapchat. In talking to my friend about his situation, he said that the girl had said "Yeah, of course. This is a normal thing that happens. Especially with kids in high school."

Parents, how are we letting this happen? Are we that clueless?

You know of a good way for this not to happen? Don't let you children have this app!

Parents, this is out of control. We always want to assume that our child would have the sense not to do something like this, but we would be naive and wrong.

Check your children's phones today. Have them delete Snapchat, along with any other apps that hide use from parents (apps like Whisper, Yik-Yak, and Tinder come to mind). Ask the hard questions like "Have you done this before? Do you know people who do? Have you ever been asked to send nude photos of yourself?"

Parents, make a stand. Now. Before your child gets into lots of trouble.

God's Word Over Google

How many times have you been in a conversation with someone and been wondering about something?

I'll sit with friends at lunch and we'll be discussing some topic. Usually sports. There's always a question. Where'd that guy go to school? Who beat that guy's record? When was the last time that team went to the Super Bowl?

As adults in our mid-thirties, we have still not become accustomed to the idea of having access to the wealth of all human knowledge in our pockets. We will sit and argue (politely) about something when someone says, "Well, why don't we just ask Google?"

There's no need to wonder anymore - we have the answers in our smartphones, which are constantly connected and seeking out that information, important or not, that we desire.

I think if we took the same idea with Scripture then we'd be much better Christians. Instead of arguing pointlessly about an issue, we need to ask, "Why don't we just ask God's Word about that?"

We may have access the wealth of knowledge in our pockets, but we have access to God in our Bibles. We need to be looking to the Bible for answers to life's most important questions, not to Google.

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. 

Capturing the 2016 AIM Series

 The AIM Series is a video project from Adventures in Ministry where we are releasing eight quality videos from eight outstanding speakers every year. This is our second year, and we're excited to be providing this free resource to all starting on May 1st. 

But how are we doing it? 

Well, the University Church of Christ in Montgomery, Alabama and the Graymere Church of Christ in Columbia, Tennessee have been gracious enough to grant us use of their equipment and space as we film these videos. Most of the video were filmed inside of the Graymere TV studio. 

How it's technically put together is probably a lot less complex than you might think. High Definition video has come a long way in the past decade. 

Central to everything is the Blackmagic ATEM TV Studio. It's a hub that connects all of our cameras up (we're using three) and routes one video signal to our BlackMagic Shuttle capture system. Everything is captured digitally, there's no actual film or tapes involved. 

We're able to switch the views dynamically as the video is captured with the Blackmagic software. This simulates a real board that you might pay thousands of dollars for but is included the Blackmagic ATEM hub.

We're using some great cameras for the AIM series this year - two Sony HDR FX7's and a Canon Vixia HF 500 for the short black and white views you'll see on the videos this year. All three cameras are extremely high quality and professional grade. 

Speaking of professional grade, we're capturing audio separately with the Zoom H5 recorder. We have a Shure lapel mic that all of out speakers will be wearing to capture really great quality audio. 

After the video is captured on our solid state hard drive, we plug it up to our Mac mini and use an app called Compressor to, well, compress the footage. Our 15 minute videos are usually about 25 gigs each before we compress them down to about 3 gigs each. 

After that's done, we take the compressed video files and put them into Final Cut Pro. Alongside that we we take the audio from the Zoom H5 and sync it with the video in Final Cut. We make any edits necessary to the video, and add the graphics and titles in. 

Our beginning motion graphics we composed entirely in Adobe After Effects and both the paper AIM sequence and the Legit sequence took over 17 hours of work to create. They are rendered into self-contained videos and then put in front of all our videos this year. 

After all the editing and adding titles is done, we'll do some audio cleanup and color correction and then export our project to one, self-contained video that you can download on theaimseries.com and view on our AIM YouTube channel. 

Every video averages about five hours of work to complete, but it's well worth it to give your churches a high-quality and FREE resource to use this summer. 

Head over to theaimseries.com to sign up. We can't wait to show you these videos on May 1st!