The Road To Emmaus: Walking With The Stranger

The Road To Emmaus is probably my favourite story from the gospels as it represents, in many ways, the lives of all of us who call ourselves Christians. We encounter Jesus in the stranger every day. We can only hope to recognize Jesus in the stranger and welcome that stranger in. In This topic we will explore various thoughts of mine about my journey on the road to Emmaus.

Apnea poem

Author’s note: Earlier this year I was diagnosed with sleep apnea (if you don’t know what that is go here). I believe I’ve had this for many years, going back into my childhood. I wanted to capture the experience of it an so have made this rough attempt at a poem:

Apnea Poem

Another Day
I drag my ass out of bed
My head is pounding away
And my eyes feel like lead
Throat scratchy and raw
Cotton fills up my head
Tongue stuck in my maw
Feel just like walking dead

Had to pee yet again
Like I did through the night
Time to grab some caffeine
Only way I stay upright
Finally I’m on my way
This energy can’t last
It’s like this every day
All the way to my past

Wheeze my way up the stairs
Legs hurting like heck
I’m gasping for air
Blood pounding in my neck
At work I try not to show it
Try to stay interested enough
But before you know it
I’m already drifting off

My head jerks me awake
Hope nobody walking by
Heard the snoring I make
Or saw my closed eyes
More caffeine to my brain
Desperately fighting it off
That old energy drain
Another day written-off

And so we come to the end
Of yet another lost day
Time once again to descend
To drowning dreams, blocked airways
Is there any hope
I once again ask
Someone lowers a rope
Tied to a hose and a mask

The IT Assembly Line: Steve I hardly Knew Ye

(or How I Came To Be An Apple Fan Boy)

I first wrote this right after Steve Jobs stepped down as CEO (or iCEO) of Apple. After I wrote this Steve Jobs passed away on October 5th, so the title I chose is especially poignant.

As a fairly new Apple customer, feel like I came late to the party and I hope it’s not ending. I resisted Apple products for many years for a number of reasons.

I’ve been mucking about with computers since I bough my first TI-994A home computer in 1983. After Texas Instruments bailed on the home computer industry (much for the same reasons HP is bailing on the PC industry); I bailed on TI and bought an Atari 600XL, followed by an Atari 130XE a couple years later.
At the time I wasn’t that impressed with the Apple ][ since I thought my Atari had better sound and graphics and the Apple was overpriced. When the Mac came out I was impressed by it’s design but was turned off by it’s lack of colour, small screen and the fact that, it too, was overpriced. I bought my first IBM-compatible PC in 1988, A Tandy 1000 (which actually was a PC-Jr compatible).

At the time I bought it the cutting edge thing in computers was Graphical User Interfaces (GUI) or to put it more simply, windows. However for price reasons I bought the Tandy. Even though it was a DOS machine, it wasn’t radically different from the other command-line-based computers I had used before. I was initially excited by Windows 3.1 which came with the 386 PC I bought in 1992. I thought, here is a real multi-tasking, 32 bit Operating System that will take full advantage of my 386 CPU’s power. I was soon to discover that this wasn’t really the case. The next few computers I owned all ran various Microsoft OS from Windows 3.1, Windows 95, the various Windows 98s, NT Workstation, Windows 2000 professional to Windows XP.

I had battled the viruses, suffered through the service packs, been frightened by the vulnerabilities (now that I had a full-time Internet connection) but I hung in there. Then XP, apparently randomly, started to lose network connectivity. I had a home server by this time and every so often I could no longer access my file shares, or the Internet. After trying various repairs the only thing that seemed to fix it was a compete re-installation of Windows XP. I was getting fatigued by now. My job often entailed battling various Windows viruses and so coming home to continue Windows support was getting old.

In early 2003, I started checking out Linux. I had been following its development but up until the early 2000s hadn’t seen anything that was a mature as Windows. I downloaded a copy of SUSE 8.0 (which was free) and found I could run it right from the CD. So I tried it and quite liked it. It was different, it ran fast, even had free office suites available. The next time XP crapped out (I never did find out what was causing that), I went for it. I converted both my networked PCs to Linux.

My kids were initially reluctant until hey found out they could still do MS chat and most of what they were already doing on the Internet. My oldest son still wanted a dual boot for gaming and soon bought his own PC, running XP. For the next 5 years we were, mostly, a Linux household. While many trembled in fear from nimda, Code Red and several other big virus outbreaks, we were immune. It was nice. The only problems were things like; availability of new software programs (like Google Earth) which were always developed for Linux last, if ever; hardware drivers for printers and wireless devices required a lot of under-the-hood configuration. On one hand Linux was a very customizable system with an advanced graphical desktop but there was still a lot of do-it-yourself involved. Again I was fatiguing. I thought, isn’t there a system which is powerful but easy to use?

Then the light finally went on…the Mac! You see by now the Mac was running on Intel hardware (like the PCs), had wonderful colour displays and (like Linux), was from the UNIX family tree. (The Mac OSX is based on a free version of UNIX called FreeBSD). It was like Apple and I travelled different paths that converged at this point. So in 2007 I bought my first iMac. Before long I had an iPod, a MacBook Pro for my daughter and even a 13 inch unibody MacBook for me. This last spring I bought an iPhone. I still have all these machines (my daughters MacBook screen is on the way out but it was used when she bought it). I even converted my mom over to a Mac Mini a couple of years back to cut down on the long-distance support calls.

My current workstation with my Macbook and external monitor (no not an Apple) and keyboard

The point is that I feeling like my party in Apple-town is getting started. My hope is that Tim Cook, his successor, can keep the vision and energy alive better than Steve Balmer has over at Microsoft after Bill Gates’ departure.

– 30 –

World’s Greatest Hobby: OO Memories

Tri-ang model train collection at the Milton-Keynes Model Railway Society

Tri-ang model train collection at the Milton-Keynes Model Railway Society

On a recent trip to England I happened on a model railway club while visiting Bletchley Park (I wrote about it here). It was the Milton Keynes Model Rail Society. These guys had several layouts on different gauges, scales and themes. One that really caught my eye was a Tri-ang layout. I almost got misty-eyed as my first electric trains were Tri-ang.

We got started with Tri-ang when Andrew, my younger brother, got a CN set for Christmas (my dad was a closet railfan and model railroader). I got playing with it and was hooked. I went to Consumers Distributing (now I’m *really* dating myself) and bought the CP set. We fooled around with it on the carpets for a while but didn’t do much more. The next thing I knew, my dad found a slab of plywood and spiked down some track. We went to our local hobby shop, bought some brass Atlas switches and fibre-tie flex track and we were in business. As I recall the slab was about 30″ x 40″. We had an oval with switches but I can’t recall the exact configuration, it was fairly simple in any case. I later got a CP Pacific steam engine with working smoke and blind flanges on the centre drivers for my birthday. I read a book on how to build station so I bought some balsa and built it. I used scotch tape for the windows and a drinking straw for the chimney. I took a block of wood and it became the raised platform on which it sat. We bought some lights from the hobby shop and had working lamps on the platform, a light in the station and street lamps in the painted parking lot. We scenicked the whole thing with coloured sawdust and ballasted the track. It was, in effect, a complete working layout.

An example of a Tri-ang Canadian prototype

An example of a Tri-ang Canadian prototype

None of us knew what were doing, the curves were *way* too tight, I don’t believe we had any passenger cars so the passenger station served no real purpose. I didn’t know the North American stations, especially small ones, don’t have raised platforms. We didn’t know that brass rail isn’t as good as nickel-silver, that our equipment, being OO scale wasn’t really compatible with the Atlas HO track, that fibre-tie track isn’t as good as plastic ties and that coloured sawdust isn’t the preferred scenic material. We didn’t know any of that and yet we had fun. Sure, you couldn’t pull a complete train around the too-tight curves and the huge flanges on the Tri-ang locomotives used to bump over the frogs on the Altas switches but we had fun with it. We also learned a lot in the experience. The most amazing part to me, when I look back, is that there was no sense of ‘we can’t do that’ or ‘that’s not the right way’. We didn’t know any better so we just went ahead and did what we wanted. How many times since have I thought ‘I can’t do that, I need to (fill in roadblock here) first.’ So maybe I learned a few things but maybe what I forgot was that sense of fun and that ‘go for it’ sense of adventure and isn’t fun what model railroading is really supposed to be about?

Props to my friend John Longhurst whose blog post here got me started on this journey down memory lane.


The IT Assembly Line: ITIL Wrecked The Business

Okay, I’ll admit I’m being a bit provocative here but I essentially stand by my statement. We geeks and nerds are now shackled, muzzled and managed. The other thing I should explain is just what ITIL is, for those who may not know. ITIL stands for Information Technology Infrastructure Library which originated in the UK. It is essentially a series of books describing best practices for Information Technology (IT). (There’s a lot more to it than that for more reading check out this Wiki page). What it means is the taming of the IT business, its domestication, if you will. Every part of IT becomes a process; tested, checked, signed off and scheduled. Gone are the days of, ‘I’ll just reboot this server and users will just have to understand’ (*Really* gone are the days of the Bastard Operator From Hell). I understand that this needed to happen for IT to move forward and take its place in the corporate world alongside age-old disciplines like engineering and accounting but gosh darn it they’ve taken all the fun out it!

For those of us who came into the business from the wild and woolly world of PCs it is, in a word, boring. We’ve gone from performing tasks from end-to-end to single, highly-defined, highly controlled, tasks and specialties. For example, in the past, I have unboxed servers and even done some assembly of components, installed the Operating System, set up the security and file systems, created backups, configured the networking, added external storage, etc. Each of these steps is now a specialty often performed by different people or even different departments, under change-managed conditions. in short one doesn’t touch a mouse or keyboard unless it is an approved, scheduled change.

The analogy I draw is that of the automobile business from the turn of the last century. Originally, trained craftsmen (machinists, sheet metal smiths, coach-builders, etc.) worked as a small team to build a single car from the ground up and create a beautifully crafted, and very expensive, automobile. Along comes Henry Ford and soon we have low-skilled workers, each performing a single operation, to build cars, cheaply, on an assembly line.

That’s where IT is going and indeed has already gone. The other effect ITIL has had is on the make-up of IT staff. In the recent past IT was comprised almost exclusively of technical or semi-technical people, including management. In other words your manager could probably do your job because they probably used to do something very like it. Now we have management types that are strictly BAs and staff who are in ‘process’ positions that, beyond email, know little about the underlying technology. It feels like an invasion, like the preppies taking over the chess club in high school. It was the last refuge of the nerd, a place where we could be ourselves and work alongside (and be managed by) like minded individuals.

So what’s a geek to do? Quit? Go work for a technical consulting firm? Rant about it in a blog? For the moment I have chosen the third option but down the road? Who knows maybe it’s time to find another career. I hear mobile platforms are pretty cutting edge…


The Road To Emmaus: Church And State

St. Paul's Cathedral, London

St. Paul's Cathedral, London

Linda and I recently returned from a trip to England where we enjoyed 10 days, far too few, of seeing sights and visiting famous places. Among the many incredible things we saw were Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Our guide and traveling companion was a friend of mine named Kevin and while we were touring these amazing places with their breathtaking high ceilings and stained glass windows Kevin kept saying things like “A little different from Transfiguration eh?” I was too caught up in the moment to ask him what he meant by that but my sense was that after these places he saw Transfiguration (my home church) as small potatoes. This created a conflict within. While I was impressed with the architecture, the ages of these places, the weight and significance of their histories (not to mention the historic people entombed there) as a Christian something was niggling at the back of my mind.

I realized that as a Christian in the 21st century these churches of the 13th and 17th centuries bothered me. Westminster in particular with it’s screened alter and gated ‘Quire’ and commoners relegated to the outermost part of the building like beggars at a banquet. St. Paul’s was less so but still the alter is kept well out of the worship space proper and has a giant ornate canopy. Don’t get me wrong they are both strikingly beautiful, St. Paul’s in particular but they seemed to belong to a faith that is foreign to me.

I continued to think about this even after I got home and I realized in many ways they really are part of a foreign faith (no, not because they are in England). They are, or were, part of Christendom, when the faith was a the centre of politics and the lives of everyone revolved around the church. Also, people then thought about God and Christianity as a reflection of their culture. The world they were used to was rigidly stratified with a set class structure, gender roles and economic status. Everyone had a place in society that they were born into and there was little or no change in that throughout one’s life.Thus the faith reflected that stratification, and is expressed in the layout of the church. The priestly class had their area, the royalty and nobility had theirs, the ‘Quire’ had theirs and the rest of society had theirs. The idea of God as a remote, all-powerful, male being who dealt with sinners harshly was a direct product of that society.

Westminster Abbey, (behind the clock tower) as seen from the London Eye

Westminster Abbey, (behind the clock tower) as seen from the London Eye

The flip-side of this is that our community of Transfiguration and our expression of the Christian faith are also a reflection of the culture and times we live in. We live in a classless society, theoretically and even one born into humble circumstances can, again theoretically, become wealthy and powerful. Christianity in our age is no longer at the centre of politics and is only one among many faiths practiced by Canadians who profess any faith at all. Our community isn’t huge but is made up of people who have made a conscious decision to be part of it. Our worship space reflects the lack of stratification as well. We have a choir and not a Quire, the worship space is open, differentiations between the parts of the church still exist but they are largely symbolic. We even convert our worship space for dinners and special events such as the recent masquerade dinner. This too reflects our community and that we value our togetherness rather than separation.

This doesn’t mean that one is right and the other wrong. They both prove that the Christian faith is alive and is able to adapt to meet the needs of its people in what ever age they live in. So I can enjoy and be in awe of places like St. Paul’s I still seem them as places of beauty and high art. They are also an important part of our history, especially our Anglican history as St. Paul’s was built after the establishment of the Church of England. It is always good, though, to come home to Transfiguration.


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