What is at the heart of being Christian?

Marcus J Borg

Marcus J Borg

During my six days’ stay in hospital last month I listened to two audio books (using Audible from Amazon on my Android smartphone) as my eyesight was too poor to be able to read anything.

The first book I listened to was Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power—And How They Can Be Restored (HarperOne, 2012) by the American Episcopalian theologian Marcus J Borg.

In the book Borg examines a number of words that have been historically important to Christianity (such as salvation, mercy, righteousness, sin, forgiveness and repentance) and explores what they meant at the time the New Testament was written, compared with how they have been interpreted using modern frameworks of understanding, and the tools of post-Enlightenment thought.

I found the book really encouraging and in places challenging, although I would have much preferred to read the book rather than listen to it, not least because the (American) narrator mispronounces a number of theological terms.

In much of the book Borg attempts to get back to the heart of Christianity: what is Christianity all about? I found this article by Borg published last November on the Patheos website an interesting companion: What is a Christian?

In the article, as in his book, Borg argues that Christianity is categorically not about believing the right things. He argues that the focus is not on believing God but beloving God: committing yourself to “a relationship of attentiveness and faithfulness”.

The two ancient creeds of the Christian church (the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed) he says we should begin with an understand of “I give my heart to…” rather than simply “I believe…”

Believing in itself does not lead to a changed life. But beloving God, giving our heart in commitment and fidelity to God does.

At the centre of being a Christian is:

  • A passion for Jesus, the decisive revelation of God.
  • Compassion (love).
  • A passion for the transformation of this world; participating in God’s passion for a world of justice and peace.

I love the simplicity of Borg’s writing and thoughts. I love the simplicity of this core of Christianity. It pushes away all that is unimportant and returns it to Jesus’s response to the question “which is the greatest commandment in the Law”: Love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind [...] And [...] love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22: 38 ff.)

Playmobil City Life airport security check-in

Playmobil City Life airport security check-in

Playmobil City Life airport security check-in

This evening I’ve been laughing so much at this review of the Playmobil security checkpoint on Amazon.

I was a little disappointed when I first bought this item, because the functionality is limited. My 5 year old son pointed out that the passenger’s shoes cannot be removed. Then, we placed a deadly fingernail file underneath the passenger’s scarf, and neither the detector doorway nor the security wand picked it up. My son said “that’s the worst security ever!”. But it turned out to be okay, because when the passenger got on the Playmobil B757 and tried to hijack it, she was mobbed by a couple of other heroic passengers, who only sustained minor injuries in the scuffle, which were treated at the Playmobil Hospital.

The best thing about this product is that it teaches kids about the realities of living in a high-surveillance society. My son said he wants the Playmobil Neighbourhood Surveillance System set for Christmas. I’ve heard that the CC TV cameras on that thing are pretty worthless in terms of quality and motion detection, so I think I’ll get him the Playmobil Abu Ghraib Interrogation Set instead (it comes with a cute little memo from George Bush).

I’m still trying to figure out exactly what I think about this toy.

As I write the Playmobil City Life Airport Security Check In, “with conveyor belt to screen luggage and metal detector”, is currently available on Amazon UK for only £437.71.

These watches on Amazon UK are updated hourly

I logged into Amazon UK today and on my Amazon homepage, where they try to entice me to buy books, CDs, DVDs and other attractive goodies by showing me things that are related to items I’ve already viewed, I was given a list of “Watches: Men’s”.

“Updated hourly” it said at the top. Well, that’s no use in a watch, I thought to myself. I want a watch that is updated minutely; or, even better, updated secondly.

20111020-watches

I suspect that they meant that the list is updated hourly, but that’s not what it says!

Right, let’s all buy #4: the Timex Ironman Watch T5E931 Multi-function Triathlon 30 Lap watch this afternoon and try to bump it up to #1 by 5pm.

Bizarre suggestions from Amazon UK

20110413-amazon

Amazon UK has just sent me an email wondering if I might be interested in the following bizarre collection of books:

Wonderfully bizarre!

Amazon Kindle 3G – initial impressions

O2 Xda Zest phone sitting on top of an Amazon Kindle 3

O2 Xda Zest phone sitting on top of an Amazon Kindle 3

On Tuesday my Amazon Kindle 3G + Wi-Fi arrived. And there was much rejoicing.

Why I bought a Kindle

For a few years now I’ve wanted an eBook reader to make my growing collection of geeky books in PDF more portable.

I have a laptop, but it’s not terribly practical with its brightly glowing screen and its fan-assisted knee warmer.  And as any reader of Jakob Nielsen will be able to tell you: reading on computer screens is tiring and about 25% slower than reading from paper.

My Psion Series 5mx has a PDF reader but it’s not being developed now and so doesn’t support the latest version of PDF files.  My Windows Mobile phone does support the latest formats, but the screen is so small that it makes reading PDFs cumbersome with all the scrolling that’s required.

So I wanted something in between a laptop and a PDA, that would support PDFs and wouldn’t put too big a dent in my wallet.  The new Amazon Kindle 3G + Wi-Fi seemed to promise all of that, so I pre-ordered one.  It arrived two days ago.

Initial reaction

When I unpacked the Kindle I tried to peel away the cellophane instruction that was telling me what I should do next (plug it in!), until I discovered that it wasn’t a stick-on film it was the screen itself.

Of course! The Kindle doesn’t need power to maintain an image on the screen, it just needs power to change the image.  Genius! and a perfect introduction to the quality of the E Ink technology.

Cover

Close-up of how the Kindle is secured to the leather cover

Close-up of how the Kindle is secured to the leather cover

The first thing I did was fix it into the chocolate brown Kindle leather cover that I also bought.  I decided not to pay £20 extra for the one with the built-in light as I rarely have to read in the dark, what with us having electric lighting in the house and everything.

The Kindle feels great in your hands; the slightly rubberised feel to its casing makes you feel confident that you’re not going to drop it easily.  Once the Kindle is secured into the case it just feels great, like you’re reading a classic, leather-bound book.  It’s a very tactile experience.

First use

I plugged it in, switched it on and very quickly got to grips with the basic functionality: selecting a book and navigating through the pages.

It feels quite intuitive and I love the feel of the qwerty keyboard: the keys are quite rough like very fine sandpaper which I guess makes them easier to use than similar-sized smooth keys on which your fingers might more easily slide off.

Clarity

I can’t compare the Kindle 3 with earlier models to judge whether it does offer “50% better contrast than any other e-reader” or “crisper, darker fonts”.  But what I can say is that it just looks great.  And everyone I’ve shown it to today has commented on both the clarity of the text and how easy it is to read, even when held at strange angles and from a distance.

Connection to PC

Of course, what I really wanted to do was check out how my PDFs would render on the Kindle.

The power cable comprises a USB cable (it looks like USB A to Micro-B) that plugs into a … well, a plug.  Unhook the plug and you have yourself a USB cable.  It took seconds for Windows 7 to recognise the Kindle as an external drive.

Screenshot of Kindle folders on a Windows 7 machine

Screenshot of Kindle folders

The Kindle contains four directories:

  1. \.active-content-data
  2. \audible
  3. \documents
  4. \music

I dragged and dropped about 300 MB of PDF files into the \documents directory, ejected the Kindle from Windows and lo-and-behold! there they were.

Collections

eBooks can be organised into what the Kindle calls collections, which is like organising your files into folders or directories on your PC; books can be assigned to more than one collection. This makes it easier to find your books, and cuts down the clutter on the home screen.

Screenshot of my Kindle home screen

Screenshot of my Kindle home screen

Once organised into collections you can still view a list of all your books by title, author or most recent.

Reading eBooks

While most of my books are in PDF, I have a few eBooks in either .Mobipocket or Amazon’s proprietary .AZW format (which is based on the Mobipocket standard) which allows the text to be resized. There are eight possible sizes ranging from tiny (30 lines per page) to enormous (5 lines per page).

Showing viewing options on the Kindle 3 while reading an eBook

Showing viewing options on the Kindle 3 while reading an eBook

With eBooks the typeface (regular serif, condensed serif or sans-serif), line spacing (small, medium large) and words per line (fewest, fewer, default) can be adjusted, and text-to-speech can be turned on enabling the Kindle to read out loud the text on the page, either through the built-in speakers or via the headphone socket.

I spent about 30-45 minutes sitting reading an eBook the other day and it felt really natural.  It really is the quality of the screen that makes all the difference: it really does look like ink printed on light grey paper.

Navigation through the pages is via the forward and back arrows on both the left- and right-hand side of the Kindle; although once secured into the leather cover left-handed users I imagine would have to bend the cover back on itself (the kind of action that is drilled into you from an early age that you should never do with a paperback), or remove it from the cover altogether … or, I guess, use the buttons on the right-hand side of the Kindle.

Reading PDFs

Thankfully reading PDFs was just as easy as reading standard eBooks.

Of course, the whole point of PDFs is that the author can determine how they look and that they will retain their design regardless of the device they are being viewed on.  This means that the viewing options are reduced to just zoom, screen contrast and screen rotation.

Screenshot of PDF reading options on the Kindle 3

Screenshot of PDF reading options on the Kindle 3

Depending on the size of the text I’ve found that reading some books with the fit-to-screen option and a 90° rotation is best. Depending on the size of the original page, the navigation keys will then shift your view from the top to the bottom of the page before moving on to the next page.  It really is very impressive.

I just wish that there was a keyboard shortcut for rotating the screen.  On the Kindle 1, I’ve read, it is Alt + R, but on the Kindle 3 this inserts a number ‘4’ into the search box.

No support for PDF bookmarks

Here’s my biggest niggle with the Kindle, though, when using it to read PDF documents: it doesn’t appear to have support for PDF bookmarks.  This seems to me to be a huge failing, as it is often the way that I navigate around large PDF documents when viewing them on my PC.

I hope that Amazon address this in a future update.

Crashes

And speaking of failings: my Kindle has crashed about 5 or 6 times since I received it, and it has rebooted itself once.  I’m hoping that the latter was a software update, I’m currently on version 3.0 (515460094).  eBookvine wrote about the freezes and crashes yesterday.  Mine have happened while browsing the Web and viewing long, complicated PDF documents.

[Update: I upgraded to the latest OS and that solved the crash problem.]

I do wish manufacturers would include instructions on how to soft- and hard-reset their devices. On the Kindle 3 you hold in the power switch for 7 seconds to reboot it, and for 15 seconds to reboot (soft reset) it.

For a hard reset you need to hold the power switch for 20 seconds, release it and then hold the Home button while the Kindle is rebooting.  A screen appears asking you to type “RESET” into an input box which starts the factory reset.

It’s inconvenient, but it’s not enough to put me off using it.

Shortcut keys

A few shortcut keys I’ve found useful:

  • Alt + Shift + G
    Takes a screenshot (think of ‘g’ for ‘grab screenshot’)
  • Alt + Shift + M
    Play Minesweeper (press G within the game to play GoMoku)
  • Alt + Home
    Open the Amazon Kindle Store
  • Alt + Q, Alt + W, Alt + E, etc.
    Pressing Alt and the top row of keys will produce numbers 1-9 and then 0.
  • Alt + G
    Screen refresh
  • Alt + B
    While reading a book you can toggle user-created bookmarks
  • Menu
    Pressing Menu on the Home screen will show you both the time and available memory.

Corsair Flash Voyager

Corsair Flash Voyager

Corsair Flash Voyager

For quite some time my USB drive of choice has been the Corsair Flash Voyager. Its solid rugged rubbery case keeps my data safe and it’s frighteningly fast when it comes to data transfer.  Their GT range is even faster

I started out with a 512MB model, before slowly moving up through the ranks of 1GB, 2GB, 4GB and now I have an 8GB model (7.48GB of usable space).

Right now I have 14,394 files on my 8GB drive, which equals about 6GB … maybe it’s time to upgrade to something bigger.

Amazon UK are now selling a 16GB model for £31.60, and the 16GB GT for £33.95.  That’s an absolute bargain by my standards.  The 32GB model is just over £70; there is even a 64MB model for £155.

LoveAmazon

Email I received yesterday:

As a customer of Amazon.co.uk DVD Rentals by Post, we wanted to let you know that LOVEFiLM International has acquired Amazon’s DVD rental business, and Amazon is now a shareholder of LOVEFiLM. Amazon will continue to handle your movie rental queue and DVD deliveries for the next few months to make the transition to LOVEFiLM as smooth as possible. LOVEFiLM offers the most extensive collection of latest-release DVDs and hard-to-find titles, as well as games. They also have great movie reviews, ratings, site features and movie trailers, and Amazon is excited to be part of its future.

Your rental plan and the price you pay will remain unchanged. So LOVEFiLM can serve you better, your rental service agreement and DVD rental account information (including your payment information) will be transferred to LOVEFiLM. In the future, LOVEFiLM will be responsible for your DVD rental account, which will be subject to the LOVEFiLM Privacy Policy.