Frederation

A land where the trains always run on subjective time. Stories and reflections by Fred Warren.

Short Takes — March 9, 2014

Short Takes

Because I’m on the road, and there’s no time for long takes.

Francis MarionWhere Did the Fox Live? Right here. I’m on a work trip in South Carolina, home of one of my boyhood heroes, Revolutionary War commando Francis Marion, aka “The Swamp Fox.” This region is full of marshy pine forests where Marion and his irregulars led the Redcoats a merry chase and employed innovative guerrilla tactics to sustain Colonial resistance in an area that had been practically given up as lost to the British. The U.S. Army Rangers trace their origins, in part, to Francis Marion.

His life and military career are not free of controversy—he was a slave owner and participated in a brutal campaign against the Cherokee during the French and Indian War, details absent from the laudatory, romantic biography I found in my school library.

avatar_rift_1Still Saving the World: NetGalley is a cool service that connects reviewers to publishers by providing access to electronic advance review copies of new books—including graphic novels and comic books. Dark Horse Comics has been running a popular graphic novel series based on Avatar: The Last Airbender for some time now that continues the story where the television show left off, and I snagged a NetGalley review copy of the latest installment, The Rift, Part One, written by Gene Luen Yang (whose 2-volume graphic novel Boxers and Saints I reviewed here a few weeks ago) and drawn by Japanese comic art team Gurihiru.                .

Aang, Katara, Sokka, Toph, and a trio of Air Acolytes witness the seating of the first coalition government with representatives from both Fire and Earth Nations, then they travel to a sacred site to celebrate an ancient Air Nomad festival—but trouble’s waiting for them. Aang runs headlong into an unexpected conflict between his desire to resurrect his lost Air Nomad heritage and his vision of global unity among the Nations, and Toph stumbles into emotional tension between her past and present lives. It’s an intelligent, entertaining story that ends with a juicy cliffhanger.

Story, characters, and art preserve the feel and appeal of the original and continue to nicely fill the gap between ATLA and The Legend of Korra while weaving a tale that stands quite well on its own merits and strikes a good balance between thoughtful interaction among the characters and dynamic action. The Rift, Part One hit the streets just a few days ago—if you’re a fan, or if you’re simply looking for a solid fusion of comic art and storytelling in an intriguing speculative universe, pick up a copy.

nodamecantabileMusic Hath Charms: Hardworking, prickly perfectionist Shinichi Chiaki wants to achieve his dream of becoming a symphony conductor, but his abrasive introversion is holding him back from greatness. Lazy, childish Megumi “Nodame” Noda is a piano prodigy, but it looks like she’ll never come close to fulfilling her potential. Can these two misfits somehow supply each other’s missing pieces and make beautiful music together?

Not a chance.

Well, maybe there’s a glimmer of hope. Nodame Cantabile is a cute romantic comedy filled with wonderful classical music, but this anime suffers from stereotyped characters and uneven animation quality. Megumi is embarrassingly ditzy and infantile through most of the early episodes, though she gains depth as the story develops, and Shinichi begins as such a dismissive jerk that he threatens to be completely unsympathetic, though he also gains humanity and likability as we learn more about him. Bottom line, there’s an infectious thread of joy and love for the masterpieces of classical music woven into this series, and given a little patience, it’s a fun watch. 24 episodes, English-dubbed, free-streaming on Crackle.

jesus-of-nazareth-2On the Down Low: Lent is here again, but I won’t say anything about how I’m observing it this year, other than to note I’m reading the second volume of Joseph Ratzinger’s Jesus of Nazareth—Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, which I intended to read last year at this time but did not. It’s a bit more theologically dense than the first volume, which focused on Jesus’ ministry years, but it’s well worth the effort. I’ll post a complete review after I’ve finished it.

You can find my reflections on Lent, and devotional resources from previous years, here.

These Are a Few of My Favorite Apps — February 27, 2014

These Are a Few of My Favorite Apps

apps

I’m old enough to remember when staying in touch while traveling demanded fervent prayer for a working pay phone at some filling station or greasy-spoon restaurant between here and there. Now I can carry enough communications and computer processing power to run a space shuttle (if we still had one of those) from the palm of my hand.

Awesome.

I’ve collected what I think is a pretty decent set of useful apps over a few years of trial and error and a whole lot of time on the road. They don’t offer raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens, but these smartphone and tablet apps help me manage my travel, reading, and devotions, provide some extra security when I’m away from my home network, and sprinkle in a little fun along the way—things I’ve added beyond the standard browsers, e-mail, and social-networking. I’m always looking for another gem in the Google Play sluice-box (yes, I’m an Android guy), so if you’ve got one that floats your boat, I’d love to hear about it.

These are a few of my favorite apps:

Travel

  • Currency Converter: User-friendly app that tracks exchange rates and allows me to easily compute how far my dollars will go in Europe, Korea, Japan, or anywhere else my company sends me.
  • Fly Delta: My company uses Delta for most of our air travel. The app helps me monitor my reservations and flight status (including weather delays, gate changes, and schedule updates), tracks my baggage, and prompts me for online check-ins.
  • Google Maps: Mobile-tailored interface for my favorite navigation and mapping service.
  • Google Hangouts: International phone charges are totally insane, and I’m not. To stay in touch with my family, I’ve used both Skype and Hangouts when traveling overseas, but Hangouts seems to provide the most reliable and stable connection, with minimal lag. Running Hotspot Shield VPN (see below) also helps circumvent most stability or connection issues that occur on foreign servers. Video, voice, or messaging, one conversation or a conference call, all free. You just need a WiFi connection.

Techie

  • Open Signal: Need a WiFi connection, you say? Open Signal finds nearby hotspots and navigates you there. It also links to a database of previously-identified hotspots, so you can plan ahead.
  • Hotspot Shield VPN: Routes your internet traffic through a secure server via an encrypted data channel, a good idea when you connect to an unsecured public network, like airport, hotel, or Starbuck’s WiFi. Also bypasses geographic media play restrictions when using services like Netflix or YouTube, because they see only the location of my secure server. I might be in Korea, but Netflix thinks I’m in Los Angeles, so I’m still able to watch all my subscribed content. There’s a nominal fee for the ad-free version, but it’s worth it.
  • Google Authenticator: Provides two-factor authentication for my blog and e-mail accounts. To log in from any device I haven’t designated requires a randomly-generated, time-limited numerical code from my Google Authenticator cell phone app. It’s an extra layer of security that isn’t cumbersome or intrusive.
  • AVG Antivirus: Everybody should have one, and this app works unobtrusively and efficiently for me. Scans software and memory automatically and on-demand, looks for other vulnerabilities in your device settings.

Devotional

  • Olive Tree: The most user-friendly, resource-rich, and easily-tailorable Bible study app I’ve found.
  • Ancient Faith Radio: Streaming music and podcasts from the Orthodox Christian community. Good stuff.
  • Pocket Common Prayer: Daily Scripture readings, devotions, and prayers following the liturgical calendar from the Book of Common Prayer. Provides scheduled reminders for prayer time.

Games

  • Chess.com: Nice interface for online chess that accesses a huge community of players and lots of chess news, events, and instruction. Friendly to the casual player, but Grandmasters hang out here too.
  • Quell: Moderately-addictive maze puzzle game with pretty graphics and soft music. I think it actually lowers my blood pressure when I play it.
  • Elder Sign – Omens: Guide an intrepid team of paranormal adventurers into combat against Lovecraftian abominations that threaten to destroy the world! An electronic version of the tabletop dice/card game, and a great solo game. Beware Things Man Was Not Meant to Know, or you might Become That Which You Fear Most…
  • Words With Friends: My brother-in-law and I have had six simultaneous games going on this Scrabble-clone app for about a year now. Enough said.
  • Ingress: Pursue exotic matter, decode hidden messages, locate portals to another dimension, and link everything together in a quest to determine the future of humanity. Google has poured tons of money and manpower into this detailed meta-game that turns your neighborhood into an invisible battlefield for enigmatic alien forces, a shadowy human resistance, and a host of agents and multinational corporations vying for control of Earth. There’s an extensive backstory, live events in cities around the world, and the haunting sense that this might all be something more than a game. Along the way, you get a lot of exercise and find all sorts of cool landmarks you never knew existed.

Entertainment

  • Netflix, Crunchyroll, and Crackle: I’m never lacking for movies or TV shows to watch during layovers with these three apps. Netflix provides a wide-ranging assortment of movies and shows, Crunchyroll focuses on anime and Asian TV, and Crackle is my go-to when I’m hankering for an oddball movie that’s not popular enough to make it onto Netflix. Netflix is a subscription service, but if you already have a home subscription, there’s no extra charge for using the app, and it lets you interact with your home account. Crunchyroll is free with the option to subscribe for faster access to new shows, and Crackle is free.
  • Pandora: There are plenty of good music apps out there, but I like this one, which is reliable, easy to navigate, and does a decent job of monitoring my favorites and tailoring the stream so I get the sort of music I enjoy.
  • Bluefire Reader: This app provides a nice platform for reading e-books in a variety of formats, links seamlessly to my county’s and state’s electronic libraries, and negotiates Adobe file protection protocols, which seem to be the currently preferred method for library management of e-book borrowing. It works especially well handling graphic novels on my Samsung tablet.
Back from Korea, Home for Christmas — December 20, 2013

Back from Korea, Home for Christmas

747My work trip in Korea is over, and it feels nice to be home after a month on the road, though I’m still reestablishing my equilibrium. I’m shifting gears between two cultures, two daily routines, two very different time zones. Everything feels atilt and askew.

mokshawoodcutIt was a good trip, all things considered…the work went well, complicated travel itineraries executed without a hitch, I wasn’t injured or ill, and I was able to explore a few new corners in a familiar part of Korea.

koreamarketAs I look back over my blogs and photos, I’m realizing how much I didn’t notice. The closer I look, the more I see, and there are certain sights, angles, and perspectives I wish I’d taken a moment to consider. It’s the Uncertainty Principle on a macro scale. Observation impacts our ability to measure and quantify. The act of documenting an experience incurs a cost in detail, even as we strive to capture it all.

charliebrowncafeI’ve been 30+ days away from my family, another unquantifiable expense. Things happened while I was gone, nothing momentous in particular, but substantial in the aggregate. Bits of life I’ve missed and can’t recover, even with the help of instant trans-global communication in sound and video.

Our Christmas celebration is discombobulated, as has been the rule rather than the exception these past few years. The harder we try to build traditions and a familiar pattern for the season, the faster our efforts crumble into dust. The tree and outside decorations aren’t up yet, Advent is nearly over without the lighting of a single candle, and we see our children mostly in passing as they dash to and from schools and jobs. The feeling of rest and peace I crave at this time of year is overwhelmed by an oppressive sense of being two steps behind on just about everything.

detroit_ap_treeThings will settle back into their proper place soon enough, I know. Somehow, we’ll pull everyone back around the hearth by Christmas Eve, and all will again be right with the world, for a little while, as we pause to hear the angel’s words echo in the still of night, as cheering and powerful now as they were at the beginning.

Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

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