Things That Make Me Angry, Part 2

Welcome, my friends, to the long-awaited second installment of “Things That Make Me Angry”. This time, I will be tackling a topic that I’m sure almost anybody can identify with: technology that fails to work properly.

This topic popped into my head this week because of something specific that happened to me. And it’s not really that big of a deal, but it highlights just how annoying technology is, and how irrational I am for continuing to love it even though it constantly lets me down.

As you may already know, I am a big proponent of Microsoft’s Zune platform. If you don’t know, Zune is a media service that Microsoft offers that allows you to acquire music, videos, podcasts, and so forth. The Zune HD device is part of this platform. I mostly use my Zune HD to listen to music, but Microsoft also has a few apps that are available for free.

One of these is Windows Live Messenger, which is an app that aggregates information from various social networking services, such as Facebook and Myspace, and puts them all together so you can see what all your friends are up to. Personally, the only service I use is Facebook, so it’s basically a glorified Facebook app for me, but it’s really nice. Or at least it was. Until today.

Today I happened to check the app marketplace on my Zune to see if there was anything new. Usually there isn’t, but today was an exception. Today there was, among other things, an update for the Messenger app. I get excited at stuff like this, cause new version = new features, at least in my mind. In reality it’s usually just bug fixes or whatever, but I still get excited.

Unfortunately, this particular update took a good thing and made it bad. There were no feature changes that I noticed, but the app now crashes every five seconds or so. Which is awesome.

Now, this app is not something I need. It’s not any easier or faster or more convenient to use this app than it is to just go to Facebook.com on my netbook. But I still would prefer for things to work. And it thoroughly enrages me when they don’t.

I realize that computer programs and systems are incredibly complex things. I realize that it is impossible to anticipate every possibility and it is equally impossible to thoroughly test things in such a way that every eventuality is accounted for. But I don’t care. I want my stuff to work. Not some of the time. Not most of the time. ALL OF THE TIME.

I think part of the reason why this is so frustrating to me is that I like to be in control of things. I’m a very independent person, and I like to do things my way, and I like to do them myself. So it is incredibly enraging to me when some technological thing that I’m using just refuses to work, AND THERE IS NOTHING I CAN DO ABOUT IT. It’s a very powerless feeling, and when I think about the fact that there’s nothing I can do, it just makes me angrier. Which makes me try harder to do something about it, and that of course just makes me even angrier. It’s a vicious cycle.

Actually, I had an experience this week that made me realize that God is making this sort of thing happen to me more often so that I can learn how to not get so angry about it. This episode technically had nothing to do with technology, but it had everything to do with being mad about something that I couldn’t control.

To make a long story short, I’ll just say that the toilet (which I suppose is technically a form of technology) was clogged, and I could not find the plunger. I know we have (or used to have) a plunger. I’ve used it before. I can picture what it looks like. But I could not find it anywhere.

Oh, this made me mad. In fact, mad probably doesn’t cover it. Burning with volcanic fury is more like it. I was stomping around the house, I was slamming doors, punching walls, swearing like a sailor. (Before you ask, my children did not have to witness this spectacular display of immaturity. One was at school and the other was asleep.) And it had nothing to do with not being able to use the toilet, because we, in fact, have two. It was simply that there was a problem that I wanted to fix but couldn’t.

And then something happened that I’m not sure has ever happened to me before. I had a conversation with God. At the time, I was so mad that I couldn’t even grasp the enormity of what was happening to me. And on the surface, there was nothing particularly special about it. No trumpets, no blazing light from heaven, no whirlwinds ala Job. I didn’t even hear any actual words. I would say something, and then it was like I just knew what God was saying in response. Essentially, he said “Grow up and get over it,” although, being God, he was much more gentle and patient than that.

Now, I realize that to a non-Christian this story probably sounds ludicrous, and I don’t tell this to convince any skeptics that there really is a God. My point is really just to let you know that I am aware that my rage towards technology that doesn’t work is kind of silly. So now you know that, and I know that, and I am well aware that God knows that. And yet I wrote a blog post about it anyway.

So basically, I need to just figure out how to not get so angry about little things. I mean, is it really that big of a deal that the toilet was clogged when we have two toilets? Is it that big of a deal that an app I never use didn’t work? No, of course not.

In conclusion, this installment of “Things That Make Me Angry” was kind of a bust. Maybe next time I’ll write about something that’s actually worth being angry about.

You Can’t Take It With You

When I was in high school, I started reading a series of books called the Left Behind series, which was written by two guys named Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. This writers of this series took the prophecies of the Bible and used them to tell a story about the last seven years of human history. The series encompasses 12 books in all, but only the first three had been published when I started reading the series in high school. At the time, I was under the impression that those three books were the entire series, so when I finished the third book and discovered that there were more books to come, I lost interest for a while.

Part of the reason was that the writing contained a number of clichés, and the characters were somewhat generic and boring. In addition, as I grew older and studied the Bible more, I began to disagree with LaHaye’s interpretations of Biblical prophecies. (Namely, his belief that the Rapture will happen at the beginning of the period known as the Tribulation. I believe it will happen partway through.) Plus, the books were expensive, and I just didn’t want to spend that much money. So, many years went by, and I never did find out what happened after the end of the third book.

Finally, a few weeks ago, I just randomly decided that I was going to finally read the entire series. The library at my church has all 12 books, and I’d known that for some time, but it seemed like a pretty large project, and so I just kept putting it off. But towards the end of this past summer, I finally decided to go for it. And you know what? They’re really not that bad.

The first book begins with an airline pilot named Rayford Steele flying a commercial flight from London to New York and contemplating cheating on his wife with a beautiful flight attendant named Hattie Durham. He decides that he’s going to go through with this idea, and he leaves the cockpit to go tell her. When he finds her, though, she tells him that about a third of the passengers on the flight have just disappeared. Rayford quickly discovers that this phenomenon has happened all over the world. Rayford’s wife and son are Christians, and when he discovers that they both are among the missing, he realizes that they and all the other missing people were raptured, and he decides to accept Christ himself.

The story then follows the adventures and trials of Rayford, his daughter Chloe, and Cameron “Buck” Williams, a world-famous journalist who was on the plane that Rayford was piloting at the time of the Rapture, as they struggle to survive in a world that rapidly becomes highly antagonistic towards followers of Jesus Christ. These three characters, who are joined by an ever-growing cast of fellow believers, find themselves pitted against the evil rule of Nicolae Carpathia, a charismatic leader who rises to prominence in the wake of the Rapture. Carpathia quickly assumes control of the United Nations, renames it the Global Community, moves its headquarters to Babylon for some reason (which is cleverly renamed New Babylon – more about this later), and requires that all the nations of the world destroy 90 percent of their weapons and turn the remaining 10 percent over to the GC. Eventually Carpathia declares himself to be a god and requires that all the people of the world worship him. Refusing to do so results in death, meaning that Christians must go into hiding in order to survive.

There’s obviously a lot more to this story, but that’s the brief synopsis. As I mentioned earlier, it’s quite a bit better than I anticipated, based on my teenage memories of the first three books. That’s not really a fluke, though. The first three books are quite a bit weaker than the rest of the series. It’s almost as if it took the writers a while to get warmed up.

I do have a few quibbles. The characters aren’t all that wonderful. Near the beginning they are very generic and cliché. That gets better as the story goes along and they get more fleshed out. But then towards the middle a lot of the characters get really touchy and easily offended. It seems a little unrealistic that people living in hiding from a totalitarian world government would spend so much time whining over little things. But this does get better towards the end of the series.

Another thing that annoys me about the series is a relatively minor thing, but I want to point it out anyway. I alluded to this earlier, when I mentioned how Carpathia moves the headquarters of the United Nations/Global Community to New Babylon. For the most part, the events of this story that are couched as fulfilling Bible prophecy make sense within the context of the story. For example, there is one prophecy that LaHaye interprets as foretelling an invasion of Israel by Russia. In the story, the reasons why Russia attacks Israel are totally believable and you could imagine that it might actually happen that way.

But New Babylon is an exception to that. There is no reason given why the new ruler of the world would move the capital of the world to the middle of the Iraqi desert other than “the Bible says it will happen that way,” which is certainly up for debate. I found it a little distracting that there was no context given to this event, but ultimately that’s a pretty minor gripe.

The real, and surprising, positive thing about this series was how much it strengthened me in my walk with God. It’s one thing to say that I have faith in God and to say that I believe that God can do anything, but it’s another thing to actually believe it. Reading through this series of books, I was struck with just how powerful and amazing God really is. There is one scene in particular where one of the main characters is captured by the GC, and they use various methods to try to coerce her into revealing the location of her companions. They starve her, they drug her, they deprive her of sleep, but no matter what they try, the power of God sustains her and keeps her from revealing anything. Even when they finally execute her, she goes to her death fully confident that she is about to see Jesus face-to-face.

Even though this is a fictional story, there’s no doubt in my mind that God could and would do the same thing in real life. This is the brilliance of the Left Behind series; the authors do a fantastic job of representing the awesomeness and faithfulness of God through an incredibly dark and horrific period of history. And when Jesus returns in the end, all of the pain and suffering that the characters have endured is washed away. It is a fantastic ending to a surprisingly fantastic story. I highly recommend it to anyone who is a Christian or anyone who is curious about how the prophecies of the Bible might ultimately play out.

I Am, In Fact, Ready For Some Football

I am a nerd. I would be a card-carrying nerd, if in fact there was some sort of organization that certified nerds. I like video games. I like science fiction. I like organizing my video games, and keeping track of how many I have, and marking whether or not I’ve beaten them or not. I also like football. Oh, wait…

Now, before I go any further, let me state that I am well aware that it is entirely possible to be a football nerd. In fact, I would go so far as to state that there is no sport quite so attractive to nerds as football. With all of the stats and the numbers and the strategies, playing a football game is a lot like playing a role-playing game. That said, most football fans are decidedly not nerds.

Football may be a very number and stat heavy sport, but it is also a very visceral, very brutal, very physical game. Ultimately, football involves 11 guys trying to beat the crap out of, or trying to avoid getting beaten by, 11 other guys. It’s a very in-your-face, testosterone-laden activity. So I imagine that it generally doesn’t attract very many nerds.

However, consider me one of the few nerds who is very attracted to football. I blame the numbers. And the strategy. Because football, in addition to being a very physical sport, is also a very cerebral sport. It’s not enough to just overpower your opponent. You also have to outsmart them. And to a brainy nerd like myself, that aspect is very intriguing. Plus, I like watching grown men beat the crap out of each other, too.

The interesting thing (to me, anyway) about my love for football is that I don’t actually watch football anymore. It’s not that I don’t enjoy watching football. It’s just that I really don’t have time. See, football games are quite long. And I have two children. And a wife. And lots of other hobbies. Plus, I have a hard time just sitting and staring at a TV screen for two or more hours at a time without some sort of controller in my hand.

Thank God for the internet. Even though I don’t have the time/attention span to sit and watch football games, I can at least check in on what’s going on during the games through the miracle of the internet. And I find that I don’t really mind not being able to see the action. I just want to know what the result was.

The exception to my policy of not actually watching football games comes with the playoffs, of course. These are the games that REALLY matter, and I definitely want to see what happens as the best teams in the NFL make their way down the road to the ultimate prize in the world of football. And I definitely need to watch the Super Bowl. That’s pretty much the one football game that even people who hate football watch. Heck, it was watching the Super Bowl at my sister-in-law’s house back in 2004 that got me interested in football for the first time, after years of complete indifference to the sport.

I should mention a couple of qualifiers here. First of all, in case any readers from outside the US haven’t figured it out yet, I’m talking about American football of course. Not the sport that the rest of the world calls football (which we, for some reason, call soccer). I must admit, even though I’m totally uninterested in soccer, it really does deserve the name “football” more than American football does. I mean, although there is some kicking involved in American football, it’s hardly the main component of the game. If you think about it, it’s as ludicrous as it would be if people referred to soccer as “handball”.

Secondly, when I say that I love football, I mean professional football. I’ve never really had any interest in college football. A couple of years ago, I did try to give college football a go. I watched a couple of games, and briefly listened to ESPN’s college football podcast. But I just found the sheer number and variety of different college teams to be a bit bewildering. I also thought about following my own college’s football team, but the school I went to isn’t exactly a football powerhouse, so I never really had much interest. Although there was a player from my school who was drafted by an NFL team a few years ago. I believe he plays for the San Diego Chargers now.

I guess I probably shouldn’t act all surprised that I’m a nerd who loves football. After all, there are several editors from my favorite video game news website (IGN.com) who also love football, and they’re definitely nerds. In fact, I’m pretty sure that being a nerd is a prerequisite of getting a job at IGN. So maybe I’m not so special after all.

Perhaps at this point you find yourself wondering who my favorite team is. Well, I actually have two. I spent my teenage and early adult years in Minnesota, so I have to root for the Minnesota Vikings. But I now live in New England, and it was the New England Patriots’ victory in Super Bowl XXXIX over the Philadelphia Eagles that first got me interested in football. So I really have to give my first allegiance to the Patriots. Fortunately, the Vikings are in the National Football Conference and the Patriots are in the American Football Conference, so they only play each other once every four years. I suppose if there ever came a year in which they both made it to the Super Bowl, I’d have a problem. But I’ll just think of it as a win-win situation.

So, to sum up, I like football. I like all the numbers and statistics involved in football, I like the strategies and maneuvering involved in football, and I like watching grown men pound each other into the dirt. It’s a great combination of brain and brawn. How can you possibly go wrong?

My Memories – You Want Them

So I find that I have the easiest time writing these blog posts when I’m simply sharing stories from my past. I’m not exactly sure why that is. Maybe it’s because I find these topics more interesting than others. Or maybe it’s because all I’m doing is telling a story of something that’s already happened, so it just kind of rolls off of my fingertips and on to the screen with a minimum of effort. Either way, this week I’m gonna put on my old man hat and ramble on at great length about the good ol’ days.

Music is something that is tremendously important to me, so perhaps I shall reminisce about music. I’ve always loved music, but when I was a kid, it was really just kind of a vague love. I enjoyed certain songs and artists that I happened to hear, but I never really sought out music to listen to. I pretty much just listened to whatever my parents listened to. My favorite artist (and really, the only artist I paid any attention to) was DC Talk. For most of the early to mid 90s, DC Talk was pretty much the only band I listened to.

When I was a teenager, I spent a lot of time going to the youth group at my church. There was a group of guys who attended that youth group who were big into Christian punk and ska, and through them, I was able to get my first taste of the music that would change my life (or at least my taste in music) forever.

I remember the moment when the switch flipped for me. It was the summer after my freshman year of high school, and we went on a mission trip to a Sioux reservation in South Dakota. I felt a little left out because all the kids had these big collections of CDs that they brought with them and I didn’t have any. (I know I’m dating myself a little bit here. Nowadays I’m sure kids bring iPods with them on mission trips.) My family didn’t even own a CD player at this point. We spent a lot of time on this trip listening to various Christian punk and ska bands, and I found myself utterly fascinated by this music. It was so good, and it just spoke to me in a way that music never had before.

When I returned home, I was determined to flesh out my music collection (which at that point consisted of a couple of DC Talk tapes and a compilation tape of various Christian hip hop artists, none of whom I ever heard about again. Yes, tapes. Remember we didn’t own a CD player.). My first order of business was to buy… another DC Talk album. Then I bought the self-titled album by Jars of Clay. I know, I was really starting to get into the punk here, wasn’t I? But then, finally, I bought “The Adventures of the O.C. Supertones”.

This album was significant for me for a couple of reasons. First, it was the last album I bought before I was finally able to get a CD player. Second, it was the first album I ever bought that was released by Tooth & Nail Records, a Christian punk label that had been founded a couple years before. It was the beginning of a love affair that helped get me through my teen years and continues on to this day.

As I just mentioned, that Supertones album was the last album I bought before I got a CD player. CDs had been around for a long time at this point, and I felt like it was just ridiculous that I had to rewind and fast forward my tapes all the time to get to a certain song. Plus, if I was laying in bed and listening to music, I had to like, get up and walk across the room if I wanted to change something. But CD players had remotes, and if I had one I could indulge my lazy side, something I was all too happy to do. So I finally got one. And the very first CD I ever bought was “Teenage Politics” by MxPx, another Tooth & Nail album. Fantastic. I still love that album.

I still remember the second and third CDs I ever bought too. The second was the Tooth & Nail Sampler, Vol. 3, which was of course great for someone with a limited music collection. And the third CD I ever bought was the self-titled debut album from a band called Value Pac, who played fast and catchy pop punk, similar to MxPx. After that, it gets a bit hazy.

My musical tastes have changed a lot over the years. I went from Christian pop punk to Christian punk with a harder edge, and then from there to Christian hardcore and metal. After that I started to leave Christian music behind and got more and more into secular metalcore. And from there it was on to death metal and black metal, and then I got more into progressive rock and classic rock. Then I got back into Christian punk and metal, and then I went for a long time where I really wasn’t all that interested in music at all, mostly for financial reasons.

Finally, we’ve reached the modern day, where, thanks to the miracle of technology, I can listen to pretty much anything I want at any time. Seriously, if you love music and you’re not using a subscription service of some kind (i.e., Zune Pass, Rhapsody, etc.) then you are really doing yourself a disservice. I don’t know how anybody can call themselves a music lover and not have a subscription. Frankly, you’re either wasting huge piles of money, or you’re breaking the law. Or you’re not listening to nearly as much music as you could (and should) be. But that’s a topic for another time.

I would love to go into greater detail about some of my favorite bands and albums and the trajectory that my musical tastes have followed. But I’ve probably rambled on way too long as it is. So you’ll have to wait until next time for that! No doubt you are just pins and needles now.