Software That Can Help Your E-Reading Tablet

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Of course this article applies to my Nook Tablet, but as I wrote it I realized it might be useful to folks with Kindle Fires or really any portable device that is picky about file formats and such. Here I have two wonderful and free pieces of software that, once configured, make getting cool stuff onto my tablet so much easier.

handbrake-logoThe first one is Handbrake. Now there are a lot of video encoders out there, and I have tried a number of them. Usually the free ones, which shouldn’t surprise any of my regular readers. Handbrake initially seemed too technical, but turned out to be quite simple. You just need to create a new set of settings, and configure it based on instructions found here. Set it once, save it, and forget about it. After that you just pick the files you want to encode one at a time, pick the default output location of your choice, and add the job to the Encode Queue. Once all your video files are set up this way, it would be best to start the encoder when you don’t plan on doing anything else with your system for awhile. I’d recommend at night while you sleep. From personal experience, I tried playing Minecraft once while this intensive process was running. It was not good. Of course, many folks have better systems than I do and probably don’t need to worry.

Calibre_LogoThe other piece of wonderfully free software is called Calibre. This is an e-book management tool. This is a necessity for me, since I had various sources for my e-books and some didn’t come with covers or in the right format. This tool will convert between all the common formats for you. It makes it easy to edit the metadata behind each file. It even helps you sync them to your device. Their website has a 10 minute demo video that’s worth the time to watch if you download this.

I hope these software tools work as well for you as they do for me. It took me a bit of time to pick these out from among their respective crowds, and sparing you that headache is my goal. Happy reading!

Thoughts On A Song Of Ice & Fire

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It’s a terrible and long series of books. Don’t start reading it. This is what the new HBO show Game of Thrones is based upon. The author is still writing, and unfortunately I’ve read too much to stop.

Basically the book is full of horrible people. They do horrible things to each other. Occasionally Murphy’s Law comes into play, and the world does terrible things to some of the few nice people.

Even for those of you watching the series on HBO, you should take the hint from the end of the 1st season when they behead Eddard Stark (SPOILER and I don’t care). It only gets worse.

As my father said about the series, "It better end with Jon and his direwolf riding a dragon and a lot of blond people dead."

Why I Selected The Nook Tablet Over The Kindle Fire

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I will tell you honestly, I really wanted the Kindle Fire to win this fight. It’s backed by a stronger company, offering more media services. Any time I search for a book, Amazon’s typically the first link that pops up and well over half of them have Kindle versions available.

But my reasoning boiled down to a few sharp differences between the two. First, and potentially the most important, is the presence of a Netflix app. Yes, it is likely that the Fire will be getting one in the coming months. But it’s instant streaming video. INSTANT. Who has time to wait months? I did some setup work on a Nook Tablet someone else is getting for Xmas, and within a minute of connecting to the Internet, I was streaming the first episode of Sherlock to the beautiful color screen. Now with a stand to prop the thing up, it becomes a little television that can show me hours of old Warehouse 13 or How It’s Made episodes.

Another contrast is the option to expand memory. Now Nook has taken a lot of heat in this area, but it still comes out on top in my opinion. The Kindle Fire has 8GB of memory, 5-6 of which are available for whatever you want to put on it. Apps, books, pictures, etc. all go on that 5-6GB. It also has a cloud storage service, so the only Amazon content you need on the device is the thing you’re currently watching or reading.

But on the Nook – with its 16GB hard drive – they currently have it formatted so that only 1GB is available for apps, books, pictures, and other stuff. The reason they’re doing that is because their online cloud storage isn’t as robust, or they just don’t want to deal with the headache. Instead, they have given the other 13GB (2 for OS, 1 for free use) to house Barnes & Noble specific content.

Now that may all sound like a major slam, but as I said in my previous post on this, the Nook offers expandable memory. That means with the purchase of one tiny memory card, I will have 33GB of space to use as I please. Which I will appreciate a lot, because a number of the books and apps I want may not come from the B&N digital store. Through various sources, I’ve collected a couple interesting books that I want to read, and they’re all waiting on my computer to be loaded on my Nook when I get it.

The last consideration was file formats. My wife mentioned that I made it look like the Nook Tablet supported a ton more file types. The thing was, I copied that information from Amazon and B&N’s sites, respectively. So the truth of the matter is that the Nook actually DOES support a ton more formats. And since the Nook seems to have come without any custom software to convert files to acceptable types, it makes my job of finding or converting to the right stuff a lot easier.

One super benefit to getting either the Kindle or the Nook: technology is actually making me want to read more. I already enjoyed reading, but most technology only takes me away from new books. Wii and computer games are awesome, but I have felt them pulling me away from time enjoying a good fantasy novel. Plus other people around me will sometimes listen to a story I read in a book. Telling them about Team Fortress 2 gets boring fast if they don’t play the game. “I blew up the guy standing in front of me, then the guy behind him shot me and I died.” That’s cool, but not as interesting as Sherlock Holmes gathering pieces of evidence through his extreme observational skills and deductive reasoning.

Now that I am super interested in reading more, I’ve found a ton of books that I’d like to pick up for the cheaper digital price and enjoy. Here’s a list of some of them.

The Measure of Magic by Terry Brooks
It came out in August and I still haven’t gotten it from the library or picked it up myself.

G. K. Chesterton: A Biography, by Ian Ker
As I said, super interesting dude that probably led a super interesting life.

God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusadesby Rodney Stark

Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, by Craig S. Keener

What is the Mission of the Church: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission, by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert

The Fire by James Patterson

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
Nerdfighteria FTW!

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
Saw the crappy movie based on it. Might as well read the book.

The Art Museumby Phaidon Press

Good Eats: The early years
Good Eats: The middle years
Good Eats 3: the later years
I’m Just Here For The Food

Van Gogh: The Life by Steven Naifeh
Blame Doctor Who for my sudden interest in this author’s life

City of Bonesby Cassandra Clare

The Map of Time by Félix J. Palma

Robopocalypse by Daniel H Wilson

The Alchemyst by Michael Scott

How To Wrap Gifts In Fabric / Use Wrapping Cloth

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There is something oddly satisfying about neatly wrapping gift boxes in paper. My inner neat freak feels many of you nodding in agreement. However, the joy of gift-wrapping can quickly deflate when the patterns of wrapping paper do not line up, your gift is too oddly shaped to be wrapped normally, the paper roll got accidentally smashed in your closet and now has wrinkles all over it, or you tried to use that too-small remnant of wrapping paper and it rips.

Enter the wrapping cloth! Wrapping cloth, which Koreans call Bo-ja-gi, is a versatile item that can be used to wrap just about anything – including Christmas gifts!

There are several advantages to using wrapping cloth:

  • It results in less trash. Yay neatness! No need for tissue-paper stuffing or sticky tapes! All you need is a length of fabric and some elastic bands, and both of those are reusable.
  • It is versatile and quick. Fabric can wrap around odd shapes and soft items, and does so in a matter of seconds without finicky measuring.
  • It will have a second (or third) life, always. Wrapping cloth can always be reused for gift-wrapping, but it also makes a fantastic cape, a bindle, a tent, or a tablecloth for a very small table. I speak from experience.

Now, I will show you some easy ways to use the wrapping cloth. To use wrapping cloth, you will need:

  • Fabric (any kind will do, as long as it is big enough. When in doubt, bigger is usually better.)
  • Candle and matchstick (optional)
  • Iron (optional)
  • Elastic bands (optional)
  • A pinch of creativity

Before you proceed, you will need to prepare your fabric. About 1 yard x 1 yard is a good size for a wrapping cloth, but smaller sizes and rectangular shapes can work, too. You can iron and hem your wrapping cloth if you so desire. If it is made of synthetic material that melts, you can quickly and easily hem it by briefly running the edge of the fabric over a candle flame. The fuzzy ends will melt and seal the edges.

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Method # 1: The Basic

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This method works with any shape of wrapping cloth.

  1. Lay out your wrapping cloth flat on a surface, and put your gift item in the middle of it.
  2. Grab two opposite corners of the wrapping cloth and tie them together in the middle.
  3. Grab the other two opposite corners and tie them together.
  4. Done!

Simple, isn’t it? You can just leave it as it is, or try one of the following variations:

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Left: Tuck the ends under the knot.

Middle: Braid the ends together.

Right: Twist each end of the wrapping cloth until it curls on itself.

 

Method #2: The Butterfly

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This works well when your wrapping cloth is square and the gift is oblong, like the box of spaghetti noodles shown here.

  1. Lay out your wrapping cloth and your gift item in the middle of it. Notice the length between the side of the item and the corner of the wrapping cloth. On two sides, it is long, and on the other sides, it is short.
  2. Grab the long ends first and tie it into a knot. If the difference between the long and short ends is great, you will need to tie the knot twice.
  3. Grab the short ends and tie it into a knot.
  4. Now you have “The Basic” form. Notice that there’s a pair of long ends and a pair of short ends.
  5. Grab the long ends and tie a knot again over the short knot.
  6. Twist and fan out the ends into the form of a butterfly.

 

Method #3: The Basic With Pocket

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This can work with square or oblong wrapping cloth.

  1. Lay out the wrapping cloth and your gift item in the middle of it.
  2. Take one corner completely over the gift. Take the opposite corner and fold it halfway up.
  3. Fold it up again, this time over the gift. This makes the “pocket.”
  4. Take the remaining 2 corners and grasp them firmly in your hands. (For the neatest results, grab it as close to the gift as possible.)
  5. Tie a knot.
  6. Tie a knot again.
  7. Take each end and tuck it under the knot. Insert a card or a note into the pocket.

 

Method # 4: Flower

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This works well with a square wrapping cloth and a square (or close to square) gift. You will need an elastic band for this.

  1. Lay out your wrapping cloth with the gift in the middle of it.
  2. Gather the four corners together and hold them pinched in one hand, over the gift.
  3. With your other hand, tuck in the excess fabric (think of making a pyramid).
  4. Grasp the fabric into one hand and tie an elastic band around it. Push the elastic band down as close to the gift as possible.
  5. Fan out the ends so they look even.
  6. Take each end and poke it into the middle.
  7. You now have a pretty flower on top of your gift!

 

Method # 5: Candy roll

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This works great with oblong wrapping cloth, but it works as long as your wrapping cloth is long enough to go around your gift at least 1.5 times. You will need two elastic bands.

  1. Lay out your wrapping cloth. Put your gift on the middle of one of the edges.
  2. Roll it up.
  3. Tie an elastic band at each end of the gift, and you are done.

You can also try some variations with the Candy Roll:

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Left: Use a smaller wrapping cloth or a bigger box so that your “Candy Roll” has short little stumps at the end. I tried doubling up the same wrapping cloth from above, and used a cube-like box.

Middle: Fluff up the end to make it look like a flower. This looks good when you use a long wrapping cloth that can wrap around the gift multiple times.

Right: Roll up the end as you would a pair of socks. This works only if you have plenty of excess fabric.

 

Method # 6: Twist and Twist

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  1. Lay out your wrapping cloth, and put your gift on the middle along one of the edges, as for Candy Roll.
  2. Roll it up.
  3. Grasp the excess wrapping cloth. (For the neatest results, grab it as close to the gift as possible).
  4. Twist it once across the top of the gift.
  5. Twist again.
  6. Tuck the ends under.
  7. Done! No knots here. Note or card is optional.

Now, doesn’t that look easy and fun? What’s more, there are no hard and fast rules about using the wrapping cloth. Please feel free to take my guide as a mere suggestion, and experiment with the wrapping cloth on your own. Merry Christmas to y’all!

G.K. Chesterton Rules

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Stumbling through the Internet one night, I came across a list of the 10 best Christian books of 2011. One of those was a biography of G.K. Chesterton. Now the name rang a bell and I couldn’t remember why. So I looked the fellow up. Boy was he busy! Per Wikipedia:
“His prolific and diverse output included philosophy, ontology, poetry, plays, journalism, public lectures and debates, literary and art criticism, biography, Christian apologetics, and fiction, including fantasy and detective fiction.”
That’s the kind of list that you just stand back at and say ‘wow’. It makes me want to read his biography more. You can only assume that he spent most of his adult life writing, or experiencing something new so that he might write about it.
Of course then I looked up famous quotes of his, and found a couple that I’ve heard pastors use. If you’re looking for an amusing and insightful read, try going through even a page of his quotes here. Here are some of my favorites.
“Just going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car.”
“Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.”
“The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”
“Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.”
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
“If there were no God, there would be no atheists.”
“It [feminism] is mixed up with a muddled idea that women are free when they serve their employers but slaves when they help their husbands.”
“Dear Sir: Regarding your article ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ I am. Yours truly,”
“How you think when you lose determines how long it will be until you win.”
“One sees great things from the valley, only small things from the peak.”
“Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”

Email Interview: Wandering Stars by Keith Gibson

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At the end of 2004, I began attending a friend’s church in Grandview, Missouri. The pastor there was Keith Gibson, who has now authored a book called Wandering Stars. I enjoyed years of his sermons, many of which spoke to the fallacies of cults and how to witness to these confused individuals. To find out a little more about this novel, I decided to conduct an e-mail interview with Keith. Enjoy.

Could you tell us a little about yourself?  I was essentially an agnostic as a teenager.  I had a great number of questions for which I couldn’t find answers.  A friend in a local youth group invited me to attend a conference with Josh McDowell on Christian evidence.  It was the first time that I began to understand that the truth claims of Christianity were intellectually defensible.  I converted to Christianity in my first semester of college.  I began to prepare for the ministry shortly thereafter.  I’ve now been in the ministry for nearly 27 years.  I am passionate that Christianity is Truth.

Is this the first book you’ve written? Where else has your writing been published?  This is my first book.  I have published a number of articles previously.  Most of them have been for the Areaopagus Journal which is our ministry’s publication.  However, I have also been published in the Journal for the Midwest Christian Outreach.  I have done research work for books written by others.  Many years ago I had an article published for Missouri physicians on dealing with worker’s compensation issues.  I have a couple of other writing projects working right now.

Can you give us a brief outline of what your book is about?  There is a growing movement within certain segments of Christianity right now of people claiming to be apostles and prophets of the same character or even greater than those in Scripture.  These new leaders are introducing doctrines that the church has never believed in its history, many of which contradict direct statements of scripture.  The book is a response to this movement.  After taking a few chapters to deal with general subjects related to the overall topic – such as whether or not apostles and prophets exist today – the book outlines major doctrinal issues where these teachers are deviating from orthodox Christianity in the nature of God, the person of Christ, the atonement etc.

Who would this book be most helpful for?  Pastors, youth pastors, parents of teens and young adults since the movement targets young people.

What of your experience has given you the expertise to write this book?  I have eight years working formally in the field of apologetics, twenty-seven years as a minister.  I hold a Master’s Degree in Religion.  The biggest thing however, is that I spent seven years investigating the movement in question.

What drove you to finally sit down and start writing this book? I believe the doctrines of the movement are a significant departure from orthodoxy and present a true challenge to the church’s understanding of God.  I originally approached teachers I respected who are more closely aligned with this movement than I and asked them to do a book.  When I couldn’t find anyone willing to address the subject, I decided to tackle it myself.

What was the hardest part of writing this book for you? Was there a particular chapter that you put off writing due to its difficulty?  The hardest part was reading the statements made by the leaders of this movement aimed at those who disagree with them.  The most difficult chapter to write was the one on the biblical tests for a prophet because it is the most technical.

Was it always planned to be a book, or did it start out as an essay or an article for a Christian newsletter?  The intent was always to produce a book.  However, I did write a newsletter article along the way just to get some of the material out there for people to use.

Did you have to travel any to gather resources for your book? Visit any worship sites for these groups?  Kansas City is one of the key cities for this movement so I did not have to travel far.  I have attended worship services.  I’ve also interviewed current and former participants in the movement.  I read nearly 200 books published by leaders in the movement, listened to hundreds of sermons and read over 7,000 prophetic messages.

From my few years attending your church, you always seemed to have a great fascination with false religions, cults of Christianity, and even non-Christian cults. Could you tell us why that is?  As I said, I am convinced passionately that Christianity is Truth.  I think it is so important that we engage others in the marketplace of ideas to defend the claims of Christ.  In order to effectively communicate the Christian message, it is important that one have at least a rudimentary knowledge of the beliefs of others.  Additionally, I see countless people laboring in false religions to try to earn the salvation Christ will give them for free.

What considerations would someone need to make when witnessing to these groups that would be different from witnessing to the average lost person on the street?  Most of the people in this particular movement are believers in Jesus.  However, one needs to understand their view of Scripture and especially modern revelation.  Further, I think in sharing with those in this movement about its dangers one will need to be prepared to demonstrate those dangers and to counter the typical responses of those who support the new apostles and prophets.  I hope that this book will give readers the tools and information necessary to do that.

When is your book due out? Early this December.

Are pre-orders available? Yes, the book can be ordered now at a website set up just for that purpose at Gibson Apologetics.

Where can we order it?  I would prefer that readers order the book at Gibson Apologetics. The book can be ordered there right now.  In a very short time it will also be available at our ministry website Arc Apologetics and directly from Solid Ground Publishing.

I’m sure you have a very thorough Works Cited page in your book, but are there any other books you would recommend on this subject that might have been an influence but not direct source material?  There are nearly 350 end notes in the book.  To my knowledge, it is the only book of its kind.  However, another good book is The Other Side of the River by Kevin Reeves which is the personal story of a person who has come out of the movement. Weighed and Found Wanting by Bill Randles is also good but the material is a little dated.

Can we expect more books in the future from you?  I hope so.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?  What a person believes matters.  False doctrine can destroy you.

Thanks again to Keith for taking the time to do this. I look forward to reading and sharing it with my friends and family.

Introduction To Minecraft

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Minecraft is described by its Wikipedia page as a sandbox building independent video game. “The game is focused on creativity and building, allowing players to build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D world.” It enjoyed its full release out of beta this past weekend, so I thought I’d finally write about the fun I’ve been having playing this game for the past few months.

You start out as a simple, empty-pocketed person utilizing a first person shooter kind of viewpoint. You can see one hand floating in front of you, as well as a world being generated around you. There is likely grass and dirt; probably trees here and there. You may be in a desert surrounded by sand and cacti, or on a shore next to a vast ocean. There may be cows, pigs, sheep, chicken, or wolves wandering the area near you.

Or maybe you fell into lava and died already. It happened to me once. Anyway, assuming you’re alive, you need to find a tree. Walk up to it, and begin left clicking to punch it. Yes, I know. You’re punching a tree to break it down. It may seem weird, but that’s actually tame in comparison to some things you haven’t seen yet.

Once you have the wood from the tree, you need to make a crafting table. The table gives you a 3×3 grid to build your tools in. You’ll need an axe if you want to chop down trees a little faster. You could use a sword if you want to slaughter some of the animals around you for food or wool or leather. But what you MUST make is a wooden pickaxe. With this you can begin mining stone in your general vicinity. With that stone, you can make a stronger axe or sword or pickaxe. Even a shovel if you have a lot of dirt to get through.

And by this point it’s probably mid-day of your first day in Minecraftia. You have a lot of other things to do and consider in the very near future. You’ll need some of that meat from the animals nearby to keep your food meter up. You could use wood and wool to make yourself a bed to sleep through the night. You can utilize leather to make yourself some body armor. The focuses right now should be light and shelter. Because when night arrives, the monsters come out.

This is a brief glimpse into the start of a much larger adventure, and definitely my favorite part of the game. You have so much more to see and build in this humongous world that is your own playground. You’ll run into obstacles, sure. But you can always rebuild. Things can be made better or stronger. There’s even material that is invincible to explosions if you know where to look.

At Minecraft.net, you can play the Classic version for free. The link is small and on the right side of the page. Classic is a basic builder. You have infinite blocks and can build whatever. The full game is now selling for $26.95. It is well worth it.

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