Entries from September 2006

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Saturday, 30 September 2006 [13:53 CDT]

Chris Tomlin on the small stage

The wife of one of my guitarists at church works next door to some people who knew some people. The net result is that the three of us got to see Chris Tomlin and his lead guitarist do a small, private, acoustic concert last night in front of no more than 75 people at the Gibson Entertainment Relations Showroom. Co-sponsored by two local radio stations: K-LOVE and 102.3 "The River".

Chris' new album "See the Morning" was just released on Tuesday, and not only did I get into the concert for free, but I got a free copy of the new album signed by Chris himself. It was a very cool, intimate show, and he got to talk a lot about the context surrounding the writing of several of the songs.

As usual, Chris was very humble (almost sheepish at times) but played and sang wonderfully. He was asked in a recent magazine interview: "Describe your sound."

"My sound is the sound of thousands of voices praising God."

Amen. Chris, (as my college minister used to say) may your tribe increase.

Saturday, 30 September 2006 [13:33 CDT]

everything must go!

Lakeline Church is moving. We've been in a shopping center down in north Austin for the past five years. The building is a cool facility and we've liked it, but we've also been spending more than 70% of our total yearly income on rent. Which is almost crippling and I'd consider it bad stewardship.

So, starting in November of this year, Lakeline Church will begin meeting in the commons area of Leander High School. Making us "portable" with all the advantages and challenges that brings, but also saving us a ton of money on rent that we can use to do other more important things.

So, since we were needing some electronic equipment once we move, the "Going Portable Committee" tasked me with visiting Brook Mays Music's going-out-of-business-forever liquidation to see if they had anything that we were going to need.

They didn't, but I did pick up a Peavey Rage 158 practice amp for $57.59, a solid K&M boom mic stand for $6.23, a keyboard sustain pedal for $5, and some insert cables for less than $4 each.

Now once I pick up a gig bag for my electric guitar, I should be able to carry all my stuff down to Chase's for practice in a single, relatively light load. And that's a good, good thing. My "stage" amp that I've been lugging around forever is a Fender Stage 185, which is 150(!) watts, very loud, and very heavy.

Saturday, 30 September 2006 [13:13 CDT]

the wizard of Oz

I have successfully finished the 1st Six-Weeks grading period at school. I had several long days of grading, some running to as late as 3am. But everything got graded and I'm in that pleasant lull period before they turn in anything else substantial.

I've also had the chance to see a couple of live bands lately, who varied widely in quality. The first was last weekend at Sherlock's Pub. The band: a famous "party band" from Houston.

We were sitting in the back, so I couldn't see the band very well. They were playing several classic party band hits: Hard to Handle, Brick House, In the Middle, My Sharona. I noticed that all three of the front men were taking turns on lead vocals, depending on the song.

On one particular song, I noticed that I was hearing a bass guitar part, but I couldn't see the bass guitarist. The lead guitarist was on the left, a vocalist with no instrument was in the middle, the rhythm/other lead guitarist was on the right, and the drummer was in the back.

Yet I was clearly hearing a bass guitar. "Who's playing bass?" I asked my date. We both looked around, wondering if there was a fifth musician tucked in the back, but there were only four people on stage.

When the song finished, the lead singer went over and picked up a bass guitar and played it while someone else took a turn at lead vocals. I supposed that they had a bass part on a track somewhere, which is a bit unusual but not unheard of. Maybe it was a new song and he didn't have it down very well yet. Or something.

Anyway, the next song began with a signature lead guitar riff. I was watching the rhythm guitarist to see how he was playing it and and noticed that although his hands were moving around the fretboard in some approximation of the lead part, he wasn't playing the part I was hearing. I looked over at the other lead guitarist, and he wasn't covering anything even remotely close.

With growing alarm, I started watching all three guys up front more carefully, and by the end of the song I'd become certain that none of them were actually playing their instruments. All three of them were just pantomiming to a recorded track.

The next two songs were the same. The drummer was drumming, and they were singing live, but not playing their instruments. It was very surreal. "What sort of band does this on purpose?" I thought. I wondered if they'd been doing this gig for very long. A friend of mine familiar with the band tells me they've been around for twenty years and make over $1000 per gig.

Now, the parts they were pantomiming were close enough to the real thing that I could tell that they did know how to play the songs; they just weren't. And the tracks were different enough arrangements from the standard versions that I'm sure they'd recorded the tracks themselves.

I just can't imagine how in Austin, TX a major band can get away with pretending to play their instruments in front of a crowd for very long. Discuss amongst yourselves. I'll report on the other live act in a bit; I just feel like breaking this stuff up into smaller focused updates.

Monday, 11 September 2006 [23:24 CDT]

the trouble with grading

I'm caught up with school, basically for the first time this year.

I've got this amazing grading setup, which allows me to churn through grading in half the time it takes regular humans. However, at the beginning of the year, I've got to set up the setup. Which is a fair bit of work.

Manually doing it is annoying, so this year I spent a couple of days getting some code in place to make it faster to do the one-time, once-a-year set up I have to do. Yes, I'm that lazy.

Well, by today I'd already finished all the setting up and there was nothing left to do but actually grade. This is the first grading I've done for Computer Science all year, so there was a fair backlog.

I got to school early (7:30) and did a bit of grading then, and then stayed after school until 9:30 getting the remaining bulk finished. I also caught up in Algebra II grading, which I've been doing all along.

Here's what I don't like about grading.

Grading is essentially homework. I mean, it's almost the very nature of the beast that you can't do it during the normal workday, since that's when I'm teaching and the kids are actually generating the work in the first place.

I've never liked homework, either, but what makes homework at least better than grading is that when you're doing homework, you're 1) learning something new, and/or 2) improving some necessary skill.

When you're grading, on the other hand, the workload is just as high, but you learn nothing. And you don't get better at anything really except grading. In that regard, except that I need to assess my students, homework is worthless. For me, anyway.

Basically, we teachers do homework for purely altruistic reasons. We don't like grading, and the kids don't like doing it to begin with. But practicing helps kids to learn. The kids are less likely to do the practice and take it seriously if it's not for a grade. So in order to have a real grade, we've got to assess their practice. Which means we've got to assign them meaningful things to do, and we have to grade them so we can know if they're really learning what they need to, and so they can have accountability for their learning.

I didn't do a fair percentage of the homework that was assigned to me in college. I just didn't see the value in it at the time, and I was lazy. And cocky.

If I went back to college now, I'd probably do every bit of homework assigned. Why? Because, compared to grading, it's actually interesting. Fun, even. In fact, I usually make the keys for the Algebra II worksheets myself just because I enjoy working the problems. How sad is that?

Anyway, it feels good to be caught up. I caught up on sleep this weekend, and I caught up on grading today.

Now if only some of my football teams would win once in a while.

Saturday, 2 September 2006 [17:17 CDT]

it Just Works

A month or so ago my Dad bought himself a sweet new Dell laptop for an alarmingly-low price. He's a bargain-hunter, he is.

At the same time, I was in Dallas for training, staying in a hotel with Internet I couldn't use because I don't own a laptop. Talking to Mom about it, she reminded me that they now had an old laptop they were no longer using.

The old "laptop" was a nice enough machine, except for two glaring deficiencies. 1) It had shipped with a scant 128 MB of RAM, which is not nearly enough to run Windows XP well. 2) It didn't come with a battery. You've got to have it plugged in at all times.

Well, once Dad found out that I was interested in the old clunker, he set out to making it sea-worthy again. Upgraded the RAM to 512 MB, which helped immensely. Reinstalled Windows XP from scratch. Made sure all the connectors and such worked. Even picked up a USB WiFi adapter with Linux drivers available.

Then he did one more thing: he installed Ubuntu Linux on it.

I don't know if you've ever experimented with Linux before. Especially in the last couple of years. But Ubuntu is a version of Linux which is slicker than just about anything out there. Tons of useful software preinstalled. Tons more available with just a few clicks. Free tech support and updates for three years. The works.

Anyway, though the USB WiFi adapter Dad had gotten came with Linux drivers, it was an obscure brand, and getting the drivers installed would require compiling the Linux kernel. Under Fedora, which I use on my desktop machine, I've compiled the kernel a few times. It's not incredibly difficult, but it does eat up a few hours, typically. And I wasn't looking forward to figuring out how to do it on an unfamiliar distribution like Ubuntu.

On a whim, I'd also recently ordered a USB WiFi adapter from Not because I was planning to replace anything, but just because it was a name-brand (Netgear) USB WiFi adapter for $13, and I knew I'd regret it if I didn't pick one up when it was available. You Wooters know the regret I'm talking about.

So, the Netgear adapter came in the mail yesterday. I was looking at my laptop, and just decided to swap out WiFi adapters. A sticker on the bubble-wrap for the Netgear had carried a dire warning for Windows users: "STOP! Run the Installation CD first before connecting this device."

"Worth a shot," I thought. After all, Netgear is a well-known brand. This isn't an especially new adapter. And Ubuntu aims to have "a clear focus on the user and usability (it should 'Just Work™')." So I put it in and powered on the laptop.

Guess what? It Just Worked. Silently autodetected and configured my Netgear USB WiFi adapter at some point during boot-up. All I had to do was go into the network setting and tell it to use the wireless as the default instead of the wired ethernet adapter. It autodetected and autoconnected to my wireless access point downstairs, even. And works like a charm.

And now the next time I find myself in a hotel room with "free high-speed Internet!", I'll be able to take advantage of it.

Thanks, Dad, for the slightly used laptop and for all the work to get it ready. (And thanks, Mom, for suggesting it.) And thanks, Woot, for the almost-embarrassingly cheap name-brand WiFi adapter. And thanks, Ubuntu, for finally putting together a Linux distribution that mostly Just Works.

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