Reflections...

I’m still waiting for you to send me material for this page.  So I continue to write all the comments and reflections myself.

I know that many of you, despite the advanced average age of our Congregation, are web-literate.  Send me your photos, and your comments. We have a world-wide reach.

Gary the webmaster

Why such a rudimentary website?

From time to time I hear, second-hand, criticism at the basic nature of this website.  As I have said
before, I would be quite happy to have it taken over by somebody else.  I started it about a decade ago, after asking in Church whether we needed one, and whether it would be useful.  Feedback from the Congregation was largely neutral or negative, but I decided to start this simple one anyway, surmising that some web expert might come out of the woodwork to continue it, and compile it using more sophisticated software, of which there is plenty available.

It has, sometimes, been useful for visitors from other Centres wishing to find a local Church, and occasionally I get comments from casual viewers from other parts of the world, always positive.

I had hoped that our Congregation would send thoughts, comments, photos that I could include, but with a very few exceptions, this has not happened.  So now almost everything you read has been composed by me.  Neither is it clear that many are reading it, a conclusion echoed by other Church website maintainers around the world, and I have asked many.  I get almost no feedback.

Yes, it is a simple website.  This is because I use free Website generating software, easy to use, which is hosted by a group dedicated to supporting Church websites in New Zealand.  There is a monthly charge for hosting it, which I pay myself.

If you want to take it over, it’s yours.  Otherwise, I’ll continue to run it.  Better a simple website than none at all.  So don’t beef if you’re not prepared to step up to edit and upload it every week.

         Gary the Webmaster.

 

 

What Books Tell us.

I’ve just finished reading the Library book “The Good Lieutenant”  by Whitney Terrell.  I grabbed it fast when we made a hurried stop at the Birkenhead Library while out shopping.  If I have time, I do two things before selecting a book.  I optically fast-scan the first page, then another opened at random halfway through, and finally the author’s background on the back cover.  These checks are usually enough to tell me whether I want to read it or not. Poor writing, for a multitude of reasons (cliches, foul language) disqualifies it immediately.

This turned out to be an excellent grab.  The author turned out to be an Iraq combat veteran, a superb
writer, and a gifted story-teller with that indescribable ability to find unusual ways to describe situations, and the characters in the story.

You can’t tell by the jacket cover picture.  In fact, this book doesn’t have one.  But if you want to explore all the anguish and human misery experienced by all sides in the Iraq conflict, read it.

Another I’ve just finished is “Blood Flag”, by Steve Martin.  The jacket picture shows a male figure, seen from the back, running down a marble corridor.  An open door in front of him shows the Washington Monument and the US Capitol building in the distance.  This has nothing to do with any incident described in the book as far as I can see, it’s probably one of those copyright stock photos used by publishers to make the cover alluring, and emphasize thoughts of “action”, and “political intrigue”.

It says at the bottomA Paul Madriani Novel”, one of a 16-book series about a Lawyer/Investigator of that name.  I normally dislike books in a series like this, because they all turn out to be the same book, but with different characters and plots, but which end well with Justice of some sort arrived at.  They do, however, often have interesting information about the US legal system, and the way criminal trials are conducted.  But hey, I grabbed it in a hurry.

Many books written by US authors are similar.  Does this tell us something about the American Character?  US readers seem to like “legal” novels, there are many of them, and they usually end up with the good guys winning, though along the way there are many gunshots (Americans are said to own ten times as many guns per capita as other nations, although this is partly because some gun-owners own many guns, and fire them more frequently.  New Zealanders own a lot of guns too, but they’re mainly used for shooting animals, not people.  And we’re not allowed automatic weapons or handguns.)

For excellent writing, you can’t do better than reading Jane Austin, who, despite her cloistered background, had a wonderful sense of story-telling and character.  OK, her books were written in a different time, when those with money and property lived opulently compared to those who laboured on their lands, and there was an immense difference in their life-styles and mindsets.  But her drawing of human frailties and their resulting consequences are timeless. 

You have to put aside some time though, because her books move through the plot in a more leisurely manner than we are used to today.  And there is usually a happy, or at least satisfying, ending.

What books do you read?  Examining the “returned books” waiting on a trolley at the Birkenhead Library tells me that most of us read lighter books, quite a few of the “Romantic novel” category, where the age-old stories of initially unrequited, but finally requited, love are re-told.  These are churned out, profitably, by a number of authors who probably do very well out of them.  They all tell the same story, lived by different characters, with misunderstandings, partings and re-unitings, quarrels and making-ups, petulances and forgivenesses.  What does this say about us, I wonder?

Charles Dickens wrote some rivetting books.  He was greatly conscious of, and indignant about, the immense gap between those who had, and those who had not, and sought to tell their stories in an effort to bring the plight of the poor to light.  Maybe his best-known book is “A Christmas Carol”, where he recounts the story of a miser who is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve, who show him, in visions, scenes from his previous life, and the lives of his employees.  This is an easy read.  If you’ve never read it, or haven’t for some time, get it.  There is, or used to be, a copy in the library shelf in our Church hall.

This book was an immediate success.  It sold over 6000 copies upon publication, and readers in Englad and the USA were moved by its emotional depth. One American employer gave his workers and extra day’s holiday after reading it.

Books are wonderful.  And we have an excellent Birkenhead public library.  Use it.

     The Webmaster.

 

Powerpoints.

When I was still a working Academic, I went to a lot of conferences.  Speakers, often from all over the world, showed their research results in a 20 minute Powerpoint presentation.  The quality of the speakers and their powerpoints varied greatly.  I had a great chance to see the best and the worst in action.  I’ve been thinking of this recently, as our Services have (until recently) been taken by a variety of Ministers and Lay Preachers.

Some have shown videos, or powerpoint segments from other sources.  These also vary greatly, and there’s nothing you can do to enhance those downloaded from the web.  But some slides, prepared by the day’s speaker, have also been dreadful.  Small text, strange or small fonts, too many pictures in a slide, often also too small.  Some such have been shown recently in our Church.  One  had such low colour contrast between the background and the text, that from my seat at the PA system controls I couldn’t read any of the words at all.

There’s no reason to present a small embedded picture.  It’s easy to grab a corner and enlarge it by pulling it out to the maximum size that will fit.  Yes, the resolution will suffer, but from where the Congregation sits it won’t be noticed, they are too far away.  It’s similarly easy to enlarge the font of the printing.  You can also do this with videos.  If they start playing in a small window, uually you can grab a corner and pull it out, and move it around on the screen.

I don’t profess to be an expert, but I have presented a lot of powerpoints to University classes of all sizes.  Students have no hesitation in telling you if your slides are poor.

Advice?  Use simple, readable fonts, like Arial or Comic Sans.  Make the words large.  Our Church has a mobile “presenter” hand-held device which makes it easy for the speaker to change the slides him/herself. Check it out before the Service.  Don’t try to do classy things with pictures or text appearing or disappearing, or fading in and out unless you can check that this also works on our Church system, because all powerpoint projection software is somewhat system-dependent.  Just because it worked at home don’t assume that it will also work in the Church.

Sometimes, despite doing all this, your powerpoint still won’t come up properly.  This happened recently in one of our Services.  Other congregations who use our Church as well may have made subtle changes, or maybe children have foozled with the hardware.  Usually we can sort it out, but sometimes it takes a while.  Sit and think great thoughts while we fix it.

There’s no doubt though, that this ability to project visual information has enhanced our Church Services. Showing the new words to well-known hymn tunes is a big plus, and we can display photographs taken at functions like the Anzac day parades.

Thanks to all of you who help with this, and particularly Anne, who puts in considerable time preparing our powerpoints, and also plays the organ and piano for us.  We appreciate it!

       Gary the webmaster.