My top 5 iPad apps (so far)

It’s been about three weeks since I purchased my iPad and I thought it would be fitting to write up a list of my favorite apps so far. I chose to write about apps that don’t come with a new ipad, but some are quite well known already. So without furrier ado, here it is:

Zillow

Not everyone is looking for a house, but this beautiful app has proven most useful on my house hunt. Being able to touch houses on a map makes a lot more sense in general than flipping through a list and it’s really easy to get the details and view photos in a gallery view. If you’re not looking for a house, the incredible map interaction available in Google Maps is very useful and impressive–try clicking on street view and you’ll feel like you’ve been magically teleported to the place on the map.

Dungeon Hunter

This game was previously released for the iPhone, but it looks really slick on the iPad. It’s similar to the PC game Dungeon Siege and the game play is quite fun.  Sometimes the UI controls aren’t the best (e.g. getting in the way of where I want to tap on the map), but can you imagine playing a 3d RPG on a laptop for 3-4 hours without plugging it in? It’s amazing that I can play this kind of game on the iPad anywhere, anytime because of the superb battery life. And when it’s time to stop, exiting the game is as simple as pressing the big black hardware button. It is a bit slow to load, but being able to start and stop playing a rather sophisticated game so easily is quite impressive.

ESV Bible

The ESV study Bible is one of my most used apps and it’s AMAZING given it’s price: free. I expected it to be just another Bible app backed by a web service, but it turns out that you get the whole ESV Bible for free, OFFLINE (since I have the wifi-only iPad, this matters alot)!!!  This app has a beautiful UI and beautiful typography. The search functionality is well thought out, organizing results by books of the Bible, and you can take notes on passages. It is a bit difficult sometimes to select the passage that you want to write a note about (seems like you have to press precisely on the verse number or something) and I wish the app had a way to sync my notes online, but overall this app has exceeded my expectations. A pay for version that includes the ESV Study Bible’s commentary would be well worth it.

Virtuoso

I play violin and I’ve always been jealous of pianists because it seems like pianos are everywhere–they can play virtually anywhere whereas violinists have to lug around a heavy case to and from select locations. Well, to my joy and dismay, those lucky pianists can now literally play anywhere. The Virtuoso app displays a touch piano keyboard on screen so songwriters and musicians can practice on the bus, in the park, at the library while in class…everywhere!!! And amateurs like myself can have some fun too messing around on the instrument when bored…now if only this company could release a violin simulation…i’d be very impressed…:)  (Note: the keys aren’t full-size and I think multitouch can’t handle 10 fingers, so its not like you can practice Fantasie Impromptu on this thing–though some have tried something like that).

ABC Player

Lastly, yes, the iPad doesn’t support flash, so you can’t watch hulu on it…but it does have an excellent player from ABC that lets you enjoy TV shows on the beautiful 9.7″ screen, nice and close. The main show on ABC that I like to watch is Castle, so yes selection is limited, but if other networks release similar apps, I don’t think I’m going to need a tv at all…

So that’s my list for now, hope it’s helpful for fellow iPad-ers and iPad-ers to be.

PS, this post was originally written on the iPad and then edited on a laptop to correct typos and insert the images.

Why today is not my day

Today is not my day.

My computer’s network connection went awry last night so I couldn’t make more progress on my work (it was after midnight, so technically it’s today).

This morning I woke up and felt a sharp sting on my left tricep when I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth.  I reached over and felt something like a ball of loose thread so I tried to pulled it out (all the while wondering why a sharp needle-like point would be in said ball of thread)

To my surprise I found a monstrous ant!!!  I leapt back and tossed the ant into the sink, slamming my hand against the wall because my reflexes aren’t calibrated at 6:30am :-P.  It was big, red and ugly–fire ant perhaps? It fell in the sink on its back, wiggling its legs and madly spinning its head looking for an angle to bite its prey.

I turned on the faucet thinking the adventure was over.  Unfortunately, my grandma soon informed me that she found an infestation in my room.

So my dad and I start taking apart my bed, smacking an ant here and there as we go, but even so, we can’t find the source of the problem.

Since we have to go to work, we leave my room undone with the lights on, anxious to return to the conquest of the ant colony when we return home.

When I arrive at work, I have to restart my computer several times because of DNS issues, which prevented me from connecting through the network.  Instead of idling at my desk, I go to the bathroom. 

While sitting there, minding my own business, I discover that the back of my pants is wet, so I spend the next ten minutes drying them off to spare myself the embarrassment of walking around the office with dark splotches on my back.

It’s now only 9:54am.  That’s alot of adventure packed into a 3 hour timespan.  A part of me wants to laugh, a part of me wants to cry–and my left arm still aches from the ant bite.  I want to complain, but I can’t help thinking this is exactly the kind of test where I can see if the gospel is good enough for everyday life.  Can I rejoice in God and the hope that He has promised?  Or will I resort to c’est la vie or whining?

Pray for me please!

 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
   his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23

So that’s my unpolished blogpost for today.  Raw, real life.

SoliDeoGloria.

Drinking from a Firehose of Novelty

My apologies for the long delay between blogposts.  I haven’t posted more frequently because of my obsession with excellence that sets the bar too high for me to publish most of my half-baked thoughts.  I’m going to try trading off polish and thoroughness of thinking for frequency and volume of ideas.  Let’s see how this experiment goes–if it fails, I can switch back or try something new (comments welcome!).

Many people feel bored with life because of its plodding “same old, same old”.  I now know what it feels like to be on the other extreme: I feel like I’ve been drinking out of a firehose drowning in a pool of novelty for the past month.  Before I get into some details, here’s an observation:

Things get boring when they get old.  For a toddler, the simplest experience of a floating balloon can be a source of delight for several days.  For a particularly despondent teenager, you might need a surround sound system with a 500-watt subwoofer and stunning visual effects to arrest their attention.

The pain of boredom can often turn life into an endless pursuit of “the next big thing”, e.g. the newest smartphones, latest fashions, real-time political news, and nascent philosophies where wonder, mystery and discovery seemingly lie (this is perhaps one of the logical primary pursuits in life for a secularist who believes this decaying world is all there is–since the old is always passing away, you constantly must produce and keep up with what’s new lest everything you know or have becomes worthless).

One might assume that alot of novelty would be incredibly exciting, but I think I’ve bordered on the tipping point of what I can handle.  For example, last weekend I went on a roadtrip to LA with friends and had the novel experience of an 18hr drive without layovers.  Great company, good conversation, but my body clock has been way off ever since. 

During the trip, my Motorola Rizr fell on pavement and turned into a “Cracked-berry”.  This fortuitous circumstance disrupted my dithering–I had been meaning to buy a new cellphone for several months–and “forced” me get a Motorola Droid :-).  (I plan on buying an iPad, so I didn’t get an iPhone).

As you can imagine, my attention was totally absorbed by the shiny new toy in my pocket for three days straight.  Not good, especially considering that I am the coordinator for my church‘s Easter service this Sunday and should have been directing those efforts (which has also been a novel project management experience).

The day after Easter, I start my first full time job at Amazon.com, which I expect to be mindnumbingly mindblowing.  I’m anxious enough about all the learning, listening, relationship building and exploring I’m going to have to do my first week that I postponed buying an iPad because I know its alluring novelty will likely be a massive distraction.

Anyway, just to emphasize how novel-ed out I am, the two weekends prior to the LA trip, I attended two Seattle conferences: one for youth put on by Dare2Share and an “All Things Church” ministry conference at Overlake Christian Church where I helped man the booth for my dad’s company iCrescendo.  (I plan on summarizing my thoughts on these conferences in a future post).  It would be nice to have the freedom of exploring and enjoying all of these experiences at a contemplative pace instead of trying to process a year’s worth of material in the span of a month (sidenote: maybe that’s why couples need to cool off and pull back sometimes–too much, too fast without time to reflect…).

These experiences have led me to the (half-baked) conclusion that novelty is delightful and healthy in measured amounts.  Too little and we stop learning and growing and become boring.  Too much and we can’t take it all in and get frustrated because we want to enjoy it while it quickly passes us by.  Ideally we could engage in selective novelty from a basis of stability.  And of course there’s the dessert of reminiscing about the joy of a first ____ when novelty gives way to nostalgia.

Lastly, a brief note from a Christian perspective on how gracious God–the perpetual novelty–is in revealing himself as a relatable, discoverable human being in Jesus Christ.  After my experience being overwhelmed these past weeks, I wonder what it would be like for God to reveal His glory in a massive awesome display, perhaps like he did to Isaiah…not only would I feel undone by God’s holiness, but it seems like the innumerable virtues to enjoy and explore would overload my senses and cause my body to explode into a million pieces all longing to fully experience the slightest hint of glory.

By coming as a man in Jesus, people can meet and discover a fellow human being instead of falling apart at first contact.  By faith, we can today look back and contemplate the glory revealed in Israel’s history and at the Cross while looking forward to the hope of the Resurrection that Jesus guaranteed by rising form the dead.  Soon we will have the honor of spending an eternity exploring and enjoying every detail of the infinite glory of God–an everlasting novelty.

SDG.

Serving the Homeless on MLK Day

It was a chilly Monday afternoon with a bright sun doing little to dispel the cold and wary atmosphere. As we walked towards the Union Gospel Mission Men’s Shelter, there were several homeless men in puffy, black jackets loitering around and I sensed my party apprehensively draw into a tight formation as we approached the entrance. There were five of us: my dad, two sisters, grandma and myself. We quickly scurried into the building, not knowing what to expect.

The shelter reminded me of a middle school cafeteria.  Everything seemed rather clean, if a bit musty, and the place was well lit and inviting.  Immediately at the entrance was a booth where two or three people were chatting on the phone, eyes on computer screens, but someone noticed us and asked if he could help.  My dad said that we were volunteers from Indonesian Presbyterian Church (IPC), there to help serve dinner for the night.  Then he signed off on a form and we were all sent back to the kitchen for orientation.

The people in the kitchen were friendly. One was a tall black man with a smile on his face and the other was a short, tough guy who might have been Hispanic. We later found out that he was the football coach of one of our fellow volunteers, which helped us all relax. We waited awhile since the full force of 15 people had not yet arrived and got started by storing our jackets and bags in a locked closet. We were soon busy putting on aprons, washing our hands, putting on gloves and learning about the different roles in the cafeteria. I would be assigned to serve salad from the middle of the cafeteria with several other men who would serve dressing, cheese and desserts. The ladies got to stay behind the kitchen counter and serve meals on trays.

Union Gospel Mission has about one hundred residents who actually live in the shelter and go through a recovery program called New Creations.  These men get one-on-one counseling through the Genesis Addiction Recovery process, participate in Bible studies and take daily responsibilities within the Mission.  We started serving these residents at 5:00pm—they get first dibs.  At 5:30pm, the doors opened for everyone and anyone to come in from the streets and have a free meal.

My friends and I were ready around 4:45pm, so we joked about school and girls while waiting for the clock to run down to dinner time.  Eventually several residents filed into the cafeteria.  They were all clean and most were friendly as they collected their food.  One of the residents who I’ll call Jim chatted with my dad while he ate.  He was a tall white man with tattoos on both arms and a short, orange beard.  I had no idea what they were talking about, but it seemed engaging.

Soon the doors opened for everyone else; the panoply of Seattle’s homeless.  Some smelled of urine while others looked like they were fresh out of the shower.  Some wore dilapidated shirts and pants with grimy jackets while others may have shopped at Nordstrom’s.  I couldn’t help but think that some of these folks weren’t homeless at all—just freeloaders looking for a free meal—but who am I to judge?

Even though it was a Men’s Shelter, there were women in line for food as well.  One older woman was very well dressed and even brought her own plate and silverware.  This sharply contrasted with others who looked really dirty like kids who had just played out in the rain.  It was a sad and joyful scene.  Sad that people had to endure such difficult lives, but joyful that we got to be of service and experience what it’s like to love like Jesus does.  There is a sense in which His love is indiscriminate, people who are so poor you can’t help but help them, people who don’t say thank you when you serve them, people who freeload, and people who shine with gratitude—Jesus Christ is kind to all whether they are grateful or not.

As I served salad out of a giant tub, Jim ambled over and sat down next to me, surveying the room.  I asked the next man in line “Would you like some salad, sir?”  He nodded his head with a big smile and said, “Yes, yes, thank you!  God bless you!”  I probably wouldn’t have thought much of it, except that Jim stood up and whispered to me, “You hear that man thanking you?  That’s the Holy Spirit thanking you, right there.”  And a few moments later he said with soft-spoken passion, “Jesus died for every person in this room.”  While I was somewhat wary of the theological imprecision of his statements, I was moved too.  It was as if God were so pleased with us and delighted to see us serving the poor.  His pleasure is contagious.

It turns out that Jim had a really broken background.  He was smart, no doubt, having discovered a way to automatically generate credit card numbers and using them to get the works: babes, booze, big TVs and drugs.  He had been in and out of jail several times, but what always amazed him was that UGM would still take him back.  I think he put it best when he explained, “Rehab doesn’t work.  Detox doesn’t work.  But the gospel—it works.  The gospel of grace.”

When dinner was over we helped clean up a bit while other residents came down and mopped the floor.  I was relieved and rejuvenated.  A lot of my worries and suspicions about the homeless gave way to compassion.

After feeding everyone freely, UGM has a chapel service.  No one is required to go, but everyone who attends is allowed to sleep on the foam mattresses they setup in the cafeteria.  They do this tirelessly day after day: serving the poor, feeding the hungry, preaching the gospel and watching God do the impossible.  If you find your soul in need of refreshment, I highly recommend going.  The grace you experience serving at UGM is a great way to remember (or encounter for the first time) the grace everyone—homeless or not—can experience at the Cross.

Contact www.ugm.org for more information.

Article written for Indonesian Presbyterian Church.