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To Find a Gift Card

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 5:25 AM

I was cleaning today when I stumbled across a Borders giftcard I had received at Christmas and never used. This presents me with a difficult situation: just what should I buy with it? :) I could go over to a local Borders Books, Music and Cafe and perhaps pick up a book. Or, on Borders.com (which is run by Amazon.com), I could probably pick up a few. Either way, I could pick up a book I saw yesterday, entitled Eastern Orthodox Christianity: A Western Perspective, which looks very interesting. Or I could buy another book from Karl Barth, I was looking at his books when I ran into the other one. Or, I could perhaps buy part of C.S. Lewis' space trilogy, or the Rising (the first prequel in the Left Behind series)… oh the possibilities!

On the other hand, I could also buy a CD — I'm intrigued by Nichole Nordeman's new CD Brave (I purchased Woven & Spun after she opened Steven Curtis Chapman's show here a few years back). Or I could perhaps buy something else…

Yes, when I'm given a gift card for a book store, I'm like a kid in a candy store. Well, actually, I'm like that a lot of times when I'm in a book store. I was just at Borders this week and walked out with a stack of books from their bargain book section (including one of Emile Durkheim's books for five bucks!).

A New Site Idea

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 4:52 AM

I need to start another site like I need a whole in my head, but I think I have a good idea. I've compiled a list, based on “audience reaction of a typical group of fireworks watchers” (my extended family), of the best affordable fireworks. Maybe I'll start posting my picks somewhere… Hmm.

Happy Fourth, everyone!

Last Minute Shopping...

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 6:07 AM

Nothing says fun quite like lighting large amounts of paiper-mache and explosives on fire. If you are looking for an impressive firework for your display, and you've waited this long, here are a few of my recommendations, based on the ones I shot off tonight at a family get-together. All but the “Bug Zapper” are returning favorites, so I can vouch for their consistency.

The Big Guys
  • J.A.S.F.: Just Another Stinkin' Fountain — This is one that I've purchased for the last few years. And it is just as good as I remembered it. For around $7-$10, it is one of the best, longest lasting fountains you will ever encounter. It may very well be the best fountain, actually.
  • Pop Goes the Fountain (Black Cat) — Another very long lasting fountain with very nice, white and gold sparks. This one only costs around $7, which makes it an excellent value.
  • Bug Zapper — The only 500 gram fountain I've seen. Given that 500 grams is the maximum legal amount of explosives, it is unusual for it to be put into a fountain. While it did not last much longer than Just Another Stinkin' Fountain, it did put on a very large and brilliant fire show. It costs around $16.
  • Nuclear Meltdown (Black Cat) — This is another colorful, very long lasting fountain that has been around for a few years. At $11, it was the best value until I found J.A.S.F. a few years back. It is still worth adding to your display.
Smaller Fountains
  • Golden Silver Flowers/Flowering Peach — Both of these classic, smaller fountains last a nice amount of time and cost around $1.50.
  • Green Bamboo/Big Snow — These small aerial balls put on a vivid, if short show for about $4.00.
  • Happy — For a small aerial firework, you still cannot beat the old standby, which comes in a variety of prices and sizes.

Smoke: The best smoke bomb you can get is Don't Smoke in a Can. At $3.00, it is pricey, but there is simply none I've found better. It lasts a very, very long time and emits three different colors of smoke.

Combine these with others such as Cuckoo, 2 Cool, Wow!, strobes, artillery shells and so on for a great show everyone is sure to love.

Have a happy Fourth!

FridayQ: Never Say Never

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 4:05 AM

FQ1: Somewhere you'll probably never go, but would like to.
The moon. OK, for an answer that is not out of this world — ahem — I'll say Australia. There are some places in Europe I'd like to go to, but I'm counting on making it over the pond one of these days. Down under seems less likely.

FQ2: Something you'll probably never do, but would like to.
Run for Congress or the Senate.

FQ3: Someone you'll probably never meet, but would like to.
Steve Jobs — I'd love to sit down with him to do an interview; he is undoubtedly one of the most visionary people of our times (as a side note, I wrote a post over at TSN last week on some points Jobs made at Stanford that make nice theological points). I would also like to meet Philip Yancy, something that is probably a bit more likely (perhaps at a book signing or something).

FQ REALITY CHECK: What would have to happen in order for you to actually accomplish those three things?
For the first one, someone could hand me a check for a few thousand bucks and I could set off right now to the “bottom of the globe.” In the more extreme choice of the moon, it would require NASA to build its new lunar lander and let civilians ride along and demonstrate it was safe enough for me to feel comfortable getting on it. The second one would require a few tens of thousands of bucks and the opportunity to meet a good political strategist. The third? I'm not sure. Jobs doesn't talk to just anyone, and money certainly wouldn't buy the chance, so I'm not sure… perhaps getting press credentials from the New York Times would do the trick. :)

Just so you know...

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 4:46 AM

…I love debating. I betcha y'all had no idea about that, right? ;)

I've Got Questions, Do You Have Answers

From the better late than never dept.

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 3:42 AM

A few weeks ago, I took part in the questions meme with some excellent questions from Christopher. I was suppose to ask questions of five more people as part of the meme. Three of you asked for questions (that means two more can still sign up!), but I'm ashamed to say I never got the questions written. After intense study with a focus group over a period of three weeks an hour or two of thinking, I present the requested questions. Post/trackback below when your questions are up.

Kevin of Christian Hedonist:
1. Two million dollars is given to you, earmarked for allowing you to flee to some country outside North America. Where would you go and why?
2. If you were able to rewind and change one thing that you did in the past, what would it be?
3. Who is your favorite church figure from the last one thousand years? Why?
4. If you could design a job position for yourself without regard as to whether that type of position really exists, what would it be?
5. Explain your position on systematic theology.

David of DavidCentral:
1. How long did it take for you to teach yourself to play an instrument?
2. If you were able to rewind and change one thing that you did in the past, what would it be?
3. If you could move anywhere in the U.S. that was at least 100 miles from your present location, where would you go?
4. Imagine that you could only use a computer for one more hour. What would you do during that time?
5. Who is the best musician/artist in the last twenty years?

Kendell of Sparkle:
1. What is the one thing you would like to accomplish by this time next year?
2. If you were able to rewind and change one thing that you did in the past, what would it be?
3. You are on a desert island with a coconut, a nail, an empty glass bottle with a cork, a cup of Coca-Cola and two matches. What do you do?
4. How do you like your coffee?
5. What book has had the most profound impact on your life?

Shaw Nature Reserve

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 1:41 AM

I've never been inside the Shaw Nature Reserve at Gray Summit before. With classes out for Spring break and no pressing deadlines on jobs for work, I took the day off and went there with my mother today. Obviously there isn't a lot of flowers blooming yet, but beautiful clumps of daffodils dotted the hills with all of their golden majesty. Spring beauty, a wild flower native to Missouri, was also sprouting up. All of this was set against one of the clearest, bluest skies in a long time. The sky is always noticeably clearer somewhere between Gray Summit and Sullivan, as you get out of the smog of the St. Louis region, but today was exceptionally beautiful. It was a nice day, and with my cell phone left back in St. Peters, no one could reach me. How delightful.

Apparently, a large area of bluebells should be in bloom by next week along a hiking trail down to the Meramec River and they apparently have lots of water lillies in the wet lands area to see during the summer, so it made sense to upgrade from a one day pass to a seasons pass. Hopefully I can schedule some time to see more of the spring flowers as they start to bloom. I gave my camera its first good workout of the year today, and Spring has barely sprung.


In other news, a head supervisor at Charter called this morning. I had been given his number yesterday and left a message for him prior to canceling Charter Digital Cable last night. When I informed him of the cancelation he asked if I would consider giving them one more chance to correct the problem. I said they could come tomorrow if they had a spot open, and he informed me they would clear a spot and even offered to give me a more specific time period rather than the standard four to five hour window that utility companies like so much.

I'm dubious that they can fix it, but when a company offers to bend over backwards in the attempt to fix something, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.

Update on Discontentment

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 11:32 PM

Charter has another hour to come up with a reasonable solution for me. I'm irritated enough that I might call up SBC and see if they will work out a deal for me (they resell Dish, and I already have a Cingular phone, so I might be able to get everything through them). Then I could yank the Charter telephone service and internet as well. As a whole, Charter has been very good to me in the past, but selling a DVR that will not work right until May without warning me is not only dishonest, but also idiotic, since I don't see anyone agreeing to keep it. Also sending two completely useless subcontractors to install the system was very annoying.

Just to be clear, Charter offered me an amazing deal, so keeping the DISH does not benefit me financially. As I noted in the comments, I'd get all of the public service channels, a bunch of extended basic channels that only show up in DISH's top package, the digital HDTV broadcasts and all of the movie channels I don't need for the same price as the DISH America's Top 120 package. This is a really good deal, if it worked right, and makes Charter almost $40 cheaper per month than DISH if I actually wanted all of those features enough to buy them (I don't want them that bad, but I'll take them if I can get them for “free”). In May, like I said, Charter will begin “Simultrans” (“All Digital”) which will move digital cable customers to a 100% digital signal like the satellite customers have. Moreover, unlike satellite, cablecos will be offering CableCards, which means in a year or two, you will be able to buy a TiVo on your own and it will be able to tune digital cable — that's a lot nicer than been locked into the provider's set-top box.

Despite all of this, DISH Network has been very good at customer service over the past year and a half. They've also been fairly reasonable in price and their 100 hour DVR works very nicely — it may not have as nice of interface as the GNU/Linux-based Moxi box offered by Charter, but having 100 hours of storage is a treat. I've recorded hours of political events from C-SPAN, thanks to the huge capacity of the DVR. What I think I will do is try to talk DISH into giving me one of their new dual tuner DVR's (i.e. where you can record something while tuning in something else) and call it quits with Charter for now.

Sure, I won't get the local weather on the Weather Channel, I won't have the public service stations I wanted, I won't have all the movie channels I don't need, and won't have some other channels… but given that it is extremely unusual for me to watch an hour of TV on an average day (I average about a half hour or less unless their is something newsworthy enough to warrant watching CNN), it just isn't worth the hassle. The new Charter All Digital service will again make cable TV superior to satellites in so many ways, but keeping a sub-par system for month and a half interim isn't worth it.

The Winter of Our Discontent

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 5:29 AM

It may be spring now, but you sure couldn't tell it using the new Moxi DVR box that Charter Communications installed today in the process of bringing me into their digital cable fold. It was not snowing outside, but it the Moxi was producing plenty of the white stuff on the TV. After dealing futilely with the installer/subcontractor (why do dish and cable companies always use idiotic subcontractors?), I called support, complained about the installer and proceeded in noting that the cable with or without the Moxi was snowy. They re-dispatched the installer, who called and said he could not make it back today but suggested we circumvent the Moxi box, which I promptly noted would not fix the problem (and for that matter, why pay for a DVR and then circumvent it — that's silly). The installer also noted that everything would have to be digital in time for the HDTV switchover in a year or two — so I'd only have to wait until then for everything to look fine. Yes, that sounds like a good solution!

So, I called Charter again and after finally reaching the point where I started to become a raving lunatic and threatened to throw their equipment out on the porch, they agreed to escalate the issue and get a real tech out today rather than making me wait around again. The tech came and said that they needed a line tech to come and boost the main cable box's amplifier. The line techs came later this evening and did just that, which fixes pure analog signals, but everything still looks horrible through the Moxi. As it turns out, these techs admitted that there is a known hardware problem, apparently with all Moxi boxes, that causes snow on all channels below 99 (i.e. almost everything interesting). There are two possible solutions: they will replace the boxes in the future and/or they will be going all digital on or before May 15, moving all of the channels to places above 99.

I have one final card to play, because I'm not inclined to keep a sub-par system for two months when Dish looks just fine: the one line tech gave me the name of one of the higher ups at Charter, who will, at the least discontinue the service for me. I'm hoping they might be willing to just waive the monthly fee until the problem is fixed in May, but I'm guessing that won't happen and if they won't do that, I shall just renew Dish for another month and forget about going to cable.

At any rate, I'm irritated that Charter did not disclose this problem prior to ordering the service (complete with a 1 year contract — although I have signed nothing and am suppose to have 30-days to opt out). Apparently, the sales people are suppose to disclose the issue, but did not. Lying will get you into someplace, but when it is so blatant, it doesn't last. Who in their right mind would keep a box that corrupts and deforms TV more than anything else? Dish may just prove to be the Richmond to Charter's Richard III.

Faster than a Speeding Heretic

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 5:44 AM

As I noted the other day, I ordered The Collect'd Writings of St. Hereticus and the Hereticus Papers, two satirical books, off Amazon at the recommendation of a professor/friend of mine. I ordered them Thursday night, and to my surprise, both showed up at my door today. Keep in mind, these were used books, so it was individual sellers, not Amazon.com, doing the order fulfillment. I'm impressed!

I haven't opened the latter one yet, but the first book is in very good condition. Better yet, it is really funny. If the rest of the book is as good as the first chapter, it should be a book my readers ought to seek out a copy of. The humor comes from the fact that in it presents its satire so perfectly like something a real religion scholar would have written… only it is absurd when you really think about what it is saying (just like the Tillichian Lord's Prayer I quoted from an online excerpt of the Hereticus Papers).

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