God vs. Responsibilities

Last Friday, there was an ICPF retreat here in Ahmedabad themed “What makes God smile?”. It was good. Better than expected (Or should I say as expected, since God is the master of doing the unexpected!). During the retreat there was some time allotted for a question and answer session. I love those sessions. I love them because I love questions. Questions are those peculiar creatures that go Pop! in people’s heads at random times and then do Kaboom! to some false assumptions or give birth to some Eureka! moments.

So, I was listening intently to the questions and there were a few that caught my fancy. However, if I try to answer all of them in one go, this post will become a huge pile of jumbled radioactive mess that will make your brains melt at the rate of 12 grams per second! So, taking in consideration the mental heath of my readers I’m going to answer one question at a time.

So, the first question goes like this: In our daily lives we have different responsibilities. Responsibilities to our families, to our friends, to our studies, to our work and in some cases, to dogs and cats(umm… I mean, pets). Situation is just like the spelling of the word : RESPONSIBILITIES. Complicated, big and with lots of I’s into it (‘I’ have to do this.. ‘I’ have to do that..). So, in fulfilling all these different responsibilities, sometimes, we don’t have time for God. But if we drop our responsibilities, that’s no good either. So, how should one balance the two?

Look at the title of this post and say, “The title is wrong”. Do it. “The title is wrong”. It should be, God and Responsibilities. Now why do I say that? First of all, that’s how God works. All of us who are Christians believe that God has a definite purpose for our life. If he has a definite purpose and plan for our life, he will at times tell us what we need to do. And then to do those things will be our responsibility. He will never force us but only lead us. It’s our responsibility to follow.

But, is it possible that he tells us what to do only at certain times and at other times we should do as we please because God hasn’t told us anything specific to do? No. God’s plans are way too intricate to be left up to chance. And he never leaves them to chance. He is constantly watching from the shadows and shaping us as we are going about our daily duties. And for him to shape us as we are going about our daily duties, he must use the things that we do daily.

A thing about our nature is, an action, an activity or an event will not have a significant impact on our lives unless it happens daily. To be healthy, one must exercise everyday, not once in a year. Now, there are exceptions to this rule but these exceptions most of the times are disruptive and abnormal. I mean, if someone close to us dies, it will have a significant impact on our lives bit it’s not everyday that this happens. It’s outside of the domain of what we call normal.

So, only the things that we do daily has significant impact on our lives. And God uses this simple principle to shape our character. He is constantly at work on us and he is constantly testing us if we are ready for the next phase of our development. We might or might not plan our days, but God certainly does. And his way of planning our day is assigning us responsibilities. He constantly watches us how we handle these and by using these responsibilities he slowly shapes our character.

So, that’s how I understand the relationship between God and our responsibilities. But, there is another aspect to this topic that must be addressed. And, because this aspect exists, the title isn’t totally wrong. Think. What would make a person to ask such a question? For the questioner, there are so many responsibilities that he/she doesn’t have time for God. The person truly feels that he/she should spend more time with God and is feeling guilty about it. But if the responsibilities are also assigned by God, then it would be like going into the temple of God when he has clearly told us to do something else. It would be disobedience. It would be hypocrisy.

There we have a dilemma. If one does follow through all the responsibilities, the responsibilities eat up all the time that one has and there is no time left for God. But if one cuts on the responsibilities, he/she is indirectly disobeying God. However difficult the problem looks on the surface, it is not as difficult as it looks. It can be addressed with one simple but profound truth.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (ESV) – 1 Corinthians 10:31

This particular verse has been like an eye opener for me. For in it lies the definition of worship. Most people think of worship as what we do in church. Singing songs. But bible talks about worship in spirit and truth. Not in songs and tunes. And, the last part of this verse says, “Whatever you do, do all for the glory of God.” So, the definition of worship becomes, “Worship is anything that we do for the glory of God.” Now, it may look on the surface that this definition is inclusive of every action but it is not so. One can certainly give his parents a glass of water for the glory of God but one can not lie to his brother for the glory of God. So, one must examine what he/she does before doing it.

So, how does this new perspective about worship help us in our current dilemma? Well, it helps us because it makes possible for us to be constantly in touch with God. There is simply no reason that you can’t go about attending to your responsibilities and worship God both at the same time. Certainly, some time does need to be kept aside for studying of his word and prayer. But this time will be like the topping of a cake. Because at that time, you will not come to God asking for his presence, you will be in his presence throughout the day worshiping him through the things that you do throughout the day. Now, instead of little or no time for God, one would have the whole day with God.

There are also a few more things that I would like to say but this post is long enough as it is. So, I’d explore this idea of worship and staying with God throughout the day in some other post. I have also put forth the same idea of worship in an earlier post A life of Worhsip in much more detail. I’d also recommend reading this excellent book for pointers on how one can be with God throughout the day: Practice of Presence of God – The Best Rule of Holy Life.

Dual booting Windows 7 and Archlinux on Lenovo Ideapad U410

Last week I got a new laptop. Lenovo U410. It’s a nice ultrabook. However, the chief topic of this post is not to review it, however to set up Archlinux on it without loosing any of the features that are, what should I call them… um, factory inbuilt. I’m talking about a raid0 array and a one-key rescue system that came preconfigured with the system. I searched much on the internet to find a safe way to install linux on this system however all of them did something that I didn’t want to do…

The usual method went something like this: backup everything, turn off raid, turn off UEFI and enable legacy boot in the bios, and then install whatever you like. I thought if they have given such nice features then why not use them? There must be a way of installing linux in this system without nuking it first. So, I went on and found the way… I will just write down the steps here for future reference.

Goal

The system that I wanted to create was something like this: 80GB for windows, about 40GB for Archlinux (20GB root and 20GB home plus about 200MB for boot) and the remaining space for a big data partition that can be shared between windows and linux.

Partitioning

First of all, there were two drives in the system. One big 500GB hard drive and another 24GB SSD. For our purposes, we don’t need to touch the SSD. Our dealing will be solely with the big one. The system comes with 4 primary partitions preconfigured. What it means is, we can’t make any new partitions without deleting at least one partition. Now, the partitions that one can see were only two. A partition in which windows was installed and another one labeled “Lenovo” which contained drivers and other softwares that came with the system.

To reach our goal, I needed to make some adjustments to these partitions. First of all, backup all the data in the partition labeled as “Lenovo”. Around 5GB of drivers and softwares. Once that’s done, fire up a partition manager. I used the combination of Gparted and Easeus partition manager to accomplish the following tasks… however, all of it can also be done with gparted.

I used a Ubuntu live disk for gparted. Then I did the following things:

  1. Deleted the partition labeled as “Lenovo”
  2. Resized the partition that contained Windows 7 from about 420GB to 80GB
  3. Created an extended partition in the unallocated space after the windows 7 partition
  4. Created an NTFS partition for storing the data. About 325GB.
  5. Created an FAT32 partition for /boot for the linux system. About 20GB.
  6. Created an EXT4 partition for / (root) of the linux system. About 20GB.
  7. Created an EXT4 partition for /home of the linux system. Used all the remaining space… about 21GB.

You might notice that I have created a FAT32 file system for the boot partiton. Why? Well, we need it. We will not replace the windows bootloader in the MBR, rather, we’ll point the windows bootloader towards grub of our newly installed system. That grub, will be installed in a partition(specifically, the boot partition) and not the mbr. However, windows can’t see ext4 partitions… we’ll need something that the windows bootloader can see. It will probably see NTFS but it will certainly see FAT32. That’s why I went with FAT32. And, it paid off…

Installing Archlinux.

Well, I didn’t do anything special while installing Archlinux. Just follow the beginner’s guide and do the normal set up. Don’t worry about UEFI and stuff. Follow along until you come to the part where you need to install grub. There we need to take a detour. But first, we need grub installed (not in the MBR or partition but in our system. Using pacman):

pacman -S grub-bios

Once grub is available in our system, we need to install it in the boot partition. How? Like this. But for future reference, in case that if the page is edited for some reason, I’ll also post the commands here.:

modprobe dm-mod
grub-install –target=i386-pc –recheck –debug –force /dev/sdaX
chattr -i /boot/grub/i386-pc/core.img
mkdir -p /boot/grub/locale
cp /usr/share/locale/en@quot/LC_MESSAGES/grub.mo /boot/grub/locale/en.mo
chattr +i /boot/grub/i386-pc/core.img

Note: When I issued the chattr command, it game some strange error… I looked it up but didn’t understood much. So, I decided to ignore it… seems that my computer also did the same as it works flawlessly right now. So, it doesn’t matter.

Alos, create a grub.cfg while you are at it:

grub-mkconfig -o /boot/grub/grub.cfg

So, once grub is installed in our boot partition, we need to make a copy of it’s boot info by doing the following: (Again, taken from the awesome archwiki)

my_windows_part=/dev/sdx#
my_boot_part=/dev/sdx#
mkdir /media/win
mount $my_windows_part /media/win
dd if=$my_boot_part of=/media/win/linux.bin bs=512 count=1

Adjust that to your setup and execute it. You might need to install ntfs-3g to write to the windows partition. If so, do so.

Configuring windows bootloader

Once grub has been installed, our work on the linux end has finished. Now, all we need to do is point the windows bootloader to our newly created boot partition with the info contained in the linux.bin file that we just created. To do that, I’m gonna directly quote archwiki page that I referenced earlier.


Boot to windows and open up and you should be able to see the FAT32 partition. Copy the linux.bin file to C:\. Now run cmd with administrator privileges (navigate to Start->All Programs->Accessories, Right-click on Command Prompt and select “Run as administrator.”)

bcdedit /create /d “Linux” /application BOOTSECTOR

BCDEdit will return an alphanumeric identifier for this entry that I will refer to as {ID} in the remaining steps. You’ll need to replace {ID} by the actual returned identifier. An example of {ID} is {d7294d4e-9837-11de-99ac-f3f3a79e3e93}

bcdedit /set {ID} device partition=c:
bcdedit /set {ID} path \linux.bin
bcdedit /displayorder {ID} /addlast
bcdedit /timeout 30


And that’s it. You’re good to go. Now, you can boot up both windows and linux and you haven’t sacrificed any of the nice things that came with the system. One-key rescue still works and so does the raid0 array. All in all, an ideal solution.

The Fallacy of Social Evolution

First of all, let me define my terms. What do I mean by social evolution? Well, it’s a close companion to the theory of evolution. It basically states that all of our social behaviors have evolved for millions of years and are still evolving. You should note that this evolution has no direction. It doesn’t understand if it’s going up or down or left or right or if it’s going round and round. It is basically a balloon full of hot air which goes wherever the wind blows.

But, according to this particular theory, a few thousand years ago, someone tied a rope to that balloon. Then someone tied another and another and then they kept tying ropes for a few thousand years. Now, the balloon couldn’t go wherever it wanted to. Rather, it is controlled by the people that tie and cut the ropes. Generally, the system that handles tying and cutting the ropes is known as the government.

Now, the government in the 21st century is largely influenced by the people that are governed. If the people don’t like the government, they stage a coup d’etat and overthrow whoever is governing. Egypt is a recent example. And then, the people have the power to bind and loosen the ropes that lets the balloon float.

That is a quite convenient arrangement. What it means is, now we have the power to shape tomorrow’s world. Now, there is a social organism which controls it’s own social evolution. That is quite interesting. It is also quite intoxicating. It feels good to be in power.

Now let me get to the point. The world I see around me fits the last description. Humans do have the power to shape tomorrow. But what I don’t agree with is the beginning. The Darwinian theory of evolution. Because the Darwinian theory of evolution and social evolution are quite contradictory. I don’t mean to say that a thing such as a contradiction exists in the world of Darwinian evolution, however, it does exist in the world where I live.

Where is this contradiction? I’ll tell you. We all know that humans have an inherent desire to do good. Even the bad things that people do must have some element of goodness in it. So, when we try to shape the tomorrow by forming laws, we desire to make the world better. Not worse. But good and bad don’t exist in the naturalistic world. So then, what the heck is Joe doing forming laws?

But since I am feeling generous today, let’s grant a morality to naturalistic philosophy. Suppose that good and bad is the product of evolution. So, we have a set of standards defined by a blind process of which one we don’t like and one we strive for. Alright. But if that’s the case then we are actually being controlled by the process of evolution and we aren’t actually shaping the world of tomorrow. We are just playing out a script that has been written by a blind process which in all probability does not exist. We are the puppets and the universe is pulling the strings. You know, there is a word for it. Fatalism. Where Dr. Fate decides everything and you don’t have the freedom to choose anything.

So, any way you look at it, in a naturalistic framework, it is self defeating through and through. BUT, (and it’s a big but) it seems that it is true. We just need to look at our history to know that mankind has actually shaped the world we see around us today. So, maybe it is true. If you have read so far, you must be wondering what does it mean? Why is it important?

It is important because we are shaping the world of tomorrow. With each action, we are changing the world. However, it is more important today that it was before because of the prevalence of the scientific methodology in the modern thought. I don’t mean to say that the scientific methodology is wrong. It is perfect. But I’m not sure if that is the right methodology to apply in the regards of social or cultural reform.

The reason is, science helps you determine a certain category of truth. Namely about the physical world. However, there are certain things that science can not tell you. It can’t tell you the meaning of love (or meaning of anything for that matter). It can only help you gather information. Nothing else. The scientific methodology consists of trial and error. In layman’s terms, it is about gathering data from experiments and then refining those experiments to reach the truth.

However, this particular method itself is problem for social evolution. Because it means experimenting with society. With people. Testing on human subjects without their informed consent is considered a crime. Still it’s ok to do so under the label of social evolution. In social matters, it is better to find the right way without experimenting. Otherwise, humanity will incur a great loss.

Supposing that any civilization tries to go by the literal meaning of social evolution and tries to find the ideal government or society. If a society goes in the search of utopia, who guarantees that it will ever get there? Who’s to say that they will not fall into the thousand pitfalls of all the modern and ancient philosophies and become just another casualty? Just a tragic tale telling others to not go by a certain route? Just another case study at a community college?

Who can by certainty say that such a system even exists? And who is to say that with our finite knowledge and understanding we will ever find it if it exists? Who is to say that we will not keep trying the wrong way until every single one of us ceases to exist? Modern thinkers say, “Our morality is constantly evolving. What is good today might not be good tomorrow!” All I can say to them is, “Nonsense! You were a good thinker yesterday but today you are not!”

This is the problem with our generation. We don’t know the truth and we don’t know what is truth. I wrote a story to illustrate what I have said in this post. There can be a thousand wrong ways in which humans may try to evolve the society into. However, there can be only one right way. There are many angles at which one can fall but only one angle at which one can stand.

This is one basic property of truth. Truth is exclusive and it eliminate all falsehood. Once you know the truth, you can tell what is false. A single truth can eliminate a thousand lies however a thousand lies can not point towards a single truth. The scientific method is not a reasonable method for social reform. For it assumes nothingness in the beginning, it will lead to nothingness in the end.

What then, can be the solution? Should we just settle for things just as they are? By no means. I said, in a naturalistic framework, it is self defeating. Not in the theistic framework. In theistic framework, social reform is possible. However, it is not evolution. For one, unlike evolution, it has definite goal. It is reformation rather than evolution. I told you that I wrote a story. Go read that if you haven’t.

Read it? No? Go read that. I’ll wait.

Waiting…

At this time, we do not need to figure out the thousands of ways in which the civilization can fall. We need one way where it can stand. Since the theories like the one that I have just discussed makes it crystal clear that we do not know which way we should be going, it’s obvious that we should take advice from someone who does know.

Did you notice the description of the stranger in that story? A stranger that fell from the sky an instant before! Someone who knew the way and was willing enough to help him. Someone who cared enough to come down to earth to help him.

Well that story never ever took place, however something similar took place in our world. Check your history books. About 2000 years ago, you will find a figure in history that has changed the whole world. His legacy is unparalleled. In 3 and a half years of public ministry, he turned all the philosophies of the world upside down. He showed us a model to live by. Philosophers searched for truth. He claimed to be the truth. The atheistic thinkers of the 21st century talk about a world constantly changing, evolving in God knows what! But for past 2000 years, his figure, his message and his impact has stayed constant.

Only in what he says, I see hope for our world. Only in him I see the remedy for our society. Only in his teachings I see a way to change our corrupt nation. Let the darkness be pierced by the shining light of his glory. Let the nation be conquered by his love. Let his body prepare for the coming battle. Let the church arise!

The Safest Route

He was still in his office when he heard the news. A riot had broken out in the city. Office was closing up and everyone was going to their homes. And so was our hero. He had called his home and everyone was safe, however he was still worried about them. As he was leaving his office, he was wondering which way he should take.

He was gifted with an analytic mind by birth and he loved to solve puzzles. Also, he was of that particular type of dreamers who saw adventures everywhere. To him, life was never dull but a bit much too exciting. To add to that, he was liberally exposed to video games in his childhood where he had saved the universe countless times. So, to him, this seemed like another adventure of which he was a hero.

Who knows? One day, maybe he will really save the whole universe. But for today, he wasn’t fighting to save the universe, he was just trying to get to his family. But to him, it was all the same. His family was his universe. So, as he was leaving his office, the child inside of him had already envisioned the whole adventure. His goal was set and now the work had been given to his analytic mind.

He told himself, there are six possible ways I can reach home. Since the goal is to simply reach home, it would be best to avoid any conflict. Which route would be the safest? Considering such incidents in the past, the neighborhoods around the city and the news he had heard so far, he determined a particular route that should be safe.

He kickstarted his bike and started his journey towards his home. Just a couple of blocks later, he saw some people coming in the opposite direction. Judging by their faces, they looked confused and a bit afraid. He concluded that they are probably in the same situation as he. He asked them, “Is it safe this way?” pointing towards the direction in which he was going. “No.” said a stranger. He hit the brakes and asked, “Do you know which way would be safe?” The stranger inquired, “Where do you want to go?” “The mad gorillas park.” “That way… I don’t know… but don’t go this way. It isn’t safe.”

Considering this new bit of information, he turned around and headed towards his second option. Just a few blocks later, again, a similar episode followed. So, in his quest for reaching his home near the mad gorillas park, he turned towards his third option. Again, a similar episode followed. However, this time it had twist.

The stranger seemed to know a safe way to reach the mad gorillas park. However, the problem was, the way he was describing wasn’t in any of his options. He was describing a completely different way. Our hero didn’t even knew if this way really existed. The other startling thing about this stranger was, it seemed that the stranger wasn’t normal and acted like he had just fell out of the sky an instant before.

The more startling thing was the intensity with which the stranger showed the way to our hero and stood there as if demanding to our hero to take that route. As he looked at the stranger, it seemed as if the stranger was getting larger and larger by every second. The stranger just stood there, but he stood there with a force of a mountain.

Our hero had never felt anything like it before. In his heightened state of mind, he did something he would have never done. He took a route that he didn’t know to reach a place he did know through a city that was trying to devour him all because he met the strangest stranger he ever met.

Not surprisingly, the stranger was right. Our hero reached his home safe and sound and lived happily ever after.


^ That never happened. I made it up. Why? Well, I wanted to tell something and I needed an illustration. You can read all about it.

Managing Information

I’m studying and working. Plus, working in a field that is changing everyday. Everyday something becomes obsolete and without learning something new, one’s skillsets can become obsolete very fast. And then, I like to do a lot of reading outside of my field. What this means is, I have to be on top of a lot of information. I have to keep track of it. I have to revise it periodically.

So, because of this requirement, over the years, I have developed several techniques and I thought, I’d share it. The first step is to classify or categorize this information.

However information is not like carrots and potatoes. You can’t separate one from other so easily. Sometimes you can but not so often. It flows from one category to another like our conversations flow. We start discussing cars and end up debating religion. You can’t say where one ended and second began. That is because conversations are basically an exchange of information. Of ideas.

This makes it pretty difficult to create a system that can handle all kinds of information. One of the reasons why pen and paper are so successful is because they are very flexible. However most of software aren’t. Most software work on definite structure and this structure restricts it from being used for certain kinds of information.

But, let’s get back on track. As I said, first task is to classify. I’d basically like to classify the information in three sections. One, small tasks. Two, big tasks. Three, detailed studies.

  1. Small tasks: Small tasks are things that you can do in a small amount of time. In this section, I basically define tasks that can be completed under 4 hours of time. However, about 80% of these tasks take less than 1 hour. Also, sometimes I take big 4 hour tasks and divide them in subtasks of smaller amount of time.
  2. Big tasks: Big tasks are things like a project. Reading a book. Detailed study of a particular subject. Things that can’t be finished in one sitting. I normally work on 1 or 2 big tasks at a time. These big tasks get divided in smaller tasks and then I schedule these smaller tasks.
  3. Detailed studies: In this section, I put all my studies and reading. All the things I read go into this section. I’ll talk about this later.

Managing tasks

Small ones

Did I ever tell you that I use Emacs? Well, I do. I use it a lot. And I use it for task management also. In fact, there is so much written about it for task management that I’m not going to go into it. I’ll just tell you to go here.

Big ones

Well, here be the beasts and dinosaurs. In here you’ll see things like “Read: The art of computer programming (all finished volumes) by Donald Knuth” However, finishing this task will take hundreds of hours. All the projects and ideas go into this section as well. And then one by one, each one get divided into smaller tasks when I get around to actually do these things.

Detailed studies

This is basically things like reading essays, books or documentations to learn and understand new things. The irony of this activity is, without doing this, you can’t do anything else. Yet, nobody will tell you to do this. They will only tell you to do other things…

The way I do it is in the following order: Read, revise, reference. First I’ll tell what I do in each of these things and then, I’ll talk about the tools that I use.

  1. Read: Does the thing that you are doing right now need an explanation of how? If so, then the end of the world is upon us! But, I do one little thing that you might not be doing. I highlight the main points and phrases. I highlight key information points. Why?
  2. Revise: Because it helps me to revise. If it took me an hour to read a particular article, and I have highlighted it, it will take me only 10 minutes to revise it. However, for this to happen, the highlighting should be accurate. If you are too liberal with the highlights it will do you no good…
  3. References: By God’s grace, I have very good memory. Once I read and understand something, I can recall the concept anytime. But what I can’t recall is the exact phrases used in describing it. I might forget the terms. That’s why when doing something else, I might recall a particular concept but can’t recall how exactly to phrase it. So, I go back to that original article/book whatever it was and search for it.

So, those are the three activities I find myself doing frequently. Now, first and second activity can be done on printed media quite well. However, I don’t know if the third can be done. And even if it can be done, it won’t be as efficient as in electronic media. I’m talking about web pages and ebooks. If you want to search for some word or phrase in a document you just need to give it a command. That’s why I choose ebooks over printed books.

The tools I use are the following:

  1. Emacs: You might be wondering what the heck is this emacs thing… well, it’s a thermonuclear word processor. It’s on the verge of achieving sentience! It’s a wild beast. But once you tame it, it becomes your greatest ally.
    • Org mode: Org mode can be called as the crown jewel of emacs. It can do so many things that I’m not sure that there is a complete list anywhere. I use it to write notes, capture notes and tasks(org-capture), write blogs (org2blog), do study assignments (export to pdf), manage and schedule tasks, track habits and so much more.
    • Deft: This little extension of emacs can be used to do access your notes very quickly. Basically you just start typing and it will search for that particular word in all your notes contained in different files. It basically does a full text search.
  2. Evernote: This piece of software is absolutely awesome. It is basically designed to be a note taking program. But it does much more than that. It syncs those notes across different platforms. If you haven’t tried it, you really should.
    • Evernote clearly: Evernote clearly is an extension for chrome and firefox web browsers. It does few things which are very useful. One, it makes the web pages easy to read by removing all the other useless things and advertisements from the page. You can also annotate things on the web page using clearly. Once you are done reading/annotating you can save that web page to your evernote notebook. Available to you any time you like. Even if the original web page moves or gets deleted, you’ll still have a copy of that web page. It’s just great tool.
  3. Xournal: I use this program to annotate pdf files. In other words, ebooks. So it is easy for me to review/revise what I have just studied.

With the help of these tools, I can easily do things that I need to do with information. Read, revise and reference. And I can also manage the information regarding my time with the same tools. Which is a bonus.

A compilation of Essays (2012)

A few days ago, I had an idea. Guess what? Ideas have consequences. Sometimes in blog posts. This is one such post. The idea was that I should compile a list of all the essays I have written in the year 2012 and create an ebook so it can be read offline. I have done just that. You can download the ebooks right here:

PDF: 2012
epub:2012.epub (It’s a zip because wordpress wouldn’t allow epub directly for security reasons…)

Hanging by a thread

There it is. Everyday, before my eyes. Following me everywhere. Like my shadow. A quiet but eager witness. My companion. It is there since I was a child. As far as I could remember, it was always there. When I was young, I used to play around it. It was everywhere in my little world. Everywhere I went, it was there. I used to tell others about it, but I realized nobody else could see it. Only I could see. How can it be? I often wondered. How can they not see it? It’s as plain as daylight. A golden thread hanging from beyond the sky.

In all my days, it has been at the center of my cosmos. Its mystery, has kept me enchanted many nights, and its beauty, converging before the rising sun, is my great delight. Yet there is something amiss. For there is an aura of inexplicable splendor that surrounds it. It fills me with absolute fear when I get closer, around it. I can not explain it in words because there are no words to describe it. It’s as if I know that with just one touch, my whole world will be swept away. In all these years, I have never touched it.

I know it’s strange, but it is the truth. It is strange because it is the truth. For all these years, I’ve been right here. Going to places, talking to people day in and day out. Every day is another circle. A circle around the center which I dare not touch. It is easy. It does not require much enterprise. My feet has learned the way. Every step and turn, engraved in the eternal day. That is where I have been all these years. This is my life, my night and day.

I’ve been here for many years now. In these years of peace, I’ve marked the safe pieces. The places in which I’m at ease. I avoid the bad places, places torn in deceit. Away from golden cord, far from the abyss of darkness, in this ring of gray, I’m perfectly me. But something tells me that this will not last. At the midnight, shadows conspire. Something is not right. In my soul I feel the whole globe on a tipping point. A storm is coming.

The darkness moves before my eyes. Blinding me. My eyes can’t see the golden thread, the source of my life. The shadows dance around me, as if I was a campfire. Dark clouds cover the horizon as the blood red sun sets on the other side. Thunder and lightning! Cold winds blow past my face as I stand stricken by terror. Standing apprehended inside my safe haven, my circle betrays me. A storm has risen right before my eyes and I did not see it.

I fight the shadows but they evade my blows, I try to stand my ground but the wind pushes me. I am weighed down by the world that I made. Being crushed by the dual fists of fight and fatigue. As I loose my strength, I fall on my knees. Looking at heavens in a plea of help. As I try to see through the darkness that surrounds me, I see a glimmer. A feint golden sparkle. The heavens have heard my plea as I am reminded of the thread that has sewn my life.

Just a glimpse is enough to revitalize every organ in my body. My soul is elated to a degree heavenly. My aim is set and I launch myself towards it. The gods of the storm try to overpower me, but they are dead. The dead have no power among the living. The thread gives me life as I run towards it. Pushing away the darkness that surround me, I hungrily step towards the light. I am there and for a moment, time stands still.

The storm is stricken immobile, like a murderer caught red handed. I see around me and the whole world has stopped. A gentle voice calls my name. It tells me a story. It tells me that a boy fell into a well. So, the villagers lowered a rope for him to climb out of the well. But he did not. I asked, Why? The voice tells me that the boy did not knew that he had fell inside a well. He also did not know how much his parents were missing him. So the boy continued to live inside the well.

How can that be? How can he not know he had fell inside a well? The voice tells me, I am asking the same question. Look around you! Are you not in a well? Behold, even before your birth, I have lowered a rope for you to climb. For so many years you have seen it and you still haven’t understood my love for you. Look, the thread that binds my heart with yours is before you. Take hold of it and live! I hear a thunder, and look back towards the storm.

My life flashes before my eyes. I see my childhood. I see all the events that led up to this point. I see the darkness that was before me. I see beyond. Beyond the darkness I see a great and mighty hand. I see maneuvers that shaped me, pointing towards the thread of life. It all becomes crystal clear. I turn towards the golden thread and do not look back. I take hold of it.

On that fateful day something wonderful happened. A lost son found his daddy. A loving father found his lost son. The gap between two worlds was bridged. The heart of the son was knit together with the heart of the father. My heart was knit with God’s. Christ was the thread.

Jingles of Christmas 4: Directing

And then we come to the final topic. The topic of directing. The toughest. Let’s dive right in!

Conceptual integrity

In the writing part, I told you something about the infinite resources of dreamland. However, did you know that there are a thousand dream-lands? Each unique. With it’s own different style and atmosphere? Well there are. So, in my opinion, the first task of a director is to let the actors in, into his dreamland. Or rather, the writer’s dreamland. Meaning the actors must understand the world in which they will be acting. Each actor must understand who they are. Their every action, mentality should match the one that the writer first imagined. Otherwise things will go different. And a different story will be told than the one originally planned.

So, one role of the director is to be the guardian of conceptual integrity. Everyone involved in the play should know exactly what is going on. How to achieve this goal? Well, a detailed document is an effective means to achieve this goal. However, it shouldn’t be so detailed that it becomes so long that nobody reads it… So, one needs to strike a balance between explaining important things and leaving out unimportant things. However, I’ll not go into the details of how to write this document because it’s a big topic altogether.

So, the main point is, maintain the conceptual integrity of the plot. And let everyone involved understand it’s ins and outs.

Being the character

Here, for the most part, I’m assuming that the writer and the director are the same people. However, if they are not, the writer should be at least a co-director. Otherwise the conceptual integrity will surely be compromised. Especially, in this part. The next part is, to make the actors understand their character. And to do that, the director and the actors need to have an conversation about the character.

I think that I did pretty well in these matters and I’m gonna describe what I did. The first question I asked to each actor was, how do you imagine your character. How does your character think, act and move around. But, because we were short on time, I didn’t have enough time to exhaustively have these discussions. However, by God’s grace, whatever happened, happened pretty well. So, I’m content with it.

The ease of understanding

This point goes along with the third point I made about writing. The checklist of assumptions. Basically, don’t make many complex scenes. Also, make everything easy to understand for the audience. Ditch the realism and logic in the favor of understandability where you need to. Meaning, let the audience see bizarre things that do mean something and they can easily understand instead of the showing them real things that are perfectly sensible and real, but hard to understand.

The narrator can do some magic in this part, however, too much use of narration will make the play weak.

I think, these are the main points that one needs to remember when one directs a skit. However, except for the second point, the other two can be applied in any other discipline as well. I know that it applies into programming. It’s from there these points are coming. Not the other way around.

Jingles of Christmas 3: Sound Editing

There isn’t much to talk about in topic of sound editing ( <– that last statement is meant to show you how ignorant I am… ) except a few things. Let’s go over them quickly…

Audacity

That’s what I used to do the editing. It’s a pretty good piece of software which supports unlimited number of tracks. Also, the interface is pretty easy to understand. It took be about 5 minutes to get up to speed and start editing the audio. It also has a pretty good list of effects to apply to the audio.. which is nice. However, because the quality of the recorded audio wasn’t very good, I avoided most of them. However, I did play around with it and it has some great potential.

Do not clip the recorded audio

That’s what I did. Since the recording was done by your favorite rookie(that’s me!) in sound editing, it had it’s highs and lows. Meaning, in some places the volume was very high, in others very low. So, I had to normalize it. The way I did it was to amplify the audio signal. In which on more than one occasion, I clipped the audio. Meaning… um.. I don’t know the jargon to describe it… so I’m not gonna…

So, by doing it, I further reduced the quality of the sound! The lesson is, DON’T DO IT AGAIN!

Keep the dialogues for each person separated

Well, I actually did this. However, it was so useful that I don’t want to forget it. So, I’m going to write it down here: Keep the dialogues for each person separated.

The bell rings again!

And it rings again afterwards! What does it mean? All this bell ringing? Ah well, the period has changed… Ah! Do you hear the long bell? It’s recess time! Who told you it’s recess? The bell. It speaks! It’s got its own language!

So does every sound editing project has it’s own language. For example, a doorbell rings. When it rings you know that someone has come. If the doorbell rings as background music, you wouldn’t think suddenly that the volcano has erupted. Nor would you think that the aliens of the bell planet has contacted us. You’ll think that someone has come in the skit. So, understand that sound is it’s own language and use it intelligently.

If you are doing something repeatedly in the skit, use the same sounds for these things every time, this way, the audience will learn the language of your skit as well and when they hear the same sound again, they will know what is going on.

The continual rhythm

The lesson is not about sound editing, rather of psychology. It is about the mind of the audience. If you use music in the skit and the music stops, the audience thinks that the skit is over before it is actually over. So, don’t let it stop. Let it play continuously.

So, those are the general lessons that I learned which can be used again. Other stuff was plainly incidental and related to the software that I used.

Jingles of Christmas 2: Recording

This post is part of the Jingles of Christmas series. In this post, I discuss the lessons I learned about recording the dialogues. Read on!

Shooting a moving target

As I discussed in the post before this one, I didn’t have a concrete script. So, there were a few modifications made into the skit plot. A few of them happened after the recording was over. So, I had to record the dialogues again for the changed parts. I also had to add/modify music for these parts and it took extra time. Half the time doing these things was wasted because I had to set the timings of all the other scenes following this one again. which was a repetitive task which could have been avoided if I had the dialogues 100% ready before I started the recording. So, that’s a lesson to learn.

I sound like the GODZILLA!

Well, nobody told me that they sounded like the Godzilla after listening to their own voice in the recordings however, there were a few occasion where the voice actors asked me to improve their voice using some editing magic. Problem was, I was a toddler playing at a wizard’s game. This was my first attempt at recording and editing things. However, there was a particular role in the skit that was the longest.

And as I heard the recording of that character, I could make out the difference between the things that were recorded the first and the things that were recorded the last. The latter was better than the former. So, If I could have given the actors a little time to practice on the mic, I think a lot of these complaints could have been avoided and also, the actors would have been much more comfortable, and the quality would have been much better.

Godzilla ate a cat!

Hmm, sit down. I’ll tell you the story. Godzilla ate a cat. However, the cat was very brave and stubborn. It wouldn’t go down easily. So, when the Godzilla was trying to devour the cat, the cat struck the vocal cords of Godzilla with a tremendous blow. However, that was not enough. And to the courageous cat’s dismay, the Godzilla devoured it. Godzilla was proud and when it tried to announce it’s monumental victory to the world with the help of a grand battle cry, it was a moment of a startling surprise. “Meow” It said. The blow to the vocal cords of Godzilla had changed it’s voice and the Godzilla now sounded exactly like the cat. On that day, the cat had slain the Godzilla!

Well, that’s what happened. In one particular scene when I was recording, the voice of the actor between to consequent dialogues changed as if it were spoken by two different people. But it wasn’t. So, how was this magical feat achieved? Simple. The mic was changed.

So, the lesson is, let one actor use only one mic and record their dialogues on the same mixer settings. If there is any change in between, the voice will change.

Go red if you see red

This is a basic. When recording anything, don’t let the signal turn red. It means it’s clipping the audio. Meaning it’s not capturing the whole thing but it’s loosing some audio information. It will be a real trouble when editing and applying effects. How do you solve it? Don’t keep the mic so close as if it were an ice cream and you were eating it…

If it still doesn’t help, then turn down the gain.

Noel’s law of dialogue recordings

Here’s the law: When you record the dialogues of a skit, the length of skit shrinks to half of it’s approximate duration of performance.

A little bit of data: About 12 pages of dialogues printed on an A4 paper with 10pts font size takes about 17 minutes when recorded.