Sunday, November 05, 2017

Don't shoot the red robot

“Don’t shoot the red robot,” he said, hunched over in the seat next to me. The robot had appeared suddenly ahead of the stream of traffic. I inched forward. “Careful”, muttered the boy next to me, ducking down below the level of the dashboard. The GPS showed a side street in a few metres and I prepared to cut across the oncoming traffic and make a right turn as soon as I could.

 “That was close,” sighed the boy as we picked up speed in the new direction. “How many more do we have to go?”

 I checked my cell phone for the latest figure. “There are still seven robots at large in this area. Mostly green and purple – and just the one red one. Won’t you call it in? Maybe they can send a squad to pick it up.” I scanned the area as I drove, listening to the turret on the roof of the vehicle. It swivelled round making its own scan and any change in its movement indicated a possible sighting.

Suddenly there was a pop from the turret. I hadn’t picked up anything, but it had fired. I parked at the side of the road and we stood and looked around. The shop-lined street was busy with mostly builders and customers of the small industrial area. In an alley we spotted the purple shape that had triggered our turret. Now immobile, we hauled it into the back of the car and placed it next to the three robots we had already picked up.

“Let’s take them in,” suggested the boy. “The bounty will get us through the week and I’m nervous with that red robot in the area.”

“Yes, let’s,” I agreed. “It would not be right to shoot the red robot.”

Friday, November 03, 2017

All places and people are imaginary

I understand why authors of books need the disclaimer that everything about the book is made up. I wrote my first little NaNoWriMo snippet, or not quite mini screenplay. My family said that I had better not let that out on social media or I would be lynched. And yet I just started from a sentence and wrote as the whimsy led. People weren't supposed to take meaning from it.

Perhaps that is the art of good fiction though - to write something that seems to relate so closely to one's experience that it must be about you. However, right now I want to write stuff for fun - that isn't deeply meaningful. I will try to make my next snippet less true to life so that I can post it without fear!

Um. The last had aliens in it. I'm sure I can be less true to life, though, if I try.

Thursday, November 02, 2017


After two or more absolutely crazy weeks, here is getting back to writing. Partly encouraged by it being the start of November and thus NaNoWriMo time - National Novel Writing Month. I won't write a novel, but G suggested that I write screenplays for him to make mini movies. Or I will just blog. There being no 'just' about blogging at the moment!
If I write screenplays they will probably be launched off D's sometimes enigmatic statements. Perhaps I will share . . .

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Sermon PowerPoints

I've just finished my sermon PowerPoint for tomorrow morning. We are doing a sermon series based on the Mission Shaped Introduction course by Fresh Expressions. This is intended to be run over two hours, I have to modify the content to work in 15 to 20 minutes! The course comes with PowerPoint presentations for each session which I need to modify.

Key thing - you don't have a slide because the concept is easy to illustrate. You don't have a slide because you can find lots of pictures. You don't have a slide because you had a really cool idea. You need slides to reinforce points and sometimes to help resolve complexity. You should have slides for the things that you want people to remember.

This helps with which slides to take out when you realise that there are too many!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

One of those days

Today was one of those days that just needed to pass! Not enough sleep last night after a budget meeting. Review budget and think about circuit future. Go birthday shopping (ok, that was mostly fun). Try to get credit card from bank. Buy churchmouse (the other one went missing). Contemplate sleeping. Do some dog training. Visit a church leader. And then the long, slow one, sit on a pastoral commission.
Actually, it wasn't all bad - but a day filled with uncertainty. Not fertile ground for writing!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Web Page

I've been working instead of writing, so just a link to what I have been doing. The church web page has been going through various changes for various reasons over the last little while. I have been putting together a Joomla version as the latest iteration. It is nearly done, but not quite. You can see it here.
I have recommended Joomla before and I would still do so.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Does Competence Matter?

I tend to wonder, more and more often, how seriously the upper echelons of the church take competence. This led me to read a bit about competence and discovered this thing called the Stereotype Content Model. It shows people or people groups on a Warmth axis and a Competence axis. The ideal being warm competence which is generally achieved by being part of the 'in group'.

(Picture from Wikipedia)Stereotype content model - Wikipedia

While I can see that this makes sense for understanding individuals, the theory is intended to apply to groups and in particular helps us to see how we build stereotypes - for instance we would expect a welfare recipient to be in the lower left quadrant and we expect a less warm, less competent person.
The question occurred to me as to what would happen if we examined the stereotypes pertaining to women and fortunately the study (or studies perhaps) have been done. This is the picture I found
It comes from here and it attributed to  T Eckes (2002) Paternalistic and envious gender stereotypes: Testing predictions from the stereotype content model. Sex Roles 47(3-4):99-114.
It is interesting how most stereotypes are found in high warmth OR high competence. I'm not sure what it says that the high warmth- high competence stereotypes are named 'society lady' and 'confident type'!
But this does help us see what stereotypes women are having to overcome in order to be admired! I don't think we can stop stereotypes being formed (because we can't cognitively deal with the number of individuals that would need to be processed) but we can encourage people to be open to the fact that stereotypes do not hold true for all members of a group.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Karoo National Park

We have just spent three nights in the Karoo National Park. I wanted to visit the park in order to see what it was like, but I really expected to be disappointed. We used to enjoy the Kruger National Park when we lived in Johannesburg and it was less than a day's drive away, but there had been nothing comparable in the Cape area. Table Mountain National Park and Cape Point are very enjoyable, but a very different experience to Kruger. The West Coast National Park has always seemed a bit bleak, unless you go at peak flower. So we expected much the same at the Karoo Park, but were happily surprised.This park has the feel of a nascent Kruger. I don't know what the plans are for the future of the game reserve, but I hope they include increasing the biodiversity and slowly expanding the road infrastructure. I wish I could be around in 50 years to see what it is like.
Game drives were pleasant with lots of game and birdlife - we are typical 'we stop for birds' people, so we don't rely on the big five for entertainment. The roads were quiet, the picnic spots were quiet and clean and tidy, the camping area offered relatively secluded spots and peace. The sky at night was beyond awesome.
It was fun to see desert animals like gemsbok which you don't get at Kruger. We saw Karoo Korhaan on a drive and a Karoo Robin and the cutest 'Familiar Chat' hung around the campsite - as well as other birds.
This has been a great discovery for me - whenever I need a game reserve fix, we can now head to the Karoo and not long for Kruger.

Thursday, October 05, 2017


I bought myself a new laptop. I really like this laptop.
But I promised myself (or possibly I promised God) that I would start writing again if I bought this expensive laptop with the awesome keyboard. So the blog is the most convenient place to write!

My laptop is a Lenovo Thinkpad 13 with i7 processor, 8Gb ram and amazing full HD ISP display. It has to replace my old Lenovo Thinkpad x220 which was almost perfect. So far, it is doing a good job.

For a few months in between I was using a Lenovo Yoga 300 with a touchscreen. It had all the features of cool and very few features of being a useful workhorse. The worst thing being the keyboard. So I trawled reviews looking for the ideal keyboard and then looked for my other performance preferences. The Thinkpad 13 seems to hit the sweet spot.

The other thing that was non-negotiable was a non-gloss screen as my aging eyes were struggling with the glossy yoga. The HD IPS was . . . a self-indulgence justified by the hope of a brighter screen - the less fancy models apparently having a brightness of only 200 nits. I think. Apparently this is a case where nits are to be desired, but it is rather mysterious to me.

The fast SSD drive is nice too, but wasn't a determining factor in my choice. I wanted Windows 10 Pro, which this has, but to be honest I can't see that it offers me anything over the basic edition. I hoped that I wouldn't be constrained to get software updates, but I suspect I still am, unless I have missed a setting somewhere.

I bought the machine through Laptop Direct from where I also bought my x220 and they were great.

I am happy! And I will write . . .

Totally irrelevant, but I like this xkcd cartoon.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Purpose and Meta-Purpose

Mark Zuckerberg spoke at a Harvard graduation where one of his points was that finding our purpose in life is not good enough - especially for the so-called Millenials.  (Read here)

Today I want to talk about purpose. But I’m not here to give you the standard commencement about finding your purpose. We’re millennials. We’ll try to do that instinctively. Instead, I’m here to tell you finding your purpose isn’t enough. The challenge for our generation is creating a world where everyone has a sense of purpose.

If I look at the places where I work as a church minister, I think that is a pretty good analysis. In a country where unemployment is high, purpose is hard to find for a lot of people. Telling them to 'catch a wake up' and find purpose in their lives is not helpful. They are too disillusioned and often not adequately prepared by their education and upbringing to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, even if opportunities did exist . But asking those who have momentum and are progressing successfully through life to help create a world where everyone has a sense of purpose is meaningful.

It is the old fashioned Christian idea of taking the focus off 'me' and putting it onto 'you' or others. Yes, I want to understand that I have a reason for existing, a benefit to offer - but I also want to insist that you should have a reason for being and if that reason seems to be denied by society, something needs to change.

There is this idea of purpose and meta-purpose which sounds pretty profound - if I could just figure out what it means!

Practically, I want to challenge the young people in the confirmation class to find purpose in looking to the needs of others. To learn to be empathetic. To be active in helping. And possibly they will discover that sometimes the need of others is to find purpose. Then they can invite these others to join them on the journey.

Power of prayer

Zackie Achmat, who found himself sharing a protest outside parliament with a group from some churches, said that he wasn't interested in praying. I guess in his mind praying is at the least passive and at the worst ineffective.

I have found that when I pray for a community from the pulpit, and the congregation is obviously part of this, change happens. I'm sure it is not only as a result of prayer - activism is also often needed - but it seems to me that there is a link between prayer and change.

We have prayed often and earnestly about the violence and gangsterism in the Elsies River community. A new, additional, satellite police station has now been opened in the area. It would be fair to say that this was triggered by the tragic death of a child, but I believe that both prayer and protest paved the way for this solution. We will continue praying - now for the success and effective operation of the satellite station.

The question I had was how it happened that when I prayed so seldom the prayer was still effective - as I have not been in the pulpit in Elsies River every week. I think I found an answer today during a prayer meeting at 'my' other church. I heard congregants praying with the same sort of words with which I lead them and I realise now that when I pray I also model praying and this is picked up, probably subconsciously, by the people listening. This means that many people continue praying in the week, and weeks, what they have heard in church.

So prayer in the pulpit is multiplied many times and God is invited to work in our world over and over again. Pretty powerful!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

What is this thing called time?

What is this thing called time? I suddenly have it. I am starting to work on my backlog. What an amazing sense of freedom.
Not that I am doing everything that everyone might hope from me, but the important is distinguishable from the urgent.
Mostly this sudden increase in the volume of time is a result of my PhD being finished. Eventually! Corrections and revisions done, graduation date set.

Also both church societies have settled into the rhythm of the year. The society leaders are no longer waiting for me but are able to get going with their contributions to the work of the church. God willing, I will be keep up with them all from now on!

Now to expand my horizons.

I saw a strange beastie on my run this morning. It was black and furry, like a cat, but shaped like a mongoose. Small for a cat, but big for a mongoose. It streaked across the road towards the dam. Time to enjoy this!

My almost two year old border collie is running beautifully now. She even had her nose just at my knee, where it should be, instead of half a pace ahead. Her dog school teachers would never believe how good she can be! More time for dogs now.

I'm thinking/ dreaming/ playing around with the idea of doing an MBA or Post Grad Diploma in Business Administration. They are expensive! Priced for company sponsorship - the church isn't in that league.