Month: May 2009

P-P-P-Pick up a project

In the third and final year of my degree I must complete a project. Because my degree is robotics, I can choose between a computer science (CS) project and a cybernetics (cyb) project. The process for selecting a project starts with the university producing a list of suitable projects proposed by members of staff. In my case there are two lists, one for CS projects and one for cyb projects. Students pick three projects they would like to do, and the projects are essentially allocated on a first-come, first-serve basis (hence the need to pick backup projects). Each student will do one project, though some projects will have multiple students working on them. My preference has been toward the CS, because I know my strengths lie in programming and understanding the theory behind computing, rather than in making physical things and understanding the physics behind electronics.

In the light of this, I decided to look at the list of CS project proposals before the cyb proposals. It turns out that picking a project is actually very difficult. Many of the projects are very dull, which I think is a good feature to avoid in a project which lasts for a year. The interesting ones are inordinately difficult, and in some cases I literally have no ideas how I could begin the project, let alone how I could complete it (a requirement for getting my degree).

I have always been aware that this project is a tremendous opportunity to try something which I could do for a living, in order to find out whether or not I am capable of doing it and whether or not I enjoy it. I suppose in my mind there has always been a subconscious idea of a fairytale project which I would be brilliant at and would love doing, and would result in me showing an interviewer the fruits of my labour, thereby convincing them to hire me on the spot to continue the same wonderfully fulfilling work. That idea is now definitely dispelled. Choosing a project is proving to be difficult enough, and even if I do find the perfect project I have a sneaking suspicion that finding a job that allows me to use the same skills will be nigh impossible. Thinking about the project has led to me think about my long term future, and the need to find paid employment in the not-too-distant future, and this has in turn led to the realisation that I cannot think of any job related to my degree that I would actually enjoy.

This sounds incredibly pessimistic, and I suppose it is, but I don’t want people to worry that I’m about to get hideously depressed about it. I’m convinced God will provide an appropriate occupation for me, but it’s not easy to see what it will be. I trust God for my future, as I have done for several years, but now I’m much less blasé about it. I have faith God will guide and protect me, but the ridiculous notion of my professional life being given to me on a silver platter is, I’m happy to say, gone. I know the Christian life is difficult, and I’m glad that God has shown me yet another way in which He may call me to suffer doubt and rely more than usual on His gracious providence.

Returning to my original topic and to something approaching positivity, some of the projects were actually quite interesting and of perfectly feasible difficulty. Ironically, given my degree is robotics, none of them involved robots anywhere. Most involved no hardware beyond a normal common or garden computer. I haven’t looked at the cyb projects yet, so I’m not diving into a decisions at the moment, but I do need to pick a project soon (the formal selection process is on the 3rd of June so I need at least three ideas by then). Praise God for His grace in reminding me that I need to bring all my decisions to Him in prayer, and need to wait and listen for His guiding and comforting voice to speak.

A week in retrospective – 17/05/2009

Sunday 17/5/09

Both the morning and evening sermons at church were very good (see my thoughts about the morning sermon). Between the services I stayed with Andy and Pearl, and had a good chat with the preacher who was also staying there for the day.

Monday 18/5/09

I actually bothered to get up and go to prayer breakfast for once! Later in the morning I played Prince of Persia for the first time in quite a while, and managed to get past the fight I was stuck on. Once past it I made good progress through the game. Most of the afternoon and evening was taken up by a mega-meeting with Geraldine followed by dinner and CU small group. Big kudos to Benny for the pavlova!

Tuesday 19/5/09

I started Tuesday with the commendable intention of working out an overall plan for RUCU activities in freshers’ week this year. It didn’t happen, partly because I got up late again and had wasted half the day before I got round to doing anything, and partly because the anything largely consisted of playing Prince of Persia again. I did listen to Motsy’s talk from the Think Fresh seminar, because I’m just too impatient for Gareth to do it properly. There were some good points, but it didn’t work nearly as well without the group discussion bits which obviously weren’t on the recording. The church Bible study in the evening continued our look through Ezekiel, which for some reason comes out as Exekiel most of the time I type it. I should learn to touch type, but it’s an investment of time which I can’t be bothered making, even though having started a blog and (almost) finished exams this is clearly the time to learn.

Wednesday 20/5/09

This was a day which, like Tuesday, began with good intentions. This time it was to sort out everything on my to-do list which was there as a result of being RUCU chairman. I got some of it done, including the things which needed doing before the committee meeting on Thursday (such as the Bible study at the start of the meeting), but several things I’d hoped to do remain sadly undone. I managed to resist the temptation to waste time watching the apprentice, but I must have wasted my time doing something else judging by the number of things still to do.

Thursday 21/5/09

Thursday was actually quite productive, which was a nice change. From 9 until 2 I was with CU committee members, either in committee meetings or discussing other CU business. I watched the apprentice over lunch, and in the afternoon I had a lovely time out in the sun in the back garden looking at the start of Joel, as I realised that the church Bible study is the only place I’m regularly looking at the Old Testament at the moment. Once I was back inside I read blogs and what I call my ‘web dailies’ – all the websites I look at on a daily basis (dilbert, facebook, gmail, etc.) before dinner. The continued refusal of youtube to load was a continued annoyance (presumably it’s disabled after the 4chan attack). RUCU main meeting in the evening was good, and I chatted to several people I’d hoped to speak to and was encouraged by them.

Friday 22/5/09

The first real activity of the day, having gone through my various ablutions, was going to RUCUS at lunchtime. I had a good time swapping trick ideas, and chatting with friends, before going to have a chat with Gareth in the HUMSS JCR. Just short of two hours later we came out of HUMSS and there were still three jugglers hanging around, so I joined them for a few minutes but my arrival brought with it an awareness of the time so they all left fairly quickly. I went home and read various bits and bobs online before dinner, before the unheard of occurred – I actually tidied my bedroom! Not only that, but I vacuumed it and cleaned the vacuum cleaner (which meant I had to re-vacuum part of the room – oops!). Later in the evening I finally got round to watching The Narnia Code.

Saturday 23/5/09

Among the exciting tasks of Saturday were tidying my desk (I was pleased to discover it takes a surprisingly short amount of time) and washing my clothes. I also emailed home, which I’d neglected to do so far this term (sorry mum!) and read the list of possible third year projects I can do. I also read more blogs (it takes a long time to recover from a backlog over exams!) and looked over the many computer science proposals for a 3rd year project. I can do a project in either the computer science or cybernetics departments, but I’m currently inclined toward the computer science as I struggle more with the practical details of electronics than with programming and the like. To round off the day I watched the MotoGP race from last weekend and HIGABMNFY, which is not as catchy as HIGNFY but is also over 30% longer.

The Narnia Code – an opinion at last

Having recently pointed out that The Narnia Code was back on iPlayer, I watched it tonight. I thought that having pointed out its availability, it was only fair to give an opinion about it.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but I knew the program had been popular with several Christian friends of mine. Someone told me before I watched it that this program was the ‘best religious program the BBC had made for a long time‘. I didn’t really engage with the religious ideas in it, though I will admit it was very interesting.

The basic premise of the program is that Michael Ward chanced upon a secret meaning to the Chronicles of Narnia series while working towards his PhD in C S Lewis. He found that each book in the series represented one of the seven classical ‘planets’ – the sun, the moon, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune – and the characters associated with each of them in mythology. He proposed that Lewis took those characters and developed stories around them. This means the books have three layers – the story, the Christian analogy, and the planets.

I’m no C S Lewis expert, but it doesn’t seem too great a leap of the imagination that he could write such a code into his work. Whether or not he did I have no idea. A one hour program presented by the person whose theory is being discussed does not lend itself to an in-depth analysis of whether or not a theory is correct. Right or not, the program did throw up some very interesting facts and some great quotes. Two stuck in my mind particularly:

At the start of the program, in reference to the discovery of the Narnia code, Michael Ward says that “It doesn’t really matter that it’s come to me first, the only thing I’ve got to do with it is share it with people“. If Michael Ward has this attitude six years after writing about a hidden meaning in some children’s books, shouldn’t it be my attitude to the soul-saving, life-transforming good news of Jesus Christ? I suspect the difference is that Michael Ward has dedicated years to studying C S Lewis’ life and works, and knows them inside out. I trust the Lord that as I study His Word and get to know Him better the same zeal for making Him known will infect me.

The discovery began when Michael Ward read a poem about the planets written by C S Lewis which includes the line “winter passed and guilt forgiven“. It’s a wonderful summary of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It’s also a reminder to me of my condition before God. The ‘winter’ of my sin is over. Yes, I still sin, but I am not under it’s power and I never will be. My guilt is forgiven and I am no longer weighed down by it. I would prefer “sin forgiven” but the point still stands.

The Narnia Code is available to watch and download until Monday evening. It’s very interesting, and there are many worse uses of an hour.

P. S. Did you know, that Jove (as in the phrase ‘By jove!’) is another name for the Roman god Jupiter? I didn’t.

An early holiday?

I live in a house with five friends. From the six of us, there will be three of us in the house for the next few days. One housemate has gone home, one is going to his girlfriend’s house and one has gone with his girlfriend to visit his extended family. It’s contributing to the feeling that it is in fact the end of term, and my calendars are lying to me. It can’t only be week five of ten; the term must be more than half way through!

Having one (easy) exam left means I’m relaxed about uni work. Having months before freshers arrive means I’m relaxed about freshers’ week. Having rediscovered the joys of Prince of Persia means I’m relaxed about my use of time. But too much relaxation is probably not a brilliant way of living. As a human I’m supposed to live a six-day working week. I’m probably doing about one day’s work each week at the moment.

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that rest is wrong. I believe that resting is just as important as working. But that doesn’t mean it should take up as much time. The term is, in fact, far from over. I have to revise for the exam and commit it to God in prayer. I have to select my modules for next year, and pick a project to work on. Then I have to work on it! I have to organise freshers’ week before CU members start going home and become difficult to contact. I want to learn passages of scripture. I want to clarify my opinions towards various controversial beliefs. I want to write a  study of some of the shorter books in the Bible. This isn’t a sympathy plea, or an attempt to show you how difficult my life is. I love my life! But when you see me around, check if I’m making good use of my time. At the top of my to-do list are three things which have been at the top for quite a while:

See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15-16)

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)

And just to keep everyone relaxed, an introduction to Apple’s latest product, the MacBook Wheel.

Cinematic juggling videos

The World Juggling Federation has recently had a competition to make videos of juggling set to a specific piece of music. The music is very dramatic and theatrical, so naturally the videos are too. The top three of the competition have been put on youtube for your viewing pleasure. Be aware the all use the same music. I’ve put them in order of my preference, with Daniel’s video being my favourite.

Daniel Brown (3rd place)

Lauge Benjaminsen (1st place)

Noah Malone (2nd place)

Make a battlement

The morning service yesterday included an excellent sermon from Jonathan Northern, pastor of Baldock Baptist Church, so I thought I’d share the main points here.

It was taken from Deuteronomy 22:8 which says (in the AV, which is what the sermon was preached from):

When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a battlement for thy roof, that thou bring not blood upon thine house, if any man fall from thence.

This was a civil law for the nation of Israel, and the custom at the time was to build houses with flat roofs which would frequently be walked on, so this law is not as ludicrous as it could seem to us. The law does not directly apply to us, but it shows us two important things. One is a principle for living, which does apply to us. The second is that it shows us one aspect of God’s nature. 1 Corinthians 9:9-11 shows the apostle Paul quoting an old testament law and saying that its primary purpose was not the rule it made, but the principle behind it, so we are perfectly free to look for an application to ourselves.

Obviously the battlement was for protection. A more modern version of this law might be to build a railing round a balcony. The principle behind it is that we should be careful that our lives do not put others into danger, but should show concern for the well-being of those we come into contact with.

Firstly we can apply this to ourselves. Are we putting ourselves in danger? Are you planning your life without thought to God and spiritual matters? Choosing a job in a location with no good church would obviously put us in spiritual danger. Similarly our choice of friends could have similar effects.

Having applied it to us individually, Jonathan moved on to apply it particularly to parents and church leaders, both of whom have a responsibility to protect those in their care. I won’t go into detail as I don’t expect many parents or church leaders to read this.

Finally, Jonathan pointed out that if we are on a balcony with a railing, it would be foolish to lean over as far as possible. Most of us would probably not go particularly near a high drop even if there was a safety railing. Similarly, we should not be trying to get as close as possible to danger, but keeping as far away from it as possible. If something has the potential to lead you away from God, why not shun it completely?

It was an excellent sermon, and this blog post certainly does not do it justice. When the audio is put online I’ll post the link here. [Edit: mp3]

A week in retrospective – 10/05/2009

Sunday 10/5/09

There was a fellowship lunch at church, which was a lovely chance to chat with some people I don’t usually talk to very much, as well as some who I see most weeks. Andy and Pearl were good enough to invite me to their house for the remainder of the afternoon before the evening service (which contained a very good sermon about Jehu, who is someone I previously knew nothing about). It was also good to have a complete break from revision!

Monday 11/5/09

The morning was spent finishing off my revision for the digital circuit design exam I had in the afternoon. The exam actually went very well, and I hope for around 60-70% in it, which I will be very happy with if I get it as the marks for the module all come from the exam. Afterwards I had a meeting with Geraldine (the CU chairwoman), went to small group, and watched the third Pirates of the Caribbean film for some reason.

Tuesday 12/5/09

I had a horrendously bad lie in, and by the time I was ready to start work it was already into the afternoon! With less hours than I would have liked available before the church Bible study I finally got on with some stuff I needed to sort out for the CU. When I’d finished writing my to-do list I had 38 new tasks of varying sizes on it. It will take a long time to get through them all! I did a few things on the list in the afternoon before going to the Bible study, and I watched a few iPlayer programmes in the evening. It was a fairly dull day to be honest!

Wednesday 13/5/09

During the day I was mainly doing admin tasks, so it was fairly dull. I cooked and ate dinner, then got on with researching what the Bible teaches about fasting which was good to look at. I finally got onto revision for Thursday’s exam at around 9pm, just in time to miss the apprentice (which I watched after later in the evening!).

Thursday 14/5/09

There was a painfully early start for the CU committee meeting (which began at 9am, and which I was late for). I spent the rest of the morning highlighting parts of my notes in preparation for the afternoon’s open book exam. The exam actually went okay, and while the questions were on applications I knew nothing about, I was able to write about some of the principles behind them which was the main point of the exam. Once the exam was out of the way I relaxed for a bit before dinner and CU main meeting. The meeting was good, with Jamie Cater giving a good talk about how we as Christians should serve each other. It was taken from John 13:31-38 and was a very good exposition of verses 34 and 35 (in my opinion).

Friday 15/5/09

My first commitment wasn’t until 10am, but I still managed to pitch up almost 20 minutes late for it. I stayed on campus meeting people to chat about various CU-related things until about 4pm. I did get a nice break at one point in which I read Psalm 90 and was struck by a few things in the passage. Once I got back home I played Splinter Cell for the first time in a very long time, and steadfastly refused to do anything which could possibly be construed as work. Sadly this couldn’t continue after dinner as there was washing up to be done, and I needed to run the washing machine. I also rediscovered the joy of blast billiards, and obviously that put paid to the idea of doing anything productive.

Saturday 16/5/09

Peter was daring/foolish enough to risk serious wrath from me in the morning when he brought me breakfast in bed at the unearthly hour of about 9:30. Restraining myself to not shout at him,  tried and failed to go back to sleep for about 4 hours before getting up. I used what little dayI had left to try and read all the emails and blog posts I’d been ignoring for the last few days (20+ emails, 70+ blog posts). By the time dinner was ready I’d got through all the emails, but most of the blog posts had to wait for another day. Going to Dan’s for the Eurovision Song Contest was good fun, though the contest was very disappointing. Last year was hilarious, but it seems everyone took it more seriously this year and it was rather dull.