Tag Archives: review

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Eric Metaxas)

I received a copy of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy as a gift this summer (thanks Strunks!). It is a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer written by Eric Metaxas. I’ve admired Bonhoeffer since reading another of his biographies many years ago.

The complexity of Bonhoeffer intrigues me. In fact, as I read this book I felt that he was being oversimplified at times. Without notes or transcripts on the matter we cannot recreate the full process that Bonhoeffer went through as he weighed his loyalty to God, to Germany, and to an ethical life. Many gaps exist between the written records and the words of witnesses.

I find it fascinating that Bonhoeffer struggled with some form of depression or sadness–he referred to it as acedia or tristizia–which he only revealed to his closest confidant, Eberhard Bethge. Despite this heaviness he managed to appear calm, happy, joyful, and peaceful. I’m curious if his outward demeanor is a representation of his concept of “living truth.” I plan to read Bonhoeffer’s Ethics to try to understand his concept of truth more clearly (I definitely believe with the simplified version Metaxas presents, which is that truth is more than just facts–and to paraphrase Bonhoeffer: a factual lie may contain more truth than a factual “truth”).

One of the things I like about Bonoeffer is his combined love of solitude and community. During a time of unrest while separated from close friends he wrote in his journal: “One is less lonely when one is alone.” Despite a penchant for solitude Bonhoeffer seemed to have many friends.

While a prisoner separated from the woman he loved Bonhoeffer wrote this about pain and longing:

Stifter once said, “Pain is a holy angel, who shows treasures to men which otherwise remain forever hidden; through him men have become greater than through all joys of the world.” It must be so and I tell this to myself in my present position over and over again–the pain of longing which can often be felt even physically, must be there, and we shall not and need not talk it away. But it needs to be overcome every time and thus there is an even holier angel than the one of pain, that is the one of joy in God.

It makes me wonder if that was a daily reality for Dietrich. Was he able to feel that which he believed? Did the logic permeate his being? I hope so.

Changing gears, this was the first book written by Metaxas that I have read, and I found myself alternating between opinions on his writing. At times his phrasing was a bit confusing or jarring. He managed to use phrases like “. . . hemorrhoidal isometrics . . .” and “. . . double-barreled flatulence . . .” in all seriousness (reading the latter resulted in a mental rabbit trail rather juvenile in nature–most unfitting with the serious context in which it was presented).

I’ve read some reviews that question the accuracy of Metaxas’ portrayal of Bonhoeffer’s theology, beliefs, and life. The main criticism is that he has presented Bonhoeffer as a modern evangelical American. I would agree that much of Bonhoeffer’s theology is presented very sparsely, and I do not know how accurately. I’m very curious about the very secular mindset of his family, which is not emphasized in the book. I’m also intrigued by the idea that theology may have began as a primarily academic pursuit for Bonhoeffer before meaning more to him.

I found this book interesting, challenging, and inspiring–well worth reading.

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My iPhone 4 Review

I bought an iPhone 4 in early June. Now that I’ve been using it for more than two months I’m ready to write a review. One of the things that makes writing a review tough is that I have not owned or extensively used any other smart phone models or operating systems. So I am limited in my ability to judge the value of this phone relative to other options. Two additional disclaimers I want to make are:

1). I am a PC user and I have limited experience with Apple products, so I may still be in an adjustment period and the communication between my phone and computer might be less than ideal.

2). I have spent some time looking at apps and figuring out how the phone operates, but I do not consider myself an expert with it by any means. I may be overlooking features and functions.

Enough with the disclaimers, let’s talk about the phone.

Aesthetic: I think we all know the iPhone is pretty. When I compared phones during my scouting and researching period the iPhone 4 was an easy winner. I use a black, sleek Body Glove case that compliments the phone nicely.

Size and Weight: When I was comparing phones I did my best Goldilocks and the Three Bears impression. Some models were too large, some too small. By my standards the iPhone is just right. Big enough to use as a reader and web browser, yet small enough to fit in a pocket. 

Performance: The performance of the phone can be divided into categories.

Calls. It seems phones are rarely used for calls anymore–texting, email, and web use are my primary tasksbut I made this the first category because it is a phone, after all. I have found the connection quality to be very good. I have had no dropped calls. The speaker phone quality is very good, far better than any other phone I have had.

Texts. I transitioned to this phone from a phone that did not contain a keyboard or conversation histories, so I have been extremely happy with it. It was like commuting to work on a unicycle for years, then switching to a Lexus. While phone shopping I used many styles of keyboards, both virtual and actual.  Before I looked at phones I had a bias toward actual keyboards, but that was dispelled by the iPhone virtual keyboard. In the end I found that I preferred the iPhone virtual keyboard to every other keyboard I tested.

Email. The email capability of the phone has met my expectations. I faced a dilemma with the “Sent from my iPhone” signature on messages. It struck me as pretentious. In a big way. I planned to remove it. And I did. But then I realized it has a purpose. Emails typed on my iPhone are a bit terse compared to those written on my computer (it is easy to compose a long message, but many times when I am writing email on my phone I am in a hurry). The signature helps to explain why my response was just one succinct line. So I put it back on.

Web Use. For basic tasks the web service is acceptable. I have been a bit disappointed with the processor speed, I have been conditioned to faster performance on computers.

Navigation: The touch screen is wonderful. It did not take long for me to calibrate my movements. The only problem I have encountered–and I’m sure there is a fix for this–is that my ear lobe sometimes places a second call or attempts to navigate while I am on a call.

I have three screens set up based upon frequency of use.


Camera: The 5 megapixel camera performs well in natural light. Here are some unedited (aside from shrinking the image size) pictures I took at the PSU Arboretum:

In low lighting it is tough to take nice pictures. Here is a picture of MONKEYS HERDING GOATS WHILE RIDING DOGS! taken at night, the quality suffers.

The video has similar constraints. Zooming is very limited with the video camera.

Applications: First, I must confess shortening application to app bothers me, but I don’t feel like typing application out continually, so I am going to use the shortened form. I have found the app store to be overwhelming. I still have not paid for an app, I’ve used exclusively free ones. Here is my top ten list, based upon usage and functionality:

1. Facebook – It’s the official app of FB and it gets the job done.
2. iBooks – I love having books with me all the time. The amount of free classics available is wonderful. I’ve liked the iBooks interface a bit better than the Kindle app, but I have both on my phone.
3. Twitter – A well designed app that really captures the full functionality of the website.
4. Merrian-Webster Dictionary – Conduct searches via voice or type. Quick and easy to use. Very helpful.
5. Sporting News MLB – A great app for baseball news, schedules, scores, standings, and stats. The in-game tracker is better than the MLB At Bat free app.
6. ShopShop – Makes and manages shopping lists.
7. Documents (free version) – Creates, reads, and edits both text and data files. 
8. NetFlix – Connect to your NetFlix account and stream video or manage a queue.
9. Ricoh Innovations Image to Text – Scans a picture, either from file or taken at the moment, and emails a text file of the content. I’ve found it to be quite accurate, even when I used it on chemical labels that had some crazy words.
10. Gas Buddy – Reports gas prices based upon your location. Updated by users, so the info is current. I was able to find information on this app that I could not find doing computer web searches (specifically, between what hours the Atherton Exxon holds its rush hour discount).
Honorable Mentions: iHandy Flashlight, Instagram, ESPN Fantasy Baseball ’11, eBay, Skobbler, LiveTracking, Vevo, Wegman’s

Miscellaneous: I like the calendar and clock (even if the clock is reliably ONE  SECOND SLOW, aarrrrggghhhhhh!). Calendar alerts are helpful and a great feature. I wish more flexibility existed in scheduling events on the calendar, but it works.

The Three Things That Annoy Me: There are three things about the iPhone that have become pet peeves, and the more I think about them the more they bother me. At times prompting me to say “Come on!” in Gob Bluth fashion.

1. Ring tones are not regular audio files. This seems like a blatant set up to sell ringtones. Why can’t regular music files be used as ringtones? They’re already on the phone. This is the one aspect where my previous phone, relic that it might have been, was far superior to the iPhone. It allowed many types of audio files to be used, as well as customization of what part of the file would play. For some reason the specific file type needed on the iPhone really bothers me. It is unnecessary and constrains the user.

2. Transporting files seems to be ridiculously cumbersome. There might be a solution to this, but I still haven’t found it. I would like to be able to drop files onto the phone and take them with me, quickly and simply. Basically like throwing a file on the desktop.

3. Managing the phone in iTunes is constraining. I find iTunes to be a less than ideal program to manage the iPhone. It is slow, a bit tedious in layout, and lacks many customization options.

The Verdict: I think the iPhone4 is a very good phone. I am convinced that there are Android phones available that offer similar features for a lower price, but the iPhone holds its value so well I don’t mind paying more for it.

I like my phone. I don’t love it, but I definitely like it. I would be inclined to recommend it, but if you are looking for a smartphone I would suggest going to a wireless store and playing with display models to see what phones you like. Try virtual and actual keyboards to see which you prefer. Hold the the phones to see what size and weight is your ideal. Don’t make your decision based upon someone else’s opinion.

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The Shack

I’ve heard quite a bit about William P. Young’s book The Shack over the past year. I decided to put it on my Christmas list (and Santa got it for me). I read it this past weekend, so I thought I’d post a few of my thoughts on the book.

the_shackIt is very difficult to talk about the book without giving away major pieces of the plot. For that reason I’ll be be a bit vague at times.

Content – The Shack is the story of a man, his pain, and God. The story is just that, a story. It is not a theological work. Sure, there is truth to be found in the book. I particularly like the way justice is portrayed. I think Young’s description of the Trinity and freewill are thought provoking. And that’s what this book does, stimulate thought. If this book stirs up a desire to know God more fully, then it has succeeded. However, if this book shapes your perception of God more than the Bible does, you have a problem. Some of Young’s writing has a scriptural basis, yet much of it is speculation and imagination. I think this book is best appreciated by people with at least a moderate understanding of the gospel and the Bible.

Writing – At times some of the dialogue feels a bit awkward and forced. In fairness, that’s how life is sometimes. If you followed me around for a day and transcribed all my conversations I bet you would say: this dialogue is too awkward and forced to be authenticSo I won’t fault Young for that. I like most of the plot development and the pacing of the story.

Conclusion – I recommend this book. It is a quick read and prompts thought. I wouldn’t say it has been radically life changing, but it did make me think.

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Pringles Power Rankings

I’ve been working on my list of Pringles flavor power rankings for the past couple of weeks. During that time I’ve consumed a quantity of potato crisps that I am confident would kill a lab rat.

So here are my ratings for the flavors I was able to locate. The Pringles Extreme Series is denoted with an (E), the Restaurant Cravers Series is denoted with an (RC). I’ve assigned each flavor a letter grade (A-F), a taste rating (1-10 scale), an aftertaste rating (1-10 scale), and a Ben’s Power Ranking standing.

pringles_list

Now for a bit more of a review:

1. Cheesy Fries (RC)

I really like the mild cheese flavor and sour cream aftertaste of this chip. It is a great companion to sandwiches. Taking a card from Budweiser, this chip has eatability. What does that mean? I don’t know, but I do like to eat them so I think it applies.

2. Sour Cream & Onion

The person responsible for sour cream and onion chips should have a monument and a national day of recognition. Enough said.

3. Honey Mustard

This is a great chip to pair with a sandwich. The honey mustard flavor is not overpowering, but it is strong. I would compare the flavor to French’s Honey Mustard. There is a definite subtle sweetness to it.

4. Screamin’ Dill Pickle (E)

I consider myself an ambassador for this flavor. Most people balk at the thought eating a chip that tastes like a dill pickle. But it’s so good. Plus, the aftertaste resembles that of a McDonald’s cheeseburger. Try it, it might surprise you. Do it. Do it. . . Do it.

5.  Original

Sometimes you just need to go back to the basics. The Original flavor holds up well.

6. Bacon Ranch

If you add bacon to things it makes them better. Trust me. So a bacon flavored Pringle has to be a good thing. Unfortunately the bacon flavor is very subtle, so it doesn’t quite qualify for an A. It’s a good chip though. The aftertaste is a bit smoky and bacony.

7. Salt & Vinegar

It took me years to try this flavor. For some reason it always sounded bad. I was pleasantly surprised. This is best as a companion chip in my book, not a stand alone. But it is very good with a sandwich, pizza, or chili.

8. Kickin’ Cheddar (E)

At first you taste the cheddar flavor, then the kick comes in with a hot pepper aftertaste. The hot pepper and cheese pairing is a nice touch.

9. Smokin’ Hot Ranch (E)

I think this flavor is a bit bland. I think you can remove the smokin’ hot part and just call it ranch. It earned a “meh” form me. Not great, not bad . . .

10. Chili Cheese

This is a good flavor for the sort term. it gets old pretty quickly, however, so that prevents it from securing a higher ranking. The flavor is exactly what you would expect, a mildly spicy chili and cheese taste with some of the spices dominating the aftertaste.

11. Loaded Baked Potato

The presence of bacon in this flavor makes me appreciate it, but I wouldn’t call myself a big fan. It seems like there is too much going on in this flavor. You might want to think of it as flavor mayhem.

12. Pizza

This is the flavor formerly known as Pizzalicious. The flavor and aftertaste are somewhat similar to pizza sauce.

13. Cheeseburger (RC) and Cheeseburger

A chip that tastes like a cheeseburger, sort of. I believe the regular cheeseburger flavor is the same as the Restaurant Craver series flavor with the same name. If there are differences they were too subtle for me to pick out. My friend Ryan proposed eating this flavor in conjunction with Screamin’ Dill Pickle Pringles for a true cheeseburger experience (and the pairing is quite good).

14. Blazin’ Buffalo Wing (E)

My first reaction to this flavor was this tastes like General Tso’s chicken. But that flavor lasts for about one second, then the buffalo wing comes through. If you like wings this might be a good flavor for you . . . I’m not a huge fan of wings. It’s good as a novelty.

15. Mexican Layered Dip (RC)

This flavor wasn’t bad, it just didn’t impress me very much.

16. Cheddar Cheese

At first the taste is heavy on cheddar, but then the blue cheese aftertaste comes through. I’d avoid this flavor because two better cheddar flavors are available (Cheesy Fries and Kickin’ Cheddar). 

17. Barbeque

My bias against barbeque flavored chips causes me to rank this flavor in the southern regions of the list. It’s not bad, but I like barbeque sauce on meat, not potatoes.

18. Jalapeno

This chip packs as much kick as the Extreme series chips (even more than Smokin’ Ranch). It has a very peppery taste followed by a peppery aftertaste (how’s that for descriptive?). If you like peppers this flavor is worth checking out.

19. Onion Blossom (RC)

I though all Pringles were good. I was wrong. Onion Blossom is a travesty in a chip. I almost threw away some of these chips, they were that bad. They do not taste anything like a Bloomin’ Onion from Outback Steakhouse.

20. Mozzarella Sticks & Marinara (RC)

And then I realized Onion Blossom was not as bad as Pringles get. This flavor is even worse. They taste nothing like mozzarella cheese or marinara sauce. Blech.

So there you have my Pringles rankings and review. I think I’ll lay off the chips for the next few weeks. I’m not sure where the line between addiction and appreciation falls, but something tells me Pringles are found near it.

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