Redo: Submission Is Not Docile Silence

April 23rd, 2014 by , in Wednesday in the Word
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Redo Week is rollin’ along, with this much-improved Bible post about a passage from Ephesians. Yay for better explanations with fewer words!

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Redo: Respect Your Teachers

April 22nd, 2014 by , in Tuesday on the Soapbox
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My post about public school education got a huge revamp, tidying up the arguments, making it easier to read, and adding more details concerning more recent developments in education. YAY!

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Redo: Fast Loading Times: A Personal Trademark

April 21st, 2014 by , in Monday in the HTMLab
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To kick off another Redo Week, I went back and reworked my old post about fast loading times, including more explanations in fewer words as well as quite a few explanatory links. All in all, a MUCH better article which is quicker and easier to read!

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Adventures in First-Time Music Directing, part 2

April 19th, 2014 by , in Saturday with the Spark
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firsttimedirecting2

When we last saw our musical heroine (LOL), I was battling against my own problems as well as trying to get the cast members interested and invested in their performance. With the show literally days away, we were still struggling.

Running Out of Time…!

Despite several rehearsals with me attempting to conduct the music and my friend directing, it seemed like Seussical was just not coming together. The cast as a whole had a hard time staying on-task; they were getting just as discouraged (and as tired) as we both were, having rehearsals that felt like they lasted days, without any significant improvement to show for it.

Act 2 of Seussical especially was very difficult, with its more demanding musical numbers and stage wizardry. But the strangest thing? As Act 1 slowly got polished, Act 2 languished, and several times my friend even mentioned just performing Act 1 and leaving out the second part altogether. It was a drastic idea…but with so little time to go, either cutting the show down to the performable parts or scrapping it altogether were looking like our best options.

The Surprise

I fervently did not want this to happen; my friend and I had worked too hard, and a few of the cast members had worked too hard, to let it all go down the drain. So, on the Monday before the first show, I came in ready to “inspire the kids to work hard,” having practiced all my best pep talks.

But when I came in, I learned the news: in the time since our last rehearsal, my friend had had several conversations with many of the cast members, who were actually thinking of quitting the performance because “it was going to be a disaster.” My friend’s amazing (and galvanizing) response was something along these lines: “Go ahead and quit; we will do the show without you.”

Apparently, over the next several minutes, word got around to the rest of the cast that the show would still go on even without some of its leads. They had thought that the threat of them quitting would somehow tank the show completely; they had now found out to the contrary. Much begging and negotiating followed, and somehow by Monday all the cast came back absolutely ready to work and to do their best!

The Last Week of Rehearsals: A Complete 180

The afternoon rehearsals on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday felt like we were working with a completely different cast. Lines were learned, songs were practiced until mastered, and some cast members even put down their phones for the first time since I had begun to work with them. Best of all, the cast began to work as a team, listening to each other, even helping each other with lines, songs, and costumes.

Riding this tidal wave of sudden success, I also learned how to conduct them better, especially when we rigged up a lighted music stand so that the actors could see me conducting from the back of the tiny auditorium. At last, it felt like I could communicate with them and help them stay on-task; at last, I felt like I was doing my job and helping them to do theirs. As a result, I gained their respect and trust, which had been lacking since the beginning because I hadn’t yet proven myself to them.

Performance Weekend

The dress rehearsal performance on Friday, followed by the two shows on Saturday, were whirlwinds of activity (and my shoulders and arms had never been so sore! LOL). I got to enjoy the show as well as help to keep it together; I could have burst with how proud I was of the cast’s hard work.

Despite sound and lighting issues (one of the light panels self-destructed during the dress rehearsal, and a speaker blew during each of the Saturday performances), we managed to keep it rolling and keep it professional. Part of the dress rehearsal performance was done with the house lights up, for instance, and yet the cast kept going. And, when the speaker blew halfway through the second song of the 3:30 Saturday performance, I saw several of the cast members’ eyes widen; I kept conducting, they kept singing, and we finished the song a capella while my friend and the tech crew hooked up the new speaker. The cast carried it off beautifully each time, learning and displaying the true meaning of “the show must go on.”

The show was a good success for the drama department, bringing in not only parents and friends, but much of the community as well. Many people were impressed with how professional and pulled-together the show was, and it created a new awareness of the drama department at our local high school (which has been more sports-focused in recent years). All in all, we were flushed with victory after a long and hard-fought battle, and I felt honored to have even been a part of it.

What I Learned

This experience was quite educational for me, in some negative ways and positive ways. I learned that I’m probably not going to be a concert pianist any time soon, but that I can do some musical things, like conducting, that I’d never tried my hand at before (literally or figuratively). I also learned that doing a perfect job is less important than being consistent and persistent; I became less concerned with how perfectly I was “performing” for the students, and instead concerned myself with being a role model for a good work ethic, continuing to try until I was successful. (Believe me, that was HARD for this OCD perfectionist to abide by!)

I know that I didn’t do much to help the show be its best; my friend really accomplished that by motivating her students in the only way she could reach them. I saw how much they respected her for her no-nonsense honesty, even when the truth was temporarily harsh on them. But I do know that I helped encourage and give help where it was needed, and for that, I can be grateful and proud, too. For once, I wasn’t the star of the show, but it didn’t matter–I got to help.

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Visualizing Emotions, Hysterical Roommate Notes, Kid Playing Weird Instrument, and GoQR.me

April 18th, 2014 by , in Friday around the Web
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visualizingemotions
How Do People Visualize Emotions Happening in Their Bodies?
From a study of many people, these drawings were generated as an average of their responses. Look at how many people experience anger coming from their heads, joy and love from the heart, fear from the stomach, and sadness in all these areas at once! (scroll horizontally to see all pictures)

20 Hysterical (and Hilarious) Roommate Notes
I think we’ve all left notes for our roommates like these…though the last picture about “doing the dishes” takes a VERY unique 3D approach. xD (some language)

Kid Plays Recognizable Songs on Weird Instrument
Watch this kid play this crazy musical instrument, somewhere between a drum set and a xylophone, banging out all sorts of familiar tunes (annotated at the bottom of the video as it plays)!

GoQR.me
Make your own usable QR codes with this tool! Just type in text, a URL, a phone number, etc. and watch the magic happen!

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HeroClix Tournament Ideas

April 17th, 2014 by , in Thursday in the Zone
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clixtourneyideas

HeroClix tournaments, at least in my neck of the woods, are a fairly big affair. Everyone brings their strongest figures (usually out of the very newest sets), and most people spend their team-building time (and most of the week before the tournament) trying to figure out how to break the format for maximum wins in 50-minute rounds. In other words, there’s a list of reasons why I’ve quit playing the tournaments; I’m a casual player, I don’t have the money for updated figures, and I hate trying to play within a time limit.

But what if tournaments weren’t always cutthroat like this? What if there were a few tournament days thrown in there where the competition is still there, but the challenge is a little different? Read on to find out what I mean!

Idea #1: Draft-ish Tournament Out of Somebody’s Extras

Most Clix players have a huge box of extra figures lying around, figures they normally wouldn’t play with much, figures they’d be willing to trade. What if there was a tournament where the judge brought a huge box of extras and everyone built their teams on the spot, strictly out of that box?

Rules

Pros

Cons

Idea #2: Build a Team–for Someone Else!

This is a pretty simple idea; for this tournament, pure chance decides who’s going to play the team you built, and what team you’re going to end up playing with!

Rules

Pros

Cons

Idea #3: Tournament Loser(s) Pick the Next Tournament’s Challenge

This isn’t a tournament challenge per se, but rather a way to reward all players for playing.

Rules

Pros

Cons

Summary

As the above ideas show, tournaments can be challenging enough and still encourage creativity to win. Think about how you could implement these ideas at your venue!

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Quit Ignoring Jesus!

April 16th, 2014 by , in Wednesday in the Word
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quitignoringjesus
John 5:1-8; 14
1 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie–the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.

6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

7 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”

On First Reading: Wait, Jesus Said WHAT?!

Admittedly, this Bible story used to bother me when I was younger and read the Bible more shallowly. First off, Jesus’ final words to the man sound harsh, especially when you think about how long the man had been disabled (38 years). Secondly, it always seemed like Jesus was actually blaming the man for being disabled, because of his sin (mentioned in the second half of verse 14), as well as threatening him with “worse” punishment. As a younger reader, I didn’t understand why Jesus was saying this when the man had obviously had a hard life already.

Reading Again: The Invalid Needed This Wake-Up Call

But as I read over this Bible story again for this post, I realized something: this man had been disabled a long time. In all that time, he had never once reached out to God for help; Jesus even asks him in verse 6, “Do you want to get well?” Jesus didn’t really need to know the answer, but He asked because it would make the man think differently about his problem. For all those years, the disabled man had been focusing on self-pity (“oh, poor me, nobody around me will help me”), and he had forgotten (or ignored) God, Who stands ready to help when we finally quit trying to do it all ourselves.

Now, when Jesus asks, “Do you want to get well?”, the man realizes Jesus is reaching out to him for help, and he finally defines in verse 7 exactly what he needs help with. He has finally asked the right person! He has finally quit ignoring Jesus and quit wallowing in self-pity long enough to actually ask for help.

Ignoring Jesus and choosing to wallow in self-pity are both sins, which Jesus addresses in verse 14. When we sin, we cut ourselves off from God, either consciously or unconsciously, and it makes it much more frustrating for God to try to communicate with us. Jesus’ final words, then, are a firm disciplinary admonishment for the man to keep in better contact with God from here on out. He has been shown, personally and powerfully, what God can do in his life; it’s now up to him to turn to God and stop living in a mental prison of his own making.

We Need This Wake-Up Call, Too!

We often do the same thing to God, especially these days when we think we have our lives completely together and we are perfectly fine without God helping. Fact is, we all need God, and for some of us, God has been waiting a very long time for us to realize that. God even allows struggles to happen to us, to teach us that we do need Him when our own strength fails (and actually, we need Him every hour, as the old hymn goes). It’s not that God is doing evil things to us, but that He uses the bad things in our lives as teachable moments, to show us that we can’t do it all alone, and we don’t have to, because He is there. We just have to stop pridefully ignoring Him first!

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The Curse of Unforgiveness

April 15th, 2014 by , in Tuesday on the Soapbox
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unwilling
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forgiveness
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When we refuse to forgive someone, usually we think we’re punishing them in some way. “They don’t deserve my forgiveness!” we might think. “They hurt me, they betrayed me–they deserve for me to shun them the rest of my life!” And in those angry, bitter moments, our feelings seem completely righteous; we are hurt, so they deserve to hurt, too, and the best way we can think of to hurt them is to take our friendship and common courtesy away.

Unforgiveness as a Personal, Long-Term Struggle

I struggle with unforgiveness myself, as a victim of severe school bullying from kindergarten through 9th grade. I often said I forgave the people who verbally and physically abused me, but I didn’t–I held the grudge for years, silently judging each former bully by their action, remaining angry with them long after they even forgot what they did to me. The fact that they forgot even stoked my anger more; I found myself thinking “How dare they forget, like it didn’t matter, when they HURT me?! They deserve to be hurt by my hatred!”

Unforgiveness as a Futile Exercise

But therein lies the problem, one that I wasn’t able to wrap my brain around until just the last few years. Who am I actually hurting when I refuse to forgive someone? I’m obviously not hurting the other person, if they can forget what they did. I’m obviously not teaching them a social lesson, when no one else remembers the hurt done to me. What good is it to refuse someone else forgiveness, when all it does is keep refreshing the hurt in my mind, and keep me angry? Anger causes stress, and stress is a KILLER, as I have discovered with my recent stress-related illnesses.

Unforgiveness feels right, feels like exactly the thing we ought to do, especially when our lives have been changed by someone else’s thoughtless words or actions. But it won’t help us in the long run–it will only dampen our own life enjoyment, and potentially even shorten our lives, with NO effect on the other person whatsoever.

I am the last person who needs to give advice on how to forgive, since I’m apparently awful at it, but I do recognize that it needs to happen–first because it’s the Christian thing to do, realizing I too am a sinner in need of forgiveness, and second because I am tired of living with the burden of my own rage and bitterness.

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3 Little CSS Changes to Make Your Content Pop

April 14th, 2014 by , in Monday in the HTMLab
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designchanges
It’s temptingly easy to get swept up in the visual/graphic part of a webdesign, and end up styling the content as what feels like an afterthought. But, as demonstrated in the following article, content styling is incredibly important–and the slightest changes can make a huge difference in whether your audience actually reads your content or not!

These 3 changes literally take less than a minute to implement, but they can radically improve your content design. Read on to find out!

Make Your Font A Little Bigger

14px
CSS Rule: “font-size: 14px; font-family: “Arial”, sans-serif;”

16px
CSS Rule: “font-size: 16px; font-family: “Arial”, sans-serif;”

The first and easiest change to make is to just enlarge your font, just a bit. This isn’t just for nearsighted people like me, either–bigger font simply looks easier to read for everyone. Even the change from 14px to 16px, as depicted above, can be enough to make words more distinct at a glance. Visually, it looks more appealing already–and visually appealing content means readable content, which means your site has an audience. Awesome!

Space Your Lines Out a Bit

16px
CSS Rule: “font-size: 16px; font-family: “Arial”, sans-serif;”

16pxspaced
CSS Rule: “font-size: 16px; font-family: “Arial”, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;”

Bigger font, however, looks even better when spaced apart a little bit more. Ever wondered why your teachers always asked for double-spaced papers? As a former teacher, I found out that my eyes boggle less when the text isn’t all scrunched together like it just went through a trash compactor (especially when grading dozens of student papers late at night). Your site visitors likely think the same–respect their eyes and give each line of text a good amount of space with the line-height property.

Use Subtle Color in Your Headings and Subheadings

16pxspacedcolor
CSS Rule (heading only): “font-size: 22px; font-family: “Arial”, sans-serif; color: #336699;”

Using font colors in a webpage doesn’t have to involve crazy-bright hues. Even just a little color in your headings and subheadings, slightly different from your body font color (like the deep blue alongside the black in the above image), can help visually separate your content out. For all types of readers, whether they gobble down words or savor each mental morsel, the heading and subheading color is another cue that the topic has changed and they need to pay attention. This helps your readers take in your content more easily and understand it quicker.

Summary

Styling your content, even with just the few simple changes outlined in this article, can be the difference your site needs to become widely read. After all, content is why sites exist–let’s make it as appealing as possible!

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Redo: Coming Up with “Novel” Ideas

April 12th, 2014 by , in Saturday with the Spark
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My first post about my novel now makes about 200% more sense, with better organization/title lines and less silly off-target rambling. (Also, I fixed the long-dead link in the post as well! WOO!)

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