Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Beer is on my mind. This weekend Betsy and I bought a bunch of beer making equipment off of Craigslist. I've been wanting to try brewing for a while, and this Craigslist deal was just too good to resist. Included in the deal was two fermentation chambers (called "Carboys"), a lot of bottles, and sundry pieces of equipment like vapour locks and pots for boiling "wort."

So much for the software, now I just need to get the software: mainly just malt, yeast, and hops! With any luck I can get a batch going this weekend. It will need to ferment for a few weeks before I can bottle it, but I'm very much looking forward to it.

Perhaps when Ontario Apple Season gets into full swing I'll make some hard cider!


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Power of PowerPoint

When this PowerPoint slide meant to illustrate the complexity of the war in Afghanistan was first shown to a room full of American and Allied Commanders, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal quipped, "When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war." Everyone laughed. According to a NYTimes article, this slide has become emblematic of how the U.S. Military has become PowerPoint obsessed. Now there is a brewing backlash within the U.S. Military against PowerPoint:
“PowerPoint makes us stupid,” Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said this month at a military conference in North Carolina. (He spoke without PowerPoint.) Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who banned PowerPoint presentations when he led the successful effort to secure the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar in 2005, followed up at the same conference by likening PowerPoint to an internal threat.

“It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,” General McMaster said in a telephone interview afterward. “Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.” (Source)

I love that line coming from a General--"Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable." No kidding. If, as the old adage goes, "To a man with a hammer every problem looks like a nail," then we must beware of how tools like PowerPoint can overly determine our perception of reality.

This is why I sometimes worry about tools in church land like NCD (Natural Church Development). I think it's a great place to start (and I look forward to doing it at COTM), but does it oversimplify the complexity of parish life? I would like to hear from churches that have done two or three cycles of NCD and see if they feel they have run into the limitations of the NCD paradigm, yet.

Back to PowerPoint. There have been several essays in military science journals about the epistemology of PowerPoint--that is, how one thinks with PowerPoint. This one by Starbuck (Capt. Crispin Burke) responded to an earlier essay by retired Marine Colonel TX Hammes. The title of the Hammes essay, Dumb-dumb bullets: As a decision-making aid, PowerPoint is a poor tool, pretty much says it all about how some people feel in the military. What seems to bother people the most is "fuzzy" bullet points that lack actual information. Indeed, PowerPoint is more about persuasion than data.
Senior officers say the program does come in handy when the goal is not imparting information, as in briefings for reporters.

The news media sessions often last 25 minutes, with 5 minutes left at the end for questions from anyone still awake. Those types of PowerPoint presentations, Dr. Hammes said, are known as “hypnotizing chickens.” (source)

It is sobering to consider that one of the significant causes of the Shuttle Columbia disaster, according to the Accident Review Board report, was the improper use of PowerPoint by NASA. "The Board views the endemic use of PowerPoint briefing slides instead of technical papers as an illustration of the problematic methods of technical communication at NASA" (source). One slide in particular (prepared by Boeing--sorry dad) earned the ire of the Accident Review Board:
  • The vaguely quantitative words "significant" and"significantly" are used 5 times on this slide, with de facto meanings ranging from "detectable in largely irrelevant calibration case study" to "an amount of damage so that everyone dies" to "a difference of 640-fold." None of these 5 usages appears to refer to the technical meaning of "statistical significance."
  • This vague pronoun reference "it" alludes to damage to the protective tiles,which caused the destruction of the Columbia. The slide weakens important material with ambiquous language (sentence fragments, passive voice,multiple meanings of "significant"). The 3 reports were created by engineers for high-level NASA officials who were deciding whether the threat of wing damage required further investigation before the Columbia attempted return. The officials were satisfied that the reports indicated that the Columbia was not in danger,and no attempts to further examine the threat were made. The slides were part of an oral presentation and also were circulated as e-mail attachments.

Basically, as these slides were passed up the chain of command, people glossed over them and took the tone to mean, "don't worry," rather than, "everyone might die." According to the ARB's Report sidebar titled "Engineering by Viewgraph," a more accurate title for the slide would have been "Review of Test Data Indicates Irrelevance of Two Models."

Of course, no one is likely to die in the Diocese of Toronto because of inappropriate PowerPoint use. For one thing, I don't see a lot of use of PowerPoint in the Diocese of Toronto. Some, but not much. Generally people prefer simple paper handouts (which are often too long to actually read in the meeting, anyway). In fact, the only white board I've seen in the whole building (Dio. Toronto HQ), is the Archbishop's Office. I'm a visual guy, so I really appreciated when I was in a meeting with him once and he started using it as our group brainstormed.

So what is PowerPoint good for? TX Hammes explains:
PowerPoint is not entirely negative. It can be useful in situations it was designed to support — primarily, information briefs rather than decision briefs. For instance, it is an excellent vehicle for instructors. It provides a simple, effective way to share high-impact photos, charts, graphs, film clips and humor that illustrate a lecturer’s points. Here, the bullet can function as designed by providing a brief, simple outline of the speaker’s material that facilitates note-taking and even (one hopes) student retention. Yet even in a classroom setting, it is not appropriate for developing a deep understanding of most subjects. For that, additional reading is required. There is a reason students cannot submit a thesis in PowerPoint format. (Source)

By extension, I think PowerPoint works reasonably well for some sermons. Especially sermons that need some kind of visual element. For instance, I used PowerPoint when I preached about how church architecture shapes liturgical experience. But most of the time I'm looking for as much of a relational moment as possible, so I would rather have people looking at me than a projection screen.

Still, I thought this whole debate about the use of PowerPoint in organizational decision making is worth thinking about.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sermon - Easter 3 2010

I had a whole sermon prepared for the Third Sunday of Easter that was going to explore Trauma and remembrance. And had notes and everything! But somewhere between the first lesson and the second I changed my mind completely and decided to preach a totally different sermon. It was actually a much better sermon than what I had prepared. Love it when that happens!


Friday, April 23, 2010

Sermon - Easter 2 2010

On the Sunday after Easter we were pleased to welcome Br. Robert Sevensky, the Superior of the Order of the Holy Cross. He gave a solid sermon exploring the process of Holy Week.


Thursday, April 22, 2010


Here is a wonderful little recipe I saw on a French Cooking show. It produces vodka infused with orange and coffee tastes, perfect for after dinner. It's dead easy and kind of fun, too.


Taken from French Food at Home with Laura Calder.

1 large organic orange, well washed
44 coffee beans
44 sugar cubess
4 cups vodka

1. Poke the orange with a skewer or knitting needle and insert the coffee beans through the slits in the skin into the orange flesh.

2. Put the orange in a sterilized preserving jar (with an opening large enough to fit an orange through), add the sugar, pour over the alcohol, seal, and shake.

3.Store in a cool, dark place, giving the jar a shake every day for 44 days.

4. Filter the liqueur through a coffee filter into a serving bottle.

Tay's Notes
A 1.14 Liter bottle of Stolichnaya Vodka works great for this recipe. So do the large-size Mason jars from Ikea. Save the bottle after you have poured the contents into the Mason jar and use it to re-bottle the finished product.

For best results, use 100% real Kona Coffee!

I think the filtering step can be skipped. It's just a few tiny specs of coffee bean floating around. But if you want perfection, try doing batches in a french press rather than using a paper coffee filter. One of those reusable metal basket filters might work, too.

Very nice. And it has a high WAF ("Wife Acceptance Factor"). I've also thought about printing some cool labels and slapping them onto the Stoli bottle to trope the packaging. But has the time? (Besides Martha Stewart). I'm considering giving homemade stuff like this away this Christmas.

The show "French Food at Home" that this comes from is total food porn. Anthony Bourdain once did an episode of his show--"No Reservations"--in which he demonstrated how the lighting, editing, and camera work of many food shows mimics "adult entertainment." The Food Network producers are very savvy, they understand something about voyeurism and the visual culture of seduction.


Sound Systems

A found a very handy little iPhone app that allows you to do testing and analysis of sound systems. Basically, it's a light-weight version of SMAART and other calibration software packages that you would normally run on a laptop. I simply plugged my iPhone output jack into the sound system and then let it play a series of test tones and then it listened with the iPhones mic. I e-mailed the data set to myself and made a quick graph with google. Bingo.

Why is this useful? Because I can use it to adjust the equalizer in the sound system to get a "flatter" response curve. For example, I see here there is a peak at about 440 Hz. I was aware it was near there, but I had thought it was more like 360 Hz. This is great, I can simply tone that frequency down a little. See?

Other problems, like the general low-performance in low frequency, is nothing I can correct with the current speakers. Still, an interesting exercise.

And yes, you could totally use this to test/calibrate a home stereo.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Don't Go to Church Sunday

We all know about Back to Church Sunday, it's an attempt to invite people back to church. But how about the concept of "Don't Go to Church Sunday?" The concept is that Christians should spend a Sunday attempting to bring Christ out into the world rather than bring people to Christ in the church. They suggest trying to start a Sunday School in a local supermarket or Café. Or perhaps take the entire congregation out a Sunday morning to do some service project that will be meaningful to the neighbourhood.

Of course, both approaches are necessary responses to the Gospel of Jesus, and their juxtaposition tells us something important about the nature of mission.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ginger Ale Recipe...

I'm really pleased with how this turns out. It's a delicious summer time treat. Much better (and certainly sharper) than what you buy in the store.

Ginger Ale

Modified From Alton Brown's Recipe on "Good Eats"

Asterisks denote modifications to Alton's version...

2 ounces finely grated fresh ginger*
8 ounces sugar*
8 cups filtered (or bottled) water*
1/8 teaspoon active dry yeast
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice*

2 Liter Pop Bottle
Medium Sauce Pan
Cheese Grater
Instant-Read Thermometer

Place the ginger, sugar, and 3/4 cup of the water into a 2-quart saucepan and set over medium-high heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat, cover and allow to steep for 1 hour.

Pour the syrup through a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl, pressing down to get all of the juice out of the mixture. Chill quickly by placing over and ice bath and stirring or set in the refrigerator, uncovered, until at least room temperature, 68 to 72 degrees F.

Using a funnel, pour the syrup into a clean 2-liter plastic bottle and add the yeast, lemon juice and remaining 7 cups of water. Place the cap on the bottle, gently shake to combine and leave the bottle at room temperature for 48 hours. Open and check for desired amount of carbonation. It is important that once you achieve your desired amount of carbonation that you refrigerate the ginger ale. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, opening the bottle at least once a day to let out excess carbonation.

Tay's Notes
*Peak flavour takes a couple of days to develop, just remember to keep checking the carbonation level to keep it from exploding. Also, check the sweetness of the mixture. If you want it sweeter, add some simple syrup.
**I'd like to try adding some ginseng to this sometime.

I'd like to try making some other homemade sodas. Bet I could make a killer lemonade!


Jeremiah Community Video

One of the best known Fresh Expressions of Church in Anglican Toronto is the Jeremiah Project over at St. Anne's, Gladstone. They are a New Monastic community, which is a pretty cool and radical way to live out the Gospel. They made this video for the national church's website.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"Send a Prayer" iPhone App

Ann W. point this out to me from the Huffington Post:
A new iPhone application called "Send a Prayer" allows users to enter personal prayers into their mobile phones, then send them to a rabbi in Jerusalem who will print the prayers out, and put them on the Western Wall (or Wailing Wall) in time for Yom Kippur, a major Jewish holiday.

On its homepage, "Send a Prayer" says the application is, "the only iPhone app that puts you directly in touch with God." (source)

I dunno, seems to take the whole point out of the Wailing Wall tradition. Call me crazy! Here's a link to the app's website.

And a video review of the app, which includes zero irony!


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Monday Shopping

A glimpse into my typical Monday...

Betsy woke me up by putting Henry next to me and informing me that she was going to the gym. Not a surprise, I had promised to take care of Henry the night before. The little guy was having a post-breakfast nap, so I decided to take advantage of the moment by taking a quick shower before Betsy was actually out of the door.

By the time I finished Betsy was gone and the baby was still asleep. Typically these kinds of naps only last about 20 minutes. Predictably, he was soon awake and asking for attention. I managed to get dressed quickly and went downstairs for my breakfast. Henry likes to be held. He has little patience for me cooking and leaving him in his swing or lying in his baby gym. So I strapped him onto my chest with the Baby Bjorn and made a quick fried-egg breakfast.

By the time I finished eating he was done and ready for something else. I put him in his car seat (Graco 32) which I locked into it's basic frame (Graco Snap-N-Go). When I attach the five-point harness of the seat I often play the Mission-Control-to-Captain-Moss routine. He likes that.

His momentary distraction at thoughts of space flight was long enough for me to check the baby go-bag (aka Diaper bag). Bare minimum equipment for Henry outings:
  • 1 Baby Bottle with fresh breast milk (enough for 2 feedings)
  • 4 disposable diapers (easier to manage than cloth when status Oscar Mike ("On the Move")
  • pacifier (not really his thing, but occasionally helpful)
  • Burp Cloth
  • Change of clothes
  • Baby wipes
  • Itz Been (a device that keeps track of time since last feeding/changing/etc)
Go-Bag checked, we headed out the door.

Henry likes to travel (usually). He looks around and enjoys the view. These days he is more and more interested in the environment around him when we go for walks, so the rear-facing Snap-N-Go is limiting in that way. It's also not a very smooth ride even on city sidewalks. It's really designed for indoor use.

Nonetheless, I managed to make it to my office to pick up a few things and then the bank. The teller knows greeted Henry by name (we are well known there) and did the appropriate "Oh, isn't he cute" stuff. Business done, I started walking toward my next errand.

As luck would have it, Betsy was just finishing at the gym, so by 12.30 we were all re-united. We snapped the car seat into it's base in the car and we were off to Long and McQuade. I picked up a device called a "DI Box" so that Kerrie from church will be able to plug her laptop's sound directly in the church's sound system. (I also figured out that this works great with my iPhone, too.) I haven't always gotten the best service from Long and McQuade, but they do have the best stock of pro-audio gear in the city.

Next stop, Li'l Niblets up on Avenue Road. It's our favourite baby store. Since both Henry and his parents are outgrowing the Snap-N-Go, it's time for a new stroller. I'm glad we didn't invest in this before Henry arrived, we have a much better idea of what we need, now.

Buying a stroller is a lot like buying a car. You go in with a price point in mind and set of features that appeal to you. Then you compare different models. We decided to go for the Valco Baby Trimode EX. It has nice, big wheels (similar to a "jogging" stroller), but still collapses into a manageable size. The seat reclines to completely horizontal. The canopy is nice and long for hotter, sunnier days. It has tonnes of pockets for storage. In the future we can also add a toddler seat if Henry has a little brother or sister. They assembled the stroller for us and we loaded up the baby and were good to go.

Incidentally, while we were in Li'l Niblets Henry needed to nurse and get changed. They have some really nice little rooms for this purpose.

While in the shop, I got a random call from a crazy person I had never met wanting money. She explained that God instructs her, by "moving clouds around," that she is supposed to send packages and letters to various influential persons. She went on to complain about how various people have mistreated her (ex, the church, the government, etc.). I tried to be nice, but I'm not going to give her hundreds of dollars just because she wants to send long, crazy letters to politicians. I can do that myself!

Back in the car, the next stop was The Butchers. It's a little out of the way for us, but since I got some beef there in Holy Week to feed relatives I've been really impressed with their service, product, and price. This time, when I went in and asked if they had any specials the friendly butcher simply said, "Whatcha lookin' for? We'll work with you... how's 10% off sound?" Henry's cute smile got us an additional few dollars shaved off the price at the register. The butcher told me that they get all their meat from a particular Ontario Organic Coop. I don't always get organic food, but I try when I can.

As we left we could hear another customer asking for whatever bones they might have. Probably to make stock. Good idea.

Next stop: the shoe store. Less than a year ago I bought a pair of boat-shoe "style" footwear from The Bay. They quickly fell to pieces this winter. The sidewalk salt killed the leather and the sole developed a nasty crack that would leak water whenever I stepped in a puddle. Not good. So I got another pair of my favourite "real" boat-shoes: Sperry Topsiders.

There are several things that make these "real" boat shoes. First, the leather has been treated to resist water damage. Second, the soles are non-marking--meaning they won't leave marks when they slide across a fibreglass deck (which my Skipper Dave will appreciate on race days). Third, the sole is also designed to maintain traction on wet surfaces (also a plus on race day). I found a comfortable pair and checked out around the time that Henry was finished with shopping.

As Betsy picked up our hungry little man, a clerk made an offhand comment about how we were "spoiling" him. Honestly, I don't think it is possible to spoil a four-month-old. He's an infant and he's hungry--we're supposed to ignore that so he can learn that life is hard? We didn't say anything, the woman was trying to be charming. It is interesting, though, how often people make comments in public about our parenting decisions.

We went home and I made BBQ feeling pretty satisfied about my day....


Monday, April 12, 2010

Ginger Ale

Made my own Ginger Ale this weekend. The recipe needs work, then I'll post it. It's surprisingly easy and cheap to make. After I nail this down I want to try making sparkling lemonade. Just in time for summer!


Saturday, April 10, 2010

After Easter, Comforting the Afflicted...

According to an article in the NYTimes, Dover Air Force Base is undergoing an ominous building boom. Base officials are expanding the mortuary facilities as they expect both a surge of causalities and changes the way the military "repatriates" remains. In the past, family members were not encouraged to be on the tarmac at Dover to receive the remains of their loved ones. The Government would not pay for their travel or accommodation. But ever since the ban of photographing repatriation ceremonies was limited, the government has softened these policies. Now, the military pays for family members to be at Dover, and many are. According to the article, about 75% of families are now present to receive the deceased (and about 55% of them allow media coverage).

Because so many families are now coming to the base, officials have embarked on an ambitious building campaign to provide facilities to support their grief:
In January, Dover opened the Center for the Families of the Fallen, a $1.6 million, 6,000-square-foot space of soft lighting and earth-toned furniture where parents, spouses, children, siblings and other relatives assemble before they are taken to the flight line. On May 1, there is to be a groundbreaking for a new $4.5 million hotel for families who need to spend the night. The same day, ground will also be broken on what Dover officials are calling a meditation center, a nondenominational space with an adjacent garden where relatives can pray or be alone. (source)

Much of this building is being support by donations, not tax dollars. President Obama, for instance, personally donated $250,000 of his Nobel Prize money to the project. They also received help from the Fisher House Foundation.

Many times the article points out that nice gardens and chapel spaces and comfortable lobbies don't seem to make much difference to the feelings of loss. And yet, my experience is that these gestures of care are not lost on the bereaved, either. From my chaplaincy days I remember the research about how the healthy adaption to grief is facilitated by good, immediate care. In other words, there is a very big role for caregivers and friends is helping someone cope with a loss, and environment you do this work in is important.

Back at Yale-New Haven Hospital, we had two rooms specifically set aside for the dead and the bereaved. One was near the Emergency Room, and was set-aside because a busy emergency ward is the furthest thing from peace and privacy. The second was in the pediatrics area of the hospital. It was a quiet, windowless room with soft light, comfortable chairs, and lots of tissue boxes. It was a place where parents who had lost a child could simply be with their child.

Unfortunately, our culture has lost much of its knowledge of how to grieve well. We have professionalized the formerly domestic sphere of death. Thus, special rooms in hospitals and special buildings on military bases have become necessary. As Easter people, we Christians have a particular ministry to those who have experienced death. I think of Simon and the women who cared for Jesus' body. Holy work.


The Mega Post to Come....

I've been preparing a long post reflecting on the Holy Week liturgies and other experiences of last week, but it's a big task. For the moment, I'm just gonna post a note say that I'm still alive. So is Betsy and Henry. And we are mostly recovered. Recovered enough, anyway, that I made a batch of my super-fantastic chocolate chip cookies. That's a good sign. This recipe is proof that God loves us.

BTW, Dave B. did a great job with my video camera of getting some good footage of the baptism. I can't wait to edit it together into something....


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Bread-Kneading Approach...

What a whirlwind it has been at Messiah and the Moss home. I have been stretched to my capacity, and that means that some of the extra-credit stuff, like blogging, has had to take a backseat. But that doesn't mean that there isn't a lot to blog about now that it is all over! But rather than make a massive post describing every aspect of each service, I'm going to be all post-modern about it. Expect fragmentary little snippets..

The Bread-Kneading Approach of Project Management

In previous years, planning at Messiah went something like this. A few members of the staff (Music Director, Administrator, and me, typically) would get together and plan as much as we could. We tried to take as much burden for the liturgy off of the volunteers as possible. All they had to do was show up and pick up a job at the last moment. We did this because we had heard so many messages from people about volunteer burnout. We believed that people were overburdened, and we tried to compensate by putting more work on the staff. Of course, staff resources were limited, so the programme and liturgy were necessarily limited, as well. That also meant we bore the brunt of anxiety about making stuff happen.

So, for example, instead of asking the chancel guild to set up and clean up from the Easter Vigil, I did it myself. I also arranged all the chairs and handed out leaflets before the service, etc. It was exhausting and clearly was far from the kind of "empowering leadership" that we wanted to exercise. I realize in retrospect that it only appeared easier because it backloaded the work, rather than investing in real upfront planning.

So this year we tried an entirely different approach. I call it the "Bread-Kneading Approach." It started with just my Minister of Music (Eric) and I. We talked through the liturgies of Holy Week and dreamed together about what we would find most powerful and meaningful. We looked at lots of different liturgical texts and music before we had a basic outline of what we wanted to do.

Next, we involved a few more people. That meant a more general staff meeting in which we laid out our plans and fleshed out more details. This was helpful, especially as we identified lots of things we hadn't thought of before. We also, at this stage, gave a lot of thought to how various key congregational leaders would take part.

The next meeting included even more people--key leaders from the sidespeople (ushers), chancel guild, kitchen volunteers, etc. I prepared for this meeting by making up a series of flip-chart pages with summaries of the liturgy in question. There was one for Palm Sunday, one for Maundy Thursday, etc. Again, more issues were identified and resloved. Roles were assigned. More importantly, the vision was pitched. Eric and I wanted to get this small group of leaders to be excited about Holy Week in the way that we were excited about Holy Week.

It was a great success. Much more lay involvement in all aspects of the Holy Week worship. Staff were still busy, but with different stuff. The complexity and detail of everything was much, much greater than in previous years. That complexity and detail meant a deeper, more meaningful and spiritual experience for everyone. So it was a winning strategy all the way around.

Now, I've tried to plan liturgies in large meetings before, and it always fell apart. Now I understand that beginning the process with the big meeting or ending by handing out roles to a large assembly of volunteers is the right approach. Start with a small group to discern the corp vision, then work your way outwork. It's like kneading bread, you add flour and knead and add flour and need until you get just the right amount of flour for the amount of moisture in the dough. I think Jesus, always a fan of agricultural and domestic metaphors, would like this one, too.


The Messiah Choir

The Messiah Choir on Easter Sunday. I'm extremely proud of this group, they did a great job with a challenging set of liturgies.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Maundy Thursday

It's 12.32 AM and I'm taking a little break at home before going back to church to take the youth group on a cross walk around the neighbourhood. Right now they are sitting vigil, but in a little while they'll pickup a processional cross and we'll do stations of the cross around the 'hood. This was something they started on their own last year, and I'm happy to continue it.

What an incredible liturgy this was tonight. I hardly know how to summarize it. It was so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes on several occasions. We had the tables in a giant U. The eucharist was being passed around, person-to-person, and I looked at my people and felt such love. I saw the love that they felt for each other, too. This is what the eucharist is about. Jesus said, "do this"'-and we do. But I'm not sure if I have felt closer to what he intended than I did tonight. Wow.

I'm gonna be posting about tonight for a while. I pride myself on having helped create some amazing liturgies, but tonight's was up there with some of the best I've ever been apart of. Wow.