Saturday, February 4, 2012

Parental Controls and the Kindle Fire

The Kindle Fire is Amazon's first foray into the world of tablets running the Google Android operating system. Many tech people have classified the Fire as an e-reader device, but that's not strictly true. Most of today's e-reader devices (such as all of the other Kindles, all of the Sony devices, the original Nook and the Simple Touch, and most of the others) use some form of electronic ink display, while the Fire uses a tablet-standard LED-backlit LCD screen. To me, that difference, coupled with the Fire's faster dual-core CPU and multimedia capabilities, makes the Fire a tablet, not an e-reader.

Esoterica aside, the Fire is by all accounts a great device for just $200. It certainly isn't the fastest tablet, nor does it have the most memory or storage or the largest screen of all the tablets, but you get a lot more bang for your tech dollar than you get from a lot of other devices.

Amazon's main marketing ploy with the Fire has been to extol the virtues of the tablet's Silk web browser. It uses AWS, Amazon Web Services, which runs on Amazon's gargantuan Elastic Compute Cloud, or EC2. EC2 is a huge distributed server cluster which can be used as a supercomputer for scientific computations, or as a high-availability host for business or personal services with practically zero downtime. Anyone can purchase time and space on EC2 and use it for practically anything legal.

Silk uses AWS as an enormous caching web proxy system. A Fire using the Silk browser sends a request for a web page to AWS, which then downloads all of the page's content, converts it to a form more easily digested by the Fire's somewhat limited hardware capabilities, and sends that rendered data to the requesting Fire for display. AWS also keeps a copy of all of the resources used (images, ad content, etc.) so that other Fires browsing that same page later are served those cached items, which dramatically increases browser performance. This sounds great on paper, but there is, I believe, a significant problem with this approach which may be of interest to those parents who have purchased Fires for their children as Christmas or birthday gifts. However, describing the nature of this problem will first require some explanation on the inner workings of DNS.

(Note: this will be a fairly long article, but stick with me; I think it'll be worth it.)

I've been away too long...

You know how it goes; you start something new, life gets in the way, and one day you realize it has been weeks (or months) since you did anything on that project. Clearly that has happened here. Well, I'm pleased to say I have a new post coming out later today. It's already written, and I'll be posting it shortly to auto-publish this afternoon.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Several of the blogs I read regularly have done some form of this, so in light of today being Veteran's Day, I thought I'd mention all the people in my family who have served their country in the US Armed Forces.
  • Great-grandpa Emmett (d. 1995): Served in WWII (as a chaplain, I believe). May have been just old enough to be involved in the very end of WWI. Army
  • Great-uncle David (Emmett's oldest and Ralph's brother. d. early 1990's): Served in WWII. Army
  • Grandpa Ralph: Served at the end of WWII. Would have been part of the forces invading Japan, had they not surrendered while his battalion was en route. Redirected to the Philippines. Army
  • Great-uncle Charley (Ralph's brother-in-law. d. 2 weeks ago): Served in WWII and possibly in Korea. Navy
  • Uncle Rick (Charley's son): Served in Gulf War I. Navy
  • Brother Nick: Served in Fallujah during the Global War on Terror, and Kosovo before that. Army

That should cover my side. On to my wife's side.
  • Grandpa Bud (d. 1999): Served in WWII. Navy
  • Uncle Byron: Served in Vietnam and Gulf War I. Marines (belated happy birthday Devil Dogs!)
  • Uncle Gary: Served in Vietnam. Army (most likely)
  • Cousin Jonathan (Byron's son): Currently serving. Navy
Thanks to all who have served.

(Family: please note any corrections or additions in the comments. I'll update the post as necessary.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Audio Systems

Probably the most obvious and most prevalent technological presence in the church today is the audio system. From small churches which simply want to amplify the minister's voice, to the mega-church with a 30-piece orchestra, 150-member choir, 4 balconies, and 15,000 seats, the PA (public address) system is a necessity in the modern church.

At it's simplest, the PA system takes audio from a few microphones, amplifies it, and sends it to one or more speakers. The intent, of course, is to make sure that each person in the audience can hear the message, announcements, songs, and other elements which are part of the worship service. A few simple additions allow for recording the sermon onto a cassette tape or CD for duplication and distribution to church members who could not attend due to illness or other absence, or to friends and family of members who might be interested in the content of the message.

As the size of a congregation and it's facilities increases, so too must the audio system. The largest churches utilize the latest in digital mixer and recording technologies to support dozens of microphones and instruments such as guitars and electronic keyboards which connect directly to the system; multi-channel speaker systems to support large worship arenas seating thousands; larger church campuses with worship audio piped to hallways, meeting areas, and nurseries; and multi-track digital recording systems to capture not only the sermon, but also all elements of the worship music, dramas, and other elements for wider distribution.

The principle which should guide the use of any church audio system is to enable everyone attending the service to participate in the worship of God. It should not be in your face, as it might be at a rock concert. The music group on stage is not performing for their own benefit; rather, it is leading worship. The focus should be on God, not on the singers or musicians, and the audio engineer must work to minimize any noise or feedback which would distract from worship.

But how does that work?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Welcome to my new blog, Don't Separate Church and Tech! The philosophy at the core of this blog is that technology in and of itself is neither good nor evil; that distinction comes from how we use it.

God has given us intelligence, the ability to create and invent and build. We humans are pretty good at making things, though too often those things are used for evil rather than good. We've created a lot of things over the milennia of our existence here on Earth; various forms of visual art, music, drama, mechanical and electrical devices. I think that too often, we see many of the things we create as being somehow separate from church; for instance, you wouldn't necessarily bring a beautiful automobile into your sanctuary and use it as part of your worship service, would you?

I think that, many times, modern technology is seen as a necessary evil. Some churches may hesitate to install an LCD projector and a PC in their sanctuaries for fear that it will demean or sully the worship experience in some way, or have problems with a computer network in the building because it might dehumanize the process of guiding the flock through the week.

I'm a computer programmer, and have a great interest in many forms of modern technology. I have found in recent years that as I look at a new technology or investigate a new tech-related service, I have kept in the back of  my mind a sort of dialog about how this thing might be used for God's glory. Audio mixers and related equipment, for instance, have been established pretty well by now as an important part of the worship environment in most churches. But I think there are many other technologies that can be used during corporate worship and as extensions of the worship and outreach of a church body. I seek to explore the usefulness of any technology to the church as it tries to glorify God and fulfill the Great Commission to the best of it's ability. Won't you join me?