December 28, 2013

This book should be called 'Millionaire Mindset'

The Millionaire Map: Your Ultimate Guide to Creating, Enjoying, and Sharing WealthThe Millionaire Map: Your Ultimate Guide to Creating, Enjoying, and Sharing Wealth by Jim Stovall

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The thing I appreciate most about this book is that the author early on emphasizes that "millionaire" means different things to different people. For some it literally means a net worth of a million dollars. For others it means not having to worry about money. Stovall allows you to pick your own definition.

The premise of this book is that it will help you devise a "map" that will lead you to a destination of financial contentment, but really it's more like an outline of principles than a step-by-step set of directions. It's more like Google Earth than Google Maps.

The advice is sound, but if you've read more than a few financial planning books, it will all sound hauntingly familiar. Understand your income. Control your spending. Invest prudently.

This is a good book. There's just not a lot in it to separate it from other good financial planning and investment books. The prose is flabby in places, with lots of repetition, and the author spends a lot of time talking about himself.

Still, the overall takeaway is that becoming a millionaire is more about your mindset and your relationship with money than it is about what you do for a living or where you invest. If you're looking to develop that mindset—a healthy relationship with money instead of a codependent one—then this book is for you.

I received a free copy of this book from Story Cartel for review purposes.

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October 4, 2013

NET Bible: New English Translation good but not great

The NET Bible: New English TranslationThe NET Bible: New English Translation by Biblical Studies Press

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got this Bible free in the Olive Tree Bible Study app on my iPad. (Love that app, by the way.)

The translation was crowdsourced, which explains why it's inconsistent in places.

The editors show a propensity toward cliches, e.g., Isaiah 64:11, "all our prized possessions have been destroyed," where a note indicates the alternate translation as "all that we valued has become a ruin." Given the choice between the two, why would an editor prefer the hackneyed old set phrase "prized possessions" over something plain, simple, and more literal?

Other times, though, the translators appear to be needlessly striving for originality. In Habakkuk 2:14, for example, they write: "For recognition of the Lord s sovereign majesty will fill the earth just as the waters fill up the sea."

The footnote shows the literal translation: Heb. "for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, just as the waters cover over the sea." The poetic meter of the original has been eradicated in the translation, and for no good reason I can discern.

The translators have a journalist-like aversion to metaphor. Deuteronomy 26:8 reads, "Therefore the LORD brought us out of Egypt with tremendous strength and power(a), as well as with great awe-inspiring signs and wonders." Note (a) then says, "Heb. 'by a powerful hand and an extended arm.' These are anthropomorphisms designed to convey God's tremendously great power…They are preserved literally in many English versions (cf. KJV, NAB, NIV, NRSV). Well, yeah. I suppose that's why those translations are among the most widely used. I'd rather have the literal translation with an explanatory footnote than the other way around.

Diction choices are very odd indeed. There seems to be an excessive concern about helping "modern" readers understand the text, which results in pointless things like Jeremiah 13:1 describing his "linen shorts." I trust that modern readers are not so dense as to be unaware of what a loincloth is. Elsewhere, the plans for the temple are called "blueprints," a whopping anachronism.

The translators' notes are copious, almost overwhelmingly so. But I do like seeing the thought process.

The notes often highlight occasions when the translators have taken liberties with sentence structure. The notes will cite a verse or verses and then note that they are "one long sentence in Hebrew. The translation divides this into two sentences for stylistic reasons."

In one place, they have left what they consider a "long" sentence, with this explanation: "The length of this sentence runs contrary to the normal policy followed in the translation of breaking up long sentences. However, there does not seem any way to break it up here without losing the connections." The sentence in question is Jer. 15:4 -- "I will make all the people in all the kingdoms of the world horrified at what has happened to them because of what Hezekiah's son Manasseh, king of Judah, did in Jerusalem.” Now, is that really so long? It's not unwieldy.

This aversion to long sentences and the anachronistic diction choices lead me to believe that this translation is aimed at readers with lower skill levels, e.g., young people and those for whom English is a second language. Yet the notes are highly scholarly, often delving deep into fine points of Hebrew and Greek grammar.

For example, here's the note on Jer. 31:19 -- "For this meaning of the verb see HAL 374 s. v. ידע Nif 5 or W. L. Holladay, Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon, 129. REB translates "Now that I am submissive" relating the verb to a second root meaning "be submissive." (See HALOT 375 s. v. II ידע and J. Barr, Comparative Philology and the Text of the Old Testament, 19- 21, for evidence for this verb. Other passages cited with this nuance are Judg 8:16; Prov 10:9; Job 20:20.)"

I have no idea what half of that even means, and I'm a pretty skilled reader. But not in Hebrew.

The notes are sometimes written so much for those with a seminary education that they are out of reach of ordinary laypersons. For example, on Mark 1:31, "...the fever left her and she began to serve (a) them," where note (a) says, "The imperfect verb is taken ingressively here." Not knowing Greek, either, I have no idea what an ingressive verb is or why it matters.

So I'm not quite sure what to make of the NET. As a Bible study leader, I find the scholarly notes helpful, albeit over my head at times. But because of the tendency of the text toward oversimplification and paraphrase, I'm not likely to use it in class.

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September 10, 2013

1DVD does one thing really well

My Rating: ★★★★
I had a seemingly simple task. I had a collection of videos that I needed to show in a classroom equipped with an old TV (I mean it's a cathode ray tube, people) and DVD player.
Mac app burn DVD
Screeshot courtesy of DawnArk

1DVD Pro by DawnArk did exactly what I needed it to do: Burn all six videos to a disc that would work in the DVD player (as opposed to a data disc that will work in a computer). The tools for customizing the disc's home screen were pretty easy to figure out, if a bit twitchy at times. For example, the title field didn't automatically expand to fit the text, and grabbing the frame to drag it out took a few tries.

One major, gaping omission I see is that you can't save a project and finish it later, so be prepared to set up your file and burn all your DVDs in a single session. The Burn button opens a dialog with options to burn a disc or save an ISO file. But then you need a different app to make more discs from the ISO file. So if you're making lots of copies -- say video from a wedding or family reunion -- this is maybe not the best option. But to make one DVD, yes, it lives up to its name.

August 25, 2013

Crucial Questions provides great Bible study material

Can I Have Joy in My Life? (Crucial Questions, #12)Can I Have Joy in My Life? by R.C. Sproul

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have been teaching this series to some very mature Christian ladies, and today, on the last day of this series, one of them said the whole series has been "wonderful!" All of us learned something new from it. For me, the biggest lesson in this book on joy was the difference between pleasure, which comes from worldly things, and joy, which comes from the Spirit. This is a clear-eyed view of how we can rejoice in the Lord even in the midst of earthly struggles.

The whole Crucial Questions series is available in e-book versions for free:

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May 25, 2013

'The Voice' Bible translation good for teaching 'The Way'

Our Sunday school class is currently going through Adam Hamilton's new video teaching, The Way: Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus. It's a great series. In each video, Hamilton shows you places in the Holy Land where Jesus walked and taught.

The lesson plans in the leader's guide call for class members to read the scriptures aloud dramatically, like a play. I found that the new translation The Voice is well-suited to this. It's a paraphrase written in a screenplay style, with dialog called out this way:

Jesus: Move out into deeper water, and drop your nets to see what you’ll catch. 
Simon (perplexed): Master, we’ve been fishing all night, and we haven’t caught even a minnow. But…all right, I’ll do it if You say so.

It's almost as if The Voice was written for the purpose. But The Voice is published by Thomas Nelson, and The Way by Abingdon Press. So I doubt they planned it.

In April, a colleague pointed me to the HarperCollins Christian Publishing Consumer Insights Panel. After signing on as a member of the panel, I got a promotional e-version of The Voice New Testament. Right about the same time, the Christian Education director at our church got a postcard promoting The Way and suggested it would be appropriate for my class.

That all sounds very coincidental, but I don't believe in coincidences. I think Someone planned it, but it wasn't likely the publishers.

Some of these links are affiliate links, so if you click on one and purchase the item, I will receive a pittance of a commission. As noted, I received The Voice NT for free in the hope that I would promote it. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe provide value. Per Federal Trade Commission, 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

April 23, 2013

Don’t trade on news—especially unverified news

A flash crash shortly after 1 p.m. today should never have happened. Usually when the market dips and quickly recovers it’s because of a data entry error—an extra zero in a sell order. But this one was the product of sheer stupidity—and maybe deliberate malice.

A hacker cracked the Associated Press Twitter feed and sent a fake news item claiming explosions at the White House had injured the president. Almost instantly, the markets dropped 1 percent, which doesn’t sound like a lot. And in the big picture, it’s not. But 1 percent was the entirety of the day’s gains up to that point.

DJI = Dow Jones • INX = S&P 500 • IXIC = Nasdaq
You see the markets recovered almost as quickly. The problem, apart from the fact that the AP’s account shouldn’t have been hacked in the first place, is that the drop seems to have happened without human intervention.

In this CNBC article about the matter, Kenny Polcari of O’Neill Securities is quoted as saying, “That goes to show you how algorithms read headlines and create these automatic orders – you don’t even have time to react as a human being.” What he’s implying is that computers are programmed to sell based on news headlines, without first verifying those headlines elsewhere.

In one of the great old Tom Baker episodes of Doctor Who, an episode about a doomsday machine, the Doctor said, “The trouble with computers, of course, is that they’re very sophisticated idiots. They do exactly what you tell them at amazing speed. Even if you order them to kill you.”

Today’s flash crash is an excellent example of why safeguards need to be in place to prevent computers from doing stupid things at amazing speed. The event is just a blip on the market’s long-term radar, but anyone with an automated sell order that got mistakenly triggered by this fiasco is probably rethinking their algorithms about now.

More important still is the fact that news—even verified real news—is rarely a good reason to sell off stocks. That computers can be tricked into killing off the stock market, even momentarily, by a lie highlights the need for human supervision, but it also shows the importance of trading on fundamentals, not on rumor and innuendo.

February 14, 2013

Microsoft Office: Necessary, but frustrating

My Rating: ★★★★

Microsoft Office is one of those products one buys because one has to. Word has become the industry standard in the publishing industry, so I have to have it. But feature bloat and the fact that the developers seem to move buttons and menu options and change keyboard shortcuts from each version to the next make upgrading a real hassle.

I bought a new computer at the end of last year because even though I loved my old G4 Wind Tunnel, it had become unreliable, which is just not acceptable in a machine I need to do my job. It was also dead slow, especially online, and I couldn’t upgrade any software or use new apps because new versions of everything only run on Intel processors.

So I bought the new iMac with the less-reflective screen. Love it. But of course my old version of Office wouldn’t run on the new Mac. For the most part, Mac users buy apps from the Mac App Store, but Microsoft is not in on this deal. Fortunately, ordering Office Mac 2011 Home and Business from Amazon was easy. I got a digital download, so no need to wait for a box to come in the mail. Installation went smoothly.

Excel has some great new formatting options that make it easier to use, but converting my old spreadsheets from Office 2004 to 2011 munged much of my conditional formatting. So I wound up re-building a lot of things. Hassle.

Word is still the best word processor on the planet, but the find command is now seriously messed up. Instead of opening the full-featured Find and Replace dialog box, command-F opens a search field at the top of the window. Getting to the full-feature Replace box requires using option-command-F to open the Find dialog and then clicking the Replace tab. As far as I have been able to discern, there is no way to assign a keyboard shortcut that invokes the replace dialog directly. Hassle.

Entourage, which was originally called Outlook, is now called Outlook again. All my data transferred from the old app to the new seamlessly. It's still a very good mail/calendar/to do app, but it lacks iPad integration. No hassle, I just use other apps instead: Postbox for mail, Apple's Calendar, and Errands for task management.

PowerPoint is a bit easier to use than before, once you get past the hassle of all the buttons being in new places.

I like the new Office, and I use it daily, but I don't love it.

January 18, 2013

My year in books - 2012

Goodreads helpfully provides a snapshot of my reading from last year:

I had set myself the goal of reading a book a month. Considering that I often feel like I have "no time" for reading, I clearly made time. I was tempted to set this year's goal at 24 also, but since we're halfway through the month and I have yet to finish a book, I thought I better not. So I'm shooting for 18 this year.

Now I just have to go back and make sure I reviewed all these…Well, except for The Education of Amal. I edited that book, so it wouldn't be proper for me to review it. I'm strongly biased. ;)

January 12, 2013

Kobo app great for social media; lousy for research

Kobo books shelf
Kobo's old-timey bookshelf view
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Since getting my iPad, I find I do most of my book reading on it. Which kind of surprised me, because I thought I would use it mainly for news reading and web surfing. Which I do, but that’s beside the point.

Amazon’s Kindle app is still the Ma Bell of reading apps -- they have a virtual monopoly but nobody much cares because they’re so much better at what they do than everyone else. Nevertheless, I do check out other e-reading apps to see what they have to offer and to support those who are trying to compete with Ma Bezos. Kobo is one of those.
Newfangled list view

It's an attractive app. You can customize the library view with either the quaint old skeuomorphic bookshelf or the more computer-y list. When reading, you can highlight and make notes, and a tab in the table of contents window shows your annotations.

But Kobo’s focus is solidly on social media. It’s all about sharing what you’re reading and earning badges. I don’t need no stinkin’ badges, I just need to be able to find a passage in a book.

One of Kobo's main benefits is its huge library of free books, including most of the major classics. But good luck if you want to find a single passage in a book. Every time the Kobo app gets an update, I open it up, looking for that magnifying glass icon. It’s still missing. So I can download Emily Dickinson’s poetry, but if I just need that poem about Hope, I have to look for it page by page (it’s on page 138, by the way). This is especially frustrating because in the help section of the Kobo website you can find instructions for searching within a book on Kobo’s hardware. So it’s not like they think no one needs this feature. They just can’t be bothered to add it to the iPad app.*
Badges are cute, but I'd rather have a search function.

Because of the missing search feature, I rarely use Kobo. But recently, I needed to reference a text, and knowing it’s an old book in the public domain, I started in the usual places. Kindle had a version, but not for free. Apple’s iBooks, same thing. OK, hold that one for Plan B. Plan A for public domain works is to find a free version. Project Gutenberg didn’t have it. Next stop Kobo. There it is. Of course, to download the free book I have to log in.

Kobo is now closely entwined with Facebook, so much so that you can’t log in to a Kobo account without using Facebook, unless the two accounts are associated with different e-mail addresses. If you use the same address for both, when you try to log in to Kobo, you get a dialog that says “Your e-mail address is linked to an existing Facebook account. Would you like to sign in with Facebook?” No is not an option. Your options are yes, sign in with Facebook, or cancel and don’t sign in at all.
Part of the social media "feature" is being able to read other peoples' comments. Which would be great if they actually had some intellectual substance.

I asked Kobo’s help desk about this and was told you can sign in without Facebook. But the trick is, you have to sign in with Facebook first, then unlink Facebook from your Kobo account. That’s like, if I tell the waiter I don’t want broccoli in my soup, and he says, “We’ll just put it in at first, and then you can pick it out.”

Of course, if you like having every data point of your reading life funneled through Facebook’s marketing machine, this is a non-issue. And if you’re clever enough to sign up for Kobo with a different e-mail than you use for Facebook, it’s a non-issue. For me, though, it’s an issue.

So I found the book I was looking for in Google Play, and am reading it there. Kobo just dropped down a notch on my list of e-readers.

*—A Dec. 9, 2013, update added a search feature to the Kobo iPad app (version 6.2).

January 6, 2013

The parable of the sower in 21st-century America

When we’re taught evangelism or church development, the early church is held up as an example. One church development movement, The Acts 16:5 Initiative, takes its name from this verse:

So the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in numbers daily.
seeds sower parable word of god
Photo by Razief Arlie •

There’s a fundamental problem, though, with modeling 21st-century congregational growth on the first-century model. And the problem is the church.

In the parable of the sower, Jesus taught that the seed of God’s word can fall on different sorts of soil, and different types of soil yield different results.


When Peter preached in Jerusalem, he was working with fertile soil; the Jews were prepared and waiting for the Messiah. When they gathered in Jerusalem for the festival of first fruits, what we call Pentecost, Peter could convert 3,000 people with one sermon by quoting the prophet Joel, because his listeners all knew exactly what he was talking about.

We focus on the Jews who rejected the Messiah, but we forget that most of the early followers in The Way were Jews who accepted the Messiah. They did not see themselves as Christians, but as what we would now call Messianic Jews.

The main objection Peter had to overcome was, “How do we know this Jesus of Nazareth is truly the Messiah we’ve been waiting for?”


When Paul preached at the Areopagus, the soil was not as fertile. It was rocky ground, cluttered by a profusion of deities. Rome was similar, having imported all sorts of gods from other cultures, including Greece and Egypt.

We get all worked up about mimicking the church-planting practices of the early apostles, but we forget that they were talking with people whose culture was inclined toward philosophical and religious inquiry.

The main objections Paul had to overcome were, “Jesus of Galilee? Never heard of him. Who is he and where is Galilee?” or “How is your one God any better than all the gods of Olympus?”


When we preach in 21st century America, we don’t have soil. We don’t even have rocky ground. We have pavement.

We focus on our God of love and forget that for many people, the worst hurts they’ve received have come at the hands of people who called themselves Christians. They were ripped off by a televangelist, or bullied in a church youth group, or were shunned by churchgoers who disliked their dress or lifestyle or ethnicity.

The main objections we have to overcome are, “You Christians are just a bunch of hypocrites,” and “How can we believe you when you can’t even agree amongst yourselves?”

People in America have been so hurt by the church in so many different ways that they have paved over their wounds. They are armored in asphalt. They won’t be converted by sermons or teaching or tracts passed out on street corners. To reach people like this, we have to wait patiently for the cracks to appear. That takes patience.

Of course, sometimes God plows under people’s pavement with a great crisis: illness or unemployment or some other tragedy. When that happens, we can be there to provide support. But only if we’ve already been walking authentically, living out a faith devoid of hypocrisy and full of love.