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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Technology Quotes from General Conference: April 2015 Edition

Every six months after the LDS Church's General Conference, I compile together all the quotes I can find that talk about technology or social media. As a member of the Church I feel it is important to know what the leaders of the Church are saying about technology. My philosophy is, why have Prophets and Apostles, if we don't listen to them?

This conference I found nine speakers who reference technology or social media. There are quotes that tell about positive uses of technology as well as quotes that warn about misuse of it. There were a few quotes in particular about the misuse technology during church and sacrament meeting, which is something that I have blogged about before here.

As always, if you find that I missed any quotes from this conference please let me know in the comments below.

 Carole M. Stephens: The Family is of God
"We each belong to and are needed in the family of God. Earthly families all look different. And while we do the best we can to create strong traditional families, membership in the family of God is not contingent upon any kind of status—marital status, parental status, financial status, social status, or even the kind of status we post on social media."

 Dallin H. Oaks: The Parable of the Sower
"Young people, if that teaching seems too general, here is a specific example. If the emblems of the sacrament are being passed and you are texting or whispering or playing video games or doing anything else to deny yourself essential spiritual food, you are severing your spiritual roots and moving yourself toward stony ground. You are making yourself vulnerable to withering away when you encounter tribulation like isolation, intimidation, or ridicule. And that applies to adults also.

Another potential destroyer of spiritual roots—accelerated by current technology but not unique to it—is the keyhole view of the gospel or the Church. This limited view focuses on a particular doctrine or practice or perceived deficiency in a leader and ignores the grand panorama of the gospel plan and the personal and communal fruits of its harvest."

 L. Tom Perry: Why Marriage and Family Matter – Everywhere
"For whatever reasons, too much of our television, movies, music, and Internet present a classic case of a minority masquerading as a majority. Immorality and amorality, ranging from graphic violence to recreational sex, is portrayed as the norm and can cause those who have mainstream values to feel like we are out of date or from a bygone era. In such a media and Internet-dominated world, it has never been harder to raise responsible children and to keep marriages and families together."

"As a church, we want to assist in all that we can to create and support strong marriages and families... [That] is why we share our family-focused values in the media and on social media. It is why we share our genealogical and extended family records with all nations."

 M. Russel Ballard: The Greatest Generation of Young Adults
"Our young men and young women have many more distractions to sidetrack them in their preparations for both a mission and a future happy life. Technology has expanded, and almost everyone has access to handheld devices that can capture the attention of the human family of God for both great good and unconscionable ill."

"Fortunately the Lord has provided ways for us to reach out to you. For example, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve assigns every missionary to his or her mission. Although this is done without a traditional face-to-face interview, technology and revelation combine to provide an experience that is remarkably intimate and personal."

"Videoconferencing is another way that helps us reach out to Church leaders and members who live far away from Church headquarters."

"Are you mentally and spiritually clean? Do you avoid viewing pornography or looking at websites, magazines, movies, or apps, including Tinder and Snapchat photos, that would embarrass you if your parents, Church leaders, or the Savior Himself saw you?"

"Are you careful with your time—avoiding inappropriate technology and social media, including video games, which can dull your spiritual sensitivity?"

"Brethren, if you will set aside your cell phone and actually look around a little, you may even find your future companion at the institute... Don’t text her! Use your own voice to introduce yourself to the righteous daughters of God who are all around you. To actually hear a human voice will shock her—perhaps into saying yes."

 Ulisses Soares: Yes, We Can and Will Win!
"I know a very faithful young deacon who transformed himself into a modern Captain Moroni. Inasmuch as he has sought to follow the counsel of his parents and Church leaders, his faith and determination have been tested every day, even at his young age. He told me one day he was surprised by a very difficult and uncomfortable situation—his friends were accessing pornographic images on their cell phones. In that exact moment, this young man had to decide what was most important—his popularity or his righteousness. In the few seconds that followed, he was filled with courage and told his friends that what they were doing was not right. Moreover, he told them that they should stop what they were doing or they would become slaves to it. Most of his classmates ridiculed his counsel, saying that it was a part of life and that there was nothing wrong with it. However, there was one among them who listened to the counsel of that young man and decided to stop what he was doing."

 José A. Teixeira: Seeking the Lord
"In 2014, the National Geographic photo contest received more than 9,200 submissions by professional photographers and enthusiasts from over 150 countries. The winning photo depicts a woman in the center of a train filled with passengers. The light coming from her mobile phone illuminates her face. She relays a clear message to the other passengers: despite being physically present, she is not truly there.

Mobile data, smartphones, and social networks have profoundly changed our way of being in the world and how we communicate with others.

In this digital era, we can so rapidly transport ourselves to places and activities that can quickly remove us from what is essential for a life filled with lasting joy.

This networked life can, if left unchecked, give precedence to relationships with people whom we don’t know or have never met rather than with the people we live with—our own family!

On the other hand, we all know that we are blessed with excellent online resources, including those developed by the Church, such as text and audio versions of the holy scriptures and general conference, video productions of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, apps to record our family history, and opportunities to listen to inspiring music.

The choices and priorities we make with our time online are decisive. They can determine our spiritual progress and maturity in the gospel and our desire to contribute to a better world and to live a more productive life.

For these reasons, today I would like to mention three simple habits that will establish healthy online activity. These habits will generate the daily self-reflections that are necessary for us to grow closer to the teachings of our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.

Habit Number 1: Visit the Church’s Official Websites for Resources
Often visits during the week to these resources will help us to always be sensitive to the teachings of the gospel and encourage our family and friends to think and reflect on what matters most.

Habit Number 2: Subscribe to the Church’s Official Social Networks
This choice will bring to your screen the content that is essential to deepen your searching and seeking of the Lord and His teachings, and it will strengthen your desire to understand the gospel. More important, this will help you remember what Christ expects of each of us.

Just as “there is no good soil without a good farmer,” likewise will there be no good online harvest unless we prioritize from the very beginning that which is accessible to our fingers and our minds.

Habit Number 3: Make Time to Set Aside Your Mobile Devices
It is refreshing to put aside our electronic devices for a while and instead turn the pages of the scriptures or take time to converse with family and friends. Especially on the Lord’s day, experience the peace of participating in a sacrament meeting without the constant urge to see if you have a new message or a new post.

The habit of setting aside your mobile device for a time will enrich and broaden your view of life, for life is not confined to a four-inch (10-cm) screen."

 Dieter F. Uchtdorf: The Gift of Grace
"Are we like Simon? Are we confident and comfortable in our good deeds, trusting in our own righteousness? Are we perhaps a little impatient with those who are not living up to our standards? Are we on autopilot, going through the motions, attending our meetings, yawning through Gospel Doctrine class, and perhaps checking our cell phones during sacrament service?"

 Kevin W. Pearson: Stay by the Tree
"To heed is to give careful attention. Heeding those who do not believe in Christ will not help you find Him. Searching #spaciousbuilding for knowledge will not lead you to truth. It’s not posted there. Only the Savior has “the words of eternal life.” Everything else is just words. The large and spacious building symbolizes the “vain imaginations and the pride” of the world—in other words, distraction and deception. It’s filled with well-dressed people who seem to have everything. But they mock the Savior and those who follow Him. They are “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” They may be politically correct, but they are spiritually lost."

"To all missionaries past and present: Elders and sisters, you simply cannot return from your mission, do a swan dive back into Babylon, and spend endless hours scoring meaningless points on pointless video games without falling into a deep spiritual sleep. Nor can you indulge in online pornography and ignore virtue and chastity without dire spiritual consequences. If you lose the Spirit, you are lost. Don’t be distracted and deceived."

 Russell M. Nelson: The Sabbath is a Delight
"When I ponder this counsel, I almost wish I were a young father once again. Now parents have such wonderful resources available to help them make family time more meaningful, on the Sabbath and other days as well. They have,, the Bible videos, the Mormon Channel, the Media Library, the Friend, the New Era, the Ensign, the Liahona, and more—much more. These resources are so very helpful to parents in discharging their sacred duty to teach their children. No other work transcends that of righteous, intentional parenting!"

Thursday, April 9, 2015

What was talked about most at General Conference?

Now that the General Conference transcripts are available I have taken all the text and created a word cloud to determine what was talked about the most. Here is the result:

Created using Jason Davies' Word Cloud Generator

This word cloud displays the top  50 words used in conference over all six sessions. Larger words were used more times.

There were not any big surprises to me here, but it may be interesting to those who doubt the Christianity of the Mormons. As you can easily see the largest word is God closely followed by Christ.
Other top words also include: Jesus, father, family, Savior, Lord, Church, President, and Marriage.

I would say looking at word frequency we can say that the emphasis of this conference was on:
1. God (Heavenly Father) and Jesus Christ
2. Home and Family

I would recommend that everyone either view or read General Conference you can do so here. It was a wonderful and inspiring weekend and one that encouraged me to remember to live better.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Movie Review: Freetown

Title: Freetown
Genre: Historical Drama
Rating: PG-13 (Thematic situations involving violence)
Stars: 4/5

Official Synopsis: Caught in the middle of a brutal civil war, six Liberian missionaries in Monrovia flee the widespread violence in their native country. Their destination: Freetown, Sierra Leone. With the help of local church member Phillip Abubakar (Henry Adofo), the missionaries make the difficult journey, only to have their troubles compounded by a rebel fighter bent on killing one of their own. Based on incredible true events, FREETOWN is a thrilling and inspiring story of hope and survival.

I will give you some overall information to help you decide if  you should see it before I get into spoilers.

My Reaction:
Normally my movie tastes shy away from the intense/scary side of things. So when I was asked to review Freetown I did not know how I would like it. It turns out that I loved it despite being on the edge of my seat tense for most of the film. I felt that the movie did an excellent job portraying how difficult it would have been to be in the position of these missionaries. It is important to remember though that I am coming to this movie having been a missionary myself, although I had no situations like those described in this film, I still have a special affinity for missionaries everywhere. Also on my mission I knew several Liberian refugees in Philadelphia who had come through the revolution, so I feel a personal connection to the situation in the film as well.

Who Is It For?
This film is not made to be exclusive to a Mormon audience, anyone of any religious background could come to this film and have a good experience. Just like I can watch Chariots of Fire and thoroughly enjoy it.

The movie is rated PG-13 because it does get very tense through most of the movie. There is very little actual violence on screen but it is still very scary and you can hear and know what is happening off screen. For this reason I would not suggest that young children watch this movie.

It can also be hard to understand at times, particularly if you do not have experience with Liberian accents. So if you have trouble hearing it may be nice to watch with subtitles.

I was extremely impressed with the level of cinematography in the film. Perhaps because I don't expect a high level from Mormon-made films, but I thought they did a really excellent job on this one. It is hard to make a really intense movie without good cinematography because what is shown and not shown is used to convey so much of the emotion.

It also appeared they had a new drone they liked to use because arial shots abounded throughout the film.

The sound track supported the movie, but was not something that I noticed in particular except when it was African chanting which would come on much louder than the dialogue. I can't speak for what this would be like in the theater, but at home it resulted in a lot of volume adjusting.

I give Freetown 4 out of 5 Stars. I would recommend that you go see it if you like intense movies about true stories. Particularly if you are a Mormon I think you will enjoy this movie. If you are anyone who likes to support good films in opposition to most of the garbage Hollywood spits out these days, then I would go see this film.

The film actually takes place over the course of just about 3 or 4 days, with the majority of it being just on the 2 days the missionaries and Phillip spend trying to escape Liberia.
The Elders are attempting to actively continue proselyting it Liberia despite the outbreak of civil war and the Rebel bands that run rampant through the jungle. But when things get so bad that they feel they can no longer preach, whether safely or not, the decide the will go to Sierra Leone and preach there.

This is a story of faith. The missionaries display complete faith in the idea that God will get them out of the country safely to where they can better serve Him. They are contrasted with Phillip, the Liberian member who is driving them. Phillip has trouble having as complete faith as the missionaries do, but even in his doubts he continues to show by his actions that he does have faith. He and six missionaries cram into a little red car, traversing the jungle and passing through rebel checkpoints on one miracle after another.

Disclosure: The makers of Freetown contacted me and gave me access to an early press screener so that I could write this review, but as you know I only ever give honest review.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Pebble Time: First Thoughts

A couple days ago Pebble announced that it will be bringing out a brand new model of its smartwatch line, the Pebble Time. The have made it available on Kickstarter first. That should not come as a surprise to anyone since Pebble is Kickstarter's golden child, having had the most successful campaign ever and raising over 10 million dollars. At least that was the most successful until now, in just two days at the time of this writing their new campaign has already topped 10 million and counting.

So why are people excited about this, and what, as a Pebble Steel owner do I think?

Well the answer to the first question is that people were excited about the first pebble because it was really the first smartwatch that looked like a viable anything. It finally showed people that a smartwatch could work, and in turn it showed the tech industry that there was consumer demand for such a device. This caused both tech giants and startups to try and reproduce the smartwatch, something every one has failed to do so far.

So people are excited because they know that Pebble is a company that can make awesome things happen. They are also excited because this Pebble has one big and amazing advantage over the former models, it has a color epaper display.

To me this is truly amazing because I didn't think that color epaper was advanced enough to use in a consumer product. I thought for sure that when it was Amazon would be the first company to give us something using it. This is comparable for me to when the gameboy color came out. It was so exciting to finally be able to do things in color, albeit washed out chromatics. The color display in the video on kickstarter actually looks really good. They claim that they haven't compromised on it either because it will still get 7 days of battery life and be readable in direct sunlight. I think this is awesome, this are two areas where even the Apple watch is going to fall grossly short of the Pebble Time.

The have also added a microphone to allow responses through the Pebble. Personally I don't get excited about this because it still looks like you are Dick Tracy talking into your watch. I would rather, as I've said before, that Pebble gets canned selection responses like "running late" or "call you back". But it may be useful for some people.

The third thing they have really changed is the user interface, making a new system called timeline. I am going to withhold judgement on this one as I haven't quite been able to grasp how it will work yet, but I am very interested to see it. They have said they will try and bring the system to all existing Pebbles as well as the new models.

So, overall I think it looks like an amazing product, but I am not going to be ordering one anytime soon. Why? Well first off they have had no trouble getting the needed funding, and that is the primary reason for supporting kickstarter campaigns.

Secondly, the Pebble Steel is already more than enough for me. Even though the Pebble Time will work the iPhone 4S which is good news, I don't need one. I'm happy with my grayscale display showing me my notifications. This is really a testament to the great product that the Pebble team has already built. I can say that if anyone asks me which smartwatch to get, the Pebble in any form is what I will recommend.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Useful Mac Keyboard Shortcuts [Infographic]

One of the best ways to speed up your work on a computer and increase your productivity is to learn keyboard shortcuts. But learning shortcuts can be hard at first until it becomes muscle memory to use them. I recently created this infographic for my students and thought that it might also be useful to share with you, my blog readers.

This was my first infographic, and I did not want to overload my students, so I did not put on all the keyboard shortcuts I use, but tried to keep it to the most important global ones. My design skills are still a work in progress. I went with a basic primary color design because that is guaranteed to work well together and is often a good choice in K-12 education. 

It was created using Canva, the icons came from Flaticon, and I have licensed it under the creative commons, so feel free to download it and use it to help yourself or others (just give attribution back to this post).  I hope you find this helpful and that you remember to live better.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

App Review: Paper by FiftyThree

Name: Paper by FiftyThree
Type: Drawing
Price: Free
Stars: 5/5
For: iPad Only

This is, hands down, the best drawing app I have ever used.

Paper has been around for a long time, like thousands of years. Although we certainly have seen some improvements in it over the centuries it has remained essentially the same concept throughout its existence.

The app, Paper by FiftyThree, sets out to create an experience on the iPad that resembles the experience of a piece of paper as closely as possible. Outside of the fact that you can't fold it up into a paper airplane, they do a pretty good job.

The app, by app standards, has also been around for quite a while. And it has been receiving critical acclaim pretty much from the beginning for its creative potential. So why am I just reviewing it now? Because now it is free! Free with all of its in app purchases (IAP).

The Tools
In Paper you have six drawing tools: a fountain pen, a pencil, a marker, a fine tipped marker, a watercolor brush, and, of course, an eraser. All the tools do a good job of approximating their real life counter parts. This gives the app a feel of authenticity that I have not found with other sketch apps.

One complaint I have about the drawing tools is that you cannot change the thickness of the line you draw. You have only two options, either the regular size when looking at the whole sheet, or a predetermined precision size when you are zoomed in. This does help make the app more authentic, but it also fails to take advantage of a place digital drawing excels over analog. There is a reason for this though, which I will discuss more below.

The last tools in the tool tray are the mixer and the color palette. These allow you to choose the color your line will be. You can choose any color from the palette on the right and as long as it is highlighted your tool will draw that color. But you can also you the mixer to combine colors together to get the perfect look. The mixer will mix in or out the color you have selected in the palette as you turn clockwise or counter clockwise respectively, this is one of my favorite features.

You can also tap again on the mixer to get sliders to select your color by numbers. You will also get an eyedropper tool in the middle of the circle, if you tap on this you will be able to select any area of the page and put that color into the mixer.

At the bottom of the palette there are a couple sets of black, you can drag your new colors from the mixer into here to save them. You can also drag any color off the palette or mixer to turn the entire page that color.

As far as digital sketch tools go, undo is pretty much a standard feature. So where is it to be found in paper? Well at first I thought it just wasn't there, there is after all no reverse arrow to click on. But there is actually a feature called rewind, where you can go back in time by placing two fingers on the screen and moving them in a counter clockwise circle.

In practice I have found this gesture hard to get right, and so more often than not it results in more marks on my page that I have to undo once I finally get it. A simple button would actually have been a better choice in my mind.

Another thing it took me a long time to figure out was that you can push the tool tray away to hide it and work on the bottom of the page, then swipe up to get it back. This also ofter results in unintended marks that have to be rewound.

The last thing to talk about is the Pencil. This is a bluetooth stylus made by FiftyThree to enhance the paper experience. I do not have one so I cannot speak to how it actually works. But I can tell you that it is suppose to give you greater control and functionality. It will allow you to use pressure sensitivity in its tip to draw thicker and darker lines, or use the side of the tip for wide strokes and shading. You can also use the backend of it to erase without switching tools. Using it also enables palm detection so you can rest your hand on the screen.

The pencil looks really cool, I have been on the edge of buying one a couple of times, but at $50-$60 it is a little more than I want to spend. That is on the lower end for bluetooth styli however, so it might be a good choice for some. Currently I am still using my Jot Classic, and that is working pretty well with Paper.

I hope you enjoyed this review and you give Paper by FiftyThree a try. It is a great way get creative. And remember, live better.

Here are a few of my own sketches done with the different tools:

Color Pencil

Fountain Pen


Thursday, February 5, 2015

Watchapp Review: Pebble Music Player

One of the best stock benefits of a Pebble smartwatch is being able to control you music or other audio from your wrist. In fact I find this so useful that I have it set as one of my two shortcut buttons on my Pebble watch. I use it when I am exercising, walking, or doing chores around the house to control my audio without pulling out my phone.

The music app hooks in directly to your iPhone's regular music controls, which gives it the ability to control almost any app that does audio playback, this includes the iPhone music app, the Podcast app, iTunes U, as well as tons of third party apps.

The watchapp's interface is simple. It will display as much information as it knows about the track being played. At the top it will have the artist's name, then the name of the track, and then how far you listened. Below that you can see the album information.

I have however found the time indicator to be fairly inaccurate so I wouldn't rely on it, particularly when listening to longer tracks like podcasts or audiobooks.

This image from the Pebble website shows the music app:

The controls run along the right hand side. In the picture above you can see volume up, play/pause, and volume down. By doing a long press on the middle button you can toggle between volume controls and skip forward/backward track controls.

One thing the app is lacking that would be really helpful for spoken audio content especially is a skip 15 seconds forward/backward option. It would also be nice if you got a visual representation of how high the volume was when you adjust it. I would also love to see the options of scrolling through tracks to select the one you want.

Those are my suggestions that would make the app better, but even lacking those it is still one of the most useful apps on the Pebble and since it comes preinstalled it is one that you should be taking advantage of.

I hope you enjoyed this post, and remember, live better.