Blog Archives

Using An iPad In Ministry

When the iPad was launched, I mocked it. To me, it was merely an electronic toy. It was just about media consumption. Moreover, why had Steve Jobs chosen a name for a product that made it sound like Apple was joining the tampon industry?

But I have changed my views. It all began back in late May, when I attended the New Wine Leadership Conference. Among a few thousand delegates in the Harrogate International Centre, many were using iPads or other tablet computers productively. I tweeted throughout the conference from my smartphone, but it’s small and it wasn’t practical to bring my laptop from the B and B: the battery would have given out too quickly, anyway.

Soon, I began to hear stories of friends putting their sermon notes on their iPads. The morning I had to print off sixteen sheets of A4 for one act of worship, this became attractive. It also dawned on me that I might be able to access other documents online during meetings if I stored them in the cloud. The children would love me to buy one for the games, too, but that really isn’t the most important consideration.

I won’t be buying one just yet: a large car bill last week has definitely delayed the decision. But I’ll lay out my thinking so far in a moment, and I’d be interested in your opinions. Do you think a tablet is useful for a minister or not? Why? Is it just a toy for the rich? If you do use one, what tips would you offer and what apps would you recommend?

My thoughts, then: firstly, operating system. Despite using an Android smartphone (iPhone contracts were just too expensive), I don’t want an Android tablet. Since my phone was upgraded to Android 4.0 a.k.a. Ice Cream Sandwich, it has become too flaky. Numerous apps seize up. I can’t be doing with an unreliable tablet.

Realistically, then, that leaves me with a straight choice between an Apple iPad and the forthcoming Microsoft Surface. So my second area of thought is around the pros and cons of these two tablets, based on my perceived needs. The disadvantages of the iPad revolve around the lack of additional connectivity and expandability. There is also a question of compatibility with Microsoft Office files since we use Windows PCs at home, although I know you can use third-party services to get around that. The iPad’s advantages include the maturity of the platform, the huge range of apps and its general reputation for reliability.

As to the Microsoft Surface, we do not yet know everything about it, despite the spectacular launch presentation for it back in June. Its advantages include direct compatibility with Microsoft Office and the inbuilt keyboard, cover and stand – no need to buy additional accessories. Disadvantages revolve around some of the unknown quantities: will it have 3G connectivity? I shall need that. What will the price be? How many apps (and of what quality) will there be in the Microsoft Store? Early reports suggest that at present there are only about 2,000 – a hundredth of what is available for the iPad. And we don’t know how it will fare in hands-on reviews by technical experts.

That’s my summary. What do you think? Bring your experiences to bear on this matter.

Why I’m Buying Another Windows PC, And Not Converting To Mac

I had an interesting discussion on my Facebook page last week about this. Our current desktop PC is an aged Dell. I’ve tried this, that, everything and more to keep it running but Anno Domini is calling and it’s time to replace it. Given that I’ve had frustrations with Windows, I thought this might be the time when we’d have to consider an iMac, even though my beloved brother-in-law works for Microsoft and that would feel like a family betrayal. So as part of the research I borrowed a MacBook from a friend. I also downloaded the Consumer Preview of Windows 8 onto a spare laptop. I asked friends on Facebook for their opinions, and had constructive thoughts from people on both sides of the debate.

Before any of this, I had ruled out going over to Linux. I’ve had bad experiences of it, and if it sent me scurrying around Internet forums for hours trying to find solutions and spending more time than I’d like on the command line than in the GUI, then what would it be like for Debbie? A price of free, gratis and otherwise no charge is very attractive, but is sadly impractical.

Why, then, still come down in favour of Windows when so many can eloquently describe the superiority of Macs? Here are the reasons that led to my conclusion:

Macs may look very nice, but over a period of years I’m not going to be comforted by an attractive appearance when there’s a problem to solve. Yes, Rebekah our daughter loved the sight of the shiny MacBook and the way the keyboard lit up in dark conditions, but I need more.
Then there’s integration. Some of my friends need synchronisation with their iPhones and iPads. I possess neither. My smartphone runs Android, and my contract is coming to an end in the next few weeks, but I just can’t afford iPhone prices. The only way I could afford one would be an old iPhone 3GS, and that would be no better than my existing HTC Desire. So I’ll be sticking with Android, and that’s not compatible with Macs, whereas it is with Windows.

An advantage of the Mac is the possibility of running both Apple’s OS X operating system and Windows. There is a variety of ways that can be used. However, the spec level we could have afforded in an iMac, while fine for running Mac software (which has a lower RAM footprint), would be no better than what we currently crawl along in for Windows programs. Hence a Mac would be little use for keeping some essential Windows apps. The spec would likely mean a complete conversion to Mac, and that would mean further expense. Had our budget been larger, this would have been a strong argument for change.

What about the learning curve? I picked up the bare essentials of OS X from an hour’s tutorial by my friend Richard, who loaned us the MacBook. I ran into trouble after a couple of days, when a utility refused to allow me to shut down the computer. Fortunately, after a couple of emails I learned about Apple’s ‘Force Quit’ application, which is much neater than holding down Ctrl-Shift-Esc to bring up the Task Manager in Windows. Overall, one friend who is experienced in using both systems and who for work reasons has had to alternate between them estimated it took him between three and six months to adjust to the change each time, and he is computer literate. Debbie, my wife, was just too daunted by that time scale, especially at a time when our children still consume much time in their dependence upon us. “Perhaps I’d be willing to consider a Mac next time,” she said.
So Windows it is, and I’m aware that what has gone above doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement for it, more a case that our circumstances led us to this decision. Well indeed, there are certain Windows bugs that in time will infuriate us. However, one of our current limitations was that we were confined to 32-bit Windows 7, and that meant a much lower RAM limit than the 64-bit versions. Also, given the fact that I’m sure one of our problems has been an elderly hard drive slowing down, I’m going for a system that combines a 1 terabyte hard drive spinning at 7,200 rpm with a 120 GB solid state drive, with much faster performance. Furthermore, my early impressions of Windows 8 are good, even though there will be several new ways of working to learn with that.

What have I ordered? Essentially, I looked at PCs specified for gaming and photo and video editing, in order to have the sort of power that would last. One friend who makes particularly heavy duty use of computers (full-fat Photoshop, Indesign and the like) raved about a company called Cyberpower. I spent a lot of time trying out different configurations on their website. They have an amazing range of options and components, bigger, I think, than any other company whose website I’ve visited.

But in the end I couldn’t quite get the spec I wanted within our price range, and so I went to a company that keeps winning awards for its computers, namely Chillblast. Here, then, is an image of roughly what our new baby will look like:
I’ve tweaked the sound card and monitor, plus I’ve gone for an internal card reader so I can just take memory cards out of cameras rather than plug the cameras into the USB ports.

That’s our story, then, and I share it in case our experience is any help to you. How have you decided about computers? Why not share your stories briefly below?

Just one condition. As I said on Facebook, no fanboy stuff, please, from any party. Sensible, rational accounts would be much preferred!

Death Of A Salesman: Some Christian Reflections On Steve Jobs

Here is my text, and it is taken from a friend’s Facebook profile. She said she

does not feel the need to either beatify or demonize Steve Jobs. I acknowledge that his presence on earth had a significant effect on human history.

I  only own one Apple product: an iPod. Why don’t I own an iMac, a MacBook, an iPhone or an iPad? Firstly, because I can’t afford them. Secondly, because there are certain diplomacies in our family, when a close relative works for Microsoft. Yes, Windows frustrates me at times, and perhaps it would be nice to have a product that allegedly ‘just works’, but that also means re-educating the entire family to a new operating system. Besides, like a car mechanic who doesn’t mind owning a lesser car because he can fix the problems, I can often work out (at least with the help of Google) what to do when we have a problem, and I learn as a result.

Ultimately, finance and functionality are the reasons I don’t buy Apple. It would be nice to have the aesthetically pleasing designs, but on a limited budget the bang to buck equation is about getting the specifications I need. Apple aesthetics are a luxury I can’t afford. But certainly I have to acknowledge that was one innovation Steve Jobs brought into computing. Not for him the world of beige boxes, the man who studied calligraphy wanted products to beautiful as well as simple and workable. Might it be that especially in the free churches, we so concentrate on function at the expense of beauty that we are utilitarian Christians?
I bear Steve Jobs’ family and friends no ill. But in the days since his death, a lot of twaddle has been written, and a lot of Diana-style hysteria has been expressed. Cult Of Mac seems exactly the right title.  The secular website Gawker got it right, I think: Steve Jobs was not God. We have heard that Jobs ‘gave’ us various things. No, he didn’t: he sold us things. (And dreams, too.) Or that he ‘invented’ things. No, the inventors were Steve Wozniak and his successors. Jobs was a salesman and a showman. That isn’t necessarily wrong, either: it just depends how you exercise it.
The genius of Jobs (if genius is not an overused word) was not as an originator, but as one who took products that were failing to reach the mass market and transforming them into propositions that did. The Apple II was not the first personal computer, the Altair 8800 had beaten it, but arguably the Apple created the market. There were MP3 players before the iPod, but he popularised it. Likewise, there were tablet computers before the iPad, but he bossed the market and made it attractive. Would it be unreasonable to suggest that Jobs was the technological John Wesley? Wesley mostly took existing theological ideas and made them explode with power (the one exception, perhaps being his doctrine of Christian perfection).

If Jobs had an area of originality, I would suggest it was iTunes: he took all the sanctimonious moaning of the recording industry about pirating, and forced them into a fairly reasonable pricing model. Other download sites have since, in my opinion, rushed through the open gate created to provide a better and often cheaper service.

Then, although selling is a dirty concept in Christianity, I have to admire the man’s enthusiasm in his product unveilings. Having famously taken such detailed interest in the precise design of products, I take the excitement he projected when unveiling a new toy as utterly genuine. For those of us in the church who have got tired, jaded and cynical, a dose of Jobs’ passion for what he introduced – even though we do not sell the Gospel – could be good for us.
Jobs has been compared to various people in the last few days, from Thomas Edison to Walt Disney. Whatever the merits, I suggest two British comparisons: Richard Branson and Felix Dennis. Like Jobs, they were ex-hippies who made vast fortunes in business. Dennis, perhaps, is the most striking, as the editor of Oz magazine who was imprisoned, but who now heads up the Dennis Publishing empire. Compare that to Jobs, who dropped out, travelled to India, took LSD and took up Buddhism – although where his Buddhism influenced his business is far from certain. At least his arch-rival Bill Gates set up the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Perhaps nowhere is Jobs’ post-hippie business philosophy better seen than in his famous Stanford University Commencement Address of 2005. While it also contains powerful statements such as those on how the certainty of death should focus everyone’s life (he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer the year before), some of it is a shallow, individualist, follow your own road creed. If you don’t have time to watch the entire fifteen minutes below, the text with annotated commentary can be found here.

And he finesses the story in places. Is it true that ‘Windows just copied the Mac’? More likely it’s true that both copied the GUI (Graphical User Interface) they saw at the Xerox PARC Research Center.
I have no desire to be cruel about Jobs. I leave that to the nasty words of people like Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation, whose comments at the time of Jobs’ death were so foul I shall not even link to them here. But I do wish there was a sense of realism. Jobs was the visionary and extremely clever CEO of a consumer products company. Yes, a massively influential one. But just as Princess Diana’s funeral overshadowed the death of Mother Teresa the day before, so on the same day as Steve Jobs died, a hero of the American Civil Rights Movement also passed away, the Revd Fred Shuttlesworth (as the Gawker article I linked to above notes). Which one contributed more to the kingdom of God? That has to be a Christian question. Because for God, it is less about the feted celebrities and more about those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Rest in peace, Mr Jobs. May your loved ones find comfort in your passing. But may the rest of us stop getting carried away.


I thought I might collect some of the links I’ve found interesting but not necessarily saved to my delicious account. I know several other bloggers do this about once a week, but most of my best ideas are borrowed! Anyway, here goes:

Three little words so hard to say: in the week of the Obama landslide, an investigation into why politicians are reluctant to say “I don’t know”.

Brother Maynard nails some of the nuttier ‘prophetic’ responses to Obama’s victory.

Meanwhile, Erika Haub describes voting in the US election.

A primer on today’s missional church: can’t remember who tipped me off to this page, but J R Woodward collects a huge resource of web articles, videos, bios of missiologists, book reviews, blogs and reources for all who want to explore the good ship Missional.

Glad to see this: New lifeline for Bletchley Park. A few years ago when he did his MBA, my brother-in-law sorted out their ecommerce.

Were these Christians worshipping a modern-day golden calf?

Spring Harvest, King’s College London and Paternoster Publishing are hosting a one-day conference on how Jesus taught and we learn.

The cult of Mac: why Apple is more than a corporation, it’s a religion. And how does ‘branding’ affect our faith?

This picture reminds me of friends who used to mime the action of birds when it came to the ‘I’ll fly like the eagle’ line in Geoff Bullock’s worship song ‘The power of your love’.

Well, that will do for a first attempt. Do you find any of this useful?