Posted by: mattbrownmusings | 18 April 2011

Book Review: Max on Life

“Max on Life” seems to be a culmination of the 20+ years that Max Lucado has spent in his ministry.  In it, he tackles a wide variety of life issues including relationships, God, prayer, work, and the afterlife.  The book is written entirely in question and answer format, with approximately 175 questions that Lucado has collected through the years sorted into seven alliterative categories.  His answers are brief, typically between a half page and one and a half pages.  The majority of responses are guided by scripture citations.

I have mixed emotions about this book’s format.  On the one hand, Lucado deals with such a broad scope that the book does not dig deeply into the toughest of questions that are presented.  But on the other hand, the simplicity of Lucado’s responses is modeled after the simplicity of the gospel message.  With the variety in subject matter, I found some of the sections more interesting and applicable to my life situation than others.  In all cases, though, I was satisfied with the responses Lucado provided in terms of their basis in scripture, and glad that he did not leave questions unanswered or generate even more questions in his responses.

With its broad scope and somewhat shallow depth, the book makes for an easy read and can be taken in short sittings, or left for weeks and then picked back up again.  Perhaps its best use is as a study reference; the book is well indexed with both a topical index and a scripture index, allowing it to be used to map present day life issues with scripture.  Readers who are looking for detailed, in-depth treatment of a specific issue should not expect to find it here.  But, for each question and issue Lucado provides a thoughtful, biblically based response.  Overall, I found it to be an enjoyable read and am glad to have it in my collection for future consultation.

Posted by: mattbrownmusings | 8 November 2010

Book Review: Outlive Your Life

The book “Outlive Your Life” by Max Lucado lightly retells the story of the early Christian church and relates it to today’s world.  Lucado pulls heavily from the book of Acts as he discusses a variety of topics, with his underlying theme being service towards those in need.  He provides heartfelt and pertinent stories from the world to amplify his points.

“Outlive Your Life” is a fast-paced page turner with chapters that are geared towards readers without much time to devote to reading; they are concise and to-the-point.  Each chapter leads the reader through a new topic, such as breaking out of comfort zones and looking at their world with a fresh perspective.  It encourages readers to be more giving and outward-focused, and more aware of God’s purpose for their life.

Each chapter begins and ends with a bible verse, and also concludes with a brief prayer centered on the chapter’s theme.  Small groups will benefit from the discussion questions and action plans for each chapter located at the end of the book.

It is clear that Lucado is a seasoned author.  Readers will benefit from his mature writing style which provides clear, confident points with an uplifting theme interwoven throughout.  This book is well worth reading, contemplating, and discussing with other like-minded people.

Posted by: mattbrownmusings | 22 October 2010

Oh really, O’Reilly?

What is it that I love about O’Reilly books?  I’m specifically talking about I can’t help but love the animals on the cover.  I mean, what’s not to love about a book that has pictures of a duck or a blue jay or a rhinocerous on the cover?  In oreilly.com’s words: “Distinctive covers complement our distinctive approach to technical topics, breathing personality and life into potentially dry subjects.”

But inside the covers there’s usually a pretty good treatment of some technical computer-programming type topic.  And that’s the real reason I’ve fallen in love with some of their books.  If I have a question about how to do something in VBA for an Excel macro I’m working on perfecting, I grab my duck book and usually have an answer within minutes.

With respect to “breathing personality and life into potentially dry subjects,” I’ve read the beginner Perl book, “Learning Perl” (aka The Llama) for fun, and really enjoyed it.  The authors are witty nerds like me who enjoy teaching and creating clever phrases.  Maybe someday I’ll actually start programming in Perl, but for now I’m just enjoying the entertainment value.

Here are some links to the books I’ve enjoyed.

http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/excelseckbk/index.html

http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/exlmacro2/index.html

http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/progexcel/index.html

http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/learningjvscpt/index.html

http://oreilly.com/catalog/9780596520106/

Posted by: mattbrownmusings | 12 October 2010

Back on the Horse

You may have noticed that after a couple of years of silence, a random post popped up here recently.  I feel inclined to comment.

There are a few reasons why this blog had no visible activity for so long (I feel a bulleted list coming on):

  • Available time for blogging: My family has grown since I started this blog from one boy to three, all under the age of five currently.  You can imagine that blogging has been far from my list of realistic priorities.
  • Perhaps a bigger stumbling block, perfectionism: I am blessed/cursed with the affliction of perfectionism.  In the past this has caused me to be paralyzed to prolific writing.  Or, I spend too long trying to figure out how to say what I want to say.  This is something I’m gradually letting go of as I approach my thirties.
  • And of course my non-spontaneous nature: I am not usually a spontaneous person.  I like order in my world, and I like to try to know what I’m going to be doing several steps down the road.  And prolific blogging I think comes at least in part from a spontaneous nature.
  • I could probably come up with another reason, but for the sake of actually publishing this post I’ll stop here.

So those are the reasons why the blog was dormant.  Now for the reasons why there’s at least one, now two, and perhaps even more new posts (yay, another opportunity for a bulleted list).

  • I want to become more spontaneous, and I want to be less of a perfectionist.  I see this blog as an opportunity to pursue spontaneity, and a chance at letting go of certain details and just clicking the publish button.  I will do my best to avoid mediocre writing and (warning, cliche approaching) use the 80/20 rule to help churn out glorious web content for the masses.  Perhaps the biggest lesson I’m learning over and over again is that I can’t fully control everything that happens in my life, and some spontaneity can be a good thing.
  • The specific reason for my previous post is that I stumbled upon a website called “book sneeze” wherein you can sign up to receive free books if only you agree to review them and publish your review on a blog.  Being somewhat of a miser, this idea appealed to me.  So if nothing else, you can look here for periodic reviews of the free books I’m receiving.
  • Rats, I’m out of reasons why I’m blogging again.  Here’s something worth saying: a good bulleted list has at least three bullets.

There you go.  I will now proofread this post for spelling or grammatical errors, and subsequently click publish.  You’ll be glad to know that I’ve only been typing for about ten minutes.  (After proofread, total of fifteen minutes.)

Posted by: mattbrownmusings | 6 October 2010

Book Review: Your Money God’s Way

In “Your Money God’s Way” Amie Streater provides a bold summary of biblical teachings related to personal finance.  The book is written for Christ followers, although its principles would well serve a broader audience.  Frequent use of scripture verses along with common-sense principles help readers absorb what is being taught and keep it centered on God’s teachings.

Streater covers seven “money myths” that she has seen plaguing Christians during her time as an associate pastor of financial stewardship.  These mental traps are what keep Christians from living within their means, and ultimately from fully using the resources that God has provided to them.  One myth she addresses is the false thinking that money will take care of your problems.  Another trap is mistaking a well-intentioned desire, such as being a stay-at-home mom, for a message from God when, in reality, the idea simply doesn’t make good financial sense.  The book concludes with a treatment on creating a simple budget which will help readers of various financial situations strive to reach the next level and better use their resources for God’s glory.

One aspect of this book which I adore is how it implicitly encourages Christ followers to use their God-given ability to think and make reasonable decisions, rather than being paralyzed to false thoughts.  The sense of responsibility it instills in the reader is extremely pertinent in today’s culture.  I highly recommend this book to any Christian who is interested in being financially stable and, more importantly, living the truth that their monetary resources are solely a gift from God.

Posted by: mattbrownmusings | 23 August 2008

Goodbye Leroi

This week, the community of jazz saxophone players lost a prodigious peer.  Leroi Moore, a founding member of the Dave Matthews Band, passed away unexpectedly due to complications stemming from an ATV accident earlier this year.  Read more on the band’s website or on any number of other news sites.

I feel that I must offer some thoughts on this untimely passing.  I did not know Leroi personally, and have nothing to offer regarding his life as a man; I did however know him very deeply in a musical sense.  In the midst of a decade-old summer, I was introduced to his musical group, and was immediately drawn to their unique style.  As a budding saxophonist, one of the big draws for me was the jazz influence which was brought to the music, in part, by Leroi.  I was infatuated, and in the past ten years I have been enriched by the Dave Matthews Band through listening to studio and live albums, as well as attending several concerts.

Losing Leroi is most certainly a tragedy for his family and friends; the unexpected loss of a loved one is always painful, especially when survived by a parent.  But since Leroi had pursued a career humbly making music in his stage-left comfort zone, his life touched many more from a professional standpoint.  And his death represents an irrecoverable loss for his musical peers.  The band will not be the same without the man who added color and texture to their music with his saxophones and other winds.

My heart and prayers go out to Leroi’s family, former fiance, and friends.  I think I speak for the entire DMB community in saying that we mourn with you, and will continue to do so anytime we hear a recording of Leroi doing what he loved.

Posted by: mattbrownmusings | 2 May 2008

Mini-muse

So I haven’t had much time for musing lately, seeing as my wife and I just closed on a house and we’ve been working on painting and fixing it up in every spare moment we’ve got.  But today I took the evening off and find myself catching up on computer-related items.  Which leads me to my mini-muse topic: my awesome squeezebox.

In the past I have wanted to listen to music via headphones while sitting at my computer.  Ordinarily I would be using my Audiophile 2496 sound card to run my PC audio through a halfway decent stereo, which I then either plug my headphones into or pipe through some halfway decent bookshelf speakers.  Well, in connection with the aforementioned house purchase, we are currently living in a temporary apartment, and in an effort to bring only the “necessities” I’m running my “simplified” PC setup – see below (no, I didn’t just sketch this up for the blog, I actually was trying to plan for how many power outlets I needed and whether I could get away with one power strip).

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Anyway, my simplified setup is basically the same as my regular setup except I’m using the dinky speakers that came with the PC plugged into the factory sound card.  (Also, in the sketch note the “HD” and “Other HD” – my massive audio repository and backup drive, but still smaller than a breadbox.)  So, when I go to listen to my favorite losslessly compressed tunes via headphones, I get tons of PC noise in the background.  My workaround is to place the squeezebox directly next to the computer and listen to it, which is funny because the reason it’s cool is you don’t have to be chained to your PC.  But, I get crisp refreshing music for hours on end, so what could be better?

Currently playing: Guster’s Ruby Falls (love that mellow outro), plus had a surprising visit from Mike Gordon’s The Beltless Buckler earlier – how does he sing so low?

Posted by: mattbrownmusings | 10 April 2008

Wilco “Sky Blue Sky”

Maybe you’ve heard of the band Wilco. I originally heard about these guys from my brother in law, and quickly fell in love with their music. It was one of my typical overnight obsessions, where within a short period I procured their entire catalog. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that I embraced their music, since the name Wilco is short for “Will Comply,” and I am a somewhat compliant person (remember, my name is Matt, which means that I let people walk all over me).

At any rate, their latest album Sky Blue Sky is very nice. I recommend listening all the way through on headphones. In doing so, I really feel like I’m in the room as they’re recording it, which I love. Here are some highlights in case you didn’t believe that I listen really closely.

  • The upbeat part of You Are My Face is great, especially the first couple bars. I love the piano native-american-ish lick at 1:33 (just listen for it and you’ll understand). And what’s not to love about a song that uses the word “happenstance” in its lyrics.
  • After some rather laid-back and interesting verses, Side With The Seeds gets heated up on a two-over-three 6/8 feel (giving guitarist Nels Cline a chance to arpeggiate nicely, as he does so well). And who hasn’t stopped to ponder before if they’ll side with the leaves, or the seeds? Seriously, where do they come up with this stuff?
  • After the subdued intro, Shake It Off rolls into a very groovy G groove which then gives way to some vibrato laden guitar licks. This song also includes my second-favorite part of the album: the fleeting dissonance as the guitar walks downward while maintaining the F on top (happens twice at 2:32 and 4:36). And don’t forget the tasteful use of cowbell as a demarcation in the stop-time chorus; Blue Oyster Cult could have certainly taken a page from that playbook (based purely on the impression SNL has given me).
  • I love Hate It Here. If I ever get around to making another “Matt’s Mix” this one’ll probably be on there (and if I ever get around to blogging about “Matt’s Mix” then you might know what I’m talking about). From a thematic standpoint, the verses may seem too upbeat for the subject matter (a man lamenting his loneliness); their simple chord progressions are intermingled by fun and refreshing keyboard flourishes, and Tweedy’s vocals are somewhat hopeful. But the chorus lets the anger and frustration rip in the form of a heavy unison blues progression alternated by shouting vocals and raging drum fills to fill the gaps.
  • If you like major sevenths and ninths (and who doesn’t), then Leave Me (Like You Found Me) is right up your alley. That’s all I’ve got for that one.
  • Lastly, in a surprising twist, the title of the song whose lyrics speak of walking along is spelled Walken (see my reference to the infamous cowbell sketch above). And like Christopher, I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is more Walken. [Not to beat a dead horse, but note also that Wilco played Walken live on SNL earlier this year.] Anyway, the fun with Walken starts when the group drops out leaving only a lone guitar sustaining a single note in a repetitive rhythm. The rest of the group gradually joins back in, but the original pedal tone and rhythm stays constant until, finally, the entire group lands on that same underlying theme for the conclusion of the song. And it’s within this building finish that I found my favorite part of the album: the first member to rejoin after the dropout is the drummer, and he does so with a fill that is so simple but also so cool, starting with straight eighth notes but gradually allowing them to swing as the rest of the song does (starting at 3:18). I just can’t get enough.

Although I didn’t cover all the songs, these highlights are what keep me coming back for more. The entire album is full of great nuances that you can’t pick out if you’re listening on your iPod while running through a busy city, so get yourself an actual CD or lossless copy, plug in, and enjoy!

Posted by: mattbrownmusings | 17 March 2008

in case you missed it the first time…

… I love my Squeezebox more and more with each passing day.

[just downloaded “SqueezeCenter” (aka SlimServer v7.0) with glee]

Posted by: mattbrownmusings | 17 March 2008

Subway Straws Suck

OK, maybe it isn’t the straws themselves that suck.  But the way they’re packaged is pretty annoying.  If you’re not sure what I mean, basically the plastic wrap on the straw is too tight or something and they’re impossible to get out.  The typical way to remove a straw would be to hold the entire package and bang one end on a table; the ability of the straw to slide within the packaging allows it to pierce the end and emerge for your drinking pleasure.  The Subway people have decided it would be a good idea to make the plastic either too tight, or somewhat sticky (causing friction which prevents sliding), but either way the net result is a straw that’s impossible to unsheathe.  And I’m stuck doing the same basic method but only like an inch-worm (like Bob would say, baby steps).  And the plastic is pretty tough to tear, making the alternate method of ripping the middle and pulling from both ends (or shooting at your lunchmate) nearly impossible as well.

This might be the longest anyone’s ever put into ranting about a straw wrapper.  I feel better, almost good enough to go get another turkey and american on wheat with an undrinkable drink.

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