c in the land of dvds

So, I started learning C lately, and my life satisfaction has gone way up.  In retrospect, I started thinking about all the things within the past three years that I’ve started doing — and they are all things that I’ve wanted to do since I was like 12 — and how much absolutely fun life has gotten since then.

We have:

  • learning C
  • subsequently, hacking on libdvdread and writing my own DVD programs in C
  • learning how to play and be a Dungeon Master for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (2nd edition baby, yah! nothing but!)
  • skateboarding
  • reading Star Trek: The Next Generation novels
  • switching to paper plates

(I could go on for a while .. )

If I go back a few years before that, then we have me going back to school and studying psychology, which has also been a major life event.  And going back a few more than that (so we’re at about 8 now), it would be getting involved doing community service.

So, if I had some words of wisdom to pass down to a lot of people at once, this is what I would say: you can do all your grocery shopping in the frozen foods aisle.

Working on C has been a huge amount of fun for me.  When it comes to working with computers and/or development, I love doing things the absolutely most complex and difficult way possible (a la Gentoo).  Why?  It’s because if there’s some knob I can turn, or some option that I’m given, I want to customize it.  Originally it used to be because … well, I dunno why … but I’ve definitely mellowed out a lot over the years.  I’ve always dreamed of learning C, though, mostly, because it’s just *hard*.

I mean, the language only has a few data types, and it’s super easy to screw up your memory, your life, your grocery store, you name it.  Things just got real.  Which means things just got fun.

At the risk of sounding like a snotty kid who wants everyone to know how awesome he is, it occurred to me late last year, that of all the things computer-wise I know about a lot, it’s probably DVDs.  Having a moderately-sized library (a few hundred or so … or a few hundred more than that few hundred …), I’ve ripped and accessed all of them, and because of that, I’ve found lots of tweaks and bugs and ways to get certain information out.  It kind of clicked with me that, I had a huge wealth of knowledge in my head about one subject, and it may just possibly be something someone else could use.  Since I doubt anyone would give me an honorary Ph.D., I had to do the next best thing — slap together a half-finished wiki of my braindumps on the matter.

Honestly, I’m doing it more in a sense of the posterity of knowledge than anything else.  Going through my notes, I have a lot of stuff that I just dumped on there.  There’s really not *much* content there, but what it does carry behind it is years of working with DVDs on Linux … so when I say “use Handbrake,” I have months of research of saying why that is, or something similar.  Like I said, I’m a user and I’ve run into every situation imaginable, so it’s good to be able to kind of share that.  And let everyone know how detailed I can get.  Because people love that kind of thing.  Yahp.

However, learning C has taken me to the next level, where I can do two things: apply patches to the main DVD libraries, and write my own C programs.  I would be the *last* person to claim that this stuff is elegant code or wonderful programs, but it does, for me, have the goal of driving towards the point of providing data that users need.  Whatever that phrase means.  I think I’m trying to say that I like writing stuff that is for *intermediate* users.  I used to work on the Gentoo wiki a lot, and I noticed I really liked writing documents that go beyond a basic “this is this and that is that” explanation, and instead dives into the perspective of “let’s assume you know the basics, and want to do something that’s a little more detailed.”  Yah.  That.

I don’t know where I was going with all this, but there’s two things I’m sure of.  No, one.  I am out of frozen pizza.

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reading, ejecting, ripping and polling dvd devices in linux; also, notes on my dvd library

It has been a looong time since I both posted in my blog and worked on my custom DVD ripper scripts.  Apparently the last time I worked on the code was last June, and even then I didn’t make many updates.

I’ve been spurred onto building up my DVD library again by a couple of things. First, I realized that my Blu-ray player has  support for Matroska videos with VobSub and SRT subtitle support!  I was not expecting that.  In fact, it’s way better than what my PS3 can playback, which is … depressing.

I put away my HTPC about two years ago, when I was living in my previous apartment.  I moved into a place that was probably about 550 square feet.  Pretty tiny, and I liked it, but no room for a fantabulous multimedia setup.  So I sacked it for a while and was okay with that.  The fact is I actually spent more time getting it up and running and customizing it than using it.  Which is weird.  Actually I spent even *more* time ripping the DVDs and then not watching them.  But that’s okay.  It wasn’t until recently that I found a setup I think I’d like even more.

For now, I’m preferring having *less* hardware, and so just sticking a small 8GB USB thumb drive in my Blu-ray player with a smattering of samples of shows suits me just fine.  It’s no amazing thundershow of hardware and multimedia, but it *does* get me actually watching the content, so there.  I imagine if (and when) I have a house where I can properly get loud without upsetting neighbors, that’s when I’ll whip the big speakers back out and deck it out properly.  Some day. :)

In the meantime, today, I’ve been working on my DVD scripts.  I call it dart for “dvd archiving tool.”  It’s a complex set of scripts that I’ve been putting together for years, and it is highly customized for my own setup, with a CLI tool to read and access DVDs, then archive them in a database.  I also have a web frontend that I use to tag tracks, titles, episodes, etc. and so on.  If it wasn’t so unwieldly I’d throw the source out there, but the thought of having to explain to *anyone* how to get it up and running makes my head hurt.  So, if you want a good DVD ripper, here’s my advice: use Handbrake.

One problem I was trying to solve tonight was checking for these three statuses of my DVD drive: is the tray open, is the tray closed, is there media in the tray (while closed).  I have to use different tools for each one, but the problem that I always run into is this: it’s impossible (as far as I have been able to discover) to know when a DVD tray is both closed and ready to access.

The problem is that you can run eject just fine to close the tray, but once the command exits successfully, that doesn’t mean the drive can be accessed.  That is, running “eject -t /dev/dvd” and then “mplayer dvd://” in sequence, mplayer will complain that there’s no DVD device.

What’s the solution to all this?  Well, wait four seconds after running “eject.”  That’s simple, but I still spent hours today trying to find out if there was another way to do it.  While I never did (and ended up using ‘sleep’), I did find some cool stuff for polling and reading DVD devices.

blockdev

blockdev basically displays some interesting information about the block devices — in this case, /dev/dvd.  Now, for my library, one thing I have been doing lately is storing the size of the DVD in my database, so I can get an accurate number of how much HDD space I need when I want to archive the UDF or rip it.

You can use blockdev to get the amount of bytes like this:

blockdev –getsize64 /dev/dvd

Now if you want to see that in megabytes, just divide it by 1024

expr `blockdev –getsize64 /dev/dvd` / 1024

udisks

Next up is udisks, which can get information about the DVD device itself.  In this instance, I use it to see if there is media (a DVD) in the tray or not.

Running “udisks –show-info /dev/dvd” spits out all kinds of interesting information, but what I’m looking for is the “has media” field.

udisks –show-info /dev/dvd | grep “has media”
has media:                   1 (detected at Wed Jul  3 23:21:23 2013)

Now, that will say 1 *if* the both the disc tray is closed and there is something in there.  And if the DVD drive has stopped spinning enough for the command to work (again, sleep 4 seconds after closing the tray).

It will display a zero if there is no media *or* if the DVD tray is open.  Here’s a simple command to get just the number:

udisks –show-info /dev/dvd | grep “has media” | awk ‘{print $3}’

cddetect

This is an old small command-line tool I’ve used in the past.  It polls the drive to see if there’s something in there or not, and if the tray is open or not.  Sounds great, right?  It should do everything I want, solving all my problems … except that it doesn’t build on my system (Ubuntu 12.10 with gcc 4.7.2).  It used to, on my older setup, which would have been about 2.5 years ago.

It’s just a small C script, just over 500 lines, you can find it here on Freshmeat.  If someone wants to patch it to get it working, I’ll personally deliver you a plate of brownies.  Mmmm, brownies.

I actually *do* have an old 64-bit binary that I built way back when, because I kept a copy of my old development filesystem.  So I have a working blob, but it kind of breaks.  So I kind of rely on it.  I can only use it if the tray is open or if the tray is closed and empty.  So the way I check if a device is empty and closed in my script is I’ll first poll it to see if it has media with udisks, and if it doesn’t, then I’ll run this one.  If I run it with a disc in there, it pukes on me, and so I have to work around it.  It’s a hack, I know, but whatever.

qpxtool and readdvd

This is the project I ran into today, and I am super, super excited about it.  The QpxTool project is full of way cool little utilities for accessing your drive settings.  Honesty, I didn’t look at the other ones, because I was so hyperfocused on ‘readdvd’.

From the man page, “readdvd reads even a corrupted dvd and writes the the result into a new image file on your harddisk.”  This is awesome, because it’s the first utility I’ve found *specifically* for creating an exact image of a DVD filesystsem (UDF).  In the past, I’ve always used dd, but now I’m onto this one.  It skips over bad sectors and gets the image squeaky clean off of there, and I could not be happier.  This one ranks up there with Handbrake in both awesomeness and must-have-ness.  I should add that it’s also in Ubuntu’s default repos, so have fun.

Just run “readdvd -o movie.iso /dev/dvd”.  Pretty simple.

That’s pretty much it for now.  There are other great tools out there: lsdvd also ranks in the “must have” category.  I couldn’t do anything without it.

I mentioned dd earlier, and I actually use pv with it to give me a nice progress bar (also in Ubuntu repos).  It works just fine, I’ve been using this approach for years.

pv -ptre /dev/dvd | dd of=movie.iso

One more thing I wanted to mention.  Sometimes, some errors get thrown to the syslog because either an application or the DVD drive itself is being fussy.  I haven’t quite narrowed down which it is, but I’m betting it’s the firmware on the DVD drive complaining since some brands (Memorex) complain, and some do not (BenQ).  By far, the best-quality DVD drive I’ve had to date was actually a Sony BD-ROM drive.  At least, I think it was Sony.  Here’s some of the errors I get sometimes:

Jul 3 18:37:04 localhost kernel: [11955.073772] sr 0:0:0:0: [sr0]
Jul 3 18:37:04 localhost kernel: [11955.073784] sr 0:0:0:0: [sr0]
Jul 3 18:37:04 localhost kernel: [11955.073795] sr 0:0:0:0: [sr0]
Jul 3 18:37:04 localhost kernel: [11955.073808] sr 0:0:0:0: [sr0] CDB:
Jul 3 18:37:04 localhost kernel: [11955.073826] end_request: I/O error, dev sr0, sector 4096
Jul 3 18:37:04 localhost kernel: [11955.074286] Buffer I/O error on device sr0, logical block 512

To avoid issues like this, I run a small command to just decrypt the CSS on the DVD so it can kind of clear its head a bit.  Just run mplayer on it, watching about 60 frames (or 2 seconds worth of video), but just ignore it and dump it out.  The whole point of it is to decrypt the DVD, and move on with your life.  And here you are:

mplayer dvd:// -dvd-device /dev/dvd -frames 60 -nosound -vo null -noconfig all

I don’t pretend to understand how or why that helps, but I know it does.  If someone knows why the drives are doing that, I’d love to know.

The only other app I can think of right now off the top of my head is ‘dvdxchap’, which is part of ‘ogmtools’.  I know ogmtools is old, and the OGM container isn’t popular anyway (that I’ve seen), but it’s perfect for getting the chapter information out.  Although I may use something else now (lsdvd?).  I can’t remember, and I haven’t had to mess with chapters lately.

That’s it for me.  Have fun, rip away, and watch some cool Super Friends DVDs.  There are a LOT of seasons out there.  It’s great. :)

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clothesline project

Every year, UVU (my school) hosts what’s called The Clothesline Project.  It’s a project that is designed to raise awareness about domestic abuse of all kinds — physical, emotional, sexual, and also things leading to death and suicide.

The layout is that survivors of abuse create t-shirts where they tell their story or share a message about what happened or what they went through.  In some cases, the t-shirts are written by relatives of people who were abused and were killed.  It’s pretty intense stuff.

_photo06_05_2f_b5aaea4df6ba__1365017388000

I went last to last year’s exhibit, and went again this year for my psychology class.  The first time I went, I looked at almost every t-shirt there, and I was at the exhibit for probably an hour and a half.  On multiple occasions I was so grossed out that I almost threw up.  A lot of them were terribly traumatizing.  I remember driving home afterwards, and I was so overcome by emotion that I was sobbing uncontrollably.  Afterwards, I was deeply depressed for about a week.  It certainly raised some awareness in me.

I learn a lot from reading first-hand accounts of anything related to situations like this.  It gives a clear, non-academic approach of what it feels like for someone to go through these things.  The stories are informative, to see how they cope, how they escape, how some of them let go, and so on.  There are all kinds of endings as well.  Sometimes their family or friends don’t believe them, sometimes the perpetrator dies or gets thrown in jail and is convicted.  Other times they get a divorce, or get married to someone else, or just flee the situation completely.

A common problem that I see in a lot of the stories are this — people do not speak up when they are being abused, or do nothing about it.  In some cases, someone else in their family was also being abused, but neither one knew.  It is so important to speak up, to tell someone!  Abuse has many side effects on the person receiving it.  It severely mess up their emotions and take away from them a proper healthy reference of how things like relationships, sex, and emotions are supposed to be.  The best comment comes from one of the shirts below: “Silence is your enemy.  Talking is your medicine.”

I took some snapshots with my phone this year, because I wanted to post some of the stories on here.  I only managed to get a few, because I showed up at the display when there was only about twenty minutes before closing.  On top of that, I opted to only take pictures of shirts that I thought I’d be able to read later from a photo.

I’m posting the pictures and the text some of the t-shirts on here.  Be warned that these are graphic, verbose, and terrifying.  Proceed with caution.

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znurt.org cleanup

So, I finally managed to getting around to fixing the backend of znurt.org so that the keywords would import again.  It was a combination of the portage metadata location moving, and a small set of sloppy code in part of the import script that made me roll my eyes.  It’s fixed now, but the site still isn’t importing everything correctly.

I’ve been putting off working on it for so long, just because it’s a hard project to get to.  Since I started working full-time as a sysadmin about two years ago, it killed off my hobby of tinkering with computers.  My attitude shifted from “this is fun” to “I want this to work and not have me worry about it.”  Comes with the territory, I guess.  Not to say I don’t have fun — I do a lot of research at work, either related to existing projects or new stuff.  There’s always something cool to look into.  But then I come home and I’d rather just focus on other things.

I got rid of my desktops, too, because soon afterwards I didn’t really have anything to hack on.  Znurt went down, but I didn’t really have a good development environment anymore.  On top of that, my interest in the site had waned, and the whole thing just adds up to a pile of indifference.

I contemplated giving the site away to someone else so that they could maintain it, as I’ve done in the past with some of my projects, but this one, I just wanted to hang onto it for some reason.  Admittedly, not enough to maintain it, but enough to want to retain ownership.

With this last semester behind me, which was brutal, I’ve got more time to do other stuff.  Fixing Znurt had *long* been on my todo list, and I finally got around to poking it with a stick to see if I could at least get the broken imports working.

I was anticipating it would be a lot of work, and hard to find the issue, but the whole thing took under two hours to fix.  Derp.  That’s what I get for putting stuff off.

One thing I’ve found interesting in all of this is how quickly my memory of working with code (PHP) and databases (PostgreSQL) has come back to me.  At work, I only write shell scripts now (bash) and we use MySQL across the board.  Postgres is an amazing database replacement, and it’s amazing how, even not using it regularly in awhile, it all comes back to me.  I love that database.  Everything about it is intuitive.

Anyway, I was looking through the import code, and doing some testing.  I flushed the entire database contents and started a fresh import, and noticed it was breaking in some parts.  Looking into it, I found that the MDB2 PEAR package has a memory leak in it, which kills the scripts because it just runs so many queries.  So, I’m in the process of moving it to use PDO instead.  I’ve wanted to look into using it for a while, and so far I like it, for the most part.  Their fetch helper functions are pretty lame, and could use some obvious features like fetching one value and returning result sets in associative arrays, but it’s good.  I’m going through the backend and doing a lot of cleanup at the same time.

Feature-wise, the site isn’t gonna change at all.  It’ll be faster, and importing the data from portage will be more accurate.  I’ve got bugs on the frontend I need to fix still, but they are all minor and I probably won’t look at them for now, to be honest.  Well, maybe I will, I dunno.

Either way, it’s kinda cool to get into the code again, and see what’s going on.  I know I say this a lot with my projects, but it always amazes me when I go back and I realize how complex the process is — not because of my code, but because there are so many factors to take into consideration when building this database.  I thought it’d be a simple case of reading metadata and throwing it in there, but there’s all kinds of things that I originally wrote, like using regular expressions to get the package components from an ebuild version string.  Fortunately, there’s easier ways to query that stuff now, so the goal is to get it more up to date.

It’s kinda cool working on a big code project again.  I’d forgotten what it was like.

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another semester done

I just finished my Fall semester for 2012 today at UVU.  This was, by far, the hardest semester I’ve ever had since I’ve been in school.  It was brutal.  I had three classes which carried with it more work than I was expecting, and I spent a lot of time in the past four months doing nothing but homework.  I was talking to my cousin tonight about it (while we were doing some late-night skateboarding in the winter, which, it’s actually really nice out here right now), and I mentioned that the stress was a huge burden on me.  Stress is normal, but I’ve learned that if something heavy is really going on, I notice I will stop being cheery.  I don’t really get somber, but it’s more like, just focused and serious all the time.  Which can be a real bummer.

But, the semester is finished, and it’s freed up a lot of time and has taken that huge burden off of me.  I got good grades, and along with that, and some great friends that really stepped up at the last minute and helped me out, it’s really gotten me humbled and grateful to God and everyone that stood by me.  I’m really glad this semester is done.

One thing I learned from this last jaunt around is that I’ve decided I’m never taking online classes again.  I had two this semester, and one on campus.  Looking back, I’ve always had a range of issues with online courses.  Either I don’t understand the material very well because I can’t chat with the professor one on one, or I slack the whole time (I did 50% of the coursework in one day.  I’m not kidding).  The worst one though is I never really feel like I “get” the material.  I jump through hoops, get a grade, and move on, but it doesn’t seem like I learned anything.

So, I’m sticking to just two classes from here on out, and doing them all on-campus.  That’ll be manageable.

For now I’m really looking forward to not so much having more time, but having less stress.  I’ve been wanting to work on some cool side projects, and I also have been itching to go skating … a lot.  So tonight I went on a two-hour run with my cousin down Main Street in Bountiful, and it was really cool.  We call it a “mort run” since we start at the top of a hill and go all the way down to the mortuary.  It’s smooth all the way down and  you can just push around and then either skate back up hill or walk.  It’s a good workout.

The best part tonight though was debating whether or not we should go to the drive-through at Del Taco, knock on the window and ask for something.  We didn’t, but we circled the place like eight times and probably freaked out the employees while we debated it.  Eventually, we realized he didn’t have enough cash to buy something on the dollar menu (he was a penny short), so we spent half an hour wandering around downtown looking for lost change.  It was pretty fun. :)

Soooooooooooo ….. projects.  One thing I have time to look into now is znurt.org.  It’s broken.  I’ve known it’s been broken.  It would take me probably less than an hour to fix it.  I haven’t made the time, for a lot of reasons.  It’s actually been on my calendar reminding me over and over that I need to get it done.  I’m debating what to do about the site.  I could just fix the one error and move on, but it’s still kind of living in a state of neglect.  Ideally, I should hand the project over to someone else and let them maintain it.  I dunno yet.  Part of me doesn’t wanna let it go, but I guess a bigger part doesn’t care enough to actually fix it so … yah.  Gotta make a decision there.

Other than that, not much going on.  I moved to a new apartment, back into a complex.  I like it here.  I have a dishwasher now, which I’m really grateful for (I haven’t had one in the last three apartments).  The funny thing about that is I seriously have so few dishes, that filling up the entire thing with all of mine it’s half full.

Anyhoo, I am really looking forward to moving on.  My big thing is I wanna get some serious skating time in while I’ve got the time.  That and enjoy the holidays with friends and family.  I’m looking forward to next semester too.  I’ve got a class on meteorology and another on U.S. history.  I’m almost done with generals.  The crazy part about all of this?  Since I went back to school two years ago, I’ve put in 30 credit hours.  Insane, for someone working full time.  I tell you what.

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bully

So, I went and watched the movie “Bully” tonight.  It was good.  I’ve got kind of mixed feelings about it, probably because of the many ways I look at the stories.  Part of me was interested to see what students are going through.  Part of me was thinking about what social settings had to exist for a setting like that to exist.  And then I was thinking about how school administration seemed like politics a little bit, and I wondered if teachers had any idea that they’d be called upon learning how to do mediation when they were getting their degrees.

The story about the teenagers who committed suicide is really sad.  I’m really glad that the film didn’t focus just on that angle, though.  They followed a couple of students specifically, and then had footage of bullying in general, and students just dealing with it in a general sense.  It was tough to watch, and made me feel bad for the guys.  It also renewed the feeling that I really wanna do something about it.  During the film I pulled out my phone for a second to check the time, and seeing the background on my cell phone — a picture of me and my little brother, Steven — really hit me, and made me realize that I *am* doing something.  That was kinda cool. :)

I don’t know much about bullying to have an opinion.  I can’t really draw on my own experiences, since I was never bullied, and I don’t remember anyone around me getting bullied.  Either I wasn’t really observant, or it wasn’t going on much.  I dunno.  All through school I kind of just stayed in the background.  Nobody bothered me and I didn’t bother anyone.  Some of the scenes were about the students riding on the school bus, and I actually thought it was weird to have so many people on there.  I remember that the bus was hardly ever half full, and having two people in one seat was rare.  So, a lot of it, I couldn’t really relate.  I was just kind of watching it.

The thing that made me sad (more than the bullying, actually, go figure) was how the adults in the lives of the kids tried to help them out.  The kids were pretty much getting the message of “well, you should do something about it,” and “it’s not really that bad, kids do that.”  A big part of that reason was that the kids getting bullied wouldn’t tell their parents how bad it was.  And in the cases where they did and the school administration would address it, the kids and parents would call them out on it and say how nothing was really changing.  It brings up a lot of questions regarding maintaining order in schools, providing the students somewhere they can feel safe, and whose job it really is to be an influence on the bullies.

The stories about the suicides were sad, but for me it didn’t really dig into me as hard as the other stuff.  I have kind of a different perspective on suicide, in the sense of that I can *understand* why they would see it as an out.  I dunno if that’s common, or if you have to be really interested in counseling to know how that works.  The thing that is really crazy in my mind though is that these guys are committing suicide at such a young age, and that others usually don’t have any clue that they’re pushing their peers so far off the cliff until it’s too late.

The part that was really hard for me was seeing the kids themselves being bullied as they were in the middle of things — they were suffering all these things, they were trying to make sense of this — “why would they do this?” “can we just be friends?” “why isn’t anyone at school doing anything?” — and then getting mixed messages from their parents as well.  In every case, the parents had no idea how bad things were until either the kid snapped (one took a gun on a bus), they were completely ignored and isolated by the community after coming out (a lesbian), or they saw the actual footage of the film.

I’d recommend seeing the film.  It was really good, and put together well.  I was hesitant to go see it, since I knew this is an emotional issue, and I thought it’d be easy to draw on that emotion and make a movie that was just sensationalizing it a little bit.  It wasn’t that way at all, though.  It came across to me as a sincere documentary that looked at the problem, explored it very well, and showed the stories of how they *really* are.  I love movies that are raw in that sense, where they are just about *life*.  In that vein, I’d recommend seeing “Boy Interrupted” as well.  That movie is also really gritty (and about suicide).

As strange as it may seem, I love movies like this where they display actual raw emotion, what the people are going through.  I prefer things like this not to be watered down or come with an obvious agenda.  Just exposing human life for what it’s like is good enough (and sad enough, in some cases).  I wish there were more films like this (and if you know of any, let me know).

Out of the entire film, one scene stood out to me the most.  It was in the assistant principal’s office (who, she was only in the film for maybe five minutes herself) who called in a student to talk to about bullying.  The kid came in looking just like any other kid, not sure what was going on, but that was about it.  She (the principal) pointed down to her desk, a picture, I’m imagining, of a student that was being bullied, and asked what his relationship was to him.  The poor kid just instantly lost the color to his face, and noticeably tensed up as he realized he was in trouble.  That made me feel really bad, that getting a shock like that, that you’re doing something wrong is suddenly and abruptly brought to your attention.  He genuinely had a look of “wow, I didn’t know that was wrong,” partly because he looked like a really innocent kid in addition to how daunted he was by being accused of bullying.  I kind of read into it that he was going along with things, but didn’t really realize the effect he was having.  In contrast, there was another kid who was also called into her office to talk about it, and he had an attitude of denial and how it wasn’t happening, and it wasn’t a big deal.  For the first kid, I thought to myself, there’s got to be a better way to bring this to his attention and correct it.  I feel really bad for anyone who gets the banhammer dropped on them unexpectedly.  That’s something I work really hard not to do with people, so it makes me sad when I see it happen to someone else.

I felt really bad for all the kids — the bullies and the ones being bullied.  I wish there was some easy answers, but I think there are two things that would help — learning how to communicate better with students, and having everyone learn to be kind.  There were a lot of times when bullies were being punks, and the other kids just kind of rolled with it.  That’s a social phenomenon in itself, which is pretty normal … people don’t typically step in when something unfair is going down, and in a lot of cases, will just pile on the aggression, because it seems to make the most sense.  I dunno, there’s a lot of variables in it that make it a difficult challenge, but I still think there’s some simple concepts that would help (communication, kindness, courage).

I dunno how I would handle it if someone came to me and told me they were getting bullied.  I’d honestly never really thought about it before, again, mostly because it’s something I didn’t really ever know much about it.

There’s a lot of great videos on youtube about bullying.  I’ll end on a positive one. :)

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the gospel of simplicity

I had an interesting thought tonight.  “Lord, I want to join the battle.”  I love working with youth, talking to them, helping them out the best I can.  The thing that worries the most is not the decisions that they’ll make, but rather that I haven’t prepared myself enough.  I want to be spiritually ready all the time, to be up to any challenge that comes my way.  That’s a pretty tall order.  When I feel like I need to reach that lofty goal, I start to think of big ways to change my life, and how to get there amazingly fast.

What I’m having to learn over and over is that the the gospel is not about moments of energy and excitement.  It’s not big projects that need to be undertaken, or major changes to my schedule.  It’s not zealotry or extreme attitudes.  Instead, it’s about making a decision, day by day, to follow Christ.

Like many Christians, I wear a cross.  It’s a necklace that I put on every morning before I head out for the day.  I don’t have to put it on, but as I do, it’s a really personal reminder that I’m making a choice — that, yes, this is something I want to do, and take it upon myself willingly.  And what’s cool is that I have to make that decision every day — not as a group, but individually.  Every morning I make the choice.

I still have the habit of wanting to jump into things with full heart and spirit, and at times get almost a patriotic pledge to do more.  I think of big changes I can make so that I’m somehow getting more spirituality into my life.  It starts to become a project, some huge overreaching goal that I can build with lots of effort and work.  This leads problem that I will start to think there is something “special” out there that I should be doing, to find that extra measure of spiritual input.  Big goals require big commitments, which leads to big changes.  Rip out all the old stuff, and put in the new.  Everything old must go. There’s some method out there to tap this great well of spiritual power that I haven’t found yet, some secret sauce that the Lord will reveal to me as I push with so much effort and drive.

However, that is going about it the wrong way.  I love how the Lord puts things into perspective.  From Matthew 24:

26. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not.

There are no secret angles, no shortcuts, no hidden mysteries for only a select few to find.  I do not need to go out into the desert, something that would take a lot of resources and dedication — somewhere only a few could go if they had the right equipment, stamina, and drive.

Instead, He has made it clear that it is the basic principles of the gospel, that all men, women and children can exercise, where they are.  Consider, for example, taking the basics to a higher level over time as you make it a part of your life.

Prayer is the simple act of talking to God.  Reading the scriptures is having God talk to me.  Fasting teaches self-control.  Like any skill, I can improve, and do better over time.  Instead of saying token prayers, I can learn how to calmly and quietly express my soul to God, and know that he hears.  Instead of reading the scriptures out of a sense of duty and daily obligation, I can study them and look more closely, trying to understand God’s will.

The basics, if expanded on, can bring about great results.  I know that that’s true, because as I decrease or increase in those simple things, I can notice a difference.

My crazy mind still likes to flirt with the idea that there is some great knowledge that I need to acquire before I can commit.  A nebulous mass of content that I must completely understand before I can move forward.

Again, the Lord puts things into perspective, making it so much simpler:

13. Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
14. Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

The way that I read this is that my task  is to enter into the gate that leads unto eternal life.  He doesn’t say anything about winning the race, or how fast I should be going, or how soon I need to get there.  At the very beginning, He just wants me to go in the right direction.

It’s not hard to make that choice, but it’s hard for me to understand and accept that it’s so simple.  It really is, though, and when I think about how easy it is, I realize that it’s something I can do.  And the Holy Ghost confirms to me that it is true.  I like the Lord’s way much better than mine.

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