Friday, February 29, 2008

Astromech Droid

Those who are familiar with the term used as the title for this article, would probably also be interested, if not downright excited, about the prospect of a real-life R2-D2 to provide technical support around the home. But why? (you may ask) would you need an astromech droid? After all, we are not in a galaxy far, far away; we have no need of an on-board robot for space travel; we don't have the need to interpret computer terminals (since Microsoft is so reliable and easy to understand!); and we don't need anything to serve drinks on a Hutt's sail barge.

However - there is a far more pressing matter around the typical domestic home: multimedia. This is the age of photographic and audio digital trickery. Things are rapidly advancing and no home seems complete without a computer, television, games system, DVD player, digital camera, iPod, etc. Well, our household is no exception. Despite, or perhaps because of, a fleeting spell of puritanism - I wanted more control over my family's exposure to the mass media through the television. However, getting rid of the box was never an option; we love movies too much (the wholesome type, as well as mindless violent ones)! Some priestly advise mentioned a projector to make the movie experience more special, thus moving away from the "turn on, tune in, cop out" approach. Much debate on the dangers of television ensured, but an exciting game of international rugby convinced our household to renew the TV licence!

Anyway, back onto R2D2 (affectionately referred to as 'Artoo'). How could he possibly help the situation? Well, in case you missed it, for some time Nikko Electronics (the well known makers of scale replica radio-controlled cars) have been working on a prototype limited edition product: an R2D2 Projector and Multimedia Centre! Of course, any Star Wars fan would go weak at the knees, proclaiming "Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope" (of affording such a gadget). But even normal people would perhaps see the attractiveness of such an invention.

I am thus proud to be one of the first to test-drive this baby. Fresh from the factories of Malaysia, came in international express delivery, a huge 15kg box with a formidable little cylindrical robot inside. Number 63/4000 European models. This guy is quite something. What immediately strikes you is the attention to detail: this is an exact replica (in manageable half-scale) of the "overweight glob of grease" who almost single-handedly saved an entire galactic republic in the Star Wars saga(!) Every little panel seems to open up, with flashing blue lights and R2's characteristic bleeps reminding you of the care and attention that has gone into the design.

On his front is an iPod docking bay, which pops out, springs round, ready to cradle and charge anything from a Nano 1st generation up to a 5th generation video iPod, and even the new iPod touch. A 20 Watt 2-way 4 speaker system located in Artoo's underbelly ensures that a crisp sound emanates without having to wire up a speaker system. Artoo can also transmit a signal on FM frequency, making it possible to hear through radios all around your house.

Without being at all noticeable, a slot in Artoo's chest accommodates a DVD/CD slot, allowing all manner of digital media to be played. This includes music CDs, but also DVD movies, and more obscure formats such as JPEG, MPEG-4, WMA, MP3, VCD, etc. This fully supports digital out and surround sound if required, with outputs accessible from a concealed panel in Artoo's back. But what use are these video capabilities without the top notch feature of it all: A Texas Instruments DLP Projection system. Reminiscent of the projecting power of the real R2D2 (without the holographic ability), any image can be projected up to 6.6 metres in size. With a resolution of 1024 x 768, this is an impressive, although not fully High Definition picture. The contrast ratio is typically 1800:1 with 1500 ANSI Lumens of brightness. I really don't understand what all these terms mean; but my experience of playing what few DVDs we haven't packed up in boxes show, is an impressive bright and vibrant picture. A fairly dark room, like any projector, helps the experience greatly. But this is a powerful piece of kit, even requiring all Artoo's head ports to be opened up to aid ventilation with cooling fans (which makes him look like a blasted Artoo from the final film on Endor, but thankfully without the carbon scoring).

Adding to the fun of projecting movies, there is another compartment on Artoo's front which flips open to reveal memory card slots (SD, MMC, Smart media) and a USB port. No longer do photos have to be viewed on a tiny little camera screen, before they are uploaded to a computer or printed. Instant slide shows!

And of course there are various inputs at the back of Artoo. All are concealed with little flippable panels - including the power cable (AC mains is required to use the projector). These inputs support most things, with S-video, RCA video and audio ports (the yellow, white and red ones) and DVI-I for High Definition media, including of course laptop computers (making Artoo a good friend in the work place for important presentations... If you can maintain your professionalism). It would be nice if the High Def format were supported with an integrated BluRay/HD DVD drive; alas this would undoubtedly push prices up, but its absence makes the long term prospect of R2 shaky, as the DVD format will gradually become obsolete. Who knows how quickly that will be. At least with the DVI-I port he will always be compatible with the next generation of machines. It goes without saying that an 80- page instruction manual details a huge amount of settings and features, making compatibility and flexibility a priority.

But who are we kidding? We just want to have some fun with Artoo, right? Well, unplug him from the mains and flip his power onto 'RC' setting, and we have a fully controllable and portable robot. All his movements (forward, backwards, spinning, head rotate, incline) are controlled by the infra-red controller (the same way a TV is controlled). This makes for slightly clumsy controls, and not as accurate or precise as radio-controlled vehicles. Also, the lack of an autonomous mode, which is entirely feasible in this day and age, and indeed utilised in another Star Wars R2D2 product, makes for a bit of a disappointment.

However, the integrated controller makes up for it: a replica of the millenium falcon spaceship from the Star Wars Trilogy: with lit cockpit and boosters, and a docking stand which plays noises sampled from the films ("Han Solo, captain of the Millenium Falcon"!) A quick press on the boosters and a full control panel pops out, with all the features and settings of the R2 unit in one place. Failing this, there is also a basic control panel that pops out of Artoo above his DVD slot, to enable playing of movies.

The first thing that shocked me about Artoo when I turned him on were the shrieks he kept making at me! I was worried that he wasn't happy, despite all his lights and twinkling. It turns out he has some special safety sensors, some on his legs to stop him getting trapped, and one on his head to prevent obstructions to the projector. Thankfully, these sensors can easily be turned off if Artoo's shrieks become tiresome. Or, you could use him as a bedroom alarm (but perhaps not a burglar alarm: judging from his pitiful performance in Star Wars Episode II and the simple fact that HE HIMSELF would be liable to get stolen!!)

It all leaves little doubt: this is no toy, but a hardcore piece of 21st century gadgetry. I hope we can have lots of fun with Artoo, especially as we move house in the next few weeks. In his new abode, there will be less cardboard boxes to navigate around, and more DVDs on display to enjoy. Who knows, maybe there will even be a nice white wall somewhere for him to project things onto. One thing I do know: there is now a higher insurance premium!

Thursday, February 28, 2008


Now that Lacrimarum Valle has reached 50,000 visits, I would like to thank you all for reading. Especially those bloggers who encouraged and welcomed me so much in the very beginning. In many ways Blogging is an act of community. It very quickly draws together like-minded people and makes us realise we're not completely barking mad (just mostly) and not as isolated in our views as is apparent from everyday life.

Now that the hits meter has calmed down a bit after a little Fr Z/Fr TF/NLM spike, I will get back to the mundane writing of articles which has become sadly less frequent since I began full-time paid employment. If possible, some prayers will be greatly appreciated as I get through the next few hurdles of my life: Passing my Foundation Year 1 Assessment; Finding a new job for August, and moving house. All of which should be complete by April.

Lent is becoming bitterly apparent in our home at this time, as more and more belongings become boxed up (or thrown out) leaving us within a bear and barren shell. It is cold and it echos. Perhaps the closest I will ever get to monastic austerity...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"All this excitement...

... has overrun the circuits of my counterpart; If you don't mind, I'd like to take him down to maintenance"


Review to follow. See more here.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Cathedra Petri

STATUIT ei Dóminus testaméntum pacis, et príncipem fecit eum: ut sit illi sacerdótii dígnita ub aetérnum.

The Lord made to him a covenant of peace, and made him a prince; that the dignity of priesthood should be to him for ever.
Ecclesiasticus 45:30

Today's feast celebrates the episcopal dignity and universal primacy of St Peter, Prince of the Apostles. It has only a remote relation to the material chair, whose reliquary is pictured above, and is still venerated in the apse of the Vatican Basilica, as a symbol of the supreme authority of the Bishop of Rome.

The reliquary pictured above is designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, in the form of a cathedra. The relic it contains is a fragment of the cathedra used by subsequent bishops of Rome, and now represents St Peter's very teaching authority. However, the feast of the Chair of St Peter was celebrated centuries before this chair was given to the Pope, by Charles the Bald, in 875. It is a beautiful sight at the back of St Peter's: there is a clear allusion to the chair being divinely inspired and derived from the Holy Spirit, with the heavenly dove lit through the window, and angels holding it aloft the altar. Text surrounding the piece is taken from St Matthew's Gospel:
[Jesus] asked his disciples, saying: "Whom do men say that the Son of man is?" But they said: "Some John the Baptist, and other some Elias, and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets." Jesus saith to them: "But whom do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered and said: "Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answering, said to him:
"Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven."
Matthew 16:13-19
St Peter, by divine revelation, made this declaration of faith, and was awarded by our Lord with a special role in the Church: Petros (or Rock) signifies a strength and support for the whole building of the Church, in which he is beside Christ as a chief foundation stone: Chief pastor, ruler and governor. His ecclesiastical powers are signified by the keys to the kingdom, much like a King's Prime Minister would have the keys to access everything under his rule.

Christ's kingship over our souls is exercised on earth by Peter and his successors, whom Christ appointed to head the Church, and made depositories of divine powers (the ability to bind and loose). In his travelling to Rome St Peter established his See there, and ultimately shed his blood for the Church by being crucified.

Subsequent Bishops of Rome share in this teaching authority, which is essential for full visible Christian Unity. Most enduring schisms originate from a refusal to keep allegiance with the Pope, and very soon Christian doctrine is deformed and altered. Of course, Popes throughout history will not have always acted strictly according to the laws of Christian charity, prudence, etc. and their sins are no doubt magnified by their important office. But insofar as they have protected and safeguarded Christian Truth, in declaring Dogma against abundant heresies, and reaffirmed the ancient Doctrine of the Church as given by Christ in the deposit of Faith, the Holy Spirit has been active and powerful. This is what is known as 'Papal Infalliability', and refers to times in which the Pope speaks ex cathedra (from the Chair) in exercising his full teaching authority in this regard.

As Christ promised St Peter, the gates of hell shall not prevail against His Church - and any so-called-christian subscribing to a theory of mass apostasy from the Faith, is effectively calling Our Lord a liar.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


I have just been preparing a post for Friday's feast of the Chair of St Peter: and notice I have had more visits in the last hour than I usually have in a whole day! This is due solely to two most important and popular blogs linking to me: What does the Prayer Really Say? and The New Liturgical Movement. Thank you very much to you both!

Since many new faces have just found their way here, I bid you all a fine welcome. If you would like to know more about me and my blog, simply click on the "welcome" tab at the top left hand corner. There is also more small print to be found on the "contact" tab.

God bless you all!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Linacre Ethics Forum

Bioethics from a Catholic perspective

A chance for junior healthcare professionals and students

(medics, nurses, pharmacists etc. are welcome!)
to explore and discuss Catholic healthcare ethics.
The aim will be to understand the Church’s teaching
and explore ways in which we can present it sympathetically
to patients, colleagues and managers.

27th Feb Christian Ethics in Neonatal Care
- Professor John Wyatt

3rd April
Fertility Treatments

- Mrs Nicole Parker

30th April
Ethical Issues in General Practice

- Dr Mike Delany

13th May
Pregnancy Counselling

- Sr Roseann Reddy (TBC)

Time: (5.30pm Mass in Westminster Cathedral)
6.30pm Tea/Coffee
7pm Talk
7.30pm Discussion
8.30pm Finish (retire to pub/cafe)

Location: Vaughan House, SW1P 1QN
(behind Westminster Cathedral)

For further information, or to find your local rep, please contact Stephen Barrie on 020 72667410 or at

Friday, February 08, 2008

Anglo Islam

By popular demand...

Read the full report behind this childish photoshop image here!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Royal Regalia

Last Pentecost, we were fortunate enough to be present for a magnificent sung Mass at Harvington Hall. I was also fortunate enough to have my camera with me, and was quickly prompted to get lots of photos of an unusual and historic priestly vestment which was generously donated for use at this Mass. It is the 'Catherine of Aragon' Chasuble!

Since that day, I have been eager to find out more about the history of the Chasuble, which you can see Fr David Higham wearing. Now, in the latest edition of Mass of Ages, David Hurd writes all about it (published with a B&W copy of my above photo):

This vestment was bequeathed to the Catholic Church in Ludlow in 1958 by Sir Walter Blount of Mawley Hall in Shropshire.
The Blount family believed it to have been a gift from Catherine of Aragon to Elizabeth Blount, her Lady-in-Waiting.
Recent research suggests more accurately that it was pieced together after Catherine's death in January 1536. In her will she asks that "Her gowns (of velvet and cloth of gold) held by King Henry VIII be made into Church Vestments."
Repair and restoration work was carried out by Mrs Monica Meek of St Peter's Parish in Ludlow. She died in 2006 aged 96 and the chasuble was worn by the celebrant at her Requiem Mass.
Catherine's biographer, F. Claremont (1939), states that "among Catherine's embroidery her emblem, the pomegranate, features prominently." The cloth of gold used for the cross piece on the vestment was made in Florence in the period 1470-1500 and imported into Spain; it then came with Catherine to England and to Ludlow in 1501. The cross piece is made up from cuttings of the original garment to prominently feature the pomegranates.
Catherine's will requested that the furs from her garments be given to her daughter Mary who probably had the vestment made and to which she added her mother's embroidery work.
The story of Henry's wives and his defiance of the Catholic Church is famous enough to avoid repetition here. In brief commentary, therefore, I would say that this historical vestment should remind us of a calamitous time in English history, but also of the love and devotion which was passed on and reserved for the true Faith. With the protestant reformation, much was lost; things like this chasuble were literally torn to pieces.

The shreds of devotion which remained in our country began with Catherine, and perhaps testify to her noble and tragic place in all this. Before dying, she wrote a final plea to the schismatic king, now already remarried and treating her with ignominy:

My most dear lord, King and husband,

The hour of my death now drawing on, the tender love I owe you forceth me, my case being such, to commend myself to you, and to put you in remembrance with a few words of the health and safeguard of your soul which you ought to prefer before all worldly matters, and before the care and pampering of your body, for the which you have cast me into many calamities and yourself into many troubles. For my part, I pardon you everything, and I wish to devoutly pray God that He will pardon you also. For the rest, I commend unto you our daughter Mary, beseeching you to be a good father unto her, as I have heretofore desired. I entreat you also, on behalf of my maids, to give them marriage portions, which is not much, they being but three. For all my other servants I solicit the wages due them, and a year more, lest they be unprovided for. Lastly, I make this vow, that mine eyes desire you above all things.

Katharine the Queen.

Please keep Fr Higham in your prayers, after having suffered a stroke last week. May he make a steady and full recovery.