Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Tech Support Worth Bragging About!

In a previous blog I talked about how much my family and I love our Logitech Harmony Remote. well, the unthinkable happened just two months out of warranty: it stopped working. It was just dead.

I emailed Logitech's support and they ran me through a few tests to confirm what I already knew... the unit was completely brain dead. I asked what could be done, and told them I was just out of warranty by a couple of months. Their response was simple, "I think we can get you taken care of." When I asked what that meant, they would only say they were escalating me to the next level.

When I received a call the following day, I was told they were replacing my remote. Knowing I was out of warranty and legally without any basis to ask for anything, I thanked them as graciously as I could and waited.

The following week I got an email saying they considered the case closed. But I hadn't received anything from them yet, and responded accordingly.

A few days later-- today-- the replacement came. It's not a refurbished unit, and it's not just a part or two. It's a complete retail package with everything in it! And no RMA tag requiring me to package and return the old one!

Logitech gets it! They understand that they live and die by their reputation, and that a few dollars spent to satisfy a customer with reasonable expectations will go a long way towards helping them in the marketplace.

So if you've wondered whether or not you should spend the money on one of these programmable remotes that promote harmony in the home, please accept my encouragement to do so! Logitech has shown they're a company we want to do business with. They stand behind their products, even if they're a little out of warranty. (Are you paying attention Sony, Panasonic, and others? You can't compete with these guys!)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Why I Had to Stop Working Out

I was so pumped up! But it was too much! So I had to stop.

It took a long time to get all those muscles to atrophied! But, thankfully, I look much healthier today...

(Thanks, Dean, for the inspiration!)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Windows Server 64 Bit

When we recently received new servers from Dell, they came with 64-bit processors. We did a little research, saw no caution signs, and decided to install Microsoft's 64-bit Windows Server NOS. What a nightmare!

We discovered that the drivers included on the discs weren't 64-bit! So we fought gremlins for a few hours until we realized that the drivers Microsoft installed were only 32-bit, and they were the cause of our problems! So began the tedious task of searching websites for 64-bit drivers for printers and more.

We next found that many of the Microsoft tools we rely upon only operate in 32-bit system! So we again had to search the web for 64-bit solutions. For those that only exist as 32-bit, we had to create a virtual Windows XP Pro we could log in to remotely to run them... far from ideal.

Our Conclusion
So, we decided we will avoid 64-bit Microsoft NOSs until they release a version that includes 64-bit tools and drivers that work nativly on those systems. Our clients deserve more efficiency and stability than 64-bit currently delivers.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Network Map Challenge

My friend Robert Bilderbach sent this photo. How would you map that network?!!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Reality is what you bump into when your beliefs are wrong. -- Harold Bullock

Saturday, November 10, 2007


The best way to spell faith is R - I - S - K . --Harold Bullock

Friday, November 9, 2007

Verizon FiOS Failure Follow-Up

Well, when I'm not exactly right, I need to say so. Following is from Gary Messmer, our Lead Network Engineer, that gives further details about the Verizon FiOS outage. In an email he said:
"Verizon finally told me late yesterday what transpired. Apparently vandals destroyed conduit and the cabling inside it underneath a freeway overpass near Los Angeles early morning on November 7. That act crippled five Verizon OC48 circuits (OC48 is 2.5gbps – backbone circuits.) Based on what was cut, it also destroyed the redundancy which was originally engineered into their network. As you've seen, Verizon beat the original service restoration time of 11:00 pm November 9, by a good margin but we were all in an email blackout for nearly 24 hours."
So even though they haven't looped their customers as promised-- and we'd still like to see that fixed-- lack of local loops was not the cause of our outage yesterday.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Verizon FiOS Failure

We moved our Internet connection to Verizon's FiOS network because it promised so much: very fast connection speeds, very low cost, and an excellent network.

Well... today we learned their network design in our area wasn't what they promised, and our business processes are being severely impacted as a result.

Loop, or Branch?
We asked specifically if we would be connected to a loop or a branch. The difference is that if a loop suffers a break, communications may not be impacted because it is connected at both ends. With a branch, however, any break kills communications. Today we learned that Verizon looped their COs (central offices), but not their customers.

It's the Network
Verizon should do what's right and connect the branch at both ends, making it a loop. Fiber optic lines are more fragile than copper wires and thus more susceptible to breaks. One of their divisions advertises that "it's the network"... but clearly they didn't design their FiOS network well.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

MS Office 2007 Quick Access Toolbar Customization

I wrote in a previous blog that a good way to help your team transition to MS Office 2007 is to add one-click buttons to their applications. This saves them having to find where the option is to add bullets, for example, in the ribbon.

While building a new network recently we wanted to do this for the entire team. We learned that the customizations are saved as *.qat (Quick Access Toolbar) files and stored in the 'c:\documents and settings\{username}\local settings\application data\microsoft\office' folder. Armed with that, we set up the Quick Access Toolbars the way we wanted them on one system, and then copied the *.qat files to each user's local configuration folder.

And, just like that, all users had the modified Quick Access Toolbars they needed to stay productive during the transition!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Just When You Thought It Was Safe...

Ian Beyer wrote in his blog today about a Microsoft mess-up. Microsoft sent some patches through WSUS, one of which is slowing networks to a crawl. The offending patch is their new version of Windows Desktop Search (version 3.01). As Ian noted, they sent it right through those using WSUS that were willing to trust Microsoft (he was allowing patches Microsoft deemed critical to go right through).

MBS Clients Not Affected!
Fortunately for our firm's retainer clients who use our server as their WSUS source, none were effected. We don't automatically apply any Microsoft patches until it is tested.

Microsoft originally denied they did anything wrong, but then changed their story and apologized for it (see ComputerWorld article -- Ian, is that you they quoted?).

The Problem, and The Fix
The by-product of this error is that desktops and notebooks slow to a snail's pace while they index and re-index hard drive files. The fix is relatively easy... at least it was for me (I'm a tester / guinea pig on our system for all MS patches).
  1. Go into Control Panel's Add/Remove programs on each computer.
  2. Remove Windows Desktop Search 3.01 (it will list among all installed programs and not with updates).
I hope that works as easily for you as it did for me,


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Let the Mac Adventure Begin!!

Some of my friends and colleagues are beside themselves because I'm walking around with a MacBook Pro under my arm! Yes, it's true: Nick is using a Mac!

The adventure began late last week as I began research on the merits and how-to of using a Mac in a church or ministry environment. I admit the hardware and OS is subjectively more pleasing, but the challenge is that most of the software I (and most of those in our niche) need to use will only run on a PC.

The Challenge Defined
There is increasing pressure from our team members to use Macs in the workplace. Our response to their request for a Mac has generally been that unless they had a compelling reason, the answer was most likely no because the databases and other software we run needs to run on a PC. But is that still true? Maybe not!

The Times... They Are a Changin'
The newest Macs run on Intel chips and have a few ways they can run PC environments. Typically we hear of two (Bootstrap and Parallels). Many in our niche don't prefer the Bootstrap method because (I'm told) it requires restarting the system when one wants to switch from one OS to the other-- too cumbersome. Many have good things to say about Parallels, but I wanted to test VMware's Fusion since we already run VMware on our network servers.

With Fusion I have the choice of running a virtual PC, or of unifying the two OS desktops together. I like the Unity method because I can launch my PC applications in what appears to be the Mac desktop and dock, and they run in windows that look very similar to Mac applications. Very nice!

Does it Work?
So far, it does! I have a couple more challenges to overcome to make it totally transparent, but it looks promising. And it appears the PC applications run better in this environment than natively on a PC! Go figure!

There are a bunch of little differences, like keystrokes, to get used to. But so far, the user interface is a nice improvement. Once I get the PC applications running perfectly, then I'll begin to tackle the task of looking for reasons why some things really should be done on a Mac.

To my closest friends and colleagues I can only say that I'm still the same old Nick...

Monday, October 15, 2007

Windows 2003 Server R2 64-Bit Head Scratcher

Every now and then you run into something "special" that just makes you scratch your head and wonder. That just happened to us while installing the 64-bit version of Windows Server 2003 R2... and you're gonna love it!

The Process
We installed the NOS, patched it, installed SQL 2005 64-bit, then installed our client's database. However, the database wouldn't run because it wanted us to have a default printer defined. So we installed a default printer, and it still wouldn't run!

The Conundrum
We installed, configured, and uninstalled a bunch of printers-- including the Generic/Text Only printer. Still, the database wouldn't launch.

We called the database's tech support and spoke with the "guys at the top", and they hadn't run into this problem. After talking about it a bit, they asked us to try a basic print job from Notepad. It wouldn't print! The error was "The handle is invalid."

We Googled, called Dell, searched Microsoft... no help. Then someone suggested we make certain we're using 64-bit printer drivers. Now remember that we were installing the printers using the Add Printer wizard that installed with the 64-bit NOS. But just to be sure, we went to HP's website and downloaded a 64-bit driver. It worked!

Just Makes You Wonder...
So we couldn't help scratching our heads wondering why Microsoft would ship their 64-bit NOS with 32-bit drivers! Oh well... on to the next challenge!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Opening Office 2007 on Older Systems

One of the complaints we often hear about Office 2007 is that it wants to save files in a new format (.docx, .xlsx, etc). As I've blogged about previously, this is because Microsoft has created what they hope will be the new XML standard.

Microsoft has released a filter that allows previous versions of Office to open these new files. But my daughter told me she had a problem at school because she couldn't open her files in their computer lab.

Thinking about Microsoft's goal, I decided to try an experiment with her. We right-clicked on a .docx file and choose Open With, then pointed to our Internet Explorer. Guess what! It opened the file!

That means sending these new file types to others can still work if they have a browser!

Let me know if this works for you too-- or if I just got lucky!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Church IT Director = Super IT Director!

While serving a large church some years ago we ran into a church IT director who proved why church it directors are a super species!

The Challenge
He had a server that only had hardware errors on occasion. Through his investigative analysis, he found that the errors only happened when the motherboard was in a vertical orientation (possibly a hairline crack).

The Solution
So, he did what any super IT director would do! He rebuilt the server so that it ran on a cardboard frame!

Was this the first open system?

You Gotta Love Mr. Excel!

Today's Mr. Excel Podcast is a fun one! He was in Alexandria, IN, where the world's largest ball of paint is, and he added the 20,405th coat of paint! Apparently anyone can stop by and do it, and get a Guinness Record Book certificate for breaking the existing record!

Check out the podcast... you'll like it! It even has a blooper reel at the end

Friday, October 5, 2007

Very Cool Technology

Steve Hewitt wrote about a coming technology in his blog recently that I can't wait for! Click here to see the demo.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Fall Church IT Roundtable

Clif Guy and his team did a great job of hosting about 60 church IT geeks this week. The discussion topics, the worship, the food... way to go COR team!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Mr. Excel's New Book-- For Free!

Mr. Excel publishes a two-minute podcast of Excel tips daily, and they're very good. He just released a new book of his tips, and is offering it as a free download at www.mrexcel.com/pod600.html.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Local Admin, or Not?

While at the Church IT Roundtable today we got into a spirited discussion on whether or not users should be local administrators when they login. I'm a strong proponent for letting them be, as long as the network has desktop and notebook images (via Ghost or some similar program) to overcome problems that could arise.

A question was asked by one of the church IT directors: Why do we feel so strongly like we need to lock systems down?

Here's my response:
  • While not wanting to knock Microsoft, we do need to recognize that their operating systems (Windows) have a lot of security holes. They know about many of them, and there are apparently many they don't know about.
  • Microsoft has taught us to engineer our networks to make up for those holes. By teaching us to not give users administrative security rights, Microsoft is teaching us to restrict our users to make up for their limitations.
  • Using programs like Ghost to image systems eliminates the issues that a user with local admin rights might experience because they allow you to re-write the local hard drive in a matter of minutes.
The reasons I prefer to give users admin privileges are:
  • It empowers users to do what they need to when IT is not available to help,
  • It allows updates to be installed as needed without IT help, and thus
  • It reduces the workload of the IT team.
I see it as a win-win. What do you think?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Automating Online Forms

A colleague wrote me asking what the best solution is for automating the myriad of fillable forms there are on websites. I have wrestled with this too, and have come up with the solution that works most consistently for me, but am always looking for new ideas that work!

My Solution
The best system I've come up with so far is a twofold approach:
  1. I use eWallet to keep a secure copy of all my credit cards, etc on my PDA and notebook so I can access and copy anything I need easily.
  2. In addition, I use Firefox as my browser, and it does a pretty good job of maintaining fillable form information for fields that are similarly named (IE has never performed well for me in this area).
Though not a perfect solution, it works. What are you using that works?

Monday, September 24, 2007

So, What Would Jesus Do?

While working on a desktop computer today Microsoft confronted me with the error message at the left. Being a believer, feeling challenged beyond my understanding, and wanting to honor Christ in all areas of my life, I asked myself, "What would Jesus do?"

Well, choosing yes or no produced the same results... the question would re-appear after about five minutes. Time to re-image this system!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Vendor or Team Member?

I often talk with hardware and software providers on behalf of The Church. Along with Chris Booth at CCB, we have been a force in helping them understand the importance of The Church as a niche and motivate them to reach it.

The Three Sides of My Role
I find myself presenting three facets of my drive and motivation when talking with hardware and software providers:
  1. I'm fortunate to be a widely published author with some influence in the marketplace.
  2. I'm a vendor representing a large number of churches and ministries.
  3. Functionally, I act as the CIO (Chief Information Officer) for many churches and ministries.
It's the last one that's hardest for them to understand, but it's what really drives me in my decision-making process. Since our firm has, from its beginning, chosen not to make any money on hardware and software recommendations, even as a vendor I really act more as a CIO than anything else.

Like any CIO, I'm interested in best practices and strategies for my organization. My organization happens to be more theoretical in that the decisions I make impact many churches and ministries. I'm good with that, and consider it a sacred trust. More than that, I see it as part of my calling to serve The Church as God called me to many years ago.

Maybe that's what has helped to set apart our firm, MBS, from so many others. We never try to sell ourselves when speaking at a conference or writing an article. Instead, we share knowledge to help others make wise decisions. We're about serving; plain and simple. Doing anything less would be in defiance of God's call on our lives.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Tempting Internet Content

Hardly a week goes buy where I don't hear of someone in ministry who has resigned or been let go because of porn addiction. This is a serious problem, and it's not personal! We simply have a very smart enemy who knows what we respond to, and who knows that many will respond to the lure of online porn.

We Need To Do Something!
Maybe my faith is weak, but I believe this is not an area we can clean up. What we need to do is to protect ourselves and those with whom we work.

I just released an article detailing many of the ways we need to protect our computer systems and team members. This is one of the areas I spotlighted in that article.

Can We Talk?
Let's face it. We see this problem with both male and female computer users. We can filter web content, but the smart folks can figure ways around our filters. The best solution our firm has found is Covenant Eyes-- an accountability solution that works very well. It doesn't slow Internet use or access, it simply records every website a user visits, scores them, and lists them on reports sent to the user's accountability partners. There's no way around it, and uninstalling it sends an email to the accountability partners too!

Covenant Eyes took their name from Job 31:1 in which Job says, "I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl." They are all about helping us in this area. And if you ask, they'll tell you about their special pricing for ministry teams.

I Implore You!
Please check this out and make it a part of your system policy. It will save lives! Really!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Great Perspective!

Today I had a doctor's appointment at our region's Veteran's Hospital. Nothing to worry about... just a follow-up on something that is a service-connected disability (it's been around for a LONG time). Whenever I go there, I always wonder if God is going to speak a word of encouragement to someone through me. But today was different!

While leaving there today, a guy in a wheelchair was rolling himself in my direction. I said, "How's it going?" His reply was stunning in that usually depressing place. He said, "Man, I am good. In fact, I'm blessed!"

Attitude Makes Such a Difference
The unit he was entering is the one where people go for treatment who will be in wheelchairs the rest of their life. Usually they have blank stares or a hardness they've adopted as a coping mechanism. But this guy was different! He was shining a light that was burning bright!

As I walked out to my car, I couldn't help thinking about how easy it is to feel the "burden of the day"-- but I was walking! Today I was surprised. Instead of God working through me by speaking a word of encouragement, he encouraged me through this fellow who I may never see again. But I was definitely ministered to.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Learning to Drive

Our daughter turns sixteen next month, so we are on a week-long road trip in which she's doing almost all of the driving to "burn in" her driving skills. She's doing really well too!

Practical Mentoring
God brings many people into our lives to help mentor and guide us, and it's up to us to keep our eyes and ears open so we don't miss them. A number of years ago a friend shared a great idea with me that is the basis of our road trip.

As each of his children were about to earn their driver license, he took them on a one-on-one week-long road trip in which the kid did most of the driving. His was a GREAT idea!
  • It's a rare opportunity to have a bunch of conversations between a dad and his kid. I have said many times that it's not quality time, it's quantity time. That's because you can't plan quality time, you can only plan quantity time. And during some of that quantity time, some quality time may happen...
  • Giving your kid the keys to the car is... well... kind of scary! They'll be completely on their own when they're out driving, with no way for mom and dad to protect them other than with prayer (I am not downplaying prayer's importance). This kind of burn-in builds confidence, skill, and creates the opportunity to give a lot of driving tips.
  • Once the driver license is in their hands, kids spend very little time at home. This is almost like a last-ditch opportunity to spend time together... before everything gets even crazier.
Well, I'm thankful for the lesson I learned from my friend. And we're having a great time driving throughout the state of California! Our daughter will have driven through L.A. traffic, long boring stretches of freeway, canyon roads, steep and windy mountain roads, bridges (like the Golden Gate!), and San Francisco rush hour! And we've had a lot of fun dad-and-daughter time together.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Leave My Desktop Alone!

One of our favorite movies is Blast from the Past. It's about a family that locked themselves into an underground shelter because they thought a nuclear blast had occurred during the Bay of Pigs. At one point the dad comes to the surface and encounters a current-day surface-dweller. The dad says to him, "Leave my elevator alone!", which later becomes a mantra in the movie. That line is similar to Moses saying, "Let my people go!"

Well, I wish software developers would, "Leave my desktop alone!"

Personal Preferences
While it is not the personal preference of all, I like to keep my desktop as clean as possible-- no shortcuts. There are two I can't get rid of (Recycle Bin and BlueTooth), but my desktop is otherwise clean. Why, then, do software companies insist on cluttering up my desktop with their shortcuts every time I update their software? It's just rude!

Some Play Nice
Every now and then a software developer is nice enough to include in their installation routine a question that let's me tell it whether or not I want shortcuts added and, if so, where. But most don't care about me, they just want to mark up my screen.

Menus Too
Even though Microsoft has told me how my menus should lay out, I've decided that I like them labeled and organized differently. The other half of this rant is that they should leave my menus alone too and save me the time it takes to reset them to my preferences.

I know that many will think this is a little issue that I'm making a mountain out of, but someone has to tell them to respect our personal preferences! What do you think?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Our Preferred PDA Phone Spec

Many today want a full-featured PDA, but are tired of carrying that and a cell phone. Some of our clients have asked us what we recommend, and one recently commissioned us to research and find the "right" solution!

We've identified a PDA Phone spec that works well and synchronizes easily with Outlook and other files. It is the Treo 700wx from VerizonWireless, Sprint, and AllTel. Like all devices it's not perfect, but we think it's the best device that does what a person who relies on their PDA wants-- and who wants to combine that device with a good phone.

Some of our parameters were:
• The PDA Phone needs to have the options of using a keyboard or a stylus because some PDA programs are best used with a stylus rather than having to navigate from field to field with a navigation button.
• The PDA Phone needs to run a full version of Windows Mobile, not a watered-down subset. Many PDA phones run a limited version of Windows Mobile that won't allow the installation of many programs one could want on their PDA (these are often referred to as SmartPhones).
• Because our clients are nationwide and many also travel nationwide, the carrier needs to be one with a solid network that works well in most markets. VerizonWireless has proven itself over and over as the best.

A limitation of the Treo 700wx is that it runs Windows Mobile 5 even though version 6 has been released. At this time, it is the only device that met all of the above criteria, though there should be some new options available by winter.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

MS Office 2007 Article Interest

Today I published an article in Christian Computing Magazine entitled Microsoft Office 2007 that included some of my previous comments from this blog and more. In the first four hours since the magazine hit the digital streets I have gotten more email than on any previous article. That's good! And it's not surprising!

Office: A Love / Hate Relationship
A lot of folks LOVE Microsoft and it's products! There are things about Office 2007 that I really like, I didn't detail them in the article. Some are:
  • XML files are smaller
  • Office 2007 has a better calendar
  • All the suite modules seem to integrate better
  • It's nice being able to pin an oft-used file to the office button
  • The Excel Function Library is a big help
  • PowerPoint's animations and transitions are better
  • Videos, graphics, and pictures are better in PowerPoint
  • and more!
The Highest Priority
When I look at computer technology-- both hardware and software-- I evaluate it from the primary perspective of whether it will help those using it to be more productive than they previously were. This priority is important because I consult with churches and ministries nationwide, and I believe their mission is the most important there is!

Any technology that slows them down translates to people in ministry being less effective at fulfilling their mission. I'm not opposed to learning curves... improvements always require an adjustment period. But there are things that, even though I've been using Office 2007 for more than four months, still take me longer such as designing a new PowerPoint file (unless I merely modify an old one, using its template), working with our family's website, or anything I can't find quickly in the Ribbon.

Yes, there are things I like less in this version of Office, and they definitely slow me down considerably. Overall, I like it and believe it'll become the standard. I just wish I could be more productive in the interim.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Some Fun Technology

We got to spend the first part of our sabbatical in Hawaii! It was wonderful.

While there we visited with some friends who live there, and they showed me a website that lets you know when satellites, etc are viewable from any location! The site is called Heavens Above (www.heavens-above.com), and it's free and easy to use!

Putting in our GPS coordinates, it let us know when we could see with the naked eye, for instance, the International Space Station (ISS)! That's what this blog's picture is... taken from our camera in Hawaii!

I hope you have as much fun with this as we have,


Saturday, June 16, 2007

Sabbatical Rest

In response to God's call on our lives, Grace and I started the MBS ministry more than twenty years ago! We love how it has allowed us to serve so many churches and ministries nationwide and beyond. In addition to working for MBS, over the last 3-1/2 years I have been involved in overseeing my church's purchase of land and the ensuing entitlement, programming, design, and phase one construction processes. I'm beat!

Our family was encouraged by our church to take a four-week sabbatical rest together. So we're disengaging until mid-late July.

I look forward to re-engaging with renewed focus and energy, and trust that God will continue to work as mightily through me as he has in me. I am his bondservant.



Friday, June 8, 2007

Charging Cell Phones Without Wires!

At a CCMag Conference a few years ago Steve Hewitt predicted that someday we'll be transmitting electricity through the air-- no wires. The rest of us on the panel were astonished that he'd make such a prediction-- in fact, I laughed! Today it's happening!

The Future is Here!
Last November an MIT group announced they found a way to charge our cell phones without using wires, and a couple of months ago a Pennsylvania inventor actually created a product that does exactly that!

Think about where this could go:
  • Lighter cell phones with smaller batteries that never run out of power
  • Lighter notebook computers with smaller batteries that never run out of power
  • Electric razors, electric vehicles...
Is It Safe?
That's a question I think will be debated without end, just like they're still debating the safety of cell phones. The device uses radio technology, merely taking radio waves and turning their energy into DC energy. As the technology develops and matures, the possibilities are endless!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Just Tell Us!

You learned about a cool website, and to fully enjoy its content it requires you to register. So you fill out the form-- especially the required fields, and then click the Submit button.

Rejection! Why? Your password doesn't meet their minimum specifications!

Just Tell Us!
I don't know about you, but that really bugs me! My password is too short, or doesn't contain all of the right kinds of characters... whatever! Just tell us what's required before we submit the registration page so we won't have to do so again because we didn't know it required fourteen characters with numbers, letters, and at least one punctuation character!

Okay. I feel better...

Hmmm... I wonder if I should lengthen my default password to more than my first initial!

Macs Are On The Rise!

At this year's Spring Church IT Roundtable all in attendance made the same observation: we're seeing more Macs in our ministry offices. Some would say this is a good thing! Some would say it is not! Who's right?

Macs Are On The Rise
Why are so many in ministry offices buying Macs? Is it the commercials? Maybe. Is it because they look cool? Maybe. Is it because everything's easier on a Mac? Maybe not!

The facts are that the commercials are great, Macs look cool, and everything being easier on a Mac is only a rumor.

The Truth Will Set You Free!
When Jesus said this in John 8:38, it's amazing to consider that he already knew it would be a key theme in Conspiracy Theory and in this blog! But I digress... sorry...

Mac users contact their stores, experts, and professionals for help. Mac users contact their IT team for help too! So... everything may not be easier on a Mac. But some things are, like audio and video editing, photograph manipulation, and more.

Yeah, but...
The problem is that most ministry offices runs some software that won't run on a Mac. At least not "natively." It may run in parallel mode, or via terminal services or some other solution like it, but not in the native Mac operating system and interface.

The next issue, then, is whether or not the ministry's Mac users will begin using a separate database or accounting system, for example, because they don't like the Windows interface that's forced upon them when using the system selected for all other users. If they are willing to work with the software the rest of the ministry uses, like the database or accounting system, then I guess there's no holding them back!

Yeah, but!
The next issue, then, is how to support those on Macs if your IT staff only has PC knowledge and expertise. In that case, the Mac users may need to be on their own. What do you think?

Monday, May 28, 2007

Not All Smartphones are Created Equal!

I hate carrying multiple devices when I'm off work. So I have been watching with great interest the growing options that combine cell phones and PDAs. In fact, last year one was available that I was very excited about!

Motorola Q
The Q is a smartphone based on the Windows Mobile platform that is light, thin, and cool looking. (Yes, "cool looking" is a necessary feature!) So I bought one of the first. It's a love/hate relationship... here are the details:
  • Love the Phone Features: The phone features are good! Excellent reception, great speakerphone, and fairly easy to use (though the dialing buttons are a little on the small size for my medium-sized hands).
  • Hate the PDA Features: I am an advanced-- or at least intermediate-- PDA user. I use a number of programs to take notes, organize thoughts, track information, and so on. Unfortunately, Microsoft installed a very limited subset of its Windows Mobile OS on this phone, and it doesn't allow most of these programs to install. And those that do have limited capability because of the lack of a stylus and touchscreen.
What Have I Learned?
When shopping for a smartphone or PDA phone, decide what programs you'll want to run in the PDA OS and make certain they will run in the version loaded on the phone you're considering. If you use your PDA for little more than a calendar and contact list, a limited OS will work fine. If you depend on additional programs that don't come pre-loaded on the phone, you may have difficulties. Make sure you try loading them and testing their functionality while you're still in the timeframe in which an exchange is possible.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Harmony @ Home for Geeks

What true geek doesn't need at least three remotes to watch TV?!! And, since opposites attract, many of our spouses aren't as good with technology as we are... which frustrates them when they want to watch TV. ("What remotes do I need to turn on the TV? And how do I do it again?")

While speaking on a What's Hot / What's Not Panel at a conference last year (click here to listen to podcast), a panelist recommend getting a Harmony Remote by Logitech to bring all of the remotes into one very easy to use device. He said these bring harmony into our homes! He was right!

I purchased the model 890 because it uses RF transmission, eliminating the need to point at the devices I want to control, because we use a projection system and all our components are actually behind us. (The same feature set without RF is available in the 880, costing considerably less.)

The device is easy to program and works great! To watch TV, we press the "Watch TV" button and it activates and configures all of our devices (Dish, audio tuner, projector) for that mode! To watch DVDs, we press the "Watch DVD" button, and the system changes to that mode (Dish off, DVD player on, audio and projector re-configured)!

One caveat is that when programming the remote, we learned that the online client is better than the locally installed client.

Our pastor just bought a refurbished 880, and he and his wife love it! You gotta check these out!

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Making Office 2007 More Better

In my Office 2007 blog entry I mentioned that I minimized the Ribbon Bar and added shortcuts to the Quick Access Toolbar to regain my functionality. Here are screen shots of what I did in Word and Excel along with quick instructions on how to do it.

If you'd like to help your entire team in this way, once you've done this for yourself, just move the base files to everyone's startup folder!

(Click on the graphic, which will open it to your full browser screen, and then you can print it for reference.)


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Get IT Out of the Driver's Seat!

The IT Team is often perceived as the "No!" Team! In church and ministry offices, staffed mostly by entrepreneurial people, we are often asked about things folks want to try or do that we know may cause problems on the network. So we explain why they can't do that.

We also fix a lot of things because someone didn't ask first. When that happens, we try to educate the person, again explaining why they can't do something they want to.

Changing the "No!" Team
So we're the "No!" Team. How can we change that? At a recent CMA conference a colleague shared his solution that was both simple and effective.

First, keep a running list of the projects, short and long term, that are on your plate. This should include who originated the project and the priority assigned to it by your leadership during their periodic review of the list.

Then, when asked by members of your ministry team to prioritize some new project, don't say yes or no. Instead, show them the list of the projects you're working on and ask which one(s) they want bumped so you can get it done within the timeframe they need.

Sometimes it's The Boss!
This is especially helpful when the new project comes from your senior pastor or CEO! Since they're the ones who have helped set your priorities, they more fully understand your constraints. This lets them make the prioritization decision and gets IT out of the driver’s seat, a.k.a. the hot seat.

What works for you?


Monday, May 7, 2007

What's Different about Business Continuity?

Many of us in IT focus on the quality of our system backup-- or, at least we intend to. System backups are essential, but are they enough?

Disaster Recovery vs Business Continuity
Good backups are a way to be certain we can recover from a disaster. This is an IT strategy essential. In recent years, however, we've begun to learn that there is an added dimension to disaster recovery that is easily overlooked: business continuity.

Simply put, a business continuity strategy helps ensure that we'll be able to continue doing what we're supposed to while we're recovering from a disaster.

When Katrina hit (that's what this post's picture is from), church members and staffs evacuated in all directions. Very few had a plan that would allow their staffs to access their database and accounting systems while they were dispersed throughout the U.S. Those that did had a business continuity strategy.

How About You?
Do you have a business continuity strategy? While we pray that we'll never need one, the reality is that we might. And being a good steward may require that we had one in place.

I've written an article on this topic that has more details about what we recommend.


Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Productivity Suite Discussion

Barry Buchanon wrote a post about the various options available for our teams to use for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, etc. Most of us think of Microsoft Office for these programs. I usually refer to these programs as productivity software.

Barry's post sparked a dialogue between us about the whether or not Open Office, a free competitor to MS Office, could work in a church or ministry office. I told him:
I don’t think staff would stand for Open Office or any other solution than MS Office. Though I hate many aspects of MS Office (see my blog entry), one of the things I've learned over the years is that church staffs are vociferously dedicated to it. I have seen executive and IT staff members lose their jobs over this issue!

I could tell you story after story about situations like this. And the money spent (some would say wasted) on MS Office and many other programs doesn't matter! Many staff members won’t stand for anything else. Sounds almost cultish, doesn't it!
He responded with:
I think you are totally correct, the staff would revolt before giving up Office. My article was really for users having a solution for home or ministries starting up.
Barry makes a good point. If someone is starting a new ministry and isn't already a full-fledged member of the Microsoft tribe, Open Office is a great way to go. It will save lots of precious ministry-launch dollars, and could always be abandoned in later years if desired.

There's an interesting Wiki list and comparison of productivity suites that might be worth looking at if you're considering your options.


Sunday, April 29, 2007

How I Pray

Twice this week I was asked by friends about how I pray and what I do for my devotional reading. Though I'm obviously not "the standard" for how to pray, sometimes it's helpful to see how others pray and ask the Holy Spirit to challenge us. Having trusted my heart to Jesus more than thirty years ago, that's how I've come to my current-- yet evolving-- daily prayer time.

Devotional Time?
I'm not sure who coined the daily time with God as devotions, but it's a great term that I now own for my daily time with him. It's a time in my routine in which I choose to devote myself and my day to God. For me, I try to do this early in the day. Doing so, I find that it impacts my entire day.

I like to start my time by confessing my sins and transgressions so that I can start fresh with God. In my mind as I do this, I see sins as those things I intentionally chose to do which were displeasing to God, and transgressions as those which I unintentionally did or even that I'm not even aware of.

Sometimes I'm not aware of anything I've done since my previous devotional time, and so I simply ask God to forgive and cleanse me anew of any and all sins and transgressions in my life. However, when I am aware of any (more often than I want to admit), then I confess each by act or incident and underlying motive.

Now I'm Ready
Next I ask God for three categories of things, and some have subcategories.
  • "Please bless me and use me as you'd like." Here I'm asking God to do in and through my life as he'd like. I ask him not to be restricted by my shortcomings, weaknesses, or past. Rather, for all that he would like to do in me and through me, I'm giving him full reign. This is a little like Jabez' prayer in which he asked God to expand his borders, but is my adaptation that says I only want what God wants in my life. Not necessarily larger borders, though that'd be okay... but his will be done in and through me.
  • "Please be with me in all I say and do today." How could I possibly do what he wants me to do on my own strength? I ask specifically for:
    • Wisdom from his throne (see James 1:5).
    • Words that are appropriate in their circumstance (see Proverbs 25:11).
    • The manifestation in and through me of his fruit and gifts. While praying this I recognize that these are always for the purpose of building his church, not for self-promotion.
  • "Please keep evil far from me and remove the evil I've invited into my life." This is for my protection, the protection of those around me, and the protection of those whom he has entrusted to my care.
Once I've worked through these, I begin praying for specific individuals and groups, beginning with those I'm closest to and slowly working outward. I ask God for the same for them as I've prayed for myself along with any specific needs they may have that come to mind.

Finishing Up
At the conclusion of my prayer time I almost always pray that all I've asked is in Jesus name because he said in John 14:14 "You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it." I understand that to mean that it must be according to his purpose and for his glory... which is what I'm truly asking for.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Is anyone else in church and ministry IT concerned about Skype? Our research shows that using it has the potential of turning your system into a supernode. It may be that behind a firewall or without a public IP address bound to your NIC, there's no danger. What do you think?


Upgrading Your Church or Donor Database

Having consulted for churches and ministries for two decades, I've noticed that many churches and ministries change their database for the wrong reasons. Among the top wrong reasons I've seen:

  • The system is slow. Often this is because the computer(s) it runs on has aged significantly. These are often older systems that have not been kept current with patches and may be loaded down with adware, spyware, etc. The database change will require new hardware, so the new system will be faster! (Guaranteed success!)

  • XYZ church or ministry uses another system, so we should use that one too. The assumptions are that their team is better at identifying their needs, and that they have done an excellent job in researching the best database to meet their needs. (These assumptions are often not true.) And, if your ministry is in any way different than theirs, the solution they chose may not be the best one for you!

  • Changing databases for either of those two reasons usually means money will not have been well spent. Some of the right reasons to change are:

  • The database no longer meets our needs. Your ministry has grown in some directions the database provider never anticipated, and so a change is warranted.

  • The database meets our needs poorly. It makes sense to look for a new solution to improve the processes in place that are neither a good fit nor efficient.

  • A suggestion I usually make to our clients when they're looking to make a database change for these good reasons is to talk with their current provider to see if they will change or enhance the solution and make it better. If they agree to do so in a reasonable timeframe, the ministry saves time, momentum, and money.

    Having helped many through the process of researching and implementing new databases, I've found that few are prepared for the inevitable: a change in business processes. ("But we've always done it that way!")

    Changing databases means, among other things, a change in business processes. A reluctance to change processes often means forcing the new database to do things inefficiently. Many don’t realize this when they set out to find a new database, and because they haven’t talked that important issue through at the leadership and staff levels, they’re never happy with their new system.

    Keep in mind that there are users in your ministry that don’t want to change! Working this through from the leadership level all the way down can make a huge difference in a successful database upgrade.

    Each Fall I write an article that lists all of the providers of church and ministry databases. The 2008 article is freely available in PDF format by clicking here.