Tuesday, November 1, 2011

New Article: Keyboard Shortcuts

The Windows and Mac OSX operating systems each have built-in shortcut keystrokes that can be great time-savers. While this has always been true, I find that most computer users today have either forgotten many of them, or have never even known about them!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Managing Macs in Active Directory

In one of the communities I'm involved in we had some discussions recently about managing Macs in Active Directory.  Some are adamant that it must be done, while others (me included) don't see the value.

It takes a lot of effort to manage Macs in AD, and it's hard to find benefits that make the effort worthwhile.  In a recent roundtable I asked what the benefits were, and the only response was password management, reinforcing my position that it's not worth the effort.

We already automount network volumes for Mac users, and we require that Mac users use the same username and password on their Mac that they use on the network (we set them up-- or reset them-- that way).

What do you think?  Are there benefits beyond password management?  Is password management enough to make it worthwhile?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Annual Church & Donor Management Software Article - 2011

Church management software providers continue to improve their ability to help churches fulfill their mission!  With more abilities to track and communicate with people, improved web and mobile device interfaces, and powerful database tools, this category of software is a big help and useful asset for today’s ministries in reaching many for the Gospel.

To read it click here!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Introducing MBS' New Website!

We're excited to announce our new website today!  Same address (www.mbsinc.com), but a major technology update!

We've completely re-written the site in WordPress (it was previously in Joomla).  The benefits are greater flexibility, improved social media and SEO technology (SEO is search engine optimization), and a better way to deliver published article content.

Our webhost and designer, DigiCAL, designed a special article search engine for us that will make it very easy for site visitors to find articles I've written on the topics they want.

I invite you to check it out and to let me know what you think!

Monday, October 10, 2011

'Food Day' is in 2 Weeks!

That's right!  Food Day is just two weeks away!  I don't know if I can survive the anticipation!

Am I the only one getting tired of all of the special days, weeks, and months that are being calendared?

Here's just part of the U.N.'s list of special days:
  • February 21st is Mother Language Day
  • March 23rd is World Meteorological Day
  • September 16th is the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer
  • 2nd Wednesday in October is International Day for Natural Disaster Reduction
This sounds like the 'Name A Star' scheme where you pay someone to publish a document naming a star after someone.  Then, because they file a copyright claim for that document, the one charging the fee makes it sound like it's official.  But the International Astronomic Union's website states:

Q: Who is legally responsible for naming objects in the sky?
A: The IAU is the internationally recognized authority for naming celestial bodies and surface features on them.  And names are not sold, but assigned according to internationally accepted rules.

Q: What does this mean in practice?
A: Simply this: Names assigned by the IAU are recognized and used by scientists, space agencies, and authorities worldwide.  When observing stars and planets or launching space missions to them, or reporting about them in the news, everybody needs to know exactly which location a particular name refers to.  The names assigned by the IAU are those that are used.  These rules are firm where claims of property could theoretically be made, i.e. primarily in the solar system (where also treaties negotiated through the United Nations apply).  Terrestrial makers of international law have so far had more urgent concerns than creating rules for "buying" totally inaccessible corners of infinite space, so there is no written text that can be twisted and interpreted - just a plain and practical fact.

Q: But if I want to, can I buy the name of a star anyway?
A: Sure, there are people who will be more than happy to take your money....

Every organization seems to believe they have the right to own a calendar day and that everyone should dedicate it just for them and their cause!  It's tiring, and it reduces the significance of those dates that we really should focus on a need, cause, or event.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The World Will Miss Steve Jobs

That post title is a true statement, whether or not you're an Apple Fanboy.  Steve Jobs did the remarkable at Apple:
  • He brought Apple back from the brinks of bankruptcy by giving computers to schools; a gutsy move that paid off.
  • He had the vision to help change the computer, smartphone, and music industries.
  • He helped achieve a culture in computing that is remarkable.
Steve Jobs led an inspirational life in many ways.  However, it appears he missed in one way that he'll always regret.  While no one knows for certain the internal personal decisions he made regarding faith and religion, the best I can turn up in my research suggests that he followed Buddhist teachings and was not a Christ follower.  If that is true, he is not in a happy place now, and that is a fate we want for no one.

A colleague told me this morning that it'd be a shame if he did all those great things, but if he wasn't born again, it would all be over for him now.  I don't think that's exactly how it works.  The Bible says life is eternal, and that the single gate through which we can enter into a joyous eternity is belief in Jesus Christ.  If Steve Jobs did not walk through that narrow gate, then The Bible says he is not in a joyous eternity today.  And that is a shame.  And because of that one decision, he may now be missing the world even more than the world is missing him.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Concept of Getting to Work On Time

When talking with others in management at various companies, I often hear them complaining that today's work ethic is lacking.  While I agree that it has slipped among a portion of our society, I think some of the problem is that management's expectations are often not communicated very well.  And from the perspective of employees, it's easy to misunderstand what getting to work on time means.  Here's what I learned-- often the hard way-- when I was an employee:
  • Getting to work late multiple times can get you fired.  Yes, I lost more than one job because I wasn't punctual enough-- twice because as few as three times late within a month!  That doesn't mean an occasional 'late' because of traffic or some other unpredictable cause wasn't acceptable, but it needed to be rare and unusual (power outage, closed freeway, etc).  So, for jobs I wanted to keep, I learned to make certain I arrived 10-15 minutes early on typical heavy traffic days, giving me room for those fairly rare unusual traffic days.
  • The concept of getting to work on time meant something different to my employers than what I originally understood it to mean.  They wanted me at my desk (or whatever the job required) and working at starting time.  I learned the hard way that it did not mean driving into the parking lot or walking through the door at starting time; my employers seemed to want to only pay me for time I was actually working!
I hope that helps someone!  If you like your job, make sure you don't violate either of those two guidelines.  In addition to fulfilling your employer's expectations, you'll be perceived as someone who is motivated and it might even bring advancement or bonuses!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Password Giggles

An IT colleague shared with me today that they recently switched from passwords to passphrases (passphrases are longer passwords that are easy to remember).  The staff there has really taken to it, and the IT crew enjoys watching as some people giggle when logging in!

Here are some real passphrases that can get 'em giggling:
  • About husband:  Rick'sButtRocks!
  • About boss:  Tim'sAjerk,lol
  • About ex's lawyer:  use your imagination!
You get the idea.  Passphrases, in addition to being fun, can improve network security!

One friend creates very long passphrases to help him memorize verses.  Consider, for instance:

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

New Article: Transitioning to VoIP -- Our Experience

We decided to transition our organization to a VoIP phone system a couple of years ago.  We're glad we did-- doing so saved us a lot of money and improved our work processes.  We learned some things along the way that were not readily apparent, though.  They may help you whether you've already implemented VoIP or are just considering doing so.

To read the article, click here

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Lion Freezes Up? Here's a Clue!

Since upgrading to Lion (OS X 10.7, and then to 10.7.1), my Mac intermittently freezes up.  I haven't been able to find a pattern, but the programs I usually have running are Microsoft Office 2011 and my Bria softphone.

Today when it happened (at least the fourth time) I called AppleCare to see if they had any details on it.  We found a Safari plugin (I don't even use Safari!) from Leopard or Snow Leopard to be the most likely culprit!

In my user account login items, SIMBL Agent was listed.  We deleted it from that list (it's apparently known to have issues causing Lion to freeze up), but found that it still ran in the background when I restarted.  Se we went hunting and found it on my hard drive under Library\LaunchAgents.  Deleting it there stopped it from starting up on a restart.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

New Article: The Cloud Can Simplify IT

I just released a new article to publishers on how The Cloud can simplify IT-- and can save lots of cash flow in the process.  If you'd like to read the article, click here!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

An Ostrich View of Applied Medical Technology

My HMO, Kaiser Permanente, advertises that it wants it's customers to thrive, but only using older technology.

Some Background
My knee was injured in a triathlon when in college, and has been operated on six times.  It's beginning to hurt again and is making me cut back on activities, so I went in to see their lead orthopedist about it.  He's ready to replace my knee, and thinks it should be done soon.  I asked him for details on the technology he uses (which replacement knee), and he told me he's using the same solution that he's been using for the last 15-20 years.  He confirmed that it will only last 10-12 years, and that it will quite likely not allow me to continue surfing or cycling.  There are newer proven solutions available (I've paid for second opinions and done some research), but he said they stay with what they're using because it works.

So That Got Me Thinking...
What was technology like 15-20 years ago?  Here's a brief list:
  • No cell phones, smartphones, or text messaging
  • No hybrid cars
  • No digital data & video projectors
  • No satellite radio
  • No DVDs or BlueRay
  • No Facebook, Twitter, Google, Yahoo, Netflix
  • No Internet or email
  • People still used/ relied heavily on:
    • CRT monitors & displays
    • Faxes & US Mail
    • Telephones & extension phones owned by the phone company
    • Dot matrix printers
    • VHS & Beta video players
    • Answering machines
    • Typewriters
Wake up, Kaiser, and serve us better.  There's lots of good new technology available.  Help us thrive.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mac OSX 10.7 -- Lion

I've been running Lion for a couple of weeks now, and think I like it!  Yes, the download from the App Store takes forever, but it's worth it.

App Check
The first thing I did was check to see if all of my apps work.  They do.  Here's a quick list of the apps I use and rely on (all are the most current versions):
  • Microsoft Office 2011 (Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, Word, Remote Desktop Connection)
  • Firefox 5
  • Bria 3 Softphone
  • VMware Fusion 3.1
  • TweetDeck
  • Mindjet MindManager
  • SPB Wallet
  • GoToMeeting 5
  • iLife
  • iWork
  • Kindle
  • Logos Bible Software 4
They all work!  That's important, since it's not about the OS, but about the apps.

Network Integration
Integration with our Microsoft network is still good.  We don't add our Macs to Active Directory, but do automatically mount network volumes for easy access (see prior post for easy steps to do this).

A Coupla New Features
New versions of software don't have to be better, just different!  (One of our favorite sayings.)  While that may be true with Lion, there are a couple of new features worth mentioning:
  • Mission Control
    Mission Control replaces Spaces.  Admittedly, I was never a fan of Spaces, primarily because I didn't like how it impacted mouse movement.  Mission Control is similar in function, but better.  It acts more like the multiple screens on an iPad.  I like to the point where I'd say the meager $29.99 upgrade fee is worth it just for Mission Control!
  • Launchpad
    Launchpad is a simple way to see all of your apps.  It's a little like doing so on the iPad, and is convenient.  Some are predicting the death of the Dock because of Launchpad... we'll have to keep watching to see what Apple does with that.
Mouse Scroll Behavior Change
Lion takes the iPad concept to the mouse too.  Unfortunately, in its default setting the mouse scrolls up and down opposite to how computer users want it to.  But you can go to the Mouse or Trackpad preferences and fix it by simply un-clicking the "Scroll direction: natural" box.

A Coupla Minor Bugs
There are a couple things I hope Apple decides to fix, but they're minor:
  1. For some reason my sound setting keeps resetting itself to a very low volume setting.  I haven't found a pattern yet, so am thinking it's just a bug.
  2. When shutting down it always asks if you want it to re-open windows when logging back in.  Removing the check mark (which shows up checked every time) is often ignored... another little bug.
Is Lion Worth It?
I like keeping in current operating systems when I can.  This upgrade is very affordable and, I think, worth doing.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Is Chrislam Another Nigerian Phishing Scam?

This week I've been introduced to a new term: Chrislam. It's an attempt to fuse Christianity and Islam. Since these two religions are seemingly irreconciliable, I decided to do some reading on it.

Chrislam was founded in Nigeria in the 1980s. Nigeria. As an IT guy, 'Nigeria' makes me think of the many phishing scams that originate there. Is Chrislam another Nigerian phishing scam? I think so! The target of this scam, however, is not your financial resources. It is your soul.

Jesus was very clear; there is no way to heaven except by his atoning sacrifice. Like oil and water, Islam and Christianity cannot blend.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Support Arrogance

Everyone in IT has run into this.  While it's frustrating, it also makes for great jokes and lots of laughter-- later.

One example is Apple's naming of their support people "Geniuses".  Really?  I've rarely found one who was more than entry level.  I have many stories to tell of talking with Geniuses who didn't know what they were talking about.

Today:  Lion
I bought Lion via the App Store this morning.  It quickly accepted my purchase, then began downloading.  The download was crawling, even though we have very fast connections in failover configuration.  Finally, the App Store told me I lost my Internet connection.  A quick check proved that I still had a robust Internet connection, so I called Apple Support.

The AppleCare Genius I spoke with insisted that I had lost my Internet connection.  The problem was not Apple's.  I explained that our phone lines are not traditional lines, but are SIP trunks that connect over the Internet.  Thus they could not have told me our Internet connection was down in the call if it, in fact, was!  That didn't matter.

I suggested that Apple was merely being overwhelmed, causing the error.  I was told, after being put on hold and checking with their level two folks, that the problem was not Apple's.  It was definitely my Internet connection.

I just checked again, and I have more than 20mb of free bandwidth, but the App Store says it will take another 23 days and 14 hours to complete the download.

Friday, July 15, 2011

New Article: Changing the Username on a Mac

Have you ever wanted to change the username on a Mac? We need to do it fairly often, and though it's not as simple as one would think, it is easy if you know the steps.  I just released an article detailing them, and you can read it by clicking here!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Changing ChMS's

A church staff person emailed me this week asking about changing their ChMS (Church Management Software solution).  Their team has some dissatisfaction with their current solution-- even though it is one of the top solutions available.  Following is an excerpt from my response that may be helpful.
Changing ChMS's is a big undertaking, and you're currently using one of the top contenders.  My goal is not to talk you into staying with your current solution, but to add to the discussion.

It's always good for ministry teams to understand that there is no 'perfect' solution.  That means that no matter what ChMS you change to, there will at best be an 80-85% fit.  The questions to answer as you consider your current dissatisfaction revolve around trying to identify:
  • The needs your current solution meets and doesn't meet, and
  • The extent-- preferably expressed in a percentage-- your current solution is meeting/ not meeting your needs.
You may find by going through that exercise that the percentage is such that the change will likely not improve things-- especially if you're already at 80% satisfaction or above.  The cost of changing is not only the cost of the software, but also the cost of lost productivity during the transition.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mac Malware is On The Rise

For years I've been saying that the Mac is susceptible to malware attacks.  In fact, I'm on record in my articles that it's the most vulnerable of modern OS's.  The attacks on Macs are on the rise, and I encourage you to make certain your Macs are all protected with a solid anti-malware solution.  The one we recommend is Sophos.

Friday, May 6, 2011

New Article: Copier Buying Tips

While at the NACBA National Conference last year I was talking with Rob Leacock, Christ Church Fort Worth's business administrator. We were talking about his recent decision to replace their copier, and his process was impressive and effective! Especially how much money he saved!

I wrote a brief article about it; click here to read it.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Web Development & IT-- Are They the Same Thing?

While at a conference last week it hit me that those who are not entrenched in IT (information technology) often don't know there's a difference between web development and IT.  While the two are related (they both involve computers and data transfers), they are very different.

My Definitions
  • IT is the applied science of creating a data infrastructure that supports the applications a team needs to accomplish its mission.  It includes engineering servers, firewalls, switches and routers, workstations, and software.
  • Web Development is the applied art of communicating an organization's mission to help people understand the what's, why's, who's, and how's necessary to accomplish its mission.
I'm not saying web development isn't technical-- it is!  But it is very different from IT.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Today's Video Interview @ CLA

I rarely get asked to do video interviews.  In fact, today was only the second time!

While at CLA Dallas 2011 I was asked if I'd help Azusa Pacific's online course development team by answering a couple of questions in a video interview.  Are you kidding me?!! Of course!

The two questions were IT related.  Here they are along with a summary of my response:

Q:  What types of internal controls should ministries make sure they have in place related to information technology?
  • In addition to current firewall and anti-malware solutions, their networks should be configured to lock accounts after a number of unsuccessful login attempts.   This helps protect against hackers and bots.
  • Passwords
    • Contrary to popular belief, requiring that passwords be changed every 60-90 days in ministry settings actually lowers security.
    • Passwords should be at least 7 characters long and include at least one of each of the following:
      • Lowercase letter
      • Uppercase letter
      • Number
      • Common punctuation
  • Data should be organized in departmental folders that are only accessible by those with appropriate roles within the organization
Q:  When should an organization consider purchasing new accounting and database software?
  • Most ministries change their software for the wrong reasons.  A couple of the most common wrong reasons are:
    • The current software doesn't meet 100% of our needs.  The mistake people make is believing there are 100% solutions available.  That is a myth; 100% solutions do not exist.  If you can find one that meets 80%, that's good!
      • Regarding the percent of needs not met: if possible, adapt your business practices to close the gap rather than requiring the software to close the gap.  The organization will have a much higher likelihood of being happy with their software.
    • The solution is too complex.  Investing in training, which is a lot less expensive than changing software, will likely overcome this issue.
  • The two most appropriate reasons to change are:
    • The company has gone out of business or has been bought by a company that will no longer support the solution.
    • The ministry has come to recognize needs their solution cannot-- and will not within a reasonable time-- meet.  Before pulling this trigger, however, contact the current provider to see if they already meet the need (and you just don't know it) or if they are planning to within a reasonable timeframe.
That was fun!  But was my nose too shiny?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

MBS Transfers Policy & Procedure Handbook Template Series to ECFA

Here's a copy of our 4/18/2011 press release on this:

MBS (Ministry Business Services) and ECFA (Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability) are jointly announcing the transfer of MBS' "Policy & Procedure Handbook Template" series to ECFA. ECFA will make the policies available via its website, www.ecfa.org.

"We saw the need in churches and ministries for accurate, easy-to-implement policies, and enjoyed helping them by creating this series of templates," said Nick Nicholaou, president of MBS. "The templates are used in thousands of churches and ministries throughout the U.S. and cover the management of finances, human resources, information technology and risk. We often hear from folks how fast and easy these are to implement."

Nicholaou said MBS is focusing more on information technology solutions and that ECFA would be a good steward of the company's template series.

"ECFA is the perfect fit to continue providing these policies and procedures," said Nicholaou. "The organization has a solid reputation for advancing good church and ministry management."

The policies are in the process of being reviewed by ECFA experts in the field and will be incorporated into its robust web site Knowledge Center soon.

MBS (www.mbsinc.com) is a consulting firm specializing in church and ministry IT and CPA services. In the IT area they are known for high-reliability, low-cost data networks and cloud solutions.

ECFA, founded in 1979, provides accreditation to leading Christian nonprofit organizations that faithfully demonstrate compliance with the ECFA standards pertaining to financial accountability, fundraising and board governance. For more information about ECFA, including information about accreditation and a listing of ECFA-accredited members, visit www.ecfa.org or call 1-800-323-9473.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

New Article: Review of Microsoft Office 2010 & 2011

Microsoft released two versions of their Office Suite last year (Windows and Mac), and folks want to know if it's worth upgrading to them. The bottom line is, yes! On either platform!

To read the article, click here!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

New iPad2 -- Is It Worth Upgrading?

Okay, maybe I'm turning into a fanboy (aaggghh!), but I went to our local Apple Store to talk to the geniuses about buying a new iPad2.  There are some improvements and changes (it doesn't necessarily have to be better, just different!), but here's what they told me:
  • The processor is faster, but you won't likely notice a difference
  • The case is white
  • It has two cameras
The bottom line for me, they said, was that if I didn't need the camera, I should stay with the iPad I have.  That was good advice, I think-- and it saved me about $900!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Churches & Cell Towers May Not Mix!

There is a thread about cell tower panels on church roofs in a church administrators Yahoo Group I participate in.  Zach Watson, the Administrative Pastor for Boulder Valley Community Church, had an awesome contribution to the discussion.  Here's what he said:
"We considered allowing a cell tower on our building about 6 years ago, ultimately we decided not to.  The main reason we decided not to was due to the ever-increasing adult content transmitted via cell phones.  We simply did not want any part of our building be a conduit for that material."

Honestly, I had never considered that before!  WTG, BV leadership team!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

New Article: Security Vulnerabilities

A security expert said that about 40% of church websites are vulnerable! I've just released an article to publishers of some common vulnerabilities for websites and networks and their simple fixes... it may be a 'must read'.

I hope you find it helpful.

Click here to read it!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

WTG Houston CO+OP!

I had the privilege of speaking at the Texas Ministry Conference today in Houston, TX.  It is put on by the Houston CO+OP, and it was very impressive!  With more than 600 registered attendees and over 800 total in attendance (exhibitors, volunteers, and speakers included), it's impact for The Kingdom was impressive!

WTG, Houston CO+OP!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Mac Firefox Fix: Tab Key Skips Some Fields

I use and support both Mac and Windows systems.  I do most of my work on a Mac, and Firefox is my favorite browser.

In Firefox, when using the Tab key to move from field to field in Firefox, it natively wants to skip over any non-text fields.  For instance, when completing an online form and moving from the City field to the State field, if the state field is a pull-down option field, using the Tab key skips over it.

The fix is a simple Mac OSX Preference setting!  I found it at this website (click here), but in case they remove the page, here's a screen shot of the fix:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Yup! Today's the Day!

Well... it was The Day twenty-six years ago!  That was the day my bride, Grace, and I took our vows and officially began our life together.  She was a beautiful bride, and still is.  I was a goofy groom, and still am.  But we love each other and have survived by keeping God at the center of our relationship, keeping our friendship fresh, and not taking ourselves too seriously.

I love you, Grace!  Thanks for putting up with me for 26 years!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Android Giggles

While traveling this week I received a text message on my Droid from a CITRT colleague, but my Droid phonebook said it was from my wife!  I never checked the phone number behind the text message, and believed what my Droid reported.

I responded to her, I thought, saying, "I love you sweetie, and hope you sleep well tonight."

Imagine my colleague's surprise when he got that response!  He responded in kind, saying, "I love you too, Nick! I did sleep well!"

Well... it's nice to know those you work with love you...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

IT People Beware!

There's been a spirited discussion in one of the church Yahoo groups about a church whose team wants to change ChMS software for what appears to be all the wrong reasons.  The IT Director voiced opposition to the change, and sought the advice of other church IT people.

The conversation was, indeed, high quality and spirited, and then one of the folks said that in that situation the decision should be the IT Director's, and that they would resign if it went against the IT Director's choice.

This turn in the conversation raised a caution flag in me, so I joined in and suggested differently.  Here's what I said:
I have worked with many churches over the years in the IT field, and I don't know of any church IT Director who feels as strongly as you that the ChMS decision is theirs. Ultimately all decisions in a church are the pastor's or the governing board's, but this decision is usually owned by the leadership team (which may include the IT Director), and it's the IT Director's role to fully support it. Your church may be different, but if not, I hope that helps.

Some advice I have given many is to never own a hardware platform or software solution so strongly that it defines you. Technology and people change so much and so fast that doing so always puts a horizon on one's career.

His response showed his heart was in the right spot, and he's doing what's right.  WTG!

What do you think of the advice I gave?  Is there a software or hardware solution you're holding too tightly?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

New Article: IT-- Truth or Dare!

There are many misconceptions about the Internet, hardware, and software that impact the decisions people make. This article sheds a little light on them... to read it click here!