Sunday, December 28, 2008

My 2009 Challenge-- What I Hope To Do

Our church decided to give all the volunteers and staff the day off this last Sunday of 2008. It's the least attendance Sunday of the year, so they decided instead to give us a devotional to help us look at the year just concluded and pray for what God has for us in the year ahead.

Before doing the devotional with my family I attended the Second Life service at The message inspired and challenged me. It also impacted what I would say during our family devotional time.

2009 Will Be Challenging
For the first time in many years, I'm wondering if God will move us this year. We're as overextended as many in Southern California, and so it's not beyond the realm of possibility. I mentioned this to my family as we shared our concerns for 2009.

I also mentioned that my biggest concern over possibly having to move is that I don't feel we've impacted our neighbors enough cor Christ. We've sponsored and hosted neighborhood block parties and movie nights, but only one person in the fifteen homes here has decided to place their trust in Jesus in the twelve years we've lived here.

So I challenged my family to think of practical ways we can serve our neighbors, believing it will have a greater spiritual impact on them. The way I thought of was to use my computer and bicycle repair skills for them. Please pray with me that we would see more trust in Jesus before our time in this neighborhood comes to an end-- whether in 2009 or in 2049.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

It's Christmas!

Merry Christmas! 2008 has been a good year of ministry for our family and for our team, and we're grateful for all God brought our way. Even the homegoing of my wife's father... he lived and died well-- a saint to the end.

I hope this season is all you want it to be, and that the year to come is even better in every way than 2008 was. It looks foreboding in many ways, but it also looks full of hope!

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

New Small Mac! Introducing the Mactini!

Enjoy this announcement video for the smallest Mac so far!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

This'll Make You Smile! (Is That OK?)

Dean Lisenby posted a blog today with an embedded video that is definitely worth watching (thanks, Dean!). It take 16 minutes, but it's VERY good. Turn on your speakers or put on your head phones; here it is!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

PC & Mac Video Chats that Work!

Howdy. I'm a Mac, and my wife is a PC. We've tried a few technologies to video chat, but none have worked well. I can video chat flawlessly with other Macs, and she can do so with other PCs, which led me to conclude that it must be due to our differing platforms. And maybe because of the atmospheric differences between Venus and Mars...

Hope Rekindled
I noticed that Tony Steward was doing a large video conference (more than sixty participants!) on TokBox, so decided to check it out. It works! I've had a number of video chats across platforms today, and each worked!

TokBox is worth looking at. And it's free! w00t!!

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Blackberry Storm

I've been using a Windows Mobile PDA phone for some time and I rely on its PDA features. But many of our clients have bought Blackberry phones, so I decided I would switch when the Storm became available. That would help us better support Blackberry phone users on the networks we support.

By the way, I would love to try an iPhone, but our company is locked into nearly a dozen two-year contracts with Verizon. We like Verizon, and the iPhone is only available on AT&T, which would be costly.

Early Christmas!
My Blackberry Storm arrived a couple weeks ago. How fun to get and try something new. I activated it and configured it, but found that because I use a Mac I couldn't install many of the applications I rely on. And the BB Desktop Manager wouldn't work on my virtual Vista machine. Hmmm...

So I began looking for replacement applications. Though disappointed at this point, I was okay with changing in the name of progress. I deal with that a lot...

Exchange Server Software
Then we installed and configured our Blackberry Professional Software; a scaled down version of Blackberry Enterprise Server. We were told it was nearly the same software, but with a thirty-user limit. Well, it wouldn't synchronize between my phone and our Exchange server. But fortunately it came with a complimentary technical support incident, so we decided to give 'em a call.

A day and a half later of almost constant tech support and engineering, the synchronization began. w00t! BB said they weren't used to working with virtual servers, and that was our problem. (Those of us who work with virtual servers know that wasn't the issue.)

Finally, I as on my way to enjoying the Blackberry experience. That is, until synchronization stopped about twenty-four hours later. Hmmm...

Well, on to the actual phone...
I found it very hard to type on the phone. It often wanted to use a key my thumb was barely touching rather than the one it was entirely over. That made for very slow texting. In addition, it was really hard to move the cursor back to a position where I needed to make a correction, so I found myself having to backspace a lot to correct errors.

When the phone synchronized with exchange, it didn't pick up all of the contact data. So I had to correct a lot of my contact data.

The phone got very good cellular connections even in weak areas, and the camera was excellent. But those weren't enough for me, so I switched back to my old Windows Mobile PDA phone after a couple of weeks of trying to make the Blackberry work.

If you are a non-corporate user who wants this phone almost exclusively for making calls, playing music, taking pictures, etc, it's a good phone. If you're a corporate user who needs to rely on its PDA functionality, you may be disappointed by how difficult it is to navigate.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

This'll Make You Think! (Is That OK?)

Jeff Wilson just posted a blog (one I recommend following!) with an embedded video truly worth watching. Thanks, Jeff! Here it is:

We're Celebrating!

Our daughter, Amanda, is a 17 year old junior in high school. This semester she decided to take pre-calc at the community college because she'd be able to get it done in one semester there vs two semesters in high school.

The class was much harder than she anticipated. As it turns out, she hadn't had trig yet, so she had to self-study trig while taking pre-calc. As the final approached she found herself barely passing. So she studied very hard. I mean VERY hard! Today she saw her grade online-- she got 85% on the final, which pulled her up to a B in the class!

Way to go, Amanda! You didn't give up and you did your best. God has blessed you for it. Your mom and I are very proud of you.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

New Church Management Software Article

I have the privilege each year of publishing an article listing church management software (CMS) providers and what they say their software can do. I’m surprised each year to hear it is one of the most requested articles for reprint, likely making it the most authoritative reference on the subject. Click here to download an advance copy in PDF format!

What does the article have to do with Krispy Kreme donuts? Nothing! I just like their donuts!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I Love Trash Day!

Okay, I know this sounds kinda weird, but I really do love Trash Day! There's something that feels good about putting all my trash out and having a 'trash authority' come and remove it all for me.

Maybe it's because that's what happened for me spiritually a little more than thirty years ago when I trusted my life to Jesus. He removed the weight of sin from my life and gave me a fresh start.

So Trash Day is a reminder to me that Jesus has cleansed me from my sin (the trash in my life) and removed its eternal consequences. And I love that!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Managing IT in a Tight Economy

The economy has taken a serious downturn. There’s no more disputing that fact, and it’s affecting church and ministry budgets. Are there some things you can do to keep your computer system stability and reliability growing when finances are tight? I think so, and wrote an article about it. Click here for a free PDF copy.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

I Am Second

Every now and then a website comes along that is so compelling I want to share it with as many as possible.

I Am Second is one of those websites. I strongly recommend you check it out. I bet it grabs you like it did me!

Monday, December 1, 2008

AppleCare Kudos!

It's easy to trash a company's tech support when I'm frustrated, and working with as much technology as I do, I'm bound to get frustrated with just about every company eventually. That said, it's nice to say, "Way to go!" when a company goes beyond what they're required to and takes extra care of me (especially if they don't know I'm a member of the press!).

AppleCare took extra special care of me today, and they deserve kudos for it! Thanks Apple, for going the extra distance.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

VMware Fusion On Sale for 50% Off 12/1/2008 Only!

VMware is selling Fusion for 50% off on December 1st only! Click here to make your purchase from their site! Fusion is the best way to run a Windows or Linux virtual PC on a Mac.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

2009 IRS Standard Mileage Rates

Today the IRS announced the standard mileage rates effective 1/1/2009. They are:
  • Business: $ .55
  • Medical & Moving: $ .24
  • Charitable: $ .14

For the remainder of 2008 the rates continue as:
  • Business: $ .585
  • Medical & Moving: $ .27
  • Charitable: $ .14

Monday, November 10, 2008

New Article on Mobile Phones & Devices

A colleague recently asked me which phone I use and why. I thought answering his question and explaining how to choose a phone might make a helpful article! I just released it for publication... advanced copies are available by clicking here!

Getting a Good Seat on Southwest Airlines

A friend who flies Southwest Airlines a lot for business shared with me his trick for getting a good seat. I was glad to hear it because I avoid SW as much as possible specifically because of the way they do their seating. Here's what he does:

While waiting to board, he scans the front of the first group and looks for younger couples flying together; couples without kids. He has observed they'll often occupy the window and isle seats, leaving the middle one open because they're hoping for more space. When he boards he goes to sit between them, and they almost always vacate the isle seat so they're not separated.

Pretty smart, huh!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Our New President-Elect -- Congrats, U.S.!!

Yesterday’s political decision was truly historic. Just decades after civil rights marches, we have a black president-elect! This is a good moment for the United States of America.

How I Voted
I come from a very conservative part of the country; I am an independent conservative and did not vote for Mr. Obama. Some with whom I've spoken today are concerned about the future of our country— not because he’s black, but because he is so liberal. One even went so far as to say he’s evil!

What does scripture say? Romans 13:1 says our authorities are put in their position by God! For our good! And that was written at a time when the political leaders-of-the-day were killing Christians!

While the coming political season in the U.S. will be interesting to watch, let’s agree to pray for the success of our leaders— even those for whom we did not vote— in accomplishing what God put them in place to accomplish.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Do Gays Want Free Speech?

California is going through a challenging time regarding the gay community vs the non-gay community. The gay community believes strongly in free speech, and bases their right to demonstrate and do things like hanging effigies of Sarah Palin on free speech.

But they're not fair in their application of free speech.

A neighbor had a sign in her front yard supporting California's Proposition 8, which defines marriage in the state constitution as between one man and one woman-- until it was taken! The sign said "Proposition 8 = Free Speech"! How ironic.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

VMware Fusion Error- Found & Fixed!

VMware's Fusion is a terrific way to run Windows on a Mac. I ran into a problem the engineers at VMware hadn't seen before and couldn't fix (yes, we have a direct line to them). In fact, they were leaning towards blaming it on Microsoft-- which may be accurate-- but it was caused by Fusion.

Here are the details:
  • Fusion allows you to launch a PC application even when Fusion isn't running by double-clicking on a file type that requires a PC program.
  • I tried that on a Microsoft Visio file, and got all sorts of Visio errors that caused my virtual PC to restart. The specific results were that Viso opened slowly, then opened 25-30 windows very quickly, shutting them down just as quickly, then restarted the PC (which is running Vista Ultimate). Opening Visio natively in the virtual PC had the same results. Visio was unavailable-- period.
  • I tried uninstalling and reinstalling Visio. Same problem. I combed the registry and found nothing. I called VMware, and their programmers said that based on what they do, it must be a Visio problem-- even though the problem started when I tried this new functionality of opening a PC file from the Mac without Fusion running.
I went back to the PC's registry and looked for more clues. Here's what I found:
  • I had Visio set to reopen the last file automatically. It was pointing to that same file, whose path it couldn't resolve.
  • We map drive letters to point our PCs to various areas on the network. Drive N points to the redirected My Documents folder on the network. The line in the registry that formerly told Visio to start in "n:\" now pointed to "n;\".
  • Removing the file from the start line in the registry and fixing the StartIn path resolved the issue.
I called VMware's engineers and let them know so they can put it in their knowledgebase.

Friday, October 17, 2008


I got a ticket in the first few days of California's new cellphone law. I know I've earned many tickets for which I was never caught, so I just paid the ticket. An option was to take traffic school to keep the point off my record and keep my insurance low, just $57-- and two nights. I agreed.

While in traffic school last night I learned that my infraction may not have been one that earns a point; that it's treated more like a parking ticket. But the instructor (who probably gets paid per attendee) said he I should stay in the class in case that info is not accurate... so I stayed. This morning I confirmed that it's a non-point infraction; the courts should not have offered traffic school as an option.

So I sat through four hours of grueling torture last night, all the time realizing that I freely chose to be there even though I probably didn't have to be. I wonder if that's kind of like what Hell will be like-- sort of Hell-Lite.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Okay... So I Guess I Don't Get It...

Gasoline prices are still very high! Though Americans are glad to see prices inching down towards $3.00/gallon-- and sometimes less-- I don't understand why they're still above $2.00. Here's my thinking:
  • The gas companies say they price their gasoline based on the cost to replace inventory. That's a reasonable accounting method (lifo, or last in first out), but it needs to be consistently applied.
  • Now that oil is below $80/barrel-- less than half it's all time high from just months ago, why haven't they adjusted the price of gasoline down by the cost to replace inventory? It's as though they are using another accounting method-- fifo (first in first out)-- which is just plain wrong.
They've always got the same old excuses about the cost of exploration, etc; but those costs were built in before the cost per barrel skyrocketed, right? Has the cost for exploration increased significantly in recent months? I doubt it. But once again, they've gotten the American people complacent about a methodology that raises their revenues beyond reason. And what does Congress always do? They investigate, which generates income from lobbyists, then declare no wrongdoing found.

I'm ready for a change... are you?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Congress Just Can't Control Themselves!

I pulled down a copy of the Rescue Bill's table of contents today because I had heard rumors of lots of pork. I was astonished to see what Congress has packed into this emergency legislation needed to bail us out of the financial crisis it appears they have created! Here are a few things I found:
  • Authority to Suspend Mark-to-Market Accounting (this will actually fix one of the laws Congress enacted following Enron that has caused the recent collapse of so many companies)
  • Energy Project Tax Credits! For renewable energy, electricity generated from marine renewables, wind generation, geothermal heat pumps, steel industry fuel, coal gasification, biomass ethanol plants, biodiesel and renewable diesel, plug-in electric drive cars
  • Increased taxes to fund black lung disabilities
  • Environmental Tax Credits! For carbon dioxide sequestration, energy-efficient buildings, green buildings and sustainable design projects
  • Transportation Fringe Benefits for Bicycle Commuters
  • Something called a Carbon Audit of the Tax Code
  • Expense Deductions for Elementary & Secondary School Teachers
  • Rum Excise Taxes for Puerto Rico & The Virgin Islands
  • Economic Development Credit for American Samoa
  • Credit for Mine Rescue Training & Equipment
  • Indian Employment Credits & Accelerated Depreciation for Business Property on Reservations (sounds like Casino help!)
  • Railroad Track Maintenance
  • Motorsports Racing Track Assistance
  • D.C. Tax Incentives
  • Tax Relief for the film industry and those who import toy wooden arrows
  • Funding to encourage mental health and substance use disorder parity with other health insurance provisions
What do these have to do with getting us out of our current financial crisis?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Boy I Like My New Bike!

Well, good exercise is getting harder for me to get these days... and it's not just because I'm lazy!

You may not know that I'm legally disabled... according to the U.S. military and the State of California. My spine has fused itself at both ends, and I've had six knee operations resulting from a college triathlon injury.

I was, when in college I was a monster cyclist! But my triathlon knee injury was exacerbated by a series of automobile accidents where folks kept running into me (those wrecked my neck), and I couldn't ride any more. Then I took up surfing! But I had to stop that last year because it was bothering my neck.

Then I got to thinking... what about those recumbent bikes where you sit back, like you're on an easy chair!

So I started test-riding them at Richard's Bicycles, a terrific bike shop in our area that's great to work with. All of the recumbents were good on my spine issues, but the geometry of the RANS Stratus XP was also good on my knee! So I ordered one with an aluminum frame (aluminum frames are not only a little lighter, they're also stiffer so more of the pedaling energy is transferred to the wheels instead of being absorbed by a flexible frame).

I picked it up this week, and have already ridden it a bunch! I'll likely have more than fifty miles on it by the end of the weekend! Not bad for a guy who hasn't ridden in years! And my spine and knee are all feeling terrific!

Maybe this will help me get the exercise I should and keep me healthier. And the best part is-- it's fun!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

New Article on WiFi Stability & Other Tips Posted

I just posted a new article on WiFi stability and other tips I picked up while at Granger Community Church's IT Forum yesterday. You can download it in PDF format for free!

I'm Now on Twitter!

A couple of friends encouraged me to start Twittering. If you Twitter you can follow me: mbsnick.

Monday, September 15, 2008

'Tis the Season!

This week is the Church IT Roundtable at Granger Community Church! And then next month Seacoast Church hosts the official Church IT Roundtable! It's always a great time to share challenges and solutions-- I hope to see you there!

Thursday, September 4, 2008


This is a topic I don't usually talk about in forums like this because it can be so polarizing. But I must say that I'm pretty fed up with politics, and I don't think I'm alone. In fact, I changed my party affiliation this year in protest. I'm no longer tied to any party; in California it's called decline to state.

Here are a some of my observations:
  • Most politicians have lost nearly all interest in representing their constituencies and are now focused almost entirely on representing their political parties and their special interests. Evidence of this is in the details of every bill passed by congress at the state and federal levels. They always have myriads of provisions used to buy supporting votes; they never just address the issue they purport to address.
  • Most news broadcasters no longer report, they influence. I listened to the major speeches of both party conventions and was disgusted with those who tried to interpret what I just heard as though I couldn't figure it out for myself. Even worse was the obvious bias they displayed in doing so! It was not objective reporting in any way.
  • I was impressed by Obama's speech at his convention by his inspiring words. I was disappointed, though, when he made promises that no politician could ever accomplish! I've heard such promises before, and then heard politicians later say they didn't realize how complicated the issues were and how hard it is to move such a large bureaucracy. He was very inspiring, but I concluded that his promises were empty. Then I watched the Saddleback Civil Forum where he said one thing that I didn't like: faith-based organizations who accept federal funds will not be able to discriminate in their hiring based on religious beliefs. In the same forum, McCain said they need to be able to hire only those of like faith or their effectiveness will be severely compromised.
  • I was surprised as I listened to Palin's speech last night-- she is a strong player who reminded me a lot of Ronald Reagan. Then I got to thinking of the promise for change Obama made, realizing he hasn't done anything in the Senate yet that reached across party lines on our behalf... but McCain's done that so much that he's been a thorn to his party. Obama's running mate has been in the Senate for nearly 30 years, so he seems like part of the problem; McCain's running mate effectively shook up the politics of her state and likely has the character to do the same in Washington.
Well, I feel like a revolution of sorts needs to take place in our political system. Politicians need to rededicate themselves to serving their constituencies and not their parties and special interests. If that doesn't happen, the Democratic and Republican parties are doomed to be replaced.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Alaska-- Surprising Beauty!

I've heard folks talk about the beauty of Alaska for years. This week I learned it is a land one needs to experience for themself-- and it is beautiful.

The highlight for me so far (we have two days left) was definitely Glacier Bay. Glaciers have an unparalleled beauty that truly captures the imagination. And we saw a bunch of them!

When glaciers break off into the sea, it's magnificent! They crack like someone is splitting dry lumber, then drop into the water. Large pieces cause a wave; it's very cool.

A Welcome Surprise
When we entered Glacier Bay a boatload-- literally!-- of park rangers joined our ship to help us understand what we were seeing. Believe it or not, they don't blame glacial retreat on global warming! They readily explain that glaciers have been advancing and retreating on their own schedule since the last ice age! (Consider Yosemite, for example!) We saw glaciers that were retreating, staying about the same (producing as much new ice at the top of the 'ice river' as they gave to the sea), and some that were advancing. Even the local native naturalist spoke of the natural cycles of glaciers.

A Few Tips
  • If at all possible, do this cruise with friends that you and your family enjoy a lot. It makes a terrific difference eating meals with good friends as opposed to 'new friends'.
  • Very few ships are allowed into Glacier Bay. In fact, only two daily, and they are almost only Holland America or Princess Cruises. Make sure your ship will be going into the Bay before booking.
  • The weather is entirely unpredictable! We were blessed by having weather in the 60s, 70s, and 80s! Book your trip for the peak of Summer... mid-August was perfect for us!
Well, that's my blog from the ship! I hope you're having a GREAT week... we are! :~D Blessings!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Alaska Here We Come!

I've noticed that many in ministry never take time off for extended vacations. By extended, I mean more than one consecutive week. I've always had two concerns about this:
  1. We and our families need extended time together. So many times, kids and spouses of those in ministry burn out and get embittered with God. I think one of the reasons is that they feel the pain of someone close to them being taken from them more than is reasonable. Another reason may be that the 'ministering' time we should be spending to help lead and refresh our family members doesn't get to happen.
  2. We are supposed to model to those watching-- within the church and outside the church-- how to live life well and honor the Lord while doing so. Taking appropriate breaks is part of living life well.
Some will say they can't take that amount of time off. If that's your response, I encourage you to re-think how you manage your responsibilities so you can take extended time off. You are not indispensable to the Kingdom work being done in your ministry! The proof of that will be when you're called home to Heaven-- what will happen then?

I wrote an article awhile back that explores this topic in greater detail with some helpful suggestions shared with me by one of the church's greatest leaders, Dr. Ted Engstrom. I encourage you to check it out! It's freely available from our website; just click here!

Someone once said we can't plan on quality time, but we can plan on quantity time during which there may be some quality moments. That's what I try to do... and I hope you do too.

So, tomorrow before dawn my wife and I take off for some extended time in Alaska, Canada, and then playing in our own community with our daughter. We can't wait!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Hotel Sierra - What a Surprise!

While traveling this week on business in Seattle, I was surprised to learn there were very few hotel rooms available. There didn't seem to be any particular event, according to those with whom I spoke... they were just very busy!

Well... I had to stay at a hotel that was a little further from my client. It was Hotel Sierra, and its high quality caught me by surprise! They gave me a one bedroom suite that was completely new and very nice (HD TVs and free internet!), and the cost was less than the regular rooms in the area! The staff was terrific, and they even cook omelets to order in their breakfast (included with the room!)!

Hotel Sierra, I was impressed! I'll be trying to stay with you again!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

New Article on Reasonable Network Security Posted!

I just posted an article on network security. Here's the opening paragraph:
Church and ministry networks have unique security needs. Many mistakenly approach network security in our niche like they would a club or hobby, and thus don’t go far enough to protect our data and our team. Others mistakenly go so far they impede the team and increase their support call volume unnecessarily. We have worked or consulted on hundreds of networks in churches and ministries, and we have developed an approach that protects and empowers while minimizing support needs. I’ll share it with you so you can enjoy the same results.

It's available for free download from our website-- click here for the PDF!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Get Smart -- The Movie

Today while on vacation my family and I went to the movies and saw Get Smart. It was SO good! If you're a movie goer, this one's a must see. It's very funny and pretty family friendly!

The movie ties nicely to the old TV series, but not obnoxiously so... just enough to draw a good connection. It's a well done screenplay that stands on its own and may be the best movie I've seen in a couple of years! We laughed so much and so hard!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Free & Easy Posting of Excel Charts to Web

Many churches send weekly and/or monthly reports to board and committee members on a weekly basis about attendance, offerings, etc. Those reports are usually expressed as merely numbers, but could easily be turned into charts. Well, there's a new website that posts your charts on the web, does it nicely, and it's free!

I learned about this from the Mr. Excel Podcast, episode #805. It's 2 minutes well spent that may really help you get the information out in a way that communicates very well! Check it out!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Okay... So God's Still Got Work to Do in Me

Today while boarding a flight, the gate agent decided that my bag-- of all the bags in line-- needed to be put in the sizer rack to see if it was too big. There were lots of folks with larger ones, but she decided to focus on my bag. It was about an inch too long, and so had to be checked-- over my protest.

My Anger Burned!
I sat on the plane and was so angry because so many oversize bags were being stuffed into the overhead compartment! Why me? It wasn't fair!

Then I sensed God saying somewhere deep within, "Why are you so mad, Nick? Is it supposed to be fair? Are you supposed to get special treatment? Just serve me with a good spirit, and you'll be okay."

Still In Process...
Well, there you go again! Yet another time when I needed to grow! Unfortunately, I bet it won't be the last! ;~)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

New Article on Mac Tips & Tricks

Here's the opening paragraph from an article I just wrote:

Macs and PCs do mostly the same things, but they do them differently. Each platform has its quirks, and since I now use a Mac I’m learning some good tips and tricks that make me more productive on it. A couple of these have been in my previous Mac articles, but most haven’t. They may help other Mac users— especially those who are former PC users or who primarily support PCs— understand how to make the Mac work a little better.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Congrats, Shelby Systems!

Congrats to Frank and his team at Shelby Systems on their new World Headquarters! Frank and his team just moved into their new building... how wonderful it is to see God blessing those who serve him so well!

Please, God, continue to bless and use the Shelby team as one of your sharp tools, helping many ministries in their efforts to build your kingdom! Amen.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

When Fruit Spoils

I've had an interesting ride with Apple. Working with them and their products is not quite as good and easy as the commercials would have you believe. I'm working on my 3rd replacement MacBook Pro.

I received my 2nd replacement in late March. Within two weeks I was calling Apple because the hard drive had 'unregistered' files on it that couldn't be found, but were consuming about 1/3 of the drive. Then, a few weeks later I met with the lead genius at the Apple Genius Bar because of recurring 'kernel panic attacks' (think blue screen of death... only it's black).

Even though the lead genius insisted the problem was my software, Apple eventually decided it was the logic board (Mac-speak for motherboard) and replaced the unit, which I've been using for a couple of weeks now and all is well.

I called today to transfer the extended warranty coverage (Protection Plan) to the new MacBook Pro. I was surprised they were charging me for having the old system for a couple of months while they figured out what was wrong with it! Here's what I learned:
  • If you don't buy their Protection Plan, you get 90 days of free unlimited tech support plus one year warranty coverage.
  • If you buy their Protection Plan, everything changes! Your warranty doesn't kick in until the Protection Plan runs out (2 years), then the warranty coverage begins-- but you get free unlimited tech support for all three years. That's why they only refund a portion of the Protection Plan even though the request is made within 90 days.
I found that confusing! Am I the only one?

Monday, July 7, 2008

SPAM's Hittin' Hard!

SPAM seems to be on the increase! Have you noticed it too?

We host SPAM filtering for churches and ministries for a flat rate of only $50/month per email server-- regardless of how many users are on their system. Sundays are usually slow SPAM days. But yesterday our Barracuda 600 was hit by more than 132,000 emails, of which under 1,100 were valid! More than a third were unknown users!

The SPAM servers are spitting out tons of junk! How are you protecting your team?

Why Dean's One of My Heroes

Dean Lisenby is one of my heroes. He is a terrific IT guy, and has a heart that is solidly "after God's own heart."

I sent an email to him this morning, and got an auto-response that was wonderful! It said:
I'm out of the office until July 7th attempting to recover from being an email addict. I am enjoying my family and will not respond immediately. I will only be checking email once a day at night, when possible. My 6 year old daughter has made it clear that emails and text messages are not acceptable during family time.
Way to go, Dean! Thanks for prioritizing your family time! That is something you'll never regret.

Dean doesn't take himself too seriously either. When visiting the ACS offices a few years ago, I walked into a dress-up day (was it on Halloween, Dean?). Dean and I took this picture together.

Dean is one of many whom God has graciously allowed me to get to know. I'm thankful for guys like him who lead the way and show what it means to love your God, your family, and those with/for whom you work. Thanks, Dean! And he's a snappy dresser!

Lead on, brother!

A follow-up thought: I consider all who are focused on living the way God wants to be modern-day heroes of the faith. They are those that, as Paul said, others can follow if they want to know what it means to live for Christ. And isn't that what a hero is? Someone we aspire to be like?

Saturday, July 5, 2008

First Cars

My first car was a 1966 Buick Wagon Special (like the one in the picture, but mine was midnight blue) that I bought for $150 on 1970. It was a great car that my best friend and I spent hours cleaning and fixing up.

I loved that car. In fact, I still have the license plate from it hanging in my garage!

When our daughter got her driver license last fall, a friend offered to give her a car they no longer needed! It's a light blue 1986 Volvo Wagon. Amanda loves it! She spent a bunch of time cleaning it and caring for it.

Amanda's coming home from her summer mission trip in about a week-- 8 days, 22 hours, and 58 minutes, to be exact! Unfortunately I'll be out of town at the NACBA Conference, so I wanted to do something to welcome her home. I filled her car up at the station with the drive-through car wash and had it washed and waxed too. What a riot! When the power washer went over the car, I found out that the door and window seals leak a LOT! So does the moonroof seal! I got showered!

I sat there thinking about her driving such an old-- yet safe-- car, and realized there may be some wisdom in it... though I can't take credit for it since it was our friend who gave the car to her.
  • Young drivers make mistakes sometimes, and so it's nice that her car was not a big investment. If something happens to the car, I'm okay with that.
  • I think giving her too nice of a car now might set up unreasonable expectations for her future car purchases. If she started at the top of the heap, where would she go from there? That could be tough on her husband to live up to early in their marriage.
  • Having an older car that needs to be babied a little probably helps to appreciate what it takes to be considered a good steward. The one who is faithful will be given more responsibility.
Am I just trying to justify her driving such an old car? Maybe, but I don't think so... what do you think?

Friday, July 4, 2008

Make Plans for the Fall CITRT @ Seacoast Church!

This semi-annual event has become a highlight for me. It attracts IT Directors and Network Administrators from around the U.S., and the discussion is always good. If there's any way you can make it there. do so! It'll be worth your time, effort, and money! Click here to learn more.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Heroes of the Faith

This morning just after dawn our sixteen year old daughter, Amanda, took off for a thirty-day mission trip. She and a friend from school, Charles, are on their way to AIM's camp for five days, followed by 3-1/2 weeks ministering to natives up the Amazon River!

Amanda and Charles are going to have some incredible experiences that few today can share. They will get to be true servants to people who live in a completely different culture. Their faith in God will grow deeper as they see God work through them, around them, and in them.

True Confessions
I must confess that at first some of my focus was on how fun it'll be to be alone with my wonderful bride! We had six years alone before Amanda, our only child, and grew a terrific friendship. But as the time drew close to Amanda's leaving, I found myself already missing her. She's a terrific person with a magnetic personality. I can't wait for her return!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Why Does Everyone Blame the Other Guy?

Have you noticed that too? So often when you talk to someone about technical support, they blame the other guy! It's almost as prevalent rule of life as Murphy's Law!
  • I took my Mac in to the Apple "Genius" Bar because of a hardware problem. The lead genius said it must be software. It wasn't.
  • A client of ours called their CMS provider, who blamed their woes on the network configuration. It wasn't.
We hear those kind of stories all the time, and it gets tiring. I'm waiting for my car dealer to blame my squeaking brakes on the high cost of gas prices...

Speaking of high gas prices, why is it the politicians can't seem to understand that we're in this situation because their system doesn't allow us to drill our own oil or build refineries? They're blaming it on OPEC, SUVs, and our wasteful lifestyles. While we are wasteful, isn't this crisis artificial since we have enough oil of our own to last us, I heard, for a hundred years or more? Doesn't that place the blame at the politicians' feet for this and also the fact that we're sending so much of our money overseas?

Oh well... it's never our fault, right?

Monday, May 26, 2008

CMS Providers-- Take Note! Familiarity Rules!

Last week I had the privilege of leading a church through the final stages of selecting a CMS (Church Management Software). This was a megachurch with multi-site needs, and the process went well. At the end of two days of meetings they had selected a finalist and identified the due-process steps they'd take this week to prove the selection before entering into a contract with them.

I observed something as we watched in-person demos from the four finalists:

User Familiarity. I think I first heard this term from my colleague, Steve Bauserman, as he was describing to the CITRT in Houston last year what they hoped to achieve in the solution they were developing. It stuck with me because it made sense.
User familiarity, in contrast to user friendliness, means the software interface is something the user feels is familiar right out of the gate. The advantages are that it's less intimidating, and more likely to be used by the entire staff.

One of the demos this week, ACS, showed a resource/facility scheduling program that had an Outlook-like interface. The church staff was especially excited about this product that seemed full-featured and was familiar. I encourage all CMS solution providers to look at their products and see how they can adopt a familiar interface. I wrote an article last year saying that Outlook has become the killer app... maybe this is the interface of choice since users all over the globe use it so regularly.
In this highly competitive niche where we're all trying to empower CMS users to build The kingdom, familiarity can help!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Basher

I guess I'm gaining a reputation among Mac users as a basher. I really don't hate the Mac... I just don't love it any more than I love the PC! To some that's sacrilege, but it's my job. And I can't imagine doing my job well if I was different.

Here's How I See It
We've been working with churches and ministries nationwide for more than twenty years. We've rarely seen a hardware or software product that we haven't felt needed to improve in some way. Our standards are high because we're consulting for organizations who have the most important mission on Earth, and we want to empower them to do their work better and more effectively.

So when we look at IT solutions, we applaud any improvement in helping church and ministry users accomplish their mission without distraction. At the same time, though, we challenge solution providers to improve any way they can. Those improvements are typically in one of two flavors:
  1. Enhancements that improve the abilities of their product, and
  2. Fixes that correct inherent problems in their product.
We have not hesitated in years past to throw tomatoes at IBM, Dell, HP, Compaq, Novell, Microsoft, Corel, Adobe, Symantec, and many others-- including church management software solutions. That's our job! We objectively evaluate and recommend. We have never profited from any hardware or software solutions we recommended because that would diminish our objectivity. And we enjoy relationships with the leadership of many of these companies.

So, I don't hate the Mac any more than I hate any other IT solution. To me these are all tools to accomplish a job. I am disappointed that so much of the Mac reputation is proving to be hype rather than fact... but then we've been dealing with that from some other solution providers for years.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Office: mac 2008 SP1 Fix

I installed SP1, and afterwards nothing worked except Word (still as 12.0.1). I tried many things, but what finally worked was:
1. Remove Office 2008
2. Install Office 2008
3. Repair the Office database
4. Install SP1

Believe it or not, all of my preferences, etc were still there!

Office: mac 2008

Okay, so I'm new to the world of Macs. I've only been using them since the early Fall of 2007, and all of my experience was previously on a PC. Admittedly, I was both curious and skeptical as I approached this new platform. But like all IT professionals, I am doing my best to evaluate it objectively.

I wrote a couple of articles in which I told it like it was— objectively. The Mac evangelists came out of the woodwork and challenged me— which I loved! It's always great interacting with others in this and other forums. So I wrote a follow-up article addressing the areas in which they challenged my statements and conclusions. Not a peep. I didn't hear from even one!

Macs are nice computers! But so are Dells! And, to be honest, Dell exceeds my expectations and— so far— the Mac doesn't even meet my expectations. But that may be because of all the Mac hype and their great commercials. Anyway, I digress... on to Office: mac 2008.

Office: mac 2008 vs Office 2007
I purchased a Mac, and am doing my best to use as many programs written for it as possible rather than constantly running my Fusion PC and working there. Since we're a Microsoft shop running a MS network and Exchange, etc, I installed the new version of Office for the Mac. Not surprisingly, there were things I liked, and things I didn't.

Word: mac 2008
In Word the features are almost equivalent. Because the Mac is a nicer feeling environment to work in, I like working in Word: mac 2008 more than Word 2007.

PowerPoint: mac 2008
I like PowerPoint: mac 2008! A few things are different, but it’s at least equivalent to PowerPoint 2007, and nice to work in.

Excel: mac 2008
Here’s where the two platform programs begin to diverge. There aren’t a lot of differences, but one feature I find myself missing is the context-sensitive menu that allows formatting cells, etc. Excel 2007 seems to be much more powerful in this way. I also miss being able to easily insert symbols into cells. Though as easy to do in either version of Word, Excel: mac 2008 doesn’t include this feature, forcing one to use many more keystrokes and mouse movements to accomplish the same thing. Finally, cutting or copying and pasting entire rows of spreadsheets requires a few extra keystrokes

Entourage: mac 2008
Okay, here’s where I really don’t get it. Both versions of Office come from the same company, and that company is also the same one that produces Exchange Server. Rather than including Outlook in Office: mac 2008, Microsoft includes Entourage. It’s very different, which isn’t necessarily bad. But what is bad is that Entourage: mac 2008 doesn’t come close to Outlook 2007’s capabilities! And it doesn’t fully synchronize with Exchange!

Tasks and categories— which I rely on heavily— don’t synchronize at all! So when I noticed that some of my calendar events were no longer synchronizing, the fix was to clean out that part of the Entourage database. Before doing that I had to go through hundreds of events, or appointments, and make certain they were identically represented in Outlook to ensure that Exchange had the latest data. It then re-synchronized with Exchange, but nothing was categorized! I had to go through all of those events in Entourage and categorize each one. This happened twice!

Office: mac 2008 Service Pak 1
This week Microsoft released the first service pak for Office: mac 2008. I haven’t gotten to see what they’ve improved yet because it trashed itself while installing, and it trashed the previous version too! So, in addition to getting to go through the rebuilding of all my preferences and templates, I’ll lose all my tasks since they never made it to the Exchange Server. And Time Machine (the Mac’s automated backup system) can’t help me here.

I know the Mac is supposed to be the simplest computer to use. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like I’ve left the standards and reliability of the corporate world and have entered the less reliable, more vulnerable and chaotic consumer world. I’m just telling it like it is, and my wife is taking out more life insurance on me!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Dell's Announcement RE: Windows XP Pro's Life Beyond June

I just received the following from our Dell Rep:

I know that many of my customers have been very concerned about Windows XP Professional not being available after the end of June. Here is a link explaining exactly how dell is going to accommodate our customers to make sure that customers can get the Operating system that they want pre-installed on the computers, after the June 30th date. Please let me know if you have any questions.


Tim Dial | Dell Inc. | Senior Account Manager
Phone: 800-456-3355 x7958174 or Direct at 615-795-8174 | Fax: 512.283.7907 | 8am-5pm CST
That's good news!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

New Ministry IT Yahoo Group Announced!

At one of today's Ministry IT Summit sessions (a three-day conference for church and ministry IT people held in conjunction with the National CLA Conference we announced a new Ministry IT Yahoo Group where members (membership is free!) can pose questions and solutions to help our ministries accomplish their goal of building The Kingdom. Please join! The more; the better!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A New Breed: The Church IT Director

Just as technology is always changing, the way churches are managing their data networks is also changing. While many church networks are still being ultimately overseen by the business administrator or CFO, more and more churches are hiring IT Directors from industry, and it’s impacting churches nationwide!

Some Perspective
The discussion topics on computers in churches has changed over the years. In the mid 1980s it was, “Why would a church want a computer?” In the early 1990s it was, “What’s the internet?” Now it’s, “Can server virtualization really save us money and work for us?”

Church networks are growing in complexity as ministerial staffs are realizing the value of a solid system that empowers ministry. Along with the growth in computer system complexity has come the position in larger churches of IT Director. Though many churches and ministries still utilize part-time positions and volunteers to help maintain their systems, the IT Director usually oversees the network administration team and often many other technology areas too.

Some Surprises!
As I spend time with many Church IT Directors, I've observed a few things, some of which caught me by surprise!
  • Budgets. Though there never seems to be enough to do what needs to be done in the local church, those that have grown to see the importance of well-deployed and supported technology are willing to appropriately resource their IT teams. They are hiring vendors and buying hardware more in line with what is done in secular organizations, and their ministerial teams are often able to accomplish more as a result.
  • Independence. Many Church IT Directors, having come from industry, are not aware of some of the resources available to them. For instance, at a recent gathering of Church IT Directors we asked and were surprised to learn:
    • Many were not aware of some of the journals tailored to help them in their ministry.
    • Hardly any had ever been to a user group sponsored by their church management system (CMS) provider.
    • Many were unaware of companies like Consistent Computer Bargains, who sell shrink-wrap software at a significant discount to churches (not just Microsoft software, but most software!)
    • Negotiated discounts by companies like mine ( for Dell Computers.
We found that many were researching solutions on the internet; finding some, and missing others. Some began blogging and are building a neat grassroots network to share information on what they’re learning with others similarly tasked.

Two Challenges
I see two challenges regarding this new breed. One is for providers of services, and one is for Church IT Directors.
  • Providers of Services. Those of us who serve churches and ministries in the technology field need to find ways to communicate with this new breed.
    • Many don’t prefer reading magazines, which means we need to blog more about solutions we offer and use RSS and similar technologies to reach them.
    • We also need to reach out to them in meaningful ways to bring them into our user group meetings and other gatherings. Once there, we need to facilitate their needs and we need to ask for their input. They have funding and a mandate to meet staff’s needs, and they will change solution providers if they don’t perceive that their ministry’s needs are being met.
  • Church IT Directors. There are a bunch of resources you haven’t tapped into yet, and many are driven by their sense of call to help you empower your teams.
    • Recognize that a lot of information is available in journals, like this one, that’s worth reading! Magazines need to generate revenue just like everyone else in our society, and most do it primarily through advertisements. Don’t shun the valuable information these ministry-specific journals have just to avoid ads... read them!
    • Over the last twenty years I've seen many churches and ministries change solutions for the wrong reasons. Whether it’s hardware, software, or a vendor, many changes take place that were unnecessary and cost the churches and ministries a lot in funding and momentum. Get to know your solution providers! Go to CMS user groups and meet with their executive, programming, and support teams. You may be surprised at their vision for The Kingdom and desire to meet your growing needs. You may even find they already have ways to meet your needs you didn't know about!
Yes, church and ministry technology has grown more complex as we've embraced technology’s power and harnessed it. That process, which will only increase in speed, has brought us the Church IT Director, and we’re glad to have him or her aboard! Keeping our eye on the mission, lets work together to go beyond our comfort zone and serve our ministries better. At the end of the race, let’s both endeavor to hear God’s “Well done!”

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

April IT Roundtable Notice!

If you're in ministry, and responsible for IT, there's a roundtable gathering in a few weeks worth attending! It's in Dallas on April 21st, and is part of the Christian Management Association Annual Conference! Email me for details on how you can go to the CMA Conference and attend this roundtable at a steep discount!

Faith in Action!

Props to Dean Lisenby who shared the following YouTube... it's worth watching!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Spring CITRT Roundtable & ministryTECH Success!

It was great to gather with 160 or so IT guys and gals who care about the effective use of technology in churches last week! Kudos to Terrell Sanders and his team for putting together a great two-day conference and to Jason Powell and his team for another great Roundtable!

Some of my highlights were--
  • Visiting with friends and colleagues from around the country
  • Great bumper music and fun videos
  • Great keynotes and workshops
  • Awesome facilities
  • Lots of food!
  • Buffalo wings hot enough to melt the polar ice caps
If you're not already considering it, plan on attending the Fall Roundtable in October!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Easter in SecondLife

I'm not usually a big Easter service fan. There are lots of folks who only come on Easter and Christmas (I call them two-timers), and so it's hard to find a parking spot, and it's hard to find a seat. I'm glad they're there, and pray they choose to commit to letting Jesus be the Lord of their life... but I'd rather avoid the hassle.

Well, I went to Easter service at our home church, and it was great! I'm glad I went (which I almost always do because it's important to my wife). But this year that service was my second of the day!

Virtual Worship is Real Worship!
Second Life is an online virtual world, and I've been researching it for the last couple of months. It's an interesting concept that isn't entirely new. Though I've found there's a very dark side to Second Life, I've also found opportunities to be salt and light, and to share the truth about God.

Easter morning I logged in to Second Life before getting ready for church. I knew there were some churches there, and I wanted to see what kind of Easter events were going on. Here's what I found:
  • I searched for churches, 129 locations were found.
  • Of those 129, twelve were real churches that were Christian (there were many satanic, new age, and cultic churches, as well as some wedding chapels).
  • Of the twelve Christian churches, seven were Catholic and five were Protestant.
  • Of the five Protestant, four were evangelistic.
Since I know some involved in LifeChurch.TV, I decided to attend their service. I was in a virtual worship center with about thirty others and enjoyed a streamed video service presented nicely on three screens. It was good worship time, and the message was good! It was inviting to the unsaved in every aspect.

I think many in the room were Christians, but many were not. It's great that some were there who may have been touched for the gospel for the first time, or were encouraged to come closer in their faith journey. I'm sure there were also many who have fallen away from the faith, and were encouraged to come close again.

When I went to our church's Easter service, I was surprised that I was already in a worshipful mindset-- more than usual, and certainly more than I usually am fighting the Easter crowds! I attributed it to the worship time I enjoyed at LifeChurch.TV.

Proceed with Caution
Like most media-oriented technology, Second Life has been latched onto by the enemy to tear people further away from God. It can be a bad place for people. The same has been true for videos, DVDs, etc. But there is definitely ministry happening there, and hopefully some real life people are being reached for Jesus.