Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to you!

    From The Nicholaou's
          Nick & Grace & Amanda
                       & Java

Christmas is the celebration of God invading our space and time by sending himself as a human being so we could understand him better and so he could live a perfect life-- the life he had always hoped we would live. Because we don't conduct ourselves perfectly, though, he allowed himself to be killed as a sacrificial replacement on our behalf, making his perfect righteousness available to all who will receive it as a gift. And that, he said, is how we can be sure of a maximally enjoyable life, both here and afterwards in heaven.

Our prayer is that each whose life we touch will know that maximally enjoyable life. Merry Christmas from the Nicholaou's.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Big News for the MBS Family!

As you may know, my wife (Grace) is a CPA that serves many Christian churches and nonprofits. Her practice has been focused on California, and she is terrific! (You knew I’d say that!)

This week she announced that her firm is joining a larger national firm with the same focus and aim-- to help churches and ministries through solid CPA services (link to announcement).

She is joining BMWL as a partner in early 2014. We have known them for many years, and I think very highly of them. You may know of their president, Mike Batts, who has served as ECFA’s board chair and who also chaired the Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations.

I am not trying to pull you away from your current CPA firm. I want you to know, however, that Grace is now part of a larger team and has even greater resources in case you’re thinking of putting your CPA needs out for bid. If you are, I know she would appreciate the opportunity to be considered.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

2014 IRS Standard Mileage Rates

The IRS has announced the Standard Mileage Rates for 2014. They are:
  • $ .56 for business miles
  • $ .235 for medical and moving miles
  • $ .14 for miles in service of charitable organizations
The reason the charitable mileage rate is still at the ancient amount is because the charitable mileage rate can only be changed by Congress, who has been unwilling to do so for many years.

Monday, November 11, 2013

2014 ChMS Article Just Released to Publisher!

I get to write an article every year that lists all of the leading ChMS (church and donor management software) solutions. They don't have to pay anything to be included, just prove that they're developing their software, actively pursuing the niche, and demonstrate that folks like what they're providing by meeting minimum customers based on how long they've been offering it.

I just released the 2014 version of the article to the publisher, and have added its contents to our website. Click here to read it!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

New Article on Legally Exporting Technology

It's hard to believe, but there are people sitting in prison or who have been heavily fined for sending computers and/ or software out of the U.S.!

I wrote an article on how to do it legally, click here to read it.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

OSX 10.9 - Mavericks - Not Ready Yet!

I’ve only run the update to Mavericks, and haven’t yet tested a system that had a clean OS install. To be fair, I'm hearing from some that it's great. But I and many others in IT have seen issues with it to the point where I'm recommending waiting on this upgrade. The results just aren't consistent enough yet.

There are a couple of rough edges to it; one that’s not a big deal and one that, for network users, is a big deal.
  • Not a Big Deal: I have to keep re-selecting my Time Machine Drive from a list of available drives. 
  •  A Very Big Deal for Network Users: Communications with SMB-mounted network volumes is much slower. Some routines that I run are taking 4-5 times longer since the upgrade. The problem seems to be with conflicts between the new standard imposed in Mavericks to use SMB2 as default with other drivesto which it's connecting. One suggested workaround is to use CIFS instead of SMB, which reportedly forces it to use SMB1. I'm still testing this...
A Mavericks Tip: Some like having the menu show on multiple displays (for those who use them). However, the way it works is a distraction for me because the Dock keeps moving fairly unpredictably between displays. I turned that feature off by going into System Preferences, then Mission Control, and then removing the check mark for Displays have separate Spaces. That change requires a restart to become effective.
So, I recommend waiting on Mavericks for now, and will post a subsequent blog post and comments to this post when it looks ready. 

iOS7 Review

Many are asking me whether they should upgrade to iOS7 on their iPads and iPhones. Here are some quick observations that may help you decide.

Generally, I like it, and the things I don’t like are not show-stoppers.
  • Things I Like
    • Apple finally let us put Newsstand into a group and get it off the desktop!
    • Apple now lets us set what day of the week we want to be the first day of the week in Calendar. I prefer Monday so that when viewing a week I can see the entire weekend. Previously you had to change the International Regional Setting to Northern Mariana Islands to accomplish that.
    • The Calendar month view scrolls forward (down) and backwards (up), helping to see events in context better.
    • You can now have unlimited Apps in groups.
    • The iTunes song select no longer requires a search.
    • Browsing restrictions can be a great help to keep inappropriate website from being available. And the setting impacts all browsers installed!
  • Things I Don’t Like
    • The Dock hides the bottom of the wallpaper. It would be better if it had transparency and size settings.
    • Groups only show 9 Apps at a time in a panel (more than 9 Apps in a group generates a second page in the group). It would be better if groups had setting options of how many Apps they showed on a page. 
    • The Camera no longer has the iris close and open animation when taking pictures. That’s okay, but now there’s an immutable sound with every picture snap.

So I say, "Go for it!" 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

TSA Pre Check

I applied for the TSA Pre-Check security program more than two years ago. Because of some stupid things I did as a 17-year old that I got caught doing, I was declined. Twice! But those mistakes were more than forty years ago, so I appealed theough the TSA ombudsman. This week, my conditional approval came through (subject to a brief in-person interview scheduled in a couple of weeks).

I fly for business a lot-- nearly 3,000,000 domestic miles in my career! Today was the first time I checked through airport security and got to use Pre. It was so fast and easy, I almost wept! I didn't have to take off my shoes or belt, or empty my pockets or laptop bag. It was the nicest experience I've had since increased screening began twelve years ago!

Thank you, TSA! You made my day!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Chuck Smith Is With The Lord

This morning at about 3am Pastor Chuck Smith (Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa) passed away in his sleep. He is in heaven with The Lord now; I miss him already.

Pastor Chuck is credited by many as being the father of the Jesus Movement, during which I became a Christian. I told him I feel he is thus my spiritual grandad.

The impact he had-- and will continue to have-- on so many lives is amazing. Today I found myself praying that God would find me as easy to lead and use for his purposes as he found Chuck to be.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

New Article on BYOD Policies

BYOD-- Bring Your Own Device-- is an IT wave that is sweeping corporations. IT Directors are understandably uncomfortable about this. Adopting enforceable policies will make the difference, however, in BYOD's success in any organization.

Read the full article for free by clicking here!

2nd Most Important Day of My Life

Okay, so yesterday was the second most important day of my life (I shared about the most important one earlier in the day yesterday). 29 years go I asked Grace to marry me. She never said yes, but did say she thought she could handle it.

Me, last night: "So, are you handling it?"
Grace: "So far."
Me: "Are you starting to feel more confident that you'll be able to?"
Grace. "No, but I think I can!"

I'm so glad! And she is wonderful-- still!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

9/4 - My Spiritual Birthday

It was 38 years ago tomorrow that I prayed to sincerely give my life to Jesus. It was a well thought-out decision: I had been running into folks for a few months who were different; each was a Christian, and many shared with me a promise of God.

That evening of September fourth I prayed, "God, I've been hearing a lot about the promises you make to those who let you be the top authority in their lives. The promises sound good! I'll do the research and find out which you actually made. To the extent you're faithful to your promises, to that extent you can have my life."

Thirty-eight years ago, and he has never missed being true to his promises-- those actually in the Bible. Promises like forgiveness for me and those who've hurt me, peace that is beyond normal, purpose in life, joy that is unaffected by circumstances, and real love.

My observation is that he is called The Faithful and True for a reason! I've seen it in my life and in the lives of many around me who have also decided to trust him and do life his way. The only times I regret are those in which I took back the reigns of my life and decided to do something outside of his clear and perfect will-- the things I tend to think I know better about (yes, I still struggle...). Every time, though, I learn again that there is forgiveness and more peace, joy, purpose, and love doing life his way.

Friday, August 23, 2013

New Article on Software Recommendations

Our team has had the privilege of serving many hundreds of ministries nationwide as network engineers and consultants. In those roles we have found that some software works better in church and ministry offices than others. We have also found that some software seems to be more trouble-free than others.

Click here to read this article about our recommendations!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

New Article on Church WiFi Strategies

I was surprised to learn there can be some significant legal consequences tied to church WiFi strategies! I wrote and sent an article to the publisher this week that may be worth your reading. Here's a quick link to a free copy posted on our website: http://www.mbsinc.com/church-wifi-strategies

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sometimes I feel inappropriate

Sometimes I feel as inappropriate as a bike with square wheels.

I have to ask those with whom I do life to forgive me more often than I like. But it's the right thing to do. Jesus said that if we realize we've hurt or wronged someone, we are to put things on hold while we search them out to ask for their forgiveness (Matthew 5:23-24). It's hard to do, but it's important.

The amazing truth is that as foolish as I sometimes am ('often' might be more accurate...), the Lord continues to choose to work through me! He can miraculously round out my square wheels and use me to actually move things forward! His grace and mercy is so wonderful.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Earbud Silicon Tip Stuck in Ear!

I never saw this one coming. I took my earbuds out of my ears, and was bummed to see that one of them was missing the silicon tip. Thinking it must have fallen on the floor, I looked around but couldn't find it. Disappointed, I planned to go on with my day. But I noticed my hearing in one ear was a little off, and discovered the tip was still in there!

This happened just before takeoff on a 3-hour flight. So, after we were up in the air I approached the flight attendant and asked if they had tweezers I could borrow. Saying they didn't, she asked me why I needed them. I told her, and she offered to page for a doctor or make an emergency landing. I declined both offers, figuring I would wait until we landed and take care of it then.

After landing I retrieved my bag, got my tweezers, and was able to remove the silicon tip. Boy, was I relieved.

Lesson learned: no more earbuds! I'm switching to over-the-ear headphones!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

How to Set an Early End to Your IT Career

While at a conference this week I spoke with a church about needs their current IT vendor weren't meeting. The main issue was that the vendor will not support any workstation platforms other than Windows. I suggested they talk with the president of that firm before making a change in case they were working on a solution they hadn't yet announced.

One of the key issues those of us in IT focus on is the rapid change of technology. But we cannot limit ourselves to any single platform or software solution for very long if we want our opportunities to serve to grow. We must constantly look for trends that are meaningful to our clients and, anticipating them, have solutions ready when our clients request them.

I have said many times when speaking to IT groups that restricting oneself to a platform or software solution is a sure way to put a horizon on one's career.

My path went from DOS to Windows to Mac; from landlines to cellular to Palm PDAs to Blackberry to Android and iOS; from Everex to Compaq to HP to Compaq (which HP then bought) to Dell and Apple; from AmiPro to WordPerfect and Lotus 123 to Word; from standalone computers to Novell NetWare to Windows Server to our private cloud. You get the idea.

If you're in IT, I encourage you to look at your client base, get a pulse on where they're headed, and begin researching and testing solutions they'll be asking for so that when they do, you'll already have expertise in that space.

Monday, May 6, 2013

New Article About Backup Strategy & the Solutions We Recommend

I just released a new article for publication that briefly works through backup strategy and recommended solutions. If you'd like to read a free copy, click here!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Rich Hammar's Copyright Law for Churches

My church wanted to address a copyright issue. After consulting with some attorneys on the topic, we turned to a great resource: Rich Hammar's Copyright Law for Churches. We found case law and principles that helped us make a decision that will serve and protect the church for years to come. I heartily recommend it!

Here's a link on how to get your copy:  http://store.churchlawtodaystore.com/esgutocolawf.html

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

New Article on How to Get the Most Out of Your ChMS

There are patterns of what causes ChMS dissatisfaction, and knowing those patterns can help you know how to get the most out of your ChMS. The article I released for publication can help!

Click here to read a free advance copy.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Ongoing Training-- A Great Investment

I'm excited about going to ACS Technologies' and Shelby Systems' user group meetings this spring! What excites me most about them is the great opportunities they are for church and ministry team members to grow in their knowledge of these very popular church management systems and for team members to be encouraged by meeting others who do similar work for like-minded organizations. I feel fortunate to be involved in the process.

Most churches and ministries don't recognize the wisdom in the opportunity to help their team members grow in their understanding and proficiency in these important tools. Taking advantage of these training events is an effective way to help accomplish the mission better, and to do so for less. It is a terrific investment!

Here's a Real World Example
As a ChMS authority (due to my writing and consulting in this area), I get calls throughout the year from churches and ministries that are thinking of making a change. One of the common reasons they call is that no one on staff knows how to use the system currently in use. I often ask them how long it's been since they had any training on their ChMS, and the response is usually that it's been a very long time-- maybe even before any current staff were on the team!

I explain to them that training would be much less expensive and much less disruptive to their ministry than changing their ChMS would be, and I encourage them to get some training. Doing so costs so little and yields such a great return on investment!

If your church or ministry uses one of these two systems, please consider sending at least one person to their annual event. I know you'll thank me later!

Monday, March 18, 2013

New Church Position: Concierge!!

I had the privilege of serving at a church last week who took great care of me while I was there. I was surprised to learn the title of the person assigned to pick me up, take me to meetings, etc. His official title on his church business card is Concierge!

How cool is that!!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Two Tips to a Happy Marriage

Grace and I have been married for 28 years. That's a long time! We still have lots of fun together; we'd even say we're still in love. There are a couple of things I do to try to keep our marriage vibrant, and I don't know of many that do these two things.

The first is kind of a tech-tip.
I have a recurring task in Outlook remind me to ask her out on a date every two weeks. You might say I shouldn't need to do that; but I do! Without it I could easily go for many months before realizing it's been awhile since I last asked her out! So I let Outlook remind me to continue romancing her, and we both benefit.
The second is one which must be approached carefully. But, if not abused, it will do wonders towards keeping your marriage romantic.
Every few (3-5) years I take my wife on an extravagant date that usually involves travel, luxurious lodging, great meals, and entertainment. It's never in the budget, which is why it can't be abused. And it definitely sets us back a little in our financial goals.

This may sound irresponsible, so let me explain myself.

I believe our wives want us to be good managers, but they also want to believe we're head over heels in love with them. And that should drive us, every now and then, to show it in an I'm crazy in love with you kind of way.

I should also say that every time I have told my wife-- who is a CPA and, thus, frugally minded-- that I was thinking of doing something crazy like that, she was initially opposed. But, becuase they are always things I know she will enjoy (they cannot be something focusing on something I want to do for my hobby, etc), they become the stories she most loves to recount.

If the Lord takes one of us home early, I know these special occasions will be some of the memories that will always bring a smile. And life insurance can cover a multitude of such craziness.
Well, there you go. A couple of tips that can help enrich and build a marriage. Be careful on that second one, though! Don't go so crazy with it that you kill yourselves with debt!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Odd Travel Experience-- A First for Me!

I've flown more than 2.6 million miles on American Airlines. Today. I stood by to catch an earlier flight since I got to the airport early, and was assigned a middle seat about halfway back. No problem, it was for a short flight.

Amazingly, the passenger sitting next to me insists on having her arm 2-3" beyond the armrest and into my seat space! Not because of her size-- just because! I asked her politely if she would move it so that it is at least not past the armrest into my already narrow seat space, and she told me I was a rude bully!

Okay; that's a first for me!


Post-flight update...

I wrote that post during the flight and published it via the airline's wifi. But the flight just kept getting weirder! Three things made that true:

  1. The lady I wrote about decided her elbow wasn't sticking far enough into my side, so mid-flight she decided to move it towards me another inch or so.  Very uncomfortable. But I didn't want to make a scene, and the flight was short, so I lived with it
  2. When the plane landed, some guy decided to take my suitcase out of the overhead! I said, "Excuse me, but that's my suitcase." He looked at me like he couldn't believe what he just heard, so I repeated it. He replied, "Okay, I'll just leave it on this seat." When he got off the plane he didn't take any luggage with him, so it was not a case of mistaken identity. That was also a first for me!
  3. As the lady whose elbow was so intimate with my ribs got up to disembark, she called me a bunch of names! Four-letter names! I saw her in the terminal and told her I hope her day gets better, and she told me I am passive-agressive. Okay...
So, I'm not sure exactly what happened on that flight or why, but at least I got a good story out of it!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Church IT Round Table was Awesome!

Every time I attend a CITRT event I am so thankful!  Last week was the national event in Phoenix, hosted by Christ's Church of the Valley (in Peoria, actually); here are some of my takeaways:
  • Incredible relationship building with peers.
  • Great opportunity to serve my peers by sharing information, processes, and encouragement.
  • Solid time of learning hi-tech details that will help on some items on our project board.
  • Terrific times of worship and challenge from CCV staff.
The next national event is October 21st - 23rd this fall at Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City, KS (actually in Leawood, KS), and I strongly encourage you to go if you are involved in church and/ or ministry IT at any level.

The event to watch is http://www.churchitnetwork.com/, and the Twitter hashtag is #citrt.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Looking for a New Chair?

Here's one for that special geek in your life!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Get a Power Inverter in Case of Power Outage

A colleague brought a great blog post to my attention; I thought the concept was brilliant! The post was about using a power inverter connected to his Chevy Volt during a power outage. As I read it I thought, "You don't need a hybrid to enjoy that benefit; any vehicle in good operating condition will do!"

So I tasked myself to get an inverter to test.

I went to my local Lowe's and found a Stanley 800 Watt Power Converter; out the door for just under $65. I brought it home and put it to the test.

Proof of Concept
I connected it to my Ford F-150's battery and started the truck. Then I turned on the inverter (Stanley calls it a Power Converter) and plugged in a portable air conditioner. It worked! And the converter's digital readout said it was only using 100 watts. So I also plugged in our refrigerator. When the refrigerator compressor kicked in the converter registered nearly 1250 watts, but then quickly settled down to a combined total of about 450.

It turns out that Consumer Reports wrote about this too! Because it is a great solution to power outages in our homes! Who knew?!! I thought you needed a $1000 generator-- which makes a lot of noise when running-- for that!

Thjere are a couple of cautions when using an inverter:
  • Make certain the vehicle is outside and well ventilated; not doing so can result in death.
  • Be careful when connecting the inverter to your vehicle battery. No one enjoys electrical shocks.

Bottom Line
I'm going back to Lowe's and getting a second unit, and we'll keep one in each vehicle trunk-- just in case.

New Article: Microsoft Surface Pro Review

I just released my review of the just-released Microsoft Surface Pro to the publisher.  If you'd like to read an advance copy of it, click here!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

New Article: Should You Switch to Google Apps?

A common discussion these days is whether a move to Google Apps makes sense. Is it a good option compared to Microsoft Office? I just released an article for publication; click here to link to a copy of it on our website!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Amazing Grace & Power!

I am amazed anew that God chooses to use me-- a far-from-perfect or -righteous guy, and that he does so with power. Clearly he proves through me that:
Thank you, Lord, for the privilege of serving You and Your Church.

Addendum: Click here to see my speaking schedule this year.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Family Doesn't Like My Holiday Beard

It's true!  And they keep coming at me with new reasons why I should shave now instead of waiting a little longer.  Here's the latest:
21-year-old daughter:  "Your beard makes you look like a grandfather, and that's putting pressure on me to have babies even though I'm not married yet."
Okay, that one might work...

The Facebook interest and comments (a robust debate!) about my beard are so fun! Click here to see the conclusion!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

2013 IT Task List Article

New year, new beginnings, and new task lists! Are there some things that should be on your IT task list for early 2013?

Click here to see my quick article that can help!