Thursday, January 22, 2009

ChMS - Hooo Boy!

For years our online giving has been processed by a company called signusup2give. Unfortunately, today we received an email stating that they were ceasing operations in exactly one week.

One week.

In one week over 20% of the church income goes away unless we come up with a new solution.

And that is why I'm still at work tonight at 7:30, and won't be going home anytime soon.

We were planning to replace the product with something that integrated directly with Arena, but we were holding off on that for a little while as we got everything else up and running. Now we have to get it done, and oh by the way can we announce it to the church on saturday night...


The list of big things that we have replaced or brought online in the last six months just got longer. I'll let you know how this turns out, and how long it takes to bring up the web portal of arena, integrate it with online giving, and get over 800 people to move from the old system to the new one.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Proud to be an American

I did not vote for Obama.

I don't agree with him on, well, pretty much everything.

But today I am proud to be an American.

Let's hope this is the wooden stake to the heart of racism, killing it dead once and for all.

There is always excitement around a new president, and I do hope that Obama can accomplish the big things and doesn't get bogged down in the little things and the divisive things. Most of all, I pray that God will be glorified and His purposes will be accomplished.

America is a great place to live.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Pop! - The sweet sound of vinyl

Every once in a while I read something or someone makes a comment about how records sound better than CD's. I used to listen to a LOT of records, and I was very happy to go digital when CD's came out. I haven't played a record in years. But a couple of days ago, I was given a turntable. A very nice, if rather old (nearly 30 years old) one. A little research shows that this is one of the few sought after turntables of the late seventies, early eighties. In short, it rocks.

I was actually quite excited. I've been lugging around a not-insignificant number of records for years, never quite willing to part with them. So I decided this was the time! I brought it home, and first thing out of the gate discovered that the cable wasn't long enough to reach my primary receiver. I don't have any male to female extension cables, so that wasn't going to work. The cable is hardwired in, so replacing it was out of the question.

Ok, next idea, plug it into my receiver in the library. I connected it all up, and couldn't get the arm to drop. I fiddled and tweaked with it for a while, and finally got it to play. But it sounded TERRIBLE. To make matters worse, I was reminded of all the reasons why we all gladly gave up records for CD's so long ago. Pops and cracks were everpresent, and the records are considerably more fragile and require a lot more care than CD's. Jacob mentioned that it sounds like the house is on fire with all the pops and cracks. :-)

So the next day I downloaded an owner's manual and took the time to make all of the proper adjustments to get the turntable operating properly. It sounds a thousand times better than it did the night before, so that is a big relief. But the pops and cracks... well, they are still with us.

Tonight we had fun putting old vinyl in and enjoying music we haven't heard in YEARS. Loads of fun, and the thing sounds pretty good. Hearing a good quality record player does reveal a very nice warm sound, particularly for orchestral works. Better than CD? Well, how about different. It doesn't have the dynamic range, and it is certainly a LOT more work to deal with, but the music sounds really good once you have it dialed in. The biggest difference is a warmth that is lacking from CD's, something that is rather an artificial addition to the music. The issue though is that the older stuff was mastered with this warmth in mind, and although the CD may be a truer replication of that music, it does sound different than it would have when it was first produced. I would venture that pre-1985 stuff probably sounds better on vinyl unless it has been specifically remastered to emulate that sound in a digital world.

Music has become something totally different than it used to be. We listen to music on the go, in our cars, with our ipods, on our phones, at our computers. I don't just sit in front of the stereo and LISTEN to music anymore. Very few people do. But records aren't convenient, they don't lend themselves to skipping tracks, and they end after about 25 minutes. They require attention. They require you to listen. That is the difference. That is what makes the record player something cool to have around again.

My son, 7 years old, is absolutely FASCINATED by the record player. He begs me to play it. We sit and listen to the music and talk. It's a different experience than he has ever had as well.

Am I about to become one of those guys who shrieks about how terrible CD's are and becomes a record devotee? In short, No. I can setup 300+ songs to play at 320kbps AAC and not have to think about music for hours. That convenience is simply too good to pass up. On the other hand, taking time to stop and listen, to smell the musical roses so to speak, that is a pursuit worth engaging in.


Thursday, January 1, 2009

Eastern European New Years

We have some good friends from Romania. This year we celebrated New Years with them in an eastern european fashion. What that means is that we started about 6pm, and have been eating ever since. At 3AM they served another round of food, in this case strawberry crepes! It is currently 5am, and the kitchen has been cleared to prep for breakfast...

Around midnight we sang a song, and they asked me to do something, so I read Psalms 98 and Isaiah 65 (the second half) and talked a bit about new beginnings and how God is faithful and has an amazing future in store for us. I then was privileged to pray for the group and got to usher in the new year in prayer. How cool is that!

It's been a really fun night. Great food, great friends, great ministry, great music, great wine, the whole nine yards! I'm looking forward to great breakfast...


ChMS - Arena is Live!

At 3:58PM on Wednesday, December 31, 2008 we went live with our Arena database. We kicked off the project on November 10, meaning that we went from kickoff to being live with Arena in under two months. Things we learned:

(1) Give them your data as soon as possible. Data conversion was by far the longest part of the cutover. We spent a lot of time waiting for Arena software to give us our data back. If I could do it again, I would have given them our data the second I had made the decision to go with Arena. If they required some money up front to cover it in case we didn't actually sign the contract I would have paid it. This would have solved one of our number one frustrations with the process. I think this would have cut a month off of the project length.

(2) Expect to spend a lot of time bringing the system online. Our cutover was a success because we made Arena the absolute 100% number one priority of four staff members. Daniel, our primary IT guy, spent nearly 100% of his time from November 10 to now bringing Arena online. I made it my very highest priority, setting _everything_ else on the back burner, and expected the same of my office manager and my secretary. We had enough resources devoted to the project to make it work and hit our deadlines.

(3) The process will go a lot better if somebody on your staff knows SQL. This is by no means a requirement, there are many churches that are successful that do not have this, but we saved a lot of time because we could drop into the SQL editor and work on things without relying on Arena support. Likewise, when we did get SQL help from Arena support, we could take those scripts and modify them for later needs.

(4) Buy the book "Head First SQL" and read it. Even as the project manager I read this book, and I gave a copy to my office manager and highlighted sections that I wanted her to read. Having a basic understanding of how SQL databases work is really helpful when you are trying to know how best to work with the data and make things happen. To me I felt that this hands on knowledge helped me to interact with my IT guys and the Arena group

(5) There must be a project manager, and that manager must be able to lead. There were times when there was a difference of opinion on what to do and ways to setup and work with data. Ultimately someone has to weight the merits of all the arguments and set direction. There were several points in this project where I effectively had to say "well, i'm the boss, we do it this way." This is very rare for me, but allowed us to move on and those decisions help us to be able to use the product more effectively.

(6) The fewer people involved in the conversion and cutover, the better. We chose a core group of four people: Project Manager, IT Support, Office Manager, and Secretary. With that group we were able to work with the others involved to get information and make decisions related to their ministry, but we don't have a group of twenty people arguing about every choice made. Having key personnel responsible and then empowering them and staying out of their way is crucial to a successful cutover.

(7) Don't try to eat the entire loaf of bread in the first sitting. We went live with Membership, Groups, Tags, Peers, Contributions and Volunteer Tracking. That's it. There are lots of other things we are looking forward to, and we'll roll them out in the next few weeks, with check-in being the last component. This is a big product, with a ton of features, and trying to get everything running for go-live is like trying to stuff a massive loaf of bread in your mouth before hitting the main entree. It's simply not going to go well.

(8) It doesn't have to take a long time. We did this in under two months with Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years to contend with.

(9) The Arena team is great to work with. Clients are assigned a support rep who is your primary support contact. This is really cool, because each time you call you don't have to bring anyone up to speed. Your rep knows you, knows who you are and what you are capable of, and can help you very quickly.

I'm very relieved to have this up and running. Now we can focus on getting the remaining pieces into place and catching up on all the stuff we've been neglecting. :-)