Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Cinderella Story of Brawn F1

Something truly remarkable happened this weekend, and very few people in America are aware of it.

A team that was all but declared dead six weeks ago (Honda) was resurrected as BrawnGP, and then proceeded to qualify 1 & 2 and then sweep the front row of the Australian Grand Prix. The last time a new team finished 1-2 in their first grand prix was 1954. The mere fact that it has been 55 years displays how incredibly difficult it is to be at the front in F1.

Jensen Button went from being out of work, and almost certainly retiring from F1 with a career that never lived up to its promise and only a single race win, to winning the first race of the season and driving what is, for right now, the very best car on the grid.

How we got here is an interesting story. Honda decided to get back into F1 racing with the formation of the British American Racing team, something that really had very little to do with America other than being sponsored by British American Tobacco (Lucky Strike). After a number of unsuccessful years, ProDrive was brought in to manage the team, and by 2004 they were genuinely successful, finishing second in the constructor's championship with a good car, a good driver in Jensen Button, and a fantastic engine in the Honda RA004E. Flush with success, the BAR team, now owned 45% by Honda, bid ProDrive farewell and prepared for the 2005 season on its own.

The 2005 season was a disaster, and Honda bought the remaining 55% of the team and became a full fledged constructor. Under the control of Honda the team started well in 2006, and then declined consistently through 2007 and 2008, with the last year being a total disaster. In the midst of all that, the car went to a very odd "earthdream" livery that did not include sponsors names and logos. This probably meant that Honda was shouldering nearly the entire cost themselves. It is difficult to pinpoint where the problem was, but Honda was clearly lost in the wilderness. In April they announced that they were not going to continue to develop the 2008 car, but would instead focus on the 2009 car.

But by December of 2008, in the face of worldwide financial losses due to the economy, Honda decided to call it quits on the very expensive sport of F1. For all of January and most of February, it looked like the Honda team would be shut down for good on March 3. There were rumors of various buyouts, but none of them materialized until, at the very last moment, the team was sold to Ross Brawn, the team principle of the Honda team.

Thus, Brawn GP was born on February 27, 2009. This team started with a car already designed for the 2009 season, but they needed a new engine as Honda was exiting altogether. The team secured Mercedes engines, and began testing. Out of the gate it was clear the car was fast. Very fast. But many fast cars in winter testing have failed to perform come race day.

Not this one. The BGP 001 was clearly the class of the field this weekend, and in the hands of Jensen Button was on pole, and then on the top spot of the podium at the end of the weekend. Cinderella had found her glass slipper and it fit very well indeed. As I think about this weekend the one thing that keeps running through my mind is how close we were to never seeing this car race. This amazing car could have been a footnote of history with a big "what if" attached to it. Instead, we got to see it race in all it's glory.

The cars have very little sponsorship, something I expect to see change by Malaysia next week. All is not well at Brawn; however, as they have to significantly cut back on the workforce even with their victory. They will drop about 275 people in the coming week as they try to bring the costs into a level that they can sustain. While this will be hard, it is necessary to ensure the long term survival of the team.

Will Cinderella have a solid sophomore outing? We sure hope so. Tune in next weekend on Speed Channel (or set the tivo, the race is at 2am pst) to see the next race in this amazing F1 season.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

City of Ember - Review

Fox has a knack for picking up great properties, then having no idea what to do with them and letting them fail. The most egregious example is Firefly, what was possibly the best sci-fi show ever on television. The most recent has to be City of Ember.

I saw exactly one commercial for City of Ember and no other advertising of any other kind. The commercial looked awesome, and better yet it was PG and looked like something the kids would enjoy. Unfortunately, one TV commercial does not a successful marketing campaign make. City of Ember was completely missed by the public, and its ticket sales were terrible.

I had wanted to take the family to see this over thanksgiving of 2008, but we weren't able to make it. Enter the DVD. Last night we sat down as a family to watch City of Ember.

The movie is simply beautiful (except for some rather poor CGI right at the end of the film). Ember is a 200 year old city underground, sort of a "noah's ark" for humanity as the land above ground was not suitable for life anymore. The builders decided that 200 years should be enough time for the earth to recover to allow humans to live topside again, so they put instructions for leaving Ember in a box that was locked for 200 years. The problem is that the box was lost when the 7th mayor died, and with it the secret that ember was only temporary.

The movie takes place after 200 years have past and Ember is wearing out. The generator that runs all of the electricity is failing (a key part of an underground city). The pipes have more patches than pipes, and the food is running out (and medicine is all but gone). What I really love is that the movie brilliantly portrays a city in decline. Early on in the movie a band plays at a "big occasion" with the mayor (played by Bill Murray, one of the weakest performances in the film unfortunately) and they are a small, ratty band with instruments that look like they could fall apart at any moment. This theme of decay carries on throughout ember: stuff doesn't work, much is forgotten, supplies are scarce.

The city officials don't know what to do about ember's decline, and the people are holding on to the hope that the builders will come save them (of course, the builders are long dead). In this setting the two lead characters, both children, go on a path of adventure and discovery to save the city. The plot isn't earth shattering, and the beginning is a little confusing, but on the whole this is a wonderful family film (a little scary for small kids, my youngest is 8 and it was just fine). We all enjoyed the movie and it is something we will definitely look to add to our collection at some point.

In a world where a piece of garbage like Saw can span three sequels, it's depressing to see a wonderful film like City of Ember fail. If you are looking for a fun night of family entertainment (truthfully, i would watch it without my kids, it's a good movie) City of Ember deserves your attention.


Friday, March 27, 2009

ChMS - Where are we, where do we want to be?

Today I did a bit of an assessment on where we are with Arena. While it's a powerful tool for us already, it is a little bit depressing to see how much we aren't using yet. I created three categories: In use, In use but under utilized, and Unused. My next step is to refine the list (add missing elements, like using the check scanners for contribution entry) and assign a time value to each of the "under utilized" or "unused" areas with an estimate of how long it will take to bring those items online. Finally, I want to take that list to the staff and get a sense of their priorities in relation to Arena.

As I looked at this list I was amazed at just how much functionality we have in front of us, and how much work we still have to do. Little things can translate into huge time problems. For example, I have a particular data need that relates to at least 950 individuals in our database. They live in an area that only delivers mail to PO boxes. Thus, I need to use their PO box as a mailing address, but their physical address for geocoding. What at first sounds trivial gets complex when you realize that the database uses "primary" and alternates, but does everything with the primary. So if I can send people mail, they don't show up on our area maps for things like the small group locator. If I use their physical address, all my mailing addresses are wrong for them.

That shouldn't be hard to fix, except that I don't actually have most of their physical addresses, only mailing addresses. So now I have not only a database problem, but I have a data problem as well. Assuming we are able to accommodate the physical & mailing address and have them used properly, I now have a data gathering task that is huge to get everyone's physical addresses. That will take far more time than the database fix...

This process also got me thinking about what I want to see that I don't yet have on my list. At the top of the "wish list" is developing a meaningful members portal that people want to login to. Web 2.0 and social networking is all the rage, but it is of little use if it doesn't integrate with our database and, by extension, facebook. Our people are already on facebook, and more importantly, so are their unsaved friends. I don't want to create an isolated place, I want to figure out how to integrate the church into the social networks they already have. I want the church to be a natural part of what they do, not some secret life they live off to the side.

In the past I've done web forums and things, but something of that nature is very difficult to make work unless there are a large group of people with a common reason for being there. "I go to this church" is not a good enough reason. The web forums that really work are the ones that unite around a common interest that has a lot of reason for discussion. Some examples of web forums that really work:,, Some that don't:, mclean bible church ( There are a lot more that I could put on that second list, but you can probably think of a group off the top of your head. My point is that there has to be a compelling reason for people to come to your site, and it has to be beyond just because you are their church. I'd love to know of some churches that are doing this really well, and what they are doing to make their sites compelling.

What do you think? Who is doing this right? What else should a ChMS offer?


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

ChMS - Arena Customization

One of the factors that lead to us choosing Arena was its ability to be easily customized, and the cohesiveness of the Arena community. I have already seen the benefits of both.

If you read this blog you know that we had to bring online giving up in a hurry, and we did it through Arena and payflowpro, a paypal product. The interesting thing is that payflowpro is not an officially supported solution from Arena; however, there are several churches using it. We were able to get it up and running, and Jeremy Hoff of Shepherd of the Hills and David Turner of CCV were incredibly helpful in helping us get it implemented here at HDC.

When we built the online giving and associated members pages, there were parts of the module that we didn't like, and we were able to get the code from Arena and make the necessary changes and install them into our custom directory. So our members portal works differently than everyone else's, but it works the way HDC wants it, which is ideal for us.

Now we are looking at a small group locater, and we aren't enamored with the official version. There are at least two churches that offer different small group locaters than the one that ships with Arena. One of them looks like it is a good solution for us, and we'll be testing that immediately.

We want to do check-in, but we really don't relish the idea of installing a bunch of windows boxes to make it happen. One of the Arena churches just released a kiosk that is browser based rather than being a windows app. With a small amount of modification, this may work for us, saving us the IT time and headache of deploying windows check-in for a mac centric enterprise. Another big win.

The best part of Arena is the developer community. Each of these churches truly wants to help other churches get the most out of their database and the people at those churches are kind and enthusiastic about the product and genuinely want to help.

The more I learn, the more I like this product.


Friday, March 13, 2009


Aaron Roohk was my friend. On Saturday he went home to be with the Lord after a long fight with brain cancer and the resultant infections. I first met Aaron around 1990 while at Biola University. We quickly became good friends. During one of our years at Biola, we went to Norm's diner every Sunday night for the whole year. We would go in around 10pm, get the same waitress (Josie), and order up "two eggs any style" or whatever else struck our fancy. We talked about everything under the sun.

Aaron was a dreamer. He always had something cooking, whether it was a new idea for a charity, a high end apartment complex or some other business idea. He owned more cars in his life than most people own toothbrushes. I lost count a long time ago. But he always came back to BMW's and Ford Explorers. He loved to talk technology. From computers, to tv's, to stereos, to surround sound, you name it, he was into it.

Aaron was a guy who would drop everything to meet you for lunch when you needed him. I know. He was also the most connected person I've ever met. He would constantly be on his cellphone, glancing at text messages, and talking to people.

Just the other day a friend and I were talking about a car, and the idea of resurrecting it in another friend's backyard, and Dave says to me "You know who I really want to talk to about this? Aaron." It was a sad moment for both of us because he was completely right. It was a conversation that Aaron would have loved.

Aaron was in my wedding. He is now the second person in that group to pass away in the last twelve months. Although I miss them, I am grateful that I will see them both again in the presence of God.


Sunday, March 1, 2009


Right now there is someone in your life that you know about that can use prayer.

Pray for them. Now.

My family just went through a major crisis. We spent several days in the hospital with our daughter, and I cannot tell you how much of a difference the prayers of our friends and family made. This event hit me _very_ hard. I'm already a bit weak from the stress of the last year, and I just was not equipped to handle this well. After we asked people to pray for our daughter and for us, there was an inner peace and strength evident that was much needed. Our prayers, and those of others, were also answered in relation to our daughter, and that is a huge blessing.

Too often "we'll pray for you" is a Christian way of saying "good bye" or "I've got to go now" when in reality, it is a powerful statement, a real statement, a significant statement, and one that should not be taken lightly.

The Lord's Prayer is remarkable, but the most remarkable line to me is this: Give us this day our daily bread. Jesus is teaching us how to pray, and He instructs us to ask for something as mundane as bread every day. If Jesus wants us to pray over the mundane and ordinary, how much more does He expect us to pray over the remarkable and extraordinary!

Prayer is powerful, don't treat it lightly.