Monday, December 19, 2011

Mac OSX Lion - Apple loses the story

I have been a fan of Apple for a long, long time. I have been running Mac OS X since March 24, 2001, in other words I installed it the day it was released. It ran slowly on my 400Mhz G3 (state of the art for the day) but it was worth it to be running the future, not the past. With every release, Mac OS X has gotten consistently better until 10.7. With Lion, Apple lost the story of what makes a successful OS.

Behind the hoopla there are some serious problems with Lion, and they have not been addressed and we are at version 10.7.2. The first I have written about before, and that's the ability to lose data on network volumes. It still exists. Don't believe me? Copy a photo onto a network volume. Open it with preview and crop it. Quit preview. Try to get back to the original. Note that you can't. It is lost, gone forever in the interest of making things "simpler" for new users. 

When you try to work on a document on your own system you often get a message about the document being "locked" and requiring you to either unlock it (and make permanent changes) or duplicate it. What if I don't want to duplicate it, I just want to rotate it and print? Mac OS X inserts itself in your workflow. You cannot choose to work on something and not save it. It must. be. saved. 

Ok, so what if you want to put confidential information in a temporary document and then destroy it after you are done with it. Well, it might be hidden in a version. How nice for you. 

Today I discovered that they removed "bounce" from mail. Why? Who cares! It's a feature that some people used, and they took it away. 

I didn't begrudge Apple removing Rosetta until I went on vacation and wanted to take a few old mac games with me. I have a soft spot for Starcraft, and I never did get around to finishing Warcraft III. Guess what, both of those are PowerPC apps. In fact, I don't have a single intel native game. So my laptop can no longer play games since I installed Lion.

So, I have lost the ability to work the way I want to, I've lost the ability to control when files are altered or not, I've lost the ability to bounce email, and I've lost the ability to run any games I own. 

What have I gained?

(1) A version of Address Book that was supposed to be better, but is actually worse than the one in Snow Leopard.

(2) FileVault that I don't use because what Apple calls "imperceptable" is an unacceptable performance penalty in the real world.

(3) Finder changes. I don't notice any of these.

(4) Mail. I lost bounce, haven't noticed anything better. 

(5) Mission Control - I like this, but it totally doesn't make up for what I've lost.

(6) Preview - Add your signature. Never used it. I fear preview because it permanently alters documents I don't want it to. It freaks when you run something from a CD because it can't change it. It is far worse than the old preview in almost every way.

(7) Launchpad - Pointless

In short, Lion is a complete pile of Vista.

I think I'm going to downgrade for the first time in my Apple using career, spanning all the way back to the 128k mac. Sad days, sad days indeed.


Monday, December 5, 2011

What have we done to thanksgiving?

“It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night,” - Psalms 92:1–2 ESV

In September of 1620 the pilgrims landed in Massachusetts. What followed was a brutal winter in which about half of them died. The remaining people set about making a colony, and after a successful harvest they organized a feast, starting a tradition of taking time out of the fall season to give thanks to God for His incredible provision for us. 

Nearly four hundred years later we still celebrate Thanksgiving, and taking time to stop and give thanks for all that we have is still a great idea, just like it was in 1621.

I don't remember when I first heard the term "Black Friday" but it wasn't as a kid. What was always quietly acknowledged as an important shopping day has taken on a life of its own with the era of the internet. 

Each year the frenzy of black friday has increased a little more over the last year. Stores that used to open at 5 am started trying to out-do each other until this year it finally happened. Stores were going to open at midnight, and then Wal-Mart announced that they were opening at 10pm.

It's happened subtly, but now the time of giving thanks has become a time to look at the ads and think about all the things we DON'T have, and plan to buy them. This year people were camped out in front of Best Buy for days to buy a $200 tv. 

How long before we supercede Thanksgiving altogether with a day of "early bird" sales?

When we value a great deal more than we value giving thanks for what we have, we have seriously lost focus on what matters.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Smart TV is really dumb

A friend of mine asked me to help him buy a tv this week. We went to Best Buy and to Costco to learn what we could and find the right choice in his budget. After talking with people and looking at the various choices, we settled on an LG tv from costco.

We talked with an incredibly informative guy at costco who had great information on all of the TV's, but he was partial to LG's. He made a big deal about LG Apps and how there were tons of them etc. It made absolutely zero impact on our purchase decision, but after we got it home we decided to set it up and see what these apps were all about.

My friend has more patience than I do. I wouldn't have spent any time, but he wanted to know what he had purchased so he spent time going through their app store and this is what he found:

Having Netflix on the TV is pretty cool. You can turn the tv on, select Netflix and be watching something. Netflix + a smart tv rocks for its simplicity. Vudu is a cool idea, but seems kinda expensive ($6 to watch a new release in HD?) and at those prices has little chance of unseating redbox for blu-ray rentals.

Everything else, EVERYTHING, was colossally stupid. Do you want to get on Facebook on your tv? And type things in using a remote control? Yeah, didn't think so.

App after app was poorly executed and hampered by the interface of a remote control. Some things would want a bunch of information and then say "this is not available in your region" despite the fact that you set the region with the tv. At one point we got the error shown above when he was trying something. Gotta love it when a tv can crash and throw a .NET exception...

At the end of the day, "Smart TV" is really, really dumb. I like having Netflix built in, but otherwise I wouldn't spend a single penny to get a tv with apps over a tv without them.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

TV Experiment 2.0

A couple of years ago we pulled the plug on the tv for the month of November. It was a great month. I read more than I had in the six months prior, listened to more music and found that life was just better. The kids discovered other hobbies and passions, and by and large it was a good thing.

Last time we did it we wanted to see what life was like with no television at all. It was good. This time around our plan is a little different. DirecTV is gone indefinitely. Don't know when we will turn it back on, if ever. It's not that I don't like the programming, I enjoy it immensely, and that's the problem. It's too easy to spend your life in front of the tv keeping current with Falling Skies, American Restoration, Pawn Stars, Top Shot, etc. All of those are really good shows, but they make themselves more important than they should be by always being on.

So the rules this time: No TV at all Monday through Thursday. Friday we may throw a movie on if we want to do a family movie night but otherwise no TV. We haven't decided about the weekends, but Jacob is lobbying hard for a little video game time, and we might work that in.

The interesting thing about it is that our kids were excited about it this time.

Good times ahead!


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Anthem vs. 1 Cor 12

I have a few friends who have been reading Atlas Shrugged and I realized that I've never read anything by Ayn Rand. I was in a used bookstore and I found a copy of Anthem for $2 and decided to pick it up to see what all of the fuss was about.

It's an earlier work and rather short, but I quite enjoyed the first 90 pages or so. Basically the story is set in a post apocalyptic society that is all about "the brotherhood" and has completely removed the notion of self from the world. Even the word "I" is forbidden (and unknown). Everyone refers to themselves as "we" and even personal relationships are forbidden, as you are not to value one person above another.

The book is a fascinating look at the communist ideals applied to a futuristic society. The last ten pages or so are where the book gets its title, as our hero discovers the word "I" and it becomes little more than a worship of the self, completely rejecting any notion of collective good or value in anyone other than one's own self. After reading this book (it took little more than 30 minutes to read) I set it aside and opened up to the passage I had planned to read before bed. It made me smile:

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.” - (1 Corinthians 12:12–31 ESV)

The Christian faith absolutely does not diminish the value of the one, the value of the individual, but rather exalts every person as uniquely formed in the image of God. At the same time, we are not meant to be alone, and we are better when we work together. God has given us each different talents and gifts, and to function at our best we need to involve others to do what we are not able to do well.

This is directly contrary to the message at the end of Anthem, that is essentially all about the "I" with no regard at all for anyone else. When reading a book like Anthem, it's striking how distasteful it is when the worship of self is put on display. I genuinely disliked the last ten pages of the book despite enjoying it up to that point. We are called to be servants, to treat others better than ourselves. In the words of Jesus:

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”” - (Mark 10:45 ESV)


Friday, October 14, 2011


Although RefreshCache is generally a meeting of Arena developers, this year two guys that work on BVCMS were invited to present as well. This provided me with a great opportunity to see bvcms and ask questions of Dave Carroll who is the primary driver behind bvcms and the owner of, an organization offering hosting, service and support for bvcms.

BVCMS was the internal database project of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, TN. After putting a lot of time and money into its development, their elders decided to release it as an open source project in April of 2009.

It's impossible to tell how many churches are using bvcms because anyone can download it, install it and get it running without telling anyone; however, has 74 churches that are using the database and paying for their support. Additionally, Dave said there are at least five churches that have contacted him for some assistance that are not clients of, meaning the real number is probably right around 80. Six of these clients have over 5000 records in their databases (averaging 18,347), and 51 have fewer than 1000 records. This data indicates that bvcms is becoming a web based database of choice for smaller churches, but scales well enough to be used by some of the largest churches in the country.

One of the things I did not realize about bvcms until this week is that it is available as a fully hosted and supported solution through This means that you don't have to have a big IT staff and a group of programmers to run bvcms at your church.

After the initial release by Bellevue, the banner of BVCMS has been carried by David Carroll & If I understand it correctly, the lion's share of development since 2009 has been done by David himself. At RefreshCache 2011 David said some of the keys to making this possible were a methodology of do the simplest thing that could work, avoid complexity unless necessary, don't repeat yourself and don't build things you're not going to need. David details his approach to development on his blog under the title Agile Methodology.

David also uses a novel approach to support that I really like. He takes support questions by email, writes the answer on the wiki and then replies with the link to the wiki. By doing this he insures that the wiki continually grows with valuable information on how to solve real world problems, and he doesn't spend time rehashing the same solutions over and over again. As a bonus, that creates a nice documentation library for anyone to access on how to use the software.

The biggest shortfall that I can see with bvcms support is that there is no set of community forums for the churches that are using bvcms to help each other and discuss things. With the open source nature of bvcms any church could set one of these up, but so far it does not exist. Based on our experience with the Arena community, this is a big loss. Hopefully as this product grows this shortfall will be addressed.

Because bvcms is open source, you can investigate it yourself if you have the IT staff or expertise to pull it off. All you need to do is download the code and then follow the directions that are posted on Dave's development blog.

So, what does bvcms offer? Quite a lot actually. Aside from the usual basic chms requirements, it has a very nice query builder, online registration, a check-in solution, iphone app, etc. In short, bvcms stacks up nicely against the rest of the market, with the huge benefit of being free out of the gate.

Unlike most of the solutions, there is zero risk to test out bvcms. From you can watch video demos on a lot of the basic features, and then connect to a demo site you can play with. If you want to investigate further, you can download the source and install it and start playing on your own.

There are two ways to run bvcms. The first approach is the traditional open source approach. Download it, install it, and start using it! This is a solid option if you have the technical expertise to pull it off, and if you have programmers on staff or volunteers, you can begin to customize the product and make it your own. The second approach is to contact about getting setup as one of their customer churches, and letting them do all the heavy lifting. Either way, bvcms is a solid option in your search for the right ChMS for your church.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

RefreshCache Reflections

It's almost midnight on Tuesday, and RefreshCache is officially over. RefreshCache was an opportunity to rub shoulders with and learn from the collective wisdom of over 30 individuals representing eighteen of the finest churches in the country.

When we talked about making it a requirement that you had to present to attend, we wondered if it would put a drag on attendance, and if people would step up to the plate. Well, this was the largest group we've ever had for RefreshCache, and people didn't just step up to the plate, they hit it out of the park!

I would say that requiring everyone to present was the best move we could ever do. The end result was that everyone gave, and everyone learned. HDC got some great ideas on how to make Arena better, how to make our website better, and how to be more effective at the things we do. Personally, the time given to me by Tom Powers to help me learn performance tuning was priceless. His expertise and patience as we slogged through a particularly frustrating issue was amazing, and our church will benefit every day going forward with what I learned from him.

I really enjoyed seeing bvcms and getting to know David and Jeremy a bit as well. This is an important new player in the church software market, and I look forward to sharing my review of it with you when it is finished.

This week also presented some wonderful personal ministry opportunities and great time building relationships with some of the brightest technical minds in the church field.

RefreshCache 4.0 is only a year away, but I look forward to seeing how next year can be even better!


Monday, October 10, 2011

ChMS - RefreshCache 2011

We are in Gilbert, AZ for refreshcache 2011. This is the third year for this gathering, put on by our friends at Central Christian Church. The purpose of refreshcache is to encourage and motivate developers in the area of Church Management Software, mostly centered around Arena. We also had a presentation from David Carroll on bvcms, a product that I have not yet written up on this site. More to follow in another post.

One of the requirements we added this year on all attendees this year was that every church needed to present at least once, if possible. This was initially met with some fear and trepidation but the end result is that RC2011 is incredibly rich and feels like a community effort rather than a few people disseminating knowledge.

Collaboration seems to be the overarching theme of the gathering. One of the things that has really struck me lately is how much better things go when we work together and involve other people. The monday sessions started off with Derek Neighbors talking about collaboration as the second phase of creativity.

After some technical sessions, David Turner showed us some of the awesome things they have been working on at CCV, and then Jon Edmiston got up and challenged us all to work on "Google Car" levels of innovation in the church software field. Jon had very practical things we can all do to make ourselves better, and I really respect Jon as a guy who never stops learning and pushing forward.

One of Jon's closing statements was that we need to focus on major features, not incremental upgrades. While incremental changes are not a bad thing, they take away time and attention from making the next great thing, and church software has a long way to go before we hit real maturity in the innovation sector.

Jon closed with "one more thing" announcing the Spark Development Network, which is a non-profit devoted to developing open source software for the church environment. Their first project is an open source ChMS product simply called Rock.

This obviously is huge news, and I'll post more on it later.

Great meetings so far, looking forward to the rest!


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs Died Today

In 1981 or so I used a computer for the first time. It was an Apple ][. Soon thereafter I was exposed to the TI 99/4a, the Atari 800 and even the cheapest computer of the era, the Timex Sinclair 1000. At the time it was just exciting to use a computer, any computer at all. I had no idea that thirty years later I would still be using Apple products.

The Apple II was the product of the genius of Steve Wozniak and the vision and marketing talents of a very young Steve Jobs. In 1983 we bought our first computer, an Apple //e and I have never looked back. I watched the ugly split with Apple in the 80's, and was in the audience at the MacWorld Keynote when Jobs returned to Apple.

Many have referred to Jobs 2.0 as the best CEO ever for any company. It's quite an accolade, but when you consider that Apple was near death and trading at around $13 per share when he took over, and Apple is now consistently vying for the position of the largest capitalized company in the world.

It's very appropriate that I am writing this on an iMac, one of the brain childs of Steve Jobs. I got the news on my iPhone, another product of his relentless vision and search for perfection. And when I tell my wife about it, she will undoubtably look up the news on her iPad, the most recent success story. Although one of it's two founders has passed, the company they started continues.

It is a sad day. Jobs will be missed.


Friday, September 30, 2011

ChMS - Charging all of those iPads

If you are using iPads for check-in or in other manners in your church, there is a good chance you have lots of them that you need to keep charged. This device can make that job a lot simpler.

In our case, one of our staff members maintains our iPads every week, cleaning them and plugging them in to be sure they are fully charged. We rarely sync them because they only use safari, but occasionally we need to do that as well.

Griffin Technology announced a product that looks like it will be perfect for churches looking to maintain large numbers of ipads: the MultiDock.

The photo above shows each mac syncing to ten ipads, but you can link multidocs to sync up to 30 ipads to a single machine. This vastly improves the central deployment practices for a large organization, and makes keeping all of your check-in stations charged very simple.

By the looks of it you need to contact Griffin directly to purchase.


Monday, September 12, 2011

Love Wins & Erasing Hell

Even before the book was released (?) people were asking me what I thought about Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. There was a lot of controversy about this book, and people who know I like Rob continually tried to engage me in conversation about the book. I declined to engage until I'd actually read it. Weirdly, after the book was released, people had moved on to other issues and the questions stopped. It's amazing how fickle the world is. A month or two ago I got around to reading it, but I didn't post about it at the time. My impression after I finished it was that it was an important book, but it was only the opening statement in a long conversation about hell.

When I saw that Francis Chan was releasing a book called Erasing Hell: What God said about eternity, and the things we made up I realized that Francis was the perfect guy to respond to Bell's book. If you've ever heard Francis speak, he is emotional and deeply in love with our savior, and he's also very intelligent and a good writer.

Since Rob's book raises a lot of questions, and Erasing Hell seeks to answer some of those questions, I decided to review these books as a pair.

Love Wins is a typical Rob Bell book, and I mean that in a good way. It is written to engage your mind, and if you don't stop and reflect it's a pretty quick read. I didn't read it quickly, because I found myself stopping and reflecting a bit. Completely lost in the controversy over this book are some excellent thoughts on the nature of salvation in the first few chapters. After sharing the scriptures that talk about how to be saved Rob asks the question about how you are saved:
"Is it what you say,
or who you are,
or what you do,
or what you say you're going to do,
or who your friends are,
or who you're married to,
or whether you give birth to children?
Or is it what questions you're asked?
Or is it what questions you ask in return?
Or is it whether you do what you're told and go into the city?"

Thought provoking stuff.

Another one of the really strong points of this book is a focus on the very real "hell on earth" we have created in a world steeped in sin. This focus on the here and now challenges the reader to recognize that the gospel isn't just about "where we go when we die" but what we will do here, now, for the people around us. "It often appears that those who talk the most about going to heaven when you die talk the least about bringing heaven to earth right now, as Jesus taught us to pray: 'Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.'"

In the chapter on hell, Rob makes a very big point that Gehenna, the greek word translated "hell" was, in fact, a city dump during the time of Christ. Unfortunately for Rob and the reader, this is simply not true. In Erasing Hell, Francis Chan writes "In fact, there is no evidence for hundreds and hundreds of years after Jesus that there was a garbage dump in the Hinnom Valley in the first century. Nor is there any archaeological evidence that this valley was ever a dump...In fact, the first reference we have to the Hinnom Valley, or gehenna, as a town dump is made by a rabbi named David Kimhi in a commentary, which was written in AD 1200."

This is not 100% of Rob's argument, but it is a pretty big error. But then as we get back to the text, it's important once again to read what Rob says, not what other people say he says: "There is hell now, and there is hell later, and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously."

The part of this book that causes such heartburn is that Rob appears to be embracing a form of biblical universalism. Rob asks the question if it is possible to repent and be saved after death. He seems to believe it is, but admits there is no way to be certain. "Will everybody be saved, or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices? These are questions, or more accurately, those are tensions we are free to leave fully intact. We don't need to resolve them or answer them because we can't, and so we simply respect them, creating space for the freedom love requires."

You aren't going to learn everything you need to know about Love Wins from this blog, you really need to read it and interact with it on your own. But lets move on to erasing hell.

Francis Chan is the perfect guy to write a response to Rob Bell's Love Wins. He is gracious, humble, loving, and someone who I don't believe would ever be drawn into a war of words with another individual. One of the reasons I was eager to buy this book was a photograph that someone took this spring and posted on facebook of Rob Bell and Francis Chan together at an airport, smiling. As I looked at that photograph I thought that it was a perfect example of how we are called to righteous disagreement with one another. They both love Jesus and can love each other, even if they have disagreements over theology.

Another reason I think Francis was the perfect guy to write this book is that he gets the importance of this discussion. "I'm scared because so much is at stake. Think about it. If I say there is no hell, and it turns out that there is a hell, I may lead people into the very place I convinced them did not exist! If I say there is a hell, and I'm wrong, I may persuade people to spend their lives frantically warning loved ones about a terrifying place that is not real! When it comes to hell, we cannot afford to be wrong."

Francis does an excellent job of presenting the "other side of the story" from Rob's book, clearly illustrated with scriptures and well reasoned. Although not written only to respond to Rob's book, Francis answers many of Rob's more controversial points. One of the things I really like about Chan's approach is he makes no attempt to demonize Rob or "call him out" for where they differ. At one point he writes "To be fair, he is not explicitly arguing for this position but listing it as a valid view that would help explain a lot of the tension that we feel when thinking about the hard realities of hell. But he presents this position in such favorable terms that it would be hard to say that he is not advocating it." This kind of careful discussion is what we need more of in this world.

I don't really need to go point by point through Chan's book to tell you that it is an excellent and worthy read. It's not just about hell, but also about the nature of God. Chan (along with his co-author Preston Sprinkle who did most of the research) does an excellent job of detailing what the bible teaches about hell.

I think both books are valuable to read and understand. I would start with Love Wins, and then read erasing hell. I believe that both books are edifying and will draw you closer to God if you let them. On the theological end of things, I find myself landing with Chan most of the time where these books differ, but it's not about being "of Francis or of Rob" but being of Christ in the end.

God is good!


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ministry comes in all shapes and sizes

last night it was green and chunky!

Our youth team put on a fantastic yearly kickoff last night. Hundreds of kids were there to see the show, participate in worship, and hear a challenge from a great speaker. The night began with a video created by the youth team that kicked of the live event. In the video the team is riding horses, and to tie it all together we had a horse on stage.

While not officially part of the event, I was here because my daughter was in the audience, and my friend asked me to be in charge of "horse safety" meaning that if the horse got too nervous I was to help get it out of the building. Part of that was moving curtains etc. Not a big deal. I wasn't really dressed for the occasion, but my son showed up with a cowboy hat for me, and grabbing my trench coat from my office meant I fit right in (I'm always wearing boots, that wasn't an issue).

We quickly learned why you don't generally see live animals on stage. Lets just say that they have an amazing sense of timing on when they should "let loose the almighty thunder" from the hindquarters. The horse was on stage for maybe 15 minutes, but I found myself cleaning up the "output" twice in those fifteen minutes. I'm sure the kids loved it, and for me it was a pleasure to be part of the event, even if it wasn't exactly a glamorous role...

You never know what shape ministry will take. But at the end of the day, it doesn't matter as long as God is glorified and lives are changed. I was happy to be part of it, even if it didn't smell all that great!


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Education - It's about what you put into it

A friend and I were discussing our educational experiences today. We were discussing the general lackadaisical nature of elementary and secondary school, vs. the much better experience we had in college.

It got me thinking about how much of the benefit we gain from education is determined by our own motivation and attitude. Until you've graduated from high school you are pretty much forced to be there. As a result, you find yourself surrounded by a lot of people who adamantly don't want to be there in the first place. The end result of this is a lot of wasted class time and a lot of nonsense rules.

When you get to college things improve, because although your parents may be pushing you to be there, if you drop out the sheriff isn't going to show up at their door... The end result is more people who want to be there, but still there are plenty of people who would rather be somewhere else. In college I found that I could learn almost as little or as much as I wanted in any given class. A perfect example is Art Appreciation. We were required to take either Music Appreciation or Art Appreciation. As a musician, the "easy class" was the music one, but I decided to take art because I knew nothing about art. From day one my attitude and enthusiasm in the class was vastly different than almost all of the other students. Everyone was taking it because it was a requirement, but I had decided to use it to learn as much as possible about art, rather than just checking off the box on my schedule. As a result, I absolutely loved the class, and I learned a bit about a subject that I otherwise was clueless about.

With seminary there was a significant change from undergraduate work. Very few people go to seminary out of obligation, they go because they want to. This makes things like group projects far more interesting because everyone is (generally) engaged in the material. At the same time there are classes that people are only taking because they have to. Still, post-graduate was my favorite level of education for both the challenge and the overall academic environment.

I agreed to teach several of our staff members Hebrew this year. We started about three weeks ago, and the difference between students who are taking a requirement and pastors who want to learn something is incredible. I have never seen a more engaged group of students than this one. Everyone is eager to learn the material and is quick with questions. It's like having a classroom full of star students. Not only is it an honor to teach them the language of the old testament, it's a blast at the same time. I am fully confident that when we are done every one of these guys could test out of Hebrew at any seminary in the country.

My point? The reason this class is full of super stars isn't because they all have a natural affinity for semitic languages. The reason is because they all want to be here, and they all want to learn the material. Treat every class, even art appreciation, like it matters and you will be astonished how much more you get out of your education.


Monday, August 8, 2011

So incredibly awesome

This is one of the greatest videos I have ever seen. Elevation church baptized 1426 people this past weekend. It's always good to step back from our roles from time to time and remember why we do what we do. This video expresses it in a nutshell: changed lives.

Follow from Elevation Church on Vimeo.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Cloud Computing - Where is the revenue?

In this excellent article John Foley asked the question about cloud computing: Where is the revenue? There are some pretty big surprises when you look at the real reported numbers. Amazon bundles AWS revenue into a category they call "other" and it is nothing like the $25 billion number that gets bandied about.

The same is true for all of the big players. If this is the "next big thing" then why aren't we hearing anything about revenue? My question is this: When was the last time you heard of a company hiding success? Cloud computing revenue numbers are like real sales figures for every table not named iPad: dirty little secrets that are kept quiet. This can't be good.

There are so many IT buzzwords that have come and gone, and I fear that this is another one. Remember push? That was the next big thing. How about thin clients? Time and time again the buzzwords get all the press, but what keeps selling is desktop pc's, servers, and software...


Monday, August 1, 2011

Lion - Server Dataloss Explained

I have had some questions about how exactly this works and what the ramifications are. I've put together a little screen capture that demonstrates the problem in detail. We have tested this with both Snow Leopard Server and Lion Server. Watch this video and you will see exactly what the problem is:

Lion Dataloss on Servers

What needs to happen is that Apple needs to change the API for versions to disable the functionality entirely on shared volumes. With it disabled the app would have to revert back to the "you have unsaved changes, save or quit" behavior of all prior versions of MacOS.

I recognize that Apple is trying to make things easier for the novice, but at the same time the ability to do non-destructive edits is something that people use on the mac all the time. It is a fundamental feature of a computer. What versions is doing is removing the ability for the user to control when they write changes to a document. With a personal system this isn't the end of the world because versions allows you to "revert to save" but with networked volumes this will only end in tears.

If you require that the user first duplicate the document, there will quickly be thousands of duplicate documents on the server that users did not throw away. This is also a big problem.

There has to be an answer to this, and it's going to have to come from Apple.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Lion - Showstopping "uh oh"

So I've had a bit of a rough go of getting Lion up and running this week, but I am now running Lion on my desktop, and my Laptop is about half setup. As we've begun testing, we have encountered a bug/feature that is a total showstopper for us at this point.

Here's how you replicate it.

(1) Place a photo on a server.

For us, this is where we recommend people keep important files. Their desktop may be backed up with time machine, but the server is RAID 6 with hot spares, and on top of that is backed up. Much, much safer.

(2) Open that photo in preview. Crop it so that you can print it. Close preview. Notice it didn't ask you if you wanted to save?

(3) Open that file again. It's still cropped. The original? Gone. Choose "Revert to Saved" from the file menu. Notice the large number of empty windows on the right? Yup, you can't get back to the prior version, even though you never saved.

Now, as a network administrator, imagine the consequences of this for your network. Users accessing shared files and making changes they need, but not saving them because they don't need to be saved. Yup, their version is now THE definitive version for the entire network.

The ability to do non-destructive edits is something that computer users have been doing since, well, the dawn of computing more or less. Lion removes this. Now, add on top of that user mistakes in a network environment. User accidentally deletes all the text from a 24 page document. They don't know what to do so they close the app. Unless the backup has run since that 24 page document was created, it's gone. Forever. And ever. Amen.

So you make sure time machine runs every fifteen seconds on the server. Problem solved right? Well, what if it's six months before that file is opened again (and discovered to be blank). Hope you have petabytes of backup storage, because you are going to need it.

Time machine is great. The idea behind versions is great. But as it exists now, Lion is a recipe for catastrophic data loss on the network. Auto-save of this type simply does not work in a share document network environment.

For years I've laughed at windows shops who clung to old versions of windows as long as they could because the new ones were so bad (I'm looking at you, Vista) that they didn't want to use them on their network. Suddenly I emphasize with them, because I don't see any way I can allow a Lion machine to access our server until this is resolved.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Things I'm Looking Foward to in Lion

Tomorrow I expect to receive a text. It will be from my cousin, wanting to know if he should spend the money to upgrade to Lion. It will be the first time of many I will have the conversation over the coming weeks. At $29 it's an easier upgrade than the old $129 prices we used to pay. Still, it's worth looking at what Lion will bring.

First up is a pretty significant upgrade to Address Book. For me the integration with iPhoto is long overdue, as is the ability to add yearless birthdays and connect my address book to facebook profiles. Once connected to the right profile, facebook is more persistent than phone numbers or email addresses, providing a way to contact someone if all the info you have is out of date. Others will find the Yahoo! integration awesome, but since I don't use Yahoo it's pretty irrelevant to me.

Versions is about being able to revert to old copies of your documents. I love this. When editing large documents versioning can help you recapture information you removed long ago and suddenly realize you need... The Vax had this by default years ago, it's nice to see it finally hit the mac.

If FileVault really can encrypt my data with an "imperceptible performance impact" I will definitely use this on my laptop. The value here is if my laptop is stolen, my personal data is secure and protected, even if someone connects to the drive via firewire or some other method. Sure, encryption is breakable given enough time, but generally I think the average stolen laptop buyer will simply format the hard drive rather than spend the time and effort to recover my data...

I'm really looking forward to simple things, like merge folders, keep both files, and the return of the drag files behavior from NeXTstep (yes, I used and liked NeXTstep long ago, and have a NeXT at home in the garage). These small changes in the finder will make day to day use simply better and working with files easier. Little fanfare, but real improvements.

Mail has a lot of changes on the way, and I think they will be good. I find that I prefer mail on the iPad over mail on my mac, hopefully Lion will change that.

Mission Control - Spaces was a nice start, but I think Mission Control will really help people who have lots of open windows manage everything quickly and easily. Only time will tell if this is as good as its marketing...

Preview - Add your signature. This is a long overdue feature. Hold your signature up to the camera on your mac, and it will add it to a PDF document for you. Finally signing PDF forms is simple and easy!

There are also some things about Lion I'm not as excited about. For example, Launchpad gives your mac an iOS interface. Not for me, thanks. Likewise, the multi-touch gestures are not likely to be high on my list of what I use.

Thankfully, the stuff they have marketed is not all that changed in Lion. There is a LOT of good functionality for the $29 upgrade price, and it's totally worth it. As soon as I solve my dependence on Quicken and get a solution for my Canvas documents (import to something else or a VM that can run Rosetta apps) I will be making the move.


How to Upgrade to Lion

A major upgrade to Mac OS X comes out tomorrow. If you are considering upgrading, here's what you should know:

The first BIG thing about Lion you should know is that Rosetta is no more. This means that any and all PowerPC apps you have will no longer work. This is not a big deal to some, but if you run Quicken or Canvas, this could be a deal killer. The very first thing you should do before buying Lion is choose "About this Macintosh" from the Apple menu and click "more info" and then click on "Applications" under Software. Sort by kind and look for anything labelled PowerPC. Unless you have only had your mac a very short time, there will likely be some things in there that will surprise you.

For me on my desktop it is mostly a realization that Office 2004 will no longer work, and I'll have to make peace with Office 2011 (never did like 2008). The other loss is Canvas X. Canvas used to be one of my primary tools, until it was purchased by ACD who dropped the mac product. Now it's a sorry sad sack of an app long in disrepair. Lion will finally deliver the coup de grace to that once proud product. ACD's solution is "use the windows version" which is a bit like spitting on the mac version's grave to me... My laptop has a larger issue, which is quicken 2006. I use features that are not available in the much maligned Quicken Essentials for Mac. The switch to Lion is going to force me to finally move to a web based online banking and abandon quicken forever. Perhaps its for the best, Intuit's heart hasn't been in quicken development in years. These things are manageable but important that they be considered BEFORE making the switch. Once Lion is running, these apps will not even launch anymore. If I want to convert old Canvas files or export things from Quicken, I need to do it before I make the plunge. (An aside: the licensing for Lion allows mac os x to run as a client os inside virtual machines on Lion. Hopefully this means that we can setup VM's of snow leopard to run Rosetta apps and possibly even Tiger to run classic apps, but since currently that isn't possible, we'll wait and see how that pans out).

But enough about the loss of Rosetta. Once I am ready to make the move I plan to do a total nuke and repour, which is my standard operating procedure for significant OS upgrades. This means: (1) Image off the entire drive to an external drive. (2) Test said image and make sure it mounts and reads properly. (3) Make a copy of that image to a second location because I'm paranoid. (4) Format my internal hard drive and install from scratch. In the case of Lion it means I have to install a copy of snow leopard and then install lion from the app store. By the time I actually do the install, I hope there will be a way to skip the install snow leopard step, but that hasn't been announced or promised. The official solution for macs that can run snow leopard might always involve an install of snow leopard first. (5) Download Snow Leopard from the App Store and install. This is not trivial, as it's going to be a LARGE download. Plan a lot of time for this step.

If I have the time, I like to reinstall EVERYTHING on my machine after a major upgrade. This is by most accounts, insane. But I like to insure that, at least for a short period of time, I have all of the latest versions of everything and there is no data corruption anywhere to worry about. I haven't done this for a while, so Lion is probably a good opportunity. It's a lot of work, but the reward is a machine that runs trouble free for a long, long time. Once I'm done with this I don't expect to do anything to my machines until 10.8 is released, whenever that is.


Monday, July 18, 2011

App Store Volume Purchases

Apple announced the App Store Volume Purchase program for businesses. This is great, as it's something that is a hindrance to use of apps in the enterprise and even for organizations like ours.

However, the announcement, as with many business-centric announcements lately, provides more questions than answers. If I read it right, it means that I can buy as many copies of an app as I want and I will get redemption codes for those apps. That's good, but as soon as the employee redeems the code they own the app, not the business.

While not a big deal if you are buying everyone Angry Birds or MPG, it becomes a much bigger deal with more expensive apps. What if you need multiple copies of iRa pro for your facilities team? At $900 each, is that a taxable benefit to the employee? Even though it's useless when they are not at their job? What about other expensive apps, or if you buy a large quantity of apps that can be used outside your current place of employment?

This also makes no mention of the Mac OSX app store, which is problematic. The original announcement on how volume licensing would work for mac app store purchases was underwhelming. For example, a 20 copy minimum. Fine for Lion, not so great for Final Cut Studio...

Furthermore, using redemption codes is cool, but creates another batch of issues. What if I buy 100 copies of something, and a user sends that redemption code onto his friend who posts it on facebook. Within minutes all of my licenses have been used and the company is out the money...

As I said, more questions than answers. I'm just grateful that Apple is trying to tackle this stuff to make the iOS and Mac App Store more business friendly.


Friday, July 8, 2011

ChMS - ConnectionPower / FellowshipOne Webinar

I've been listening to the webinar (despite the fact that I general despise the things) about the acquisition of ConnectionPower by ActiveNetwork. The short version: ConnectionPower has been acquired by ActiveNetwork and the distinct strengths of ConnectionPower will be integrated into FellowshipOne.

There was one question that was asked during the webinar that really caught my attention, because I completely disagree with the answer. The question: "Churches that are currently new customers to ConnectionPower {and} are still in the implementation process, should they continue that process or do they have the option to move over {to FellowshipOne}?" The answer was "My encouragement there is to go ahead and implement ConnectionPower..."

This is a very bad suggestion! Here's why: Implementing a ChMS is a HUGE process. It takes a tremendous amount of staff time, volunteer time, vendor time, and ultimately congregational time as everyone learns the system. Not only is our entire staff trained on Arena, but our small group leaders have all been trained on how to use the tools available to them, our congregation has learned how our online giving works etc. In the same call ActiveNetwork stated that ConnectionPower will be end of life as a separate product by the end of 2012. This means that if you spend the time now to complete your implementation of ConnectionPower, you will have to go through ANOTHER transition in eighteeen months.

The very reason I spent so much time researching which ChMS product I wanted to implement here at HDC was because this is such a massive undertaking. Getting your data moved to a new product and the staff trained is a lot of time, but it's only the tip of the iceberg. Once the product is in place, it takes time to learn how to learn the new functionality and get everything working with your organization. To do this with a product that is going to be gone in eighteen months is a very, very bad idea.

If you are on the front end of a ConnectionPower implementation, you should absolutely stop right now and make the switch to FellowshipOne. Although you might not have access right now to a few things that excited you about ConnectionPower, you will save your staff and congregation a HUGE amount of headache by not having to do it all over again in a year. The idea of continuing this to preserve momentum is a bad idea, as you will waste a lot of staff hours and adapt your congregation to a system that is going to go away within 18 months.

If you are already implemented and live with ConnectionPower, well, that's the group that these guys are working hard to make your transition as easy as possible as well. Step one is creating a bunch of videos that show you how to replicate ConnectionPower functionality in FellowshipOne. Step two is for them to integrate the stuff that isn't there yet, and once that is online, the transition of longtime ConnectionPower churches should happen in earnest.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

ChMS - ConnectionPower Acquired by ActiveNetwork

I received an email today that ConnectionPower has been acquired by ActiveNetwork. If this sounds familiar it's because these are the same guys who snatched up FellowshipOne a few months back. While I'd never heard of ActiveNetwork before they bought F1, it's pretty clear they want to be a major presence in the church management software space.

According to the announcement on CP's site, the "unique ministry capabilities" of ConnectionPower will be rolled into FellowshipOne and it will all eventually be branded ActiveWorks | Faith.

I don't know if it's fair or not, but I have had a general feeling that ConnectionPower was having a tough go of it in the marketplace. This confirms that to me, as this is likely a customer base acquisition on the part of ActiveNetwork.

I'm still nervous about ActiveNetwork because I don't know them at all, but I think this is a good thing for customers of ConnectionPower. It gives them access to FellowshipOne and the ongoing technology development that is happening there, and hopefully the things that make CP unique are integrated nicely into that product.

The downside is that a significant player has been eliminated from the marketplace, and that reiterates the need for FellowshipOne, Arena, CCB, MinistryPlatform and others to innovate and push forward.

It will be interesting to see where the market is in a year after these changes fully shake out.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Who needs social networking when facebook and twitter have it all wrapped up right?

After many false starts, it seems like Google has come up with some really cool ideas of how to make it better. Dubbed Google+ they have done some great forward thinking about how social networking should look and how to do it. See the tour here.

The first good idea is circles. The idea here is simple: You don't want to share everything with everybody. Family might want to see 900 pictures a day of your child, but your co-workers probably do not. Circles makes this possible and simple.

Huddle is another really good idea. Basically it's group chat, but if it's simple to setup it will be useful for things like agreeing on what movie to go see or where to go to dinner etc. Things that help social networking move from the internet to the real world are always good, IMHO.

Check it out!


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

ChMS - iPad Kiosks

One of the most desirable aspects of our check-in system is that check-in works on iPads. More churches talk to us about our check-in for this feature than any other. The question that always has to be answered though is how to secure them.

Our production director found these:

Made by a company called, they answer the question of how to secure ipads for use in a public location. They can also operate with the ipad plugged in, making them easy to use without having to charge them every week (like we do now). The whole thing is held securely in an attractive kiosk. There are three styles, two free standing and one for tabletops.

The downside is that like any well made product, they are expensive. The tabletop models are $275 each + $50 shipping and the freestanding ones are $500 each + shipping. This takes away some of the "it's cheap" appeal of the ipad, but it's still a good solution for kiosks.

We don't have any of these yet (Today was the first time I'd ever seen them) but we will consider them for our next campus which opens in September.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The tyranny of the urgent

I have 506 messages in my inbox, and 495 of them have send dates of May 26 or later. How does this happen? I don't think any of them are spam, so the rest require attention of some kind.

The issue is always the tyranny of the urgent. In this case I've done a wedding, rebuilt servers, upgraded our bible software and trained our teaching pastors on it (far more work than it sounds), presented a third campus budget to our board, etc. In short, it's been an extraordinarily busy couple of weeks.

The problem is that now I am stuck. Do I clean out my email box, something that is likely to take days, or do I tackle the other things on my todo list (something that is hopelessly buried on my desk which looks like my inbox). All of the emails are recent, so they really should be addressed while they are fresh. Add to that my schedule in the next two weeks and I feel that if I don't do it now, the problem will simply multiply.


I shudder to think how bad this would be if I didn't handle about 50% of my email on my iPhone.


Monday, May 16, 2011

21 Hours with a Volt

Yesterday I went to Rancho Motors, the local Chevrolet dealer (Rancho Motor Company) and picked up their demo Volt for a 24 hour trial (21 because I picked it up around 4 and returned it around 1 the next day). It was charged, and claimed an electric range of 35 miles. I set the AC in "eco" mode and headed out of the dealership for the drive home, a distance of about 13 miles. When I got home the readout claimed I had 19 miles left, so I had used "16 miles" worth of juice to go 13 miles. Not good. On the other hand, our house is about 1250 feet higher than the dealership, so this is not a huge surprise.

I took the car home and picked up the family and we went for a drive. We went and visited some friends who were in the market for a car, and while we were there we plugged it into a power outlet in their garage. They both wanted a ride, so I took them for a spin in it. Since they both wanted to know if it was quick, I floored it, a technique you will rarely find in any hypermiling guide :-)

We then drove it by another friends house (who also wanted a ride) and finally took it home again and plugged it in. After about an hour I drove it to another friends house and plugged it in while I hung out there. All told, we did not use any gas on Thursday for this car and we drove 40 miles. I probably could have gotten away without charging it at all until I finally brought it home for the night, but I wanted to have it fully charge for the morning (didn't quite make it).

I plugged the car in at around 11 (simple 120v garage outlet, we don't have a charger) and went to bed. In the morning it was about an hour from fully charge, and showed 33 miles of range. I had Patty drive the kids to school and then I drove the car back home in order to see what the drive to school would do on electric, as we do this usually three times a day (I put the AC on full and told patty to ignore everything, just drive it like you would any car). The drive had used 14 miles of the 33 it showed when we left. Considering it was an, um, spirited drive to school (Patty did NOT want to be late) and daddy was along (more weight plus full blast AC), it is very likely that a normal day would use 12-13 miles of range. This is awesome, because after dropping the kids at school, Patty could plug it in for a couple of hours and fully recharge it (on 240V) before going about the rest of the day.

That would make it possible for us to go 52 miles per day on electricity alone, which is pretty awesome. It takes 12 kWh to fully charge a volt, and if you have an EV only meter that works out to $1.65 (12 x $.11 overnight, + 3 x $.11 for the morning charge) to drive 52+ miles. Currently we spend $11.77 to drive those same miles in our Honda Odyssey. That means using electricity would save us over $300 per month, not to mention the gas savings difference when we use gas (40MPG is a lot better than the 19 we are seeing now).

My friend suggested that I should see how the car runs when it is out of battery, so I switched it to sport mode and got on the freeway. The car was easy to drive on the freeway had no problem doing 85-90 when called upon. Once I got to work, it got a workout giving people rides and explaining everything. We took it to get donuts, and finally we exhausted the battery and ran on the "range extender" (fancy word for gas engine). The car felt about the same. At one point we went up a long steep hill, and the engine was turning a LOT of revs for a little while, but then it settled back down.

Completely depleted I drove it to lunch. I parked it in front of Holland Burger, and someone came inside and asked who was driving it and started asking me questions. I walked outside with him to show him the car, and as soon as I popped the hood I had a crowd. People are very curious about this car, and most people do not understand how it works. Even the salesman get it wrong, as one of them told a friend of mine that after 400 miles you "had to charge it" which is totally wrong.

After lunch I returned the car. We had driven 95.3 miles and used .8 gallons of gas, for an effective MPG of 119. Not bad. Not bad at all. That is almost exactly 100MPG better than our van...

We are seriously considering a Volt. It's expensive, yes, but it's a marvelous piece of technology that would save us a lot of money in fuel costs and insulate us from both rising fuel costs and the dropping value of the dollar (which results in even higher gas prices). Furthermore, it puts our energy spending into domestic production rather than sending it overseas.

And most importantly, Jacob's tuba fits in the back!


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

More thoughts on EV's

As I mentioned in my last post, we're in the market for an electric car. I specified why in my last post and it was mostly financial. But I have a few other thoughts to add:

Every person I've talked to has tried to talk me out of this (I'm not convinced myself yet either). Every person. Think about that. Have you ever talked to someone about buying a car and had every single person try to talk you out of that specific car? I've been told they burn people's houses down, I've been told I should "just buy a prius" (sorry, no) and I've been told that it will cost me as much or more for electricity as I pay for gas. The sheer amount of misinformation is astonishing. I want to start by addressing those things:

Looking online there was one person whose GEM (glorified golf cart) burned down their house in 2002, and one garage fire that "might have been related" to the Chevy Volt parked inside, or (much more likely) might have been related to the home made electric car sitting next to it... Really? How many people have burned down their house with gasoline? I have a good friend whose garage caught on fire when the fuel lines in his old Chevy burst and ignited. We didn't all abandon gasoline cars because of this, and I'm sure his story is not unique.

Buy a Prius: The hybrid is a bad proposition to me. A Prius costs about $10,000 more than a Honda Fit, and a Honda Fit is a car that I much prefer. The difference in mileage is around 15MPG. In other words, it would take about 8 years to save the money spent on the Prius over the Fit, and I'd be stuck driving a Prius for 8 years. No thanks.

It will cost as much as gas. Sorry, not even close, but it IS possible. I've talked with people using my electric company who say that with the EV time of use rate, it costs about $2.50 to fully charge the Nissan Leaf overnight. That means a maximum of $75 per month in electricity, versus $479.42 to drive those same miles in our van, a savings of over $400 per month. That's at the EV rate from Southern California Edison. If you don't make changes to your electric plan with Edison, you could spend a lot more though.

So, lets move on to some other thoughts, because it's not all roses either.

The electric rates are huge in the value proposition of the electric car. They make the difference between worth it or not. Unfortunately, to get the EV (Electric Vehicle) rate you have to have a second meter that is only connected to the EV. While Edison will provide the meter for free, you still have to have it installed and wired, something that is not cheap. Then you need to buy a home charging station. All of this will add $2000-$3000 to the price of the car.

There are federal incentives, yes, for buying an electric car. These will go away, hopefully soon (we need to cut over a trillion dollars from our budget and stuff like this should be first to go), but you still pay tax on the purchase price of the car. Thus, tax and license adds another $3000 or so on the purchase price of the vehicle.

Reselling an electric car is most likely more difficult than reselling a gas car. It's a smaller market, and on top of that, there is the HUGE question of long term battery life. The battery is the single most expensive part of this car, and rechargable batteries do not last forever. With a laptop when the battery life gets shorter it's annoying, and you find yourself using it plugged in more. It is difficult to drive an electric car while it is plugged in :-) As the range decreases, the value of the car severely decreases, particularly with an all electric vehicle like the leaf.

I firmly believe that resale values on early electric cars like the Leaf is going to be poor. Competition is good, and right now there isn't any. If Ford, BMW, Honda etc. all jump into this market, then there will be vastly better options when its time to get rid of the Leaf. And unlike a gas car, the leaf won't be as good then as it is now, because there will be age and miles on the battery.

For us, the mileage we plan on putting on the vehicle makes a lease a bad option. At 25,000 miles per year, the mileage penalty would kill us.

The things I like about an electric car are easy. No more trips to the gas station, simply plug it in at night, at work (if they will let you, a leaf can take a slow charge from standard 120v electric at a cost of about $.15 per hour), or both. Complete isolation from the oil market, and some isolation from the currency market. Since power grid energy is produced domestically, you are also sending money into the US economy rather than the economy of the OPEC nations, and that's a very big deal. If you buy solar or wind, you can eliminate your fuel cost for your local transportation altogether.

I'm not sure what we will do yet. I'm less interested in the Leaf the more I get to know it, probably because it feels like a $35,000 Versa, and I've never thought the Versa was a very good car to begin with. I also agree with the chairman of BMW who says that electric car subsidies should go away and the cars should compete in the marketplace on their own merits. I think the merits are there, but the cars definitely have to make a case for themselves.

But as I said before, it is a huge uphill battle. The reason is simple: as Americans we are very prejudiced against electric cars. They are inadequate as an only vehicle due to their limited range. When I was a kid my family had one car. That one car could not have been electric, we traveled all over the country in it. But despite the fact that many families have more than one car now, we still hold to the idea that a car with a limited range is a useless car, even though we almost never take more than one car on long trips. That is something we have to get past intellectually. Electric cars are a great option as an additional car.

Now to find the right one.


Sunday, May 1, 2011

I want an electric car

why can't I buy one?

The Nissan Leaf is advertised EVERYWHERE. On tv, in magazines, on the internet, it's hard to get away from. The Nissan Leaf is an all electric car that is reasonably cheap ($25K or so after rebates) and seats four. But try to buy one. Go ahead. They opened up a US pre-order signup process over a year ago (only open to certain geographic areas), and it was instantly over-subscribed and they cut it off at 20,000 vehicles. They were supposed to ship in 2010. By January of 2011 they had shipped around 60 cars. Worldwide.

Nevermind the madness of spending money to advertise a car you can't ship (those pre-orders all include a deposit, the people are serious), why is this taking so long? (I know the earthquake in Japan has delayed this further, but these cars were supposed to have shipped prior to the earthquake)

I don't need public charging stations, I'm not waiting for any silver bullet. What they are offering we could use, right now. We have a minivan. It averages 18.1 MPG, and our average use is 71.1 miles per day. This is not speculative, it is hard data from the last three years, calculated by my iphone and the trusty MPG app. If you do the math, we spend over $500 per month for my wife's van, and if you look at the mileage, we average 70 miles per day, right in the sweet spot for an electric vehicle (generally they go 90-100 miles per charge).

So the Leaf isn't shipping. What else is out there? Well, the Ford Focus electric has gotten a lot of attention, but there is no shipping date. What about now? I'm tired of spending this money on gas right now... The only other choice that even claims to be shipping in 2011 is the BMW ActiveE. The problem is there is no firm date, and it looks like limited availability and a two year lease with a pretty hefty up front charge.


At the end of the day, there simply aren't any options available for a family of four looking for a fully electric car. There are a lot of vehicles announced, but none of them you can actually purchase. The closest thing is the Volt, which is a plug-in hybrid, but it's not a pure electric and it's rather expensive for what it is.

If the motoring press is to be believed, 2012 and 2013 should bring a lot more choice in this area. In the meantime, we are stuck paying an escalating percent of my paycheck for gas, with no relief in sight.

Choice is good. Bring on the electric car.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

RIP Flip, the fridge is here...

In a presentation at Catalyst a few years ago, Guy Kawasaki talked about the ice market. The ice market long ago consisted of companies that cut up and shipped ice to consumers. This was big and expensive, and required a ship and a long trip to an area where there was lots of ice. As technology improved, it became possible to make ice in a giant warehouse, rather than taking a ship to a very cold climate. As you can imagine, this was vastly simpler, cheaper, and rarely involved sinking to the bottom of the ocean due to a particularly bad storm... Eventually the ice house gave way to the home refrigerator, which was again cheaper and easier. The point? Technology marches on and old ways of doing business die.

The latest casualty is the Flip video camera. For years video cameras have been getting smaller and cheaper. The Flip was an innovative camera that made cheap and "good enough" the standard for personal video. Rather than a big camera with a big zoom lens and tape, the flip was small, portable and shot "good enough" video for people to share. The flip has effectively killed off the bottom of the consumer video camera market, just like the icehouse killed off the ship ice from alaska business...

And then smartphones got video cameras, and the idea of a standalone low end video camera made about as much sense as still having your ice delivered by the local icehouse. Not only was it cheaper (included in the phone you already own or just bought) but it was better. Want to upload it to youtube while you are on the go? The phone will, but the flip? Not unless you plug it into your computer. And just like the home refrigerator killed off the icehouse, the smartphone killed off the flip.

Cisco has taken a lot of grief for this move, and at first glance I think rightly so. They paid nearly $600 Million for the Flip just a few years ago, and now they are shutting the whole business down. But I think the people who claim this is too soon are using bad math. In that article, it is claimed that the market for the flip is somehow 1 billion people. But the very fact that those 1 billion people are the same people that don't want, or cannot afford a smartphone is exactly the problem. Those are the same people that are unlikely to spend money on a brand new video camera. They might already own an older one that is "good enough" or they may find that an older flip or other camera is cheaper on ebay or they might look at it as something that they aren't interested in spending money on.

The point is this: It is a contracting market no matter how you look at it, and serving a rapidly shrinking market (these same people probably argued that not everyone had a fridge at home and there was still a need for an icehouse) is not a good business model. Cisco is making the right move by cutting their losses right now, even though it's a tough decision.

The consumer video camera market as a whole is one that I believe will go way in the face of DSLR's with interchangeable lenses that shoot HD video. For the casual crowd the smartphone meets the need. For the enthusiast crowd the DSLR offers far more than a fixed lens video camera, and the big gaping hole of audio is being remedied fast (Better audio accessories are THE hot accessory for the DSLR market right now). Even some pros are using DSLR's (mostly Canon) to do some pretty impressive projects. RIP consumer video cameras, you have become the icehouse. Viva la iPhone!


Monday, April 4, 2011

Moonwalking with Einstein

In a rare spur of the moment buy, I picked up Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything from the "Amazon Recommends" suggestions. The title intrigued me, and it seems like my memory has gotten worse over the years, and frankly I'd like to have some of that back... When I was younger I relied a lot on my memory. In college I didn't take notes, I listened and interacted in class. I found that I learned a retained a lot more that way than if I just dutifully copied down everything the professor said. These days I have trouble remembering what we discussed last week, let alone months ago.

The first and most important thing to say about this book is that it is not a self help book. This is not really a how to, but more of a journey. Joshua Foer is a storyteller, a journalist, who got interested in the strange world of memory competitions and spent a year training himself to win the US Memory Championships (he did). Along the way, he discusses some (but not all) of the techniques involved in such things.

The book is very well written. It is engaging and a quick read. Along the way it teaches the reader some of the techniques for improving your memory. I was skeptical, but it does work. I am generally terrible at memorizing things, but I was able to very quickly memorize a long list of cars & lap times using the techniques in the book (I did it just for grins, to see if it really worked).

The disappointing thing to me is that he really doesn't cover how to memorize poetry, which is one aspect of the memory competitions. Poetry to me bears the most similarity to scripture, which is really what I would like to be better at memorizing. I'd also hoped to learn enough techniques to be able to memorize scripture in Greek or Hebrew, something I have found impossible to do.

One of the important aspects of memory that this book demonstrates is that our memories are a bit like muscles, they need to be exercised to work effectively. In a world in which we dump everything that matters onto our iphones, it's easy to start forgetting everything and I don't think that's healthy.

At the end of the book Foer frets about the limited practical applications for improving your memory using the techniques he learned. He relays how after a year of memory training he went to dinner, and after taking the train home realized he had driven to dinner... It is not a cure for being forgetful, but rather a set of tools to remember things that you want to remember.

Although not a perfect book, this is a fantastic introduction to the world of your own memory. The techniques in here really work, and have me intrigued enough to look for other resources on improving my memory.



Friday, March 11, 2011

Interview with Jeff Hook of Fellowship Technologies

In February Fellowship Technologies was acquired by ActiveNetwork. Rather than just speculate on what this means for FellowshipOne, I asked Jeff Hook, CEO & Founder of Fellowship Technologies, if he would be willing to answer questions about this significant development in the church management software market. He graciously agreed. 

I broke my questions into three areas, and limited it to four questions per area. I asked a few friends of mine in the ChMS community what they would like to ask as well, and some of their questions are integrated into the twelve below. Introductions aside, let's get to Jeff's answers!

The first category was for general questions about the acquisition.

(1) What brought about this development? 

Active contacted me first in September of 2007 saying they wanted to get into the church space and I told them I was not interested in selling. I finally entertained their request and went to San Diego to visit their corporate headquarters. They were very impressive but I again reiterated that I was not interested in selling at that time. Every so often, they would call and we'd engage in each others' vision. As we saw common ground, it became clear that we were either going to be a big part of their strategy or we'd have to compete. After a lot of prayer and petitioning to the Lord, it became clear this was what we were supposed to do. We conducted the due diligence on each other and closed the deal on February 1st of this year.

(2) How did F1 become aware of ActiveNetwork or vice versa?

They conducted market research and came to the conclusion that we were the market thought leaders in the industry. They were also convinced that we could become the market leaders based on our people, process and technology approach to business, if we just had more capital to grow faster. We were already growing at a good pace organically, but they knew with more resources, we could ignite development, increase the number of leads and add churches faster.

(3) What do you see as the strongest aspect of ActiveNetwork?

Active is made up of quality professionals who strive to provide value to their customers and are truly dedicated to helping make them (the customer's) successful in fulfilling their vision. In each area of the solutions they provide to the market, they want to be the best - either be the best or do not play; provide innovation or do not play; add the most value or do not play. 

(4) What was most attractive about FellowshipOne to ActiveNetwork?

According to a document I saw after the acquisition, the primary things Active liked about Fellowship Technologies is the quality of our people and our approach to business and innovation; the secondary reasons for buying us was the technology and Active's motivation to get into the faith market.

My second area of questioning was more structural. How would Fellowship Technologies operate after the acquisition?

(1) What kind of changes has the integration made to FellowshipOne as an organization?

Since the primary reason for buying Fellowship Technologies was our people, Active has not changed the structure much at all at this time. The only change so far is that our HR department now reports up through the corporate office and will support additional business units as well as our own. Over time, we will begin to transition into the matrix organization to ensure that we are conducting certain aspects of the business using a common approach, but with me, the general manager of the business unit, directing the priorities required to address the needs of the market. All of the executives are incented to stay the course to help fulfill our vision of providing better systems to churches to effectively care for people, efficiently manage resources and to enable growth (spiritually and numerically).

(2) What short term benefits should FellowshipOne customers expect from this integration?

Of course, the answer to this depends on how you define short-term. As you know, very few things happen in technology in the short term. Over time we will be able to apply more resources to the business and share some functionality that are in other Active solutions. We will also be able to attract employees who live outside of Texas to expand the reach of resources available (It is hard for a smaller company to manage the regulatory requirements of adding employees in more than one state). We will also be able to provide better support to our customers who depend on Active for solutions outside of Fellowship One.

(3) What long term benefits do you see for FellowshipOne customers as a result of this transition?

These are too numerous to layout here. Let me suffice it to say that I believe, in less than five years, the marketplace will agree that this acquisition was ingenious and will bring bring more to the church market than any other ChMS ever imagined. That includes the "previous" Fellowship Technologies before I started to expand my vision of how churches could be served; and, as you know, my vision has always been pretty big!

(4) You've provided excellent leadership at FellowshipOne for a long time. How long are you committed to staying at the head of FellowshipOne? 

Thank you. Of course, I cannot foresee the future. I assume I will continue to be here for quite some time. I am making no plans to leave. Let me just say I continue to be committed to helping make God's vision for Fellowship One that He laid out for me that very first day that I was approached about this software a reality. Maybe I will leave after I have run out of good ideas for how to apply technologies and processes to help the Church serve God's people better. I don't know if I have one of the best jobs in the world, but I do know I have one of the best jobs for me.

My final area of questioning was related to how this would affect the FellowshipOne product directly, as well as a few of Jeff's thoughts on open source solutions:

(1) Will this acquisition by ActiveNetwork provide more resources to FellowshipOne and speed up the development process?

Yes, that is part of the plan. We are working through how best to make that happen. Active has a large development organization that we can leverage in many different ways. Several of them have even come forward and confessed their faith and commented how they are so proud that Active has made serving the Church as part of its vision.

(2) Will this provide the ability for churches to develop their own apps and such for the FellowshipOne platform?

With our API strategy, that was already happening. We just released a giving API to help churches and third party vendors who wanted to post transactions to congregant's giving records. We are definitely committed not just to have an API across the platform, but to use it ourselves in our own development so that we know it works and works well.

(3) Do you have any thoughts on the ChMS market in general, and in particular the open source initiatives like bvcms and others. 

Although people like yourself may disagree with my bias, I do not believe there are enough highly skilled programmers on church staffs to make an open source initiative work in this targeted vertical. To make an open source approach truly successful, there needs to be a vendor committed to allowing others to affect everything, including the kernal, as well as an outstanding, large group of individuals who can add value using the right set of standards and guidelines that everyone can agree with. I've looked at taking a more open source approach to church management and I think it is very hard to pull off. I prefer the API approach of a platform as a service using a strategy that allows a lot of flexibility but can insure the inner workings because of the control and QA the vendor is committed to providing. More of an Apple approach than a Google approach - both are good companies, both approaches can work, but the open source approach requires scale on a much larger level.

Almost every open source solution that has made it in the secular world has had a lot of capital behind it to get it off the ground or at least to get it to scale in a supported fashion. My question is are these solutions willing to raise the money to make these solutions viable in the long term, not just a flash on the continuum of time. The attractiveness of these solutions is the out-of-pocket price but we all know free is not really free. I equate it more to a DIY approach to systems and some churches are attracted to that. The overarching business question is does a church believe that building and supporting information systems is one of its core competencies?  Most churches that have built systems build in some basic flexibility, but do not take the time to conduct Quality Assurance on the entire system because development is off to the next thing. Or the QA is conducted by the programmer him/herself and only tests for a subset of what the user really tries to enter into the system. As the applications then do not perform, the user is the one holding the bag. When you are a professionally run software company, you can specialize and have designers design, coders code and independent QA personnel test; I believe it makes for a better system.

In general, I believe the consolidation in this market will begin to accelerate. I also believe new vendors will always bring new solutions to market. However, at some point, the barrier to entry will force the smaller players to take a secondary role because the established vendors with robust solutions including digital content delivery, integrated data analyses, mobile everything and congregational self-service will be the table stakes. I have never believed that our customers should buy from Fellowship Technologies because we are good guys, I want our customers to buy from us because we provide the best software for the best value and help them achieve their mission. It's about helping the staff do their jobs better and helping congregations live more functional Christian lives.

(4) What is the one thing you'd like to say to any potential customer about this acquisition and the future of FellowshipOne?

I will paraphrase Austin Spooner's comment, "it's definitely worth watching over time!" We are authentically passionate about the Church. We believe the Church deserves the best systems out there and are committed to providing them. With the integration of Fellowship One to other Active solutions, coupled with the vision God has set out for us, we will be in the position to offer features and services that no one else in the industry is even thinking about. Can we pull it off? I'll let every person decide that on their own; however, we would definitely appreciate it if you look closely at where we are headed and the value we can provide.

So there you have it, right from the "horse's mouth" so to speak. Although HDC is not a FellowshipOne customer, we have always appreciated the professionalism of FellowshipOne and the energy, passion and innovation they bring to the church software market. Every church that uses church management software benefits from strong competition in the market, no matter what product you choose at the end of the day. Thanks to Jeff Hook for taking the time to speak with us today.