Monday, December 22, 2014

Time - The most precious non-renewable resource

Time. We all have a limited amount of it to spend on this planet, and none of us know exactly how much we have. 

This thinking, good thinking, is why we invest so much money in time saving products and services. But is that a good idea? Consider:

Rather than build our own furniture, we buy it. Sure, some things are better this way, but more often then not the furniture we buy is a compromise, it isn't exactly what we want. 

Rather than grow vegetables in a garden, we buy them pre-packaged and preserved.

Rather than take a few minutes to throw some ingredients together for soup we toss the chicken carcass and buy soup in a can. 

and the list goes on. What do we do with that saved time? Most people either work longer hours at the office or watch more TV. 

Why have replaced tasks with inherent benefits (The satisfaction of making something, the joy of planting and harvesting a garden, the creativity of cooking) with more labor or with the time suck of television (or games, or surfing the internet, this isn't a tv rant)?

I think it's time to start removing time savers from life and go back to enjoying the time we spend rather than trying to save it up only to waste it on garbage. I've started by wet shaving. 

Wet Shaving is, quite simply, shaving like everybody did fifty years ago. I started with a bowl, brush and soap set that I found at Target for $20. I started learning how to make a lather with a bowl and a brush, and found that (1) I actually enjoyed this slower way of shaving and (2) It was a million times better than using shaving creme from a can. Don't even get me started on how much better than an electric this is.

After finding an old razor and getting some blades, I now shave like it's 1959. And not only is it cheaper (blades cost $.09-$.20 each rather than multiple dollars) but it's vastly more enjoyable. It is NOT faster. 

For thirty years of shaving I did it wrong, abusing my face in the interest of saving time. Now what I've found, almost two years into shaving this way, is that I was cheating myself out of a quiet morning ritual and making my face feel much worse in the process. 

Wet shaving is infinitely better than the modern way. I'm certain this can't be the only area in the world where the time saving way is worse. I need to find more ways to put the enjoyment back into the mundane in life!

Why is this blog seemingly abandoned?

It's pretty obvious I don't blog anymore. The question is....why not?

Two reasons, really. The first is that I don't have the time to make it part of my weekly or monthly routine in the office. The second is that I don't find I often have something to say that I simply must share with the small portion of the online world that finds their way to this blog.

When I was knee deep in church database nearly every day, there was a lot to do, a lot to write about, a lot to cover. The market has changed a LOT since I did my research in 2008. I'm grateful that people still read this blog because of it from time to time, but there should be better resources by now.  Incidentally, if you are looking for a church database, I'd start by seeing if Rock could work for you. It's written by people I know and trust personally, and it's free if you can make the technical side of things (decidedly NOT free) happen...

Before that, I was in seminary. And before that, I didn't blog :-)

How much has the world changed since I started writing this? In October of 2007 I posted about Apple having $6 billion in sales for the quarter, and how remarkable that was. In October of 2014 their net profit was $8.5 billion for the quarter. Think about that. Seven years later their Q4 net profit is $2.5 billion HIGHER than their total revenue was in Q4 of 2007. Astounding.

So with this out of the way, I do have something to say today, and that will be my next post.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Three Signs of a Miserable Job

My most recent read is The Three Signs of a Miserable Job by Patrick Lencioni. I picked this book up at the library book sale, and after completing my bookshelves I sat down to read this. As with his other books, Lencioni writes a parable that illustrates the business principle he is trying to communicate.

The three signs of a miserable job are:

(1) Anonymity: Managers need to know their employees, know who they are and what their lives are about.

(2) Irrelevance: Do your employees know who their work impacts and how?

(3) Immeasurement: Managers need to create clear expectation and measurable goals for employees.

The book does an excellent job of unpacking these through story telling, and the principles are clear and, IMHO, correct. For my role the biggest challenge to me is how to create measurable goals without removing the Holy Spirit from the role of a pastor. This is a serious challenge, but one I am putting thought into as I seek to become a better XP.

Well worth the read.


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Of new jobs, new homes, and abandoned blogs...

After a LOT of work, my library shelves are all built, my books are unpacked, and I finally have a place to read again. I read a book the first night this was all completed, and I'm anxious to review it, but it made me realize just how neglected my blog has been...

Thoughts on my new role:

   - It's interesting how different it is being a technically minded executive pastor vs. leading the IT department as a direct part of my role. Although I am involved in setting direction for the IT work at LEFC, I necessarily have to allow my staff to make decisions and choices that I would not make. Leadership from this level looks very different than direct IT leadership.

   - I love to lead, it is what I was built to do, but it means having to make hard decisions, and those are... hard. Profound, I know. :-)

   - Staying connected to God is more important than ever.

A few comments on life:

   - It took a lot longer to get settled than I expected.

   - Building my own furniture is cool, but exhausting. I don't love the process of building as much as I love the final product of something built exactly the way I want it.

   - We need people. I could not have done this project without the help of my dad, his missionary friend from Germany, and one of our elders who has the skills necessary to mount the cabinet doors perfect on the first try...

   - I love Pennsylvania, and I love serving at LEFC.

I don't know what format this blog will take long term, but I expect to start putting book reviews here again shortly. I use them not only as reviews, but as my own reading journal...


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive

The hardest part of moving is getting your rhythms back (for example, I update this blog once every few months whether it needs it or not...). I used to read a lot, but after moving I've found it quite difficult. I am looking forward to getting fully moved in to our home (all our stuff is there, but there are boxes everywhere) and being able to create a space to read again.

Last night I got a chance to read a book that a friend of mine handed me: The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive: A Leadership Fable. The book tells a story of two companies who are competitors in the same industry. It's an easy read, and a compelling one. The fable is designed to illustrate the four obsessions and how they make a company effective:

   - Build and maintain a cohesive leadership team
   - Create organizational clarity
   - Over-communicate organizational clarity
   - Reinforce organizational clarity through human systems

This book was a great read for several reasons. First, it kicked me in the butt a bit as a leader, reminding me that I need to focus on the important things, the big things. It's easy to get bogged down by the little stuff, the stuff that doesn't matter long term. For me, this motivated me to re-engage some of the organizational techniques I used after reading Making Ideas Happen. Without a clear strategy to remain focused, it is incredibly difficult to keep the right things at the top of the pile.

The most gratifying thing about reading this book is that the tasks I've devoted the most time to since arriving are building and maintaining a cohesive leadership team, and creating organizational clarity. It's reassuring to know that we are on the right track, and I'm looking forward to reaching the point where we can add points three and four to the mix...

I found the fable more interesting and enlightening than the "business book text" style sections afterwards that tried to unpack the fable. Quite frankly these chapters seemed unnecessary, and were probably suggested by an editor who doesn't get the idea of letting people think for themselves.

Still, a worthwhile read.


Thursday, October 4, 2012


Siri is one of those things that you either use a lot or not at all. I am on the new phone cycle for Apple, meaning I had a 4 before upgrading to a 5, and am a year late to the Siri party because I didn't own a 4S. I started using the 5 this week, but have been extremely busy and have spent almost no time just playing with the phone.

Yesterday Patty and I were driving around, and we needed to pickup a replacement headlight bulb for our van. The one auto parts store in Lititz had moved to a neighboring town, so we were driving a bit aimlessly looking for something else when Patty said "why don't you use Siri?"

So I hit the button and said "I need an auto parts store" to which Siri replied with 17 nearby options. Yes, there was superfluous information in there, but she did identify a Pep Boys not too far from us. Because of where we were, I asked Siri where a Honda dealer was, and she identified Jones Honda about a mile away. Rather than just drive down there, I said "Call Jones Honda" which she did, and I was able to confirm that the parts counter was closed for the day.

After finishing that I realized that what I had just done was the stuff of science fiction just ten years ago, and inconceivable twenty years ago. Sure, twenty years ago I would have had to dig through the yellow pages to find something, but consider what I would have done without Siri:

(1) I couldn't have done this (safely) while driving
(2) I would have used google maps to search for an auto parts store.
(3) After filtering through the chaff, I would have clicked on one of the dots to find the phone number.
(4) I would click on the phone number and called them.
(5) Repeat the whole process for the Honda dealer.

I did all of that without having to type anything, no need to lookup the phone number and no need to figure out what was closest to me, Siri had already sorted by distance.

The biggest point was that I didn't even think about doing it in the first place. It took my wife, who had seen the commercials, to suggest it. Of course now that I've actually seen how awesome it is, I will do it again. I also had a lengthy text conversation with someone while were driving, entirely by dictation (and having her read the replies). That was pretty cool as well.

Siri may be misunderstood, but when you actually use it, it's pretty amazing.


Monday, September 24, 2012

Facetime & elevating baptism

I've been quiet for the last few months. Starting a new job tends to take up a lot of time, making things like blogging take a back seat for a while. And being an executive pastor means I'm not as immersed in technology as I was at HDC, but it doesn't mean I've stopped caring or paying attention to what is going on in the tech world.

LEFC does not own a baptisty. Instead of doing baptisms in the auditorium, they are done across the street in the stream. Everyone I've talked to thinks that is "really cool" but there is a big downside: We can only put about 100 or so people on the bank of the stream, and there are around 1000 adults that go to this church.

Baptism is one of the most exciting things in ministry. In baptism we see and hear the testimonies of those whose lives have been changed by Christ! To "hide" this away for only a hundred or so people just seemed wrong, but at the same time, nobody really wants to go away from doing it in the stream because, and I quote, it's "really cool."

For this past weekend's baptism, we decided to try something to bridge the two issues. We did the baptisms in the stream during our service, and then used Apple's FaceTime and two iPads to bring a live feed of the baptisms into the auditorium. The setup went like this:

Sound System for Baptisms by the stream connected via a cable to the iPad's headphone jack (which can also accept audio-in, giving us a direct feed from microphone to sound board to iPad).

iPad 3 mounted to tripod with Fat Gecko mount from B&H.

A second iPad located in our auditorium, connected via a VGA cable & a 1/8inch audio cable to our sound and projection system.

FaceTime to connect the two.

We used FaceTime rather than Skype because the video quality is better, and we needed all the quality we could get.

To get our wireless signal all the way to the stream we used a 200 foot ethernet cable and a similar length extension cord for power to put a wireless switch directly across the street from where we were filming. We ran tests and were getting about 2.5mbps from where we were filming, so we could get decent quality.

At the end of the day it wasn't perfect, but it did the job of putting baptism in front of everyone, rather than just those who are willing to stand at the side of the stream after church. In a weird twist of scheduling, I was out of town, so although I helped design and test the solution, it was setup and run entirely by Kathy (our IT staff) and a few volunteers.

Since we already had the iPads and wireless equipment, our total cost was about $60 for the audio cable and iPad mount, and the marginal cost of a 200 foot ethernet cable. This was a huge win for a very little amount of money. Woohoo!