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30 November 2007

My Wife Gets Me

How can you tell when your spouse gets you? Well in my case it's stuff like this:

For my birthday, she got me this shirt.

Now at first glance it just looks like another Old Navy shirt with an obscure image or saying to make you look eccentric or brand you as that woodsy outdoors man. But it goes a bit beyond that.

I grew up in Wyoming. From second grade until eighth grade I lived in Powell, Wyoming. Which makes it a pretty cool shirt since you can't get the other 49 states on the same type shirt.

Then to make it even more interesting it came with the number "7" on it. If you did the math in your head, you already knew that I lived in Wyoming for a total of seven years.

Like I said. She gets me...

29 November 2007

Zune Comes Full Circle

I was one of the geeks that ran out and purchased the Zune in November of 2006 (the week it came out). I posted about it here and here and here just to give people my perspective on it. But now Zune has come full circle.

I knew from the start I wasn't really an early adopter with the Zune. That's a title I would reserve for those purchasing products that have a half life - they can't be upgraded so when the next version comes out you have to scrap the old model and move forward. But the Zune was upgradable from the start. That's probably why I risked it.

In one of my posts I talked about the negative things I had experienced with the Zune. But earlier this month Microsoft rolled out a brand new version of the Zune Marketplace (that's iTunes for the Zune if you're still in that box) and a firmware upgrade for the Zune itself.

I plugged the puppy in and within 5 minutes it felt like I had the latest Zune off store shelves - complete with new wireless functionality, podcasts, etc. Most of the complaints I had at the beginning are now resolved. And I didn't have to buy the new Zune!

The Marketplace is different and will take some getting used to, but it has also improved. Still can't download music successfully to my wife's laptop but we're working on that. Of course I don't expect stuff like this to work perfectly every time. Does any electronic device offer that luxury? I don't think so. In fact, I was at Best Buy the other day and there were at least three iPod Nano owners in line returning their defective products. So it can't just be the Zune :)

Zune + Zune Pass (monthly subscription service with unlimited downloads) = Happy boy.

28 November 2007

How Are You Found?

I was looking through the stats for WDC the other day on Google Analytics to make sure I installed it correctly.

I checked out things like total hits, unique hits, time on site, computer type, monitor resolution, etc. But the thing that really caught my eye was in the keyword section.

I just assumed that people would find WDC with words like "church web" or "church blog" or things like that. But this one jumped out at me:

How will my future benefit the greater good...
I must say, it made me stop and think. First, it affirmed that there are people out there desperate to know their lives matter - that they have some purpose beyond just circulating oxygen. And second, I realized that these people may happen upon WDC in their search for purpose.

So what are they finding? Am I pointing them in the right direction? Am I just confusing them?

Or by stopping by did they sense the ultimate truth that I do what I do because of Him - because I was bought with a price and I try to put 110% toward helping others have the same opportunity?


27 November 2007

Cast Your Pod

Podcasting has become a cheap and easy way to communicate your message - whatever that message is. In fact it's so easy there is no reason a church (for example) wouldn't jump at the chance of adding it to their list of ways to reach people with the ultimate message.

But it can be daunting to those without development experience. So here is a quick and dirty online tutorial:

  1. Get yourself an MP3: Many churches today are recording their services. If you have it on CD that's fine, but it won't work online. You need to put the CD in a computer and import the content into a free program like iTunes. Once inside iTunes you can convert it to MP3 - the format that works well on the web. Here is a tutorial on converting files in iTunes.
  2. Make them available: The next step is to get the MP3 files on the Internet. Many churches already have their MP3 files online so people can listen to them or download them. But in order to offer them as a podcast you will need to create an RSS Feed - which is nothing more than an XML file (example here) that lists each MP3's location with other information like the title, the length, the author and stuff like that. The good thing is that there is an easy way and a hard way to do this. The hard way is to write the XML yourself and then update this file every time you want to add or delete an MP3 from the podcast. The easy way is to create a blog (using Blogger, SquareSpace or TypePad) to create the podcast XML file for you. This is a great option because you can blog about each episode (or message) and just link to the MP3 file in that post. Then podcast aggregators like iTunes and Zune Marketplace will automatically be able to subscribe to the podcast, download the files into their respective libraries and be able to transfer them to an iPod or Zune automatically. How cool is that?
  3. Get jiggy wit it: If you really want to take it to the next level, you can add your podcast to the iTunes Store and get a special URL to use on your website so that when a user clicks the link/graphic (that typically says, "Subscribe with iTunes") your computer automatically opens iTunes, takes you to the iTunes Store and opens the page set up for your podcast. Click the button that says "Subscribe" and you're in.
For more detailed information on podcasting:
There are also many online services that will do all the work for you (for a small fee):
Happy podcasting!

20 November 2007

Sickness Stinks

Sick kids.

It doesn't happen very often, but when it does, I'm never prepared for it.

Today I was psyched to get to work and check some important things off my list. But then it became painfully clear that my son wasn't going to school. He was coughing, crying, drooling, snotting, hacking, eye-goobering and otherwise "sicking" all over the place. I mean he was a mess.

So I stayed home and took the class Patience 101 all over again. I just don't do well sitting around all day. I tried to work but it's hard with a steaming, sweating writhing little boy laying on you.

I guess I can just be glad it doesn't happen very often.

19 November 2007 | Version 3.0

I have to admit, I couldn't remember 1.0 looked like until I went to, typed in the URL and popped up the archived page. Call it the "light blue" template or the "flash" template. Either way it was pretty plain and yet it was a good start...

This version lasted from February 5, 2006 until August 23, 2006 - one week before I began my full time position at the church.

I found creative inspiration in my love for Macromedia Flash. I took screen shots of the timeline and a single layer in the timeline of from Flash 8 Pro and added header information to them. . Not sure where the light blue came from though. Ugh... 2.0 could be labeled the "green" template or the "wilderness" template. It took me from August 23, 2006 until November 18, 2007.

Not sure where my creative inspiration came from other than me looking through numerous designs on and trying my hand at laying out columns using css for positioning. In this case I used the WDC logo as a static background image (doesn't move when the page scrolls). The main image is actually two separate images used as background images inside each column with large margins pushing the content down past the images.

I learned a lot on this round. Instead of modifying an existing template (like I did with version 1.0) I built this one from scratch using css and adding the classic blogger tags (example: <$blogger>) where they needed to go.

My only inspiration using the green and the wilderness scenes is that I grew up in Wyoming and this felt like "home." 3.0 is a step in the right direction for at least two reasons:

  1. It simplified things: The layout is clean. It's Web 2.0 in look/feel. It's brighter than the previous version. It's wider layout allows for less overall scrolling.
  2. It taught me new stuff: Blogger has since ditched the classic tags in favor of a new system (a much more complicated one) that I had to learn in order to create the layout. However, newer is better. I can now take advantage of new features like the archving tree and the ability to add "widgets" at will.
Creative inspiration: I downloaded a free template for blogger first called Green Marinee. This gave me the basic three column layout I was looking for. From there I used look/feel inspiration from a variety of other sites as I reworked the css to personalize it.

Other tweaks and changes:
  1. New WDC logo.
  2. New archive functionality based on the new blogger options.
  3. Added a Label Cloud: The bigger the label the more posts are in that category.
  4. Added a favicon.
  5. Added Google Analytics versus StatCounter.
  6. Added my picture (so you could put a face with the name...)
Hopefully this template will last me a few years...

11 November 2007

How Exactly Are You Innovative?

I grew up in a very traditional church - the type where more time was spent fixing those in the church than was spent sharing the message with those not in the church.

Don't get me wrong, I am thankful for the foundational Bible knowledge and the Christian upbringing. But the pieces of the puzzle didn't come together until I came to the church I currently attend. It was here that foundational teaching met innovation.

In my past life the "innovative" church was synonymous with the "rebellious" or "misled" church. It was the church that played rock music, had swapped Biblical teaching for long worship sets or had given up on traditional teachings for more "worldly" ideals.

Looking back I'm almost positive there were churches that lived up to those assumptions. But there were also churches that stepped out in faith and weathered the criticism in order to push the envelope and lead in the area of innovation in a typically stale and stagnant landscape.

Because of this I thought I'd break the myth that innovation=rock music in church. Here are just a few things you can do to be a more innovative church:

  • Be seeker-sensitive: As time goes on the gap between traditional church and the non-believer grows ever greater. Something as simple as having your pastor take off the ominous robe and allowing your members to lose the three piece suits and bonnets will go far in helping a new person feel comfortable. And yes, playing music that people know doesn't hurt - even if it is rock music. Just make sure to pull the spiritual meaning out for those that don't get it.
  • Be culturally relevant: Tell the story of Joseph. You can even read it directly from the Bible! But for crying out loud, don't fail to recognize that there are people in the crowd struggling with every theme in the story from family trouble to prison time to adultery. The Bible is meant to transcend time - not get lost in in.
  • Be technologically advancing: Notice I didn't say technologically "advanced." You never get to the place where you have it all figured out. Technology changes so fast you can't look at it as something to attain. More appropriate is to view it as a train to catch or a journey to be on. This includes everything from IT inside the building to the way you do print/graphics to your web strategy. Think big and make sure a big portion of it is outside the box.
  • Be socially conscious: Jesus was all about taking care of those that had less. Less financially. Less physically. Less mentally. Less spiritually. So who are we to hoard the blessings we've been given? Get out there and make a difference in your community.
  • Be about growth: Jesus made the statement that He would "grow" or "build" his church. The church in Acts grew daily as people were added to the community of faith. So what makes us think that we should build a small box, fill it and be done? Instead - constantly look for new ways to reach people where you live. And if that means you need a building strategy for future growth - so be it.
  • Help people take steps in their spiritual journey: Just as a sports team needs players at every position, so the church succeeds when each person uses his or her talents for the greater good. Give tasks away. There is a good chance someone can do it better than you anyway. And it might be the very thing that seals the deal (spiritually) for that person.
  • Think small as you grow big: As the church grows, people feel less connected to the church at large. The danger is that people will come to a large service, talk to nobody and go home - feeling less relational connected than when they walked in. So champion the small group concept at your church. Keep people connected to each other so in turn they will feel connected to the larger church.
  • Set up wide and go long: First, as your church grows and people hear about you, they will want to come - even if they live an hour away. At some point this makes it necessary to branch out "wide." Provide what they are after where they are at. Don't be afraid of multi-site. Do your research and make it happen. Second, if you provide streaming versions of your service, you will eventually develop an online following. Most churches call this their "Internet Campus." Believe it or not it can be and do everything that your physical church can be and do. Go "long" and realize that there are those three states away that can benefit from what you do.
  • Share your DNA: If you are doing great stuff and it's effective in bringing people out of the darkness - share the love! Don't hold onto it as if it were yours to hold onto. Let others take what you've created and make an impact in their community. You can sell it or give it away - doesn't matter - just make it available.
  • Keep looking: Don't stop here - keep looking for ways to take it to the next level.

Happy Birthday Flash

Flash Anniversary ExperienceMacromedia Flash (now Adobe Flash) turned 10 years old recently. And going back through the years on the anniversary site brought back some good memories.

I jumped in with Flash 4 and quickly upgraded to Flash 5. I purchased Macromedia Flash 5 in a package with Freehand 8 (even before I used Dreamweaver) and started to play. I learned quickly by doing the tutorials that came with the software, reading the manual and surfing the web for tutorials on anything else I didn't understand.

I started out designing entire sites in Flash and modeled my creative direction after people like Joen Asmussen ( who led the way with his 1998 site and then his follow up 2000 site. I even attempted to recreate his 2000 site from scratch to force myself to think bigger and learn some of the more advanced Flash techniques like page transition, variable animation and the use of sound.

Next, I went through a phase where I designed more traditional html/css sites with flash elements used to enhance the more static layout. Navigation and simple movement in headers or page elements were the perfect place for Flash to shine.

More recently I've been exploiting the amazing technology behind streaming flash video. This technology has allowed traditional 320x240 low quality video to become 640x360 high quality video at any length - accessible to the DSL/Broadband user anytime and anywhere. Add the ability to make this size video full screen and it actually looks good on on a LCD/Plasma HDTV.

If you have ever used Flash - take the time to walk down memory lane. You'll laugh, you'll cry (okay-maybe not...). But it's just fun to see how far we've come since 1996.

09 November 2007

Traffic Pattern Analysis

Our house sits in a neighborhood between two major thoroughfares. And as long as both are fully functional we're good. But the other day they decided to shut one down to repair a railroad crossing. Big problems...

Sure it's great now - smooth sailing - you can take the tracks at 60mph! But during that week our lives were seriously disrupted. On the remaining through way you could expect traffic problems. Lines of cars backed up behind red lights that are too close together and not synced well for the increased traffic. You know the type - where at least three cars enter the intersection only to get stuck there and keep the other direction of traffic stopped during their green light. Good times...

But at least it gave me the idea and a list of questions for this post:

  • Do we think about the traffic patterns on our sites?
  • Are we routing people well?
  • Do we have a reason for the way we set up our navigation?
  • Do we have "rules" about how deep our sites go in terms of page clicks?
  • If so, do we document it well and promote it ongoing?

At Granger, there was a turning point a few years back (2004-2005) where we went from "not so worried about it" to "this needs to become our main filter" for all future development. Kem Meyer, Communications Director at Granger explains it this way: Less Clutter. Less Noise. In this 2005 post you can feel the storm coming :)

So during our big development year (2005) we asked the hard questions and made the difficult decisions that stripped the site down to the essentials and in turn created simple and effective traffic flow.

This is an incomplete example of the way you could document the traffic (navigational) structure of your site. From the graphic you can see that there are four big things we focus on: The weekly venues, events, volunteering and groups. There are other menu picks but they are made less visible and are just there so you can get anywhere on the site quickly.

I broke out the Events link to show you what you will find if you go there. The Events Page is a "component" or sub-section of the site with it's own navigation. This does two things. First, it gives you that good feeling that you are only a click away from the home page. And second, it gives you more content than one page can while you are there.

The Volunteer Page works the same way - one click to get there, but eight options inside the "component" to get you the info you need.

Simply put:
  • Drive them to the home page - not individual pages
  • The less clicks the better - anything more than two or three clicks starts to get frustrating
  • The website doesn't need to tell them everything
  • Move the "big stuff" to the home page (there is a link to watch our weekend message directly off the home page - because it is the second most visited page on the site)
  • Use the "you are here" concept or breadcrumbs - people feel more comfortable when they know where they are
  • Yes there are more - but I'll stop here...

04 November 2007

I Was Green First

Green is UniversalJust for the record: I was green first. In fact I've been green since August 2006 :)

On a serious note - My choice of green was obviously not for the same reason. I just thought it looked good. But NBC has gone all out for this. They call it the Green is Universal campaign - empowering people around the globe to live "greener" lives.

Of course as a web guy it's the site that caught my attention. The entire thing is now green! Not just the peacock like on TV but everything from fonts to background colors to background graphics and flash treatments (love the flash animation they added to the NBC logo by the way...).

Makes me wonder how many man hours went into the change. Most sites nowadays have an external style sheet (siteStyles.css for example) that can literally transform the entire website in an instant. Just go check out csszengarden if you don't believe me. But on top of this change there had to be graphic and flash design along with full site quality control efforts to make sure the full color change worked well and didn't leave some obscure page looking strange or broken.

Kudos to NBC on both the green site and the effort to keep our planet healthy.

02 November 2007

The "REAL Factor"

Team PlayersAm I REAL? Are you REAL?

I've spent some time thinking about the whole "team" concept lately. Specifically: What makes me successful as a team member and how does it ultimately help the team be successful?

After some thought I was able to pin down at least four things that made sense to me. I'll call it the REAL Factor for lack of better terminology:

RESPONSIBILITY: Are we responsible? Can the team trust us to do what we say we're going to do? Can we take our little piece of the puzzle and follow it to its logical conclusion without being reminded over and over again? Do we take notes in meetings? Do we have an organizational strategy? Are we on time? Do we own our mistakes and willingly acknowledge them in order to make things better for the team?

EXCELLENCE: Do we strive to be excellent? When we do something is it to just check it off the list or do we do it to the best of our ability? Do we view small tasks and projects as steps to accomplishing the "greater" vision? Do we ask the hard questions of other team members in order to raise the bar and live up to our standard of excellence? Do we cheer for our team members when they show excellence in their role?

ATTITUDE: How is my attitude? Do I look forward to being with the team? Do I support them (even when things are difficult)? Do I trust that those in authority over me want what's best for me? Do I actively engage with others on my team? Do I look for the best in others and in situations? Do I actively attempt to steer clear of negative conversations and gossip? Do I look for the light at the end of the tunnel and pointing the team toward it?

LEADERSHIP: Am I leading well? Could another person watch me and excel? Do I have the ability to interact with the team on a variety of levels? Do I practice what I preach? Am I available to my team? Do they feel valued and appreciated because of the way I treat them? Am I on the leading edge? Am I an early adopter? Do I look for the next best process or solution to take my team to the next level? Do I smile when someone says, "That can't be done." Am I able to change with the times in order to change the lives of those on my team and the lives of those we serve?

I see this clearly when I watch the all time greats in team sports like hockey, soccer and football. These players (Gretzky, Elway, Jordan, etc.) are REAL players because they take responsibility for their shortcomings, their training, their general health and their skill set. They strive for excellence at their position even when at the top of their game. They have the never-say-die attitude - even when faced with overwhelming odds. They lead their teams well because they understand that that without the other team members they would lose every time. And they are always on the leading edge when it comes to finding innovative ways to harness their abilities.

A high calling? Of course. But not impossible by any stretch of the imagination.