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16 December 2008

Simply Simple Solutions

I recently upgraded to Adobe Web Premium CS4 and I must say it was like going from match to flame thrower.

I've been using Adobe (Macromedia) products since their inception and have see them come a long way. But the changes they make between versions today are consistent and methodical in two areas:

  1. New technology: Of course they need to come out with new stuff. Push the envelope. Stretch the imagination. Use the latest technology to make it happen.
  2. Ease of use: But maybe more important for me are the upgrades to the work flow. Changes that make regular, mundane processes move fast and efficient.
You need a healthy dose of each in a new version of software. But the same goes for just about anything - including your website.
Don't roll something big out on your site unless it has something new to offer and makes the user experience more streamlined (that was free...).
What I'm Geeked About
I currently use Dreamweaver, Fireworks, Flash and the Flash Media Encoder. And while there are numerous enhancements to these programs, I only have time to go over a few.
  • Dreamweaver (view top new features here): Amazing new interface that allows you to view a live HTML page inside the design window rather than opening a browser every time. Included content is now connected visually so you can easily get to code pages (CSS, js, SSI's etc.) from the HTML page itself.
  • Fireworks (view top new features here): Adobe AIR authoring, improved CSS export and robust PDF export for comps.
  • Flash (view top new features here): New object-based animation, inverse kinematics with the bones tool, 3D transformation (sweet), and the Media Encoder now has H.264 support with more options and control over the video encoding process.
I'm thinking I'm in love...



15 December 2008

We've Officially Gone Green


Growing up I remember my church being fairly neutral on environmental issues. It stemmed from the belief that the world would get worse and worse before Jesus returned, so why try to fix somethings inevitable demise?

That was fine with me for a while, but over time it started thinking about it and realized that was a bit non-committal. It was also an easy excuse not to do anything helpful and to inadvertently support behavior that is downright damaging to the earth.

Because of this, I was forced to draw the line in my life and develop a belief as to how "green" a Christian should be. Here's what I came up with:

A Christian should do nothing to damage the earth. If there are simple things you can do to keep damage from happening you should do those things. If there are things being done that are causing damage to the earth there is nothing wrong with lending support to the legal process so that it stops. However, all these things should be done in ways that don't suggest we're worshiping the creation over the Creator. And all should be done with an understanding that what we are doing will not keep the inevitable from happening.
A better illustration might be the way we take care of ourselves. The typical Christian would probably tell you they are "supposed to" take care of the body they were given. We exercise (at least we're supposed to), eat well (at least we're supposed to) and educate ourselves (at least we should). And we do all this knowing that we will eventually die. This is very similar to the way I view the environment now.

BUT! One thing I get more than frustrated about is when Hollywood forces it down our throats as if they have been called to police the earth.

Here are just three examples of movies that push the topic:

Fern Gully: Probably one of the most in-your-face environmental movies out there. Designed specifically for kids, it lays it out there and "scares" kids into living green.

Wall-E: Another kids movie designed to show how humans kill the planet and yet get another chance to fix what they did wrong.

The Day the Earth Stood Still: First off, don't see this movie. You'll regret spending the money. Same green agenda: Humans are idiots that are destroying the planet. All humans must die.

I'm sure there are many more examples out there. I just picked the first three that came to mind.



12 December 2008

A Boy Can Dream Can't He?

My last post was a bit harsh. But I was simply trying to help Microsoft see the error of their ways. I mean, they read my blog religiously and will immediately head back to the drawing board the minute they see that people have questions about the functionality of WiMo enabled phones...

Back to Reality
To be fair - I'm not hopping on the iPhone bandwagon just yet (even though its a great phone). There are still some amazing phones out there that don't run on fructose...

One such phone is the HTC Touch HD which is currently in release in other parts of the world - unfortunately not the parts of the world I inhabit.

The Skinny Rundown:

  • 3.8-inch wide, WVGA (480 X 800 pixel) display offering a cinema experience on the go.
  • Vibrant TouchFLO 3D user interface, responding perfectly to your finger gestures when scrolling through contacts, browsing the web and launching media.
  • Surf and download at broadband speed with HSDPA internet connectivity (probably not in this country...)
  • Google Maps enhanced by the wide screen viewing platform.
  • 5 megapixel camera for quality stills and video.
  • 3.5 mm audio jack makes the Touch HDTM compatible with the majority of audio equipment available.
Basically there would need to be a celestial anomaly in order for me to get this phone. Pluto would have to become a planet again and we'd have to discover new rings around Saturn...

Why?
First, the Touch HD is not available in this country yet. And second, Sprint would have to pick up the phone in order for me to have access to it.

But a boy can dream can't he?



08 December 2008

Tell Me Why WinMo!

I currently run Windows Mobile 6.1 on my Sprint Motorola Q9c and while it has served me well in basic functionality I have to admit I'm getting a bit frustrated with it.

Again - not because it can't do things - in fact the Q9c WinMo enabled phone can do just about everything. The problem is no one cares about that anymore. People are less interested in what something can do and more into how it does it.

Enter the iPhone. Even with some limitations in functionality compared to WinMo phones (fully integrated exchange functionality and laptop tether capability for example) it is still one of the most popular phones out there. Why?

Because it's flippin' cool - that's why! And people want things that are cool. I assume this is why thousands of people develop applications for the iPhone and a much smaller number develop for WinMo phones. That, and it is much easier to develop for the iPhone...

If only there were people at Microsoft willing to admit that form AND function are important. What could WinMo become if that were true?

Take HTC for example. Probably the most innovative UI built on the WinMo platform and it still pales in comparison to the iPhone. Not because HTC lacks the ability, but because they are forced to develop on an inferior platform.

My contract with Sprint is up for renewal in February. At this point I love what we have going with Sprint (in terms of service) but when I look at the available phones out there I grimace at the thought of having to pick one and live with it for another two years...



02 December 2008

Do You Know Your Whopper Virgins?

I was watching my current favorite show last night (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) when I saw the new advertising campaign called "Whopper Virgins." Apparently Burger King is taking Whoppers and Big Macs to small rural areas in Thailand, Romania and Greenland. Once there they will conduct taste tests with people who have never had these sandwiches before. In fact, they don't even have a word for "burger" in their languages.

So it got me thinking...

First, why would you introduce fast food to cultures that haven't already been infected with such unhealthy food choices (just joking...please don't sue me...I'm not wealthy like Oprah.)

Secondly (and more seriously), it made me think about my job, the communications department and how our message is being received by the unchurched - or better said:

How are we being perceived by ministry virgins?
When the unchurched visit our church, our website or receive print pieces in the mail, are we actively working to ensure the message being received is:
  • Accessible? Are we presenting content that is easy to find, precise and as straight forward as possible?
  • Understandable? People may not understand words like "justified" and "sanctified." Are we using verbiage that people can understand and connect with?
  • Relevant? Are we talking to people where they find themselves? In other words, are we too busy talking about what heaven will be like and not offering hope in a failing economy? Are we busy debating the hottest theological topics or helping people on the brink of divorce?
The first step in having kingdom impact just might be knowing your whopper virgins...



26 November 2008

Oh...The Possibilities!

I don't know what you dream about, but for me its emerging technologies and the way we can leverage it in ministry.

Last Christmas I purchased an Xbox360 Elite. I got the one with the big hard drive in part because all the other ones were sold out, but also thinking I would fill it up with pictures and home videos. However, pictures can easily be pulled from the network and my AVCHD video has to be converted into another format if it is to be watched on the Xbox360. So it may not have been such a necessary thing...

But that has nothing to do with why I'm geeked. The big win came in November with the release of the new and improved Xbox Live interface.

And no...I'm not talking about the fact that you can arrogantly create an avatar in your own image :).

I'm talking about the partnerships being formed and the interactivity between the Xbox and online services like Netflix. With the new interface you can connect to Netflix and stream video in HD. Simply create a Netflix account, put HD movies in your queue and they become available in your Xbox console menu.

Now I know this has nothing to do with ministry, but I'm looking at the trend and not the immediate reward. In the future, what if the Xbox360 had its own browser? What if you could go to gccwired.com and watch the weekly message in streaming flash video right on your big screen?

Oh...the possibilities!



19 November 2008

Service Matters

In the past few months I have had many negative experiences with companies that seem to have lost their understanding of what customer service is all about.

From cable companies to insurance companies to online companies that hide behind "cyber-walls" expecting that their behavior won't be called into question or challenged legally.

But then there are companies and employees that challenge this negative trend.

I posted about GoDaddy.com recently and I'm happy to say that my wife and I had a similar experience at The Cheesecake Factory this week.

As we were enjoying our cheesecake, a waitress walked by with half a sandwich on a small plate. She stopped at the booth directly behind me and said:


I couldn't help but notice the smile on your face as you ate the sandwich you ordered so I made you another half. Hope you like it!
What!?!

In this day and age its nice to see that some companies (people) still understand what really matters in business - serving others well...



14 November 2008

Love Like They'll Be Gone Tomorrow

I ended up watching ER last night after having stopped for a good long time. But I'm glad I did because every once and a while it is good for me to be forced to think about death.

Over time I tend to put stuff like that on the back burner because it isn't fun to think about.

The problem for me is this:

The farther away I keep the concept of death, the easier it is for me to treat people poorly.
Not 'poorly' as in not loving them. Just not loving them well. It's easier to fall into traps like taking people for granted, choosing not to engage them in conversation, allowing your busy life to become an emotional barrier, etc.

Then factor in that the death on ER was a 5 year old child, and it takes on even more significance.

How many times have I said, "Just a minute." "I'm a little busy right now." "Stop asking me so many questions."

I need to be jolted back into the reality that every day we get with our kids is a gift. Which means every little experience and every little moment with them should be something to enjoy, not get irritated about.

Tucking my kids in before we went to bed last night was a fairly emotional experience for me. And rightfully so...

I'm learning to love like they'll be gone tomorrow.



13 November 2008

Cross Pollination

The other day I was thinking about how drastically different my life is now that I working for the church. And how fast it all changed.

True, I was volunteering in the Communications Department, doing web stuff for a couple years before being hired. But it was literally full time psychotherapist one week, full time web director the next.

At first it appeared to be an easy split - like dropping a bad habit and never looking back. Black and white, not messy at all.

But recently two things have happened.

First, I have started thinking more and more about the mental health field. Not because I want to go back, but because it was such a big part of what I did for so long. I miss the science behind it. Working with people and helping them break out of the fog they were in. Helping them see we all have the ability to control our thinking and behaving - regardless what we are feeling.

Secondly, I've come to realize that I never really left the mental health field. Here's why:

  • People are still hurting - even in the church.
  • On the website we help people find their next step. For many it is to attend Turning Point and begin working on the big issues in their life.
  • For others, Starting Point is the next step. Small Groups are formed so people can find authentic community and come out of the shadows.
  • Kids can work through their issues at Turning Point ALL STARS.
  • Couple can make good decisions prior to marriage at Beyond I Do.
  • People can get get out of debt by attending Financial Peace University.
  • And there is even help for those exiting the prison system at Prison Transition Aftercare.
  • These coupled with the fact that my department is "Obsessive-Compulsive" about excellence and because we use the phrase "brand schizophrenia" a lot...
All this and you can't help but see the cross pollination. The training I had wasn't left behind. I simply entered a new field where the same people and the same problems exist.

Only this time we have the ability to give them what they really need - not just pop psychology (although there are numerous concepts from the field of psychology that are true and helpful).

But we get to give them Jesus, His death on the cross, and a community of people hungry for more of what He has to offer.

I know I'm in the right place.



11 November 2008

My Contribution

Ever notice how the level of excellence drops off dramatically the smaller the product, company, church, etc.?

I've become involved in a number of 'fringe hobbies' (term used because of the small number of people actually engaged in them) - the most recent being SCUBA. And it doesn't take long before you realize just how small the SCUBA community really is. Just search for desktop wallpaper, tutorials, videos or other resources.

You'll find stuff, just not good quality stuff. Companies (and individual divers) don't have multi-million dollar marketing departments. They don't pay top design agencies to print their stuff or design their websites.

And so it was when I tried searching for dive logs. I'm still learning so I wanted a dive log for planning a repetitive dive that was simple and helped explain how you moved from the first dive into the repetitive dives.

Of course I found little to nothing. So I decided to make one. Call it my little contribution to the SCUBA community.

I got the majority of my information from:

Here is a PDF of the Repetitive Dive Planning Log.

Let me know if its helpful (and accurate). I'd love constructive criticism - will only make it better in the long run.



Finding Your Favorite Things

How do you find your favorite things?

Is it from TV or newspaper ads, billboards, passed down by your parents, trial and error, word of mouth or something else all together?

For me it has been a little of everything. But I only recently realized the power that word of mouth has on us.

I was chatting with a co-worker about spicy foods when he showed me a package of spicy noodles by the NongShim company. He joked about how a Korean exchange student staying in his home was having his mother ship them to him. Only to find out they were available at a local supermarket in the international foods aisle.

I gave them a try and was instantly hooked. They are now one of my favorite things. Of course the minute you come to rely on something - it disappears. It wasn't long before the supermarket stopped carrying them.

Thank goodness we live in the age of Googlightenment. I did a quick search and found them on amazon.com. 40 packages for around $32.00 - saving us almost 20 cents per package in the process.

What an amazing time we live in where you can instantly have what you instantly desire...okay...I know there is something very disturbing about that statement but we'll leave that for another post.

How do you find your favorite things? And what are they?



06 November 2008

Twitter: Life Enhancement

I began using Twitter this year. In fact it was the day I left for SXSW in Austin, TX. I figured it was the perfect test to see if it was helpful or not. While on the trip I could tweet about what I was doing and keep the peeps at home up to date on the cool stuff I was learning.

Since then I have had moments where I was ready to give it all up. Only to realize that it wasn't Twitter's fault. I was simply following too many people. After knocking it from over 100 down to a comfortable 35 things have been awesome.

Why?

Well one of the BIGGEST reasons is this:

Twitter transcends typical communication patterns - taking you from 'limited communication' to 'ongoing' or 'continual communication.'
In the past we were limited in our ability to maintain ongoing relationships. Long ago you had to be in the same physical location in order to talk to someone. Then with the advent of the 'corded' phone, two people could be in different places (as long as it was by a phone) and talk to each other. Next, mobile phones allowed us to be more places at more times and talk to each other. Add texting and we can communicate in small snippets with other people very quickly and easily.

But with Twitter, you can update a group of people (those following you) at any time from anywhere (as long as you have a wireless or cell signal) and have people respond to you instantly.

This continual communication is HUGE when you think about it. Talk about doing life with people on a whole new level. Instead of hanging out with someone once a week and getting caught up on their life, you can literally experience each others lives as they unfold.

Now this could get very creepy - so please use some restraint.

I'm just saying - this technology makes it possible for organic beings to communicate and remain connected in ways once thought only possible for machines.

Look how far we've come.



03 November 2008

The Blog Problem

I've been blogging for a while now and for the most part you can't beat the functionality. You get online content management, streamlined text editing engine, pre-designed templates (if you are ok with that) and an RSS feed. Add some "widgets" to your sidebar and the possibilities are endless. And in the case of Blogger its FREE!

But there are some things about blogs that just get downright frustrating. The other day I came up with two that I thought I'd ask you about. So I'll just phrase them in the form of questions:

1. How do you keep good content from getting lost?
Blog posts get bumped down each time you create a new one. Problem is, over time your post becomes lost in the massive post archive list. If it was a great post that people still need to find, it can get a little crazy.

Here are a few things I've tried in the past:
  1. Predate the post: If you put a date of 2010 (or any date in the future) on a post it will remain at the top of your blog until that date arrives. Problem: people get sick and tired of seeing it every time they visit your blog.
  2. Create quick links: Most blogs already have an archived list of all posts, but the farther away the post gets the harder it is to find. So adding a quick link list in the sidebar for important posts might be helpful.
  3. Add search functionality: I recently added the lijit search box to my blog (after a thumbs up from Kem Meyer and Tim Stevens).
2. How do you deal with your content becoming dated and in essence misleading?
The other thing that happens with a blog is that the engine archives the posts as they are. Its like writing a book - the minute you hit publish its old and starts to fall victim to changes that contradict it.

Of course with a blog you have the ability to edit the post. So here are some ways I've attempted to keep content correct:
  1. New posts: The simple solution is to just keep posting with new and updated information. Problem: The old stuff is still there and if someone searches for it, they will get the wrong information.
  2. Edit the old post: This works if you just have a couple posts that need updating. Problem: The old post isn't published at the top of your blog so people may never realize that the post has been edited.
  3. Keep all important info in one post: At some point I created a FAQ post. I update the content on this post when needed and add new content when new questions arise. I also link to it from my website and from the sidebar of the blog. This is my attempt to keep the content current and accessible at the same time.
Other ideas? Let us know!



27 October 2008

It All Comes Down to This

If you're like me, you struggle to find balance between the following:

1. Boiling things down to their lowest common denominator.
2. Trying not to oversimplify things that require complexity.

Let me give you an example of this tension: There is a book called The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Franklin Covey. I absolutely love the way he boils down "effective living" into 7 easy to remember habits. In fact I used to teach the 7 Habits in therapy group. I felt if they (the group members) could just implement a few of them they'd be better off than when they came to see me.

But at the same time I understood that it would be crazy for me to look at the 7 Habits as the end all cure for them. Or that in some way they would make their lives perfect so that they would never be in need of training or education at a more complex level.

But still, I LOVE it when you can take something complex and boil it down to bullet points. Or better yet drawings like Dan Roam suggests in his book, The Back of the Napkin. There's just something magical about it. Even though there is always the understanding that a more complex explanation exists.

The Parables
This is one of my favorite things about the life of Jesus. He modeled the fact that both are equally important. He loved to boil it down for people (and even His Disciples) by telling stories (parables). These illustrations from daily living made sense to people - helped them understand the more complex concept without the barrier that the complex creates.

And He loved them too much to leave them there. Instead He would explain what "seeds sown on good ground" for example actually meant. And slowly move to the more complex as they were able to handle it.

My Attempt
So the other day I again found myself trying to boil the complexities of life down into a few bullet points. I know the underlying complexity is HUGE, but realized just how potent these two statements are in helping us answer life's many questions:

  1. We are beings created by a loving God.
  2. We are fallen (and thus doomed) beings who can choose to be saved by that loving God.
The average Christian just went, "Duh...yes...tell me something I don't know." But belief in the statements isn't what makes them powerful.

They are powerful because they remain true if we believe them or not. Like gravity, which remains in effect for me and you regardless if we believe we'll fall off the cliff or not.

Go ahead and think about it this week. One of these statements could be the answer to a question you have. One of these statements could help you choose a course of action. Maybe you stop doing something you've always done. Maybe you start looking at life a bit differently.

What impact could it have on a person if they truly lived as if they were created by God that offers to save us from certain death?

YES! The complexity is there. But the simplicity of these two statements is mind boggling...



26 October 2008

Mob Mentality

Yesterday I was driving to the store when the following happened:

I came to an intersection and stopped because my light was red.

After a minute or so oncoming traffic began making their left turn.

Then my light turned green.

But as I started to go I realized there were still people turning left. And not just the straggler trying to get through on the yellow turn arrow. I sat and watched 5 cars proceed to turn left in front of me!

I literally put my arm out of my window in a "What the...?" gesture but no one seemed to care.

Reality?
I can't tell you what reality was in that situation. I suppose there could have been an electronic malfunction. But seriously - when is the last time you saw that happen?

I'm more willing to believe that all 5 of the offending drivers were either blindly following the car in front of them or worse yet belligerent in assuming I wouldn't move until they cleared the intersection.

Good Illustration
I immediately thought back to studies on mob mentality - where well intentioned people do incredibly inappropriate things after getting caught up in an escalating crowd.

Back to web strategy...

How do you design and brainstorm the next big things for your websites? Basically I'm asking:

Are you creative (innovative) or have you fallen into mob mentality - making basic design mistakes simply because everyone else is doing it?
Don't get me wrong - surf the web - see what other people are doing. But don't add elements to your site just because you see it on "their" website.

ALWAYS go back to the drawing board in your brainstorming/planning sessions and ask yourself the following questions:
  1. Who?: Look at your audience again. Is this something they are asking for or something they need? Will it help your viewer take a step in the right direction (per your mission statement)?
  2. Why?: Look at your current website. Is this addition something that makes sense logically? Does it enter the flow of your web strategy well? Are your foundational web elements capable of supporting the new addition? Can you financially sustain the new addition (in the case of things like streaming video)?
  3. How?: What is the best way to attack this new addition assuming it passed the first two questions? Is it something a volunteer could knock out? Is it something a staff member needs to undertake? Or is it something you contract professionals to do?
Just make sure there's no "mob mentality" going on and you should be good.



24 October 2008

Nitrox and Living Water

Nitrox
This week a few of us are studying for an upcoming class on the use of Enriched Air, or Nitrox.

Why you ask? Well, partly because we can, and partly because it enhances the diving experience. Diving with regular compressed air allows you to only dive for so long due to the nitrogen buildup in your body. Then you have to wait for a specified amount of time before you can dive again (surface interval).

With Nitrox you can dive longer without the nitrogen buildup and can often dive again without an extended surface interval.

This is true because Nitrox typically has 32% or 36% oxygen versus the 21% in compressed air. More oxygen means less nitrogen that can be absorbed into your body.

But perhaps the most interesting side effect reported by Nitrox divers is that they feel refreshed after multiple dives compared to compressed air divers who report fatigue and lethargy after multiple dives.

Then it hit me. What if I walked around with my Nitrox tank and regulator on all day? Would I feel better? Would it give me more energy? Maybe I'll try it...

Just Joking!!! I shouldn't even joke about stuff like that. But what about all the things we do use to keep us running at MACH speed? Things like pills, Mountain Dew, energy drinks, coffee, lattes and even hard core stuff like cocaine and crystal meth. All contain chemical compounds that want to push our bodies even though we may not have the physical energy to do so.

But what if there was something better? What if there was something that gave us the energy without the negative side effects?

Living Water
Then I remembered there is something like that. Something available to each of us, and its free. In John 4 Jesus was talking to he Samaritan woman about the water she was trying to get out of the well. In this conversation He offered to give her Living Water which would allow her to "never thirst" and would turn into a "fountain of water springing up into everlasting life."

Now it doesn't say anything about giving you energy when you're exhausted but I'm willing to gamble that it's part of the deal. I'm willing to bet that if we really buy into this Living Water thing and experience it, we'll find: energy to keep moving, power to do the right thing in difficult situations and joy to overcome sarcasm and depression in today's economic uncertainty.

I love SCUBA Diving. There are countless spiritual lessons to be learned...



20 October 2008

Redefining WebDrivenChurch

Previous Reality
For years now WebDrivenChurch.com has been one thing and one thing alone - my blog. Its where I post about my job, technology, freelance projects, gadgets, etc.

And up until now it has served its purpose. But there's always been part of me that wanted more than a blog. I mean I design websites...why wouldn't I want my own website rather than subjecting myself to the limitations of a blog?

New Reality
Then things changed for the better. An increase in freelance projects gave me a good reason to make the switch from blog to full website. I added the portfolio section since it was my reason for the switch, but in the process I got to have some creative fun and added a page for some of my amateur photography.

Don't worry, the blog (that you're reading right now) still exists and won't be ending any time soon. If you subscribe by RSS on any page of the website you're really subscribing to this blog.

The "blog" page on the website provides short post intros which then link back to this blog - which still lives on the Blogger servers. I think I assumed at some point that I'd leave Blogger, but they just keep getting better with more and more features - all for free! So I did a little cosmetic work to make it match the website and called it a day.

Future Reality
I have other ideas for the website, but we'll let it start slow.



Way to Go...Daddy

I have to brag a bit on GoDaddy.com as a company. Not because of Danica Patrick and definitely not because I want to somehow suggest that our morals and values are in sync. In fact there are some commercials and ads that just shouldn't be made...

But over time I have moved all of my personal domain names and those that the church has purchased into one place so they are easy to maintain and set up payments schedules for.

I can't tell you that GoDaddy.com is the cheapest place out there. And I'm not sure how their domain management stacks up to other companies. But its what happened today that has me sold.

I needed to switch my webdrivenchurch.com domain from my blog to my website (more in the next post) and quickly realized I was a bit rusty on how to switch it from the forwarding setup I needed for Blogger to actually changing name servers and setting up an alias site on my current hosting solution (BlueHost.com).

I called support since the help docs were just making me more confused. I was on hold for less than 5 minutes when an extremely helpful representative answered the phone and walked me through the entire thing.

I know what you're thinking, "That's their job dude - why wouldn't it work that way?"

To a certain extent this is true. But she went above and beyond. Not only did she help me with the correct setup in the GoDaddy.com domain manager, but she also walked me through setting up an alias domain on my hosting companies site!

I mean this is the competition! And yet she helped me set up the alias domain - thereby creating a completely separate site under my current hosting package and then helped me point my GoDaddy domain at it correctly.

Its the sort of customer service that you dream of and yet don't find these days.

After being on the phone for hours with Comcast or your Insurance Company you just start thinking that poor customer support is the norm.

Hat's off to a company that really wants their customers to be happy. I recommend you check them out if you're in the market for a new domain.



18 October 2008

Staying in Sync

Since coming on staff at the church I've accumulated more than my share of files - and in multiple places. This happened in part because I allowed it to, but also because I don't just have one computer.

I have a desktop with two monitors (a necessity when designing/coding for long periods of time) and a laptop (a necessity to maintain my connection to work and the world in general). But the problem with this scenario is that I save files in two places.

Don't get me wrong, we have an awesome IT Department that set things up correctly. The "My Documents" folder on each computer syncs with the staff server. But what I was finding is that I have the following types of files:

  • Work Files (secured): Work files that require backup (typically Word Docs, spreadsheets, budget information, process docs, stats, etc.)
  • Work Files (non-secured): Work files that do not require backup or are so big that we make life difficult for the rest of the staff trying to use the server :) (typically video, graphics, stock photography, etc.)
  • Personal Files: The stuff I put on my computers that has nothing to do with work (Zune Music, website files from freelance projects, personal pictures, AVCHD video, etc.)
Once I realized the three types of files I had on my computer I was able to find a sync/backup system that worked for me. So here it is:
  • Work Files (secured): These files are saved in "My Documents." They are backed up to the server and no matter what computer I'm on I have access to the same version of the file every time - slick!
  • Work Files (non-secured): This stuff is typically on my desktop and consists of video, graphics, stock photography, etc. It usually ends up being assets for larger projects I complete, and though there is no reason to keep a lot of it I do just in case. Better safe than sorry. My solution for this stuff is to back it up nightly to a Western Digital External HD. Using SyncToy 2.0 and Windows Vista Task Scheduler I'm able to keep this entire folder structure backed up without lifting a finger.
  • Personal Files: I picked the laptop to be my primary computer for personal files. I created a folder structure to house all these files and then created the exact folder structure on a Western Digital Passport (pictured above). Using SyncToy 2.0 I can keep the personal files on my laptop synced with the portable external hard drive. It won't sync in real time, but after a long period of work on the laptop I simply plug in the Passport, open SyncToy and hit "Run." In 15-30 seconds you're done. This allows me to plug the Passport into my desktop and be looking at the same files I was working on the night before on the laptop. I don't sync personal files to the desktop - I simply work off the Passport. Its fast and you'd never know the difference. Also, my backup is still complete because the files are in two places (laptop and the Passport).
In Summary
Not sure why I picked Western Digital but I have three of them (350GB My Book, 500GB My Book World II and the 350GB Passport). I think some if it has to do with knowing how often WD hard drives are used in the PC's we buy. The other thing is the track record for me. No problems so far so I'm sticking with them. Of course I must admit I format them the minute I get them. The software they ship with is clunky at best and just makes using them harder.

One thing to remember: Even though the personal files are backed up (in two places) that doesn't mean you're safe. Example: I carry my laptop and the Passport in the same backpack. Lose the backpack and it doesn't matter that you had your files backed up :)

So now that I've explained my thought process on syncing and backing up my files, are there other solutions out there? I'm always willing to learn. Let me know!



06 October 2008

How Then Do We Proceed?

I love reading Bible stories that directly impact the way we live life today.

At times the characters in the stories display BAD behavior and we learn what not to do. Other times they display GOOD behavior and we learn what we should do in similar situations.

But I never really looked at the story of Gideon that way until recently.

For those not familiar with the story, Gideon was called by God to lead an army against the Midianites - who had been plundering Israel for seven years.

He started with an army of 32,000 and quickly had his numbers reduced by God in two waves:

  • First, 22,000 that were "fearful and afraid" went home.
  • Next, 9,700 that took too long to rest and drink water were sent home.
This left 300 men to fight against the armies of Midian which the Bible describes like this:
Now the Midianites and Amalekites, all the people of the East, were lying in the valley as numerous as locusts; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the seashore in multitude. Judges 7:12 NKJV
Finally, they were victorious using non-traditional methods and allowing the Power of God to push them over the top.

Life Lessons
Like I said, I typically just read the story and thought it was a cool way for God to help His people. But with fresh eyes I'm starting to see more in the story:
  • Fear: We will face times of fear. But that doesn't have to disqualify us. I'm assuming the 10,000 still had some level of fear or apprehension about the battle, but they didn't leave. When given the out they chose to push through the fear and be part of something great.
  • Readiness: Life is a battle. If we're going to live a purpose driven life and finish strong in the big things we need to be on top of our game in the little things. The 300 knew the battle wasn't right in front of them but they acted as if it was. Instead of kneeling down and making themselves vulnerable, they simply scooped up enough water to keep them going and never took their eyes off the enemy.
  • Innovation: "If we always do what we've always done, we'll always get what we've always gotten." Great summation on the truth that just because something is tradition does not mean it is effective. I love how God showed Gideon (and us) how to think outside the box.
  • Super Powers: When we do things the way God asks us to we leave no room for people to say we were the reason for the success. When we do amazing things with little to no help, it is all the more evident that God showed up and worked through us.
In Summary
What really hit me was the fact that these men were always on. They didn't even stop to rest. And these were the guys God used. Not the fearful ones. Not the ones that wanted to slow down and rest. He used the ones that were always on.

Sounds exhausting. But sounds right. Why wouldn't I strive to do everything in my power to be the person God wants me to be all the time?

Not looking for the next time of rest. Not shirking responsibilities because I'm too busy. And not complaining for crying out loud.

I can't wait to get to heaven so I can meet Gideon and his 300 men.



05 October 2008

The Revolution is Coming!

Ever since the first mobile browser there has been a massive chasm between what a full blown browser can do and what your phone browser can do...

...until now.

The typical problem with the mobile browser is that it requires a stripped down version of a web page. Full blown html/css layouts appear broken and are often unusable. Not to mention that flash doesn't work.

Because of this designers/developers have either created "smart" css pages based on device or they have created mobile versions of their sites all together.

Enter skyfire - a beta browser that takes surfing on your mobile phone to incredible heights. Open it up for the first time and you immediately sense its power. Navigate to your favorite website and watch it magically appear before your eyes - not just the copy and a few images, but the entire site in its correct html/css layout.

Now the problem we run into is that most phones have very small screens with inadequate resolution to handle this new power. Not a problem - skyfire has added a smart zoom feature so you can choose a section of the site to zoom into. Once at the correct zoom level you can access buttons, text entry fields and other page elements. This until phones start adding screen real estate and better resolution.

The Biggest Difference
However, the most incredible thing (to me) about this browser is that it supports flash.

This is HUGE friends!!!! I can't tell you how long I've been waiting for this. Flash entered the progressive download and streaming video field with force and yet the mobile world didn't recognize its importance fast enough. Before you knew it sites like YouTube had millions of viewable clips that the mobile world couldn't access. In fact YouTube even had to create a separate set of video clips (in a different format) for the introduction of the original iPhone just so that phone could use the content. Since then YouTube has even added a mobile version of their site so that I can view clips on my phone using Windows Media Player.

But once Flash is available on phones and other mobile devices all this work will be for not. We can go back to watching the original flash version of the clips (Incredible storage savings for YouTube...)

In Summary
One of the first things I did with skyfire was to go to gccwired.com and try viewing a flash video clip from our media player. The next was to try watching our streaming service. Both worked and the phone/browser combo actually kept up with it. Amazing!

Of course there are kinks to work out. My phone has a hard time controlling audio in skyfire due to my phone (Sprint Motorola Q9c) not having external volume buttons. Because of this I have to zoom into the actual volume control on the website and try to drop the volume.

But for a beta browser these are small things that will only get better when viewed on more advanced phones.

HUGE things are possible because of this browser technology. I can't wait to see what happens next...



And So It Begins...

Today at 9:30 a.m. EST it became official. Granger Community Church is now One Church - Multiple Locations.

I posted a while ago about our site revamp (gccwired.com) that included changes to navigation and content in preparation for this day. And now it has arrived. For months we've seen Jeff Bell and his team running around with their heads cut off preparing for this launch. And while I wasn't there I was able to follow along (Twitter...) with anticipation to see how it went.

Here are just two of the tweets that made me very happy:

Just returned from Elkhart campus launch. 780 on first day. Flawless service. timastevens
Elkhart checkin is rockin' this morning! Even doing some barcode scanning for those with tags (TwitPic) JasonPowell
Last night at the 7:00 p.m. service (Granger Campus) there was a definite difference felt as Mark Beeson talked to us and to those in Elkhart simultaneously. He was pumped as I'm sure the 700+ at Elkhart were this morning.

I'm looking forward to work on Monday so I can hear more stories about the cool things happening in Elkhart.



03 October 2008

Subtle Yet Profound

Is it just me or is this an incredible piece of marketing genius?

Not the campaign itself. I'm not part of the "green machine" that is trying to reverse global warming (which may or may not actually be happening).

Don't get me wrong. I know humans have a negative impact on the environment. We shouldn't be spewing excess fumes into the atmosphere or burying toxic waste in the ground. But I also believe that the earth is on a limited time schedule in and of itself.

When sin entered the world it wasn't only something that impacted the human race. It also impacted the physical earth. We went from the Garden of Eden in all its perfection to an imperfect world with temperature change, seasons, rainfall (after the flood) and natural disasters stemming from new-found environmental instability.

A theory I find fascinating suggests God allowed the earth to shift slightly on its axis during or just prior to the flood. This could account for the seasons we now endure, the redistribution of water during the flood and then the freezing of the waters into polar ice caps after the flood.

Undoubtedly changes like these would have a lasting impact on the planet and over time lead to deterioration and eventual failure.

Why would the earth be any different than a vehicle you buy? It starts beautiful, eventually gets scratches and dents and then rusts out and is replaced.

All because of sin...

Get Off Your Soapbox!
Sorry...back to why this marketing strategy stands out to me as profound. The easiest way is to show you graphically:

I'm sure you saw it already. I mean it isn't every day that you see a "w" that looks like that. So my OCD mind wants to turn the "w" into an "m" to keep the font/typology correct.

Now I looked all over the website to see if they mentioned this or in some way described the logic behind the logo. But I could find nothing. Still brilliant! A campaign to get us all working together (we) but with the understanding that each of us needs to take some responsibility for his or her actions (me).

Reminds me of one of my favorite logos of all time.

At first glance you eyes only see the letters. But look closer and you'll see a shape formed by the proximity of two letters. By placing the "Ex" in just the right way with the edges touching - a white arrow is formed between them.

Excellent! FedEx stands for quick and reliable shipping. And the arrow is the perfect visual representation of that.



23 September 2008

Zune Finally Finding Its (Market)Place

I began my journey with Zune the first week it became available. I understood the problems this might cause and simply crossed my fingers that it would catch on and that upgrades to software and firmware would gradually bring new and exciting things.

Baby Steps
My first clue that things were going to work out well came when I was able to upgrade the firmware on my original 30GB Zune. In a matter of 5 minutes my OS looked exactly like that of the next gen Zunes. There were also upgrades to the Zune Marketplace which added podcasts and podcast management. Also, you can now download videos - including some awesome NBC shows.

Giant Leap For Mankind
Then the unimaginable happened. Last week I upgraded both the firmware on my original Zune and Marketplace software to versions 3.0 and to my surprise they have added some incredible features - taking the Zune from iPod wannabe to a definite competitor.

New Stuff (see full listing here)
Here are just some of the things I've experienced personally:

  1. I can connect to the Marketplace by wireless connection and mark songs for download.
  2. I can listen to the radio and the Zune will tell me what the song is and I can mark it for download the next time I sync.
  3. The Marketplace software has some amazing new stuff (see image above). As you are listening to an album you can see a slide show of hi-res images of the artist. As these images fade in and out words appear on the screen. Things like: artist name, album title, song title, description of artist, number of times you have played the song, number of times the song has been played by everyone, etc.
  4. Another cool feature of the Marketplace is something called the Mixview (see below). When listening to an album you can see other albums by that artist, singles, related artists, users that listen to that album the most (from the Social), and even artists that this artist was influenced by.

In Summary
All I can say is, I stand amazed. First because I'm still using my first gen Zune and getting to do everything a next gen Zune user gets to do. And second, because in a matter of a few years Zune has undergone an incredible transformation and in my opinion stands as one of the leading players in the game.

Up Next?
I know there will be more to come, but here is my request for the next big thing:
Add television shows and movies to the subscription service!
As it stands I pay $14/month for unlimited downloads of music. If I want a television show on my Zune I still have to pay extra for that. And I don't think movies are even available yet. But hopefully this all happens in the near future. I'd probably pay up to $30/month for a subscription service like this - especially if the quality of the video was good enough to watch on my 1680x1050 computer monitor or a 1080p HDTV before sending to my Zune in a smaller format.

Things are looking up for Microsoft. Can't wait to see what happens next.



20 September 2008

thirty:one Press Goes Live

Since being employed by the church I've done a wide variety of things like web maintenance, project management for our eCommerce and church management solutions, flash development, started the podcast, helped get streaming video going, etc.

But this year I have been able to focus a lot more time on the stuff I get passionate about - flat out designing websites...

Here are three sites I've been able to collaborate on this year:

The latest project: thirty:one Press just went live this past week. It's a publishing imprint created out of a partnership between Power Publishing and WiredChurches.com to bring cutting edge, innovative and thought provoking books to up-and-coming church leaders.

It is a simple design but was fun to work on.

Up next: the website for a book coming out early next year. Can you guess which one that is?



Casual Q&A Information

Just a quick post for those who attended my Casual Q&A sessions during Innovate08. I promised you some information so here it is:

Web Streaming

  • Video encoding software (see list of tools below)
  • Vendors for streaming video (see list of tools below)
  • Our current Streaming Video Settings: 640x360 | Deinterlace on | 750kbps max stream | 15 frames per second | 80kbps stereo (audio)
RSS / Podcasting
  • Blog software (see list of tools below)
  • Blog readers (RSS aggregators): Bloglines, Google Reader, Modern browsers like IE7 and Firefox3, Outlook 2007
Good Info for Both Groups
I'm sure this isn't a complete list so hit me up for more information if you need it.



Innovate08 Recap

"Tis' the day after Innovate and all through the house, not a creature is stirring, especially my mouse.

All work and all websites are put out of mind. Now rest and relax and try to unwind.

Yes take a deep breath and make sure you're fine. For on Monday we start planning for Innovate09."

Okay, it's not that bad - just thought it was funny.

What I really wanted to do is just post to say Innovate08 was awesome. It felt like one of the best yet in terms of the amazing arts, the quality drama and media presentations and the way all speakers presented individual messages that seemed to have a common thread of truth and consistency woven through them.

There was no big draw this year like Guy Kawasaki of Innovate07. But I don't think we skipped a beat. Shawn Wood, the Lifechurch.tv team and Steven Furtick each hit home runs. Not to mention the incredible messages put forth by the Granger team. Mark Beeson began and ended the conference with "Stop Talking..." and "...Start Doing." Tim Stevens popped the church and Rob Wegner went mission critical.

I love just sitting back and taking it all in - even though as an attendee of Granger Community Church I've seen much of what's presented during the conference. There is just something about the energy during the conference. The music is louder, the medias more meaningful. Not sure how else to describe it.

I can't wait until we do it all over again.

Innovate09!



14 September 2008

The Bare Essentials

A few months ago we set out to make some changes to the information architecture on gccwired.com. Not because we had to, but because it was the perfect time to. First, the site has been growing over the years - slowly putting on extra pounds that needed to be worked off. And second, because in October we will open our first external campus and the site needs to reflect the new One Church Where You Are initiative.

Information Architecture
Take one look at the home page and you'll immediately see a few differences: The old site had numerous menu picks - some which were hidden as subordinate page links. The new structure removes all sub menus so all menu picks are visible all the time. We also removed the small icon driven menu at the bottom of the sidebar. Most of these links were absorbed into the main menu and the search element was moved to the top right of the page. Two larger graphic links (media player and streaming messages) now exist in their place. These are two of the most used parts of our website - thus the prominence given to them.

The other thing that you'll notice is how the traditional menu structure changed from a list of available pages to a list of action terms or Things To Do. Kem Meyer was the driving force behind these changes and talks more about the process here.

Campus Map
The other big change was in the multi-site functionality. With a new campus opening, the site had to reflect this and be able to direct people to appropriate information based on which site they frequent.

When you choose Where We Are from the menu or Campus on the flash element a map appears to give a quick look at the available campuses. Pick one and you are taken to pages just for that campus.

Other Additions
You may stumble across new pages like "Read blogs" and "Subscribe."

And then there are the things you might never notice like the fact that numerous pages have been boiled down into a few pages and the footer has been updated.

All in all it was a massive project for those involved. But a great team can do great things.

I love the new look and can't wait to hear the feedback. I'm hoping the changes create an amazing user experience and that people will find it even easier to get what they need from the site.

Thanks to Keith & Team from Aspire!One, Kem, Lisa and Jeanna for the hours of dedication to this change.



06 September 2008

Browser Wars

A few years ago I checked the browser stats and thought to myself, "I really only need to design for IE, If it looks a little strange in Firefox I'll try to fix the problem but if I can't figure it out I won't worry about it."

Now here it is September of 2008 and I'm facing a different reality. The graph above doesn't appear to be significant. But if you look closer you can see a consistent decline in IE users and a consistent rise in the number of Firefox and Safari users (for example).

I found the numbers interesting, but soon forgot about them. That is until I got into Google Analytics the other day and saw this:


Keep in mind, the typical person that frequents WebDrivenChurch is probably a bit more tech savvy than the average person and more likely to test new apps/browsers. But I was still surprised that the numbers were so much different than they had been even a year ago.

IE is now under 30%
Firefox is now close to 60%

I just installed Google Chrome which probably won't cause a stir for a while. But I can't wait to see how fast it climbs the browser ladder.

So what's your favorite browser?



02 September 2008

What Were They Thinking #2: Target Checkout

First off let me say I have nothing against Target. In fact I love the store and spend more time there than I do in Walmart, Meijer and Kmart combined. They have gone the second mile to create nice shopping environments and offer products that are well made and offer a touch of class to your home.

Service: That said, I run into this problem a lot when I'm there. I couldn't find a picture so I'll have to describe it. Pretend you are standing just inside the big sliding doors where all the carts are kept. You turn to look down the long line of checkouts stretching the width of the store. How many are open? My guess is 4 (unless it's December 20th).

Lack of Excellence: 4 open registers out of 40! Talk about overkill in the construction phase. Think of all the extra floor space they would have if they had have settled on 10 registers instead of the 40! Not to mention the fact that you often wind up in a line behind 6 other people and spend 15 minutes waiting around for your turn.

Website Application: What if we did the same thing when designing our websites? It would be like locking certain important pages down so only a limited number of people could access it at one time. If you went there maybe you'd see the following: "This page is currently being viewed by 100 people so you will have to wait until they are done."

Or better yet - lets talk apples to apples: "You are currently in 8th position in the online checkout process. Please wait your turn and then be prepared to enter your credit card information promptly."

It simply doesn't make sense in the online world. You expect your shopping experience to be between you and the remote secured server. I checkout when I want to and it should only take me as long as it takes to type in my info. Anything longer than that and we start getting antsy.

In Summary: Now I don't want to be too hard on Target when I ask What Were They Thinking. I don't have the responsibility they have in designing store layouts and being prepared for a large influx of customers. Nor do I have to manage the number of employees in the building at any given time and how many of them should be on checkout. But at times it just doesn't seem to make sense.



26 August 2008

The Divinity of Camping

I know people that are totally and completely against camping. They won't touch it with a ten foot pole and would rather be involved in tax paying or public speaking if given the choice...

And in some small part I lean in that direction. I grew up camping and I think I remember it being fun. But as I matured and became more worried about cleanliness and order I just grew out of the camping stage. I mean camping involves a lot of negative things like:

  • manual labor
  • bugs
  • humidity and no air conditioning
  • smoke
  • extremes in cold or heat
  • no electricity
  • no television
  • no wireless Internet
  • bathrooms off site
  • etc.
In processing some of these dislikes I came to a stunning conclusion. A bit of a stereotype, I'll give you that, but there is a strong correlation:
Wealthy people don't like camping.
Like I said - stereotyping - but think about it. The more 'things' you have and the more comfortable your lifestyle, the harder it is to give this up and camp. It just makes sense that the wealthier you get, the LESS likely it will be that you would enjoy camping.

Someone living in a trailer has much more in common with camping in a tent than someone living in a quarter-million dollar estate.

Let's Get Spiritual
The Bible describes a similar stereotype by explaining that wealth will make it difficult for people to see their need for God and Heaven.

Just as camping becomes less and less appealing to the wealthy, so too Heaven becomes less and less appealing when you can have everything your heart desires here on earth.

Bringing it Full Circle
But there is Someone who went on the ultimate camping trip. One who made the largest and most awkward lifestyle change just for us.

Jesus chose to go from being the God of the Universe, to being a camper on this dirty, dusty earth. From the having everything to having nothing. For you and me.

This is what I thought about as I camped in Ohio this past weekend. What if camping is a real life way to experience the truly amazing thing our God did for us?

In the humidity and sweat of tearing down our campsite I felt for a brief moment the great discrepancy He endured for me. Because of this camping has taken on a whole new meaning...



22 August 2008

How Badly Do You Fluctuate?

The other day I was thinking about how difficult it is for some people to handle situations in life. And how there seems to be other people who do a good job at handling whatever comes their way.

I typically fall into the calm and collected group. And while a HUGE part of it is with God's help as a Christ follower, I was also a therapist for quite some time. I read books, helped other people control their moods and ran groups on how to maintain a life of emotional moderation.

The graph shows what extreme mood swings look like (graphical representation of mood swings for the person that is Bipolar).

You can see there are HUGE shifts between depressed moods and manic moods. But what the graph fails to show is the differences in frustration tolerance, or the ability to handle things that are not pleasant.

Frustration Tolerance Example

  • You wake up happy and ready for the day. Then at work you see you have 250 new emails. You understand it's gonna be a long day but you muddle through because you are in a good place. [High Frustration Tolerance]
  • You wake up angry and you aren't feeling well. Then at work you see you have 250 new emails. You flip out and throw something across the room, accidentally hit your boss and get fired. [Low Frustration Tolerance]
Now people can exhibit low and high frustration tolerance even on a normal day (not depressed or manic) but when your mood goes to the extreme, so does your tolerance level.

Depressed people tend to have very low frustration tolerance. Every little thing is a problem and the entire world looks dark and grim. Having to go out of their way at all can be the end of the world. Since their energy level is so low they typically just whine and complain - sinking farther into their depression.

Likewise, manic people are so keyed up and have such little control over their impulses that they too have a hard time controlling their behavior when things don't go their way. Low frustration tolerance often comes out as anger outbursts. These rages are often violent and unprovoked. They go far beyond what would be considered a normal response to the situation.

So how do you fluctuate? Do you live in the extremes or do you try to maintain a healthy balance in the middle of the graph?

If you frequently find yourself fighting to have a more positive attitude or keep from getting worked up over such trivial things, keep this in mind:
One of the best ways to control your frustration tolerance is to control your mood.



Break A Leg

"Break a leg!"

At least that's what they say when you go on stage. But what do they say when you go on your first open water dive?

This weekend (as in tomorrow) we'll be at Gilboa Quarry in Ohio for our open water dives. After 4 dives we're done - certified SCUBA divers.

Until recently I was still in fantasy land when it came to what it really means to SCUBA dive. I mean we've been in a clean pool at a depth you could easily snorkel at if you wanted to. Controlled environment with easy access to the surface.

But this weekend I woke up. I was at a small lake in Indiana and for the fun of it threw on my snorkel gear. I swam around for a few minutes realizing just how poor visibility can be in a lake full of micro-organisms, plant life and boats to stir things up. And then it happened.

I saw a fish.

I know. I know. You're saying, "Wow, he is in a lake and saw a fish. Who knew!"

But there is something totally different about looking INTO the water to see a fish and actually being IN the water with the fish. One minute there was nothing, and then there it was right in front of me. I expected it to immediately move away when it saw me there, but it just sat there and looked at me.

And that's when it hit me. We're going into an environment humans typically don't enter. We're both intruders and yet accepted as normal marine life.

I can't wait!



14 August 2008

The Top 5 Things I Learned From SCUBA

A group of us recently began to pursue our PADI Open Water Diver Certification through JR Aquatic Center in Niles, MI.

It's something I have wanted to do since high school. In fact I even signed up to do it in college - only to back out due to the cost. So it was a no-brainer when the group of guys agreed to do it together at a discounted rate.

Then throw in the fact that for some odd reason watching Shark Week actually makes me want to go diving in the ocean! And I'm sold on SCUBA.

But this post isn't about the cool stuff you get to do as a SCUBA Diver. It's about the crazy real life applications I've learned from taking the class.

Here are the Top 5 things I've learned from SCUBA so far:

  1. Fun Stuff is Expensive: From Golf to Ice Hockey, Snowboarding to Rock Climbing, Skydiving to Paintball, you just keep putting out the money. All of these things require "gear" and if it's called "gear" it will cost you. But then again no one claimed that fun would be free. Sure you can have fun during free activities, but I'm betting you won't be 60ft under water...
  2. You Need Your Own Gear: I'm not saying you should never rent SCUBA gear, but it has become very evident that if something fits well, you'll feel more comfortable and be able to get more out of the thing you're doing. Example: If your mask doesn't fit right you'll have more water in it than air...
  3. Learn Slow to Stay Safe: I don't think PADI says it this way, but this is the way I understand these requirements. In SCUBA there are depth maximums that need to be observed based on your level of experience. Open Water & Recreational Divers should stay above 60ft. Advanced Open Water Divers should remain above 100ft. And no one should go below 130ft. without some crazy training in deep sea diving.
  4. Rules Are Important: You don't realize how technical SCUBA is until you take the class. Most people have heard about things like decompression, but once in the class you realize that by entering the underwater world you subject yourself to a set of constants (like gravity) that require rigorous attention to detail. Dive charts, proper equipment checks, compass navigation, neutral buoyancy, nitrogen narcosis equalization and the list goes on. Because of this you practice numerous skills like clearing your mask, sharing oxygen, taking equipment off underwater, etc.
  5. Seriously Fun Stuff Can Be Life Threatening: SCUBA Diving has it's risks. And while hundreds of thousands of people SCUBA each year without a problem, the potential is there. Potential for problems that can lead to death. All the more reason to learn the rules and follow them.
Then realize that these 5 things also apply to our spiritual lives:
  1. Fun Stuff is Expensive: What are we willing to give sacrificially for? It's one thing to say we are Christians, or that we want to help the poor. But are we tithing? Do we give above and beyond to help those in need? Truth is, if we want real purpose in life we'll pay for it.
  2. You Need Your Own Gear: In life you can't count on the work of others (spiritually speaking). You need your own "gear." The Bible refers to it as "full armor of God." And we get this armor through prayer, Bible study, being part of a local church, etc. But you HAVE to do it for yourself. It's ok to help others along the way - but at some point they will have to get their own "gear."
  3. Learn Slow to Stay Safe: People can only handle so much information at a time. A new believer needs the small packet of info called "Giving your life to Christ" first and then maybe later will come to appreciate the small packet called "Eschatology." Dumping the entirety of the Christian life on a new believer is like a green diver going down to 130ft. on his or her first dive. Both are doable, but the potential for something bad to happen is huge...
  4. Rules Are Important: You typically think of rules as things to be broken. But 99% of the time rules are meant to keep us safe. Man-made rules are sometimes questionable, but God's rules are without a doubt for our own good - even when we can't see them that way. In SCUBA, the rule "Never stop breathing" doesn't seem important since we hold our breath out of water without problem. But try it under water and your lungs can explode...
  5. Seriously Fun Stuff Can Be Life Threatening: Living a life with purpose can be dangerous. It means having faith in the unseen, putting time and energy into things the world views as a waste of time and at some point may even cost us our lives. But we know that it's all worth it. Given the fact that this life is but a scratch on the surface of eternity, we can lead this dangerous life with a real sense of security.
In a couple weeks we take a road trip to Ohio for our open water dives. Hopefully I'll learn at least another 5 things from that. We'll see...



What Were They Thinking #1: Low Tide

This is actually the product that pushed me to make the What Were They Thinking blog post series a reality.

Product: Tide 2X Ultra with new and improved dispensing system.

Lack of excellence: Just looking at the new bottle one might think, "How intelligent - a spout! That should make it easier to use." And for those who don't care about using the proper amount for each load of clothes it just might be. Tip the bottle over, push the spout a few times and you're good.

But for those of us desiring to use the right amount for each load (and no more than necessary which would end up costing more) this system breaks down immediately. Look on the back of the container and it shows you how to remove the clear cap and pump the right amount into it for each load. So far so good. I Get the right amount, dump it into the washer and then realize that in order to replace the cap I have to wash it out completely. Replace it without washing and it will drip out from under the cap and run down the bottle - leaving everything in its path sticky and slimy.

Quick review: The old version of the bottle worked like this: remove cap, pour right amount into cap, dump into the washer and replace cap. Excess detergent drains back into the bottle. This saved time (and money since nothing is washed down the drain.)

Learning from our mistakes: I would suggest that making improvements to things is great - but every new thing also needs tested by people that use the product. Just because something can be done doesn't necessarily mean it should be done.

I was talking to someone on our team about this the other day and she said:

Sometimes creative people are so creative that they don't think about the functionality of their design...
Now one would assume that Tide (Procter & Gamble) has both the creative designers and those testing for functionality. But in this case it appears something slipped through the cracks. That's why I asked, "What were they thinking?"