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26 January 2008

Right, Different or Excellent?

Looking back I can recall conversations with people where this was their response to my behavior:

Why do you always do it that way? It's not like there is a right or wrong way to do it, so why do you act like your way is right?
A long time ago I may have thought to myself, 'Well of course my way is the right way.' But over time I've come to the conclusion that there is more than just right vs. wrong when it comes to behavior. In fact I'd probably break it out into three categories.

  1. Right vs. Wrong: There's no getting around the fact that there are things that are considered right or wrong. People will try to confuse you by injecting situational ethics, but it doesn't change the fact that we (as Christians) take a pretty hard line on a variety of Biblical truths. Adultery for example: If someone asked me why I was being faithful to my wife I would say two things. First, 'Because I love her with all my heart.' And second, 'Because it's the right thing to do.'
  2. Just Different: Next there are those things that really don't matter. There isn't a right vs. wrong issue at work and there is no significant reason why you would do it one way or the other. These are typically things that have become habits over time. Putting on your pants for example: People typically put a certain leg into their pants first. No problem - no right or wrong in this situation. You simply do it this way so your brain doesn't have to waste processor time on the various micro-behaviors involved of putting your leg into your pants. Don't believe me? Just try putting the other leg in first next time. You brain will actually have to think about what you are doing to make it work. And there is no recognizable difference between left or right leg to speak of.
  3. With Excellence: Then there are those things that don't fit in either of the above categories. They aren't an issue of right vs. wrong but they do have the potential to be seen as excellent or less-than-excellent. And this is where I'm going to spend the most time. Read the two case studies below in order to see what I mean. I'll use one real life example and then a web example just for fun:

The Starbucks Lid Placement Dilemma
Starbucks has great coffee. They have cool looking cups with a great (recognizable) logo and the fun little heat sleeve. But if the lid is not put on the right way - you'll have problems. I know from experience. Allow Bob to explain:

Cups leak. All Starbucks cup leak by design. The cups leak at the seam due to the inability of the lid to seal this discontinuity... -Bob of Goodrich MI (01/03/05)
Now I can hear one Barista saying to another, 'Why do you always have to put the lid opening facing the same way?' And the simple answer would be, 'I don't want Starbucks patrons to get drips of coffee on their freshly pressed white shirts...'

Perfect example of an 'excellence' decision.

The ALT vs. TITLE Dilemma
Those of you that code html will understand this. When you place a picture in a page, or you have a picture or graphic that is a link, it's helpful to describe the picture or action that will occur so the user won't have to click to figure it out. You also want this description to show on the page in case the image doesn't appear quickly or so there is content on devices where only text and links are displayed.

The dilemma exists because there are two ways to accomplish it. You can either add an alt="description here" or title="description here".

Or, if you strive for excellence, you'll use both.

Why? Because if you only use the ALT attribute, only your Internet Explorer audience will see the 'tool tip' when you hover over the image/link. In order for your (ever growing) Firefox audience to see it you need to use the TITLE attribute too.

And again I can hear people saying, 'Why do you always use both?' And I would say, 'So my entire audience gets the same experience.'

In Summary: In every situation or decision you have to make:

  1. First determine if there is a moral or ethical component - and do the next right thing.
  2. Second, if there is no moral or ethical component, ask yourself if there are a variety of ways that it could be done.
  3. If there are multiple ways to do it, pick the one that makes this world a better place, makes life easier for people or just seems to be the 'excellent' choice.

24 January 2008

Get Specific & Practical

2008 Specific&Practical: Warning-6MB PDF FileThe new Specific & Practical is finally here!

What Is S&P?:

The annual publication put out by The magazine includes information on new products and gives you the line up for all 2008 workshops & forums. It also has the dates for the 2008 Innovate Conference.

Here are some cool new things that are in store for you this year if you are able to attend:

  • Pop Goes the Church Workshop: Tim Stevens offers insights on fresh ways to impact today's culture. This workshop coincides with the launch of his book Pop Goes the Church in May of this year.
  • Three New Forums: Worship Leaders, Technical Arts, and IT Forums will add value with their attention to detail and the ability to swap good stuff with others in your field.
  • Leadership Live: How would you like to spend 2 full days with the Senior Management Team at Granger? If so, hurry, it's filling up fast and space is limited.
  • Purpose-Driven Church Consulting: Consult with three innovative leaders implementing the Purpose-Driven model in their respective settings.
  • Day 2 Practical Application: For those attending certain workshops, there is the option to stay for an extra day and meet with the team responsible for the workshop. Learn more in a consulting environment where you can really roll up your sleeves and get stuff done.
  • Innovate 2008: Enough said...wouldn't miss it if I were you.

It's going to be a great year. I'm looking forward to meeting a lot of you there.

21 January 2008

How Are You at Doing the Stuff They Don't See?

I do stuff around the house. I run the vacuum, I pick up after the kids, I make our bed and do outside stuff among other things.

But today as I was walking through the house I started thinking about all the little things my wife does that I don't even see - things that just get done. Some are done during the day when I'm not there and others are done right under my nose. But the fact is they get done.

One example is the wastebasket in our bathroom. It occurred to me that I may have dumped it once or twice in two years. But it's typically empty.

Another is the mail. My wife gets the mail, goes through the bills and gets them paid. I can't tell you the last time I opened a bill or even looked at one. But we're not being evicted.

Two things that I don't think twice about, because they get done.

And so it is with our web strategy. There are those things which people notice - the big things that splash across the home page, stream at 640x360 or interact with the end user. But what about all those little things that go unnoticed? Here are just a few:

  • Standardization - Controlled in part by your CSS (cascading stylesheet) but also a concerted effort on your part to make graphics, colors, headers and other things play nice together.
  • Maintenance - Keeping fresh pages out there and ensuring content isn't old.
  • Architecture - Ensuring there is good flow to your site so the user feels comfortable leaving the home page and getting around.
  • Familiarity - On the one hand there's nothing good about doing what everyone else is doing. But there are certain things that you just don't want to mess with. For example, a hyperlink needs to change color or incorporate some other hover property so that the user knows they can click on it. And for crying out loud make sure the cursor changes to a hand when it hovers over the link. Its confusing when you rollover a link and you don't get the hand.

Just 4 of the many things we do that nobody notices unless we fail to do them. I'm sure you can think of more.

Take time to document some of these little things for those working with you. Do they know how important they are? It's so much easier when everyone is on the same page. And your site will thank you for it later.

And by the way Tammy - thanks for all those little things you do that I don't notice...

18 January 2008

Mapping Software Rocks

Partial Granger Community Church member/attendee data map[Map shown with partial membership/attendee data from Granger Community Church. The green line shows a 15 minute drive time from the church.]

I typically don't work with data. I typically don't work with maps. In fact, I'm pretty sure I've never worked with data and maps at the same time. But this past week I got my chance - and I was pleasantly surprised.

I took over a project that was started a few months back. The program they bought to complete the project is Microsoft MapPoint.

It took less than 2 days to learn the program in order to get the project done. In a nutshell, here are the things we learned and used in two days time:

  • Start by navigating to the part of the map that works for you
  • Pick a map format (roads, terrain, night etc.)
  • Pick your location(s). Enter an address or addresses in order to plot them on the map
  • Zoom in/out to get the desired amount of information on the map
  • Change the sizes of fonts, colors on the map and icons used to plot points
  • Quickly create regions based on drive time from a selected location
  • Add data to the map. Import an excel spreadsheet with addresses and each one is plotted on your map
  • Export to Excel. If you have a region on the map you can extract data only from that region out of the total data you imported
  • Use National Census Data (2004 Census Data all that was available in our copy) to plot data like average ages, people that subscribe to cable and who has gaming systems in their homes (just for the fun of it)
  • And I'm assuming we're only using the bare bones features of the program

So two things:

  1. I encourage you to test it out. See what a little mapping can do to help you get a visual on your attendance, membership, serving and even giving trends. I'm assuming our decision making might be enhanced slightly if this was a piece of that puzzle each time
  2. I'm no expert. What is everyone else using? Is Microsoft MapPoint one of the main tools? Or was this a bad one to start with? Does Google Earth Pro do similar mapping stuff with data imports? Is there another option all together that offers the same functionality?

13 January 2008

How Do You Do It?

The Set Up: My kids were getting ready for bed tonight. You know, the typical brushing of the teeth and going potty, when I overheard two of them having issues. My middle daughter (age 5) was getting ready to use the potty when my son (age 3) jumped in front of her. Because of this she stomped off with a fake crying fit about being slighted.

The Response: My oldest daughter (age 7) remarked to her sister, "You don't have to stomp off like that every time you don't get your way." To which my middle daughter replied:

That's just what I do.
Bringing It Full Circle: So the question is, "How do you do it?" When you're having a bad day - what does it look like to others? When things aren't going your way - what are your coping skills?

Take It Up a Notch: Or, to take it up a level, apply it to what you and I do for a living. If someone questions our motives or points to something we're doing as less than excellent, how do we respond? Do we say, "That's just what we do?"

Or do we stop and think about it? Look at our processes and deliverables? Find a new angle and implement changes? If so, these alterations could keep us from just running status quo. They could allow for innovation. They could increase the effectiveness of our "product."

I'm trying to move away from, "That's just what we do." And try something like, "I'm keeping my eyes open for a better way to do it."

11 January 2008

The First Full Week Back

I took a week off during the Christmas season and really let go. Call it 'going dark' 'checking out' or just 'taking a break.' Whatever it was, it felt good. I rested, played and got refreshed in order to come back for another long run of ministry.

What I didn't expect was the brain switching gears. This week it actually took me a while to regroup and remember what I was doing. I had to go back over numerous sticky notes, lists and emails in order to pull it all together, reorganize and prioritize.

This coupled with a few hot projects made for an interesting week.

We also experienced a glitch in the universe. A ripple in the matrix if you will. We experienced roadblocks, technical problems and unexpected occurrences that made us wonder if the planets were lining up for a cataclysmic event.

But it's over. The week is done. And for all the craziness - it was a good week. We got a lot done and I can't wait to see what happens next week.

07 January 2008

Geeked About HD Online

LOST on ABCMy partner in crime (Jeanna) emailed me this link today. It's a blog post about ABC offering the first three seasons of the hit show LOST on their website for free. Now that isn't very shocking, until you notice that these episodes are offered in HD.

The minute I saw that, I had to go play. The first thing you notice when you get to is that media must be important to them. Notice below that the 'full episodes' button is red and first in the line of available options. Its also graphically tied to the ABC logo which I'm sure was no accident...

ABC.comSo you click on the button and it opens the player. Next, you navigate to the LOST episodes and pick it from the dynamic navigation bar. When you do, a warning message ('informational message' or 'free tech tip' to put a more positive slant on it) comes up. This message lets you know that your viewing experience will be greatly enhanced if you have the following:

  • 2 Mbps (or better) Internet connection
  • Dual core processor
  • 128 MB Video RAM
  • Full size monitor (at least 1330x770)

The Player: Not bad though a bit cluttered in 'normal' mode. Comes complete with play/pause and audio/mute toggle, click-to-seek timeline, cool 'more info' drop panel with the episode description, current/total time indicators and sizing options of Normal, 720p HD and Full Screen HD.

HD Mode: In 720p and Full Screen mode the clutter is gone (no room for it) and you are offered the 'HD Meter' for lack of a better term. This meter shows you the bandwidth used to stream the larger content. This meter fluctuates - but stays around 2030 kbps if there is movement on the screen. Picture was incredible with no visible frame rate distortion.

Behind the Scenes: I first viewed the HD stream in the early morning - and had the incredible experience mentioned above. However, later in the day I tried again and could not duplicate the experience. This time, when I selected the 720p and Full Screen options, the HD video wasn't there. Instead the lower quality video played at the larger screen size. This was a seamless experience, but the loss in quality was very evident. The HD Meter fluctuated between 300 kbps and 600 kbps based on movement - leading me to believe that tests the user download speed before sending the higher quality stream. This isn't a bad thing, but the fact that it still says HD when you are watching it is a bit misleading. I'm also assuming that the connection speed at work had dropped with the added users in the afternoon.

I can't wait to look into this and see what the ramifications are. We're currently streaming at 640x360 (probably close the default size at so it would be nice to offer a larger version that would look good on a 720p or even 1080p HDTV.

The other thing I'm wrestling with right now involves media delivery to less traditional devices like smartphones, PDA's, Tivo, Xbox, etc.

The question isn't whether or not we would make content available on these devices, but how and when will we be able to make it happen.

04 January 2008

Think Barista

I was at Starbucks the other day when I overheard:

"I'll have a Grande Non-Fat, No-Whip, Extra-Hot Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha to go..."
And it occurred to me that, though I sometimes get a bit creative with my orders, I am light years away from what the Sbux Barista can handle. I mean, the order above doesn't even scratch the surface.

I read here (page 2) that there are at least 19,000 possible drink combinations available at Sbux. If you're confused - go here to read how to order correctly.

This means I'm a drop in the bucket - and yet valued at the same time. "Let your customers customize your product" is just one of ten things they do that makes them successful. Read the other nine here: 10 Things You Can Learn from Starbucks.

So it occurred o me that if this (these) ideas work for coffee, why wouldn't they work for us, the church?

I need to take some time to dig into these 10 things and find the direct application when it comes to our websites, but I'm confident that there will be many. Just a quick glance gets me excited - especially 3, 4, 6 and 10.

I'm thinking Barista - are you?

03 January 2008

Xbox Live Gamertag


If you still have that quizzical look on your face: sbux (Starbucks) IV (IntraVenous) 99 (the year I was married and yes - Wayne Gretzky)

I'm currently on once and a while for Halo 3 and possibly for Call of Duty 4 in the future.

I'm by no means good, so feel free to teach me a lesson :)

By the way - how funny is this picture? I would typically make something like this from scratch for the blog, but I did a Google image search just for the fun of it and this came up on the first screen...