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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.

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

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 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 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 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 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 (

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 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 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 ( 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.