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26 March 2010

What Were They Thinking #6: Jury Duty Process

Or maybe I should say, "What are they thinking?" since this isn't a past problem I had - it will be an ongoing issue until it is fixed...
I received a summons for jury duty. Not a big deal except for the fact that I'm going to be out of town at a conference at the same time.

So I started the process of getting an exemption.

The Problem: Not taking advantage of available technology to ease the pain of interacting with the court.

I called the courthouse and left a message. Next I had to wait for the Bailiff to return the call and let me know what I needed to do. Next she FAXed me an official court document - you know the kind - hard to read, copied 1000 times, written in legaleze so I had to spend the next 30 minutes trying to figure out which parts to fill out. Then I had to print off my supporting documents (conference registration and flight confirmation) and FAX everything back to the courthouse.

Needless to say - I'm not sure if it was right - and won't know if it was until I get picked up by the police for contempt of court. This, because they don't notify you UNLESS the deferral is denied.

The Solution: Catch up with the rest of society. Even the License Branch has started this process and you know that's progress!

We live in a new reality - people are connected and want to be able to take advantage of this option if at all possible. We'd much rather fill out a form online or submit paperwork via email than picking up a phone and using a FAX machine.

This gives me the opportunity to pimp an amazing online tool that we use at Granger. It has saved us hours of work and more than pays for itself.

It's called FormAssembly and allows you to create, implement and manage forms online. It has a sweet form creation tool and allows your submissions to be held in data so you can easily manage, archive or export them as needed.

When stuff like this is available - why wouldn't you take advantage of it?!

25 March 2010

Controversy Theory: Resurrection

Prior to becoming a web geek - I went to school for and worked as a therapist in the mental health field. It was both rewarding and stressful at the same time. But it was definitely a part of my life that helped mold me and make me a better person.

During that time I was plagued with questions about counseling, treatment modalities, spirituality, God versus Satan, our problems, diagnoses, the human condition, secular humanism, pop psychology, the self help movement and how all of these meshed together.

Eventually I began making headway and decided to write down some of the answers I was finding to these questions.

Long story short: I ended up with a fairly large manuscript titled Controversy Theory that I assumed would become a book.

Long story even shorter: It didn't become a book. Instead it has sat collecting dust on my hard drive since 2001.

So the other day I decided to dust off the files, create a blog and start dumping small doses of it out there for people to react to.

Many of you will click the link, look it over and never return. I feel ya...

But there may be a few of you that resonate with it. If so, subscribe to the rss feed and join me on the journey. It'll almost be like getting a book for free :)

Whatever the case - thanks for indulging me in this little experiment...

Reality Bites!

I've come to the sad realization that life is short and opportunities will NOT always be there for you.

I grew up with hockey as far back as I can remember. From having various family members either play or coach in the NHL to skating on ponds and frozen tennis courts - it's always been there.

I used to watch it and play it religiously. Then I got married, had kids, began the career and it all stopped. Until recently...

It started back up when my son (age 5) entered a "Learn to Skate" program and I was again faced with the realization that hockey can be as foundational to your life as your religion, ethnicity or political views.

So here's the problem: No matter how much I love the game and want to start playing again, I no longer have the guarantee that it's even possible. My back problems come and go whenever they want, so one minute I feel like taking on the world and the next I'm trying to figure out how to tie my shoes without pain. Go figure - what was once viewed as fun and exciting with limitless potential is now partially unattainable.

My plan: However, I think my frustration with the whole thing might just be the thing to make it a reality. I'm going to try and play this summer no matter how I'm feeling. If I need to do back exercises daily or work out more than normal to keep up - that's what I'll do.

Wish me luck and maybe I'll report "back" on it at some point...

23 March 2010

The WordPress Migration Has Begun

Well, it has officially begun here at Granger. Our Executive Pastor, Tim Stevens was the first of many to move his blog to WordPress. And there are at least 5 more in line to do the same.

The majority of these are moving from TypePad, due to the cost and poor feature-set that exists there. But there are also two moving from Blogger to WordPress (me being one of them).

I have mixed feelings. Blogger has been nothing but good to me, and I still feel like it is a solid platform for the majority of the people out there. If you need a great little blog platform that simply gets it done - by all means use Blogger.

But if you are ready to take it to the next level, I would definitely suggest WordPress. Not the online hosted version - but the self-hosted version found at

Here are just a few reasons why I'm finally making the switch:
  • Complete Control: You get the raw files used to generate your blog. If you're a designer or developer - you have complete control over the look and feel of the site along with functionality as well.
  • Themes: Too numerous to count with easy installation process. Both free and purchased themes available.
  • Plugins: Too numerous to count with easy installation process. Have an idea as to how you want your blog to act? Chances are - there is a plugin that will make it happen for you.
  • Website Capable: Want your blog to resemble a website rather than just a blog? Simple with WordPress. Add pages, and use plugins to control what pages are seen, how they are seen and what shows up on each page. You can potentially have an entire website using WordPress as the CMS (Content Management System). This is huge for designers that need to create sites for clients and then hand them off with no lingering contract for site management.
  • Feature Rich: I'm just scratching the surface though - you'll also get SEO optimized pages, easy and powerful post interface, media upload library, threaded commenting, comment management, theme controls (come with many installed themes), widgets and easy widget management panel, etc.
I guess what I'm saying is, "Why didn't I make the switch years ago?"

17 March 2010

Small Change. Big Impact.

The other day I was caught completely off guard. I was driving down Douglas - a road I was familiar with, but hadn't been on in a while.

I came to the stoplight, turned left and quickly realized I was entering the newly opened campus of Brown Mackie College. That's great! Except I wasn't planning on going there. I was supposed to turn left onto SR 23.

I then had to dodge busy college students, miss poorly parked cars and try to get back out onto Douglas.

Small Change. Big Impact.

You see when you're familiar with something your mind tends to go on auto pilot. I knew Douglas went for a couple blocks and then had a light at SR 23. The problem was - a new light had been added to Douglas since I had been there last.

Website Changes
So how do we impact our "auto pilot" visitors on our websites when we make small changes? Do we do a good job of explaining? Do we make sure the transition will be seamless? Or do we just make the change and assume they'll figure it out?

In my opinion, the best way to keep a small website change from causing a problem is to make sure it is designed well. In other words, make sure the new page, element or feature is designed in such a way that the visitor feels comfortable using it. As long as your navigation is clean and simple, it shouldn't be difficult for people to assimilate.

Making changes people don't understand, and trying to recreate the wheel when people know how to use the wheel, will simply get you nowhere.

Small change is good - just make sure the impact is going to be a positive thing.

11 March 2010

There's Only One Ranch Dressing

There are many things in life that suffice for the original. In other words, I'm not a "brand man" when it comes to every little thing.

I can eat any brand of pasta - all tastes the same to me.

I can wear clothes from basically anywhere as long as I like the look of them (although I do have my favorites: The North Face, Keen and Under Armour to name a few...).

I am even pretty neutral when it comes to pizza. It's just good no matter where I go.

But when it comes to certain things - there is no alternate - nothing can compare to the original.

For me this applies to ranch dressing. Hidden Valley Ranch is amazing. Others are not. Simple as that.

Another is my HTML editor and web graphics program. Adobe Dreamweaver and Fireworks in combination wins hands down over anything else I've tried.

Making the Web Application
When it comes to our websites, we could ask ourselves the same question:
Are we simply being the alternate to something people already use - or are we the original - giving people something they just have to have from us?
I know this gets sticky at times - because we (specifically church websites) are promoting the gospel - which is not original to any of us.

But what is it about your church (and in turn your website) that fills a need in the people of your community?

If you closed shop tomorrow - what would people say, "Wow, I really miss that..." about?

If you can identify this thing (or things) - you'll be one giant step in the right direction. You'll be able to strengthen the identified strengths in your church and make them available online through your website.

In other words, if you're going to do it right, be Hidden Valley Ranch!

09 March 2010

Coolest Thing Since "Sliced Corners"

I just love cool tools that are free and useful. Meet CSS Border Radius

This is one cutting edge tool. Now not all browsers can take advantage of it, but if you're like me you aren't going to allow IE to keep us in the Dark Ages...

Simply enter the radius of the corners you'd like on your object and viola - there's your code!

The New Dork

It's a Tuesday morning and I'm cranking through 200 emails and checking things off my to do list. But when I came across this I just had to share...

Everyone needs a good laugh from time to time - even if it's at the expense of technology and "dorks" like us :)


08 March 2010

Net Growth of Internet Usage 1998-2008

I'm not a HUGE stat lover, but I definitely understand the power behind numbers.

This interactive graphic from the BBC website made me take another look. It shows the use of the Internet over time. And it was just plain cool to see the increased usage as you moved from 1989 through to 2008.

Play around with it and see what interesting stats you come up with.