Have you ever asked yourself: WWMuD?

The scene opens with two guys eating lunch at a Louis’s at Pawley‘s after spending an enjoyable early morning motorcycling about the bucolic Brookgreen Gardens of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. After some some small talk about whether or not the lump crab meat is as good as that found on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, the conversation turns to business where a heavy-set gentleman named Sol addresses a somewhat older and leaner biker named Bob:

S – Say Bob, I overheard you saying to someone that you increased your church membership by 500 people over the last two years? How did you do it? A massive ad campaign? Door-to-door evangelism? Offer free lunch to the first 500 visitors?

B – Nope, none of the above [in a disinterested tone].

S – [even more emphatic, leaning over the table almost knocking over Bob’s drink] A sermon series? The latest LifeWay multi-medi extravaganza? A personal endorsement by Rick Warren?

B – NO! [now growling as a dog disturbed while devouring a dish of Alpo©].

S – Book burnings? Public exorcisms and excommunications? WHAT? [spitting particles of crab meat all over himself and Bob].

B – For Pete’s sake, if I tell you, will you quit ‘Spraying it instead of Saying it?!’ [forcibly stiking the front of his shirt with his napkin]

S – Yes … of course … I’m sorry … look … I’ll pick up the check it’s worth that much to m—[interrupted]

B – one word, “community” … [spelling it out in response to Sol’s look of confusion] c-o-m-m-u-n-i-t-y … community, get it?

S – Yes, er, no, uh, huh?

B – [After ordering some Lobster on Sol’s tab, Bob pulss out his brand-new Dell Axim™ X30, Bob quickly pulls up an online article he saved entitled “E-mail Marketing is Dead, Focus on Building Communities” and begins to read:]

“(PRWEB) July 24, 2004 –Internet Marketing Expert Chris Tinney says that online marketers need to forget about e-mail marketing and move as fast as possible to building communities. Tinney is the CEO of Business Management Services, a large Internet company that has quietly built the infrastructure for several online communities, some of which already claim more than a half a million users …”

WWMuD

While entirely contrived, the above script brings to light an Internet industry move to increase revenues by having their existing customers pitch their products for them. In other words, by getting together under the auspice of a motorcycle weekend, the Reverend Bob is able to tell Rabbi Sol about a method he’s found effective for enlarging his church. While the Internet thinks it has found something new under the sun, we here in the church community know this tried-and-true word-of-mouth mechanism as evangelism and/or discipleship,

Which raises the ‘burninating’ question, how did Bob employ new-fangled wizardry to an old-school solution? Simple, he sat down one day and asked himself “What Would MeetUp Do?

For those of you unaware of various trends in online communities, MeetUp.com has made a killing brining lives of similar interest together. All you need to do is register, then find local meetings of like-minded people, sign-up and bammo, next thing you know you’re at a Caribou Coffee© playing chess with a guy named Fabio … or cycling about the verdant vistas at Huntington Beach State Park after some steamed shrimp at Louis’s.

I’m bringing this up because recently, our church had a community outreach in the form of a Sports Camp for Kids. The question is, how can we translate, or should I say transmute the parents of the participants into a vibrant virtual community … who eventually get tired of chats, emails and forums and show up at your church door for the Wednesday night dinner to spit food on the smiling faces of their friends?

I’d be interested in what you have to say. I personally am looking at various software solutions, but I’d be most curious if any of you out there have already made this leap; successful or otherwise. The point here is to learn from each others good and not-so-good experiences.

Posted in Uncategorized

Dean’s List – 11th Grade Resources

For those of you who haven’t read my 1200 plus posts, aside from healing a church website here’n’there, God has graced me with a ministry to teens in the form of an 11th Grade Sunday School class; five years at my previous church, and as of last week, five years at my current church.

So for the benefit of my outgoing class (sniff! I miss them already), and to help my beloved newbies get into the swing of things, I’m re-posting this article from June of 2002, with some modifications for broken URLs; after running this page through the handy-dandy W3C Link checker.

Later tonight I’ll modify it with some additional links that I’ve added to my list of resources I use to prepare my lessons … I’ll also get rid of all those ‘target=”_blank”‘ arguments in my hyperlink tags (stop snickering, like we all haven’t had some HTML sins in our past).

Here’s the original post with modified links:

– – – – – § – – – – –

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of reading my 100+ some-odd-articles, I teach 11th Grade Sunday School. A fact I mention every now and then. Since tomorrow’s class is going to be truncated with a special event, and becaue they’re moving on to another teacher in 2 weeks, I decided to show them some of the resources their teacher uses when cobbling together a lesson.

And as is now the practice here at HealYourChurchWebSite, it being Sunday, a day of rest, I also offer you NOT JUST ONE LINK – but the entire list of the links I will be sharing with them tomorrow morning

NOTE – through the combined magic of LWP::UserAgent and HTML::Entities, all but one of the descriptions next to the link below comes from the target web page itself. Be discerning, test everything, don’t believe everything you read – and enjoy these links.

  • Christian Classics Ethereal Library – A large on-line library of classic Christian books for download or browsing
  • Easton’s Bible Dictionary – These Dictionary topics are from M.G. Easton M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, published by Thomas Nelson, 1897. The illustrated portion of the Dictionary have not been included.
  • Bible Gateway – BibleGateway.com : Online Bible resources at gospelcom.net including the Bible in multiple languages and versions, audio, commentaries, downloads, and much more.
  • Bible Study Tools on crosswalk.com – Use the award winning Bible search engine and study tools in deepen your walk with God.
  • American Bible Society – The ’s website communicates the mission of the society and contains many biblical resources, like maps, timelines and articles, that explore the Scriptures.
  • Audio Bible Online – Audio Bible, The King James Version narrated by Alexander Scourby is on-line
  • Executable Outlines – Free sermon outlines and Bible studies! – Executable Outlines by Mark A. Copeland – Hundreds of free sermon outlines and Bible studies available for online browsing and downloading.
  • Redland Baptist – The Sermons of Mark Adams – Mark’s teachings from the pulpit provide a high-brow understanding of Biblical truths in down-to-earth language.
  • Discovery Papers by Ray C. Stedman – Discovery Papers, Expository Studies, and Books of Ray C. Stedman Library
  • Weekly Bible Study – Sermon on the Mount
  • Leadership University – is a virtual
    university with a distinct focus. Enjoy our ResourceBASE of
    well-written, well-researched articles, essays and reviews.
  • Christian Topics – ServeHim.com’s makes it easy to find topical Christian articles, essays, studies, and outlines.
  • Issues that make Christians squirm: Christianity exposed – Facts, arguments & scandals that give Bible believers nightmares. Christian apologetics hypocrisy bigotry and deception ruthlessly examined
  • Stand to Reason (Christian Apologetics Organization) – Building Christian Thinkers for the Public Defense of the Faith. Stand to Reason trains Christians to think more clearly about their faith and to make an even-handed, incisive, yet gracious defense for classical Christianity and classical Christian values in the public square. Our vision is to provide the training to build a new generation of confident, courageous, yet winsome and attractive ambassadors for Christ capable of restoring credibility to the Christian world view.
  • Grace to You – Issues & Answers – Biblical wisdom applied to today’s problems.
  • Apologetics Encyclopedia – Welcome to the Encyclopedia! Please select a letter, a Bible book, or keyword.
  • Founders Ministries – Founders Ministries is a ministry of teaching and encouragement that seeks to promote both doctrine and devotion expressed in the Doctrines of Grace and their experiential application to the local church, particularly in the areas of worship and witness. Founders Ministries takes as its theological framework the first recognized confession of faith that Southern Baptists produced, The Abstract of Principles. We desire to encourage the return to and promulgation of the biblical gospel that our Southern Baptist forefathers held dear.
  • Reasons To Believe: Home Page – Reasons To Believe is an international, interdenominational ministry established to communicate the uniquely factual basis for belief in the Bible as the wholly true Word of God and for personal faith in Jesus Christ.
  • Internet Christian Library – Comprehensive archive of classical christian materials: theology, patristics, counseling, preaching, homiletics, leadership, religion, comparative religions, church, Finney, Wilkerson
  • The CRI Archive – Welcome… to the Christian Research Instiute Archive at ICLnet
  • Church History Timeline: Index – The timeline was originally created as a project for a church history class at Covenant Presbyterian Seminary, the seminary for the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). My intention is to provide a resource for the whole Church. The timeline is intended as an overview, to give “the big picture” of some of the major events in the church in the last couple of millenia.
  • Rational Christianity – Christian Apologetics – Answers to over 100 objections to Christianity and Bible contradictions, plus an apologetics directory and articles for skeptics.
  • Answers In Action, Apologetics and Cult Research – Answers In Action is committed to helping individuals, both Christians and non-Christians, seek and find Truth. Answers In Action equips Christians to be effective and successful witnesses, evangelists, and apologists for the Christian faith and to adopt sound reasoning and solid critical thinking.
  • Probe Ministries Homepage – Christian scholars, analyzing and challenging
    contemporary culture…Presenting balanced, reasoned, biblical information…Influencing
    the culture for Christ.
  • Analyses of Cults and Religions by Watchman Fellowship – Watchman Fellowship is a Christian apologetics ministry focusing on cults and such alternative religions as Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientology, and others.
  • The Religious Movements Page: Alphabetic Listing of Group Profiles – The Religious Movements Homepage. This Religious
    Movements page is your gateway to comprehensive web-based as well as print resources about cults, sects, new religions, and religious movements, both new and established.
    This site includes profiles of more than 200 religious movements, plus link access to hundreds more groups.
  • Timeline of Biblical and World Events (After Christ’s Birth) – This is a detailed timeline of Bible times and modern events.
  • Phillip E. Johnson Page
  • Answers in Genesis – defending the Bible, Genesis, dinosaurs and refuting evolution, humanism, gap theory, and dating methods – A premier source of Biblical authority and creation/evolution information including Genesis, dinosaurs, creation, gap theory, humanism, dating methods, Ken Ham, and dating methods. Thousands of articles, multimedia programs, and powerful resources on this web site (updated daily) provide answers from Genesis and expose the flaws of Darwinism and humanistic philosophy.
  • antithesis: a voice from the emerging christian counterculture – Antithesis is a rich content web destination providing a voice from the emerging Christian counterculture.
  • Things to be believed. Things to be done.
  • Grace Online Library: Historic Baptist, Reformed & Puritan Resources – Grace Online Library is the personal labor or love of Brian Dempsey. Here you will find Articles, Books, Sermons, Devotional materials, Commentaries, Links, and many other resources to help you in your study of the Word of God and in your walk with Jesus Christ the Lord.
  • Mars Hill Review: A literary journal, revealing Christ in unexpected places – Mars Hill Review is a 160-page literary journal, offering first-rate articles, thoughtful essays, intriguing interviews, original fiction and nonfiction, poetry and insightful reviews of film, music and books.
  • Communique, A Quarterly Journal – a digital and printed forum primarily [but not solely] for Christian writers & artists whose work deals with issues pertinent to the intersections of their art, faith, culture and community.
  • ChristianityToday.com–Informing. Inspiring. Connecting. Equipping. – ChristianityToday.com is the official Web site of Christianity Today International that informs, inspires, connects, and equips Christians through community-building interest areas, news with a Christian slant, and more.
  • Everystudent.com – students and God: finding a connection – A safe place for students to look at questions of life, spirituality, God, meaning, existence and everything.
  • BaptistLife.Com! – BaptistLife.Com offers discussion forums, news and resources for Baptists worldwide.
  • Virtual Christianity Explorer – Virtual Christianity is an extensive collection, with brief commentary, of key resource pages devoted to christianity and study of the Bible. Topics include on-line Bibles, downloadable software, studies and devotionals, reference and commentary, discussion topics and articles, social and interactive sites, and related subjects
  • The Flummery Digest: An Inclusive Litany – a comprehensive chronicle of the madness that is political correctness
  • Assassinations Foretold in Moby Dick – Michael Drosnin’s prediction
    of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, described in his book
    The Bible Code, is shown to be similar to many other assassination
    predictions in the book Moby Dick. This reduction to an absurdity
    proves that Drosnin is wrong in claiming that his prediction is
    unique, or even amazing.
  • Phil Johnson’s Bookmarks – Christian and theological links, with ratings and commentary from a Calvinist evangelical perspective.
  • C.S. Lewis Institute Home Page – Our primary goal is to equip a new generation of men and women as beacons for Christ in the 21st century. The Institute encourages believers to love and exalt Jesus Christ with both heart and mind through lectures, retreats, public seminars, small group studies, and individual discipleship.
  • The Discerning Reader – where Dean buys his books
Posted in Uncategorized

Highway Harvesters Ministries of Arlington, TN

Back in the early-90’s, I had a job that required that I drive 22 miles around the dreaded I-95/495 Capital Beltway, each way. I only lasted a year at the job, not because of the work, but because of ‘other drivers.’ The only thing that made it bearable was that I had picked up an audio version of the NIV Bible; 70 tapes in all. It is amazing how much we miss of the Old Testament – it is also amazing how these tapes kept me quite a bit saner while stuck in some of the U.S.’ worst traffic.

It is with this experience in mind that I have to take my hats off to any ministry that provides audio tapes to truckers. Imagine their long hours on the road — and the benefit to this captive audience as they listen to His word preached and expounded.

So it is with a delicate touch that I want to bring to your attention a para-church website aimed at distributing audio tapes to truckers: Highway Harvesters Ministries of Arlington, TN.

As you’ll quickly see, this site is a bit stuck in a 1997 design concept that includes:

  • Frames
  • animated spinning gifs
  • a lime green counter
  • divider bars
  • MIDI Files
  • all centered text
  • multi-colored fonts

Heal It!

Along with these dated fashion statements is content that could use some healing. For example, on the page entitled ‘Local Distributions,’ great concept, but why not also offer email addresses and a hyperlink to MapQuest or Yahoo Maps?

Instead of “Favorite Bible Verses” page, why not augment this page by incorporating something a bit more dynamic like the ESV Verse of the Day? What might also add some dynamic and compelling content is an input screen where visitors can submit “Testimonies.”

Blog It!

Better yet, why not employ some form of blogging software as a form of web publishing on the cheap? This would not only allow for easy updates of testimonies and changes of address, but would also facilitate the “Monthly Newsletter” which is four months stale, and offers nothing in the way of archives.

Another advantage of using the blogware approach is, depending on which blog application is used, the site could be updated via email — and to provide alternate renderings of the same post to the increasing number of truckers who are going wireless via cell phones and hand held computers.

Distribute it!

Regardless of how the site redesign is deployed, one other thing the webmaster of this worthy ministry might want to consider is to provide these audio-bound messages in a downloadable format. This would not only allow for the wireless trucker immediate access, but would allow those who are slightly less high-tech to download and burninate these important message to a CD for play at home — or on the road.

I realize this last suggestion introduces a need to upload catalogue new audio files, but most blogging applications allow for file uploads, multiple categories and automatic rendering of information chronologically.

As always, and I know you regular readers know I’ve been dying to use this oft-quoted aphorsim: your mileage may vary.

Posted in Uncategorized

What we’ve got here is failure to communicate

With apologies to the Captain of Road Prison 36 (Strother Martin) in the movie ‘Cool Hand Luke‘ (1967):

What we’ve got here is… failure to communicate. Some email addresses you just can’t reach … I don’t like it any more than you men.

Yesterday I was asked why I hadn’t attended any youth leadership meetings for the past month or so. My reply was that I didn’t know there any meetings. Their reply was that they sent me emails.

Now before you send me a ‘love note’ about my back-fallen nature, allow me offer some context. Our hip-cool youth pastor is on six week sabbatical, something we bless our ministers with after five years of faithful service. It keeps them fresh, and it reminds us of why we need them — that is, though we have talented volunteers and summer interns, sometimes some things fall between the cracks. In this case, it was email.

Circular Logic

About a month and a half ago, just before our youth pastor went on his sabbatical, we have a serious hardware failure on the webserver. Unfortunately, my personal domain/email account was also on the same physical server, so I couldn’t put in a help request because our hosting service will only accept an emergency request from, you guessed it, my personal domain/email account.

To circumvent this Catch 22, I had to move my personal domain/email account to another webserver; a procedure known in webmaster parlance as changing nameservers. During this time, church staff was instructed to contact me via their personal email accounts.

Once my nameserver change propagated, I was able to resolve the problem … and in the process, create a new one.

Collateral Damage

Because this failure blacked-out several sites for a couple of days, there was a big huge mess to clean up. Which I did, overlooking one very important detail: deleting my old personal domain/email account from the old webserver.

The result was that email sent from redlandbaptist.org to deanpeters.com was getting filed into the proverbial ‘bit-bucket‘ … a binary black hole for those of you who don’t speak pure geek.

So I missed meetings because I truly didn’t get the email. The summer interns couldn’t understand what the deal was because they were sending emails. In other words, what we had here was … a failure to communicate. A problem that was masked by the fact that the pastors were were still contacting via their personal email accounts.

Now, I realize that as a self-proclaimed ‘Sr. Systems Psychic‘ I should have sensed something was amiss when last week I called one of the church administration staff for some calendar information, and she had replied that she had already emailed it to me. Considering this staff member is always on top of things, I should have immediately realized there was a breakdown in the system instead of giving her an alternative email address for a re-transmit.

Sermonette

Granted, while the specifics of the above case are rare, you might want to email a link to this article to your pastor and/or church staff to remind them that email is not foolproof.

In a day and age where many webmasters are jumping between servers, and where a greater number of church members are protecting their email with increasingly stringent spam blocks and filters, that sometimes a phone call may avert a situation where the wrong person is in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In the meantime, I need to go see if I can recover any of this lost mail to see what I was missing over the past month — once I get this plank removed.

Posted in Uncategorized

What about Churches that use blogware?

A number of you have been emailing me about the results of my “Call for URLs of ministry websites that started with free Blogger.”

First, let me say THANK YOU! The response in both comments and private email has been overwhelming and assisted me greatly in writing my first of many hard-copy articles for Christian Computing Magazine in my new column: “Heal Your Church Website.”

I wanted to surprise you guys (and gals) but there’s been a steady stream of “Hey, what’s the deal? Where’s the list?” type of emails from the HYCW faithful.

That said, I’m waiting for the July/August edition to hit the stands before I publish the list both here and at b4G. This will give the readers of the article a couple dozen well-done sites to see; all using blogging software as a form of content management and/or web publishing &mdash ‘on the cheap.‘ This in turn will generate more site traffic for those of you who were kind and generous enough to send me your links. So be a bit more patient, I promise it won’t be long.

For those of you who are HYCW cult members … feel free to say “you knew me when!.”

Posted in Uncategorized

Dealing with those who Flog the Faithful

Here is a question for those of you who run church websites and/or are church staff: how do you deal with ‘believers’ who courageously ensconced behind a wall of electronic anonymity, hurl threats, commandments, admonishments and ‘exhortations’ at you, your pastor or your congregation?

For example, below is an email that came to my ‘catch-all’ account at redlandbaptist.org because the sender typo’d the pastor’s email address:

Mark, I wanted to give you something to meditate on. “Even if Moses and Samuel stood before Me, My mind would not be favorable toward this people. Cast them out of My sight, and let them go forth.” “Such as are for death, to death; And such as are for the sword, to the sword; And such as are for the famine, to the famine; And such as are for the captivity, to the captivity;”
This is what God does to His chosen people when they do not glorify HIM.
What do think He is going to do to you and your church if you do not submit to Christ?
Do you REALLY know how CHRIST defines submission? You won’t see this one in seminary!
If you are sure you know, and you ARE in this SUBMISSION, you can praise Him for your obedience. If not, REPENT! REPENT! REPENT! Love, A— D——

Dire Consequence:

While I enjoy a spirited Bible debate as much as the next guy, this is at techBlog so please forgive my ‘theology for dummies‘ … that is, I interpreted A——’s email as an unsolicited admonishment and threat. This is because the quoted portion of Jeremiah 15:1-2 in the original message is not the words of the prophet, but a response of dire consequence from God after Jeremiah pled for mercy regarding the nation of Judah.

So not wanting to be attacked by Babylon, and a bit purturbed over the implication that somehow Mark and/or the members of RBC had set aside real-World ministries such as taking care of the needy, supporting missions and teaching His Word in favor of practicing idolatry, I replied:

Because your message does not refer to any past correspondence with Mark Adams, nor does it refer to one of the hundreds of online sermons, I’m going to have to report this message to your upstream provider unless you can answer why you suspect Mark Adams and/or the congregation of RedlandBaptist.org apostate?

Please reply within 48 hours or I’ll be compelled to follow standard procedures for said communications.

Having dealt with spiritually abusive individuals before, I was neither surprised nor angered by the following response:

Dean, the message is an exhortation. Your response is not appropriate for a true believer. Love, A— D——

Instead, I just kept ticking down the “I‘m going to report you” clock in my responses while asking A—— each time to cite specific actions on the part of my pastor or congregation; and to produce two or more witnesses to corroborate any such charges (Matthew 18:15-20).

His reply? For the sake of space, he first tried to correct my view of God’s Grace with an out-of-context snippet from Isaiah 63. When he saw I wasn’t intimidated or deterred in my promise to report him to his ISP, he then cited Paul’s “Lawsuits Against Believers” passages found in 1 Corinthians 6 and demanded this issue be turned over to the moderation of elders within the Church.

Nothing like wanting to have it both ways, huh?

Why Bother?

I suspect at this point, some of you are going to say ‘why suffer fools, just block his email address?‘ Don’t worry, I’m going to, but I often react with this big-stick approach for three reasons, all educational:

  • convey to the individual their inappropriate use of email;
  • solicit and apology and a pledge not to do it again;
  • sting them just enough so they think twice about doing the same unto others at other churches.

However, instead of taking Jesus’ advice to settle matters quickly, this guy smugly informed me that he’s sending a hard-copy of our correspondence along with a letter to my pastor via U.S. Snail Mail. Don’t worry folks, I’ve already been assured it will get the attention it richly deserves. I just hope I can get a hold of a copy so I can scan it in and post it as I’m sure ‘it is as much fun to read as it is to eat.

Back to Business:

I find myself having to deal with such tripe once or twice a month, I’m curious to know if you do too; and if you have some ideas that we could all effectively employ. So if you don’t mind, how about leaving a comment to one or all of the following questions:

  1. how would you handle the above situation?
  2. how do you deal with zealots who instead of putting their energies and resources into something productive, prefer to beat the believers with bad Biblical hermeneutics?
  3. how do we convey to these cowardly lions that they’re flogging of the faithful over issues of sin is about as useful as preaching to the choir about church attendance?

Leave a comment, tell us a story, render an opinion, I’d like to hear what you have to say.

Posted in Uncategorized

Two Good Free Tutorial Resources

Perhaps one of my favorite quotes about HYCW comes from Martin Roth where he described this site as:

“It’s a niche blog on its way to becoming a cult blog.” – Martin Roth

If there is any truth to this then I command you, my faithful followers, to visit and then add the following useful URLs to your permalinks:

For those of you who dare question my authority, here are two good reasons why:

  1. They are indeed useful on a number of subjects we discuss here at HYCW; and
  2. I owe this guy an apology for initially flaming him up as a spammer when he first emailed me

Great Topics

Here are just a few of the pertinent topics you can print out and take with you to the ‘reading room‘ during your ‘smoke break‘:

  • Adware – a problem that plagues our personal computers as well as those at the church office; especially when your 65 year-old-retiree/volunteer is overrun with excessive advertising popups for gambling and snake oil schemes when she’s trying related links for the Vacation bible school program.

    The The Computer Technology Documentation Project discusses how these programs infect your machine by employing nasty tricks such as making sure the respawning the adware processes when users try to use the task manager to stop them and/or crippling the TCP/IP stack on your computer if you remove the adware.
     

  • spam – anyone who’s read my site for any length of time knows how I despise spam. In fact, it is my daily struggle with individuals offering breast enlargement remedies, get rich quick schemes and questionable reciprocal link programs that caused me to rough up the good and gracious guy who runs both of today’s recommended sites on first contact … more on that later.

    Aside from offering some good tutorials related to fighting the good fight against spam, there is also a good discussion on the feasibility of various solutions and why the work or don’t work.
     

  • Internet scams – More than once, I’ve been contacted from a church staff member suspicious of an email they’ve received, supposedly from someone at PayPal, asking them for credit card information. I’ve also captured emails sent to staff members from individuals representing themselves as the “RedlandBaptist.org Development Team” trying to obtain username and passwords.

    The The Computer Technology Documentation Project offers a series of highly informative articles entitled Avoiding Internet Traps … mandatory reading … there will be a test.
     

  • Viruses – Just last week we discussed a ‘Trojan Horse‘ program that injected itself onto a computer simply by visiting a maliciously scripted website by means of a legitimate website that has been hacked to redirect your browser to the offending site.

    The The Computer Technology Documentation Project offers some easy-to-read and implement solutions that even your pastor will understand.
     

  • Free Tutorials – Along with the aforementioned security issues, The Computer Technology Documentation Project a number of helpful and FREE tutorials that teach geeky technologies such as networking, HTML, XML, Linux and Windows in plain English terms (or as much as is possible for such topics).
  • Mea Culprit

    Nothing like yanking the old plank outta my own eye, huh?

    One of the reasons I want you to visit these sites is because I was a cranky boy last Friday. With the wife and daughter out of town for the week, with only one week to write a DVD device interface for a mission critical project, and being on a rather strict diet and exercise program (little calories coupled with walking or swimming four to six miles a day) I replied to Mark Zehner with a rather embarrassing nasty-gram when he emailed to inform me of his site when he addressed it generically to “Dear Webmaster.”

    Please note, I’m not making excuses, I’m just trying to break the news to my cult members as gently as possible, that their fearless leader has feet of clay.

    Mark, I hope this suffices as a good public apology for our private exchange. Thanks for being gracious enough to reply back and help me work through this. Just be aware your initial email was addressed, and read quite a bit like, so many of those dubious reciprocal link program spams I get once or twice a month. Meanwhile, I’ll make myself a bit less trigger-happy and more aware that not everyone who informs me of such useful sites has anything other in mind than to help out the rest of the Internet community.

    FYI, addressing me as “Mean Dean” or just plain old “Dean” is good enough for me … as I said in my email, after having lived 10 years in NYC, I’ve been called worse.

Posted in Uncategorized

IE-eeeeeeee : what the Download.Ject exploit means to your church website

Just as Scripture compels us to be “all things to all men“, so too our websites need to be as many things as possible to as many browsers as possible. A feat which isn’t always possible because of the “wide variety of standards” plaguing the world of Internet browsers – a variety that has made browser simulation services such as BrowserCam are profitable.

But it is not the oft debated (and seldom agreed upon) geek-only issue of cross-browser compatibility that brings me to this topic, but rather it is yet another Internet Explorer exploit that reared it’s ugly head last week dubbed by Microsoft as “Download.Ject” that may determine which browsers your visitors use – and how they use them.

According to LURHQ, last month a “number of sites are reporting malicious javascript code being appended to every page served by their IIS server.” A script that according to Geek.comwill cause your browser to download a trojan to your computer without your knowing.

In other words, someone figured out how to hack a bunch of not-so-up-to-date with the latest patches Microsoft IIS 5.0 servers, adding a script that will infect your computer when you visit the tainted page using Microsoft Internet Explorer via Windows 2000 or XP. What’s worse, this script deposits a nasty little trojan horse ‘phishing’ program that tries to capture your eBay and PayPal information, along with random some pop-ups to trick you into giving them even more sensitive information.

Workaround == More Work for You

Though the Russian server propagating this attack has been shut down, and though Microsoft is now offering a ‘Critical Update‘ to address the problem – a solution that according to ‘The Register‘ is still a workaround and therefore “a non-starter.

Workaround or not, I suspect this latest exploit is going nudge some stubborn IE users into alternative browser solutions such as Mozilla or Opera. Likewise, I’d bet an Ostrich burger at FuddRuckers that some of you are going to find scripting disabled on your computers at work as IT managers react to this threat by employing the latest CERT recommendations to your browser.

Bottom Line Best Viewed With …

Putting it all together, if your church website is heavily dependent on Javascript and/or ActionScript to render your content, then you need to revisit your site without the benefit of scripting turned-on. Likewise, if your organizations website is “best viewed with MSIE” then you are going to need to make sure your site’s layout can also accommodate a change in browsers by your visitors.

Cross-Browser Related Resources:

  • Evolt Browser Archive – install an old browser on your new machine today!
  • AnyBrowser.com – Your Source for Browser Compatibility Verification
  • BrowserCam.com – IMHO, a better Source for Browser Compatibility Verification
  • Silocon Glen – Cross browser compatibility and website design
  • NetMechanic – Browser Compatibility Tutorial
  • iCapture – your site through the eyes of Apple’s Safari browser.
  • ieCapture — See your site in an array of PC browsers now!

Extra Credit Reading Re:Download.Ject:

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Separation of Data and State

One of the favorite quotes I contributed to Vincent Flanders’ best-selling book (one which I command all my faithful followers to buy and memorize) appears as item #6 on page 279:

“The separation of content and formatting is not in the Constitution, but it should be.”

Mark-up constructs embedded in data such as <font>, often become tedious obstacles for those of us the nerd-programmer persuasion assigned to safely store and later re-render in a variety of physical and digital formats. In other words, if you save hard-coded HTML in your data, then you’ll find yourself having to find or write programs to strip it out things like evil <marquee> tags when you want to publish the same data in some other format, such as PDF or XML.

For those of you that don’t speak pure geek, I’m talking about having the ability to store apples as applesauce, only to later re-constitute it as a pear or a peach; an ability that is hampered when you pollute the sauce with stems and bird-droppings. This is why it is a good practice to separate your website’s data and formatting using CSS; tableless if possible. There are however times when you need to render data exactly as it appears in real life.

A point made by Sean McGrath almost two years ago in an article entitled: ITworld.com – XML IN PRACTICE – Separating Content from Presentation: Easier Said Than Done. Yes, the article does have some dust on it, but it is one of the better articles I’ve found describing some of the complex issues surrounding the storage of highly specialized and/or sensitive data, especially where ‘guestimates’ equal an adulteration of the data as he writes:

“Bitmapped graphics on the other hand, are intimately tied to a particular rendering in terms of pixel area and color depth. Bad things typically happen if you try and resize bitmapped images as the pixels in the image do not encode any semantics about what the image represents. In short, they cannot be repurposed to different shapes, sizes or color schemes without significant loss in quality.”

Is it Live or is it Memorex?

In English, what McGrath is talking about is similar to what happens to the ‘exactness’ of an image when you convert and compress huge images from your digital camera.

Another example of what the author is getting at, at least the heart of his message can be demonstrated in listening to the difference between recording a sermon at 16bit at 44khz stereo versus 8bit at 22khz stereo. The latter being a tinny knock-off of the former. Granted, while this might be an improvement for some of the ‘musicians’ at your church, such variances can actually kill someone when dealing with medical or military imagery.

So now that I’ve scared the mess out of those of you whose physicians are bragging about their latest venture into Java-based web services, let’s keep in mind this article is a couple of years old … nor do I entirely agree with McGrath’s closing argument where he writes:

Yes, it makes sense, for all sorts of reasons, to separate content from presentation. Yes, XML is a great technology for helping you achieve that.

However, sometimes, the medium is an inextricable part of the message. The next time someone tries to sell you a line like “just separate the content from the presentation with XML” be warned — it is not necessarily that simple.

Three Ways to Skin your XML Cat

While I agree there is some data in which compression and/or denormalization is synonymous to adulteration, I also know from my RDBMS upbringing that quite often the best treatment of binary data is just to leave it as is and instead modify the storage and/or transmission mechanism to make exact duplicates. For example, if I want to save the image of a fingerprint, I save it as a binary large object, or BLOB for short. The same mechanism can be used text file using some form of a foreign language encoding; though some will argue in favor of a ‘VARCHAR‘ field.

Regardless of what your religious beliefs are concerning datatypes, a rule of thumb to remember is that there is always more than one way to skin the binary data cat, XML is no exception to this rule. A point well made by an article written two years before McGrath’s entitled “Handling Binary Data in XML Documents” by Lisa Rein. Here she explains two common methods for transmitting medical imagery:

  • external entity and notation;
  • MIME data types.

I won’t go into the mechanics of how each of these methods are employed, you can get that from Ms.Rein’s aricle. You can also see these methods further explained in “XML, SOAP and Binary Data,” an article published back in February 2003 that looks at this same problem in practical terms of web services. So does the chapter on SAX in the Java™ Web Services Tutorial.

But Dean, didn’t you mentioned “three ways” to get this done!?

Why yes I did, and I’m glad you asked. The third method deals more with text and one in which I made reference to in my 14-Feb-04 post “the Gospel, according to RSS and/or Atom” when I wrote:

Finally, we either needed to encapsulate the RSS::<description>, Atom::<content> with <![CDATA[ … ]]> to accommodate the hyperlink to the audio rendering, or figure out some way of listing the audio version as an alternate link.

Just in case you need some help connecting the dots – or bullet points to be more concise – one way you can address the “Table” issues mentioned by McGrath is to:


Document == Data

For those of you just scanning this article, here is all you need to remember : in some cases, the document IS the data. Because of issues of exactness, it is sometimes better not to atomize and demormalize data, but rather just store and/or transmit it as is.

So how does this relate to you and your church website, well think about it, isn’t one of the biggest problems your church office suffers is getting the same Excel formatted calendar rendered on your church bulletin, newsletter and website? Rather than always approaching calendar-like issues as ones that require multiple conversions and intermediate storage, why not use one of these binary and/or encapsulation solutions to save the data once, and transform it often?

At least that’s what I’m up against today. How about you?

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