How to avoid high maintenance church website design

High Maintenance: Lamborghini v. Mommy VanFor what will it profit a man if his church website is the slickest in the Internet if he has to forfeit a month’s collections just to change the welcome message?

If you haven’t guessed by the play on Matthew 16:26 (&/or Mark 8:36, &/or Luke 9:25), or the somewhat wordy “bad church web design poster #006,” the topic of today’s “sermonette” is website maintenance.

You see, there’s a dirty little secret that professional web developers such as Tim Bednar, Mike Boyink, and myself have known for years:

Creating and designing websites is alluring and hi-profile work – whereas maintaining code and a consistent stream of compelling content is difficult and is about as glamorous as the janitor who keeps the church toilets clean.

A point made all the more sharper, like a pointy stick in the eye sharper, when you fall into the trap of having that college kid studying home on spring break create for a really super-click Flash-based church website that everyone – and only – those in his age group and demographic can ‘really appreciate.’

Then the train wreck occurs sometime in early October when said student is back at art school and your poor church Secretary has to post updates from those in the field on summer mission programs.

Sound Familiar?

If not, just give it time. Since 2002 when I started out on my crusade to teach, rebuke correct & train others in righteous web design I’ve seen literally hundreds – perhaps thousands – of church websites that went down this path to obscurity and frustration.

And this is why we find churches equipped with data-driven content management systems, or at least driven-by a reasonable blogging system, providing pages with excellent search engine rankings and the visitors and conversion rates to show for it.

Sound Good?

Okay, so if I’ve sold you on the concept that maintenance is the key to a successful online ministry, then perhaps then I can also convince you and/or your church to engage in the following processes to keep it going for years and years even though your resources are tight and your time tighter:

  • Establish a web ministry team comprised of the following mix of talents:
    • a member of the church staff
    • a software developer type
    • a hardware geek
    • a graphic artist type
    • a word-smith
    • a marketeer
  • Consider employing a content management &/or a logging service to render your church website such as:
  • Engage in a formalized design process before writing a single line of HTML/code that includes:
    • reviewing what’s out there
    • understanding your neighborhood
    • setting attainable goals and objectives
    • establishing minimum requirements
    • defining an informational architecture
    • creating a project plan
  • Execute a development plan that includes the following steps:
    • designing a prototype
    • soliciting user feedback
    • building the system
    • testing functionality
    • testing use cases
    • testing loads and bandwidth
  • Follow-up with a maintenance plan that includes:
    • user education
    • staff training
    • analysis of web analytics
    • data & system backups
    • disaster recovery drills
    • security audits
    • error-log reviews
    • checks of search engine ranking
    • software upgrades
  • Security ongoing success with:
    • rotating in/out new members to your committee;
    • occasionally testing new applications and technologies;
    • periodically soliciting feedback from seekers and church members;
    • make sure there’s a line item in the church budget for the website.

Sound Too Hard?

Now if you’re panicking a bit over some of the items above – don’t sweat it. If you’ve took my advice to create a team that includes both a hardware and software geek, you’re good to go on those issues like “use-case testing” or “disaster recovery drills.

And if you’re too small to do the above – again, don’t sweat it – simply figure out what you can do from the above list with what you’ve got, never forgetting that putting up a website is easy – it’s the maintenance that’s a killer.

For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. – Luke 14:28-33

(psst: oh yeah, in case you didn’t figure it out, you click on the small image of the poster above to get to the really-big version you can print out and nail to the door of your church)

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3 column tableless layouts not so hard with the YUI CSS Grids Builder

Multiple column, table-less layouts using CSS isn’t so hard the CSS Grids Builder tool provided as part of the Yahoo! User Interface (YUI) library. Just enter the number of columns, the widths and positions, and presto – a very small XHTML footprint driven by some rather clever formatting wrapped-up into a nicely compressed cascading style sheets is your for the taking … free!

Screen snippet of the YUI CSS Grid Builder screenEven though I encourage church webmaster to leverage existing blogging system, content management tools, and such to create and maintain their church websites – from time to time, some of us need to create a page from scratch. And in the past, when it came to creating stuff like 3 column tableless layouts, well let’s just say that not everyone’s browser worked and played well with even the most careful design.

And while the blame rests clearly on broken browsers, the responsibility invariably lands on the shoulders of the web developer. For example, in the past I’d use the most excellent online ‘CSS Layout Generator‘ tool. However one need only look at the generated code to see the numbers of hacks, quirks and work-arounds required to see why not ever user experience was the same.

However yesterday, quite by accident – or perhaps should I say by ‘gAccident,‘ yesterday I stumbled upon Jeremy Zawodny’s review of the YUI CSS Grids Builder; and this free, online tool’s uniquely different, but effective approach to table-less mutli-column layouts.

As best I can tell from my experiments and the generated CSS, it appears to that the YUI approach is one in which all browser differences are nuked, or should I say ‘Reset‘ using CSS to remove and neutralize the inconsistent default styling of HTML elements — creating a level playing field across various brands of browsers.

In other words, no more having to “clear floats” through any variety of methods, no more ‘bodges’ to work around annoying issues such as dealing with the max-width in Internet Explorer 6, or imposing minimum widths with CSS in FireFox, max-width in Internet Explorer and so on. Instead, by leveraging the YUI CSS Framework one can dispense with many CSS tricks you may, or may not know.

Instead, one needs only to enjoy the YUI Grids CSS offering of four preset page widths, six preset templates, and the ability to stack and nest subdivided regions of two, three, or four columns – the 4kb file provides over 1000 page layout combinations; including:

  • Supports fluid-width (100%) layouts as well as preset fixed-width layouts at 750px, 950px, and 974px, and the ability to easily customize to any number.
  • Supports easy customization of the width for fixed-width layouts.
  • Flexible in response to user initiated font-size adjustments.
  • Template columns are source-order independent, so you can put your most important content first in the markup layer for improved accessibility and search engine optimization (SEO).
  • Self-clearing footer. No matter which column is longer, the footer stays at the bottom.
  • Layouts less than 100% are automatically centered.

I know this to be true because I gave a slightly modified version of the YUI generated CSS on multiple browsers both at my work — and using the cool, free, online multi-browser test tool offered over at!

The only questions I have left to ask now are:

  1. How permanent is their BSD licensing? Meaning, will my church and/or charity get in trouble using this?
  2. As I examine the YUI, I have to ask, what’s in it for Yahoo! to provide all this free of charge? Or will I have to eventually run ads?
  3. How poorly will the upcoming release of IE8 mangle this approach?

Other than these three issues, I for one can’t see any reason not making the Yahoo! User Interface (YUI) library a pivitol piece of anyone’s “CSS Survival Kit.”

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Fundy-mental 5: Faith Baptist Church, Dayton, OH

click here to see an annotated snip of the Faith Baptist Church, Dayton Ohio website.What is it with fundamental, KJV only, pre-millennial, independent Baptist churches and web design that wants to party like it’s 1999? Case in point, the website for the Faith Baptist Church of Dayton Ohio.

I’ve said this a couple times before, if a congregation desires to follow and worship God with such strictness where only a single interpretation of the original Hebrew and Greek – that’s fine. I’m no likelier to get bent out of shape over this issue as I am over the debate whether Manischewitz® matzos make for a more Biblical communion experience than Saltines® – this and other issues well covered by Paul in 1 Corinthians 10.

What does confound me is how people whom love the law in just about every other area of their lives, practice web design as if no governing standard and/or practices exist; such as the W3C. Especially in a day and age when so many inexpensive and/or free web standards-based publishing systems exist.

I just don’t get it.

What I do get is that today’s example proves once again that FrontPage doesn’t kill web sites, but that people with FrontPage kill websites. Especially people who borrow designs from “Greg and Violet Preston BBFI Missionaries here in Panama” – whose sending church is some other church than FBC of Dayton – though I find no credit given to either.

All this in mind, here are 5 things I’ve visually annotated, and would change about the Faith Baptist Church of Dayton Ohio website:

  1. Lose the annoying animated GIF banners. Usability guru Jakob Nielsen sums up why this is such a bad practice:

    Some links to applications use animated words in an attempt to appear even more attractive and promote the application’s various benefits. This technique backfires even more, because users firmly believe that anything containing moving or blinking words is bound to be a useless advertisement. This belief is typically true, and saves users much time once they’ve developed the ability to ignore moving text. – “Nielsen: Ephemeral Web-Based Applications

  2. Stop using graphics to represent, render and/or otherwise display text. Search engines cannot index them, and in the case of today’s example, when poorly rendered with grainy backgrounds and/or inconsistent type faces, humans have difficulty reading them as well.
  3. Image Bloat, in this case best represented by the the image of the church on the home page that suffers a malady described by Father Flanders in his now famous sermon for Sunday, July 13, 2003:

    Just because Jesus miraculously turned water into wine doesn’t mean he can miraculously turn your 1280- x 1024-pixel image whose file size is 1.8Mb into an image whose file size is only 74Kb just because you changed the WIDTH= and HEIGHT= attributes to WIDTH=”420″ and HEIGHT=”336″.

    In other words, if you’re going to put an image of a lifeless brick building on your church’s homepage – at least run it through the free and easy to use image optimization program IrfanView.

  4. It no longer takes alchemy or rocket science to ’embed Google Maps on your church website‘ … as the Web now offers any number of online programs that make it ‘easier way to integrate Google Maps into your church website.’ Use them to create a separate “Directions” page that not only contains all the essential info for getting to the church – but can be printed out onto a single piece of paper that people can use on the driver there.
  5. Enough with FrontPage. The product is dead, it only inspires crufty, web-standards and search engine hostile designs and limits updates to the one or two persons who own the software application license. Instead, consider employing a content management &/or a blogging service to render your church website such as:

    If nothing else, most if not all of the above tools would help generate a more readable and manageable set of menu navigation items than is currently offered.

There is actually much more we could point out here, but the purpose here isn’t to excoriate the good people of the Faith Baptist Church of Dayton Ohio, but rather to point out that they need to carefully reconsider they message they are currently sending with their current web design – along with considering the cost to render it using the arcane tools and metaphors it currently portends.

Similarly, if you can point out – in instructive love – other items we can all consider, then leave a comment.

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10 ways WordPress 2.5 will help you manage your church blog

Though still under development, the upcoming release of WordPress 2.5 is already receiving some very positive reviews. One in particular I’d like to share with you from a church-blogging perspective is entitled ’10 Things You Need to Know About WordPress 2.5′ by Aaron Brazell at TechSailor; who asserts:

WordPress is about to release version 2.5 into the wild (It just hit Release Candidate yesterday so the release date, though officially not known, is coming soon). If you’ve been using or have peeked at the demo site you will know the biggest change coming to WordPress with this release.

You might ask, “Where did WordPress 2.4 go?” The answer to this is that it was skipped. Yes, that’s right, the 120-day release cycle was scrapped this time and you essentially have two releases in one. Again, the changes are vast and countless. This is a huge release.

Huge release indeed, in fact two words – well actually, two names of one person sum up the massive improvements to administrator user interface up for me: Jeffrey Zeldman.

For those unaware, Mr.Zeldman puts the “cool” into coding and usability and has so for years. And with that, he and his crew at Happy Cog Studios were asked to perform usability research and testing. The end result is an entirely revamped administrator interface that includes a dashboard that I suspect will no longer be ignored due to its formerly overly complex design.

All this making all the more reasons you should consider leveraging WordPress as a light weight content management system for your church &/or charity website. So taking some license with Mr. Brazell’s excellent “10 Things” I’d like present 10 ways WordPress 2.5 will help you manage your church blog:

1. Dashboard Overhaul
In terms of your church and/or charity – the improved dashboard means quicker visibility of who in your ministry is posting what and when, along with who from the outside world is linking and/or commenting on your compelling content. Basically, it’s a heads-up that actually is quite literally, ‘visibly better.’The new, and more usable wordpress 2.5 dashboard
2. Menu Layout
Anyone who’s managed a church website using WordPress knows that the more plug-ins one adds, the more confusing the horizontal menu options become. Rendering these options as vertical, drop-down menus cleans up this confusion using a menu metaphor more familiar to your crack online ministry team.
3. Widget Handling
For someone who hasn’t employed widgets before, the (old) interface could be initially a bit confusing. Alot of scrolling “below the fold” to get and work on one widget on a time. Now things are side-by-side so you have a better understanding of what widgets are available and how they relate. Probably still not simple enough for a church secretary, but certainly doable by a youth minister.
4. Visual Editor Improvements
I gotta say, I’ve recently encountered some issues inviting others to write about their experiences over on These individuals are representative of church staff and/or lay persons whom currently email you a Word document and pray you have time to post. I’m hoping the addition of TinyMCE 3 support will remedy that all to familiar bottle neck scenario.The new wordpress 2.5 TinyMCE inspired editor
5. Flash Uploader
Go tell your youth and music minister that posting YouTube videos is now a snap with the addition of an “Add Media” feature.
6. Plugin Auto-upgrade
Plug-ins are what help you customize WordPress into a church content management system on the cheap. The addition of an auto-upgrade feature streamlines the soon-to-be-formerly tedious process of deployingplugin upgrades.
7. Custom Sizes for Thumbnails
My only fear is that this excellent new feature will inspire a whole generation of church websites displaying their lifeless and personality-free, bricks and mortar on theirfrontpage. That said, at least if they do so using this feature, they’ll not only avoid a write-up by me about image bloat , but also create thumbnails whose size better fits the context of the article and the layout of the site.
8. Tag Management
Tags are a great way of identifying keywords associated with the sermon, study, or event post. The more ‘Flickr-like’ capabilities make it a bit easier and encouraging to employ.
9. Password Strength Too
Anyone who has engaged in system security for any length of time will tell you, easy passwords make it easy for bad guys to hack your site. So though this feature won’t prevent your church accountant from taping a Post-it of his password on the underside of his keyboard, at least it’ll help him realize that “b0scovyt3” makes for a stronger password than “boscovite.” They may not take the system’s warning to heart, but at least it provide a password weakness warning similar to those offered by Google and Yahoo.
Stronger passwords for wordpress 2.5
10. Bonus Item: Timestamp Sanity
I think the biggest benefit of this feature will be the ability to better organize past sermons and studies entered in batches. Meaning, changing the dates of sermon posts to reflect the actual presentation date isalot less challenging.

As with any release candidate, there’s still a bit of testing before the final release. That said, perhaps now is a good time to plan considering using a blogging system likeWordPress to manage the compelling content of your church and/or charity website.

Especially now that the ‘management’ interface will become far friendlier and easier for you and your staff and/or volunteers to navigate and use.

For more reading about WordPress 2.5, I recommend the following posts:

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Bible Jim – hiding His light under a virtual basket

Bible Jim's website It never ceases to amaze me how as a Body of individuals whom collectively and voluntarily ascribe just about every other aspect of our lives to a set of well-defined tenants and standards, that we are so hard-headed when it comes to the methods we use to present our online ministries along the same lines. Case in point:

One of my ‘Top 10 Church Website Design Mistakes of 2007‘ and all time pet peeves is the use of unsearchable graphics to represent search-engine-friendly text. Perhaps there is no better example in Christondom this 288kb site, 283kb of which are delivered in five large .jpg files – all but one of which are used to implement an entirely uncesssary image map scheme.

Not that all implementations of image maps are evil – but rather like any other HTML element, image maps are tools. In the same way a chain saw, only just like a chain saw, not every job requires the use of one. I think here is one case where a chain saw may have been used when all that was needed was a sanding block.

Put back in web terms: BibleJim writes articles, he has a “who I am” and “what I do” page. I’m thinking … why is this man hiding his otherwise searchable light under a bowl of unecessary imagery? Especially when you consider the cost of having to update the image map each and every time a new article is posted?

And especially when an account with or would get done for this ministry at no additional financial expen$e, yet save him time and energy to do other things – all the while creating a site that has greater search engine visibility.

I’d also note that both of the above free blogging platforms provide search capabilities for those visiting the site – and the latter has available plug-in that automatically hyperlinks Scripture to online Bibles employing my “Scripturize algorithm.

Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. – Matthew 5:15

All that said, I do find it sadly ironic and somewhat fitting in this case that Jim’s “what I do” page is filled with blank nothingness. Hopefully the advice above will be taken in the spirit of hope, love and education in which it is delivered.

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How I fixed my Windows XP Stop c000021a {Fatal System Error} with Knoppix Linux

Below are steps describing how I used Knoppix Linux to fix the dreaded Windows XP ‘Error Message: Stop c000021a {Fatal System Error} The Session Manager Initialization System Process…’ failure.

This morning, when I powered-up my computer at work, my Windows XP-based computer booted blue, noting a file error which in turn kicked off an automatic chkdsk scan/fix of my hard drive. I got some coffee and used my smart phone to address email while all this was going on.

When the system was done “fixing” the broken files, it rebooted to something I’d never seen before – a blue screen of death with the following ubiquitous message:

Stop: c000021a {Fatal System Error}
The Session manager initialization system process terminated unexpectedly with a status of 0xc000026c (0x00000000 0x00000000).
The system has been shut down.

After a few bouts with the on/off switch, it was clear, I was dead in the water.

I walked down the hall to visit the IT guys, together we brought up the Microsoft Knowledgebase file #317189 entitled “Error Message: Stop c000021a {Fatal System Error} The Session Manager Initialization System Process…

It had fun advice like installing Dr.Watson, running a memory dump and then sifting through the disassembled 0’s and 1’s to figure out what broke. Of course one’s machine would have to boot before that byzantine process was possible – a minor point not considered in said documentation.

There were some other things about registry files, but again, I can’t get to the the C:\> command line prompt then it doesn’t do me much good.

I did find on the Messenger Plus! Live Forums advice to run the Windows repair and replace my psapi.dll file with an older version, but again, that’d require getting onto the hard drive – and the only way I knew how to do that at this juncture would be take a route similar to the one I wrote about in 2003 in my post entitled:’Linux-based approach to fixing MSBlaster Worm infection.’

So after digging through a few drawers and CD stacks, I found a Knoppix CD I had ‘burninated’ back in October for my blogging-tour of Jordan. For those of you who don’t know, Knoppix is a Linux distribution based on Debian GNU/Linux designed to be run directly from a CD / DVD.

So I popped the Knoppix disk into the CD drive, turned on the power switch and within minutes, my machine was back up and running under Windows XP; though part of me wonders if there’s not an Ubuntu install in store for my aging home computer … but I digress …

Anyway, I figured it might be helpful to some of you out there if I provides some detailed step on how I fixed my broken Windows operating system with Linux:

  1. Boot up your computer from the CD drive with your latest CD ‘burnination’ of Knoppix.
    • For me, this meant hitting the F12 key on boot up, and instructing the computer to boot from the CD/DVD drive instead of the hard drive.
    • This step also assumes that at some time in the past, you downloaded, burned and tested a Knoppix CD.
  2. At the initial ‘boot:’ prompt, hit enter.
    • You may find you’ll need to boot Knoppix with various startup options to make it work on you particular hardware platform.
    • Hitting the F3 key will show you some of those options. You can also find “cheat codes” online.
  3. Hopefully at this point you’ll see a “Windows-like” desktop known as KDE – and with luck – the hard drive in question will appear represented by an icon at the upper left as mounted and available for use.
  4. Click on the drive icon that contains your Windows operating system. This will open up (and you Linux fans out there, please forgive me for the term I’m about to use) this will open up an “Explorer like” file window as depicted below:
    Heal Your Church Website: saving Windows w/Knoppix screen 1
    I suggest changing the the display to list the files in ‘detail.’
  5. Sort your directory by date in descending order.
  6. Expand both the found.000 (our found.001..n, etc) and your Windows/System32 directories.
  7. View which files the Windows chkdsk moved into the found.000 path as listed below:
    Heal Your Church Website: saving Windows w/Knoppix screen 1
  8. Check for the same file names in the System32 directory – back them up of need be – then copy the files from the found.000 path into the /Windows/System32 directory; overwriting the existing files by the same name.
    • This is a dangerous move and can entirely mess-up your system -do it at yoru own risk.
    • In my case, I would have made backups, but all of them were of a 0 byte filesize, timestamped this morning at the time of the crash.
    • This is a dangerous move and can entirely mess-up your system -do it at yoru own risk.
    • It never hurts to backup files you’re abut to overwrite.
    • This is a dangerous move and can entirely mess-up your system -do it at yoru own risk.
  9. Shutdown Knoppix correctly (don’t be impatient and just pull the plug:-) – remember to remove the CD from the drive when prompted.
  10. Reboot under Windows.


: Warning – I do not recommend this course of action. I am merely enumerating the steps I took to fix my computer under my circumstances, configuration and context. Your mileage may vary – as potentially you risk losing everything in following the same above steps.

Now if you don’t mind, I have some backups and diagnostics to run. After that, time to go ‘burninate‘ a fresher Knoppix CD; you never know when it’ll come in handy.

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Inaccessible, that’s what you are

I find too many church and charity websites putting their best information out of reach. Hence the idea driving today’s bad church web design poster is best sung to the tune of Nat King Cole’s classic, “Unforgettable,” followed by my usual ‘snarkastic‘ enumeration of this pesky issue:

Inaccessible, that’s what you are
Inaccessible so near, yet so far
Like a hy-per-link that eludes me
How the four-o-four page so annoys me
Never before has one suffered more

Heal Your Church Website bad Design Poster #5: Inaccessible

Inaccessible in many ways
And forever more, that’s how it stays
That’s why, ad-min, it’s incredible
That something so intolerable
Thinks that I am intolerable too

<instrumental interlude>
No never before
has one suffered more ooh

Pretty corny? You becha! Pretty common, absolutely. In fact, when it comes to accessibility and church websites – I think the out-of-reach bag of chips pictured in the poster photograph sum up the frustration often felt by many seekers who visit church websites, only to loose their cents and their sanity selecting options that take them nowhere.

In other words, though most talks of web accessibility are often limited to those topics covered in Mark Pilgrim’s seminal “Dive Into Accessibility” — I would like to expand the conversation today a number of examples where I find church webmasters needlessly impairing their users in the following ways:

  • Bed and breakfast markup
  • Employing browser-specific navigation
  • Charging a fee to read sermons and/or Bible studies
  • Not thinking through the information architecture of the website
  • Displaying Flash content with no browser detection and alternative content

Bread and BReakfast!

‘B and BReakfast markup’ is a handy mnemonic mechanism to memorize how not to semantically collude your online sermons and studies with misused taggery such as < b > and < br >.

There’s enough existing (x)HTML taggery out there to make your markup match the meaning of your message. Trust me, you’ll thank me for this when you eventually publish a book and/or study guide based on your blogged sermons.

I write about this in some detail though recent improvements in better-written blogging and CMS applications are making this less and less an issue over time.

Browser-Specific Navigation

Here I’m describing those instances where someone employs something like those nifty cool slide-in, drop-down, tree-expanding menus that only work on Microsoft Internet Explorer.

Or just as evil, uses a DuHtml menu whose sub-choices require the lightening fast reflexes of an over-caffeinated super-hero to click before they disappear.

Charging for Sermons

I had actually received an email on the topic – but lost the link (bad dean, bad!). None-the-less, my point is, sermons, Bible studies and other such “opium content” are critical elements that those shopping for churches online use to gauge whether or not they’re going to visit a particular church on Sunday.

More on this in my post “Is your church website little more than brochureware?

Information Architecture

Also known as your informational hierarchy, your navigational hierarchy, your navigation tree and/or your site map.

This rose by whatever name needs to be well organized enough for the average Joe or Jane to figure out.

Yes, it means putting down the mouse and thinking first then coding – but it is well worth it as categorizing information enhances church website conversion goals.


About the only thing more annoying to me than the spinning .gifs of gold lamé crosses on ‘KJV only’ church websites, are Flash-based church websites – or heavy Flash use church websites – that provide no alternative content for those who have not installed the latest and greatest Flash reader plug-in; and/or just don’t view Flash due to restrictions of work, bandwidth and/or physical disability.

I write on this over-used and/or poorly implemented media all too often here to cite a singular article … so does Vincent Flanders who defines the practice ‘flashination‘ in a slightly more adult parlance.

Betcha can’t eat just one

Bottom line is, having inaccessible content is about as frustrating as offering a person a single Lay’s potato chip – whereas making things easy to reach and read is like providing them a sumptuous feast of data that will keep them coming back for more.

The choice is yours.

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How to set your system clock in Linux

So once again, that infernal Daylight saving time thingie bothers us by automatically setting, or perhaps not setting our system clocks on your Ubuntu, Red Hat, Fedora, Debian, Knoppix, or Suse install either an hour ahead, or remaining an hour late!

the official U.S. timeHere are two simple command lines to synchronize your Linux system clock with the atomic clocks offered by the National Institute of Standards and Technology … hmmmm … atomic energy ….

… sorry, got distracted with all that power at my disposal. So if you have access to the root account of your server, or better yet – have access to the guy who has access to the root account, here’s all you need to know:

/usr/sbin/ntpdate -b -s
/sbin/hwclock --systohc --utc

Now if you don’t live in the EasternTime Zone as I do, then you’re NOT going to want as your time server. Instead, go to the NIST Internet Time Service page and pick the server that best matches your timezone and daylight savings situation.

While you’re at it, you can also modify the /etc/rc.d/rc.local file to include the above commands – or at least the first command so it is executed when the server reboots.

For more gory details on this topic, here is a great little page called Linux Tips – Linux, Clocks, and Time to get ya going in the right place … at the right time (sorry, couldn’t resist the corn-ball humor opportunity).

Oh and for those in the U.S. who need to set the clock on the VCR (I know some of you still have them … blinking) and/or microwave oven to the correct time, there’s always the human readable the official U.S. time web page, also offered by NIST.

Like your mileage, your timezone may vary … and I promise … no more ‘geek speak’ for the rest of the week.

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5 non-technical reasons your church or charity needs to consider using Google Aps

Microsoft Office doesn’t just cost you $139 per user, it also costs you in money and man-hours required to manage keeping the various products up-to-date, secured, and backed-up on computer hardware that often requires additional disk and/or RAM with each iteration of Office and/or the Windows operating system.

Google ApsWhy bother with all that hassle when Google now provides the education edition of Google Aps to non-profits with current 501(c)(3) status in the U.S.?

I was visiting a new church this past Sunday, when chit-chat with the pastor went technical. His comment to me was “we have a guy who works for IBM who does all that, but we always feel like we’re hassling him.

I know the feeling – at least in terms of the IBM guy – as sometimes church staff doesn’t realize that those who provide free website services aren’t also volunteering 24/7 technical support.

My favorite instance of that was coming home some years back and snickering a bit with my geek wife at a message on our answering machine that went something like this:

Hi Dean … this is <insert church secretary name here> at <insert church name here> …

… our printer doesn’t work and I wanted to know if you knew what was wrong with it.

It was at that point I realized that not only was I called to be their webmaster, but apparently the Senior System Psychic as well! Too bad I didn’t think enough to setup a hotline before the FCC changed the telco laws. I can imagine the testominoial ads now:

I called the senior system psychic and he told me to backup my hard drive in case my computer crashed. A week later, it did! How did he know?! Thank you senior system psychic

Ahhhh … but I digress …

The point is, here are five not-so-technical reasons that I suggest your church and/or charity consider consuming the office ‘sweets’ offered via Google Aps:

  1. gMail lets you stop worrying about spam and/or having to spend a Saturday configuring POP and SMTP servers in Outlook on your pastor’s home and office computer just to capture text notifications;
  2. Google Calendar allows you to organize events by organization and location, providing meeting and event notifications, aggregations and embedded web pages for all who opt in;
  3. Google Docs means you’re free from the slavery of USB drives, email and/or sneaker net to convey collaborative resentations that once required everyone to have PowerPoint;
  4. Google Docs also means your pastor is free to publish his sermons to directly your church blog without having to hassle you every Monday with some wacky Word Perfect file; and
  5. Google Sites now provides your organization with the Intranet you couldn’t afford to have with Microsoft SharePoint.

Best of all, you no longer have to have and/or hire an information technology committee to manage and/or maintain the above applications – though doing so is not without its own perils that I enumerated a few months back in my post entitled:

That said, if given the choice, I’d go with Google Aps for my church and/or charity – if nothing else but to save the $139.00 for each license of office – and all th manpower and money it takes to make that software happen.

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