5 things we can learn from my 7:40 AM Thanksgiving wake-up call

I believe it was the slam of a large piece of plywood falling 2 some-odd stories onto other lumber that rudely awoke me at 7:40 AM this Thanksgiving morning.  An no, I couldn’t go back to sleep as the hum of a noisy air compressor placed precisely next to the property line driving the pneumatic hammers were equally annoying. That was the scene at my home this holiday.

trash next door

trash heap at 5244 levering mill rd, apex, nc

D&G Builders of Fuquay Varina proceeded to work on a new house.

A house next door being constructed on behalf of PenfieldHomes.com.

And after a few emails and phone calls to a project manager of construction who informed me that “Mexicans don’t celebrate Thanksgiving like us …”

So after telling said project manger that I didn’t want a feud, I apologized if anything we said or did offended (though I’m truly hard pressed to think of any such word or deed) – and he in turn called off the work squad – and I began to think of how similar situations can impact the peaceful operation of our church and charity websites.

In other words, just as noisy neighbors and/or construction are a nuisance in the real world, so too can the virtual home of our organization’s web presence can be disrupted by inconsiderate acts.  Here are some analogies that come to mind:

1. Noise
I had an experience lately where some blogs I run on a shared server were inaccessible due to the incoming noise from a bunch of spammers and ‘bots. This was because a neighboring domain sharing the same IP had put up a BBS in an unsecured fashion.
2. Obstructions
It’s only happened once, but a truck was recently parked that partially blocked our driveway. In the same way, access to your site can be obstructed in part and/or in whole when those working on and/ror running the website ‘next door’ with an improperly parked modules and/or run-away program that consumes all the server’s memory and ports.
3. Trash
Nobody like’s picking up someone else’s garbage. My wife is no exception, as she recently found herself picking up unsecured McDonald’s bags that had blown into our yard. In the same way, neighboring website projects can also leave rubbish in the form of temporary files, no-longer used compiler settings and the like.
4. Boundaries
The Wake County, NC ‘UDO‘  defines a minimum number of feet in which a new home structure can be built next to another, how much noise is acceptable and other fun stuff like that. However, just because these rules are on the books doesn’t mean they’re going to be enforced. Meaning, it is going to be up to me to look out for instances of encroachment. In the same way, don’t expect or assume the host of your shared server is going to have your best interest in mind. They don’t and won’t. It is up to you to be diligent be on guard for those times neighboring websites and/or webmasters wander into your domain – and to work within the boundaries of good citizenship and the rules to resolve such issues.
5. Communications
If possible, establish one point of contact and a protocol for those situations where you feel you’re on the receiving end of some inconsiderate instances or situations. For example, know the correct channels of communications for your web host, and if feasible, for your IP Neighbor. Similarly, understand that email, though convenient, can lead to a breakdown that leads to unnecessary and unfortunate bad blood. Especially true when individuals on the other side are already having a bad day due to some other unrelated inconsideration. In all cases, keep track and logs of all such communiqués as you never know when you’ll need them.

Anyway, those are my thoughts this Thanksgiving morning as I ignore the slam of pneumatic hammer guns and the humming whir of the air compressor and set my thoughts onto some delicious Greek Chopped Meat Stuffing and football.

Well that and all the wonderful ways in which I’ve been blessed, including my family, my friends, my job, my church, and also the hundreds of visitors to this site – many of whom have sent me private messages of best wishes. Thank you all. I’m very grateful for every remembrance of you (Philippians 1:3).

And with that, here are some links to some other related articles I’ve posted in the past. These include some practical advice on “how-to” implement some of the safeguards, countermeasures and logging I’ve mentioned above:

Now if you don’t mind me, I’m off to E-Bay and/or Craigslist to find an affordable ANSI S1. 2-1962 sound level meter to leverage. I’m hoping I don’t need it but one never knows.

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Study reminds us why we’re always fixing our pastor’s PCs

“According to Pew, almost half of adults said they needed someone to help them set up or learn how to use their gadgets. Once they finally get them going, however, things aren’t all smooth sailing—44 percent of adults with home Internet connections reported service failure sometime in the last 12 months.”

With apologies to Ars Technica’s Jacqui Cheng for so shamelessly ripping her pithy headline “Study reminds us why we’re always fixing our parents’ PCs” – I only do so because she’s so on target to point out the relevance of a recent Pew Internet & American Life Project report entitled “When Technology Fails.”

So Dean What’s your point? Glad you asked …

Just a quick reminder that any technology we introduce into the operations of our church and/or charitable organization is going to have an infrastructure cost. Here are some specifics from the aforementioned PEW, that though specific to a home setup, translate easily enough to the IT operations of our own religions institutions:

  • 44% of those with home internet access say their connection failed to work properly for them at some time in the previous 12 months.
  • 39% of those with desktop or laptop computers have had their machines not work properly at some time in the previous 12 months.
  • 29% of cell phone users say their device failed to work properly at some time in the previous year.
  • 26% of those with Blackberries, Palm Pilots or other personal digital assistants say they have encountered a problem with their device at some time in the previous 12 months.
  • 15% of those with an iPod or MP3 player say their devices have not worked properly at some time in the prior year.

Consider the first bullet point in terms of operational impact. The internet goes down. Here’s how home users react – which I suspect would be similar to how your pastor, music minister and/or church secretary might behave:

  • 38% of users with failed technology contacted user support for help.
  • 28% of technology users fixed the problem themselves.
  • 15% fixed the problem with help from friends or family.
  • 2% found help online.

What that tells me is that those of us running a church and/or charity website, because of the our conspicuous computing prowess, may in fact be part of that 53% (38%+15%) contacted when anything from a printer to an internet connection goes down.

Yeah, okay, so I get those calls – what can I do about them? Glad you asked!

Some suggestions of how I’ve kept my part-time work as a church webmaster from turning into a full-time IT support desk:

  1. Identify other members of the congregation willing to help with non-website related IT issues
  2. Learn what service contracts the church has, and be willing to remind individuals (in a grace-driven and loving way) that’s where the call needs to go
  3. Establish a help/ticket system. I like Mantis Bug Tracker, but there are just as many others out there that get the job done.
  4. Establish an internal Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) and/or WIKI system that can be used for quick reference.
  5. Get buy in for the above four points from the church staff. If they don’t enforce said policy, then you’ll quickly run into a polity issue.

I know I can’t be the only one whose experienced this – so let me know what you’ve done to remedy this situation.

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5 things more things about Christian spam email bombing runs

Ever get that annoying email from a church, friend, and/or family member who ‘accidentally‘ sent a rant to everyone in their address book and/or a group-related email directory? With the recent election, my wife and I have been getting more than our fair share.

And while I’ve written about how to address ‘Christian SPAM‘ in the recent past, I wanted to share with you my most recent response to what I sub-categorize as Christian SPAM email bombing runs (CSEBRs):

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Hi {name withheld to protect the guilty};

Next time we get together, make sure I spend about 5 minutes on my laptop showing you 5 cool — and free — things about the web that don’t rock like it’s 1995. For example:

  • Twitter – a “microblog” mechanism that lets you post 140 characters on any topic you want as often as you want. This is especially great as you’re standing around bored, upset, amused, and/or excited about things while equipped with nothing more than your cell phone. For an example, check mine out at http://twitter.com/deanpeters – no great shakes, but I’ve got enough subscribers whom seem interested.
  • Facebook – a social networking service where friends and families can subscribe where you can post thoughts like the ones below and then engage people in dialog and/or banter as they can post comments, etc .. It’s also a nice place to throw out some family pix. If you’d like, I can also show you how to “plug-in” a Facebook app that update to your “wall” every time you post on Twitter (synchronization is an amazing thing). Here’s a link to my profie http://is.gd/6MgW … note how I used the http://is.gd mechanism to shorten the URL.
  • Blogger.com – now I know Twitter and FaceBook have obviated bloggery to some degree, but I still love it as it allows me to venture deep into topics I enjoy such as healing church websites and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Moreover, less constraints on what I can post – and if you like, you can make some buck$ via instruments like Google’s adsense. Oh BTW, I’ve got my WordPress-driven blogs set up with the ‘twitter tools plugin‘ to update my Twitter and Facebook pages when I post. Best thing, again, people can subscribe to your blog’s RSS feed to keep up to date.
  • Google Reader – note I’ve mentioned subscribe 3 times now. All of the above allow individuals to subscribe either through the site’s syndication feed (RSS) and/or through email alerts with links to the juicy and compelling content. And not just from annoying friends like me, but any blog, news wire, newspaper, microblog and/or social network to which you’re inclined to observe.
  • BCC – finally … and I can’t stress this enough … if you must use email, that’s cool. But please, do me and others on your distribution one favor – use the BCC mechanism to distribute the email. Blind Carbon Copy is cool in that it’ll protect your friends, family and loved ones from nasty spammers and idiots like me from exposing their email addresses “into the wild.“Oh, and if you use a free email service like gMail, you can create categories for both incoming and outgoing email addresses – which is really handy when you quickly send out email broadcats to select groups of your address book (using BCC of course).

Anyway, have a great Sunday – and give  {spouse name withheld to protect the innocent} a hug from us.

Your (annoying) friend;


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Feel free to use any portion of this email to respond to Christian SPAM email bombing runs aimed in your direction. Or better yet, just send them a link here.

I’ll be glad to respond to their rationalizations and excuses by explaining how the are endangering the tax exempt status of their church by dumping a political kvetch on the Sunday school rolls.

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How cloud computing and Azure relates to your church website

Last week, while attending the MS PDC 2008, Ray Ozzie got all jumbo-tron’d at me about Azure and cloud computing. Here’s what it means to you and your church computing operations – now that I’ve had a bit more than a week to catch up on work and think it all through.

First, I suspect some of you are wondering “Dean, what is cloud computing?” Glad you asked.

For the purposes of this conversation, and to avoid all the jargoneeze this IT buzzword is currently enjoying, the could is a metaphor for the Internet.

Cloud computing is effectively outsourcing applications, services, and/or infrastructure you might otherwise host in-house.

For example Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud, or EC2 for short, basically is a service where you’d rent a fully-managed computer to host your applications – that is accessible via the Internet. What you lose in paying rent is theoretically recouped in terms of not having to worry about the hard and soft costs of systems administration, housing, and/or securing such a computer in the basement of your church.

What Microsoft’s Windows Azure will provide is platform for developers to create applications that will leverage the following services via the Internet:

  • Live Services – where everyone logs in, so this is where you’ll see social networking apps happening. Single Sign On (SSO) federation as well.
  • SQL Services – where the data is kept, though right now, the service is not much better than someone else hosting a MySQL database for you. There are no triggers, stored procedures or other fun stuff yet available.
  • .NET Services – while you’ll eventually be able to use PHP, Ruby, Java, and a bunch of other languages, currently this is where you create ‘federated’ applications that run locally and/or on the cloud itself (hosted by MSFT).
  • SharePoint services – still a future thing, but basically taking what is effectively this Intranet service and providing some or all of its functionality outwards.
  • CRM – also a future thing, but also taking this customer relationship management (CRM) system and providing some or all of its functionality outwards.

By now, I suspect some of you are asking yourselves “Dean, what does this have to do with my churhc website?” Glad you asked.

If you are blessed enough to be part of an über, mega-church complex that benefits from having your own IT operations, developers, and product support:

  • you can save money in infrastructure costs by leveraging some of Azure’s services
  • you can save time in having applications hosted via Azure’s servers
  • you can save collaboration headaches by developing applications via the Azure platform
  • you can save user login complexities by leveraging Azure’s security federation

If you’re part of a smaller church or charity organization, it likely means that sometime in your future may find yourselves subscribing to any number of “software+service” applications via Azure, such as:

  • a social network
  • a content management system
  • a customer relationship management
  • an office suite

On that last point, office suite, bear in mind that Microsoft is very good about eating its own dog food. Meaning, expect more product offerings by the Bellevue behemoth to also leverage or become part of the Azure platform – specifically Microsoft Office applications such as Word and Excel across a variety of platforms in a number of collaborative contexts.

In fact from what I saw last week, they already are – but more on that in the very near future when I blog about what I learned about the upcoming Windows 7 at the MS PDC 2008.

Finally, some of you may be wondering, “where can I learn more about Windows Azure?” Glad you asked:

Here are also some recent blogs on the topic I found worth noting:

Interesting stuff, no?

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