February 29, 2008

MinistryTECH and RoundTable

If you're like me, you're planning to go to MinistryTECH and the Spring Church IT RoundTable in Oklahoma City the first week of April.  Again if you're like me, you haven't registered yet.  :-(  You probably have to figure out all of the travel and event costs, get the expenditure approved, make travel reservations, and actually register for the events.  Despite your best intentions to do all of that, you haven't made time for it in your busy schedule.  You have a good reason.  I, on the other hand, have the incredibly capable assistance of Amy Facemire for such matters.  The only reason all of the above isn't done is that I didn't ask her to do it until a couple of days ago.  Doh!  (I just need Jason Lee to help Amy figure out Priceline!) 

So, whatever your situation or excuse might be, this is your reminder that you need to go here to register for MinistryTECH and here to register for the RoundTable.  See you in April!

February 20, 2008

Lunar Eclipse Sponsored Links

Ok, a quick follow-up to my last post. Not only was it ridiculous to find the previous one, but I came back and refreshed the search and there are even more companies that found the genius in this strategy. (See image below.)

Great! Now, the first sponsored link looks quite reasonable. There technically is a Mitsubishi Eclipse vehicle. But the link provided takes you to a 2008 Lancer, and "eclipse" is found nowhere on the page. Bad, bad, bad.

Lunar Eclipses ... and Taxes

Yeah, so I'm sitting here watching the lunar eclipse, and I decide to jump online to find how long the moon is eclipsed. I hit google and type "lunar eclipse." The first couple of hits, nasa and space.com, seem to be down as they time out. Ha! Then my eye catches something about taxes. Wait huh? (See image below.)

Umm ... isn't this almost a black-hat strategy? Maybe Google was on to this pretty quickly, as when I clicked on the link it wouldn't pull up the site but only refresh the page. :(

Sad web site story

I recently received an e-mail from a pastor who resigned from his congregation.  The last straw for him was conflict over the design of the congregation's web site.  (That's right, a well established congregation in a major denomination is just now building its first site in 2008.) 

He wrote:

We had a large disagreement about the purpose of a web site. They wanted it for upkeep of our calendar and shut-in lists, etc. I wanted it to be an evangelism and educational tool- sermons, blogs, mp3 and video. When I tried to convince them that it could be all of the above they really didn’t want to hear it. It was a small example of the big picture problem I’ve had with them for 7 years.

The pastor was working with Vine Hosting to build a Web Empowered Church site using the WEC Starter Package and pre-built templates.  Presumably the project will be abandoned now that the pastor has left.

Even though I've lived in the dysfunctional, dying part of the US Protestant church for my entire life, this kind of thing still upsets and saddens me.  Congregations like this one seem determined to continue their overall decline, missional inattention, and kingdom irrelevance. 

I'm proud of the part we play in the work of Web Empowered Church.  WEC's greatest obstacle is the all-to-common attitude displayed by this congregation.

February 18, 2008

Trying again on the Wireless LAN bridge

It's been quite some time since I gave an update on our experience with the wireless LAN bridge that connects our staff offices at Southcreek (SC) with our Central Campus (CC), 1.7 miles away.  After putting the pair of 80 GHz radios from Bridgewave into service, I posted about how we were suffering from link outages due to rain fade.  This is a problem because the bridge is the only connection to our 40 staff at SC, carrying voice, LAN access to our data center, and Internet access.

The signal budget takes into account the clear-air RSL (received signal level), an allowance for rain fade according to weather models, and a small margin before link drop.  The link will definitely drop at -72 dBm, but link quality gets very poor with high Ethernet frame errors at around -69 dBm.

Here's the timeline:

Apr. 10, 2007: Link is live just before staff move-in.  RSL is -45 dBm on both ends, giving a fade margin of 24 dBm.  Link down for 1 minute in a brief, heavy rain.

Apr. 16, 2007: Based on some rain events during the test period, we decide to move the CC radio to a more favorable location.  We also replace both radios after observing link drop at -66 dBm, which was 3 dB higher than the specification. RSL is -41 dBm CC and -44 dBm SC.  For the first time we notice a significant difference in RSL on the two ends.

Apr. 25, 2007: Afternoon storms result in 23 minutes of outages.  Staff at SC are inconvenienced, but understanding.

May 6, 2007: A large storm brings flooding rains to much of Kansas.  Link is down for a total of 76 minutes.  It's a Sunday when staff are not in the office, so no impact.

May-July 2007:  Link drops every time there is a decent rain.  Some of these are during office hours, causing user impact.  Staff at SC are getting restless.  We continue to document each incident, providing our vendor RSL data captured by What's Up Gold and rain gauge data from the official city gauge near SC.

Aug. 2007:  We continue to experience outages during relatively routine rains.  Our vendor begins to discuss the possibility of putting high-gain (2' dish) antennas on one or both ends of the link.  They cost around $2,000 a piece and are designed to increase signal strength by approximately 6 dB each.  We press our vendor to help us with this since the link isn't meeting our availability requirement.

Sept. 20, 2007:  SC end RSL drops from -44 dBm to -54 dBm.  What's Up Gold records the drop, but the link stays up so we don't notice.

Nov. 20, 2007:  Issues are resolved with the vendor.  Bridgewave provides the high-gain antenna at cost.  Our vendor installs it on CC end.  When looking at RSL values post installation, we discover the 10 dB drop that happened two months earlier.  RSL increases from -42 to -36 dBm CC, and from -54 to -48 dBm SC.  Winters in Kansas City are relatively dry, so outages are rare and we still have plenty of time to resolve the issues.

Feb. 15, 2008:  After further discussion with Bridgewave, they agree something is wrong with our SC radio and ship us a replacement along with a high-gain antenna.  RSL increases from -36 to -31 dBm CC, and from -48 to -32 dBm SC.  So the SC end got the 10 dB back, plus the additional 6 dB from the high-gain antenna.  Photos of the installation are below.  You can see how much larger the high-gain antenna is.

Old Bridgewave radio being uninstalled

Old radio being uninstalled

New Bridgewave radio with 2' antenna being installed

New radio with 2', high-gain antenna being installed

Clear air signal strength of -32 dBm means we now have 37 dB of fade margin.  With that much margin, we estimate that the link will stay up during rain rates up to around 1.5 inch/hour.  According to the weather data model used by our vendor, that should give 4 nines of availability in an average Kansas City year (56 min. total down time).  Of course, no year is actually average, so we'll just have to wait and see what happens.

Over the weekend we had a storm that started as moderate to heavy rain and ended as warm, wet snow.  During the heaviest period of rain, the signal dropped briefly to as low as -59 dBm.  That's encouraging because we still had more than 10 dB of fade margin at that rain rate.  That event would have caused a link drop if it happened before the high-gain antennas were installed.  Big improvement.

When it started snowing yesterday, the signal dropped steadily from -37 to -67 dBm over a period of five hours.  Turns out the wind direction was directly into the the CC radio's face, causing the wet snow to accumulate on the antenna.  When Ian got up on the roof and cleared the snow, the signal immediately came back up to -37 dBm.  Yeah - a 30 dB signal drop from snow on the antenna.  Yikes!  Ian has full details, including pictures, on his blog.

My Visit to Life-Church Online

I finally carved out some time on Sunday Morning to attend Church online at Lifechurch's online campus. As a part of our ongoing discussion about Internet Church I wanted to share my experience and then relate it a bit to the way we do worship here at Resurrection.

The interface is very clean and easy to use. It is clear to me that there was some serious interaction design thought process here, and that the "Cool Factor" was considered at least as seriously as the functionality factor. That being said, there were no technical glitches that I could discern and the technology seemed to hold up very well. While there was no way to gauge how many people were in Attendance - you could see how many people were utilizing the Interactive elements - that number seemed to hover around 300.

The First thing you do as you enter the experience is choose the worship venue you want to attend. You are then presented with an interactive interface. Here it is, during the presenation.

There are five major sections. The video section displays the live (Or i'm guessing semi-live) video feed from the location you choose - interspersed with introductions and commentary from the Internet Campus Pastor. It seems to me that the campus pastor talked at any point during the service when they might have been doing something on site that was not contextually relevant to people not attending locally. For example - they did an offering online by simply saying - now is the time for the offering - if you are on the website you can give by clicking the online giving tab, or if you are in Second Life there are places at the back of the room to give.

The Personal Notes section was pre-populated with the sermon notes and allowed you to enter and format your notes, email them, and/or print them. I found that to stay engaged in my home amidst the distractions of the television, animals, and the smell of food being cooked - I had to actively take notes.

The Friends in your row area I had some trouble with - i'm not sure how the friends system works so it was just me, and me (I started another session on a different computer so i could have a friend). I would guess that a live chat would be very cool - and obviously not something you can do in a RW church, but talking to yourself is just crazy so i didn't.

The most interesting element to me was the Interactive section - Its the box just to the right of the video player and it changed regularly in response to what was happening in the service. If the pastor asked people to raise there hands for any reason, the raise hand button would pop up and you could click it and see the number of responses. I guess thats the best way to do it - i'm always tempted to violate the heads bowed eyes closed admonision when a call to commitment is being made - mostly to see if the pastor is effective - this allows that without actually seeing the folk!! Anyway they managed to do a lot of interactive stuff that kept you clicking and engaged which I think is important for this medium.

Another cool thing is that near the end of the service they did a push that popped up a connection card (Their version of the attendance notebook). They asked you to fill it out, and if you were making a first time commitment the send you a bible and a "Getting started" package....great idea!

My impression is that, like their overall approach, they do a great job of doing things in a simple and excellent way.

February 17, 2008

Should you ever cancel church due to weather?

We never have before and probably never will again at Living Water, but today was the exception that proves the rule.

The storm began around 6:00 am.  The snow came down in huge, wet flakes and accumulated rapidly.  By 9:00 am the roads were a mess.  My mom couldn't get up the hill out of her subdivision.  Regardless, we NEVER cancel church. 

Upon arriving at church, we discovered that the company we have contracted to plow our parking lot hadn't been there.  All that white stuff on this side of the sign?  That's snow where our driveway should be.


The driveway is steep and narrow.  Even with our front-wheel drive van with traction control I couldn't get up the driveway into the parking lot.  This was only an hour before the service was to begin.  So, we really had no choice but to cancel.

With a second effort of aggressive winter driving learned as a youth in Des Moines, I did finally get up the driveway.  Laura posted a notice on our web site and started calling as many people as we could to let them know.  Laura was still planning to preach to the empty room for the sermon podcast.  While we were getting ready, I snapped this picture of the still raging storm out the back window of the church.


And then two cars made it up the driveway and stopped in the parking lot.  The first car was one of our families coming for worship.  It was one of the girls' birthday and she invited her grandparents, who arrived in the second car.  Cool!  So we canceled, but still had the service with Laura, me, and two carloads of people who didn't know we canceled.  So I guess we really will never cancel church.  Even if it's canceled, we still have it!

If you're curious, read Laura's recap of the service and check out the podcast here.

February 15, 2008

Spiritual Health in Relation to The Dying Church

Yesterday in Resurrection's staff chapel, the message was given by a congregant who detailed how he and his wife visited Resurrection, got connected, and started an amazing God-inspired journey. Without going into the detail of his entire story; it was quite good; one thing he said stuck me and got me thinking. When describing his first visit to Resurrection he stated, " ... and they seemed like they actually cared that we were there [that day]."

What struck me about that statement was the simplicity. Somebody cared that they were there. I immediately thought back through my journey of visiting churches. .... He's right. At most churches my wife and I would visit, the people other than the "assigned greeter" and the staff did not care if we were visiting. By a very high majority, the other people of the church had come to church only for themselves, and were not interested, maybe even scared, of making us feel welcomed.

And I don't let myself the hook so easy either. I'm a confessed computer geek and introvert. I'd rather develop a web application than walk up to strangers and strike up a conversation. ;-( But sometimes when I walk into church, I need to forget myself, remember my assignment, and follow Christ.

So now I'm thinking the root problem with The Church is an epidemic spiritual decline. Too many churches are developing immature Christians who never grow into a state of following Christ. Primarily people start going to church to satisfy themselves, and it should be the job of that church to stimulate growth from that stage to the next - going to church for someone else. It seems ironic that a religion rooted in a truth that the life of Christ was not lived for himself but for everyone else, that we have such a hard time teaching Christians to live not only for themselves.

Although I have not read a word of Reveal, I have heard many Resurrection staff talking about its message. Time for me to do some reading perhaps.

February 11, 2008

TSA say "Lithium Batteries - Bad!"

So I'm sitting at home this evening and my wife is ranting about travel limitations. Her parents are traveling internationally, and they just discovered that the brand new luggage we bought for them is over the size limit. Great. We're returning that to the store. :-(

She also tells me they don't like lithium batteries now. ??? I quickly pull up tsa.gov and sure enough this is a change as of January 1, effective on checked baggage only. So make sure you put your "spare" lithium batteries in your carry-on. Gotta keep you on your toes right?

BTW, something I didn't know previously was TSA sets the rules for carry-on, and the airline sets the rules for checked luggage. Be sure you check the right place for the right restriction.

Republican Caucuses must be Boring

I was not there, but it appears that the event was utterly boring other than Huckabee and Paul supporters.

I'm sure Clif is just lost in thoughtful prayer and not really sawing logs, right? ... Right?

February 09, 2008

Identity and interoperable social networking

Social networking and social media have been near the top of my mind since our senior pastor first announced our Internet campus initiative.  I see social networking as the primary method of reaching our target audience - tech-savvy people who "live" online.  The Internet campus will grow as participants share church-generated content with friends through social networking technologies and as participants create their own content in response.

Since I first began posting on this topic, I have repeatedly mentioned the issue of online identity because I think the lack of an open, portable identity system is already putting a drag on the adoption rate of social networking and social media sites.  There are simply too many sites, too many accounts, and too much maintenance required.  User fatigue is setting in.

Recently, there have been a number of encouraging technological developments.  This week came the announcement that Google, IBM, Microsoft, VeriSign and Yahoo! have joined the OpenID Foundation.  OpenID is gathering steam.  This is most welcome.

The second major technological issue is the lack of an open, portable way to exchange social graph data.  (Of course, identity data and social graph data are closely related.)  OpenSocial got some buzz when it was first announced in November.  Unfortunately, our hope was short lived when we realized that Facebook wouldn't allow us to access its data and pull that data into applications outside of Facebook.

This week Brad Fitzpatrick of Google announced the Google Social Graph API.  As part of its normal search indexing, Google is now crawling the Web for XFN and FOAF markup and provides whatever it has found to calling applications via their API.  Matt Bradshaw of our team and Web Empowered Church has already built a simple application using the API.  As soon as he has a web UI for it, I'll post it here so you can play around with it.  I can't overstate how cool this stuff is.  When you see it in action, you'll immediately grok the significance.  This is a major step along the path of interoperability and portability.

Kansas Republican caucus

This morning I participated in the Kansas Republican presidential caucus.  This is the first time in my 22 years of living here that Kansas has had a presidential primary or caucus.  Even though John McCain already has an insurmountable lead in delegates, my fellow Republicans turned out in large numbers to vote for their preferred nominee.  My caucus site was prepared for 250 people.  It appeared to me that more than 1,000 came out. 

People began lining up outside the community center on this chilly morning more than an hour before the caucus started.

Waiting for the caucus

The cool thing about a caucus is that "electioneering" (openly displaying support for a candidate near or within the polling place) is not only permitted, it is actually encouraged.  In line I saw a young Huckabee supporter with a hand-made sign.

Young Huckabee supporter

She was still holding up her sign when we got into the meeting room.

In the caucus

Ron Paul supporters also made themselves known.


Because the room would hold only 250, the caucus chairperson decided to allow people to cast their ballots and not stay for the meeting.  That was the right decision.  As you might imagine, there was a lot of talk about making sure the Kansas legislature approves a primary in 2012.  I'm pretty sure Republicans and Democrats will agree on that next time!

If you're curious, I voted for Huckabee although I harbor no illusions that he will be the nominee or that he would be electable this cycle if he did win the nomination.

I Like Mike

Here are some Pictures Andrew Connard took at a local Mick Huckabee Ralley. I really Like Mike, he is probably the most personable of all the candidates. The first one is in front of Huck's motorcade.

February 08, 2008

Jon has already helped

We're now in the middle of our Arena implementation.  A couple of days ago we became concerned about certain aspects of our Arena performance.  The thought occurred to me to contact Jon Edmiston to ask about his experience of Arena performance since he has a very large Arena installation.  We found the main number for CCV, called, and asked for Jon.  In a few moments his friendly voice answered - no appointment, no warning.  In fact, Jon and I have never met except through reading blogs.  And yet there he was on the phone. 

In 15 minutes he answered our concerns.  Turns out if you have a large number of tags (we do) certain infrequently accessed pages can take a long time to display.  We need to take care to prevent unnecessary tags from proliferating.

As we hung up he offered to help any time.  Thanks, Jon for being so accessible to us.  I hope we can return the favor sometime.

Seems inevitable that Asterisk is in our future

It started with success stories from Andrew Mitry and Justin Moore.  Now comes the announcement from Jon Edmiston that CCV has cut over to Asterisk.  This morning I read an article in Network World about Asterisk.  You know when Network World starts talking about it that it has emerged into the mainstream.  So now I must concede that Asterisk will be in our future.  Most likely the first opportunity to deploy it will be in our new downtown campus now in the planning stages.  Asterisk has simply become too cool to ignore.  Thanks Andrew, Justin, and Jon for paving the way.  We'll be calling on you for advice when the time comes.

February 06, 2008

Off-site meeting 2008

Yesterday was our IT Department 2nd annual off-site meeting. I decided not to call it a "retreat" because that term implies down time for spiritual nourishment. I do hope this meeting is spiritually nourishing, but that isn't its primary purpose. We leave one help desk person behind to man the fort. The rest of us go away to spend a day together reflecting on the prior year and looking forward to the coming year.

I invite each person to bring something to share. It could be anything from a strategic technology to a prayer list, from a scripture to a cool web site. Bringing something is purely optional.

I go into the day with some ideas of things I would like to discuss, but I very intentionally do not have an agenda. In that sense it's more like a roundtable than a structured business meeting.

Yesterday we began with a discussion of our vision for serving users, following the words and example of Jesus. It was an early alpha release of my talk coming up at MinistryTECH. I asked everyone in the team to share "if I were in charge for a day, I would ..." We then had a time of individual prayer to reflect on the discussion and listen for a word from God. After a break we had a chance to share what we prayed about and what we heard. I then responded to the ideas offered.

Next we did a very informal survey to evaluate ourselves and our department. Each of us rated from 1-10 how we think we are doing in the areas of efficiency, work quality, reputation, infrastructure availability, servanthood, internal teamwork, external teamwork, annual goal achievement, and leadership. This was a nice exercise. It wasn't anonymous. We openly discussed the ratings we each gave and why. This turned out to be really cool so I plan to repeat the same self evaluation at next year's meeting and compare it to this year.

We finished by having technical discussions about three important projects for 2008: Sharepoint implementation, Arena implementation, and Internet Campus.

I highly recommend all church IT teams of more than a couple of people to do this at least annually. Good stuff.

February 04, 2008

Spring RoundTable registration is open

JP has the deets.  I hope to see you in Oklahoma City on Saturday, April 5!  Come early and check out Terrell Sanders' MinistryTECH.