Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Keith Olbermann's comment on Prop 8 - What's it to you?

Given the state of heterosexual marriage, how can anyone want to work against those who want to love? Keith, without yelling or spinning as much as Ben Affleck, makes that point well. Full text available here.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Jon Stewart compares John McCain to Gollum



I know, I haven't been posting anything here. I've been adding to the Tech Geek blog over at the ELCA Youth Ministry Network site. And I've been spending way to much time watching political TV in anticipation of the upcoming elections.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

TGIF - June 16, 2008 - Facebook

I received numerous invitations to join, but still I stayed away. Finally, I received yet another invitation and it was from a friend my own age, so I got on the bandwagon. A few days later, she chided me because I had over 50 friends and now the number has kept increasing. I'm talking about Facebook, the social networking site that connects over eighty-million users to one another. Are you one of them?

As soon as I joined Facebook, I was friended by lots of people that I knew in the real world. As my network grew, I saw more and more people that I knew and we 'friended' each other. I have been able to re-establish contact with some friends that I'd lost touch with and share mundane parts of my daily life with plenty of people who don't care!

I've also discovered it is one of the tools that can be useful in ministry. I see status updates from the youth in my group and know when they are having a rough day. I have some who tell me that they don't use old fashioned e-mail, just send them a message on Facebook. I have joined groups for members of the ELCA Youth Ministry Network and am creating a group to help those of us in the Montana Synod stay connected to one another.

Facebook allows you to create groups, so I have created a group for our high school youth group. This gives me yet another place to publicize events and send messages from. I can also share pictures within facebook and the youth in my group will tag them with names of other facebook users. I think that every photo I had uploaded was tagged within 2 hours of my having uploading them!

There are countless applications that are a part of facebook, some of which are useful, some of which are silly, and some of which will cause you to waste much of your precious time. I'm not going to recommend any particular applications, but I do recommend that you check out what you are giving away when you install one of them. There have been some privacy concerns associated with specific Facebook applications and also with Facebook in general after they tied purchasing information to specific accounts and displayed that in the feed.

I do use the Facebook Toolbar for Firefox, which pops up status change updates whenever I'm online and one of my friends changes their status. It can be a little distracting when I'm working on a sermon, but it's nice to know what's going on in the lives of my friends.

If you're already on Facebook, keep figuring out new ways to use it. If you're not, think about it the next time you get one of those e-mails inviting you to join. Chances are, you'll be surprised by how many people who know who are already using it.

God's blessings on your daily life and ministry,
Pastor Andy Arnold
ELCA Youth Ministry Network Tech Geek

Here are two other articles I stumbled upon which connect Facebook to youth ministry:

Monday, June 09, 2008

June 9, 2008 - TGIF - KeePass

How many passwords do you have to remember? For many of us, the answer should be a large number, but in reality it is only one or two, because we use the same password over and over again. Of course, this means that if someone figures out one password that we use, they could get into everything. But who can you remember a computer password, server password, e-mail password, banking password, cable company password, ELCA Youth Ministry Network Website password, etc.? I have over 90 different passwords to keep track of!

I do it using an open-source program called KeePass Password Safe, available at http://keepass.info/. This free program allows me to store all my passwords in a single encrypted database. One password to remember instead of a hundred. Since it's stored in the computer (and backed up to a Universal Flash Drive), it's more secure than sticky notes or hidden entries in the address book.

The passwords are also more secure because instead of using easy to remember words, I'm using cryptic strings of characters, including letters, numbers, and symbols. KeePass includes a password generator that creates passwords of a given length and allows for you to use mouse or keyboard input to generate additional entropy.

When it's time to use one of these passwords, I navigate to the website in my browser or click on it from with KeePass to have it open in my default browser. I put the cursor into the user name field and then highlight the site I'm on in KeePass and press CTRL-V, which switches back to the browser and inputs the user name and password. If that doesn't work, I can use CTRL-C to copy the password and then paste it in the browser. It's not as easy as using the same password for everything, but it is easier than having my bank account compromised!

KeePass will run from a Universal Flash Drive, so you could carry your passwords with you. It is available from PortableApps.com at http://portableapps.com/apps/utilities/keepass_portable .

I also wanted to note that a program I recommended awhile ago has been updated from version 5.0 to version 6.0. doPDF, at http://www.dopdf.com/, is a program that's great for creating PDF files from any Windows application.

God's blessings on your daily life and ministry,
Pastor Andy Arnold
ELCA Youth Ministry Network Tech Geek

P.S. - For those of you who are interested in seeing the photos I talked about last week, you can view them on at: seniorleague.blogspot.com as a picasaweb slide show. I was also able to upload them straight from Picasa into Facebook, where a couple of my youth tagged them all in about an hour. I'm really glad Gmail stacks messages, or I would have had well over a hundred messages stating that someone had tagged someone else in one of my photos!


Sunday, June 01, 2008

TGIF - June 2, 2008 - Picasa

I just got back from a trip to Holden Village for a May Holden Youth Weekend, coordinated by some of the students at Trinity Lutheran College. It was a great event and we had a great time, both on the trip over (all 400+ miles of it) and our time at Holden Village. We worshiped, played, sang (with my friend Rachel Kurtz ) and thoroughly enjoyed our time together. The trip back ran more than halfway through the night and was an unfortunate requirement of the experience! Of course, since we were having such a great time, and wanted to remember our experiences, we took a lot of pictures on the church's camera. Additionally, the participants took pictures of their own and will be e-mailing them to me. Now what!?!

There are quite a number of tools designed to edit and sort photos. The one I settled on using many moons ago was Picasa, which was once an independent program, and has now been purchased and updated to version 2 by Google. It's not available for the Mac (you have iPhoto), but is available for Windows and Linux machines. It does most of what most of us need to do to digital photos easily. It is not as good as Photoshop or The Gimp at editing photos, but it is easy to use and works well for simple photo editing like crops, color fixes, and red-eye reduction. It also allows you to tag (and even geo-tag) your photos, sort them into albums, and upload them to Picasaweb albums so you can share them.

Once you download and install the program getting photos in is remarkably simple. I just take the card from my camera and slide it into my computer. The image acquisition box pops up and I put the photos into Picasa. Then I go through each of the pictures, deleting the ones that didn't turn out well, fixing the ones that need some help, adding captions, tags, and geo-tags. Once I've designed my album, I can upload it to Picasaweb with a few clicks. I can also send it to a variety of online photo printers like Wal-Mart digital photo center, PhotoWorks, Walgreens, Ritz Camera or Wolf Camera, Shutterfly, Zazzle, Lifepics Network (local camera, photo, drug and grocery stores including Ritz, Wolf, Safeway, Albertsons, H-E-B, Hy-Vee, Wegmans, MotoPhoto, Woodmans, & many others), PhotoCentral, Snapfish, CVS Pharmacy, PhotoStamps, winkflash, or Kodak EasyShare. Many of these services allow me to pick up photos locally in about an hour.

I can also click a button and post pictures to my blog or create a link from the web album to my blog which will display a slide show there. One of the things I really like about Picasaweb slide shows is that they look like you're playing them off the machine hard drive. They scale up to full screen and look great. I can even set the pictures of my and my friends albums to be my screen saver using Google Photos Screensaver.

There are ways to post photos directly to Flickr and Facebook using extensions to Picasa. This keeps you from having to create the same album multiple times on different services. I haven't made it through all my pictures yet, but sooner or later they'll be available in a variety of online locations. (I didn't get back until 3:30 a.m. from Holden, then I had a sermon to write, and I'm refereeing soccer this weekend at our area's major tournament, Three Blind Refs!) I'll update this when they are available.

God's blessings on your daily life and ministry,
Pastor Andy Arnold
ELCA Youth Ministry Network Tech Geek
techgeek@elcaymnet.org


Monday, May 26, 2008

TGIF - May 26, 2008 - Online Scheduling

I'm sure that all of us spend quite a lot of time scheduling meetings, classes, events, and (when we're good) time off. Some of these we can just put on our calendar, PDA, or sticky note and know that the time will work. Others take a bit more planning because we're trying to coordinate with other people. A local pastor was asking me if I knew of any tools to help people set up board meetings and I had happened to have stumbled on something that I thought might help him and you.

I found a few free sites that aim to help a group of people negotiate a time to get together without just doing a lot of back-and-forth e-mailing, text messaging, and calling. If any of you have experience with any of these sites, drop me a line.

These are the sites that I discovered:

  • When 2 meet - a simple site where you click dates on a calendar along with a generic starting and ending time.
  • When Is Good - a more complex site that lets you pick specific times on each date that you are available. An e-mail gets sent to the folks that you're coordinating with. Each person then fills in the grid and you're left with the times that work for all participants. I like the fact that no sign-up is needed, it just uses e-mail addresses. It also will adjust for time zone differences for conference calls. As someone who used to live 4 hours behind the East Coast and hated 6 a.m. conference calls, this appeals to me.
  • Doodle - allows you to create polls to ask any question, or to allow folks to choose from specific times for an event. Supports Yes, No, If Needed logic for those things that aren't ideal, but you'll make it work if it works for everyone else. Also converts for time zones. Supports a free account for management, but you can both create and respond to polls without an account. I really like the fact that you send the e-mail link directly, so you don't have to enter e-mail addresses into their system.
  • Google Calendar - allows you to create an event and then send invitations to participants who can respond if they are going to come or not. If you use Gmail, you probably don't have to retype all the e-mail addresses.
  • Pingg - snazzy site that allows you to design an invitation and send it via e-mail. It doesn't allow flexibility nor does it integrate with existing calendars. It does allow you to send invitations via Web, e-mail, text message, printed message, or social networking site. This might be a good way to promote a big event, but it doesn't strike me as a good way to schedule a youth board meeting!
  • Timebridge - integrates with your Google Calendar or your Outlook calendar and lets others see when you are potentially free. But it requires a Timebridge account and that the others use one of the supported calendar tools. Might be good for executives, but probably not so much for what we're doing. [Laura commented that I was mistaken on this point. She says, "Great post! One clarification--TimeBridge does not require attendees to have a TimeBridge account, nor do your attendees need to use one of the supported calendar tools. Give it a shot!"]
  • Presdo - designed to help people make time to do a certain thing. This is a similar site to Doodle in that it lets people respond to and make suggestions for times for an event. This site has a review of Presdo. I like the fact that you can respond to a meeting without having to create an account. Like Doodle, it supports accounts for those who want them so you can manage your events. It also supports exporting events to electronic calendars (Outlook, iCal, Google Calendar, and Yahoo Calendar). Unlike Doodle, you have to enter in the names and e-mail addresses of the participants to invite them. It does support multiple time zones.

I haven't tried most of these sites other than to look at them. I did try to use Presdo to schedule a teleconference and a meeting with my Sunday School Superintendents. It was down when one of them tried to respond and the other didn't have e-mail for the week, so it didn't work for her at that time. For the conference call, it was somewhat helpful, but people do have to read and respond to their e-mails for it to work! I like the interface of Presdo the best and the way it interprets statements (go here and click on What types of phrases can I type into Presdo?) is ingenious.

Eric Ly, the founder of Presdo, helped me understand how Presdo presents options to guests by explaining it this way.
Presdo allows you to enter in a choice of times that your guests can pick from. If you want to do this, just type, for example, "tue, thu or fri at 2:30". (Dates can be given in place of the days of the week.) This gives guests a choice of three times to choose from. Let's say your best time from this proposal is Tuesday at 2:30. If your best time doesn't work for them, they will get to pick from the other two choices, i.e. Thursday at 2:30 or Friday at 2:30. Because of the way the guest UI works, you can actually suggest up to four different choices for guests. Presdo then "rolls up" all the choices from the guests and shows you the best times from your guests, just like Doodle does.

If you enter into Presdo "lunch in the next couple weeks", this results in 10 possible choices, but Presdo picks three choices in this "time range" for your guests.
I'm going to keep experimenting with Presdo and Doodle and then, depending on how the features grow, I'll end up using one of them most of the time. For things that I just schedule and share, I'll continue to use Google Calendar, as that's where I keep the church calendar anyways.

God's blessings on your daily life and ministry,
Pastor Andy Arnold
ELCA Youth Ministry Network Tech Geek
techgeek@elcaymnet.org

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

videoSeventh graders playing Chaos

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Pictures and a Video of our New House

We've lived here since mid-February, but there haven't been that many nice days conducive to taking pictures. But finally I've put together some pictures and a short video showing off our new place. We're happy to be here and looking forward to hosting some visitors!

Our New Home

Monday, March 03, 2008

TGIF - March 3, 2008 - PDF Creation

Fliers, brochures, registration forms, health info forms, covenants, postcards, newsletters, etc. We all create all sorts of information that we distribute on paper for people to see and maybe return. Sometimes they e-mail us and want us to e-mail them something back so they don't have to wait for the snail-mail. It sure would be nice to send it as a PDF (Portable Document Format), but who wants to spend hundreds of dollars on Adobe Acrobat in order to create those? I know I don't!

If you created your document in Open Office or in Microsoft Office 2007, you can use the Save to PDF feature of either of those programs. You may also use another program, such as Print Master, that has a Save to PDF option. That works great. But what if the program you're using doesn't have that option? You could set up a geeky program called Ghostscript and convert from Postscript to PDF, but that requires a geek and, while very powerful, is a bit inconvenient to use.

The simplest option that I've found is called doPDF, available at www.dopdf.com. It's a free, although not open source, program which allows you to create PDF files on Windows 2000, XP, and Vista. It installs as a printer on your system and then you select the doPDF printer from any application that you're using and it creates a PDF file for you. I have only started using it recently, but it seems to work quite well and has received good reviews from other people on the net. It doesn't put any watermarks on your output and seems to generate relatively small files that are easy to e-mail.

Before I upgraded to a machine with Windows Vista, I used PDF Creator, an open source program that works similarly on earlier versions of Windows. They are offering $150 to anyone who can figure out how to make it work on Vista! I like the fact it's open source, but was disappointed when it didn't work on my new system.

For those of you that have a bit more geek in you, Ghostscript, in combination with GSview, can be used to not only create PDF files, but also to convert them to a wide variety of other image formats. This can be quite useful for posting a picture on your website of a fancy poster you created in some program that can't export to JPG. If you are interested in learning more about how to use this program, e-mail me and I'll devote a future space to it.

God's blessings on the ministry you do each day,
Pastor Andy Arnold
ELCA Youth Ministry Network's Tech Geek

P.S. Don't forget that I love to receive questions so that I'm talking about things you're interested in hearing about!

Monday, February 25, 2008

TGIF - February 25, 2008 - Woot!

w00t is one of those unique internet created words that many of us know and even occasionally use. According to Wiktionary, it's used to "express joy, particularly that felt during success or victory." It's also a place that I'm now able to use to find some great deals. I never paid much attention to it when I lived in Alaska, since the shipping terms to Alaska weren't favorable. Actually, they just weren't. No shipping to places outside the Lesser, err, Lower 48 (that's contiguous, not continental, by the way) States.

But now that I'm a resident of one of those states that has borders with some other states, I have started to pay attention to a woot of a different nature. Woot is an online retailer that sells one item per day. There motto is "One Day, One Deal." They do derivate from that somewhat these days, but still stay largely true to that form. They have also broadened their offerings to include shirts at shirt.woot.com and wine at, you guessed it, wine.woot.com. The main site starts a new item each day, seven days a week, at midnight Central Time. They run until midnight the next day or until the item sells out, which is often far earlier. Items are reasonably priced and cost $5 to ship, anywhere in those connected states.

The shirt site runs one shirt each day for $10 with free shipping, unless you're in hurry. They also let you buy a shirt you missed, but charge an extra $5 for it.

The wine site runs items for the whole week, and only charges $5 shipping, but because of the state I live in, won't ship to me (yet), but maybe you'll get lucky and live in one of the states that they do ship to.

I know youth ministers can always use some extra T-Shirts, so start checking the site each morning, or, more likely, each night before you go to bed!

God's blessings on the ministry you do each day,
Pastor Andy Arnold
ELCA Youth Ministry Network's Tech Geek

Monday, February 18, 2008

TGIF - February 18, 2008 - Pidgin

How many instant messenger clients do you have running? Yahoo Messenger, Skype, AOL Instant Messenger, Google Talk, MSN/Windows Live! Messenger, ICQ, and the list goes on and on. Each one of those clients take a small bit of the power of your computer and when you add them all up, they may be slowing it down significantly. One thing I hate is a computer that is unnecessarily slow.

I have accounts on many of the various messaging systems since I can't get everyone I know to stop using whatever they are using and switch to just one. There has been some progress towards inter-op-ability of the various clients, Yahoo Messenger users and Windows Live Messenger users can now send messages to one another, but you still need to run three or four to stay connected to everyone. There are features that are unique to each client and features, such as webcams, that you can only use within an individual client, and so I do download and install each one that I use. But for general purposes, I have stopped using all the different ones on a daily basis and switched to Pidgin. I set the other clients not to load on system startup and enter all my accounts into Pidgin.

Pidgin, available at www.pidgin.im, let's you send and receive at least the basic text messages from users of:
  • AIM
  • Bonjour
  • Gadu-Gadu
  • Google Talk
  • Groupwise
  • ICQ
  • IRC
  • MSN
  • MySpaceIM
  • QQ
  • SILC
  • SIMPLE
  • Sametime
  • XMPP
  • Yahoo!
  • Zephyr

It is an open-source program, released under the GNU General Public License (GPL) and runs on Windows and a variety of Linux distributions. There is also a related program called Adium designed for Mac OS X.

According the the Pidgin website, "Pidgin supports many features of the various networks, such as file transfer, away messages, and typing notification. It also goes beyond that and provides many unique features. A few popular features are Buddy Pounces, which give the ability to notify you, send a message, play a sound, or run a program when a specific buddy goes away, signs online, or returns from idle; and plugins, consisting of text replacement, a buddy ticker, extended message notification, iconify on away, spell checking, tabbed conversations, and more."

I haven't used all of these features, but I do appreciate having to only run one program to talk to people from a variety of networks at the same time.

God's blessings on the ministry you do each day,
Pastor Andy Arnold
ELCA Youth Ministry Network's Tech Geek

P.S. - It was great to see some of you regular readers at the Extravaganza!

Monday, February 11, 2008

TGIF - February 11, 2008 - Mighty Backup

Have you ever lost your cell phone? Or dropped it in a toilet? Or run over it with your car? Or just upgraded to a new phone? It's a pain, isn't it? All that contact information that you've collected on the phone but never copied into your address book, PDA, or Rolodex is gone. Then you have the joy of inputting it back into your replacement phone. I would be happy if I never had to do that again! Since I found Mighty Backup, I should not have to!

Mighty Backup is a service that communicates with your cell phone directly and synchronizes your phone's contact list with a website. They have instructions for using it to upgrade to a new phone and you can also use the website to add contact information to your phones contact list using a full sized keyboard instead of the one on the phone. I use it for free since I signed up for an online account with Verizon Wireless, which, thanks to IN calling may very well be the preferred carrier of the ELCA Youth Ministry Network. If it weren't free, it would only be $1.99/month, which is probably worth it for the peace of mind it provides. Verizon customers can visit www.getbackupnow.com to see how to add this service to their phones.

If you're not on Verizon, but you are on Alltel, Bell Mobility, CellularOne, Cellular South, or Midwest Wireless you can visit www.mightybackup.com/get to see how to install the application to your phone. They also say that they are working on developing versions of their software for users of "Cingular, T-Mobile and many other networks." Once you have everything working, you can even go onto the website and print out a hard copy of the information.

Your specific instructions may vary slightly, but what I did was the following:
  1. Went to the "Get it Now" menu on my phone and downloaded the Backup Assistant application.
  2. Ran the application and picked a PIN number.
  3. Picked the time I wanted to automatic backup to run each day.
  4. Ran the first backup and verified that it worked.
  5. Visited the website and logged in with my phone number and PIN.
  6. Printed out a good old fashioned paper copy of the information! (Well, actually, I didn't. Just not my style! *grin* )
Each day during the time window you configure the service sends a text message that triggers the program to run. You may want to disable the automatic feature if you pay extra for data services and only want to run the application when you manually start it. After it runs, any changes you have made online or on the phone are synchronized and your contact information is backed up! Visit www.mightybackup.com/how to see a bit more about how the service works.

God's blessings on the ministry you do each day,
Pastor Andy Arnold
ELCA Youth Ministry Network's Tech Geek

Monday, February 04, 2008

TGIF - February 4, 2008 - Wireless Networking

This week I'll try to shed some light on another user-submitted question: What's the easiest (maybe cheapest) way to get wi-fi into the further parts of our building? With concrete walls and steel infrastructure, the LinkSys wireless-G 2.4 GHz system never worked even between our offices which are all in a row on one side of a hallway. So we went to hard-wiring. I'd love it if I could use my laptop in the youth room which is in the basement of another wing of the building -- but even better would be if anyone could use their laptops in whatever part of the building we were in.

Wireless networking is one of my favorite additions to the world of technology. We all are happy to have fewer cords, cables, and wires in our lives. We're even happier when they really do what we want them to, which can be a challenge!

I want to start with a couple of assumptions. I write these posts assuming that you don't have an Information Technology department at your beck and call. I also write from the standpoint of someone who wants to get a good value solution, maybe not the cheapest, but certainly frugal. Finally, there is an art to getting these things to work and there probably isn't one right answer, but I'll take a stab at passing along some information that I hope is helpful. If you want to have an excellent wireless network and money is no object, consult a company which installs networks and will use commercial enterprise-grade equipment. They will set something up that will work extremely well. It will also probably be extremely expensive.

At the same time, you do get what you pay for. Buying the cheapest available wireless router will get you a piece of equipment that does not perform as well as something that was not $9.95 after rebate. I have bought lots of these cheap blue boxes and they generally work alright, for awhile, but then they fail. This give me an excuse to go out and buy newer technology, but it can also be inconvenient. As with just about all technology, price continues to drop while features increase.

In researching some options, I came across this page (http://wirelessinfo-r-us.blogspot.com/2007/11/basic-service-set-bss-vs-extended.html) which provides a good overview of how to use multiple wireless Access Points (APs) in order to provide broad coverage. The assumption is, however, that these APs will be connected via a wire to the network. By using the same ESSID, you will be able to roam throughout the building and maintain coverage because you are always in the reach of a radio signal. Each AP needs to be set on a different channels, but use the same SSID. The wireless security needs to be the same on each AP as well.

This is the solution recommended by my friend at Pacific Lutheran University, David Allen: do wired whenever you have a fixed office (Pastor, Secretary, etc.) and supplement that connection with wireless for mobility in meeting rooms, visitor areas (even visitors in the fixed offices), but unless you're willing to invest time and money it's generally cheaper to use the cables than the wireless for your average building/installation area.

It is also possible to add stronger antennas to a wireless router or AP so that the signal reaches farther. I have experimented with this myself, however, and I was not particularly impressed with the results, especially considering that the antennas were quite expensive. Compared to pulling network cables through the wall, it might be worth a try.

I spent much of the week scratching my head as to how to get the signal down to that youth room in the basement of another wing of the building without drilling holes in the wall to run new wires. Then it finally hit me, don't run new wires, use ones that are already there. It may not work in some church buildings because of the way churches tend to be built in phases, but it may also be worth a try. Use your existing power lines to carry the signal from one area to another. It's called powerline networking and all the networking gear manufacturers carry some equipment that will help you to do it. C|Net.com has an article in their Do-It-Yourself section entitled Set Up a power-line network. You can go to cnet.com and enter powerline into the Search Box to find more information. They will also give you a list of current products from a variety of vendors. Another option, which I'm not going to go into in depth, would be to use the existing phone lines (www.homepna.org) to carry the data.

God's blessings on the ministry you do each day,
Pastor Andy Arnold
ELCA Youth Ministry Network's Tech Geek

P.S. - I hope to see you at the Extravaganza!

Monday, January 28, 2008

TGIF - January 28, 2008 - Backup Ideas

I received this question from an ELCA Youth Ministry Network Member in Kansas: What's the easiest way to do backups that will be stored offsite? We aren't doing any! (arrgh!)

Kudos for realizing that you should be doing backups! So should I and so should everyone else. I do backup some things, but I am not as attentive to it as I should be. This was a challenging question for me because I haven't paid as much attention to is as I should. So I am not able to make one good recommendation, but I will point out a couple of options. My current backup practice is redundancy. I keep things on my UFDs (see last week's post), on multiple computers at the office, and on a variety of online places. What else could I do? What else could you do?

I don't backup my e-mail because I don't have to. As you may guess from my earlier posts, I use a Google Mail (www.gmail.com) account which currently gives me
6355.160193 (and counting) megabytes of storage for me e-mails and attachments. I'm only using about 5% of that space at the moment! All Google services are hosted on their servers and they redundantly back them up and keep them secure.

On my computer, I try and store everything that I might want back under a single folder. Windows makes this easy by providing the My Documents folder. If I use another program that wants to store its data somewhere else, I change the folder to be a sub-folder of My Documents. That way I know that copying that folder to another machines provides some level of backup. I routinely copy my laptop My Documents folder to a shared folder on our network.

You can use the built-in services that your operating system provides. Windows Vista Ultimate, which I am running, has a backup service built in, as do most other operating systems. You could use one of these to copy your data to a
portable hard drive, or to another machine on your network. As one example, Amazon.com is selling a SimpleTech SimpleDrive
that has 500GB of capacity for only $129.99. I would think that most church offices could copy all of their machines to a drive of that size. Then, of course, the drive needs to be carried elsewhere so that if the church burns down, the data isn't lost with it! And, of course, you need to remember to bring it back in and re-do it every week or so. If you are going to go with a physical backup system, this is probably the way to go. Otherwise you could find yourself going nuts with backup CDs and DVDs stacked to the ceiling.

There are also a variety of online options available. I am not going to try and list all of them here and I have not used most of them. They range from free to quite expensive in price. One of the currenlty free ones, Microsoft FolderShare (
www.foldershare.com), allows you to synchronize files between multiple machines. If you set this up between a home desktop and an office desktop, that will keep your files in two places. Good backup security requires a third location as well, so ideally you would find a third machine to synchronize with as well.
  • These services provide automatic backup of data from one PC
    • Carbonite (www.carbonite.com) unlimited storage for $49.95/year
    • iDrive (www.idrive.com) 2GB of storage for free; 50GB for $49.95/year
    • Mozy Online Backup (mozy.com) 2GB of storage for free; unlimited for $4.95/month
  • These services provide space, but you must manually copy files to the service, often using a separate program. They generally allow sharing directly from the internet as well.
    • ADrive (www.adrive.com) 50GB for free
    • MyOtherDrive (www.myotherdrive.com) 5GB for free; 25GB for $19.99/year; 75GB for $49.99/year; 200GB for $99.99/year
    • XDrive (www.xdrive.com) 5GB for free
    • OmniDrive (www.omnidrive.com) 1GB for free; 10GB for $40/year; 25GB for $99/year; 50GB for $199/year
The time that most of us think about the ineffectiveness of our backup "solution" is about 45 seconds after we realize that our hard drive has crashed or the sprinkler system has ruined our computer and we don't have any of what we've spent years putting together. Planning ahead can make these sorts of tragedies a little less traumatizing.

Monday, January 21, 2008

TGIF - January 21, 2008 - USB Flash (Thumb) Drives

Do you find yourself wondering where you left the file that you wanted to work on? Do you e-mail things back and forth from the office to your house repeatedly? Do you have to make trips to find the computer that something is actually stored on? Or, even worse, do you work in a church that doesn't have a network!?! You need a USB Flash Drive, also known as a Thumb Drive.

A UFD plugs into a USB (Universal Serial Bus) port on your computer. Under any modern OS it is recognized instantly. Under an old version of Windows, you may need to install a driver in order to see the UFD. If your computer has USB 2.0 ports, you can rapidly move files to and from the UFD. If you only have USB 1.1 ports, it's still fairly quick, but definitely takes a bit more time.

UFDs are great for moving documents from one machine to another. They don't have any moving parts and they are much less likely to fail than a floppy disk. I keep one on my keychain so that I always have a few programs that I use often. It's also a great way to backup important files that you really want to be sure and not lose!

As is the case with all technology, prices of UFDs have dropped over the years. I bought my first UFD in the spring of 2003. It was a 64MB drive and it cost me about $50. A little over a year ago I bought a 256MB UFD and it cost me cost me about $25. This fall I splurged an bought a 4GB drive and it was the same price as the first one! You should be able to fit all the pictures from a trip onto a drive of this size. I would also recommend that you get one with a retractable connector, as you will eventually lose any cap that comes with a UFD.

If you use a lot of different machines and want your own bookmarks and browser, you may also be interested in using Portable Applications. There are a variety of websites that contain applications you can put on a UFD and then run on any computer without needing to install them. I have had good luck with PortableApps.com, a collection of Open Source applications that will fit on a moderate sized drive. I used it so that I didn't have to lug a laptop around when I was visiting family this fall.

Finally, if you're truly literalistic, you can buy or make a Human Shaped Thumb Drive.

God's blessings on the ministry you do each day,
Pastor Andy Arnold
ELCA Youth Ministry Network's Tech Geek
techgeek-at-elcaymnet.org

Monday, January 07, 2008

TGIF - January 7, 2008 - Word Replacements

So, you got a new computer for Christmas, or with that end-of-year budget surplus? Congratulations! But now you've spent the whole budget and you've discovered that your new computer comes with a trial version of Microsoft Office, which is going to stop working in 60, 59, 58, 57...days. You could spend a substantial amount of money in order to convert that trial version to a full-fledged version of the program. Perhaps you could take advantage of an educational or non-profit discount, which is a good way to acquire Microsoft products. (I'll write about this option in the near future.) You may also be able to use alternatives that are free and, in some ways, better. I would like to suggest a few of them.

Open Office is an open source office suite. It includes a word processor, presentation program, spreadsheet program, database program, and drawing program. All of these are able to open and save the corresponding Microsoft Office files. Open Office is developed by many people around the globe and there are new versions released frequently. While it cannot do absolutely everything that Microsoft Office can do, it is able to do everything that most people actually need to have done. It will run on modest computers, of both the Windows and Macintosh flavors. I think it is a good solution for those who are running older versions of Microsoft Office because it is patched and more secure than they would be. Open Office may be downloaded from www.openoffice.org at no cost.

Another option is Google Docs, found at docs.google.com. You need to have a free Google Account in order to use these services. Google Docs includes a word processor, spreadsheet, and simple presentation program. All three of these are able to open and save the equivalent Microsoft Office files. While not nearly as robust as Microsoft Office, these tools provide most of what people need on a regular basis. They also provide a great solution for those who routinely work from multiple machines. Once you sign-in to the website, you can access your files from any internet-connected computer, running any modern operating system and web browser. Another noteworthy feature of Google Docs is that you can collaborate on files with multiple people at the same time. It is very interesting to be editing a file and watch text in another portion of the document get changed as someone else edits the file simultaneously. There are easy ways to e-mail files, download them as Adobe PDFs, and to share Google Docs files with website and blogs.

There are some other options available as well. For a "vintage" computer, Abiword is a free word processor that runs well with minimal system requirements. It can be downloaded from www.abisource.com. It will also open and save a variety of file formats. Some people will need to use Microsoft Office, but for many people, it is over-kill and over-priced and one of these other options will serve their needs quite nicely. I'm writing this article using Google Docs, because I can easily work on it from different computers. If I really wanted to, I could even view it on my cell phone!

God's blessings on the ministry you do each day,
Pastor Andy Arnold
ELCA Youth Ministry Network's Tech Geek

Sunday, January 06, 2008

New Knight Rider

I saw the first of these commercials while watching the AFC Wildcard Game yesterday. The funny thing is, I knew instantly it wasn't a car commercial, because of the NBC Olympic bug at the bottom left. I think I knew what it was before I even saw the glowing red lights under the cover.



Then, through the magic of YouTube, I found this longer format teaser.



And if you want even more, here's a clip of the car being introduced on the NBC lot.