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 and wine at, you guessed it, 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, 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
  • 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 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 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 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 ( 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| has an article in their Do-It-Yourself section entitled Set Up a power-line network. You can go to 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 ( 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!