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