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 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 at .

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, 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: 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

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

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Seventh graders playing Chaos

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