Thursday, December 27, 2007

How We Live

I just got the following e-mail form one of the teens who left youth group a couple years ago because their family moved.  She said this:

I bet you don't even remember me. Since getting in loads of trouble a few years back, I have made a complete turnaround.  I graduated from high school near the top of my class, and am now on a scholarship to the University of Florida. I wanted to tell you how much of an influence you have made on me, you sorta inspired me to pursue my nursing degree. I am working now part time for goodwill, and I have a 4.0 gpa in college.

 

Well thanks for everything, and I hope to hear from you soon.

Interestingly, I remember this girl very well, but I never had a whole lot of interaction with her beyond youth group meetings.  Even at those meetings we never had many chances to talk one-on-one, but I've always been nervous about how her life is heading. 

To know that my life has made this kind of impact, even indirectly, is the best Christmas present I've gotten this year. I've always considered my volunteer activities to be the most meaningful thing I've done in my life, far exceeding anything I've done at work.

If you've ever wondered whether volunteering or focusing a life on helping individuals can really make a difference, this e-mail makes it pretty clear that when you positively influence a life for God, it can change that life completely.

God can do some amazing things through us.  He can do so much more in a life than we can ever know.

So, what are you doing this year to influence lives?  I'm re-evaluating that myself right now.

Peace,
+Tom

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all.  I hope it's a holiday filled with love.

Family photo with antlers.

Peace,
+Tom

Photo by Rachel and Tom

Flying to School

Rachel, Colin, daddy and mommy were in daddy's van driving to school.  While they were driving down the road Rachel chatted with Colin while he looked out the window as the world passed by.  Rachel started looking out of her own window to see what was so interesting.

While she was looking out the window Rachel saw something white fly past the car.  She kept looking and the white streak slowed down and came right up along side the car.

"Look mommy, an angel!" Rachel called out.

As soon as she called out, the car began to lift off of the ground.

Daddy looked out the window and saw that there were four angels, one for each of them in the car.  Each person had their own angel.  One was holding the car beside Rachel, another holding the car beside Colin.  There was another one holding up the front of the car and another holding the back.  The angel's wings beat powerfully in the air as the van rose higher and higher into the sky.

They could see the ground falling away as they rose high up into the sky.  As they flew up they came alongside an airplane coming in for a landing.  The people on the plane stared out and waved at Rachel and everyone in the car.  They all waved back, smiling and laughing.

Then the plane was gone and they soared even higher up in the sky.  Up into the clouds.  they were inside a cloud, with the white mist all around them.  Rachel reached out to touch the cloud, but her hand ran into the window first.  Colin reached for the window, but just couldn't reach far enough.

The soon broke through the clouds and began to slow.  The angels gently brought the van down to rest right on the top of a big, white, fluffy cloud.  The cloud was holding up the van!

The angels opened the car doors and beckoned them out.  Daddy and mommy looked scared.  Colin smiled and laughed at his angel while Rachel happily jumped out of the seat and out onto the cloud, standing firmly.  Daddy and mommy hopped out of the car and looked around.

Even though they were way up in the sky, there was only a gentle breeze blowing past them.  The weather was warm and they felt wonderful.  Standing in front of them was a huge, beautiful golden gate.  They walked up to the gate and wondered out to get in.

Soon the gates opened and someone was all in light and coming toward them.  As they got closer Rachel recognized both Santa Claus and Jesus coming toward them.  She ran up and hugged both of them.

Mommy asked, "Where are we?"

Jesus replied, "Can't you guess?"

"We're in Heaven!" Colin called out.

Up in heaven everyone understood what Colin said when he talked.

Jesus swept his arm around and asked if they'd like to take a tour of Heaven.

To their right they saw a carnival.  As they got closer they could see a merry go round and a really tall Ferris wheel.

Rachel held daddy's hand and dragged him toward the merry go round while Mommy carried Colin and ran to catch up.  They came up to a big merry go round with real animals!

There were real tigers pacing around and horses neighing.  There were some huge elephants and fast cheetahs.  There was a lumbering turtle and a huge snake.  Rachel chose to ride on a, elephant while daddy rode beside her on the snake.  Mommy and Colin rode the back of a tiger, holding on to his bushy mane.

The animals walked and danced around and around to the merry go round music.  Once the music ended they all hopped off of their animals and hugged them goodbye.

After the merry go round they headed over to the big Ferris wheel.  They got right on the Ferris wheel and it began to move them up, up into the air, higher and higher than they had ever gone before. 

They moved up above all the clouds and out into space.  They moved up closer and closer to the moon.  At the very top of the Ferris wheel circle they were right nest to the moon.  Rachel reached out her hand and actually touched it.  She grabbed a handful of moon to bring back for her friends to see.

The Ferris wheel started moving down lower and lower.  They came back to the clouds and dropped right through them.  The Ferris wheel got closer and closer to the ground and they were able to see their house.  The Ferris wheel car stopped right on the top of the house and Winnie ran out in the back yard to look up and bark a hello to them.  Everyone waved to Winnie as the Ferris wheel car began moving back up into the sky.

Soon they were back on top of the clouds and the Ferris wheel stopped.  They jumped out of the ride and looked around for something else to do.

Off, away from the carnival they saw a long patch of grass.  "Let's go over there" Rachel called and they headed off toward the field.

Horses were grazing in the grass and walked right up to the family.  The horses lowered their heads and allowed each of the family to swing up onto the horses back.  They soon took off at a gallop.

The trees whizzed past their sides.  The grass flew under their feet.  Off in the distance they could see mountainous clouds rising up into the sky.  Everything flew past them while they rode faster and faster, letting the wind fly around them.

Off in the distance they spotted a small house.  The house grew bigger and bigger as the horses raced closer to the building.  They galloped up quickly to the house and stopped just in front of the door, letting out a happy whinney.

The family slid off of the horses and went right up to the door of the cottage.  Before they could even knock the door opened up, and out stepped Ms. MaryLee, Rachel's teacher.

"Hello!" she called out, "it's so great to see you."

Rachel replied, "Ms. MaryLee, I love you and I'm so glad you're here!  What's in that house?"

"This is our classroom.  Come on in and see."

Rachel grabbed Ms. MaryLee's hand and stepped into the house.  As soon as she went through the doorway she was in her classroom at school.  All of her friends were around her.  Rachel said "hi" to he friends Lydia, Nicholas, Molly, Sarah, Lauren and Jocelyn.  Even some of her old friends she hadn't seen in a while were there.  Rachel ran over and hugged Payton, Max, Zoe Gaul and Zoe Garret.

Rachel talked all about her trip in heaven and pulled out the moon rocks she had grabbed on the Ferris wheel.  Everyone gathered around and Rachel shared a rock with everyone in her class.

It was the best trip to school Rachel had ever had.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Jesus and Santa

I came across this video looking for loops for our Christmas pageant.  The video is great, and worth watching through.  I have to be impressed that while they sell the video to show in church, they've also made it open for anyone to view on YouTube.  Seems like a great idea to get the video seen by as many people as possible and encourage you to buy it to share.

Peace,
+Tom

Finding Talents in Answers

I've been reading Marcus Buckingham's Now Discover Your Strengths book and preparing for a bible study on it in January.  One of the key points here is to find your innate talents, those things you're really good at, and grow them.

I'm in the middle of a chapter where he's talking about some ways to identify your talents.  From yearnings you've had all your life to rapid learning where some switch flips and you recognize your talent to satisfaction where you recognize your talent as something you are satisfied doing.  While purchasing the book gives you access to the strengths finder quiz to help you identify your talents and strengths, something clicked in my head to help recognize some of those yearnings and satisfactions, what answers do you gravitate toward?

A month or so ago I joined answers.yahoo.com and askville.amazon.com.  They are both sites where you and pose a question for the community to answer.  I personally prefer Yahoo Answers right now, since I find more questions I can answer and the one question I've just asked has received a few answers while no one on Askville has responded.  I also like that the questioner can tag an answer as the top answer, making it clear which one really answered the question well.

That being said, I think Askville is going to creep up in popularity and begin getting far more use.  They've just started allowing you to convert your Askville points into gift cards with Amazon.com.  So, in the long run, offering real cash will most likely beat out simply answering questions for points and prestige.  As I said to my office mate this morning, you can be a famous photographer by simply knowing a bunch of people, but it doesn't mean you'll ever be rich.

Anyway, as I surf around Answers and Askville, I keep getting drawn to certain questions.  I like answering the programming questions, but more than that I really like answering questions about relationships and personal trials.  These are the areas I just understand so well that the answers seem obvious, leading me to recognize some of the empathy and problem solving traits I've got.  Just thinking about this helps me recognize where my innate traits are leading me.

So, what answers do you find yourself recognizing as obvious?

Peace,
+Tom

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Happiness and Sadness

While surfing Flickr for the photo in my previous post, I came across some others which I can't help but share.  The first is this one on the right of Jesus, the caption, "Jesus shopping for a nail puller..."  Come on, that has got to make you smile.  there are some other interesting photos by Professional Recreationalist worth checking out.

Then I came across this next image. With the title "I Hurt Myself Today."

Poking around a little more I came across this picture, which is downright hard to look at and made me stop, think, and pray for a bit.

The description for these photos does a better job than I could.

...we had a little chat. She wasn't too keen on her family seeing her like this. The local TV crews have been sneaking up on the street community, trying to get candid shots - but it's pissing off the street community and making my job harder. Voyeurs and Rubber Neckers - reporting the news - for profit.

She likes photography and I gave her a link to my photos. We both lived in Deadmonton, Alberta - but she was lucky to have only lived there for a short while - unlucky that most of it was on the street. I only lived on the street a short while in Deadmonton.

I wonder how such a pretty girl survives on the street.

Interestingly, all of these photos are by the same person.

I wonder what she's doing this Christmas season, and how we can reach out to her or others who are alone?

Peace,
+Tom

Million Dollar Ideas #4: Nails on the Run

With the coming of Winter, and dry-weather season, my fingers become a mess. My cuticles get dry, cracked and hurting and my nails seem to be more brittle or crack more easily.  In the end, my fingers becomes something I don't really want to be showing off to people I've just met and work clients (I'm anal about appearances, who knew?  Well, besides my friend Taylor).  A couple years back I found out that going to a nail salon every two weeks to a month heals up my fingers and feels great. 

Of course, I've been letting that slide quite a bit lately, and my fingers are again hurting a bit.  Unfortunately, I don't have much time now to go get my nails done, which takes about 30 to 45 minutes, and I began thinking about how I could probably take the time during lunch some day at work.  Except . . .  There aren't any nail salons within walking distance of work.

I have to think that a traveling nail salon would make a ton of business.  Call it something like Meeting Nails or Nails on the Run.  We'd focus on either traveling to offices or strategically placing upscale nail salons (similar to beauty salons for hair) close by or inside of office buildings.  It wouldn't have neon or be cheesy, simply a very professional appearance for those of us who get to work with a few chipped nails and find out they have to meet a client in 4 to 6 hours, and need a quick fix.

Now, I have no nail painting experience except when I dressed up as a girl in high school, and even then someone else painted my nails.  So clearly I'm not going to be executing this idea, but it just seems to make sense.

Our company has a traveling barber which will come to the building every week or so for appointments.  I've heard of some companies providing in office/cube haircuts or massages as a benefit.  I can't imagine why an in-office nail salon wouldn't work, so long as you can find chemicals that won't smell up the office for the rest of the day.

No pedicures please :)

Peace,
+Tom

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Water Conservation

Last Sunday our priest talked about something, I don't remember what.  But one example he gave was his water bill for the last quarter.  It was ridiculously high, especially given that he observed a water conservation ban in October ($490).  That's a lot of clean drinking water that other people even somewhat nearby in other states don't have to drink and survive.  He then mentioned one way to conserve water was through taking shorter showers and some other methods which he listed in her sermon text.

Being a closet environmentalist, I tend to stay on top of the immense waste humans, and especially Americans, produce.  Water has been high on my list for a long time, and, as weird as it sounds, the fresh water we use is not reused, so we have a limited amount.  I wanted to throw out some ways we waster water which I think very few people recognize.

Toilets

The Earth Day Network noted that a low-flush toilet uses 5 gallons less water per flush than a regular toilet.  An alternative to buying a new toilet is to put a 1 gallon jug full of water in your toilet tank.  It keeps the water level lower, and only wastes 4 gallons more then.  Still, in a house of 4 people, that'd be around 20 - 40 gallons of water saved every day.

Bottled Water

I'd only really become aware of this a few months ago, but the amount of waste for bottled water is staggering (I say as I sip from my Deer Park bottle).  From Ira Flatow on Science Friday and Wikipedia it takes 3 to 5 liters of water to make 1 liter of bottled water.  Get that, for every glass of water you drink, potentially 4 other glasses of water go wasted to make it.

On top of that there's the shipping.  Peter Galick states:

Overall, the average energy cost to make the plastic, fill the bottle, transport it to market and then deal with the waste would be "like filling up a quarter of every bottle with oil."

Gotta love when we place an image of oil mixed with water as something we drink.  So, for every gallon of water you drink, one quart of oil is wasted.  No wonder the stuff is so expensive (about $20 per gallon versus pennies for tap or filtered).

Wikipedia listed the United States as consuming 25.8 billion liters of water a year.  I can't get my mind around that number, so more realistically we consume 90.5 liters per person, or about 30 gallons a year.  There's another interesting article on this in Fast Company, with some interesting information about Fiji and how the people go without fresh water while they export it in bottles to the U.S.

How to help?  Try just refilling your bottled water with tap or filtered water.  So far I haven't noticed a difference, and apparently it can be healthier than bottled water, which often doesn't have restrictions to ensure it's clean.

Advertisements

I learned in elementary school that to make paper you have to use water (or was that paper mache using water and newspaper).  Seriously, loads of water goes into making paper.  Looking at GreenDimes "28 billion gallons of water go into the production of American junk mail annually" along with the "100 million trees are cut down each year to create the approximately 4.5 million tons of junk mail in the United States."  Pretty amazing.

Thankfully it's pretty easy to cut back on some of the junk mail we receive.  I still get some county things, but GreenDimes is a group committed to stopping your junk mail.  You sign up with the names of everyone in your house ($12 per household through December or $15 otherwise) and get a few postcards to mail in.  But the beauty is that once you sign-up you can go on the site with junk mail in hand and select the name of the recipient and the sender's name (the auto fill makes this pretty easy).  Within a month or two you stop receiving their junk.  So far, it really works, except that I got yelled at for taking Land's End off and had to remove it from our GreenDimes list.

I love it so much I'm giving out some as Christmas gifts.

I just found out there's an H2O Exhibit at the Museum of Natural History in DC through May.  Since it's right around the corner, I'm definitely going.

Okay, I do remember what the point of the sermon was (you can read it here).  It was the statement: Should our faith in Christ be bringing us answers or should it be raising questions?  Essentially, we should be recognizing how we and the world are having problems and asking questions about how we can help like Christ helps.

Have fun conserving water.  Let me know what ways you conserve, if you do.

Monday, December 3, 2007

RoboForm

RoboForms Identity Window I'm in a reviewing/evangelism mood, so I thought I'd mention another program which is so much a part of my daily life I could barely get by without it.  I finally got tired of having to enter my Web passwords into both IE and Firefox, and decided to try out some password management software.

While there are a couple of different open source (free) tools out there, none have been as easy to use or have as many options as Siber's RoboForm.  It's been so good we've gotten licenses for my wife and mother-in-law.  Neither of them think they can ever go back to entering passwords, and Erin's mom felt almost helpless when she got a new computer and didn't have her passwords remembered.

Essentially RoboForm sits in your Web browser and in your task tray, near the clock.  It remembers all of your passwords, letting you pick one secure password to encrypt all of your information.  It even remembers your windows passwords in most cases.  Whenever you sign-up for a new account somewhere it will ask if you want to save the information.  Once you do it'll automatically populate the form next time, and let you have multiple usernames and passwords for the same site (so you pick the one you want to fill and click "Fill and Submit").

While all that password stuff is cool, I'm finding almost as useful is the personal information piece.  It will store your credit cards (remember, all encrypted), addresses or whatever.  When you go to check out at some shopping site you can pick the credit card from the drop-down list and it will populate every field in the form for you, name, address, credit-card type, credit-card, CCD, everything.  It is literally one two clicks to fill a form and check out (as dangerous as that could be for my bank account).

I also tend to use the search function a lot.  I have my own searches set-up, so if I want to find a photo on Flickr or a book on Amazon or a topic on Wikipedia I just type in the search box in the toolbar and select the search engine.  It's incredible easy, and I prefer it to the quick searches in IE and Firefox because it's easy to add my own searches for any site.

Anyway, it is easily the best $30 I spent on a software product.

Peace,
+Tom

Red-Gate SQL Compare

SQL Compare Pro Every now and then I come across a program that becomes so ingrained in my daily work that I hardly know how I'd get by without it.  I'll probably break down a couple over the next few days, but for database work, I have never found anything as good as Red Gate's SQL Compare and SQL Data Compare

Essentially these tools let you compare two SQL Server databases (all objects, users, permissions, functions, diagrams, anything) and update changes to whichever database you want.  This is amazingly useful for deploying database changes to a test or production environment (do it to production with ridiculous care, even though it will generate a SQL Script for you and run all updates in one transaction), and making sure everything is synchronized.

SQL Compare Window

SQL Data Compare Window For releases we can just generate the compare script, confirm that the changes match the updates we want to go out, and store it all in one place with the release details.  This is true for both the structure and the data, to get those lookups matching.  This has also been useful when pulling down production data to our test servers to debug problems specific users are having, and test solutions without ever editing the production data itself.

After a lot of tests with different tools, SQL Compare and SQL Data Compare are so simple and safe that we finally dropped the $600 for the SQL Compare Bundle.  The Pro versions look interesting, but for what we use, the comparison is all that's needed.

The interface and set-up is incredibly easy.  In the few years we've been using it, technical support has been great, though all I've needed support with is in getting my activations correct.

Once you choose what you want to synchronize, you go through some simple steps confirming what will be updated and how the update will occur.

All that greatness being said, there are probably three complaints I'd have about the program.

1) Walking through steps to generate the change script (or update the database) makes things easy, but I swear that with every new release they seem to add another step.  It gets to be annoying at times.

2) I think it's a bit expensive.  Not overly so at $600 per developer license, but given that it does just one or two things (Even though it does them exceedingly well) makes it hard to get a company to pay for it, for each developer.  That being said, if you have the personal cash, it's worth buying even if the job won't cover it.  Also, that $600 is for a year of updates, for future versions you have to essentially pay again (which is why we still use version 5 while 6 is now available).

3) The biggest failing is that it only compares SQL Server.  We've had times where we need to compare Oracle databases, and none of the tools available come close to the ease, speed or correctness or SQL Compare.  But we can't use SQL Compare.  So, going back to the cost question, it's hard to explain $600 per developer if you work on SQL Server and other database platforms.

All that being said, Red-Gate has continued to make the comparison and update process faster, incredibly simple to use, and I know it will make the correct updates to databases (many other tools messed up conversions or some other area . . . often a problem of tools which use ODBC to connect).  Their tag line is really pretty true, their stuff is "ingeniously simple to use".

Peace,
+Tom

Friday, November 30, 2007

I'm Self-Employed

Every now and then I need to take a break from Steve Pavlina's blog, it just opens too many questions and challenges me so much professionally that I need to take a step back and simply exist for a while.  When I come back though, as I recently have, I find so many things which resonate and make me want to just be better.

I just came across his You Are Self-Employed post.  In a nutshell:

everyone is essentially self-employed and that even if you’re an employee, you should think of yourself as the President of your own personal services corporation.  Call it Your Name, Inc.

 

This mindset makes a lot of sense.  Even if you seemingly work for someone else, you still work primarily for yourself.  You have your own company with one employee — you — and you’re in the business of selling your employee’s labor for profit.

Definitely check out the rest of the article, there are some pretty compelling reasons showing that we are self-employed, and why we need to see ourselves that way.  Making that click for me is going to change the way I approach and view my job and my future career choices.

So, are you self-employed, or "do you fall prey to the illusion that you aren’t self-employed and you yield control of your career to your employer or boss?"

Peace,
+Tom

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Getting to Sleep

Up until about a year ago I always had a hard time getting to sleep.  I'd sometimes lay in bed for hours with my mind running on things I need to do.  A couple of things recently have changed which finally fixed this, and I wanted to share.

First, I started getting up at 5 a.m. last December and going to bed when I was tired.  It was hard for the first month, but then I got into the groove, and it was great having an extra 2 hours of free time each morning.  Then I had surgery and haven't gotten back into the swing after recovery.  I wake up at 5:30 or 6, so I have some free time, but nothing like I did.  A benefit though was that I'd head up to bed around 10 or 11, close my eyes, and be out immediately.  It was great, and if you're interested in more details check out Steve Pavlina's How to Become an Early Riser blog entry (also good is How to Wake Up Feeling Totally Alert), this is the process I followed and it was great.

If only other people would be up and available for meetings at 5:30.  Lazy bums.

Second, I began using Getting Things Done.  I can't explain just how useful this has been for my life.  I've set-up a couple to-do lists in RememberTheMilk, and my entire life is on those to-do lists.  My inbox is empty 90% of the time, and everything that comes along gets written on my 1/2 size note card, and then filed in my to-do list.  I feel completely in control of projects (school, church, work and family).  The only step I'm missing there is the weekly review.  But, getting everything in there gets it out of my head.  No more thinking about tomorrow for hours on end each night.

Third, I had a son.  Now that we have two kids my selfish wife wants me to get up with Colin sometimes at night (like the times she's in Rachel's room helping her sleep).  So I'm a bit more tired come 9 p.m., and by 10 it's easy to to just head right off to dreamland.

I came across Scott Adams' way of getting to sleep, and I'm intrigued enough to try it myself.  Here's a snippet of what he does:

I always start by creating a simple story in my head where something good, and highly unlikely, happens to me. The trick is to focus on something that is more fascinating than your real life. . . . The images should be more attractive than whatever bothersome thoughts would float into your head if you weren’t so busy fantasizing.

 

After a minute or two of that, I release all controlled thoughts and simply watch what floats by. When my eyes are closed, the part of my brain that interprets vision is apparently still active, because I can see all sorts of random objects drifting by, as if a mall exploded in space. I try to identify and name them as I see them.

 

Toaster…car…pencil…couch…snow blower, mitten, etc.

 

The next thing I know, I wake up.

Anyway, I wanted to share.  I can't imagine I'm the only one who's fought their brain in going to sleep for their entire lives.

In short, it's about emptying my brain, being tired when I go to bed, and (for Scott) imagination.

Peace,
+Tom

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Blithering Idiots

I'm watching Grey's Anatomy, where one of the characters ran into a guy she was interested in in high school.  She becomes a different person, really bubbly and willing to do whatever the guy asks.  Essentially, she realized that she became a blithering idiot.

That got me wondering about my own life.  Who could I run into that would make me a blithering idiot?

There was a girl I knew who asked me to take her to her prom.  We went there, then to a party at her friends house.  I become so enamored that I'd do almost anything.  I ended up letting her sleep in my lap all night, while I sat there, feeling exhausted but unable to sleep for being so uncomfortable, listening to crummy R&B music.  In college I ran into the same girl and I tell you, that day, I pretty much dropped everything and doted on her all day.

There just seem to be people we come across in life that make us forget all our common sense and become blithering idiots.

When I met my wife, I definitely had times when I was a bit of an idiot.  I'd make jokes that weren't all that funny and bend over backward so that she wouldn't feel inconvenienced by things I do.  Come to think of it, I still do that a bit.

What's my point?  What would you do for a stranger?  Would you become a blithering idiot for anyone, or just those certain people that trip a switch in you?  Why not try being a bit more of an idiot and giving of ourselves to anyone in need, not just the ones we like?

Peace,
+Tom

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The God's Aren't Angry

Last Friday a few people from church and I went to see Rob Bell speak during his "The God's Aren't Angry" Tour.  Here's how I saw the event.

The short answer is that this is an hour and a half long sermon.  An incredibly dynamic sermon.  It was Rob Bell at his finest.

The longer answer is that he described where we, as cave men, began to recognize God's for different events, such as a God for the Sun and one for the rain.  That moved into describing the altar and sacrifices.  The inherent problems with sacrifice, when things go well you give more for thanks.  when things go badly, you give more hoping your god will finally be satisfied.

That led into a discussion of Christ's sacrifice for us.  That the altar is no longer for sacrifices of dead things, but instead one for us to make a living sacrifice.  He described how that was received in the community.

He then went into descriptions of some of the hard problems people have faced that he worked with over the past few weeks.  That Christ's sacrifice and pain was so much more than we have gone through, and that the stresses in our lives need to be reframed.

I actually don't remember the final punchline.  What I grabbed from it was simply "Let it go."  Keep things into perspective, and recognize God's saving grace in our own lives.

It was really good, and a couple of the kids were in silence for a while at the end.  I know it affected everyone in our group.

While it's moved on, I'd definitely recommend seeing him in concert whenever you have the chance.

Peace,
+Tom

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Portions

Prime Rib from Fleming's In case you noticed the picture of a steak from my post on eating well, that was a prime rib I purchased at Fleming's, a pretty nice steak place.  In my opinion it's nicer than Morton's, but not as good as Ruth's Chris.  Essentially it's expensive steak, and you pay for the sides.

I decided to have the special that night, the 22 ounce prime rib.  To put that into perspective, there's 16 ounces in a pound.  In more perspective, a big hamburger is 1/3 to 1/2 of a pound, 8 ounces.  So, if the picture doesn't really convey, this thing was as big as my forearm. . .

And it was delicious.

The reason I mention all of that is to talk about portions.  A few years ago I went on a mission trip to Montana, and came back recognizing just how much I eat each meal.  I go away from dinner full, having eaten two or three helpings.  I mainly did that because I like the flavor so much I didn't want to stop.  So, I tried an experiment (as they say in Sesame Street).

SSPX0026 I used to eat until I was full.  I then decided to eat until I'm not hungry any more.  It's a big distinction.  I found out I was eating almost nothing, enjoying it more than I had before, and having left overs for another night.  The problems with this though is that steak can't easily be saved for the next day (microwaved steak just isn't that good), so I feel I need to eat everything or waste it.

Over about 4 months I lost 20 pounds, and I felt darned good.  I was a little more hungry between meals (instead of not being hungry even when the next meal came up).  I just appreciated eating so much more.

Over the past 6 months I've slipped back into eating my fill, and then some.  Not surprisingly, I've also gained back almost all of that 20 pounds, I haven't been hungry when the next meal starts, and it's been harder to really enjoy eating.

Then I went on an all day fishing trip.  We didn't eat from 8 p.m. Sunday night until 6 p.m. Monday afternoon.  I drank maybe 1/4 of my bottle of water.  While I was hungry by the end there, I realized just how little food I actually need in a day.

I heard recently that you're supposed to eat, at most, the size of a steak that is smaller than your fist.  I've been cutting back on my portions again, and already food is tasting better.  If you're thinking about it, I'm all for going through it with you.  Let's stop wasting so much food on our big bellies.

Peace,
+Tom

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Eat Well

Prime Rib from Flemmings In my semi-daily bible reading (getting better thanks to my friend Mason) I came across this line:

Listen to me, listen well: Eat only the best, fill yourself with only the finest. Isaiah 55.1-5 The Message

Obviously this isn't talking about eating really.  It's really talking about listening to God's word and making it a part of your life.  To be really open, the next line says:

Pay attention, come close now, listen carefully to my life-giving, life-nourishing words. Isaiah 55.1-5 The Message

Honestly though, I think there is something really important to be said for eating well.  I tend to eat just ok.  Believe it or not, that's a step up from when I worked in DC and went to McDonald's every day for lunch.  No, I'm not kidding, and no, I didn't order the salads much, if at all.

Going back even further though, I ate pretty well in high school.  I went vegetarian for a little while, having a lot of Subway veggie subs with melted cheese (I said vegetarian, not vegan).  I ate salads and sushi (rarely the sushi, I was in High School).  While I was eating well, I also felt downright good.

There's a lot more involved in that.  I walked, roller bladed or biked to school each day.  I had more friends than I could count, and I'd begun putting away some of my less acceptable indulgences.

Overall though, when I begin changing my diet to eat more healthy and even eat less, I feel better.  The world seems like a pretty good place, and my place in it seems to just fit.

It's hard to eat well.  We go out a bunch, and most of the food is processed.  Heck, I am slowly getting our Golden Retriever to eat raw food from a natural dog store up the street, but I still eat McDonald's once a week and processed foods more than I'd like to.

I'm wondering what compromises we make for the sake of convenience.  I caught a bunch of fresh fish a few weeks ago, and I swear if Erin didn't get tired of it, we'd have had fish every night.  It felt good to eat and I felt better having had it.

No deep meaning that's different from what's stated.  I'm just wondering whether other people have found eating healthier makes them happier and more in control.  I'm also wondering how you've found ways to eat healthy, both at home and when going out to a restaurant.

Peace,
+Tom

Monday, November 19, 2007

Shhhh

Christmas Music Don't tell my wife, but I've begun listening to Christmas Music.  Both the Comedy Christmas Music channel (some awesome stuff there) and the Rock Holiday Station.  I do love Yahoo! Music, but if my wife ever finds out I think she'll kill me for listening (and enjoying) Christmas music a few weeks before Thanksgiving.  Honestly, I'd have listened all year round if I hadn't lost the link to the station in March.

Does anyone else out there have some odd, secret desires they indulge in regarding Christmas?

Peace,
+Tom

Doggie Jesus

Recently Erin's grandfather had to put down his dog Ruffles.  His quality of living just wasn't there anymore.  Anticipating Grandpap visiting for Thanksgiving, without Mister Ruffles, we wanted to let Rachel know what had happened.  Here's how the conversation ensued.

Dad: When Great Grandpap comes to visit, Ruffles isn't going to come with him.

Rachel: Why not?

Mom: Ruffles wasn't able to see or hear very well.  He got confused a lot and had a hard time going potty.

Rachel: Like Rika?

Dad: Kind of like Rika, but much worse.  So Mr. Ruffles is up in Doggie Heaven.

Rachel: Oh.  With Doggie Jesus?

I love kids!  Since then Rachel has mentioned Doggie Jesus a couple of time.  I like the idea that Jesus becomes whoever we need him to be at the time we need him.

Peace,
+Tom

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Reflections on Dying

I came across this article, "What we learn from the dying" today and found it pretty interesting.  I figured I'd share, there's definitely some interesting stuff.

I'm wondering why my friend David thinks after being in Clinical Pastoral Education (working and pastoring to sick and dying people) for a few weeks.

Peace,
+Tom

Microsoft and Facebook?

Holy freak of everything.  I just found out Microsoft just bought an ownership stake in Facebook, beating out Google in a bidding war.  I have no idea if this means something good or bad, but it sure is interesting.

Here's the article "Source: Microsoft wins Facebook bid battle" from CNet.

Ok, while I don't have any idea, truthfully it makes me nervous.  I keep wondering how much life is left in Facebook, and had expected it to be gone (like MySpace) or completely different in two years.  Now that a large corporation has bought into it, I expect that "completely different" option is off the table.  Large companies just seem unwilling to make huge changes to a product which was successful at one point in time.

Sadly, I expect Facebook will be gone, replaced by some other social networking site, within a few years.

Peace,
+Tom

Views on God

In my many discussions with people, I get to hear a lot of different opinions on God.  I hear a lot of people asking for explanations to answer the question "what was God thinking?"  I've also heard a lot of answers to that question.  "What is God thinking? Why does he let me hurt? Why did He let that happen?"

I recently heard this statement about God and suffering (this is paraphrased).

Let's assume you take a completely literal view of the bible.  If you look at Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, God made a mistake with humanity.  He formed us in a way that man has no knowledge and were mindless.  Then man ate of the tree of knowledge after being tempted by the serpent.  After this God saw his mistake in mankind and threw them out of Eden, and put us into a world where he we have problems and are punished for Adam and Eve's transgressions.  We continue to have those punishments today.

Hearing something like this makes me incredibly sad.  I actually hurt to hear someone feel so sure that we go through hard times in life now because God is punishing us.

I won't go into the arguments about literal translations of the bible since it seems clear that no one can agree on what the bible means, even when read literally.  All I could really think about was that a God who strives to punish us would not have given us his Son and let him die for us.

again and again in the Old Testament, God gives us chances, and we just keep messing up those chances.  Oddly, I don't think this is God punishing us.  while he may be saddened by our situation, I think he's also rejoicing in what He made. 

He made a people who have free choice.  He made us to be like him, not as mindless automatons, but as a people who can choose whether to follow his wishes or go our own way.  Feels good to be trusted so much.

Peace,
+Tom

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Sermon Logos

Every now and then I get to do some fun stuff with church and flex my imagination to come up with graphics for sermon series we have going on.  Now, in most cases we take a background from a site dedicated to making them, since they have a bunch of people committed to making great graphics.  My favorite by far is PowerPoint Sermons.  They have listened to subscribers and made changes, including some I've specifically requested.  One of the graphics I got from them was this:

JourneyLessonsSeries

All I had to do was type in the text I wanted.  It would be great if they had even more backgrounds, but this will always be the site I hit first.  Well, now I'll hit SermonSlides by the same company, since we only use 4 slides a year, and this site lets up pay as you go.

In any case, every now and then Rob likes to make up sermon series titles which no one seems to have a graphic for.  Like this one: Deep Shift.  Get the reference?  Remove the "f" and you'll get it.  At those points I get to play around with graphics, fonts and whatever to come up with something like this:

Deep-Shift-Logo

Rob didn't like the brown, spotted one.  Sounds weird, but I definitely enjoy this stuff.  If only I could get paid for it.

Personally, I'd rather do something like this:

Deep-Shift-Poop

But I expect it's not quite appropriate for church audiences (look closely at the image in the circle.

Peace,
+Tom

Friday, November 2, 2007

Fishing

Last Sunday my friend Rob invited me out for a day of fishing in Erie, Pennsylvania.  We headed out at 8 p.m. Sunday, slept in Cranberry, PA for a few hours (fewer hours than I'd hoped, since the fire alarm went off every half hour for an hour, until we pulled the thing off the wall).  At 4 a.m. we met our guide Jim and headed out for the hour and a half drive to Erie, PA.  We started fishing around 6 and didn't stop until 5. No eating or drinking, less time for fishing Rob would say.

It was a great trip, and I'd do it again if my wife ever lets me (so far the outlook looks grim on going again until the kids are in college).  Here are the couple of insights I had that day.

  • I caught 14 fish.  They were huge, and it was so much fun.  Whoever said the reason they call it fishing instead of catching never had a guide as good as Jim helping them catch.  Admittedly, the people around us weren't catching nearly as many fish.  Check out the few I got a picture with.
  • Fishing has so many weird terms, and I never quite got the "fisherman language" down.  When a guy catches a nice fish you don't say "good job" or "way to go".  No, it's more like, "she's a beauty" or "that must be at least 8 pounds".
  • No eating, drinking and very little sleeping makes me quiet and contemplative by the end of the day.
  • If you're freezing, it's better to stay cold than to get warm and freeze again.  Which leads me to the next point.
  • There's something called Frostnip.  It's similar to Frostbite but less severe and goes away after about two weeks of lots of water, raised feet and Ibuprofen.  Who knew?  The doctor didn't.  Which leads to this next point.
  • Creek water is freaking cold.  My toes literally froze and are still thawing from the Frostnip. Which leads to yet another point.
  • Bring along lots of those hot sheets you warm up by moving and regularly stuff them in your waders.
  • While green means go everywhere else, it means stop and be cautious in a lake.  Green means slippery algae.
  • Leaving all of life behind, and even eschewing conference calls scheduled last minute feels great and I recommend it to everyone.
  • If you're driving and tired, having the passenger yell "YOU AWAKE" every 20 minutes or so makes you jump into the roof and gets the adrenaline pumping.
  • Fishing takes an immense amount of concentration.  The only time I appreciated nature was when we were moving or I was (stupidly) warming my feet up.  Otherwise I was watching those fish come after, and avoid, my jiggling lure.
  • Apparently I can do some semi-advanced fishing tactics.  Rob said one thing I did was one of the hardest in fishing, and it seemed to be the only way to catch fish.  All I did was jiggle my hand up and down, who knew the shivering shakes could be so beneficial?
  • Eating fresh fish, especially some you caught yourself, is amazing.
  • Fishing off the back of a boat as lines troll in the water isn't real fishing.
  • Fish are stupid.
  • Friends who push you to do new stuff are few and far between, and need to be cherished.

Peace,
+Tom

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Microsoft Access

I've answered this question in some form or another far more times than I care to count.  Most often it's a question of "why do I need a fancy Web application when I can just build this myself in two days in Access.  I mean, the data's already in Excel."  So I figured I'd post out what I threw together, I know I've missed some points.

Overview

Microsoft Access is an ideal solution for relatively small datasets and a limited number of users. From the Microsoft Web site:

“As a desktop database, Access is well suited for small, departmental applications. These applications may start as one user’s project. For example, an employee realizes that productivity can be increased if a paper-based process is automated with an Access application. Other users in the department recognize that they can take advantage of the application if additional features are added. As more features are added, more employees run the application. As time goes by, more and more Access applications are deployed for different business units.

With increased use, the limitations of a desktop database become apparent. Access security, performance, and disaster recovery features are not robust enough to manage an enterprise-level application. Because you need a new solution, you decide that the applications should be migrated to SQL Server.” (Source http://www.microsoft.com/technet/prodtechnol/sql/2000/deploy/bldsysarch.mspx)

Additional Sources:

Multi-User Support

While Microsoft specifications allow for up to 255 simultaneous users, multiple sources have found that no more than 12 users can successfully use a networked Access application before the delay in connections through the file system pose a problem. Also note that users must be attached to the local LAN and have access to the shared networked drive hosting the Access application. This is not a problem for small teams in one location, but once teams are spread across multiple locations the application access slows down significantly for all users.

The maximum concurrent user count listed by Microsoft assumes that the data is stored in one Access Database while access to the data comes from a separate Microsoft Access interface, such as an Access Application Project. In this instance the Access application resides on a user’s machine while the Access database data resides on a shared network drive to which all users need Read/Write access.

While security is often not a consideration when deploying an Access database application, note that complete security can only be attained through folder security permissions. While users and roles can be defined in an Access database, it has been found relatively simply to circumvent these permissions and gain full access to the system. For secure access network administrators will need to grand and deny access to shared folders to the specific users who can access the database.

More inherent in Microsoft access is the inability to easily use profile information about users. It is not trivial to store profile specific information about a user. For example, if a user is in one project, for them to see only their data in their queries, instead of data from all projects, data must be pulled when a user logs into the system from a table and stored globally. Then all queries must code in access to this property. Web application tools such as ASP.NET provide profile information built-in, and adding these filters to stored procedures is fairly trivial.

Most government organizations create a standard version of Microsoft Office across the organization. All users have the same version and service pack of Office, allowing for simple deployment of the application. An Access database or Access Database Project can connect to a remote Microsoft Access database and retrieve information.

Whenever a modification is made to the underlying database or user interface a new version of the Access Database must be loaded on the desktops of all users of the system.

Scalability

For relatively small data sets Access works very well for providing flexible information retrieval. It provides simple functionality to create pivot tables and generate graphical reports. Connections to the database are made using Jet or ODBC database connections. These connections work in small levels, but have more overhead when sending and receiving information.

While up to 255 simultaneous connections are supported, this works in an environment where all users are on the same LAN (local area network). Once users become distributed across multiple locations, connections to the database slow down dramatically. This is primarily due to the fact that all connections to the database must be made through a mapped drive connection. Connecting to a remote mapped drive is much slower than native SQL Server or other database connections.

Microsoft Access also has a file size limitation of 2 GB of data. While there is very little possibility of exceeding the file size in many cases, the amount of time needed to retrieve data for a query or report becomes exponentially long as the number of rows in a table increases. When a table exceeds tens of thousands of rows processing time for a query becomes minutes instead of seconds.

Very often to retrieve information formatted in a way that is usable multiple nested queries are needed. Generally 3 or 4 nested queries are needed to retrieve the information in a usable format. In some cases one query is run to generate a table, after which another query is run to generate another table. This is done so that the final query can run quickly, but requires multiple steps by a user to generate the data in a usable format that can be retrieved in minutes instead of hours. This also adds a very large amount of work to make changes to a query or add additional data, as all underlying queries must be modified.  Confusion can easily occur as unused tables exist in the database, often where only the database creator will know which tables to use at which time.

Reporting

As long as a strong understanding of SQL queries is understood and deep understanding of the underlying tables, reports can be created to extract and display information, including the ability to export the data to Excel or many other formats easily.

These reports use the underlying queries to generate and format their data. They work very well, though not always quickly for large calculations or formatting. Generally a more robust reporting tool such as SQL Server Reporting Services, Crystal Reports or another application will retrieve this information faster and provide the same graphical and export options. The disadvantage to these solutions is that quickly creating a new report is not as easy as it is in Microsoft Access.

Data Import

Importing data into Microsoft Access is relatively simple for simple amounts of data. Performing large data imports and formatting of final data is more difficult in Microsoft Access than it is in more robust database tools such as SQL Server and Oracle. This is generally due to the modified version of SQL available in Microsoft Access. Fewer functions exist for formatting, extracting and updating data into disparate tables. Often to extract a specific set of data, such as a list of locations, the database administrator must create a query for that one action and run it to populate a location table. More robust tools allow for multiple queries to run at one time, and provide transactional processes, so that if any part of the import fails all changes are rolled back to a state before the import began.

Remote Use

For a user to use the system from a machine away from their office, they will need to have the same version of Microsoft Access installed. While this is not often a problem in government organizations, as mentioned above, it does require that users have access to the shared folder wherever they are located. Web based applications allow a user to access the system from any location that has Internet access.

Web applications also allow for seamless updates to the system. If a new field is added to a form or report, the code is placed only on the Web server, and the new form appears to the user the next time they access or refresh a page. In an Access application, the new code must be sent to all users of the system. Without additional coding in the Access application to ensure the latest version is always used, it is possible that a user could use outdated code to update the application. This can allow for invalid data to be entered or invalid reports to be generated.

User Accessibility

While Microsoft Office programs now meet (as of Office 2003) the governments’ standards for Section 508 accessibility, there is no guaranty that applications created in Microsoft Access meet those standards. If forms are used in the access application, more care must be taken in providing keyboard access and linking labels to fields for screen reader access.

While additional coding is also necessary for Web applications, many mature Web application languages, such as ASP.NET 1.1 and 2.0, provide simple methods to make applications accessible. Most user controls generate Section 508 compliant code by default, while others provide properties to make the control compliant.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sharing Information

Why is it that when we're in school we write long papers that are only seen by the teacher/professor?

I'm currently writing out my personal view of how to teach all the different ages in the church to grow a deeper relationship with God.  It's a paper stating my personal philosophy based on my experience and what I've learned in class.  What I wouldn't give to see what everyone else wrote as well to find things which I might have missed or ideas I hadn't considered.

Why do we write papers that are essentially for ourselves and no one else?  How hard would it be to set-up some group which publicly shares the papers written for a class?

Peace,
+Tom

Thursday, October 18, 2007

SQL Server 2005 Reporting Services on Vista

I've been in a very technical mood as of late.  There's something about starting a new project, putting together a new site, and doing things I've never done before.

One of those things was to set up SQL Server 2005 Reporting Services so that we can easily integrate graphs and tables and drill-through reports.  It doesn't hurt that it comes free with SQL Server either.  So I set to installing SQL Server Reporting Services on my Vista laptop and begin developing reports.  Here's what I did and bits of advice.

Set Up

I previously had Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS) installed (the hoops I jumped through for installing that are for another time), Visual Studio 2005, SQL Server 2005 Express and SQL Server Express Enterprise Manager.

I decided to download SQL Server Express Advanced, which includes a stripped down Reporting Services engine.  I went through the install and . . . Report server wasn't an option for the install.  This was not a good sign for the rest of the process.

It turns out I was missing one component in IIS.  So, after a quick Control Panel -> Programs -> Turn Windows Features on or off.  Then expanding Internet Information Services -> World Wide Web Services -> Application Development Features and checking ISAPI Extensions (okay, not so quick) I was well on my way.

Windows Features

I must admit, in the middle of figuring this out I uninstalled SQL Express and installed SQL Server 2005 Standard.  I thought that was the problem, and while it wasn't, I do like having the ability to easily import data (a feature not available in the Express version of Enterprise Manager).

I finally came across this knowledge base article (KB 934164), which helped immensely.  I won't go into all the steps here, since the article details them very well.  I do recommend grabbing this article before you go through the process.  But there were some gotchas, one in particular required a Microsoft Support call.

No matter what, once you install SQL Server, or later add Reporting Services, you have to install SQL Server 2005 Service Pack 2.  This knowledge base article (KB 913089) explains how to get it, though on my machine Microsoft Update automatically found and installed it.

Configuration

First gotcha once everything is installed was related to the Default Application Pool.  While under the Reporting Server Configuration screen in the Web Service Identity tab, the Classic .NET AppPool needs to be selected.  The default application pool requires web.config the be reformatted and, from what I can tell, breaks report server.

Other than that one thing though, installation seemed pretty simple.

Now it was time to run the application, right?

The first step there is to open Internet Explorer as an Administrator.  Any Vista programmer knows the drill.  Right-Click Internet Explorer and choose Run as Administrator.  Then we go to http://localhost/reports.

Turns out though, that that doesn't work.  Even though I was running IE with administrator privileges, the site didn't recognize the elevated access.  The ever important "Properties" tab wasn't showing up. This is where the Microsoft support call came in.

It turns out, in my case anyway, that you need to turn off that annoying "confirm" box you get every time you run something as administrator.  So, back to Control Panel -> User Accounts -> User Accounts (it's not a misprint, to get your own user settings, click it twice) I was able to Turn User Account Control off and reboot.

UAC

Once I had the user account control (UAC) off I opened up Internet Explorer.  I went back to http://localhost/reports and viola, I saw the properties tab.

Following the directions in the above knowledge base article, I diligently added my own user ID (with computer name, so it was computername\userid) to the Content Manager group.

With that done I turned UAC back on and rebooted.  While that confirm box is annoying, I still recommend it.  I've worked on too many XP and earlier computers where teens or adults install stuff without even realizing it.

Finally, I had access to the report manager and was ready to rock.  When all is working you should see this.

ReportsSite

Sadly, I now have an problem opening the ReportService2005.asmx file.  Every time I try it wants to download the generated XML file instead of displaying the friendly screen.  Oddly, I see the XML inline in Firefox and my own test Web Service works.  But I suspect that is more particular to my machine, and I'm awaiting a call back from Microsoft on it.

I'm not sure whether this really helps anyone else.  But after days of struggling with it I finally decided to get my experience and tips down someplace so I'll have it when I need to install it all again in the future.

Peace,
+Tom

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Clicking with Faith

I wanted to follow on from my previous post about things just clicking in our brains and understanding comes.  I know this click phenomena comes into play with relationships and I think that flows into faith and a relationship with God.

We spend our whole lives looking for people we can connect with.  When we find that friend we think we can understand, and who understands us, something just clicks.  A bond is formed between us and that other person.  We just understand each-other.  Even after years of being apart it becomes easy to come back together.  when the relationship is severed by one person hurting the other, that hurt may often come not from the deed, but from not being able to understand the actions of this person we thought we knew.

The same is true of faith. 

People are looking to understand.  They want to understand how this God can let people they love die.  They want to understand how this God can let someone be brutally attacked.  They want to understand how someone can love them even when they don't love themselves.

Once the click happens though, something changes.  Heck, it's even gotten it's own term, being "born again".  It's impossible to explain to someone who hasn't had the click happen, since it's all about feeling and personal understanding.

It all starts with a click.

That click lets you understand that you can't understand everything and you can't know why every single thing happens in life.  It lets you be complete without understanding and gives brings you comfort from someone you can't see or touch.

Click,
+Tom

Click

The way my brain works I often need to think about something for a while, often watching someone else or absorbing a picture before I really understand it.  But, once that understanding comes somehow I'm able to really get what's involved in making it happen and it seems like only serious practice is needed for me to get good at it.

More often than not that insight and understanding comes in an instant.  My brain clicks into place and I almost want to shout out "I GET IT!"

This morning I was watching a juggler on Sesame Street and as I watched him throw one object up just enough to pull the one in the air out of the way, my brain clicked.  I understand what's involved in juggling.  Not all the details, how gravity is involved, how to juggle chainsaws or anything, but I get juggling.

The same was true of programming and computers.  Years and years ago something just clicked.  While college refined this even more to a 0 and 1 level, I understand what's involved in the hardware, software and storage of digital information.

I was also watching some world renowned pianist on Sesame Street and I realized it.  I'm not the only one things click for. While I could never figure out how to use two hands at the same time to play piano, this guy is closing his eyes and music is flowing out.  The piano playing just clicked at some point, and he's been able to really understand and express himself through music.

So, am I and this great pianist the only ones this happens to?

Peace,
+Tom

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Involved vs. Committed

Chirck riding a pig I thought everyone had heard this by now, but I was in training and a bunch of people never knew the comment. So, here you go, share it wherever you see fit.

In a bacon and egg breakfast, the chicken is involved but the pig is committed.

Update: Seems a little more explanation may be in order. With a bacon and egg breakfast, the chicken is involved. Her eggs are taken to feed the people. The pig though, he's committed. Instead of taking something he produces, they take him and, uh, put him down, so that people can have their bacon.

Peace,
+Tom

Miracles and Faith

I just came across this quote:

There's no way to explain a miracle . . . For those who don't believe, no explanation is possible.  For those who do, no explanation is necessary.

I shouldn't mention the source, but it's Trance from the TV show Andromeda.

We spend a lot of time trying to explain miracles.  This quote though, I need to remember.

Peace,
+Tom

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Bible for Non-Christians

The bible Most of the non-Christians I've met don't believe that the Bible is strictly true.  So why do we always use the Bible as factual evidence to prove the existence of God and Christ?

I'm not saying that the Bible shouldn't be used to explain God or how to live.  I do think that it shouldn't be the only thing we use.  Thinking about this more though, I can understand why we do use the bible so much.

For anyone who has accepted Christ, the bible is the place to look for answers and refresh our faith.  I do think Christians spend far too little time actually reading the bible.  While we definitely don't need to spout off bible verses at the drop of a hat (the more I'm in seminary the more I see people do this . . . I guess that makes them more faithful than I) we do need to understand what the bible says and try to see how it applies to our life.

I talk to a lot of people who what to believe in God, or really do understand that He exists.  At the same time they see the bible more as general stories passed on instead of factual events.  They are stories to explain life.

Maybe the reason we talk about the bible so much is because we do recognize that it's the best source on how to live.  In some cases it's the only source of our history.

There is no way that we can ever force someone to believe in God.  We can't convince them through proof or explanation.  A person's relationship with God is between that person and God.  There's nothing I can do directly to change that path.

So, maybe it's okay that we use the bible as our evidence.  We've decided that we have faith in something we cannot see, and in that faith we accept a book which can't be unilaterally proven (yet).

All we can do is live each day in that faith and following that book.  We'll let God help those others who aren't quite there yet.

Peace,
+Tom

Saturday, October 6, 2007

One Laptop Per Child

I heard about this a few days ago and the more I read the more I love the idea.  Laptop.org has the simple vision of getting a laptop in the hand of every child in the world.  This is something I began thinking about a couple years ago, that having Internet access all over the world is a necessity for 3rd world countries to survive. 

While many people argued that they a roof over their heads and food to eat first, I have to disagree somewhat.  Those things are critical to living.  At the same time, the Internet puts in their hands the ability to learn new ways of farming and building.  These guys have community done better than us Westerners can imagine.  Giving them more information than they've had before can change their world.

There was even an Escape Pod podcast story about the impact this can make in Transcendence Express by Jetse de Vries.  Here a teacher goes to a 3rd world country with her husband and begins introducing computers in the classrooms.

In any case, XO Giving has created an inexpensive laptop which is slimmed down to focus on doing what it needs to do extraordinarily well.  The Web site does an ok job explaining, but this NY Times article really explains it all well.  The idea is that for $200 I can buy one of these laptops to have them donated to 3rd world countries.

Why do you care?  Well, starting November 12th, they'll have a buy one get one sale.  So, if you buy two laptops, one will go to you and another will go to someone in the third world.  Both of which you can deduct from taxes.

I'm seriously thinking about it for Rachel.  Regardless of what I do though, this is just an incredibly smart idea which you should take advantage of.

Peace,
+Tom

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Whose Your Hero?

Suresh from HeroesI came across the Which 'Hero' are you? quiz and figured I'd share.  In case you didn't know, there are some TV show's I'm completely addicted with (Heroes, Battlestar Galactica, Dr. Who, Monk and Psych).  Heroes is definitely near the top of that list for it's story and character development.  When given the opportunity to find my super power, you know I'll take it.

Turns out I fail at getting super powers.  I'm Suresh, who has no discernable super power besides that he gets to talk during the opening and recap events.  I guess I'll have to live with the innate abilities the quiz says I already have.  Here's what it says:

Your "power" is in your leadership and your ability to organize those around you.  You may not be able to fly or have incredible strength, but your great knowledge makes you a real superhero.

Psh, I wanted to be able to bend time!

Peace,
+Tom

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Letters

Envelope One of the requests the teens heading off to college was that more than anything they'd like letters.  They want simple notes in their snail mailbox reminding them that people are thinking about them.  So, I figured I'd put something together for those which I have addresses.

Here's the problem though.  With Facebook, blogs, blog comments and bi-weekly phone calls, they all know everything that's going on in my life and  I generally know what they're up to as well. So, what do you write about to someone you already contact semi-regularly?

When I was in high school a girlfriend of mine went off to camp for most of the Summer.  We wrote letters every few days to each-other.  I keep wondering what in the world we talked about.  Couldn't have been anything incredibly deep, right?

So, I'm thinking it's time to remember what it was like to be in high school.  Chat about the minutia of life and any little thing that pops into my head.

Oddly, after writing a letter like that, I think it came out pretty well.

How about you, if you had to write a snail mail letter who would it be to and what would you say?

Peace,
+Tom

Thursday, September 27, 2007

AutoTithe

I was reading the blog of my friend David about Direct Deposit Tithing.  He commented on the prevalence of churches allowing people to auto pay the money to the church (tithe) instead of making them bring a check or cash in an envelope.

Automatic Tithing Machine Before his posts on this I also came across an article about how some churches are installing ATM like machines in the lobby to make giving easier.  That horrified me at first, now I just find it kind of disgusting and annoying.

In any case, at St. Matthew's our contemporary service doesn't take a collection.  Instead we do simply leave an offering plate at the back of the church.  We have also considered a way to directly withdraw from someone's account, though the companies we've seen add on some fees which don't really make much sense.  In many cases people who prefer to pay electronically have their banks automatically send a check.

As a family we still drop a check in the plate after church.  At the same time though, this is the only time during the month that we use cash or checks.  Everything else is directly deposited or checks are sent from the back.  If it were up to me, we'd be tithing to the church in the same way, but for some reason my wife prefers giving this way.  She and I both agree though that giving envelopes are a waste of paper and a horrible treatment of this ecosystem God gave us.

Where I have concerns come partly in the blessing of the money.  I'm not as concerned about that though, since the purpose to which the money is being used is supported by the church and furthers God's mission.  Essentially it's been blessed going out, so it doesn't need to be blessed coming in.  I also sometimes struggle with public blessings of offerings since it could be construed as us focusing on the money instead of the sacrifice.

More than that, I'm concerned that this does offer the opportunity for people to tithe dangerously.  People could begin paying for their tithe using their credit cards so they get more "points" or whatever.  This can easily lead to a credit card not paid off in time or tithing being seen as just another debt to incur.

Overall though, I'm a fan of direct paying.  You know the money is received successfully and no one needs to know if I give weekly, monthly or annually.

As the scripture points out, my tithe is my sacrifice for God.  No one else needs to know about it.

Peace,
+Tom

Friday, September 21, 2007

Feedback Advice

Give Us Some Feedback In my years at work I have given feedback on many, many different people during their annual assessments (reviews).  I've performed assessments myself and simply given feedback on someone I've worked with.  If I had any one piece of advice for someone giving feedback on a person it would be this:

Give me an example

For every feedback item I try and give at least one concrete example.

A general statement such as, "He leads a team well, but could be better at giving out task assignments" is ok.  But a better statement is, "He leads a team well, but could be better at giving out task assignments.  When I was working with him on XYZ he gave a great picture of what was necessary for the client to consider success.  At the same time I had to go to him and ask what I should be doing or give him suggestions on work I should do based on my understanding of the deliverable."

Even if I miss 2 things that the person should improve on, having one concrete example gives the person being reviewed an understanding of where it came from and often insight into himself and ways he can improve.  It also could be a misunderstanding on my part, which helps him see it's not really a problem.

Obviously this is true outside the workplace.

Every time I talk to my friend Rob about a problem or something I've seen that he could improve on, his first question is "Really? what happened?"  Without the concrete example of what went wrong or what went right, the feedback doesn't feel like it applies.  So it becomes easier to shrug off as not "my" problem.

If you can't find an example, don't give the feedback.

Peace,
+Tom

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Proposal Perspective

I came across this proposal video today.  Give it a look, it's worth the 4 minutes (and I hate watching videos from blog posts).

I'm incredibly impressed with his commitment to making the most creative, memorable and appropriate wedding proposal.  Looking at the time frames this took weeks.  I thought about my proposal for months, but when all was said and done I think I only really committed a couple of days to making it happen.

More than anything though I'm impressed with the thought and perspective needed to make this a reality.  When you look from almost any angle you see something like this:

Proposal side view

But when you look straight on you see:

Proposal2

Sometimes turning around changes everything.

Peace,
+Tom

Welcome To My World

No sooner did I begin crafting this post about Bullied student tickled pink by schoolmates' T-shirt campaign than my friend Mark Riddle mentioned it.  Stupid people stealing my thoughts. Thankfully what strikes me is different from what struck Mark.

The story is essentially about a kid w ho got bullied for wearing a pink shirt the first day of school.  Two other seniors somehow found out about it and bought 50 pink shirts (tank tops included) to wear to school the next day.  Then they e-mailed their friends to let them know.

The next day almost the entire school is in pink.  Either from shirts they bought or some wearing their own pink clothes (from shirts down to shoes).  The principal said:

"Definitely it looked like there was a big weight lifted off his shoulders. He went from looking right depressed to being as happy as can be," said Shepherd.

It's a heartwarming story and certainly gives you the warm fuzzies.  Here's what really struck me though.

This was the kids first day in high school.  He was an incoming freshman and the people who noticed were seniors.  That pretty much means that these seniors almost definitely didn't know the person bullied since they were 4 years apart in age.

I'm also struck by how incredibly quickly they acted.  They heard about the problem and immediately acted so that the next day the hurt soul would be surprised and feel welcomed immediately.  The kid didn't go a few days hurting, and the seniors didn't simply express their distaste for what the bully did.  The spent their own money in no time flat to change the outlook of one person.

I wonder if I'd be willing to put forth a bunch of money and time this afternoon to help someone I know nothing about.

Peace,
+Tom

Friday, September 14, 2007

Attentiveness

I'm currently taking a class at the local seminary about how to teach.  Our teacher made the following comment.

The more a child feels comfortable with the teacher, the more they are going to act out.

I guess that's why the older Rachel gets the more she talks back to me.

Seriously though, while I'd never heard this before it makes a ton of sense.

As I got closer to the teens in youth group, they really began to feel comfortable with me and each-other.  As the new teens come in they are incredibly attentive.  Over time they too sometimes stray off into their own conversations.

A lot of this comes from individual maturity.  The older these guys get the more willing they are to sit still and let each-other talk.

In any case it has some real repercussions, since I tend to try to connect at a personal level with people.  How do you keep that connection while also commanding respect?

I guess that's a question for next class.

Peace,
+Tom