Saturday, July 21, 2007

What a Difference an Hour Makes

I was at a meeting recently where employees of a company were told that the billable rate was based on them working a 42 hour work week.  There's the expectation that a 40 hour work-week is the minimum hours required to work, below standard.  Working the 42 hours will ensure the company is making the correct amount of money on the employee.

Didn't sound like such a big deal, it's only 2 hours a week, right?

Then I began thinking about it some more.

2 hours over 52 weeks (yes, there are 52 weeks in a year) works out to 104 hours.  In more simple terms, that's about 2 1/2 extra weeks of work, more than half a month.

I was reminded of something I used to do quite often.  I'd say that the care has a whole bunch of time little problems all piled up and around each-other (in other words, it's majorly broken).  Little things can add up to huge things in very little time (maybe that's why I love square roots, they're a constant reminder of this fact).

So, I've only mentioned bad things that can come from this strategy, what about the good ones, right?

Think about those two extra hours.  If you're performing a job you really love and recognize as making a difference, what's a few more hours?

2 hours a week could be two meals shared.  It could be a phone call to everyone in your immediate family to catch up.  2 hours is all it takes to prepare and hand out sandwiches to the homeless.

In short, two hours can change lives.

Peace,
+Tom

Problems

The Way You See the Problem Is The ProblemRecently I've been thinking about the problems in my life.  My cell phone was randomly turning off and I began thinking about an upgrade.  I'm going to be driving much farther each week for class and could use a car with better mileage.  Or the constant struggle we have getting Rachel to bed at night.

Today I was reminded yet again that 99.9% of the world would wish they had my problems.

There's a man I talked to for a while during lunch who is going through a very hard separation and only wants what's best for his wife and daughter.  Then there are those people who don't have a home, much less a car to have a problem with.  Or the couple who wishes they could even have a daughter, regardless of whether she'd sleep well.

I wonder what other problems I think I have that are really only problems because I let them.

What problems do you have to let go of?

Peace,
+Tom

Meetings

I've always, and I do mean always, had an aversion to meetings.  If we don't have a clear task to accomplish or To-Do items coming out of the discussion they are a waste of time, since it's likely a discussion best convened between two or three people, not all meeting attendees.

Then I came across Tony Morgan's review of The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive by Patrick Lencioni.  One of the quotes he mentions is this.

For cohesive teams, meetings are compelling and vital. They are forums for asking difficult questions, challenging one another's ideas, and ultimately arriving at decisions that everyone agrees to support and adhere to, in the best interests of the company.

I can't tell you how much this resonated with me.

Over the past year I worked on a project team of four people.  I can say, without a doubt, that this was the best team I've ever worked with in my working career.  We could meet for 2 to 4 hours straight, work together or on our own, joke about how I thought the vet in Sesame Street was cute and they found her and said she looks like a witch.

Through it all though we got things done.

This quote put into words incredibly well the feelings I still have remembering that team experience.

Any teams you lead, and as I begin to take on the leadership of Eucharistic Ministers, Acolytes and such in my church, I plan on making this a reality.  If our meetings are dull, slow or passionless than we'll be working on some serious friendship building.

I definitely have this book on my Amazon Wishlist.

What meetings and teams have you worked with that you'll never forget?  What made them so memorable?

Peace,
+Tom

Friday, July 20, 2007

Predictions Revisited

Way back in January, and a blog host ago I made a couple different predictions, one which I knew would happen this year.  Turns out I was right!  The Wii will soon have a game called Wii Fit which has you spinning virtual hula hoops, skiing and rolling marbles with your body. 

I'll probably pick it up, but it may hurt this finely tuned belly o' fat I've been proudly forming the past few years.  I'll just have to play in moderation I guess.

Peace,
+Tom

There's a New Tool in Town

As a side job from my lucrative blogging career, I'm also a Web developer and project manager primarily in ASP.NET technologies.  With that in mind, this will be a slightly technical post.

People bad mouth Microsoft all of the time.  I'm not saying they're right all the time, and I am considering switching to a Mac sometime in the future since Parallels integrates so well (I'm just sick of my computer getting slower and slower over a year of use).  With all that in mind, Microsoft does have some incredibly great products and has recently been making it easier for me to recommend them to people.

I was reading Scott Guthrie's blog about the upcoming Visual Studio 2008.  While Visual Studio has previously really focused on using .NET technologies to build applications (some may say I'm wrong, but it's clearly true), I think that's changing with VS 2008.

Scott has this post about how VS 2008 will provide JavaScript intellisense (it'll pop up available choices while you type) and and will make it very easy to debug JavaScript (just click the line number).  VS 2008 will also allow you to type code in one window and see it immediately in the designer window below.

Yes, Dreamweaver already does that.  Heck, there are tons of Web development tools out there that do that, Microsoft is WAY behind here.  So very true that.

But . . . (see how I use ellipses correctly, thank you Grammar Girl)

Do they do it for free?

While I don't use Visual Studio Express in my day to day work, I have played with it.  VS 2008 is going to provide all of the Dreamweaver functionality you really want . . . for free.

Microsoft really is getting this right.  They're putting tools into peoples' hands who otherwise couldn't afford it.  They're also making tools which people will actually want to use (if you think I'm wrong look at Sun's free Java IDE, it pretty much mimics Visual Studio 2003).

If you are interested in writing Web pages for the Web, Visual Studio 2008 is entirely worth the wait.

Peace,
+Tom

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Christ and Christianity

My Pageflakes page had the following quote from Quotiki:

I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.

- Mahatma Gandhi

I can definitely relate to this statement.  When I look at some of the infighting going on within churches and denominations I have to come back to the same thought, that we call ourselves Christians but we still don't get it.

There is one primary teaching Christ brought which changed everything.  We must love one another as he loved us.  We must live our lives in love and as an expression of that love for each-other.

If someone is letting their responsibilities slide we must find a time to meet with them face to face and lovingly figure out what is going on and find a solution.  Avoiding the problem never helps and it's certainly not what Christ taught.

I was talking to someone recently as we looked at some options for a leadership position.  One of the concerns came up that we need to find a person who is willing to think outside the norm and be willing to lead and defend change.

So many people I know fall into Christianity because it is the right thing to do.  Especially in the Episcopal Church, and Catholics to be fair, we have the same service each week, with communion and the same format.  It's been like that for years and brings a strong sense of comfort.  I know that no matter what church I go to I will have the same prayers, the same format and shared communion.

The problem is that I can become so used to that that I'm unwilling to change.  A few years back it was suggested our contemporary service stop doing communion every week to make time for other unique opportunities.  I hated the idea.  Now that I think about it I was so used to what I knew I was unwilling to change.

All Christ ever thought about was change.  His purpose for being was to change every aspect of my life so that is focused wholly on loving him and everyone around me. 

Having a willingness to experience new things is key to this love taking place.

As I think about becoming a priest I sometimes wonder if the Episcopal Church is ready for me.  I like traditional services, but if I were to lead a church I would very strongly do away with the traditional service and focus energies on some of the lively and unique options which come from non-denominational churches.

I'd keep the Eucharist, but modify it so that our prayers focus on how Christ is moving our church that week.

Pretty much everything else is open to modification.  Robes? optional.  Hymns? optional.  Readings? optional or presented in a different format. How can we focus on the church building when our neighbors are crying for help?

I wonder how many feathers I'm going to be able to ruffle and how many lives I'll get to change.

Peace,
+Tom

Interabang

I've been listening to the Grammar Girl podcast for a couple of months now, and I highly recommend it.  Turns out I was apparently educated well since I follow almost all of the grammar suggestions she has without really thinking about it.  While I rarely use ellipses, turns out I've been using them incorrectly, they need a space before and after and should correctly be written . . .  I'm also not so great with semicolons.

In any case, Erin and I are now listening to the podcast on the way into work and I think she likes it as much as I do; as evidenced by the fact that she actually stayed awake all the way into work.

InterabangThere were some great things in the episodes we heard today.   We heard about spoonerisms and a whole bunch of other things.  But one what struck home and got me incredibly excited was the interabang (interrobang is a variant)‽

What is it you ask?  I used to like to be surprised or questions and say something like, "What were you thinking?!?!?"  Now I've been educated.  First because the question mark goes within the quotes in my earlier sentence, but more importantly that I should NOT be using ?!?!? 

It's interabang time!

Expect to see it peppered throughout future posts, I love the English language.

Peace,
+Tom

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Kwik-E-Mart

No one took me up on my offer of checking out the 7-Eleven turned Kwik-E-Mart in Maryland after my previous post.  Thankfully there are more people in the world than read my blog.  So tonight at 9 we headed out to the Kwik-E-Mart about an hour away.

This really is what I love about churches and the community which forms.  Here are a bunch of people who have stuff to do tomorrow but decide after 1 second of deliberation, if that, to get in the car and check out the Kwik-E-Mart advertising the Simpson's movie.

After a car ride over watching my brother on Judge Joe Brown (apparently he has a TON of my mannerisms according to the teens), talking about gay porn (no so much talking as just shouting out the term randomly), talking about movies and God knows what else, we got to the store.

Believe it or not, the place was pretty busy.  There was a long line of people checking out with an incredibly frazzled yet also incredibly kind and considerate woman checking us out (we even got to meet her son, he was just in front of us in line... Looked nothing like her).

There are a bunch of pictures up on Flickr.

My point of it all?  There is absolutely no point.  It was an awesome night of being impulsive, driving 2 hours to spend 15 minutes in a 7-Eleven, singing horribly, joking and creating memories that will last forever.  Man I'm going to miss these guys.

Sometimes life happens when you least expect it.  How are you stepping out and being crazy?

Oh yeah, and I am now the proud owner of a case of Buzz Cola...  It's pretty gross.

Peace,
+Tom

Monday, July 16, 2007

Youth Sunday

I posted two videos up to YouTube over a month ago but only now realized that I wanted to put them into a blog post.  There are a bunch of teens at St. Matthew's who have graduated and are heading off to college.  Two of them, Alex and Christine, gave sermons on youth Sunday.  In case you were interested, here they are.

Alex

Christine

These guys are great!

Peace,
+Tom

Living the Story

I'm sure this has been done many times before.  But since I know so little about 3D rendering and such, I figured I'd mention How a traditional Chinese painting looks in 3d...  and animated.

While the animation and such is pretty cool, I was more struck by how the animation really offers a completely unique way to become a part of the painting.

I watched the stupid fish who couldn't catch one pellet of food while the flowers swayed in the back.  I watched the lady feeding those fish as she sat by the pond and read.  More than anything though, I experienced that painting in a way I never have before.

Just like being in an art gallery might sometimes give you picture overload and you gloss over pieces, I doubt you'd be able to watch more than one or two of these at a time to get anything out of it.  The painting is all about the emotions and the story it evokes in you.  This video reminds me how important it is to really dive into what you see.

Peace,
+Tom

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Loneliness

Rachel has always had a hard time going to sleep.  There have been spurts where she does well, but in general we'll have to go back into her room again, and again, and again, and again, and...  well, you get the picture.  Sometimes this lasts for up to two hours.

Yesterday we finally figured out some of what is going on.  She told us that she didn't want to be left alone.  That tied with a conversation we all had at a friend's house connected the dots and we figured out that Rachel is afraid to be left alone without the option of having companionship.

In my life I've been blessed to be able to know a lot of different people.  People from all different walks of life and with all sorts of different opinions from mine.  Some of the greatest times in my life have been those where I get to know someone so well that I get to take part in all aspects of their life.  From all of these interactions I've found a couple commonalities which flow across all people.

One of those commonalities we share is that each one of us is a fear of being alone.

Erin finally had a good sit-down with Rachel and talked through a lot of it.  Then I was able to talk to her as I put her to bed at night.  We talked about how Jesus is in the room with her, and with her everywhere.  "And Santa Claus?" was her reply.  Well, of course he is.  The list went on through almost all of the Sesame Street characters, including Rocco, Zoe's pet rock (which "Zoe carries him around" as Rachel said).

In the end Rachel didn't feel alone anymore.  She knew there was someone in the room with her, holding her hand, hugging her, and laying by her side.

She went to sleep immediately. 

I couldn't help thinking that one of the best things any one of us can ever have is someone else to hold our hand and hug us close, no matter what.  For some the only person to do that is Jesus.  For all of us He's the one person who will hold us no matter what, even after we've hurt or defied him so badly that everyone else around us sends us away.

It's gotten me to want to reach out to some of those people I know I've let down or left alone. 

What am I doing for the lonely people I see every day?  What are you?

Peace,
+Tom

2 Minutes or Less

I was reading What Is Anglicanism?, a great article about the Anglican/Episcopal church and the current state of our problems.  There's a timeline of how we ended up here, why Anglicanism is great and some ideas on where we really need to focus.  There's some real hope and promise here.

It's too bad no one is going to read it.

This article is 9 pages long.  Ok, there's a small buffer on the side with navigation, so let's put it at 7 pages of 8 by 10 single-spaced text.  That would equate to about 14 pages of a paperback book.

Let's say you read at an above-average speed.  Say 1 minute per page, all you speed readers can just shut-up.  It will take you 14 minutes to read this post and understand it.

Hold that thought while I digress.

I've been reading through Getting Things Done by David Allen.  I definitely recommend you pick this book up, I came very, very, very close to purchasing this for all the college students in our study group.  If you want to read it but don't have the cash, let me know and I'll buy you a copy.

One of the key practices that I've found useful is that if something takes under 2 minutes to complete, do it.  Anything over 2 minutes gets filed into your To-Do list or scheduled for another time.

Starting this 2 minute practice has helped me immensely.  My Inbox is always empty, since anything in it should either be taken care of immediately (most e-mail replies take far under 2 minutes) or put on the To-Do list for later and deleted from the inbox.

Almost all of my blog reading and article reading also falls into the 2 minute bucket.  I want to read a blog post or article within those two minutes, or I'll "save it for later" meaning that I'll never read it.  I'm sorry, but blogs and news articles just aren't important enough for me to spend large amounts of time on, when I could spend it being productive or with family and friends.

All of us have this same sort of thing wired in.  We call it impatience but really it's a recognition that our time is valuable and if we can't ingest the information quickly then it's not that important.  Dumb subconscious.

Ok, returning from digression.

Unless I have to read that article for work or I'm incredibly interested in the problem, I'm going to be overwhelmed and skip the whole thing.  As it is I missed chunks since I really skimmed a lot of it after the first page.  I have to think 99.9% of the world won't even stick around that long.

What's my point?

Whatever you are doing, think about the two minute rule.  If you're writing, keep it incredibly short, or offer a short synopsis.  If you're talking or telling a story, recognize that the attention span will wane quickly.

There are times when we can go deep and commit time to learning and understanding something.  But if you want to reach the people on the fringe, who are mildly or somewhat interested, 2 is the number of the day.

There's my thought, in under 2 pages (and still long)

Peace,
+Tom

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Who I Am

Any idea what this is?

Apparently that's me?

Honestly, to read the description that's pretty spot-on.  The most interesting part to me?  That big block of yellow and the relatively small block of light blue.  Go on, mouse over them and see what they mean.  I can't say I was surprised.

It's a pretty neat personality test from PersonalDNA.  I always like taking personality tests, since I do believe the core of people doesn't change much, but out own experience does change how we view and interact with the world.  I'd definitely recommend giving it a try, it's pretty thorough.

I guess it's time for me to go invent something.

Peace,
+Tom

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Vision Practicality

Connected I was talking to my friend Mason last night after watching Transformers (definitely worth seeing in the theater) and we somehow got to talking about my previous post about Visions of the Empty Church.  I'm not even sure he realizes it or not, but one of Mason's great gifts is the ability to take a purpose or vision and come up with practical solutions to make it a reality.

We began the conversation about how there's no way to really make money from my previous thoughts on bringing technology to churches.  He then proceeded to come up with a couple of ways to make the service succeed.  Among the ideas were:

  • Providing advice/reviews of products for free for people to implement such as Drupl, MOSS, Google docs, etc.  (I wonder is this could be done as a blog)
  • Offer organized collaboration to connect churches and let them communicate online to discuss items, possibly in forums or some other collaboration software.
  • Come in and give technical advice for a fee (this is the only thing which would make money)

It may not make a billion dollars, but I wonder if it needs to.  Personally I'm fine making nothing so long as we find some way to connect churches with each-other and with those seeking God.

Most things, once I write them down, move happily out of my head.  For some reason this thing isn't following suit.  I guess we'll see where it all goes.

Peace,
+Tom

Friday, July 6, 2007

Kwik-E-Mart

I came across A dozen 7-Elevens transformed into Kwik-E-Marts to promote Simpsons movie.  Loving the Simpsons as I do, I have to check our local one out.  It's at:

4199 Kenilworth Avenue
Bladensburg, MD 20710

I knew this was coming, but now the official location list is here!  One of our semi-local 7-Eleven stores has been transformed into a Kwik-E-Mart, with employees acting as characters and everything.

Anyone up for a field trip with me?

Peace,
+Tom

Good Friends

We had a great visit with my friend Melissa and her family in New Jersey.  On the way home I had this thought.

Good friends are the ones whose house you can visit for a weekend and take over so completely that you can't tell where the owner ands and the visitor begins.

Now that's hospitality.

Peace,
+Tom

Visions of the Empty Church

I was thinking the other day about what I'd love to see as a company vision/mission.

To identify or create cost-effective solutions that meet the specific needs of non-profit and religious organizations.

I was thinking the other day that the majority of churches want need some sort of way to find a way to stay up to date with the current world, but they don't have much (if any) money to do things.

At St. Matthew's we have gobs of information floating around on about 7 different machines.  I say about because we have volunteers with their own computers and their own data which isn't backed up or even known about.

When we have a budget of pretty much nothing, there needs to be someone who can inexpensively offer solutions which focus on meeting the need instead of making money.

In the example I gave above, this company could work with multiple organizations and churches to create a requirement that all church volunteers creating content for the church must have Mozy installed and backing up data to a central church account.  The company may also negotiate lower prices for storage or even co-ordinate multiple churches and organizations to split the cost of off-site storage.

In any case, without some serious dragging into the Internet age, local churches are going to fail.  I look at all of the teens and college students around and already I'm falling behind.  These guys don't communicate over e-mail at all and never check their cell phone voicemail. 

To really reach them and get out information it comes from MySpace messages (though Facebook is taking over there), text messages and speaking directly (on their cell, of course...  or IM).  Truthfully the way these guys communicate and send messages will be completely different from anything I can imagine.

If you think they'll be reading snail mail, you are sadly mistaken.

My point is that if your church isn't actively working to use technology in communication and everything that it does, it's going to be empty in ten to thirty years.

What would a company look like that focused on helping these people with little money jump into the Internet age?

Peace,
+Tom

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Welcome Home

No one's in our guest room. 

We're not in anyone else's guest room. 

We're going out to dinner.

 

It's nice to be home.

 

Peace,
+Tom