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