Organize Series Plugin Released!

Finally, I’ve managed to assemble a release-worthy version of some code I’ve been using for a while on my sermons site. When I was developing the site for hosting all the various messages I preach at my church I looked unsuccessfully for a plug-in that I could use that would help in the organization and presentation of sermon series.

Finally, I decided to take the plunge and write up some code myself. Please understand, I’m very limited in my skills at programming in PHP/MySql so what may take some a few hours ends up taking me a few weeks! Nevertheless with much persistence I came up with something that has served me well at unshamedsermons.com.

Then came the new design for my church website and my interest in starting to write “series” articles here at this blog and I started looking at packaging the crude code I was using for my sermons into a generic, yet more robust plugin that can be dropped into a fresh wordpress install and make available a way to present special series articles on one’s blog.

The end result is this first release (in other words I’m planning on continuing to develop this plugin) of the Organize Series plugin (I know, creative name isn’t it?). I decided to release it to the wild (i.e. public) as a way of giving back to a wordpress community that has helped me so much (albeit without probably knowing it that much!). Anyway, head on over to the Organize Series Plugin page to read more about it and download it!

P.S. I’m fairly certain that no hamsters were harmed in the creation of this plugin (although a few hair roots were demolished).

Hamachi : Stay Connected – a VPN solution.

LogMeIn FreeI’ve been using a service for sometime now called “LogMeIn” as a way of remotely controlling the computers I have access to. In my opinion, the developers of LogMeIn have designed the premier way of remotely accessing any computers you have connected (via a broadband connection mind you) to the internet. The best thing? It’s free! If you haven’t heard of them I suggest you take a quick browse over and check it out. To quickly summarize what LogMeIn is:

  • LogMeIn signupYou sign up for a free account and download the software to the computer you want to be able to remotely control. (you can do this for any computer you want to be able to access)
  • After setting up the software (painless) that computer is now accessible via the LogMeIn interface via any browser on any computer (err…by any I mean IE or Firefox – the only two browsers I’ve used with it ;)).
  • LogMeIn InstallWhen you browse to the LogMeIn website and log in your account a list of computers you have installed LogMeIn on will be shown. You just click on the link for the computer you want to visit, install any browser plugins that may be necessary (if this is the first time you’ve used LogMeIn with that browser), enter in the password you chose for that computer (that’s right – two layers of protection besides the encrypted tunneling) and then you’ll be able to choose from a list of options once you are connected.
  • The primary option I use (the paid account enables other things like File Sharing, and Print to local printer) is the Remote Control. When you click on it the display for the computer you are LogMeIn Remote Controlconnecting to will come up in the browser and you will be able to control that computer as if you were sitting in front of it (mouse, keyboard input etc.) – pretty nifty eh?

Needless to say – this service is something that has been a real boon for connecting with my office computer and doing work. I’ve also installed LogMeIn on some of my relatives computers so that when they have problems or need help doing something (because of their unfamiliarity with computers) I can log into their computer for them and they can watch what I do (or vice versa) while troubleshooting/fixing the problem.

So the LogMeIn service is great. Well, when I was on it recently I noticed via a spot ad on their page that there is a new service called “Hamachi“. What intrigued me about this service is that it enables Virtual Private Networking (VPN) in a “automatic” way (via a simple install) so that you can connect to another computer (or network) remotely and be “networked” together. With this service you can potentially share files and printers, map network drives, do gaming over lan etc. In their words,

LogMeIn Hamachi is a zero-configuration virtual private networking (VPN) application.

In other words Hamachi is a program that allows you to arrange multiple computers into their own secure network just as if they were connected by a physical network cable.

Hamachi is fast, secure and simple. Its core version is also free.

For my church this would come in really handy for our current treasurer as she would be able to use VPN to map a network drive from our church network to her home computer and install the network version of the membership/accounting software we use at the church.

Well I decided to give a go at installing Hamachi (did I mention it’s free too? Gotta love those guys at LogMeIn!) and had no problem with the initial setup until I tried sharing files. On the office computer I could “see” my Home computer on the network okay and even view the shared folders I had marked there “but” when I tried to access the network I set up from my home computer I kept getting this error message: “the network is not present or not started”.

Since I’m a mediocre network guru at best (translation, I know enough to get by ;)) I hadn’t a clue what the problem was. The Hamachi forums didn’t seem to have any solutions (and I tried anything I thought might work) and I had fun (written with sarcasm) reading unsuccessfully through the Microsoft Support docs. After 3 hours of trial and error I was just about to give up on getting Hamachi to work when as a last resort I googled the error message (which is what I should’ve done in the first place!) and found out that the problem was the “workgroup” service was disabled (see the services.msc list). I must have disabled it when I was “tweaking” around with my windows settings to try improve performance (note to self – unless you understand what you are doing…no tweaking!). When I enabled the service – bingo! I now was connected via Hamachi (and the VPN it set up) to my church network!

Some quick observations about Hamachi:

  • It’s free!
  • Yes, it creates a VPN but speed is somewhat affected because packets first travel to the Hamachi server and then to the networked computer(s) (VVPN?)
  • For it to work with any degree of usability you will need broadband connections at all points on the network.
  • The software installs great but if you are wanting to file/printer share there are still some things to do in getting windows to cooperate (which from what I read and understood, the Hamachi developers are saying is a windows limitation out of their control). This necessitates having some knowledge of how networks work and/or a good friend who can help troubleshoot.
  • Apparently, Hamachi is supposed to work with Mac OsX as well but since I don’t have a Mac I don’t know how well it works.

Besides using Hamachi for the reason I already stated above, another great use for me is to be able to synchronize files between my home computer and the office computer. Thus using Hamachi and “Allway Sync” coupled with the Windows scheduler service I always have a worry-free backup of essential files between the two computers! Talk about convenience!

Upcoming Service: stikkit – hmm interesting!

Stikkit Website ScreenshotI’ve come across this new Web 2.0 service currently in beta that looks like it will be a very promising service! What is it? The short version is that it is yet another online calendar, to-do list, address book organizer. Where it differs from others is in the unique method of entering in your data. It promises to function kind of like a personal assistant in that all you do is type the info (or cut and paste, or email?) into a “stikkit” interface (kind of like those stick-it notes we can’t seem to get rid of!) and as you are typing the service will work in the background automatically adding the information to the correct places (events to calendars, to-do’s to your to-do list, people to your address book etc.). Then you get your standard different ways of displaying the information.

Well I signed up for the beta and took a quick peek. Looks good but I won’t be using it much until they implement the live update (via .rss/subscriptions) and/or export features. They’ve currently got import and export but it requires user prompting before it’ll do it. Once that gets integrated I’ll probably give it a whirl…unless I forget about it before then :lol:!

The key to blogging for the long haul…

Even though I’m still relatively new to the blogosphere (I’ve been blogging since May 2006 – see my first post!) I have been journaling off and on for quite a few years and blogging and journaling share some similarities in terms of what gives lasting power. Of course, there are pretty significant differences between the two (the primary one being the “public” and journalistic feel of a blog vs. the private and diary feel of a personal journal) but for the purpose of this article I think I can write out of some modicum of experience! Another reason that contributes to a measure of insight found in this article is the fact that even though I haven’t blogged myself until recently, I’ve been an avid reader of other peoples blogs for quite a while – there’s certain things that are common among bloggers with lasting power that stick out to me.
Anyway, the purpose of this article is to answer the question, “What are characteristics that keep someone blogging for the long haul?” According to David Sifry’s, “State of the Blogosphere Report” for August 2006 Technorati tracked it’s 50 millionth blog! Now that’s a lot of writer’s out there – however according to a comment David made in response to Glenn Fannick’s article, “Technorati’s Active Blogs — Perhaps 1.4 Million?“,

55% of all the blogs we track have had at least one post in the last 3 months.

Just over 11% have posted in the last week.

That means that 27.5 million blogs have made a post in the last 3 months and a little over 5 million have made a post in the past week. Now regardless of the debate over how many actual active blogs there are (which also depends on what criteria you use for measuring active!) the point I want to make is that there is a huge number of people who enter the blogosphere who simply create a blog and then never visit it again. So what gives – for the percentage of people who contribute regularly and maintain an “active” blog? The following is my “short-list” of indicators that suggest that a person who blogs will be still blogging 5 years from now:

First on the list is they like writing

It goes without saying that if you don’t like writing (or creating any other sort of content – ergo pictures/audio/video etc. – that have become an increasing new medium for bloggers) then your blog probably won’t last that long.

A pretty important component of this indicator that can’t be overlooked is the subtext, “do they have something to say?” If you start a blog simply to say, “I have a blog” but don’t really have a reason for creating the blog then more than likely you won’t be blogging very long!

Second, they like tweaking their blog

What tweaking am I talking about? Everything from simple things like changing a few colors to the type-face all the way to the more complex which involves getting your hands dirty in the actual code. Now the amount and complexity of tweaking may vary between individual “long-haul” bloggers but nevertheless a common characteristic is that all of them have had some involvement in tweaking their blog to their own liking. How many active bloggers you know have not changed their blog layout/structure/colors in some way in the past 3 months (let alone years…)?

Third, their initial experience with blog-ware

Currently there are a plethora of varying blogging tools available to choose from. Everything from Google’s Blogger, to the much hyped MySpace, and my personal favorite WordPress (both the hosted and self-hosting versions). A bloggers initial experience with the blog-ware he/she chooses will have bearing on whether they become an active blogger. Is the tool easy to use? Does it let them do what they want? Is it a pain to maintain (enter in spam)? Does it “break down” a lot? All of these are examples of some of the factors that play into the initial experience of a baby blogger. I remember my first foray into blogging came in the form of creating a Blogger.com account over a year ago. It looked like a great service but at the time I just didn’t like the restrictions placed on what I could do in terms of overall design (because I’m a heavy “tweaker” personality…and don’t twist that into something else :lol:!) I think I posted one article and then I quit. I didn’t even think about blogging again until I came across WordPress…but that’s another story 😉

Fourth, do they contribute to the blogosphere somehow?

This contribution can come in the form of commenting on other people’s blogs, creating themes and/or plugins for others to use, or providing content that other’s benefit from. Although, personal journaling has it’s benefits and I know some long-haul bloggers often write about things that happen in their lives but people who have long-lasting activity in the blog-world are folks who also contribute in someway to the blogosphere (other than only keeping a daily journal that just themselves and a few family members might enjoy).

Fifth, they don’t worry about posting every single day or sticking to a routine schedule

That’s not to say that having a routine schedule for posting is bad but simply that long-haul bloggers don’t worry if they miss a few days or have a lapse in their schedule for posting. There’s nothing that kills a bloggers enthusiasm more than feeling they just have to post every day to their blog! Of course there are some that enjoy doing that but that’s the point – long-haul bloggers post regularly to their blog but don’t do so out of obligation but because they have something to say!

That’s why nailing down a definition of an active blogger can be so difficult because does someone have to post every day to be considered active? In my opinion, no.

Sixth, they don’t worry about writing “mongo-size” posts everytime they post to their blog!

If a blogger is trying to come up with a change-the-world kind of article every time they post they’ll quickly run out of juice and lose enthusiasm. Not only that but blog-readers, for the most part, have an upper limit of about 5 minutes for tolerance in reading an article. In terms of blogging longevity (from the standpoint of the blogger) it’s better to make frequent small posts interspersed with the odd monster rather than trying to maintain a book writing attitude with every blog entry.

As a side-note – a lot of long-haul bloggers I read write series which is a good way of keeping short posts but at the same time tackling a subject that requires more than a few lines. As a plus, writing something as a series contributes to keeping you blogging!

Finally, the seventh indicator is they aren’t obsessed with whether the world reads their blog or not

At first, this indicator may appear to conflict with what I wrote for the fourth indicator (do they contribute to the blogosphere somehow) but it really doesn’t because the point I’m making here is more about that inane behaviour people have of wanting to be liked by others. On the blogosphere this can be a blog-killer. Long-haul bloggers aren’t consumed with building up the biggest following of readers (not to say that doesn’t interest them – of course it does – but it’s not the driving force behind them blogging) but are more interested in the content they post.

The truth is, the majority of bloggers will not build up any significant following of readers and if the only reason you are blogging is to see how many comments you’ve got that day, or for statistics junkies – seeing how many “hits” you’ve got – then blogging will quickly become boring and at best you’ll abandon your block and at worst you’ll become the anathema of the blogosphere – a splogger – stealing content from other popular blogs to drive your page rank up and satisfy your appetite for recognition (and the spin-off ad money of course you hope to get). Of course this isn’t to say all sploggers start out this way but for people who are obsessed with counting hits (as a primary motivator for blogging) splogging is certainly a real possibility.

There you have it – my short list (ha!) of indicators that I believe point towards someone becoming (or the reason they are) a long-haul blogger. To summarize:

  1. They like writing (and have something to write about!)
  2. They like tweaking their blog.
  3. What their initial experience with blog-ware is like.
  4. Do they contribute to the blogosphere somehow?
  5. They don’t worry about posting every day or sticking to a routine schedule.
  6. They don’t worry about writing mongo-size posts every time they write to their blog.
  7. They aren’t obsessed with whether everyone in the world reads their blog or not.

As usual, I look forward to any feedback you might have to offer!

Oh how I dislike IE…

I’ll probably post more on this subject as time goes on but one thing that has really irked me in this last few days as I’ve worked on designing my first theme is the workarounds one has to go through to have something that appears right using Firefox look the same in IE.

I never realized the degree of difference between the two browsers (innards wise anyway) until I started learning css and fooling around with it more.? I used to be an IE fan but I got hooked on Firefox when I discovered tab browsing and the incredible array of extensions and plug-ins you can get for it.? Recently I installed the developer toolbar extension by Chris Pederick and it really does help in rooting out coding and design bugs…in Firefox anyway.

I really am not a great coder by any means but just the feel of using Firefox is a lot better than IE.? Looking at your site over and over again on Firefox as you design it is like having a nice smooth milkshake compared to eating sand when working with IE.

And to think I actually liked using Internet Explorer all those years…well I’m chasing the fox now!

Wireless Wonder World

WirelessMy wife and I had to take one of my daughters (Jenna) to London for a special test today at the Children’s Hospital. She’s undergoing a hearing threshold test to determine the degree of hearing loss she has. That isn’t the point of this post however (but do keep her in prayer!). I’m writing this from our hotel room and that’s the reason for this post.

I’m simply amazed with the capabilities of wireless networking! Back in January of this year our church upgraded our computers and we added a network and of course I had the fun job of installing everything :). Since the cost of wireless had come down so much I decided to go ahead and save work (threading wires through tight spaces is no fun) by putting in a wireless router and buying some cheap D-Link USB Adapters to plug in the computers. I learned alot in the process, not only about networking but also specifically wireless networking.

One of the tools I discovered that has proven to be a great help is Network Magic by Pure Networks. While I feel I have a pretty good handle on how networking works (sharing files, printers etc.) without using Network Magic I still decided to purchase it for the church anyway because it makes things dramatically quicker and easier to use and is a big time saver. If you are new to networks NM will help you get up and running in no time. If you are a network guru its features and time-savers are worth the price too!

Anyway I’m diverging from the purpose of my post (although it’s not too far off topic 😆 ). Before leaving for this trip to London I remembered reading an article somewhere about how most hotel chains have installed wireless networking in their facilities so that guests can have free wireless internet connection when staying in their rooms. So I thought, what the heck, I’ll grab the churches laptop and the D-Link USB adapter and give it a go when I get to the Day’s Inn in London. What do you know – 20 minutes after arriving I’m on the net! How cool is that. What’s more, I also use a program called Logmein which allows you to connect to your computer over the internet and control it as if you were sitting right in front of it. I have it installed on my desktop at the church as well as my computer at home. Well I decided to connect to my computer at home and see if I could get my mom’s attention who is watching our other three kids while we’re away. I connected, opened up notepad and then loaded up winamp, set the volume at max and played a song. I wrote a little hello message in notepad and then waited. 10 secs later Mom started typing in notepad and we ended up having a nice chat. Then after that I connected to my office computer and checked my email and tied up some loose ends there. I tell ya…all this from the comfort of a nice easy chair in our room.

From now on, anytime we’re going to be stayin over at a hotel somewhere I’m going to be sure to bring along my laptop!

Things not to do with email…

I came across a post at the “43 Folders” blog (Writing sensible email messages) that has some good pointers on writing useful email messages. I won’t rehash it all here but it got me thinking of some of the things I’ve learned over the years with all the emails I’ve handled (and if you’re anything like me you know what a nuisance spam is…but then nobody is immune!) Anyway, I’m surprised how many people still follow such poor email habits that I thought I’d write a list of things not to do with email…hopefully it will be helpful.

1. Don’t be a lazy forwarder…

What is a lazy forwarder? A “LF” is someone who gets a joke, or chain letter, or story from someone via email and fowards it to everyone in their address list. I usually delete close to 95% of such emails I get from people simply because a. The subject field has a, “[FWD – Cute joke lucy!]” or b. I just don’t have the time to be reading all these things. Half the time I wonder if the person sending me the forward even knows that they sent it to me.
Some helpful pointers:

  • Before forwarding something ask yourself if what you are about to pass along is something you’d print out a hard copy of, place in an envelope and plant a stamp on to send to everyone in your address list.
  • Although it takes more time…take the time to find out whether people in your address book actually want to receive those jokes, stories, or chain letters that you just have to forward. Use your email program’s groups to make it easier to differentiate between these people. It will take a little time to set up but if you are a compulsive forwarder DO IT!
  • If you forward something, do a little editing to ensure that the “meat” of the email is what is seen first. Cut out all the comments that people added (“This is funny”, “Cool”, “LMAO”, etc.) and just leave the original text. The biggest reason why I delete any forwarded emails I get is when I have to scroll to find the original – now i don’t even bother…I just crumple it up and trash it (well, figuratively speaking!)
  • Then, make sure the subject field contains a good description of the contents. It also doesn’t hurt to add a brief message to your recipient(s) to indicate that you’ve actually read it.

2. Don’t be a myth propagator!

There are numerous myths, urban legends, and hoaxes that circulate through the internet and via email. A myth propagator is someone who receives one of these things and right away thinks to themselves, “Oh my! I’ve gotta pass this on…I can’t believe it!”. Then the “MP” proceeds to forward it to everyone in their address book. The problem is, they shouldn’t have believed it! Just this week I received three emails from friends that were forwarded hoaxes. Remember:

  • Not everything you receive from people (even friends/trusted people because they probably just were LF’ing it) via email is true. Before you send it off to someone else check out the story…if you’re too lazy to check it out then don’t bother forwarding it. A good resource I use all the time that helps me determine if something is a hoax or not is www.snopes.com
  • Sending off stuff that is a hoax passed off for fact can be detrimental to your credibility – do you really want to become known as the joe who believes anything that comes through their inbox?
  • Sadly, I find that Christians tend to be among the most prolific “MP’s” when we should be vigilant at what we pass on as fact. Alot of the hoaxes that I get in my inbox have to do with religious themes.
  • When in doubt, and a story can’t be verified – don’t send it unless you can verify it.

3. Don’t be an Attachment Queen!

Email has given us the wonderful ability to send documents, pictures, and different files to friends, workmates, and others. Attachment Queens are people who fill up their email with so many “attached” files that instead of taking milli-seconds to open an email, it takes 2-3 seconds to open theirs (even longer for dial-up users). I’m not against sending pictures via emails but please, please don’t send a whole album! Also, take the time to resize your pictures so that the file size is smaller. Most photo album or editing software will automatically do this for you when you use it to send the pictures via email (some good software that I use is Picasa by google. Best of all – it’s FREE!)

Well that’s just a few of my suggestions for things not to do with email. It would make all our inboxes a whole lot less cluttered if there were less LF’s, MP’s, and AQ’s in the world…wouldn’t you agree?

Ugh…a bug!

UPDATE (June 4, 2006; 12:47am): I think I’ve crushed this bug…please comment if you notice anything awry though. Thanks!

Well, you may have noticed that I’ve been hard at work changing the theme and adding various things to my blog. Well…some are things you’ll notice, some are things you won’t. Anyway, i just realized that this theme doesn’t display my photo gallery that well which means I have to do some more…yes, you guessed it…tweaking! hehe. Looks like I’ll have to play around with the .css and stylesheets BUT I can’t get to it right now…I’ve already stayed up past my bedtime. I just thought I’d put this post up so that in case anyone was browsing the picture albums (yeah right! :lol:) they’ll know that, yes “I know there’s something wrong with the page…”

Tweaking, tweaking…and yes more tweaking

I haven’t posted much lately because in the little spare time I’ve had the last few days I’ve been downloading and testing out various themes, widgets, and plug-ins for my blog.? It’s something I can’t seem to avoid – I always have to be modifying or “fiddling around” with things on any websites I maintain.? Anyhoo, there may be some funny things happening with this blog off and on in the next few days as I transfer what works on test to my live blog…hopefully everything will work okay lol.

Continuing work on the library…module that is

Well, tonight I put another hour into the design of the library module for Unashamed Online Basically what it will be is an online reference for all the resources available in my church library. It will also have tools for our church librarian to manage the resources (i.e. what books are signed out etc.) There will also be links for people to sign out resources when they take it out. I’m not quite sure how it’ll all work yet but it’ll be a good project to further develop my php skills lol! I’m also gonna try doing a bit more css on this module as I need to work on developing those skills as well. Of course all this tends to keep me up late at night (yawn!) I’ll need to be careful I don’t put too much time into it hehe.