Archive for category Geekiness

Church Software

I begin this post having spent almost no time looking at what options may already exist. However, I see the need for a piece of software (preferrably open-source) that could accomplish some of these tasks:

  • Manage church events and calendar items (ideally through interaction with a solid interface like Google Calendar, 30 boxes, Airset, etc.). Would be nice if event planning could include RSVP-type capabilities to alleviate manual planning (e.g. “Are you attending this Saturday? Click here…”).
  • Management of scheduling/duties at a church (Similar to many calendaring options but perhaps a little more “duty roster” focused). Some features might include automatic rescheduling via email (replying with a “cancel” to an event would trigger a notification to admins to find a replacement — that sort of thing)
  • CRM”-like capabilities for sending emails, announcements, etc. to the church body while providing church leaders with the ability to make notes, add  prayer requests and other very church-specific type features.
  • Some sort of document management (possibly again through simple integration with an existing, reliable document management source) for things like procedures, newsletters, meetings, etc. as well as every-week things like bulletins.
  • Newsletter options — email and web version of all “newsletters”. Providing users with the ability to opt-out of email listings but also view old newsletters archived on the website
  • Audio handling. Some interface that would streamline the ability to upload and manage sermon/lecture/class recordings that doesn’t require too much technical knowledge.
  • Budget-related financials — not a full-blown piece of accounting software, but that something that could provide instant feedback to leadership on details of the budget and perhaps summary information to members.
  • Online church directory (not public)
  • Private portal (I know “portal” is such archaic jargon) — but some sort of interface that would allow more insight to member-only items (like the church directory) as well as details like Annual Reports, etc. that may not be intended for the public.

Some of the design goals would include:

  • Lightweight — keep it simple and straightforward
  • No “registration” required — most features would be available to members even if they don’t want to register on the site.
  • Solid and reliable authentication
  • Extensible — I’d be building this for our church, but it would be nice if the concerns of both larger and smaller congregations with different leadership styles could be taken into account.
  • Possibly integrated into an existing CRM (like WordPress) as a plugin.

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It’s been bugging me…

Want to know something scary? There are bugs living on your eyelashes! Yes, that’s right: little parasitic mites that are similar in some ways to spiders. They enjoy a hardy diet of skin oils and fluids around hair follicles. Yum! They’re mostly harmless but apparently can cause some problems in some folks, in particular a rash (demodicosis or Demodex mite bite) or some inflammation of the eyelid (Blepharitis). Interestingly, the older you get, the more likely that you have these. These little guys are less than a millimeter in length but sure do look scary up close. Here are some photos for your viewing pleasure.

Here are three of these little bugs, embedded head-first in a hair follicle:

And a nice shot showing the whole body:

There’s some neat information on Wikipedia and also quite a few anecdotes on Google of people dealing with bites and solutions for them. For most of us, they’re just disgusting little reminders that we’re not as clean as we like to think.

Also, “Demodex and the Mitey Blepharitis” would be a sweet name for a rock band.


How often to commit

… in the context of coding that is.

I’m intrigued to know how often developers reading this commit code and why? Frequent commits are trendy these days, the “hip” developers are all doing it (I don’t know if I qualify as “hip” but I’ll pretend I do). Especially with the advent (or at least wide-spread adoption) of distributing revision control systems like Git, frequent commits seem like a great idea. All of the backing up of code and high level of granularity in changes without the pain of constant difficult merges.

I work with a lot of older developers who have been coding since before I was born. These developers (who have a lot of experience and knowledge) always seem very reluctant to make frequent commits and also seem annoyed that they’re expected to comment their commits. To me, it’s very natural and I find it confusing and bewildering working even a relatively small project without any commits that are at least tied to requirements or specific major features of the application.

Any war stories with regards to version control systems, older developers, and general crankiness with the combination of these two?

A good StackOverflow post here has some good thoughts.

(The screenshot is on revision 40. Or commit de9f2c7f d25e1b3a fad3e85a 0bd17d9b 100db4b3 if you’re using Git. When I said frequent, I meant it! :-P)

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Playing with Adobe Illustrator

Had some fun this morning playing around a little bit with Illustrator. The intent was to make an insignia similar to the one that D’Harans use in the “Legend of the Seeker”.

Specifically this one:

And also a variant of which is on their breastplate:

Ok, so it’s a little morbid, but I thought it would be super cool if my 3rd-born could have a cape like this (oddly, it really reminds me of him) and so we’d need a pattern to cut out.

I’m very new at Illustrator (but understand the basics) so spent about 30 minutes to create this:

… and then touched it up in Photoshop:

Reminds me a little bit of the Storm Trooper helmet in Star Wars  in a way, but I like the end result. I’ll take some pictures of the cape if/when we complete it.

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MacBook: RIP

Well, OK, maybe it’s a little premature to call it dead, But I’m barely using it anymore. With some notable exceptions, I’m finding my new Windows 7 box to fill most of my day-to-day needs. I still love my Mac and I still mostly despise Microsoft but there are creeping doubts and uncertainties towards Apple at this point. I’m not liking their decisions regarding Google, I’m not liking the direction they’re heading, and it seems like maybe the glory days are now behind them.

If I had my druthers (whatever they are), I’d still prefer a new MacBook Pro (or Mac Pro) over virtually any system. They’re pretty, the OS is immaculate and I feel productive, secure, and efficient. But there are some issues. I know these are super, super specific issues that many users don’t care about. But it means something to me:

  • Non-finalized CD support. I’m talking specifically about the application ISObuster for Windows here. OS X tends to be easy to use and simplified but sometimes you need something a little closer to the metal. I know of no such tool on OS X that can open up non-finalized CDs. This seems to be a common issue in some cases. OS X works beautifully for 99% of the time, but it seems impossible to do certain tasks. Know of a tool that will do this under OS X? I’d love to know.

But there are some real advantages of OS X too that I’ve hit:

  • Sound routing. I love the Soundflower application. It allows you to virtually route sound around the OS. It presents as a playback and  recording device and it just plain works. When I want to record something from a YouTube video that I’m listening to, I can pop open my preferences, route to the Soundflower device and then record from that device in Audacity. It takes just seconds and it works nicely (incidentally this is how I convert MIDI to MP3 as well).
  • Command line tools that work. Putty works OK on Windows for SSH’ing but why can’t it just be part of the base OS? Grep, Cat, etc. I love my command line and Windows just doesn’t have the same depth. I know Cygwin exists. It never seems to work that well, always seems to have some issues here or there but I suppose it’s better than nothing.

In addition to the above (and the fact that OS X is clearly just way cooler), I’m really enjoying my new iPad. How can you not like it? It’s magical! I find myself doing a lot of the typical blog reading, email checking, and movie watching on this. It’s powerful, quick, and the battery lasts a long time. Not the easiest for input (as in replying to long emails or making blog posts) but with an Apple Bluetooth keyboard, it definitely comes close.

Update: As I was finalizing this, I realized that in fact, the Macbook may be toast. My oldest son (who I love dearly, but still) may have destroyed it. It won’t boot and this is just AFTER I replaced the screen (which I cracked on our last road trip). I’ll probably try to salvage it and maybe get it booting again if that’s possible, but I think I’ll be posting it soon on Craigslist. Anyone want a “well-loved” black Macbook? I’d be willing to sell for a good price…


Security Cameras

I have another project in the works… I bought a security camera and some accouterments recently with the hope that I can easily configure up to 4 for my house. We live in a safe [relatively] neighborhood and I’m really much more into this for the geekery of it rather than the practical value although I think it may have some value down the road if any of my customers are interested in security solutions.

Here’s the gear:

540TVL, LED 30pcs, 4.3mm Fixed Lens, 1/3 inch Sony Super HAD II CCD IR Bullet Camera ($62.61 at Monoprice)

Seems like a good price for a camera as solid as this is. I just got this on Tuesday but haven’t got it set up. I’m impressed with the construction and I did verify that the IR is working great (if you want to check for IR, you can set this up to shine its IR LEDs, turn on a digital camera and see the room bathed in “light”). As a side note, I’ve been REALLY pleased with Monoprice. Great prices and solid products. Their camera line is new as of this summer and so far, I’m impressed.

I also picked up some video baluns so I can run the power and video over Cat5e instead of running video and power separately. A lot easier to manage and install and you can terminate them using typical keystone jacks (which makes for a nice clear install).

PV-149 – 4 port video capture card (120FPS) ($154.95 at BlueCherry)

Might be overkill, but it looks like a nice solution. I haven’t purchase this yet, but hope to soon. I may stick with the 4 port model and save a few bucks. This should allow me to use 4 cameras at about 30 frames/second, which is ideal.

I’m planning on using ZoneMinder for the DVR solution. I’ve not used this before, so I’ll definitely do a writeup when I get it up and running. The hope is to get this streaming data to disk but also presenting the video display on a simple web server. I’ve been really irritated by the somewhat more expensive turn-key DVR’s that support video streaming using an ActiveX control. Not that friendly unless you happen to be running Internet Explorer. Yuck.

As I progress, I’ll post details on the install, additional hardware, ZoneMinder installation and configuration, and overall evaluation.

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Death of a Monitor

I have two of these at my desk:

I had for a while (since 2006 or so) and was really pleased with it. Good contrast and color, HDMI interface, very snappy. The controls are very awkward, but after initially configuring it, it was good to go. I purchased a second monitor intending to have a perfect matching set. The second monitor turned out to be a slight hardware revision that include a curved bottom bezel and a number of…. features that were quite annoying. First of all, unlike the first monitor of the same model number, it will not display it’s “native” format of 1920×1200 so I’m stuck with it in 1920×1080. Not terrible, but awfully weird.

About a month ago, it suddenly started acting up. It would randomly just lose the signal and then a little later snap back on (almost like it had a loose connection). This condition went from slightly annoying to unusable within a week and then it stopped displaying at all at 1920×1080. I was able to get an image by reducing the resolution to 1280×768 but it had weird red overlays. My assumption was that it was failing and I bitterly unplugged it and went back to using one monitor. There went my productivity.

But thankfully, although I’m still mystified, the story has a good ending. I plugged my monitor back in a week ago and low and behold, the news of its death was greatly exagerated! It’s been working flawlessly ever since. I think it may have been driver related but I’m just thankful it’s back.

At my full-time gig, I also have dual monitors, although the overall resolution is a lot lower. I’ve found that it’s a huge time saver… One side is my code, and the other is the dev web site. The problem is that now I’m spoiled; I tried to work recently on my 1360×768 laptop and felt like I couldn’t see anything.

How about your setup? Do you use two monitors? If so, can you live without your second monitor once you’ve used it for a while?

Lifehacker has some great tips and links to tools for dual monitor setups.

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Project Idea #35: Auto Tasks via Email

Create a program that is designed to parse and track projects and tasks from emails alone. The point would be to make it completely non-intrusive (albeit not entirely non-interactive). So for example, when composing a message to a client or customer you might be asking a question. You want a response (there’s a “task” outstanding that’s pending a decision or some action). You would simply BCC the special mailbox. The message would be parsed and tracked. When the user replies, the same program is monitoring your incoming mailbox items. When the message arrives it would attempt to interpret whether the task was complete or not. It could then fire a simple email to you indicating that it THINKS that the task is complete with a simple Yes/No form that would let you close the task or not and also possibly make notes or record anything of interest. Or alternatively you could manually complete tasks by forwarding the message to the same mailbox.

This probably is not incredibly value in its proposed form — I’m sure something similar exists. But it would be fun to work on and would be neat to see how smart you could train it to be. Introduction of learning algorithms that would adapt to particular users would be even better.

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New Studio Speakers

I went ahead and got some new studio speakers for my home office. These are the M-Audio BX5a. The Logitech system didn’t sound terrible (especially at normal volumes) but it was cluttery and was difficult to work with. The new system has less bass (no subwoofer) but they sound very clean and seem to perform quite well with everything that I’ve thrown at it. It’s a new experience to me because I’ve never really distinctly noticed the different between “muddy” sound and what I hear now.

Mine don’t look quite as nice — the exterior case design is a little older. But still a good buy overall.

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Versioning for S3

I just got this notice in my email:

We are pleased to announce the availability of the Versioning feature for beta use across all of our Amazon S3 Regions. Versioning allows you to preserve, retrieve, and restore every version of every object in an Amazon S3 bucket. Once you enable Versioning for a bucket, Amazon S3 preserves existing objects any time you perform a PUT, POST, COPY, or DELETE operation on them. By default, GET requests will retrieve the most recently written version. Older versions of an overwritten or deleted object can be retrieved by specifying a version in the request.

Amazon S3 provides customers with a highly durable storage infrastructure. Versioning offers an additional level of protection by providing a means of recovery when customers accidentally overwrite or delete objects. This allows you to easily recover from unintended user actions and application failures. You can also use Versioning for data retention and archiving.

This is some slick stuff. I’m amazed… I just wish I had more time to play with it. For now, Amazon continues to impress.


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