It’s About Time

First of all, if you are reading this, I’m not sure whether to say “thanks” or “why are you still here?”. It’s been a long time since there was any activity on this blog, but in the interest of not going a full year without a post, I’ve decided to take a little time to give you an update.

This past year has been absolutely fantastic. I really don’t even know where to begin to describe it, except to say that God has blessed me far beyond anything I deserve. He’s given me so much favor and allowed me to do things that I am not qualified or educated for, and yet have had incredible success in.

The hardest part so far is answering the question “what do you do?”. You see, I thought that I would be working primarily on software development projects (web applications, portals, etc.), which are fairly easy to describe and summarize. However, I’ve been doing some less technical work, such as workflow and process improvement, communications coaching, and even working to repair strained relationships within businesses (departments that don’t work well together, etc.). That stuff is a little more difficult to explain in a quick sentence or sum up in a job title. I may still do the technical work (in fact, I’m doing a more technical system implementation / customization job right now), but the other, less tangible work seems to be a huge need that I’m finding and being able to fill well, so I suspect there will be more of that to come.

Aside from work, there’s not a whole lot to talk about that hasn’t been discussed on Mary’s blog or one of the kids’ blogs.

Our Sunday School class is growing, and we’ve made some changes as of the end of last year. It’s no longer a newlywed (or even marriage-specific) class – we’ve opened it up to anyone and changed the focus to more of a general life-application class. I’ve enjoyed getting to teach on some different topics.

I finally got the image stabilization lens I’ve been wanting ever since we bought our Digital Rebel. There’s a whole long story about how I got one that arrived broken and had to return it and found another one on Craigslist, but the guy wanted to trade it for something I didn’t have… yada yada – I got it and I love it. Unfortunately, I haven’t had as much time to go out and use it as I would like, but as soon as the weather warms up, I’ll be planning a trip to the zoo.

I’m also planning to go to Sun-N-Fun for at least a day or two again this year, and will be glad to have the lens then. I went two years ago and really enjoyed it, and got some good pictures. This time around I think that Owen is old enough that I can take him one day, and see how he likes it. I bet he’ll love the air show.

So, uh – what else is new? I bought a Mazda RX-8 in August, and that has been a lot of fun. It’s red with heated leather seats and a navigation system, and of course I got a very good deal on it.

Mary and I went to St. Louis for our 10-year anniversary in November. My parents were kind enough to come up the weekend before Thanksgiving and watch the two older boys so we could take a trip without all the kids (we had to take Aron, who was only two months old). We had a great time visiting one of our favorite cities. If you are ever there, we recommend you visit their zoo – it’s a great one.

We’ve had lots of visitors over the last year or so. I don’t think we’ve gone a full month without someone staying with us, and it’s been really nice. God blessed us with a spacious house a few years back, and I’m so glad we’ve been able to share it.

So, I’m sure there are a ton of things I’m leaving out, but hey, something is better than nothing, right? I would really like to get back into the habit of blogging, but I’m not making any promises. There never seems to be enough time to fit it all in, but we’ll see how it goes.

Stepping Out

It’s been a long time since I posted anything here, and that’s mainly because I have been very consumed for the past couple of months with something that I couldn’t speak very publicly about. That is, until today.

This morning, I submitted my resignation at my job of over 8 years. The best part is that I am not just going to another job – I’m starting (or rather, have started) my own business. I’m going to be an independent consultant, and continue to do many of the things that I have been doing but for a number of different companies instead of just one.

There will be more details forthcoming, and feel free to ask me more about it if you see me, but that’s all I have time to write at the moment. I’m just glad it’s finally official and out in the open.

I have a ton of work to do…

Super Bowl Coaches Share Their Faith

This is definitely worth checking out. The two head coaches of this year’s Super Bowl teams (Tony Dungy of the Colts and Lovie Smith of the Bears) have teamed up with Athletes In Action to create a website to share their stories and most importantly, their faith. Supposedly, there will be ads in major newspapers around the country to promote the website as well.

Take a look:

A Happy Birthday

You Can Eat Cake!I failed to mention in my previous post that it was my birthday on Saturday, and in addition to getting the aquarium all set up, we had a nice little immediate-family-only birthday party. Mary made me a very tasty cake (lemon cake with strawberry jell-o mixed in), and she and the boys sang “Happy Birthday” and gave me a gift – one which requires a brief explanation.

I have mentioned several times in the past my interest in radio-controlled clocks which synchronize themselves automatically with the atomic clock in Boulder, Colorado (the most accurate clock in the world), which is run by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Basically, what happens is that there is a very low frequency radio signal that is broadcast all over the country, with the exact date and time from the atomic clock. You can buy clocks (both digital and analog), which pick up on that signal and set themselves, then check it on a regular basis (usually once per day) to make sure they remain accurate. They automatically adjust for daylight savings time, too, which means you pretty much just turn it on and leave it alone.

Me and My Atomic ClockInaccurate clocks are a pet peave of mine, so I have said before that I’d love to change out all the clocks in our house with radio clocks that will set themselves. Then every clock in the house would not only show the exact same time, but show the correct time (down to the second). I got a portable radio-controled alarm clock at Christmas (from my father-in-law), and now I have a nice analog clock for my office. Two down, about a dozen or so to go…

So, anyway – it was a nice, low-key birthday. It was a lot of work setting up the aquarium, but it was fun work, and I was very happy with the results. And then I ate cake.

Return of the Aquarium

Releasing the FishA few months after we moved into this house, I made the decision to pack up all three of my aquariums and put them away for a while. We had lost many of the fish during the moving process (despite my best efforts and a lot of help from Eric during the move – thanks again, Eric) and life was very busy at that point so I decided it would be easier to put them away for a while and focus on other things.

For the last couple of months, I’ve been toying with the idea of getting at least one of them out again, and seeing how the boys liked it. Owen was not even a year old when I packed them up, so he never could really appreciate them before (although he did seem to enjoy looking at them as a baby). Mary and I had talked about setting up the 20-gallon tank first, and if the boys really enjoyed it, we could get out the 55-gallon tank as well (I also have a 10-gallon tank).

We had decided the ideal spot for the 20-gallon tank was in the kitchen at the bottom of the stairs, but we didn’t have a good table or stand to put it on. A full 20-gallon tank weighs around 200 pounds, and you don’t want it to shake or move at all because that could spill water and stress out the fish. So, you can’t put it on just anything. At our old house, it was sitting on a very sturdy table in my office, but that table was being used for something else and wouldn’t really fit in the kitchen, anyway.

IvanLong story short, we ended up buying a very nice stand / cabinet that is made specifically for a 20-gallon aquarium. It looks very nice and would work as a regular table if we decide not to have the aquariums long term, so I didn’t feel like we were committing to anything if the boys didn’t show any interest.

Owen was really interested, though. Once I told him we were buying a stand to set up a fish tank, he wanted to buy some fish immediately. Of course, we couldn’t do that until the tank was all set up and ready to go, so I pretty much spent the whole day on Saturday putting the stand together, getting out the tank and all the supplies, cleaning everything thoroughly, setting it all up, filling it with water, checking for leaks (none, thankfully), and making sure the filter and heater still worked. By about 5 PM, I had everything going, and Owen and I headed down to the pet store.

When you set up a new aquarium, there are several steps in the process of getting the water chemistry right. I won’t go into all the details about what happens, but it takes about a month from the point that you add fish to the aquarium to the point that the water chemistry is right and stable. The types of fish that I want to ultimately have are not the types of fish who can thrive during that month-long process, so I usually start with some cheap but tough fish who can survive the set-up period, and then trade them out for what I really want later.

I used to go to a local mom-n-pop fish store called “The Fish Bowl”, where the owners were always there and I got to know most of the employees. They were good about letting you get some of the “cheap-but-tough” fish to begin with, and then trade them in for what you really want later. Sadly, though, The Fish Bowl closed sometime in the last couple of years, so we just went to PetsMart, which is near our house. PetsMart doesn’t let you trade in your fish, but there’s another good store across town that will take trade-ins even if you didn’t buy them there, so I may end up going there when I get to that point.

Owen Watching the FishOwen was very excited about picking out some fish. He initially wanted goldfish, which definitely fit the mold of cheap and tough, but I talked him out of that because once you put goldfish in a tank, it can take a lot of work to make it suitable for other types of fish because of the high amounts of ammonia that goldfish give off. We settled on some cherry barbs, which I’ve actually had before and they are a pretty red color and fairly active. They’re not very big, but they’ll grow some (and besides, they are only temporary).

After dinner, I set Owen and Ivan in chairs in front of the tank to watch as I let the fish out of their little bag and into the tank. Ivan pointed and squealed when he saw them swim out of the bag – he was so excited. I’ve been letting Owen help me feed the fish (which he wants to do way too many times per day), and Ivan likes to watch them swim around. The only problem with having it in the kitchen is that it’s somewhat of a distraction while they eat, but I’m sure the newness of it will wear off after a while.

If all goes well, I’ll be getting some better fish in about a month, and then looking for a good place to set up the bigger one.

A Great Start

Here’s some incredible news to kick off the new year.

There’s a certain guy (I’ll withhold his name) who I had worked with for nearly seven years up until our company was acquired. He was a nice guy, but not a “church” guy, if you know what I mean. I had invited him to come to Cornerstone many times over the years, and he said several times that he would, but never did.

In the year or so before the acquisition, he was in a downward spiral of depression, and it affected his work a lot, and many of us (his co-workers) were concerned for him personally. When the acquisition closed, he was in a small group of people who were severed from the company for performance reasons.

After that, he pretty much disappeared, and most of us feared the worst. But one day, out of the blue, he called me. He wanted to let me know that he had hit bottom and come back, and he was getting his life on track again. He had quit drinking, and “a lot of other things”, and he was doing well and holding a job in another city. But it gets better…

This past Sunday, I ran into him at church! He was there with his mom, and told me that she had wanted to come to church that morning, and he said “I’ll go with you if you’ll go up to Kris’ church.” I was so glad to see him there I barely knew what to say. He told me I had planted a seed a long time ago, and it just took a while to produce, but it was there.

He called me later this week, and told me that he really enjoyed it and planned to show up earlier this coming Sunday so he could sit closer to the front. There are no words to describe how excited I was to hear that. If my eight years at this company came down to nothing more than I planted that seed and affected his life, then I would consider that a huge success.

Praise God! This is going to be a great year!

A Brand New Year

Happy New Year!

Yes, I’m well aware that I’m a week late with that. Better late than never, though, right? For some reason, I’ve been looking forward to 2007 for a while now. I’ve had the opposite problem that you usually have around this time of year. Most people have trouble remembering to write the new year on checks, documents, etc. – it takes a couple of months to instinctively write ‘2007’ instead of ‘2006’. But I have been instinctively writing ‘2007’ for several months, and had to constantly remind myself that it’s only 2006. Now, I can finally enjoy the new year.

The first part of the year is usually a slower time for Mary and me. It seems like we have a little less going on in the first quarter, and things pick up in the Spring, get busier in the Summer, and go pedal-to-the-medal in the Fall and leading up to Christmas. Then, it slows down again. Maybe that’s why I enjoy the first part of the year so much. I like being busy, but it’s good to slow down after a while.

Usually, in the first part of the year, I have time to do some sort of side project, like developing a website for someone. This year, I have several personal projects in mind, and an unfinished one from last year that I’d like to pick up again. I need to finish my office (as in, actually buying a desk instead of using folding tables and old file cabinets). I’ve also got a lot of reading that I need to do – I’ve purchased several technology books over the last year that I’m sorry to say are mostly unread. And then there are some other commitments that I’ve been putting off until I “have more time”, and things like re-evaluating our insurance and investments, and making sure our budget is still in line… This part of year is starting to feel busier after all.

Still, though, I’m looking forward to 2007. I really think exciting things are ahead – like this is the year that God is really going to bless us. Not that He hasn’t blessed us in the past – we are very blessed. But there can always be more. You can never have too much blessing, you know?

Anyway, I hope this year is as good to you as it is going to be to me!

Portable Apps

A guy at work recently told me about Portable Apps, which is a set of programs you can download and run directly off a USB thumb drive or memory card or something (you can even run it off an iPod). The apps have been specially built to run directly off your memory device, and save all their configuration, temp files, etc. to that drive. The result is that you can take your thumb drive and plug it into any computer (running Windows), and have your e-mail, your browser, your office programs (spreadsheets, documents, etc.) all right there with all your settings and preferences applied. And, you don’t leave anything behind on the computer when you remove your drive.

With computers becoming ubiquitous these days, and high-speed internet almost as prevalent, it’s a nice way to carry around your basic essentials without actually lugging around a laptop.

All of the programs are free, open-source apps like Firefox and Thunderbird, which I currently use for web browsing and e-mail anyway.

I’ve been meaning to try it out, but I don’t actually have a very large USB drive. The biggest one I’ve got is only 128 MB, and they recommend more than that for the full install. I’ve just never had a good reason to buy a larger one, but maybe I’ll have to look for a good deal on one just to try this out.

Many times, especially when I’m traveling, I have a laptop with me, but it would be nice to just carry a small memory stick in my pocket instead if I know I’ll be somewhere where there is a computer available.

My current answer to this is that I have set up a secure tunnel into my network so that I can just use Remote Desktop to get to my computer at home from anywhere that there is a high-speed connection, and the whole session is encrypted. I’ll have to describe that set up some other time – it’s pretty cool.

More Laugh Break Info

I thought I’d mention that the 350+ e-mails that I have waiting to be posted do not include the thousands of e-mails that I have deleted because I didn’t think they were funny enough. I get several submissions per day, and I read them all, and I apply what I call the “laugh out loud” test. I don’t actually have to truly laugh loudly for it to make the cut, but if I can read it with a completely straight face, it gets deleted.

So, I’m not just throwing up anything I get in order to build ad revenue – I really do try to keep it high-quality.

And then there are those few e-mails that are not really “funny” in the conventional sense, but they do make me laugh, either because they are so incredibly stupid, or they just don’t make sense at all. These, I will call “Laugh Break Bloopers”, and I have a special folder in my e-mail box just for them. Here’s a sample:

My friend..he’s big and dumb, but really smart.

Yes, that’s the whole e-mail. Great story, eh?

I hope life isnt a big joke because i don’t get it.

sometimes i wish i were dead….no wait…not me…you.

Hey, if wishing I were dead makes you feel better, then wish away. Of course, you can wish in one hand…

Once there were two guys who both died on the same day. One was barried at a sematary in New York, and the other was barried at a sematary in Sarasota Florida. one day the ground shook at a sematary in Los Angeles and the guy in New York rose from the dead. The next day the ground shook at a sematary in Washinton D.C. and the guy in Sarasota rose from the dead. Since they had risen from the dead, they could now walk through walls. They climded out of their graves, started traveling and met each other in Atlanta. Together they entered a bar full of drunk men. One drunk guy noticed them and stagared over to them. He wanted to see if they were real (because drunk people often see things that are not there) so he poked one of them in the stomach and the dead guy said, “EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”

Now, that, my friends, is comedy.

Laugh Break Upgrade

For years now, I’ve had this website called Laugh Break which was one of the first websites I ever created. It was mostly just something to experiment with – I was learning HTML and needed a project, so I decided to make a site with a bunch of those forwarded e-mails that you get from everyone (well, at least the funny ones).

Over the years, I’ve upgraded it several times, mostly by changing the look or switching the software that I was using to create and maintain it. There have been a couple of times that I almost shut it down, but when I started reviewing the log files, I realized that it was getting quite a bit of traffic. Mind you, it’s not going to be one of the 100 most visited websites or anything, but it was getting tens of thousands of visitors a month, and I hated to just cut off all those people. I left it alone for a while, but last year I decided to try out Google’s AdSense program, and see if I could actually get some money from all that traffic.

It turns out, I was sitting on a gold mine! Ok, not really. But it is generating enough extra cash to warrant renewing the domain name every year and continuing to add to the site. The problem is, adding to the site was a totally manual process that consisted of creating the HTML files manually and linking them all together, and it had to always be done on my desktop at home, where I had all the files and templates. It was too tedious for me to ever “get around to it”.

So, here I was, with 350+ e-mails in the Laugh Break inbox that could be turned into pages of content with revenue-generating ads on them, but I just didn’t have enough time to do it. So, I decided to invest in an upgrade.

In less time than I thought it would take, I was able to convert the entire site to use a database-driven Content Management System (CMS). Now, I can easily add content to the website from anywhere that I have an internet connection, and I don’t have to create any links or update any menus – it’s all done automatically.

The CMS I chose is called CMS Made Simple, and the main reason was because of the simplicity. I’ve tried out other, more popular CMS / Portal systems like Joomla and PostNuke, but they are very community-driven, which is not what I needed. CMSMS is really geared towards managing a plain-old-website, but doing it more efficiently. It’s almost as if the other products had too many features.

In fact, what I needed was so simple, that I almost just wrote it myself. The main reason I didn’t is that I wanted an integrated search feature, and I knew that could be a little tricky to write, and that most CMS’s would have that built-in.

The biggest trick was setting it up so that all the old URLs would still work, because my log files showed me that a lot of traffic came from individual links that other people had created to specific pages on my site. I didn’t want to break all those links and lose a bunch of traffic just to make updating the site easier. I was able to do that with the CMS, and from the end-user’s point of view, you can’t really even tell that anything has changed.

So, as of today, I plan to start updating Laugh Break more often. My goal is going to be to add at least 5 new pages each week, until I get through my mailbox. At that point, I’ll just try to keep it up as new material comes in.

For those of you that used to visit the site often (Travis), but quit because it got stale – take note: it will be updated much more often in the future.