What are you doing to preserve your data?

Churches and other non-profits have important, critical data that should be backed up on a scheduled basis, stored at a reliable source off-site. I suspect, tho that most churches backup process is like this:

  1. Backups happen sporadically
  2. Not all important files are backed up
  3. Backup files are stored on the same computer as the original, or on a disk or something semi-reliable.
  4. Backup files are kept in the office.

Apple’s statistics show that only 4% of Mac users have an automatic backup strategy. I doubt churches are any better.
To be fair, my own backup strategy is full of holes. I’ve tried setting up an automated backup using rsync to copy changed files to an external hard drive, but that means turning on the external drive in time for the backup, and for some reason rsync seems to copy everything, not just the changed stuff so it takes forever.
If doing backups were as simple as typing out a Word document, more organizations would be doing it, including myself!
Amazon’s new Simple Storage Service (S3) offers a partial way there. S3 is an Internet “web service” that permits you to store unlimited data on their very robust, highly secure system. This is the system they use, as well as corporations like Microsoft. Rates, currently, are 15 cents per GB stored a month and 20 cents per GB transferred.
A church with 10GB of data that adds 0.5GB of new data per month would pay approximately less than $10 for the whole year of secure, off-site storage. That’s cheap. No other online storage service compares right now.
Still, that doesn’t solve the problem entirely of getting files backed up regularly. S3 provides the storage, not the tool to backup the data.
In another post I’ll list some tools that make it easy to backup with S3. I haven’t looked yet, so Google don’t let me down. 🙂

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Hope when you need it

Ever feel the grind of daily life wearing you down? Truth is, we all feel that from time to time. That’s how I’m feeling these days, between a hectic life at home getting ready for twins coming in December (new house needing lots of work, need bigger vehicle, etc) and challenging moments in the workplace. I could use a little more sunshine during these grey, chilly days of October here in northern Ontario.
Sure enough, God sends me some inspiration, this time through one of the blogs I read each morning. Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert shares with his readers the happiest day of his life, the day his voice came back after 18 months. He has a rare condition called Spasmodic Dysphonia, where the part of the brain that controls speech just shuts down. *No one has ever recovered from this*. Perhaps until now.
I admire Scott’s determination, and search for answers for a disease not well understood:

“Just because no one has ever gotten better from Spasmodic Dysphonia before doesn’t mean I can’t be the first. So every day for months and months I tried new tricks to regain my voice. I visualized speaking correctly and repeatedly told myself I could (affirmations). I used self hypnosis. I used voice therapy exercises. I spoke in higher pitches, or changing pitches. I observed when my voice worked best and when it was worst and looked for patterns. I tried speaking in foreign accents. I tried “singing” some words that were especially hard.”

He eventually found that missing link, in an unexpected place, something he hadn’t considered trying. While helping with a homework assignment, he discovered rhyming was easy for him to do:

“I repeated it dozens of times, partly because I could. It was effortless, even though it was similar to regular speech. I enjoyed repeating it, hearing the sound of my own voice working almost flawlessly. I longed for that sound, and the memory of normal speech. Perhaps the rhyme took me back to my own childhood too. Or maybe it’s just plain catchy. I enjoyed repeating it more than I should have. Then something happened.

My brain remapped.

My speech returned.”

I’m reminded that often our answers and direction come not so much from our own efforts and ingenuity, but from our willingness to be open, to listen to the Voice calling us in directions we wouldn’t choose to go ourselves.
What a happy day for Scott, and an extra dose of sun for me. Now back to the daily grind.

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Grab your credit card for the big show

On Friday of last week, I got Fr. Tony’s podcast up on iTunes. The process is fairly straightforward. There is a large icon on the main podcast page in iTunes for adding your own podcast. You then have to type in the url of the podcast feed. The url is then grabbed and all the associated info (title, image, description, url) is displayed for you to verify. If there is anything wrong, it has to be fixed in the originating feed.
We’re using SermonCloud to host the homilies and it has some built-in iTunes support which is now much better after I reported a few glitches. Justin, the one guy who seems to be doing all the support is pretty quick to patch anything up.
You do need your own iTunes account and a credit card, even though you’ll never be billed for your podcast. I wish Apple didn’t treat podcasters the same as consumers who purchase music / games / videos / TV Shows through their site.
That aside, it’s pretty cool to see the podcast up there. There aren’t many other Catholic podcasts on iTunes yet, and I honestly think that Tony has the best homilies out of the handful of offerings, not to mention the best mug shot of them all. 😉
Go have a look at Tony’s podcast under the iTunes bright lights. Oh, and I should mention Fr. Tony is calling his podcast “This Foreign Land.” I’ll have him explain the meaning in a guest post.

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Faith nourished

Just came across a Catholic Register article on how Catholics are using the internet in creative ways. Of note is how the Internet breaks down barriers and enables dioceses and parishes to utilize programs offered in other diocese, including marriage prep and RCIA.
I remember how valuable going to an Engaged Encounter weekend was for Rowena and I, and would still recommend that approach over something through the Internet, but not everyone has access to a quality program like EE. Combining some online activities and resource links with EE would be even better.
Read on: Cyber Faith: Catholics Use the Internet to Meet, Mingle and Meditate

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SooToday classifieds the way it should be

SooToday is a very popular online community site where I live. They have a classifieds section that gets lots of traffic. I once posted looking for a cheap pre-paid cell phone, and got 8 emails within a day or so.
Trying to find deals on SooToday is an effort in aggravation. Think Myspace design (or lack thereof). Where to start?

  1. There is only one search field and it is at the bottom of a very long classifieds front page. Want to do another search? Click the back button a few times, or bookmark the page. Yuck.
  2. No searching by category. Type in ‘rug’ and you get everything from houses for sale, to stereo equipment, when all you want to buy is an area rug. The search will match any posting with the letters ‘rug’ in sequence, so ‘drug’ and ‘rugged’ match.
  3. Browsing is useless, because it’s possible that someone posted in a different category than the one you think you should find it in. For example, there are Miscellaneous and Freebie categories.
  4. Duplicate postings. Everyone wants their posting to be at the top of the list since no one browses more than a page, so the same ads keep showing up day after day.
  5. Time consuming. This is a general criticism of classifieds sites. Why make me come to the site every day / hour? Why can’t I sign up for notification when something I want gets posted? I don’t have time to be searching regularly.

First attempt: Google Alerts
I tried using Google Alerts for a while. It’s simple and easy to use. You type in something you are looking for, and when new items show up in the top 20 results, you get emailed. For example, to search for a cordless phone, use this as your google search:

“cordless phone” site:www.sootoday.com/content/classifieds

The problem I soon discovered is I got the results too late. I would get a notification days after the ad went up, and by that time, the item was sold or not even listed on the site anymore! The problem is that the search depends on Google updating its search index, which can happen days later it seems.

Then I came across Dapper, an amazing tool that lets you build data maps from content on web sites. In short time, I created a ‘Dapp’ of SooToday classifieds, and built a search around it. Now I get results sent to me soon after they get posted. I use RSS feeds but email notification is also possible. This is my holy grail. It’s awesome.

We just bought a house recently and are expecting twins, so I’m searching for quite a few items. Using my Dapp I was able to spot some bamboo flooring, regularly priced around $6 sq ft for only $2. I’ve checked out a few dishwashers, called about a number of desks, and followed up on some moving sales.
Try out my SooToday classifieds search Dapp yourself. Here is the link to create an email notification (account required), and one to create an RSS feed of search results.
Perhaps I’ll create another post that provides an example of creating the alert or RSS feed, if people indicate interest. Let me know what you think of it.

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Breaking new ground

Fr. Tony Man-son-hing is one of the people pushing the boundaries of DeoWeb and online communication in the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie. He was very active while working as the Chancellor, publishing content on a steady basis. This includes a weekly “In the Loop” news item for priests sent out via the message centre and published privately online.
In July, Fr. Tony was assigned to Christ the King parish in Sudbury and since then, I’ve been working with Fr. Tony on a podcasting initiative, which is tied in to DeoWeb’s 2nd anniversary celebrations. Well, now it’s up and running, with Fr. Tony’s last three homilies. The text as well as the audio is available, and people can log in and share their reflections. Check out Fr. Tony’s Pastor’s pen section. We’ve received a lot of favourable comments already.
The next step is to create an iTunes subscription, and to start getting the word out. This is an exciting development, and I wouldn’t be surprised if more priests climb on board. There are some gifted homilists in our diocese, including Fr. George LaPierre at my parish, St. Gerard-Majella. It seems every week someone is asking him for a copy of his homily (which he doesn’t have because they aren’t written) or wishing so-and-so had been at mass to hear him preach. Time will tell. 🙂
I’ll share more about how the podcast is put together in another post.

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Let Google manage your email + other goodies

Google is now packaging together 4 of their services in a connected bundle for organizations:

  • Gmail for email
  • Gtalk for instant messaging
  • Google Calendar for managing schedules and events
  • Google Page creator for web pages

My first thoughts after reading this is that churches and dioceses can benefit well just by switching to Gmail, and ignoring the rest for now. Consider that:

  • You get an email account that has solid spam protection
  • Access email from anywhere
  • Power of Google’s search for your email
  • For those that want to still use a desktop email client, that is possible also. You still benefit from the spam protection as well.
  • Ditch your own mail server if you have one and save on time and $$$
  • Very easy to adminster email accounts
  • It’s free!

More info at https://www.google.com/a/

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Church for Men

Why is it that churches are filled more with women than men? This is true of all denominations. Here are some sobering stats from the U.S.:

  • On any typical Sunday, 6,000,000 married women will worship without their husbands. That’s one out of five.
    About 90% of the boys who were raised in church abandon it in their teens and twenties and never return.

Is it just that women are more spiritual than men? Maybe, but there are some who argue that the worship experience does not cater to men.

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