Renew I Educate I Connect 

Tech Geek Blog

  • 12 Mar 2015 12:02 AM | Anonymous

    I've been using an Android Tablet to preach from and a netbook for ELCA Youth Gathering and sermon-writing at the coffeeshop. Someone else decided they needed them more than I did. They smashed a window in my office and grabbed them off of my desk sometime last night. Luckily, or thankfully, I had my big laptop at home with me and so I still have it. The other devices were mostly cloud storage, so no real data lost.

    But it reminds me to remind myself, and you, of the value of password protecting your devices and, when possible, setting up remote lock/wipe capabilities on them. The netbook, running Google Chrome, was password protected. The tablet, running Android Lollipop (which I just went to the effort of learning how to install from a downloaded ROM last week), was not. But, using Android Device Manager - www.google.com/android/devicemanager - I was able to see that it hasn't been turned on since it was stolen and set it to lock whenever it is turned on, which won't be for long, as I still have the charger and was having battery issues anyways. But, it should have been locked in the first place, as it has access to my Google Docs and other notes and information that aren't really public.

    iOS devices can use www.apple.com/icloud/find-my-iphone.html for similar find/lock/wipe functionality.

    If you have a security system, get it tested and inspected. We had one. It was armed. There is a motion sensor in my office. But it didn't detect the motion of an arm coming through a window, reaching to the other end of my desk, and grabbing these items. I'm probably the most frustrated about the failure of that system to actually do anything helpful.

    It's just stuff. It's just old stuff. I was looking for an excuse to replace it anyways, so I really am not that broken up about it getting stolen, but please do better than I did to safeguard the information stored on your stuff. And, if you don't, please save this post so you can come back to it if you, like me, need to remote lock/wipe your devices!


  • 14 Oct 2013 1:33 PM | Anonymous

    Like many of you, I use a laptop computer for all of my day-to-day desk-based computing needs. The majority of the time it is plugged in and sitting on the desk in my office. I have a smartphone, tablet, and even a netbook that I use for “out and about” computing. So I’d owned my new laptop for quite awhile before I tried to use it unplugged. I knew I’d never see the 6 hours of battery life that was promised in-store, but I was a bit surprised to see the little power indicator show that it wouldn’t last much more than an hour-and-a-half unplugged.

    This is a laptop running Windows 8, maybe Macs have a way to do this automatically. The first place I looked was the power meter icon and realized that it was set to High Performance mode. I switched it to Balanced mode and that increased the time a slight bit. Those were the only two options I could see. I knew there was also a Power Saver mode, but that took more clicking that I could do from the power meter. I had to go into the Control Panel and monkey around with options there. I quickly became frustrated that there wasn’t a way to easily flip between High Performance mode, for when I was plugged in and at my desktop and wanted the fastest possible computer, and Power Saver mode, for when I was running off the battery and wanted the longest possible battery life.

    I started by searching the interwebs for an easy way to change the two options that came up from the power meter icon. It didn’t take me a ton of searching to find out that Microsoft had decided for me that I only needed two power mode options and that one of them must always be Balanced, a mode that balances power usage and performance. Why buy a high performance machine if I’m going to throttle it back most of the time? So there wasn’t an easy way to switch between the two modes I wanted to switch between.

    Back to the interwebs for more searching. Before too long I stumbled upon BatteryCare.net and the free (donation appreciated) BatteryCare app that easily lets me choose between any power plans I have, as well as showing me the CPU (Central Processing Unit) temperature and the HDD (Hard Disk Drive) Temperature. The best feature is that it will automatically choose a power plan based on whether or not the computer is plugged in. Perfect!

    This was better than what I was looking for. Why should I even have to make a change at all? The computer knows if it is plugged in or running off the battery. So let the computer decide which power mode to operate in. Now, when I’m plugged in, it sets itself to the High Performance mode and, when I’m running off the battery, it sets itself to Power Saver mode. If I need a different mode for some reason, I can always override these automatic behaviors.

    There are also settings to change what information is displayed, calibrate the battery for longer overall battery life, and the option to replace the system notifications for low battery. It’s a great app, I’ve liked it on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/batterycare), and I will likely make a donation to support it at some time in the future.


  • 05 Aug 2013 5:07 PM | Anonymous

    There are times that I am too cheap for my own good. For the last four years or so, I have maintained a Google Voice account to that I could keep my puny texting account that only allowed 250 messages a month. I used the Google Voice account to be able to text an unlimited number of messages and a Google Chrome extension to be able to use my computer to type and read those messages. It worked, but many of my contacts were confused that they’d send messages to one number and I’d reply from a different number. Last month, I finally upgraded to a plan with unlimited messages (a side-effect of my wife getting an iPhone) and so I was finally ready to investigate some enhancements to “regular” texting.

    The first app I downloaded to my Android phone was Handcent, from www.handcent.com. It’s a cross-platform (iOS, Android, and even Windows Phone) replacement for your phone’s built-in messaging app. On my phone, it adds pop-up messages, which I find useful. I can reply directly from the pop-up window, either by texting, or by using voice-to-text capabilities. There are a dizzying number of settings and things that can be configured, but the basic app just works, and you can add all sorts of additional features if that’s your thing. One part I haven’t used yet, but will in the future, is the ability to send directly to contact groups...like youth groups!

    The other app that I’ve been using regularly is MightyText, from www.mightytext.net. It’s only available on Android, but I’m sure there are similar apps out there for the other smartphone operating systems. It lets me keep using my computer, via a webpage or a Gmail extension, to send and read my text messages. It also adds the ability to easily download MMS pictures and videos, so they aren’t trapped on the phone!

    What tools do you use to enhance your texting abilities? I know there are many of them out there and it’s one of the best ways we have for staying in touch with our young phone toting parishioners, and their parents. I noticed a definite increase in participation when I started sending out reminder text messages prior to weekly events. There sure should be a way to automate that...

    God’s blessings to you and your ministry!

  • 24 Jun 2013 5:31 PM | Anonymous

    For those of you who don’t know me personally, you may have wondered (or you may have not even noticed) what has happened to the Tech Geek. The first half of 2013 has been a roller-coaster as my father-in-law has had significant health issues and I’ve transitioned from being an associate pastor at the congregation I served in Montana to being a solo pastor at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Maple Valley, Wash. Yesterday I was officially installed by the bishop and it was great to have colleagues and friends, many who I’ve met through youth ministry circles, join in the celebration.

    The past months have left little time or energy for writing these posts. Now that I’m officially installed and thinking that things will settle down apost-move, I’ll hopefully find some time to draft some helpful (I hope) thoughts. If you want to see the high-tech version of a pastoral installation, check out my new church’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SVLCcommunity. Yes, being this close to Seattle/Redmond/Bellevue, we have Microsoft employees in the congregation!

    My phone updated to the newest version of the Android operating system a few months ago. With that update came the new Google Now. This ties your search history across Google into one place. So if you search for a place on Google Maps, the phone has directions ready to go the next time you turn it on. If you’ve received an e-mail about a flight, the phone will automatically track that flight and even tell you when you need to leave for the airport and tell you what the weather is like at your destination. It’s somewhat creepy and amazingly convenient.

    If you’re using an Android device, it will either show up automatically or you can download it from the Google Play store. If you’re using an iOS device, you must download it from the Apple App store. Many iPhone users actually prefer the voice interaction on Google Now to Siri! Google Now also loads a series of informative cards, including weather, what’s going on nearby, and directions to home or work, so frequently needed information is very easily accessible.

    Two of the many things that I’ve noticed and appreciate are the fact that Google Now recognizes text in context and the fact it lets me ask follow-up questions. It doesn’t always get it right, but just like a human listener, it tried to determine among similar sounding words by looking at the context they were used in.

    If I ask, “Who is Wilt Chamberlain?” the voice will tell me he’s an American basketball player, according to Wikipedia. If I then ask, “How tall is he?” I get the answer, “Wilt Chamberlain is 7’1” tall.  This leads to the ability to have a very conversational series of searches. As an added bonus, I didn’t have to know how to spell his last name!

    Don’t have a smartphone and want to play with this? Just use the Google Chrome browser and  head over to www.google.com and click on the microphone icon. You can see the same technology from your computer. More info on that is at http://www.google.com/insidesearch/features/voicesearch/index-chrome.html


  • 03 Feb 2013 4:04 PM | Anonymous
    There's an app for that. Those of you who were at the Extravaganza in Anaheim saw the introduction of our brand new ELCA Youth Ministry Network app. It's been getting some rave reviews and the folks behind it, iGivings, had some great conversations with folks at the Extravaganza about developing apps for their congregations and ministries. The app is available on both iOS devices and Android devices at the respective app stores for each.

    Throughout my time in Anaheim I found the Events button to be very useful as it kept me on track for sessions I wanted to participate in. It was easy to set reminders either within the app or to copy events over to my personal calendar so I could see them with the rest of the schedule and when the family was going to be at Disneyland.

    I've also heard from folks that having the network in the palm of your hand makes it much easier to catch up on keynote speakers or 3TCs (Third Tuesday Conversations) that you missed while waiting for someone or something. There is an active Prayer Wall with requests and praise, all the info you could ever need to contact people within the network, an easy to use Bible, and (unlike at closing worship at the Extravaganza) an easy way to give to the Network's General Fund or Scholarship Fund.

    One area that has caused a bit of confusion is that you need to create a new account within the app. This is a new username and password, different from what you use on the Network websites.

    Find out much more about the new app at http://elcayouthministrynetwork.wildapricot.org/app

  • 11 Jan 2013 10:32 PM | Anonymous
    There have been many times when someone has asked me to help them with something on their computer and I've discovered that it was painfully slow to use, especially to access the internet. This could certainly happen on a newer machine, but the ones that I were on were probably eight or more years old and they were running Windows XP and using Internet Explorer to access the internet. The user was wondering if they needed to upgrade because their system had gotten so slow. In these cases, the answer was actually, "no."

    I was working on computers of folks who do little more than send some e-mails to their grandchildren (or great grand-children) and maybe play solitaire now and again. They weren't doing video or photo editing, they weren't creating powerpoint shows, they weren't even watching very many YouTube videos. They didn't need a computer that ran all that fast, they just didn't want to have to wait almost two minutes from the time they clicked on the Internet Explorer icon until they were actually online.

    I did two things to get these machines at least back to the point of being usable. First, I downloaded the free version of CCleaner from http://www.piriform.com/ccleaner/download and installed it. It's a tool to free up some hard drive space by removing temporary files that have gotten left behind. I ran the basic scan and then I clicked the Registry tab and ran that scan as well. Generally, I just tell it to fix everything and, while you could get into trouble, I haven't had any trouble just fixing all the registry problems without backing up. (No, that's probably not good advice, but it's what I've done...) I find that I need to run the Registry Scan multiple times until it doesn't come up with any problems. So, I click Scan for Issues, make sure everything is checked, and click Fix Selected Issues. Choose whether or not to backup the registry, then you can either fix things one-by-one or just click Fix All Selected Issues on the pop-up box. Then I rinse and repeat until is tells me that No issues were found.

    The second major thing I do is to talk the user out of using Internet Explorer. It's no longer updated for Windows XP and could start to expose security flaws. But, more than that, it's really slow. So I run it one last time and go to www.google.com/chrome and download and install Google Chrome. Go ahead and have it import all the bookmarks and whatnot while it's installing. Explain to the user why Google Chrome is going to be a better alternative (much, much faster) and show them how to click on the Chrome icon instead of the blue E they're used to clicking on.

    One system that took almost two minutes between the time you clicked Internet Explorer and could actually type a web page in now lets you type or search in about ten seconds. The difference is amazing. These simple fixes might be a great way for you to get donations to your youth fund from thankful people who no longer think they need to buy a new computer!

  • 05 Jan 2013 9:05 PM | Todd Buegler (Administrator)
    The decision to allow or not allow cell phones in church seems to me to be a losing battle. Young or old, people do bring their phones into the sanctuary and into the classroom. Hopefully, they can behave appropriately while they have them and not disturb worship or teaching with ringtones and text message alerts. If you're trying to enforce a cell phone ban, read no further. If you're interested in a way to involve cell phones in a class or even a service, keep reading. 

    In my congregation, we have the tradition of a confirmation retreat each fall. Much of this is devoted to giving the class members time to get to know one another and some of it is set aside for teaching. Since it's a one-night lock-in, I knew I'd be trying to teach late in the evening after a full day of school. So I wanted to come up with some ways to encourage interactivity beyond the normal conversations and tossing of candy into the room. 

    I stumbled upon Poll Everywhere as a great tool and, unless you have more than 40 people in a class, a free tool. Using Poll Everywhere you can create multiple choice or open answer polls and have people respond to them via SMS Text Message, Twitter, or a customized web page. While people are sending their answers, a webpage or a slide in either Powerpoint or Keynote can be automagically updated with their responses. To demonstrate this, I'll walk through the process of creating a poll asking which synoptic gospel is the favorite.
    1. Create a free account at www.polleverywhere.com.
    2. Click on My Polls and click the Create a Poll button.
    3. Type the question into the box, with the multiple choice answers. I could also just type the question and add the answers later. Or I could create more than one poll at a time. The user interface is very powerful and lets you use it in a variety of different ways. I'll type: What's your favorite synoptic gospel? and then hit RETURN so I can enter the possible Multiple Choice answers.
    4. Select the Multiple Choice option and you can enter the choices. I'll enter Matthew, Mark, and Luke as the three options.
    5. Click the Create button and you'll be taken to the poll screen. Click the Edit link on the right side to see some more options including how many times and individual can respond, what ways they can respond (Twitter, website, private link, or text messages), and the start/stop times of your poll.
    6. After you click the Save Poll button, you'll be taken to the live version of the poll. From this screen, you can adjust many of the visual appearance options of the poll. Move your mouse over the poll and click on the settings gear icon and mess around to see what you can do. There's much to see and do here, but I want to move forward and show you how to download this into a Powerpoint slide.
    7. On the right, click on Download as Slide and then click the link for the version of Powerpoint that you have to download a slide containing the live version of your poll. Once you have that file, open it up in Powerpoint.
    8. Scroll through the slides of instructions to the last slide that should contain your live slide. I've found that it's best to click on that slide and just copy the object, not the whole slide. Then paste that into the slideshow that you want to use it in. You can re-size the object and it will re-format to look pretty in whatever size window you give it.
    9. You can also access the Visual Settings from within Powerpoint, but you can't do that from the editing screen. You have to display the show and then move your mouse over the poll object to get the icons to show up. There is also an icon to show the instructions and to make just the poll full screen. Both of these also work while displaying the live poll in Powerpoint.
    There are tons of things that you can do to customize and experiment, which I'm not going to go into here. Once you create some interesting polls, share them publicly in the comments below. Feel free to send question you might discover that you have.

    I've embedded the poll in this post so you can see what it looks like and, at least the first forty of you, can take the poll yourself!
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