Heal Your Church WebSite

Teaching, rebuking, correcting & training in righteous web design.

December 16, 2009
by meandean
2 Comments

12 Days of Jesus Junk – Day 3 – Avoid Wipeouts

Nothing says “wipe-out” like a cheap little Holy Bible eraser.

12 Days of Jesus Junk - Day 3 - Avoid Wipeouts

And while the product parodied above is applied a slightly different meaning of “fail” the point is hardware failures, power outages, software bugs, stolen computers, cross site scripted SQL injections, and/or zombie induced denial of service attacks can all turn your church and/or charity website into a tub of techno-mush quicker than you can recurse a binary tree.

The only real defense against such failures is to plan for them – anticipating them in three ways:

  • backing up your data
  • moving your backed-up data off site
  • having and practicing how to restore backed-up data

Here’s a very simple snippet from an oldie but goldie article entitled “How to backup your MySQL tables and data every night using a bash script and cron:

#!/bin/sh
# backup data
mysqldump -uroot -ppwd --opt db1 > /sqldata/db1.sql
mysqldump -uroot -ppwd --opt db2 > /sqldata/db2.sql
# zip up data
cd /sqldata/
tar -zcvf sqldata.tgz *.sql
# email data off-site
cd /scripts/
perl emailsql.cgi

The article also displays a script on how to email the data off site, not a bad deal if your data is small – such backups being just as simple to restore with this dynamic command line duo of directives:

tar -zxvf sqldata.tgz
mysql -uroot -ppwd db1 < db1.sql

Things get trickier when you have tons of data, in which it may play into one’s restoration plan better to backup and restore a database by individual tables. Here is a set of articles that describes how to do this that includes some script examples you can modify to suite your needs:

Either way, then it is just a manner of putting the shell script on a timer, or in the vernacular of crontab:

1 3 * * * /usr/home/mysite.com/prvt/tbak.sh > /usr/home/logs/tbak.log

If either of these shell script, bash-based approach seems to complex then perhaps one of the control panel, web-based method offered by UpStartBlogger’s post “8 MySQL Backup Strategies for WordPress Bloggers (And Others)” will do the trick.

Here are some other related articles that might help, the last two include automagic date stamping of the backup files:

The bottom line is this: just Peter implores us to make a ready defense in 1 Peter 3:15, so I’m asking you always be ready to make a defense to anything that endangers the data that is on your system so you’re not found tearfully dissheveled cowering in a corner meek and fearful, mumbling something about how you should have planned for such failures.

You’ll be glad you did – probably at the most inopportune time possible.

December 15, 2009
by meandean
Comments Off on 12 Days of Jesus Junk – Day 2 – Think Globally!

12 Days of Jesus Junk – Day 2 – Think Globally!

As once again the  TSA reminds us that Christmas Snow Globes a threat to National Security, I thought it might be a good time to talk about the wide-World of bad-guys and some simple things you can do to guard your site from a potentially explosive situation.

12 Days of Jesus Junk - Day 2 - Think Globally

Unlike the 5.5″ The Kneeling Santa Claus Musical Christmas Water Globe parodies above, there are some real threats to your website that are an unfortunate aspect of the “World Wide” nature of the Web.

Specifically, I’m talking about the army of professional hackers employed in far flung regions such as China, Nigeria and of course what is now the former U.S.S.R.

For that, I recommend a modification to your  .htaccess file such as:

<Limit GET HEAD POST>
deny from 218.25.161
allow from all
</LIMIT>

If you look close, I’m only using 3 levels of the IP address to 218.25.161.0 through 218.25.161.255.

And where does one get a block of  IPs to block? Glad you asked …

Pre-fabricated blacklists to block IP addresses of entire countries:

A bit more on .htaccess and mod_access:

Just remember to keep good backups of whatever files you’re working on – and try not to lock yourself out while experimenting with changes!

December 14, 2009
by meandean
1 Comment

12 Days of Jesus Junk – Day 1 – Hallway Testing

I’m sure the makers of the Gemmy 6ft Airblown Inflatable Christmas Nativity Scene parodied below were not trying to assert that Jesus was of Aryan descent:

Avoid accidental message myopia by subjecting all your design work to hallway testing

So how do we avoid the type of ‘accidental-message-myopia‘ that produces a design that includes a not-so Middle-East,  blond haired (and possibly blue-eyed)  baby Jesus?  Two words “Hallway Testing.”

The Wikipedia describes hallway testing as:

Hallway testing (or hallway usability testing) is a specific methodology of software usability testing. Rather than using an in-house, trained group of testers, just five to six random people, indicative of a cross-section of end users, are brought in to test the software (be it an application, web site, etc.); the name of the technique refers to the fact that the testers should be random people who pass by in the hallway. The theory, as adopted from Jakob Nielsen’s research, is that 95% of usability problems can be discovered using this technique.

In short, hallway testing is the simple act of accostingI mean drafting … I mean enlisting 5 or 6 random individuals to inspect your designs to insure among other things, you’re not overlooking some detail great or small that accidentally sends the wrong message.

I know it’s an extra step in the web design process, but when one considers alternatives as the above parody poster depiction, it’s probably worth it.

November 2, 2009
by meandean
Comments Off on Usability and Daylight Saving Time

Usability and Daylight Saving Time

Let’s talk a little about the usability frustrations we put up with in the name of daylight saving time – and see if we can’t cobble together an object lesson for our web design.

Okay, so in my best Andy Rooney imitation:

Why is it we can put a man on the moon, yet somehow we still don’t have a “magical gadget” that with the press of a button, will set ALL of our clocks to daylight saving time.

I’m talking about the remote that will not only set my BetaMaxI mean VCR … I mean TIVO… and the watch, and my microwave oven and even the clock in my car parked outside!

Did I just hear an amen?! Yeah, I thought so … and well we should. daylight savings madnessAfter all, here’s a list of the clocks I had to reset manually – each employing its own rand of a ‘uniquely creative’ set of time-setting interface operations:

  • the stove
  • the microwave oven
  • the upstairs weather warning clock/radio
  • the downstairs weather warning clock/radio
  • the clock on my portable flashlight/weather warning clock radio
  • my digital camera
  • my digital movie camera
  • my wife’s digital camera
  • my daughter’s digital camera
  • my pickem-up truck
  • my wife’s car
  • a small number of my daughter’s toys

I think that’s it … well not including the batteries on all 6 or 7 smoke alarms.

So what usability can we take away from all this minute-setting of madness? How about doing away with what Frank da Cruz referred to in my networking class back in 1986 as “a wide variety of standards.

Think about it, the method for setting the time on each of the above devices varied, some greatly from the others, some not-so-much. Either way, if you’re not going to give me a “magical gadget” then at least give me a consistent interface to all the above!

And I think the same applies to our software. From page to page of our programs, are we asking our users to do similar things employing “a wide variety of standards?” If so, imagine the learning curves and barriers to conversion we place in front of them.

My point? Go through your entire site and figure out what’s the same and almost-the-same. Then pick a convenient way to do it – and stick with it – even if some better jQuery gizmo comes out next week.

Your users will thank you.

May 5, 2009
by meandean
4 Comments

5 Things that heal your church website

Last Friday I posed the question “what actually heals a church website?” Now it’s Tuesday and I’d like to talk about this in light of the many excellent comments received.5 remedies to heal your church website

But first a BIG THANKS to all who participated in this dialog – this was both good and healthy and it is much appreciated.

1. If it’s broke, please fix it

“The medicine that heals depends on the illness — if you’ve got a spinning gold cross, removing it becomes job #1” – Mickey

It’s such a simple point, yet a very salient one. There are some very obvious maladies that afflict our church websites. When we see them, we should fix them.

For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, I prescribe my post entitled:

Even if you do know what I’m talking about, it’s a fun read … don’t worry, we’ll be here when you get back.

2. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

“I fixed up my church’s website with WordPress and a user-friendly, inviting design. Within months they’d wrecked the colors, changed pictures of people to pictures of furniture, and otherwise mucked it up.” – Jeremy

Okay, I’m not trying to be a wise-guy here, but I’ve seen this happen all to often. Usually this occurs when an individual has an agenda that it outside the scope of what the church website is trying to accomplish. Two that come to mind are:

  1. On the job training or skills advertising
  2. An ego that can’t share nice things

Often, I find it’s a combination of the both. My post “Mr. Zeldman meet Mike Boyink, one of ‘The New Samaritans’” comes to mind.

3. Content is King

“Even if it has to be black Times New Roman on a stark white background, I’d say job one is relevant content. When, where, what, who, and how, and for good measure, don’t forget why.” – lemon

I’m thinking ‘lemon’ pretty much summed it all up rather nicely with his/her enumeration of the basics that help us avoid the “Seven deadly sins of web writing.”

4. Identify your target audience

There are really (at least) two distinct audiences for a church website:

  1. People not part of your normal congregation, seeking information about your church …
  2. People in the congregation who want to know what’s on this week …

Since the introduction of this  blog back on May 17, 2002 I’ve been preaching the importance of identifying the purpose and personality of your church website – and then aiming all content, controls and/or contrivances at seekers and members alike.

Put another way, “A church website that fails to convey the purpose and personality of the congregation and staff will also fail to bring new members into the door.” – Empty Parking Lot Tabernacle

5. Identify your process & work-flow

“Unfortunately I think its a people problem, the site is just a symptom. People need to see it as a communication medium and commit to its use. I’m surprised at how poorly email is used by churches, let alone websites.” – David J

Unfortunately, I think the master of the B2Blog has offered a diagnosis that is as incisive as it it accurate. David accurately points out that unless we understand the work-flow that defines how we:

  • identify things that need fixed;
  • identify things that work;
  • identify what makes compelling content; and
  • identify the target audience of your church’s purpose and personality …

… then a church website is likely never to get healed no matter what content management system it employs, …

… no matter how much Flash animation the site does or does not have, …

… no matter how many social networks the church-geek API’s into the site.

In short, unless church doesn’t have well defined processes for how to effectively get the right information out to your target audiences, then you’re efforts are like the person Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 as aimlessly batting at the air.

At least that’s my take. What about you?

December 10, 2008
by meandean
2 Comments

The real reason Twitter beat the snot out of Pownce

Twitter gives our mundane lives meaning, that’s why it beat the snot out of a more ‘feature-rich’ Pownce.

To prove my point, let’s rewind about a year and a half ago to Tamar Weinberg’s comparison entitled ‘Twitter vs. Pownce: Who Pwns?‘ Dutifully she does what many of us do while shopping for software, cars, and food processors – she compares and scores the features of one product against another to a conclusion that reads:

Pownce 5, Twitter 3. Pownce wins!

There’s only one problem with that approach, while features may sell a product, it is ultimately functionality that sustains a product; software or otherwise.

Which is why I think Scoble succinctly hits the nail on the head while unwittingly predicting Pownce’s demise in his Twitter vs. Pownce post also from early July 2007:

“But, anyway, I still like Twitter the best. Why? No complications. It does only one thing. I find that on my cell phone I go back to Twitter before I go back to any of the others. It’s lightweight.”

Put another way, when it comes to microblogging, Twitter has it all over Pownce because it makes it easy to do the one thing we all want from microblogging – making the mundane instances of our lives meaningful, while learning new things about our friends without coming off like a stalker.

Disagree as some “new media marketeers” might, the reason we like Twitter is the same reason we fell in love with Blogger, it got out of the way and let us opine reflectively about how our cats would join us in contemplating the lint in our navels.

For example, why anyone would follow my own Twitter page is beyond me, yet some find the fact that I fertilize my lawn in December and enjoy smash-mouth football entertaining and interesting.

And like blogging, Twitter easily allows our friends and relatives to quickly comment at their convenience – only with the excellent 140 character excuse for not engaging in exposition and detailed explanations.

All this while providing others context about ourselves that may not come out in our blogs, lectures, books and top-rated podcasts. This latter point is nicely explained in this 2:25 YouTube video from the good folks at the CommonCraft Show aptly entitled ‘Twitter in Plain English.’

Pownce unfortunately lost sight of these primal purposes for microblogging, and in the process ‘featured-creeped‘ their product to death. Not an uncommon instance for software in any era. Especially when said offering described its services with a church-speak-like mission statements:

“… Pownce is a lightweight productivity app, built on top of the stream, and it has all the pluses and minuses of a productivity app (including that you can use it to share music with friends!)”  – Pownce is competing with 37Signals, not Twitter!

Any wonder we all stopped using Pownce around 160 days ago?

So what has this got to do with your church and/or charity website? Glad you asked.

Remember, software features are only relevant to the primary activities you’re trying to accomplish with the assistance of automation.

Put another way, when you’re picking or designing a program to get something done – ignore all the fluff-n-stuff that has little or no bearing on what you want to get done.

For example, if all you want to do is post 1-up snips of your daily life, then Twitter is just enough software to get it done. No need to worry about file storage, groups, rooms, etc …

… which is also why I’m thinking Twitter is also likely to eventually beat the snot out of FriendFeed; but I digress … so more on that topic latter.

For now, here are some related links on this topic:

Your mileage may vary on this one, but deep in your heart, you know I’m right about making the mundane meaningful vs. marketing appeal of Twitter.

Now please, if you don’t mind, link this post in your next tweet, add it to all your social network links so I can be proven wrong about the marketing thingie. A simple @deanpeters reply is all it takes!-)

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. – 1 Corinthians 9:24-26

November 27, 2008
by meandean
Comments Off on 5 things we can learn from my 7:40 AM Thanksgiving wake-up call

5 things we can learn from my 7:40 AM Thanksgiving wake-up call

I believe it was the slam of a large piece of plywood falling 2 some-odd stories onto other lumber that rudely awoke me at 7:40 AM this Thanksgiving morning.  An no, I couldn’t go back to sleep as the hum of a noisy air compressor placed precisely next to the property line driving the pneumatic hammers were equally annoying. That was the scene at my home this holiday.

trash next door

trash heap at 5244 levering mill rd, apex, nc

D&G Builders of Fuquay Varina proceeded to work on a new house.

A house next door being constructed on behalf of PenfieldHomes.com.

And after a few emails and phone calls to a project manager of construction who informed me that “Mexicans don’t celebrate Thanksgiving like us …”

So after telling said project manger that I didn’t want a feud, I apologized if anything we said or did offended (though I’m truly hard pressed to think of any such word or deed) – and he in turn called off the work squad – and I began to think of how similar situations can impact the peaceful operation of our church and charity websites.

In other words, just as noisy neighbors and/or construction are a nuisance in the real world, so too can the virtual home of our organization’s web presence can be disrupted by inconsiderate acts.  Here are some analogies that come to mind:

1. Noise
I had an experience lately where some blogs I run on a shared server were inaccessible due to the incoming noise from a bunch of spammers and ‘bots. This was because a neighboring domain sharing the same IP had put up a BBS in an unsecured fashion.
2. Obstructions
It’s only happened once, but a truck was recently parked that partially blocked our driveway. In the same way, access to your site can be obstructed in part and/or in whole when those working on and/ror running the website ‘next door’ with an improperly parked modules and/or run-away program that consumes all the server’s memory and ports.
3. Trash
Nobody like’s picking up someone else’s garbage. My wife is no exception, as she recently found herself picking up unsecured McDonald’s bags that had blown into our yard. In the same way, neighboring website projects can also leave rubbish in the form of temporary files, no-longer used compiler settings and the like.
4. Boundaries
The Wake County, NC ‘UDO‘  defines a minimum number of feet in which a new home structure can be built next to another, how much noise is acceptable and other fun stuff like that. However, just because these rules are on the books doesn’t mean they’re going to be enforced. Meaning, it is going to be up to me to look out for instances of encroachment. In the same way, don’t expect or assume the host of your shared server is going to have your best interest in mind. They don’t and won’t. It is up to you to be diligent be on guard for those times neighboring websites and/or webmasters wander into your domain – and to work within the boundaries of good citizenship and the rules to resolve such issues.
5. Communications
If possible, establish one point of contact and a protocol for those situations where you feel you’re on the receiving end of some inconsiderate instances or situations. For example, know the correct channels of communications for your web host, and if feasible, for your IP Neighbor. Similarly, understand that email, though convenient, can lead to a breakdown that leads to unnecessary and unfortunate bad blood. Especially true when individuals on the other side are already having a bad day due to some other unrelated inconsideration. In all cases, keep track and logs of all such communiqués as you never know when you’ll need them.

Anyway, those are my thoughts this Thanksgiving morning as I ignore the slam of pneumatic hammer guns and the humming whir of the air compressor and set my thoughts onto some delicious Greek Chopped Meat Stuffing and football.

Well that and all the wonderful ways in which I’ve been blessed, including my family, my friends, my job, my church, and also the hundreds of visitors to this site – many of whom have sent me private messages of best wishes. Thank you all. I’m very grateful for every remembrance of you (Philippians 1:3).

And with that, here are some links to some other related articles I’ve posted in the past. These include some practical advice on “how-to” implement some of the safeguards, countermeasures and logging I’ve mentioned above:

Now if you don’t mind me, I’m off to E-Bay and/or Craigslist to find an affordable ANSI S1. 2-1962 sound level meter to leverage. I’m hoping I don’t need it but one never knows.

November 13, 2008
by meandean
2 Comments

5 things more things about Christian spam email bombing runs

Ever get that annoying email from a church, friend, and/or family member who ‘accidentally‘ sent a rant to everyone in their address book and/or a group-related email directory? With the recent election, my wife and I have been getting more than our fair share.

And while I’ve written about how to address ‘Christian SPAM‘ in the recent past, I wanted to share with you my most recent response to what I sub-categorize as Christian SPAM email bombing runs (CSEBRs):

– – – § – – –

Hi {name withheld to protect the guilty};

Next time we get together, make sure I spend about 5 minutes on my laptop showing you 5 cool — and free — things about the web that don’t rock like it’s 1995. For example:

  • Twitter – a “microblog” mechanism that lets you post 140 characters on any topic you want as often as you want. This is especially great as you’re standing around bored, upset, amused, and/or excited about things while equipped with nothing more than your cell phone. For an example, check mine out at http://twitter.com/deanpeters – no great shakes, but I’ve got enough subscribers whom seem interested.
  • Facebook – a social networking service where friends and families can subscribe where you can post thoughts like the ones below and then engage people in dialog and/or banter as they can post comments, etc .. It’s also a nice place to throw out some family pix. If you’d like, I can also show you how to “plug-in” a Facebook app that update to your “wall” every time you post on Twitter (synchronization is an amazing thing). Here’s a link to my profie http://is.gd/6MgW … note how I used the http://is.gd mechanism to shorten the URL.
  • Blogger.com – now I know Twitter and FaceBook have obviated bloggery to some degree, but I still love it as it allows me to venture deep into topics I enjoy such as healing church websites and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Moreover, less constraints on what I can post – and if you like, you can make some buck$ via instruments like Google’s adsense. Oh BTW, I’ve got my WordPress-driven blogs set up with the ‘twitter tools plugin‘ to update my Twitter and Facebook pages when I post. Best thing, again, people can subscribe to your blog’s RSS feed to keep up to date.
  • Google Reader – note I’ve mentioned subscribe 3 times now. All of the above allow individuals to subscribe either through the site’s syndication feed (RSS) and/or through email alerts with links to the juicy and compelling content. And not just from annoying friends like me, but any blog, news wire, newspaper, microblog and/or social network to which you’re inclined to observe.
  • BCC – finally … and I can’t stress this enough … if you must use email, that’s cool. But please, do me and others on your distribution one favor – use the BCC mechanism to distribute the email. Blind Carbon Copy is cool in that it’ll protect your friends, family and loved ones from nasty spammers and idiots like me from exposing their email addresses “into the wild.“Oh, and if you use a free email service like gMail, you can create categories for both incoming and outgoing email addresses – which is really handy when you quickly send out email broadcats to select groups of your address book (using BCC of course).

Anyway, have a great Sunday – and give  {spouse name withheld to protect the innocent} a hug from us.

Your (annoying) friend;

Dean

– – – § – – –

Feel free to use any portion of this email to respond to Christian SPAM email bombing runs aimed in your direction. Or better yet, just send them a link here.

I’ll be glad to respond to their rationalizations and excuses by explaining how the are endangering the tax exempt status of their church by dumping a political kvetch on the Sunday school rolls.