Monday, March 29, 2010

My story

The Hill Country Bible Church Job Club had a new speaker this morning, Barbara Salisbury of Face Forward Life Coaching. Barbara gave us a nice model for outlining and telling our story. I've done much of this already, but not organized this well. And I realized that my vision had changed some in the past few months. So here's my (updated) story, according to Barbara's outline.

My Needs

Wife, four kids, mortgage, car payments, etc.
We home school, and there are many expenses for curriculum and activities.
Soon the first of four kids will need a car and auto insurance.
The oldest kid will be heading to college in a few years.
My retirement is seriously underfunded right now.
I need time to work on my hobbies.
And I need a job that will help me learn what I need in order to develop my Democracy 2.0 vision.

My Values

Continual improvement
Making a difference
New ideas

My Gifts and Talents

I am a very fast learner, especially with conceptual information.
I am good at explaining difficult concepts to others.
I am constantly learning, always digging for new information from any field.
I see the patterns in life.
I synthesize all of that information, and create frameworks that help me predict the future.
I am a very good communicator, especially when I have time to prepare.
I have a constant stream of new ideas.
I do not stop. Ever.

My Personality

INTJ. Highly introverted. Highly intuitive. Highly thinking. Borderline judging versus perceiving.
I require time alone for optimum functioning.
I think best alone, often while doing mundane chores like sweeping.
I know what I know--this is my favorite description of an INTJ.
I am not afraid.
I would greatly prefer to give you one laser sentence instead of a cluster-bomb of thoughts.
I sometimes come across as arrogant.
I like writing over speaking because I can edit.

My Mission Statement (process)

I work in small groups to implement big ideas. The more creative and the quicker to implement, the better.

My Vision Statement (goal)

My tombstone will say, "Thank God that Randy was able to explain his vision for Democracy 2.0". Everything between here and there is helping me formulate that.

Open source government

I was thinking about Democracy 2.0 today and I came up with the term "open source government."

It turns out that there are a number of people and organizations already there.  I'm going to work through that wikipedia article and look for a job with one of the organizations listed there (or that I find when I jump off from there.)

But, at first glance, those organizations look to genuinely be on the road that I have been envisioning--even if they are not yet doing it all the way I want it done...  :-)
Mickey McManus is the CEO at Maya, a design organization in Pittsburg that I am interested in going to work for.  This interview will explain why I want to be there.  They are on the cutting edge of doing great design work.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The folly of positive thinking

10:22.  Thought-provoking.  Critical of both the left and the right.  Worth your time.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Productcamp Austin

I attended Productcamp Austin today.  It was a great event.  I learned a lot.  Most of it was pretty high-level.  But I needed that.  I attended discussions outside of my core experience (mostly marketing and product strategy), so high-level was right for me.

It was free for attendees.  So a big thank you goes out to the corporate sponsors:
The AT&T Conference Center
The 280 Group
Pragmatic Marketing
Lucrum Marketing (headed by a fellow Journyx alum, Tom Evans)
Austin Ventures
ZigZag Marketing

I was especially impressed by a few of the speakers.

Josh Duncan was really fun and engaging.  He is a very good public speaker.  Lots of pictures, jokes, and give-aways.  He had three points, and he gave us a postcard with the three points in napkin-drawing form.  Smart guy.  I've added his blog to my regular read list.

Sharon Drew Morgen was new to the product marketing circuit.  She has been focused on sales training, and she seems to be in the process of adapting her material to suit this market.  Her ideas and insights are quite powerful.  I will be digesting her material for some time to come.  I've added two of her books to my Amazon wishlist.

Jim Foxworthy (President) and many of the Pragmatic Marketing team were there.  Every one I spoke to or heard speak was very knowledgeable.  If you are thinking about a social marketing product management strategy, you should check out this company.  I was able to talk to Jim some, and he certainly seems like someone I would enjoy working with.

Planview bought lunch (yeah!) and held a raffle for an iPad.  I suspect someone who is currently employed will win the iPad, but it was neat to see someone taking this group seriously.

There is an other Productcamp coming in August.  I plan on being there.  I will probably volunteer to help out.  You should come, too, if product management, development, design, or marketing are on your job radar at all.  You can't beat the price.  I've never gotten this level of quality at that price before.

Distribution of stimulus funds

How should stimulus money get distributed?

Think about that for a minute.  Should area with higher unemployment get more money?  Or maybe areas with more infrastructure needs?  How about just evenly distributing the money based upon population?

I wouldn't have a problem with any of those distributions.  Unfortunately, that's not how it has gone. is reporting their own study of the actual stimulus spending, and their findings are telling.  The money has gone to Democratic districts almost 2:1.

What does this teach us?  Money equals power.  Power corrupts.  In Washington, money buys power, which in turn takes a large cut of the public money.

The system is hopelessly broken.  If you think we can vote in better people then you are crazy.  If you want to corrupt a good person, send them to Washington.

How long will we stand for this?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Save the web content providers

Web content is funded by advertisements.  But the advertisements often contain malware--everything from relatively benign tracking cookies (that only invade your privacy from afar, like binoculars looking into your bedroom window) to very dangerous keyloggers (that actively attempt to steal your passwords, identity, and money.)

CNET recently reported on a study by Avast, an anti-virus company, that showed a handful of major news sites were responsible for more than a hundred thousand malware infections in a week.  Savvy internet users are wising up and blocking the advertisements, with products like AdBlock Plus (which reports more than 75 million downloads.)  Content providers are experimenting with blocking AdBlock users from seeing content, and with moving away from advertising to a subscription model.

We need to figure out a way to flush the malware out of the advertising, so we can have revenue for the content producers and security for the content consumers.

I am proposing a solution to this problem.  It's not a simple solution.  But it is a robust solution that will scale and grow with the internet as technologies and tactics change.

There are several components to the solution.  There are technology changes.  There are process changes.  There are organizational changes.

Technologically, advertisements need to be reigned in.  Senior coders and software security experts need to meet and talk, and then define a standard of which functions and features may be used in advertisements.  This has to be broken down in specific terms on a language-by-language basis.  It will be easier to start with the assumption that all features and functions of all languages are banned until explicitly allowed.

The list of allowed functions will be quite short, I predict.  Any function that doesn't display or manipulate content within the browser will be excluded.  That list, however short or long, is the type of thing that we can programmatically enforce.  And I propose that we do exactly that.

We should build an open-source code-scanner program that quickly examines advertisements and provides a simple pass or fail grade.  Advertisement developers should plug this program into their source-code repository to ensure that they are obeying the standards.

The connection between web content providers and advertisement providers has to change, also.  Right now content providers hotlink the advertisements from the advertisement providers' servers.  That has to end.  Content providers have to take responsibility for the content that they are executing in their clients' browsers.  This means that content providers have to build advertisement servers in their networks, and advertisement providers have to submit their ads to the content providers for them to store and serve locally.  The open-source code checking program that we developed above must be connected to the content providers' advertisement stores.  Once an advertisement passes through that checkpoint the advertisers cannot touch it.

The advertisers will need some way to count impressions.  So among the approved functions (on the list above) there must be a method for the advertisement to call back to the advertisers' servers with some content to prove that the ad was served.  We will have to negotiate and determine exactly what content will be, but I would suggest the viewer's IP address and the URL of the page that served the ad.  And I would suggest that the advertisement gets to make one-and-only-one of these calls (this is also something that our scanner program can scan for.)

In order to build and maintain the list and program we have to get some interested parties together to talk.  This is the internet, so we can do much (or maybe all) of this electronically.  But I suspect that we will have to have an actual conference-type meeting or two.  We need to get three groups engaged: advertisers, content providers, and security experts.  This will have to be an ongoing program, where advertisers can petition to get more functions added to the allowed list and security experts can petition to get them removed.  And all three groups will want to code-review the scanner program, when it gets updated.  Therefore, I think that a group like W3C should host and manage the process.

Content providers who limit their advertisements to these scanned-and-approved types would be immune to products like AdBlock because the advertisements and content would come from the same server--AdBlock works by actively blocking the advertising companies' servers.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

We have to learn to aim before we shoot

It's a common failing among humans.  We have an idea and jump to act before we think through the consequences.  Nanotechnology presents us with the latest example.  It seems that the most common chemical compound used in nanotechnology is highly poisonous.  Oops!

The problem is nano-titanium dioxide (NTD).  Get ready to hear all about this.  The lawsuits will probably start soon, since this has hit the mainstream media now.  But this looks like it could be the next asbestos.  Or asbestos times 100.

Tens of billions of dollars worth of products containing this chemical are sold in the US each year.  Apparently no one did any serious tests of the toxicity of NTD before they began developing products with it.  Now we have an entire industry that lives on it, and has a tremendous vested interest in keeping that research from going public.

The EPA seems to be ignoring it.  One can only assume that they are getting tremendous pressure from the business interests to do so.  The pressure from the sick is going to ramp up now that this information is reaching the public.

Soon we will have class-action lawsuits on behalf of people with mysterious and horrible diseases fighting against the thousands of businesses that have used NTD (and the insurance companies that back them.)  The science will get lost among all of the monied special interests who can pay for the studies to support their positions.  That is why we have to learn to aim before we fire--in this case not release a product on the public before it has undergone adequate testing.

It's too early to short the companies that make and sell NTD.  But it might not be too early to buy stock in the law firms that will be attacking and defending it.  Because in the end the only people/companies that will benefit from this catastrophe are the lawyers.  But that's a gripe for a different day.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The power and limits of self-control

You may already instinctively know this, but self-control is like a muscle.  You have to use it in order to build it up.  And when you use it a lot, it gets tired and becomes less reliable for you.

This article is a good summary of several recent studies that showed that wear-out effect.  I found this to be true when I was seriously dieting.  I had trouble saying no to other forms of temptation (and no, I'm not offering any details on that.)

And Freakonomics points to a study that indicates that low blood sugar reduces self control in dogs.

Recently I have been focusing on learning PHP and writing Pray with Friends.  I can force myself to work on that for a while, but then I can't make myself get up and do my exercises.

This is a strong argument for taking little breaks during your work, and for taking days off.  You ability to focus on all of the small details and continue to do good quality work diminishes over time--without breaks and rest, and time to recharge.

I would love to see some studies on how long it takes to recharge.  I would also love to see studies on whether or not someone cal truly build up their self-discipline muscle and thus exercise discipline for longer and longer periods.

One of the formative books of my youth was The Kingship of Self Control.  I found it on a bookshelf at my house, above the encyclopedias (which I also read cover-to-cover.)  It has my mother's name inside, but there is no indication of the year or where she got it.  I asked her about it one time, and she didn't remember it.

The book is 64 very small pages.  Maybe 5,000 words.  The author was the editor of Ladies Home Journal and the Saturday Evening Post, Mr. William George Jordan.  I re-read the book recently.  Jordan's arguments have lost little power over the years.  These aren't direct quotes, but capture the flavor of his arguments:

  • If you don't control yourself, then who is controlling you?  
  • You can only stop being someone else's victim by taking control of yourself.
  • You cannot rely on yourself if you cannot control yourself.
  • You cannot achieve any goal if you cannot rely on yourself to work to achieve it.
  • You cannot achieve any goal if you cannot stop yourself from taking actions that undermine your progress (succumbing to temptations.)
  • A sense of duty will fail you.  Duty can only push you so far.  Only love can be relied upon to motivate.
  • Do not bother with worry, guilt, or regret.  They are merely traps that will sap your strength and give you nothing good in return.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Adolescent meltdowns

If you have an adolescent (11-14 year old) then you need to read this article that Christy found.

I had a chat with my adolescent the other day, after a meltdown.  I explained to him that part of the changes going on in his body as he was growing was that he was feeling his emotions more forcefully than he had in the past.  I explained that this isn't a temporary thing, this is the new normal.  One of the skills he has to learn in order to survive and become an adult is gaining control of these emotions.

That seemed to help.  It gave him a frame of reference for future meltdowns, and helped him evaluate his own behavior.

The strategy in the above article will help, too.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A common sense drug policy

Yes, the title is virtually an oxymoron.  I had heard that the government's drug policy czar in Britain was fired for suggesting that they decriminalize marijuana.  Here's the story.

I'm amazed by the fact that he was able to do this research.  It's little better than anecdotal--a collection of anecdotes and professional opinions.  But it is something substantive in a field full of guesses and approximations, and worse.

More research is needed to firm-up the list.  But after we get that done we need to formulate drug laws that are more in line with the actual harm caused by each substance.  And we should form a rational procedure for evaluating new substances and rating them on the chart to determine how new drugs should be handled.

In my opinion, we should:

  • Legalize and tax all of the substances below tobacco on the list (the final list, not necessarily the current one).
  • Legalize, tax, and control (no sale to minors, etc.) all of the items between tobacco and alcohol, including those two.
  • Focus our drug control forces (border patrol, policing, prevention programs, education programs) on the items above alcohol on the list.

Will that ever happen?  No.  And that's too bad.  The broken system we have now is a horrible injustice.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The coming showdown with China

Trade.  Taiwan.  Tibet.  China's refusal to revalue the yuan.  America's soaring debts.  There is much for the US and China to argue about.  And it seems that the leaders on both sides are more interested in finding reasons to disagree.

The Telegraph has a good op-ed outlining the upcoming conflict.  If anything, I fear that Mr. Evans-Pritchard is placing too much faith in the current US administration.  If the Chinese were facing Roosevelt I think they may play their hand more carefully.  But I think that they analysis is the same as mine--this US administration is not in control.  We can't keep our friends in line (see Israel) or get our top administrative agenda through Congress (see healthcare.)

Mr. Evans-Pritchard may be right that we have the stronger hand here.  But China is right that we don't know how to play the game.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Steve needs a job

I attend a couple of job clubs.  Monday night I met a guy named Steve.  Steve needs a job.  Lots of people need jobs, but Steve's need is a little more urgent than most.  Please look over his background and ping me if you have any leads for him.  I can send you his resume and put you in contact with him.

Steve has a BS in Aviation Management from Tarleton State.  He worked in aviation for a number of years before that industry started shrinking.  He's done several things since then.  He has a strong background in media relations and production.  He managed a planetarium.  He's done substitute teaching.  And he's been a customer service rep--managing relationships with long-term customers.

Steve is smart and very well spoken.  He is very personable.  I think he would do a great job in meeting and talking with people, and maintaining long-term client relationships.  I also think he would excel in managing small and medium teams of workers--in pretty much any environment.

Steve loves the outdoors.  He is a hands-on guy.  He's a nice guy.  It would be very hard to not like him.

He just moved to town from Colorado.  He was only there for a few weeks.  Before that he was in North Carolina.  The unemployment rate is much worse in NC, and he has had some significant periods of unemployment.  That's depleted his savings pretty badly.  He needs to get to work soon.

He is in Austin right now, but he would move again if necessary.

Do you know of any position that could use a friendly and attentive manager, or manager-in-training?  Customer service manager?  Customer relationship manager?

Please let me know.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Adblocker and the death of web content providers

ArsTechnica recently ran an experiment to block content from users who were blocking their ads.  They wrote up a nice article explaining their experiment and why they ended it.  It's worth a read, if you are interested in the internet at all.  Go ahead, I'll be here.

C-Net posted a well-reasoned response/editorial that is also worth a read.

I'm a technical guy.  I have a patent on a web marketing technique (it's a little out of date now, but it drove fantastic SEO for my company for a long time.)  I'm trying to get interviewed for an IT position that would be responsible for managing the advertising platform for a major company.

Several years ago I converted to Firefox full-time and installed Adblock and NoScript permanently on all computers that I have influence over.  I'm glad to see that we are finally having a public dialog about this.  I'm surprised this has taken so long.  But from what I'm reading it appears that ArsTechnica and C-Net do not fully understand the problem.  I'd like to explain the problem to you and offer a way forward for the web-content industry.

The tipping point for me was the day my antivirus software alerted on a banner ad that was attempting to install a trojan program on my computer.  I was on  I decided that if couldn't be trusted to keep their advertising partners in line then I was going to have to just block the advertisers.

ArsTechnica, C-Net, and CNN, your advertisers are serving viruses and other malicious code.  Not all the time.  Not every day.  But too often.

The internet is much like sex.  Your content is being inserted into my computer.  I shouldn't have to draw the pictures for you.  I'm responsible for protecting myself.  You've proven to be untrustworthy, and blocking your advertisers is the only way that I can protect myself.  Adblock is the condom that I'm putting on you, in order to protect myself.

That's not quite an accurate description.  The ads you display are not hosted by you.  They are hosted by an endless array of ever-changing advertising companies.  These companies go to great lengths to hide their identity with false domain names and other tricks.  So your readers have no way of knowing who you are bringing to bed.

Thank you, but I have no interest in participating in your orgy.  I'm interested in your content, and I know who you are, so I will allow you to run your content on my computer.  But your buddies lurking in the shadows do not get a turn.  Understand?

We are currently on a trajectory for this to continue to escalate.  That will get ugly.  Good content providers will go out of business.  Good people will have to resort to ever-more nefarious tactics to safely get the content that they want.  I would like to suggest that there is another course.

I'm not turning off Adblock until you prove that you, and everyone you bring to bed, can be trusted.  No one speaks for the Adblock user community, but I believe that many others feel like I do.  Trust is the fundamental problem here.

In a practical sense, the problems are:

  • Advertisers are hidden and unknown on your site.
  • Advertisers have too much latitude in what code they run in their ads.
  • No one is monitoring the advertisers' IT practices to make sure that they are not hacked.
  • There is no feedback mechanism for when accidents do happen--and we can't pretend that hackers won't get in once in a while.

This flies in the face of conventional internet wisdom, but the best solution I see is for you to move the advertisement servers into your domain.  You take responsibility for the servers (security and content scanning.)  You actively scan and limit the types of code that your advertisers can run before you run it.  You establish a webmark or legend to show people that you are taking responsibility for the code that you run on your readers' computers.  And you establish a full-disclosure policy to alert readers when there are security breaches.  That full disclosure policy needs to name the advertisers, who have to come out of the shadows.

Technical people will need to meet and discuss what types of content are allowed in web ads.  I want tracking cookies banned, for instance, but that might be negotiable.  But the experts should talk it through and agree on a language/function by language/function basis and establish a permissible standard.

We could work together to establish an open-source project for software to scan advertisements before they were approved for serving.  I'm sure that many volunteers would show up to help code that for free for you.  That could be part of the webmark, or whatever.

You guys, ArsTechnica and C-Net, are technical thought leaders.  You can reach out to the various leaders and help establish these standards.  If you don't, then no one will.

(Update: CNET is now running an article discussing the precise numbers of malware exposures being served in the advertisements on several major sites.  My read of the chart is hundreds of thousands of malware infestations through the advertisement platforms on the New York Times, DrudgeReport, and other stalwart sites--over a period of SIX DAYS.  The major advertising platforms are all compromised.)

Good luck.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Pray with Friends status update and questions

PwF is coming along nicely.  I've discussed it with a few people.  I know a few people who are worried about my progress, so here's a status update for you.  And I have a few design questions that I would like some feedback on.

PwF has three main pages:
  • Journal
  • Pray
  • Messages
Each person will log their prayer requests and praises on the Journal page.  Then they will click through to the Pray page, where they will be prompted to pray for a few of their own praises and requests, and many of their friends' requests and praises.  Then after they finish praying they will click through to a page where they can easily send messages (public or private) to the friends that they prayed for.

There is also a Settings area that will probably be just an expand-collapse box on the Journal page.  And there might be a Donations and/or Membership page--that's a significant part of my questions, below.

All of this has to be coded in several different languages/technologies:

  • HTML
  • CSS 
  • FBML
  • Javascript
  • PHP
  • Ajax (using either XML or JSON)
  • MySQL 

I know HTML and CSS pretty well.  I understand how Javascript works, and I can get along very well just by searching through various web help sites.

FBML is Facebook's propietary version of HTML/CSS, and I've heard it is easy (I've ordered a book on it, but it hasn't arrived yet.)

I've picked up a lot of PHP in the last week or so.  I succeeded in writing some relatively complex PHP functions late last week.

I won't have to do a whole lot of direct MySQL programming, and there are lots of good books and websites that can give me what I need.

The last technology left is Ajax.  Yesterday I picked up a book on using Ajax and PHP together.  I worked through the first tutorials and read the heavy theory sections, and I get it.  I have some working sample code to adapt, and I'm quite confident that I can work out the rest.

The three main pages of PwF each use a different technologies:

  • Journal - Lots of Ajax and FBML, with some simple MySQL

  • Pray - PHP, with a little bit of complex MySQL

  • Messages - Almost exclusively FBML

  • I have a working prototype of the Pray page.  It is wicked fast and very clean.  I'm using some simple MySQL in the prototype, because I haven't designed the final database table structure yet.  I need to build the Journal page before I finalize that.  But the MySQL is modularized and will be easy to update.

    I'm working on the Journal page now.  I have it laid out in my head.  I know how I want it to work.  Now I just have to find the right Ajax code to build my first prototype.  I'm going to start that after I finish this blog post.

    I have employed Christy to do some of the non-technical writing for me.  She is looking up verses that praise God, and verses that reference common sins.  These will be semi-randomized and included in the prayer.  She's doing a good job of getting that stuff together.

    I have reached out to a couple of artists and asked them if they would be willing to draw a logo and some little images for me.  They have been busy, and I need to follow up with them on that.

    The basic application could be ready for me to start integrating into Facebook (writing the FBML and running in a sandbox on Facebook's servers) and starting testing on in 2-3 weeks.  There is only one significant issue that I don't have resolved: the revenue model.

    All of these questions are assuming that you would be interested in keeping a prayer journal in Facebook, praying for your friends and having them pray for you, and sending them appropriate messages of encouragement or offers of assistance after you pray.....
    1. The application has to have some way to cover costs to pay for the web hosting and other expenses (and, yes, I would like to make some money, too.)  I have thought of four different ways that people could help fund this application.  Which would you prefer, if you were using this application?:

    A. A 'Donation' page.  Some kind of reminder would probably appear on the Journal page asking you to donate.  The donation would probably be through a PayPal 'Donate' button (because I already have a PayPal 'Donate' button that I could easily slap in there in 2 minutes.)

    B. Buy little images to go with the messages you send after you pray.  I'm not sure how much the images would cost, but somewhere in between 5 cents and 25 cents each.  You wouldn't have to buy an image every time, or at all, even.  This would work like the birthday greetings images and songs that everyone sees but almost never sends...  Except these would be more inspirational looking original artworks.

    C. An annual membership fee.  Probably you would get to use the application for free for some period of time, and then you would get prompted to pay.  I really don't like making this mandatory, but if it were mandatory I would keep it very low.  Like $5 per year.

    D. A combination of images and a membership fee.  So the images would be there and the membership fee would be optional.  You could choose to buy the images one at a time.  Or you could pay the annual membership and get to use any of the images for free.  In this case the membership fee would have to be more, to cover for the many people who don't pay.  Maybe $12 per year.

    2. If you prayed for Johnny's hip replacement on Monday, how important would it be for you to follow Johnny's progress next week?  Can I expect you to just click over to Johnny's profile page in Facebook to see how he is doing?  Or do I need to somehow make sure that you get updates from Johnny about his hip?  Would you want the updates on some items but not others?

    3. Only people who are friends of yours and who have the application installed will see your prayer requests and praises.  But that list will probably include some close friends and some not-so-close friends.  You won't want your mother reading about your boyfriend getting arrested.  You won't want a co-worker reading about your upcoming job interview.

    I have thought of two ways to deal with this issue.  Can you think of any others?  Or which of these would you feel comfortable with?  Which option would not be more work than it was worth?

    A. Every prayer request or praise item in your list has a Public Description and a Private Description.  Everyone (your Facebook friends who also use the application) would see only the Public Descriptions.  The Private Descriptions would be private.  You could choose how much information to share in the Public Descriptions.  You could leave a Public Description blank, and it would only show up for everyone else as a "private concern."  Or you could leave the Private Description blank if you said it all in the Public Description.

    B. Or I could code a way for you to identify which of your Facebook friends could see all of your praises and prayer requests.  So you could create little prayer groups that included only some of your Facebook friends.

    C. Or I could code a way for you to form multiple prayer groups to join.  Everyone in all of your prayer groups would see all of your requests.

    D. Or I could code a way for you to form multiple prayer groups to join, and then let you specify for each prayer request or praise which prayer group could see it.  Or maybe even joining this idea with the Public and Private Descriptions idea, let you pick which prayer groups see the Public, which see the Private, and which see nothing at all.

    4. How often would you want to pray like this (assuming that it was well-written and easy to follow)?

    5. How long would you want to spend in prayer each time you prayed?

    6. How many different prayer request items would you keep on your list?

    7. Would you need some way to signify which prayer requests were urgent, to get them prayed for more often?

    And, finally....

    8. Would you like to use an application like this?

    Please feel free to comment in the comments here, or message me on Facebook, or send me an email to william.randy.miller (at)


    Throw out both parties

    Harry Markopolos on the Daily Show.  I haven't read the book, but it promises to be amusing.  This guy doesn't pull his punches and he seems to know all of the games.  I particularly liked the quote (around 5:10) that we have to vote both parties out of power.

    Monday, March 8, 2010

    Jesus was an introvert

    I was at a job seekers' meeting at church tonight, and the Bible lesson was about prayer.  Specifically it was an overview of the most pivotal periods of Jesus' life, with emphasis on the fact that He was regularly praying before those moments.

    As is often the case when someone is talking, and I get it, and they keep talking....  My mind was racing ahead and analyzing what else I can see in this set of versus.

    And besides praying, Jesus was constantly going away by Himself before and after the biggest events in His ministry.  He recharged His batteries by spending time alone.

    Lots of other teachers and preachers are introverts.  There's nothing wrong with it.  But maybe I just feel a little better about being an introvert now.

    Sunday, March 7, 2010

    It's all a matter of perspective

    The Time Online UK is reporting that Russian scientists are warning about a dangerous new environmental threat.

    As I've noted before, we don't understand Earth's natural temperature cycles.  This is one of those things that we don't know.  But it makes a bit of logical sense that something like this must be a big part of the puzzle.  Large amounts of something must build up and then eventually escape to cause significant change.  In this case it is methane.

    But, wait a second, isn't methane also a fuel?  Yes.  Yes it is.  We normally call it natural gas.

    So climate change scientists find this leaky permafrost full of methane and cry that we are all about to die.  I've got an easy solution for you, fellows.  Send in some natural gas extraction companies.  Let's bottle and burn that stuff.

    Burning natural gas generates CO2, a greenhouse gas.  But, as the Times article says, methane is 25 times more damaging than CO2.  It's not a perfectly clean win, but it is a big win, nonetheless.

    We might have to subsidize the extraction.  Or subsidize the insurance on the extraction.  But surely it would be worth it to save the planet from methane catastrophe.

    Friday, March 5, 2010

    Adventures in programming: database query times

    As I mentioned yesterday, I am learning PHP.  I'm working my way through tutorials and reading all sorts of stuff.  At the same time I am refining and adjusting my design of Pray with Friends as I learn stuff.

    Part of Pray with Friends will be a page where you actually read off a prayer.  The prayer will have lots of parts, like an opening, a closing, and some transitional statements.  I intend to have many different openings and closings, and just randomize them.  That way the prayers will seem new and different each time.

    One of the things I have to do is handle the list of openings, closings, etc.  I have several lists that will exist somewhere.  I was thinking that they belong in the database.  I'm still learning, and so this is subject to change, but the test I just did indicates that I need to just build the lists as hard-coded arrays in an included PHP file.

    Here's what I did.  I wrote a simple PHP page that includes (PHP-speak for 'connects to') a PHP file and connects to a database.  The main PHP page declares a start_time variable and then runs a counting do...while loop.  Each iteration of the loop prints a row that contains the counter number and a sentence.  The sentence is either pulled from the database or the hard-coded PHP array in my included PHP file.  The page also declares an end_time variable and subtracts the start_time variable from it to display an elapsed time.

    The included PHP file's array and the database table were identical.

    I just comment and uncomment the rows with the calls to either the database or included PHP file to run the tests different ways.

    The database is on the same box where I am running everything else.  So there is no network latency in this test.

    I ran the file both ways for 10,000 rows.  Care to guess the performance difference between the two methods?

    Pulling 10,000 records from the database took 10 seconds.

    Pulling 10,000 records from the hard-coded array in the included PHP file took 0.3 seconds.

    All of this was processing on my local desktop.  The database query was overall much more processor intensive, too.  My quad core processors spiked to about 20% utilization for several of the 10 seconds during the database query (yes, all four of them.)  My processor monitor didn't even register the query to the hard-coded PHP array (not even a skinny little point.)

    Thursday, March 4, 2010

    Adventures in coding

    For those of you who haven't heard, I'm working on writing the Pray with Friends Facebook app that I blogged about months ago.

    I have installed all of this on my Windows desktop:
    About a dozen PHP-PEAR extensions for things like connecting to Facebook and Paypal.

    I have a little test database going.  I have an HTML (PHP) file that lets you enter records into the database.  It validates that you filled in all of the fields and that what you entered isn't too big for the database fields.  If you made an error it leaves what you entered in the fields.  And after the data passes the validator, it gets posted to the database.  The page also shows you all of the records in the database.

    I have actually spent more time troubleshooting craziness with PHP and PEAR on Windows 7 than anything else.  The newest release of PHP simply would not run--after I installed it Apache would not start.  I opened a defect with the PHP crew over that, and it seems that others can reproduce my problems.

    I also found that Windows 7 is more picky than previous versions of Windows about case sensitivity and file/folder permissions.  I had to hack Windows some and then hack PEAR's configuration some in order to get PEAR to operate without constantly throwing errors.  And I had to move all of the PEAR-PHP extensions out of their normal directories and into a new directory structure that I created--and then go through every file to re-path all of the connections between files.

    I feel like I've made a ton of progress in my first 3 days of learning PHP.  I understand enough, and have gotten enough of other people's code to work, that I am confident that I can actually code this app.  I can't promise that it will be any good.  But I can code up my idea and make it work basically the way that I want.

    Next up is updating records in the database (calling them up into editable fields in the form and then chancing what is in the database.  After that is adding another layer of validation to ensure that hostile code is not getting saved to the database.  After that I start converting my page from full page submissions into discrete AJAX calls.

    Once I have those three steps mastered I will build my first version of the PwF database structure and start building the prototype pages for the actual application.

    I have already employed Christy to write some of the content for the application--the prayer prompts.  I've looked over what she is doing, and it looks great.  I'm really excited.

    4 minutes of merriment


    Quick, define the word "skinput"

    Is this what you guessed?

    I'm a technology geek, and I love this stuff.  I would really enjoy working in a lab to design and test this stuff.

    So...  Your next mobile device may be worn strapped to your upper arm and have no screen other than the pico projector that beams an interface onto your arm or hand.

    My only concern is how well it does with clothes under the receiver on your arm, or on your lower arm.  Or gloves, for that matter.

    The projector and camera setup is significantly more flexible (gloves are ok), but not nearly as accurate.

    Wednesday, March 3, 2010

    The benefits of having money

    Everybody has needs.  Food, shelter, etc.

    Everybody has wants.  People with money get to have more of their wants.

    I know money won't buy happiness.  But this would make me pretty darn happy.  I'm grinning from ear-to-ear just thinking about it.

    Tuesday, March 2, 2010

    The value of obstructionism

    Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky is obstructing a 10 billion dollar bill.  That bill includes unemployment extensions.  Let me be more specific, that bill includes my federal unemployment benefits extension.

    Every story has many sides.  And the MSM often misses the nuances of the situation.

    Bunning is getting run through the ringer, personally, for this.

    Bunning is just trying to make a point.  And it is an important point.  The sponsors of this bill are just piling on more unfunded debt.  The Senate could pass the bill if they would just vote.

    What Bunning is blocking is a procedural event.  Normally bills get passed here without a vote.  The problem is that no one wants to vote for this bill, because they don't want to be called out for voting for unfunded spending. They will have to vote for it sometime, but they want to wait and do it later when no one is watching.  Everyone is watching right now.

    Bunning is trying to get the other Senators to amend the bill to make this spending part of the huge stimulus package that they passed last year, presumably by cutting some of the unspent money from that bill.  But that bill is full of earmarks and pork that no Senator wants to see cut.

    I hate that my family is going to suffer for this.  But Bunning is right.  We can't just spend like drunken sailors.

    This bill, or another like it, will get passed soon.  I hope that it is funded with cuts from somewhere else.

    I want you to want me

    Maybe you remember the song.  Cheap Trick sang it.
    I want you to want me.
    I need you to need me.
    I'd love you to love me.
    In Maslow's Hierarchy of Need, this falls into the 'Love/belonging' category.  (Yes, 'respect by others' is in the next category up, but 'respect' and 'want' are very different things.)

    The only needs that are more critical are the basic physiological needs (air, food, water, etc.) and physical safety.  The pyramid on wikipedia shows 'employment' as an element of physical safety.  I didn't remember that, but I guess it makes sense--without employment you can't meet the physiological needs for long.

    Cheap Trick's song was clearly meant between lovers.  Perhaps the initial spark of romance had died.  Like many popular songs, the singer is expressing his desire for sex and his willingness to do whatever it takes to earn it.  But these lyrics reach past sex and apply to the inner heart longing for connection and acceptance.  Wanting to be wanted is a common feeling that applies in many types of relationships (most of which are not sexual.)

    I talk with many job seekers.  This emotion applies here, as well.

    Getting laid off is often an intensely personal event.  No matter the circumstances, you feel rejected.  Even if you understand the circumstances and it really wasn't personal, it feels personal.  I've felt this myself.  I hear it in other people's voices, and in the way they tell their stories.

    For many job seekers the next job is less about getting another paycheck and more about being wanted again.  The paycheck is a safe topic that you can talk about.  But for most of us, the need to be needed is felt more strongly.  And the inverse is true.  The feeling of being wanted is missed more than the paycheck.

    When I think about the projects I'm doing, like theHiringSurvey and perhaps the Whatever company, I think about communicating to people that they are wanted.  It's important.

    Craig at the HCBC job club often talks about getting stuck.  He talks about anger.  He talks about forgiveness and moving on.  He talks about feeling rejected.  But there isn't a shortcut that I have found for feeling wanted.  You can fake it for a while.  But at some level it seems to be a wound that simply won't heal until a person feels wanted again.

    That's one of the things that brings me back to the Whatever company idea.  There are paychecks involved.  But it can also heal that wound and help people get unstuck.

    Monday, March 1, 2010

    Dirt digging on Goldman Sachs

    Barry at the Big Picture provided a link to a very controversial article.  I have never read McClatchey's new before, so I don't know their reputation.  The article passes the sniff test--the writer clearly doesn't like GS, but his reasons seem to be based upon actual injustices performed.  If he has a personal axe to grind that didn't come through to me.

    The author attempts to prove that GS knew that the CDOs were garbage destined to implode before they sold them to their clients.  Then they hedged them in a way that would let GS profit when the products they had just sold tanked.  If provable, this is certainly a violation of basic professional ethics.  It ought to be illegal, but I don't know the law here.  Certainly if I were a GS client who had lost a bundle on CDOs I would be out for blood.  I'm guessing that it is only a matter of time before a class-action suit is filed against GS by its customers.

    The FED and Treasury failed the taxpayers and GS's clients.  Let's see if the SEC and courts can find justice. Presentation

    I was able to speak to the Job Club at Hill Country Bible Club this morning.  Here's a video of my presentation.

    There were about 80-100 people in the audience.

    I haven't spoken to a group like this for years.  I thought I had removed 'uh' from my vocabulary.  I guess I need more practice.

    Please take the survey and share the survey.

    Thank you , Craig, for giving me the opportunity to speak to the club.

    Father Abram

    Sunday school (Adult Bible Fellowship) on Sunday morning was about Abram and the Abrahamic Covenant.  I was really struck by the fact that God made this an unconditional covenant.  That means that God didn't put any qualifications on it.  God simply said, "I'm going to bless the whole world through your family."

    It's almost as if Abram couldn't even stop God from doing it.  In most of God's other covenants with people there are conditions that God lays down before the people will receive God's blessing.  Sometimes there are punishments listed for failing to live up to their end of the bargain.

    It made me wonder why God did not do any of that in Abram's case.  Abram certainly sinned and made some mistakes along the way.  But the mistakes that he made were not serious enough to threaten God's work.

    Did God simply know this in advance?  Maybe God just decided that this project was too important to let Abram fail.  Or maybe He just knew that Abram didn't need the threat in order to be faithful.

    Whatever God's reasonings, it seems clear that Abram was the sort of person who would remain faithful without the threats.  Wow.  Think about that for a minute.  Abram was willing to leave his home and follow God's direction with little evidence and little knowledge of God.  Scripture does not indicate that Abram was a simpleton.  Abram reasoned out the situation and decided to trust God, over and over.

    If only I could be so faithful.