Category Archives: Featured

Test Your Knowledge of Black History

In honor of Black History month my dear pastor friend in Chicago posted a short quiz in the church Bulletin last weekend.   I decided to post some of the questions here…  It is inspiring to learn the amazing things that Black Americans have done to make this country great. Test your knowledge of Black History in the U.S.

Black History Quiz

Black History Quiz

 

 

A Legacy of Love and Justice

When I think of the heroes like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from our past who have paid so much for the freedoms that we take for granted, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Why is Martin Luther King Jr. such a hero to me?

 

I can tell you that it is not because he walked on water, because he didn’t.
I can tell you that it is not because he was a savior, because he wasn’t.
I can tell you the it is not because he was perfect, because he wasn’t.

Martin Luther King Jr. is a hero of mine precisely because he was merely human. A mere human who from the basement office of a humble church started a revolution. A mere human who let nothing stand in his path of faithfulness for the cause of justice and for a dream of equality and reconciliation.

Dr. King is a hero of mine not just because he died for a dream that was bigger than all of us. The life he lived is also a symbol to me of the lives of so many others from his generation who paid in blood for many freedoms we take for granted.

Yes, we have such a long way to go. Perhaps it will take generations for us to realize how absolutely foolish and pathetic it is for us to allow something like melanin and money to incite such injustice and division that continues to scar the legacy of humanity.

Today I pray that we don’t pause to grieve about the distance we have yet to travel for the cause of justice and righteous. The road to justice will be there tomorrow. Today, just for a moment, I pray that we pause to thank God for the distance we have traveled, and for the faithful souls who, like Martin Luther King Jr., paid for the freedoms we do have, in blood.

To all my elder brothers and sisters who gave the best days of your lives for the cause of freedom and equality of all human beings regardless of nationality or color of skin, we thank you. To think, it was only one generation ago that you paid so much.  Yes, we have a long way to go, but I hope we can all acknowledge that your sacrifice was not in vain. I pray that my generation can be faithful enough to honor your legacy of love and justice by carrying the dream forward to our children.

I.T. vs Users – Part 1
(…it doesn’t have to be this way)

In this corner…The I.T. Pro…

When I start to talk about using Information Technology “best practices” for churches and non-profits, professionals who work in such organizations day-to-day shutter. Let’s face it, I.T. has  a bit of a reputation for applying a heavy draconian hand when it comes to setting I.T. policies and standards. In many cases there exists an ongoing war between I.T. staff and the rest of the general user population. I.T. pros love to polk fun at end users with jokes like:


Phone Support Tech: “Will you please hold a moment sir, I believe you are experiencing an I. D. 10 T. Error.

User: Oh no… an I-D-1-0-T error sounds serious.

Phone Support Tech: It is very serious.  However, hopefully the error you are experiencing is not caused by a PEBKAC. If we do discover that your I-D-10-T error has been cause by a PEBKAC, I am afraid that we will not be able to help you.


Yes, I.T. techs can be obnoxious and condescending. But lets not be too hard on them. Most of the I.T. professionals I have worked with over the years, even the pompous scary smart geniuses I have worked with, have good intentions about helping people. Most of them kill themselves on a daily basis to add value. Most of them start out strong with a vision to “use their powers” for good…and they do a great deal of good. After a while, though, they realize that users are never satisfied, technology is never good enough, customers rarely listen to their recommendations,  and they rarely ever get to cross a finish line where they feel like they actually accomplished something significant. In many situations, I.T. pros build a kind of a savior complex around them. They become addicted to the feelings they get when they can swoop in and save the day. Some I.T. pros even go as far as to get a serious martyr complex. They feel like they beat their head against a wall of futility every day and no one ever notices their efforts. After a while I.T. pros who live in this trench long enough lose their proactive edge. They start to build defensive walls around them. All of their decisions and responses become polluted by cynicism, exhaustion and, I dear say, even fear. How do I know this? I have been there. Everything I have written above describes me at some point in my technology career.

And in this corner…The end user…

End Users and/or technology consumers are not blameless either. They have their own jokes about I.T. Pros. The old Nick Burns Computer Guy character from Saturday Night Live is a good portrayal of how obnoxious I.T. pros can be. The truth about technology consumers is that they can be clueless, demanding, ungrateful and self centered. They are also human after all.

Let’s face it, we live in an on-demand world where comfort is king and technology is increasingly becoming democratized and ubiquitous. The mobilization of technology coupled with the “pay as you go” mobile plan has opened access to more people from wider socio-economic backgrounds than ever. I have worked with people around the world who by all standards live in poverty but they still have a mobile phone and a Facebook account.

It has gotten to the point where access to technology is required for everything from healthcare to high school to household management. I hesitate to label the future of computer technology as mobile or stationary, global or microscopic. I have come to simply describe it as inescapable. The reality is that we have become reliant on technology for everyday life.

Just yesterday, a dear friend who runs an outreach ministry in Memphis called me asking for help restoring his network. Without his internet connection he lost access to key government websites that require time sensitive responses. He lost access to other professional services that he relies on to run the community development portion of his ministry. He lost access to the educational resources he uses to support his reading program. He even lost access to the cloud based services that he uses to help write his sermons. I know, one could make an argument that he shouldn’t rely so heavily on technology to run his ministry. The fact is, his ministry doesn’t have access to a great deal of financial resources. The simple network that connects him to the internet gives him access to countless resources that would cost him thousands of dollars to bring in house. Dollars that can now be used to provide more tangible resources to the neighborhood like affordable housing, food, education, mentoring and discipleship.

Why do I mention this example? As technologists working in today’s technology driven world we need to keep in mind that users don’t call us because they have a personal agenda to drive us crazy. They call us because they genuinely need our help.

Yes, it is true people can be selfish and demanding. However, it is also true that people have good intentions to help others and to do meaningful things with their lives. As technologists we need to keep in mind that by the time a computer user calls us for help, they have already tried to work through or around the problem themselves.   The fact that they are coming to us for help means that their forward motion has been blocked enough to where they have nowhere else to turn. This can often bring out the worst behavior in an individual. We don’t have to relegate ourselves to the role of doormat or punching bag. However, even in the face of intense user drama we must discipline ourselves to believe the best in people who call on us to solve problems.

Before the fight bell rings…

There you have it…a description of I.T. in one corner and a description of computer technology users in the other. That’s all the time I have for writing today. However, in my next post, I will offer some practical tips for end users and technology pros to hopefully gain a better understanding of each other. I acknowledge that there will always be a healthy tension that exists in the process of leveraging technology to solve problems and help people. Computer technology users don’t always know what they want. Technology often fails to meet our expectations and technology professionals aren’t always effective at adding value.  Perhaps these tips will help organizations avoid unnecessary drama and tension.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Free I.T. Availability Management Calculator

I recently created a simple tool to help me effectively calculate the Availability, Reliability and Maintainability of I.T. Services. I find that such tools offer some helpful objectivity to the often chaotic world of Non-profit organizational management I work in.  I hope that this tool helps people learn and apply these simple disciplines to their own I.T. management processes.

The tool itself is just an Excel spreadsheet that contains ITILv3 Availability Management formulas. I like to manage I.T. Availability down to the second. But you can change to tool to fit your needs.

Hopefully the tool is self explanatory. Just let me know if you have any questions.

Related Information

 

Open Source Education

This is just a short post today…I promise. Not long ago I was speaking with a dear friend and mentor of mine back in the Chicagoland area. His name is Dave Braunschweig. Dave is a professor at a local college up there. The guy is one of those super scary smart people, a amazing teach and he constantly comes up a useful things do with technology.

He and I were discussing technology and education and Dave shared something with me that he is doing with www.wikiversity.org. I thought it was so cool that want wanted to share it with you.

Dave is using Wikiversity as the platform to design his curriculum for classes. Of course, as I understand it, a student would still have to pay the college he works for to take tests and get official credit. But still…having free access to audit a curriculum planned by skilled and talented educators is a pretty cool idea.

Check out one of his courses out there…
Internet Protocol Analysis http://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Internet_protocol_analysis

Keep up the great work Dave…

 

 

I.T. Availability Management
(Facts & Fiction)

Availability What?

So here’s the scenario. One of the many hats you are wearing at the non-profit organization that you work for is to oversee I.T. services. In this role you are asked to find a new hosted service to manage payroll. You are very familiar with the business processes that support payroll functions for your organization and you have narrowed the candidates to just a few options. As you review the services they offer, you make your way down to the section that describes the “availability” of their service and it reads something like “We provide 99.999% availability” or “Availability: Five 9s.”

You don’t have a technical background, and you aren’t sure what this means. However, someone told you that whatever service you contract with needs to offer “Five 9s of availability so that is what you are looking for in a service. Still, since you really aren’t sure what term means you decide to search the internet on the topic of “Five 9s” to educate yourself on the subject. Your search yields a variety of results from exact calculations to abstract ideas and definitions of “Five 9s.”

Here’s the deal. It is a generally accepted practice to communicate the availability of a service as a percentage, (i.e. 99.999%). However, the term Five 9s or 99.999% can be misleading. It has almost become more of a marketing term than a true calculation of the availability of an I.T. service. With that in mind, rather than give you an availability table with percentages and their corresponding timeframes, I would rather share with you how to wisely and intelligently analyze technology service availability and introduce you to the subject of availability management..

Why?

Organizations continue to grow in their reliance on third party vendors to provide application, infrastructure and support services to meet their technology needs. Many of these services are accessed through an internet browser and all that is required for many of these services is a decent internet connect. This means that in many situations, business units other than I.T. are making decisions about technology solutions that were once the sole responsibility of the I.T. department. Technology providers take advantage of this knowledge gap and gloss over certain technical details. The result is that the customer ends up paying for more availability than they need or they end up having a false sense of security that the service they are paying for will be there when they need it. With this in mind, I am not necessarily making a plug for I.T. departments and I am not saying that many of these decisions should continue to fall under I.T. departments. As technology becomes more and more democratized, decisions for how technology is used in an organization has also moved beyond the boundaries of I.T. departments.

How?

With all of this in mind, Here are a couple tips to help the business manager in a non-profit make an educated analysis when it comes to managing the “availability” risk of an I.T. service they are investigating:

1. Start with a standard Definition of Availability

A generally accepted definition of availability as it applies to I.T. Services is the: Ability of a Configuration Item or IT Service to perform its agreed Function when required. (Note: A configuration item or CI is just a fancy term for computer, server, device, etc.) Translation: Will the service I am paying for be there when I need it.?

For example, let’s say that you are looking are a new hosted payroll system. Rather than looking for five 9s of availability, or 3 nines of availability or whatever, ask yourself the following question instead. Will this service be available when I need it?  You may conclude that you need to this service to be available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday Through Friday. From this point of view the question of percentage of availability really is really only relevant to the times that you need to access the service.

Google Apps is usually available 99.9% of the time. That is 3 nines of availability for those of you keeping score. This means that I can expect that Google apps may not be available for up to around 43.8 minutes a month. On one hand that seems like a lot of down-time. However, one the other hand, I can’t remember a time when I could not access my Google apps account. Therefore, it has been available when I have needed. In this case “3 nines” of availability has been more that enough for me. If I allowed myself to get caught up in a sales pitch that tried to convince me that though their service costs more, they offer “Five 9s” of availability, I would be paying for more for that service than needed.

2. Understand what goes into the availability of a Service.

Gaining a clear understanding of the concept of availability when it comes to technology services can be challenging.  Even a service like a credit card processing service that claims to be available 99.999% of the time could add little value to an organization if there is a pattern of service interruptions; even if the interruptions are only a few seconds a day. Learning the factors that go into calculating availability can clarify confusion and help to ensure that the service you are paying for will be available when you need it.

According to ITILv3, Availability is determined by Reliability, Maintainability, Serviceability, Performance and Security.

  • Reliability is a measure of how long a Configuration Item or IT Service can perform its agreed Function without interruption.
  • Maintainability  is a measure of how quickly and Effectively a Configuration Item or IT Service can be restored to normal working after a failure. In the case of Software as a Service, maintainability can also be applied as a measure of how easy it is to make changes and/or repairs to the software.
  • Serviceability  refers to the “contractual conditions with a given supplier covering the availability of, and the conditions under which the contractual conditions are valid for, a Configuration Item or system.
  • Performance  is  measure of what is achieved or delivered by a System, person, team, Process or IT Service.
  • Security is defined as the “process of ensuring that services are used in an appropriate way by the appropriate people.”

I will dig into each of the items listed above in future posts. However, even a basic understanding of the elements that determine the availability of a technology service can go along way toward helping you craft intelligent analysis questions like:

  • How often is the performance of the service impacted by unplanned interruptions?
  • How long do service interruptions last on average?
  • What are the terms and conditions as to when the promise of availability is in effect?
  • What needs to be achieved in order to call the service available? For example, in the case of an online credit card processor, they might commit to a certain level of availability for credit card processing but exclude access to reporting from that commitment.
  • To whom does the service need to be available in order to label the service as available? What are the conditions for that availability. For example, I know of a service provider that blocked access to the admin dashboard to anyone who tried to gain access from a specific location for 24 hours because of too many failed login attempts. It was a documented security measure that released the the provider from any availability commitments. It was disruptive to the user. However, the disruption was at least expected.

3. Examine References, Customer Forums, Product Reviews and the Provider Directly

I believe one of the most effective ways to manage risk when it comes to the Availability of a technology service that I am investigating is to take questions like the ones I mentioned above and apply them to references, customer forums, product reviews as well as to the provider directly. Many service providers claim Five 9s of availability. In today’s social media crazed world we live in, it is not hard to find information about technology services that we are interested in. You might search an independent forum on the reliability of a specific I.T. service that you are researching. If you notice that there have been availability issues, You might post some additional questions asking how long service interruptions last. You might inquire as to how the service provider handled the outage. Did they honor their commitment to provide service credits if offered? You might even ask the service provider how they came up with their availability percentage figures, or what the timeframe is that they use to make their availability calculations, (e.g. monthly, annually, billing cycle, 24/7, 8/5).

Conclusion

As more and more organizations rely on 3rd party technology services to support their operational requirements, it is important for organizations to have a clear understanding about what they can expect when it comes managing the availability risks of the technology services they rely on.

Key points to successful availability management include:

  • A clear generally accepted standard definition of availability (Will the service be available when I need it?)
  • A clear understanding of when you need to access the service
  • A clear understanding of the elements that determine availability
  • A concise list of questions that highlight availability elements
  • A simple application of those questions as they apply to references, customer forums, product reviews and even the service provider directly

The points we covered in this post are not prescriptive or exhaustive. However, I hope that this information helps my friends who spend the best hours of their days helping non-profits run smoothly avoid costly surprises that lower productivity and momentum.

Further Reading/Study

How to Manually Install Adobe Flash on a nabi Tabet (Android 4.0.4, Ice Cream Sandwich)

I have had the great privilege of working with a tremendous non-profit organization for the past couple days. The organization is WatchKnowLearn. They have developed an amazing free educational wiki along with a very effective tool for help kids learn to read called Reading Bear, http://www.readingbear.org.

This Adobe Flash based system is easily accessed over a browser and requires very little to no configuration and technical expertise from teachers and students to use. All content has been assembled by highly training and qualified professionals. It is a pretty amazing system that offers free access to quality educational materials to everyone.

The Challenge.

Flash is increasingly losing support on many platforms, the latest being Google Android. The problem is that there are many educational programs written on this platform that can benefit from mobile access to their services. In this case WatchKnowLearn has equipped a pre-school in the Orange Mound area with durable Nabi tablets to access their Reading Bear program. The tablets needed an update in their local flash player installs in order to run the program correctly. With Adobe/Google Android support waning on this platform the update is no longer available on Google Play. This post walked through the steps for manually installing flash on a Nabi device.

99.999% of the credit for this post goes to Chris Campbell from Adobe who posted steller step by step instructions out on Adobe’s Flash Player FAQ forum. You can read directly at http://forums.adobe.com/thread/1061194?tstart=0.

Since I will be visiting the site today in order to install this Flash Update I am posting some additional Nabi specific instructions to help me and others do this process in the future.

Prerequisites

There really is only one major prerequisite that I can think of and that is that this manual install is only tested up to Android Version 4.0.4 – Ice Cream Sandwich. There is no doubt that I will be working on getting flash to work on later versions of Android but for now this is a solution for Nabi tablet devices running Android Version 4.0.4.

I have had the great privilege of working with a tremendous non-profit organization for the past couple days. The organization is WatchKnowLearn, http://www.watchknowlearn.com. They have developed an amazing free educational wiki along with a very effective tool to help kids learn to read called Reading Bear, http://www.readingbear.org.

This Adobe Flash based system is easily accessed over a browser and requires very little to no configuration and technical expertise from teachers and students to use. All content has been assembled by highly trained and qualified professionals. It is a pretty amazing system that offers free access to quality educational materials to everyone.

The Challenge.

Flash is increasingly losing support on many platforms, the latest being Google Android. The problem is that there are many educational programs written on this platform that can benefit from mobile access to their services. In this case, WatchKnowLearn has equipped a pre-school in the Orange Mound area with durable Nabi tablets to access their Reading Bear program. The tablets needed an update in their local flash player installs in order to run the program correctly. With Adobe/Google Android support waning on this platform, the update is no longer available on Google Play. This document provides steps for manually installing flash on a Nabi 2 device.

99.999% of the credit for this post goes to Chris Campbell from Adobe who posted stellar step by step instructions out on Adobe’s Flash Player FAQ forum. You can read directly at http://forums.adobe.com/thread/1061194?tstart=0

The instructions provided in the link above are instructions for manually installing Adobe Flash on an Android device. This document focuses primarily on performing this procedure on nabi2 devices.

For more information regarding Nabi2 tablets, visit http://www.nabitablet.com

Notice:

The steps provided in this document have only been tested on Nabi2 devices running Android Version 4.0.4 – Ice Cream Sandwich.

 

Download

Feel free to download pdf and word formats of this help document.

Download PDF Version, Download Word Version


Step 1 – Place tablet into “Mommy” or “Daddy” mode.

 

What You Do

What You See

A

 

Touch Menu Button located in the lower left corner of the nabi screen.

B

Touch “Mommy Mode” icon.

C

Enter “Mommy Mode” password then touch the “Submit” button.

 

Step 2 – Allow Installation of non-Market Apps

 

What You Do

What You See

A.

Locate and touch “Settings” icon on nabi home screen.

B.

Select Security

C.

Make sure that there is a check mark in the “Unknown sources” check box.

D.

Touch “OK” when prompted with warning

E.

Touch home button to return to home screen

 


Step 3 – Install Flash Update

 

What You Do

What You See

A.

Touch Maxthon Browser icon on Nabi home screen Icon to launch Maxthon Browser.

B.

Go to  http://helpx.adobe.com/flash-player/kb/archived-flash-player-versions. htmlLook for and touch
Flash Player 11.1 for Android
4.0 (11.1.115.27)
 

C.

Touch the OK button to launch the Download Manager and start the download process.  

D.

Once Download has completed, touch the “install_flash_player_ics.apk file in the Download manager screen.This will launch the Flash installer.  

E.

If a version of Flash has already been installed, Touch OK on the Replace application screen.  

F.

Touch the “Install” Button  

G.

Touch Done after the application is installed  

 

Step 4 – Exit “Mommy” Mode

 

What You Do

What You See

A

Touch “nabi Mode” icon
to place tablet back in nabi mode.
 

 

 

 

Step 5 – Test Installation

 

What You Do

What You See

A.

Touch “Web” icon in nabi home screen to launch browser.

B.

Visit http://www.readingbear.comand touch any of the reading courses at the bottom of the home page to start a presentation.The following link should also produce a valid testhttp://www.readingbear.org/Presentation.aspx?PresentationID=1&Part=1

C.

A successful test should result in all presentation videos playing successfully.

 

 

Glossary

 

Maxthon Browser
Lets you set up a safe web environment by creating a safe list of websites you want to allow your kids to access. – http://www.maxthon.com

  

Mommy Mode
In Mommy/Daddy Mode, parents can enjoy the Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich environment without kid-safe restrictions. When your kids are at school or asleep, you can watch your favorite movie or TV show, download music or do some online shopping. Mommy/Daddy Mode features an Android browser and a Maxthon Browser, its own application store, as well as all the utilities commonly found in the Android environment. http://www.nabitablet.com