Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The ACA, Utilization, and Premiums

An overlooked aspect of the ACA (at least, I've not seen anyone talk about this specifically), is what will happen to utilization. In a letter to employees about our 2014 benefits, the following comment was made: "However, premiums are directly affected by utilization and, as determined by our actuaries, utilization increased requiring the increases that we have implemented." That is specifically talking about why our insurance premiums are increasing.

But, that statement encompasses a more general central truth in insurance. Premium levels are set to cover the costs of utilization, or the amount that the insurer will have to pay out in claims. Think about auto and home owners insurance policies. Everyone knows that if you have a bunch of claims, your rates go up. This is because you are more expensive to insure. This also explains the popularity of "good driver" or "accident forgiveness" discounts. If you have a track record of low or no claims, they're "making money" on your policy, so they can afford to overlook one bad act.

Now, extend this thought model to health insurance and the ACA. A significant number of people who either had catastrophic plans or had no insurance at all will now carry insurance per the individual mandate. One of the core basket of services are annual check-ups/physicals, at no cost to the policy holder. Please notice I didn't say "free", as the physician will still be reimbursed for their time. I don't know about you, but if my policy says I'm entitled to something, I'm most likely going to get it or use, especially if it's "free".

So you will now have this spike in utilization. Imagine what this will do from a supply and demand perspective. Demand (for physician services) will increase, and supply is fairly static, and may actually be decreasing as doctors change how they run their practices. This means that you will wait longer for appointments, and delays will inevitably increase. So there will be a negative impact just on being able to see your doctor.

And now back to my primary point. "[P]remiums are directly affected by utilization." Utilization is going to increase. After a year or two of solid actuarial data, what do you think will necessarily happen to policy premiums?

In other words, if you think the ACA plans are expensive now, you ain't seen nothing yet.

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26 (ESV)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Praise Matters

I started teaching a Wednesday night bible study at my church this "semester". We're about 7 weeks into it, and it has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience so far.

After class last night, one of the regular attendees came up to me. He asked "Are you a teacher? I mean, a real teacher?" He was asking if that was my trade or profession. I told him that no, I did computer stuff, but at one time I'd thought about being a teacher.

He gripped my upper arm, stared me in the eyes and said "No, you ARE a teacher. You're doing a great job leading this class." As many times as I've felt inadequate to the task of teaching this class, that moment meant a lot to me. I left church last night encouraged in my spirit much more than usual.

Sometimes the simplest of encouragements can mean the world to the recipient. You do have to be extravagant or over the top in your praise, but sincerity does matter. This gentleman didn't just say "good class" or "good job tonight" as he walked past me. He took the time to stop and engage with me, to stare me in the eye, and to speak from the bottom of his heart.

When is the last time you offered someone sincere praise for a job well done?

Praise matters, and sincere praise even more so.

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26 (ESV)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Unused Employee Access Groups in Kronos

Back in April, I wrote about how to clean up Employee Access Groups in Kronos. Specifically, I looked at how to identify inactive labor levels that were still assigned to an access group.

Another bit of maintenance that I like to do is periodically removing unused access groups. I frequently create user-specific groups. When that employee is no longer with the organization, there is no need to keep their access group hanging around. It just clutters up the list of available groups and is one more item you may have to audit.

Fortunately, the query to identify unused groups is very straightforward. All we have to is join over to the 'prsnaccsassign' table, get a count of how many managers are assigned to an access group, and then limit the output to those access groups with a count of 0.

    laboracctsetid 'LAS ID',
    shortnm 'Mgr Acces Grp Name',
    count(personid) 'Count of Mgrs Using'
left outer join
    laboracctset.laboracctsetid = prsnaccsassign.mgraccesslasid
    labacctsettypeid = 2
group by
    count(personid) = 0

Again, just like last time I'm filtering on labor account sets being used as Employee Access Groups (labacctsettypeid = 2). Also, I'm running this across all employees, not just active ones. If an access group is assigned to a terminated associate, it will still get a count and be excluded from this report.

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26 (ESV)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

12 Years Later

12 years ago today, I was sitting in a conference room in an office building on the North Dallas Parkway, getting ready for a vendor demo from PeopleSoft. As more and more people arrived, word started trickling in about the planes crashing into the WTC towers. At the morning break, all of the consultants were busy trying to catch up with friends and co-workers that had been traveling that day, to see if they were safe. Everyone else was glued to the TV screens in the lobby of the building, trying to make sense of what happened.

We canceled the demo, and my company shut down. I was working for Greyhound at the time, so a shut down meant that all of our buses came off the roads. They were allowed to continue to the nearest Greyhound terminal, and then they stopped. Passengers were stranded, and emotions were running high.

Living in the D/FW metroplex meant that you got used to all the air traffic. A major international airport, and another regional airport, will fill the skies with planes. It was a surreal experience to not see any contrails arcing across the sky, or hear the roar of a passenger jet clawing for altitude.

To my knowledge, I didn't know anyone that died that day, but it still had a profound impact on me. It made me more aware of my surroundings, and unfortunately less trusting of those around me. It showed that our physical life is ephemeral, and can end in an instant. It proved that there are those in the world that seek harm for harm's sake.

And yet I'm comforted by the words of Joseph to his brothers, upon the death of their father, "as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good." God is in control. We might not understand why something happens, but that doesn't mean God is clueless. Life is not a series of random chaotic events. There is a Maker, and He still reigns.

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26 (ESV)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Serving Christ by Serving Others

During my social media fast, one of the things I realized was just how much time I had been spending on social media. A quick stop by the computer to just check up on Facebook real quick turned into a 45 minute dive down the rabbit hole as I followed links, chased stories and otherwise wasted time. Likewise, what was intended to be a quick perusal of my Twitter timeline turned into 30 or minutes of watching the various columns scroll, in some vain effort to keep up with a vast information flow.

While I wasn't on social media, I found that I had more time to read, more time to spend with my wife and family, and more time to just simply do the things that needed doing. Now, don't get me wrong, I didn't suddenly become some productive machine of a perfect little angel. I found new ways to waste my time, but that's a discussion for another day. So, even though I'm dipping my toes back into the social media ocean, I'm trying to be much more cognizant of exactly how much time I'm spending on it. I'm trying to set firmer boundaries, and do more productive things with my time.

So what does all of that have to do with the title of this post? Exactly this. We need to be more intentional about what we're doing with our time. I've often heard it said that we must be the hands and feet of Jesus in this world. I had thought it was a scripture reference, but it appears that it's actually a quote from Mother Teresa:
"Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ's compassion for the world is to look out; yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good; and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now."
~Saint Teresa of Avila
This goes along with the story of Jesus washing the disciples feet, found in John 13. But the more important verses immediately follow, when Jesus talks about what he did. Take a look at John 13:12-16:
12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.
"For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you." Is he saying that we should go around washing the feet of our friends? Not quite, unless they're laid up and need the help. He's talking about service. The job of washing feet was relegated to the lowest servants and slaves in a household. It was definitely not a job of high honor. Jesus is telling us that we need to debase ourselves, get off our high horse, and get dirty helping our neighbors.

What does that look like? It doesn't have to be any huge undertaking. For instance, when I got home from work this afternoon I knew it was going to be at least an hour before dinner. Everyone was off doing various different things, and I had some free time. Instead of getting sucked into a social media time waste, I thought about going for a walk. But then I thought about my next door neighbors. She is a single mom, and her son, who usually mows the yard,  broke his leg last week. He's still in a cast and hasn't been able to get it mowed. So, instead of walking in circles around the neighborhood with buds jammed in my ears, I dragged out the mower and walked in circles around their yard. It was probably a better workout for me too. I'd hoped to get it done before she got home, but she caught me in the act. The was the most welcome "confused" look I've ever seen.

This is what service looks like. And we need to talk about it, and tell others about it, but not to brag on ourselves. We need to brag on Jesus, and we need to model what servanthood looks like. We have to be a model for the younger Christians in our church, and for our families. As I was heading outside, my oldest daughter commented that I was "so kind." I'm glad that she noticed, and that she thinks that. But I also want her to understand that it's not just kindness that leads me to do that.

It's serving Christ by serving others.

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26 (ESV)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Social Media Fast

I was listening to a podcast yesterday from Desiring God entitled "Sacred and Secular". One of the themes discussed was how Matt Reagan, a college minister, responds to students asking him "Is it okay if I do this or that?" Part of the discussion he has with them revolves around how much control that activity has in their lives. Is it something that makes you twitchy when you've been away from it for a while? Are you constantly thinking about when you can do it again? In short, does it control you or do you control it?

As I was reflecting on that, I was reminded of a discussion I'd read about fasting. It was said that fasting will show you what's REALLY important to you. As you try and cope with your hunger for food, other internal hungers can come to the fore. When we are stressed, more of our true inner nature is revealed.

Putting all of this together, I came to the realization that I was spending way too much time on various social media sites. I was stuck in a rut, where I'd be sitting in front of the computer, refreshing the page or just watching my timeline scroll by, waiting for the next interesting nugget to pop up on my screen. There are so many other things I could be doing instead, like writing this blog post. I haven't posted since the end of June, to commemorate my anniversary. There have been many things I've wanted to write about, but I've wasted my time and not put deed to intent.

So, yesterday around lunch I posted on both Facebook and Twitter that I was taking a break from social media for at least one week. I removed the tabs from my default home group in my browser and logged out of the applications on my various electronic devices. The time that I would have spent there I intend to spend reading, or writing, or studying or with my family.

I know others, like Rod Dreher, tried something similar. I believe it was last summer he and his wife implemented a "no electronics" policy with their kids. As I recall, it wasn't a total ban, but they dramatically limited the amount of time the kids spent with their noises 6" away from a 4" screen. He said that the difference in attitude and behavior was palpable. I'm hoping for a similar result through this effort.

Fasting from food is intended to have us focus more on God and our spiritual appetites, and less on our physical appetites. I think fasting from social media can be used in much the same way.

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26 (ESV)

Friday, June 21, 2013

Old enough to drive

16 years marks a major milestone in contemporary American culture. It marks the requisite age for obtaining a drivers license (or at least a permit). It signifies freedom; the permission to cram as many friends as possible into a vehicle with a full tank of gas and your favorite tunes on the radio, and the truth that the journey really is the destination.

16 years ago today, my wife stood in front of God and everyone and bound her life to mine. I still can't believe she said yes all those years ago, but I'm so grateful and blessed that she did.

Our journey has really only just begun, and I'm so glad that she is taking it with me.

16 years, 4 kids, and still counting.
(the years, not the kids)

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26 (ESV)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Random Musing on Faith

I have been working on a lesson plan for teaching on James 2:14-26. This is the "faith without works is dead" passage in James.

If you're treating your faith as fire insurance, you might want to check that policy. It might not be any good.

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26 (ESV)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Orchard of our Soul

We've all heard the list, those personality traits that comprise the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Often times, however, they seem very lacking in our lives. We want stuff done now, we want ti done our way, and we'll break down any wall to get it done. I know I've prayed and prayed and prayed for God to give me more of each one of these at various.

And then Dr. Corey Abney, pastor at Florence Baptist at Mt. Zion did a sermon series he titled "Rooted", on the fruit of the Spirit. One of the first things he taught was that these are not individual gifts of the spirit. When we accept Christ and the Holy Spirit comes into our lives, we are have the fruit of the Spirit (singular) in all its entirety. These are all individual aspects, if you will, of the fruit. It's not as if God gives us patience one day, and then another day we get the gift of kindness or self-control, and then He gives us faithfulness. It's an all-or-nothing package deal. Instead, we have to let these attributes blossom within us, and evince themselves more completely. They are already there, we have to let them out.

So, what is it that stunts the orchard of our soul and keeps the fruit from blossoming? Why do we struggle so often with anger, and slander and the other emotions Paul warns about in Ephesians 4:31?

I think the answer can be found in Matthew 3:8. John the Baptist is baptizing in the river Jordan, and the Pharisees and Sadducees have come to him for baptism. Look at what he tells them: "Bear fruit in keeping with repentance." So if we don't keep with repentance, we won't bear fruit. When we have unconfessed sin in our lives, that gets between us and God and stunts our growth and maturation. Instead of drawing closer to God, we feel guilty and pull away instead. So the simple, but definitely not easy, answer is that we have to continually examine our lives, and confess to God when we have sinned. Don't sit on it and wait. It's not going anywhere. Like a splinter that you leave in your finger, it will fester and get infected, and then it's that much more painful to extract later.

What in your life are you hiding from God and yourself? What is stunting the growth of the orchard of your soul? What is keeping the fruit of the Spirit from blossoming more fully in you life?

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26 (ESV)

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Free book from Ligonier Ministries

Ligonier Ministries, the ministry of R.C. Sproul, is offering a free ebook on biblical manhood in honor of Father's Day.

The book is title "The Masculine Mandate: God's Calling to Men" and is written by Richard D. Phillips.

You can grab it from Amazon, or they have the ePub version in their store.

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26 (ESV)

Thursday, May 30, 2013

What are you reading?

I was thinking about all of the books I currently have in progress.

I just finished God's Favorite Place on Earth by Frank Viola. This was an interesting look at the town of Bethany, and how much of Jesus' life and ministry revolved around it, especially in His final week before the crucifixion.

I'm also currently reading (in fits and starts) Blood Covenant by Michael Franzese. Michael came and spoke out our church several years ago, and the thought of a mobster that quit the mob and survived is just fascinating to me.

In the Christian Living realm, I'm reading Why Trust Jesus?: An Honest Look at Doubts, Plans, Hurts, Desires, Fears, Questions, and Pleasures by Dave Sterrett. I'll be perfectly honest. I wasn't very familiar with him at all, but this book popped up free for a short time in the Kindle version, so I nabbed it. It's an easy read so far (I'm not very far into it yet). It's a straightforward look at who Jesus is, and why that matters. It's a "back to the basics" type book, which I think is good to revisit every now and then.

Finally, in the Christian fiction realm, I'm currently reading Green by Ted Dekker. It's part of his Circle series. I'd previously read the other three books, but picked up the boxed set of all four when I ran across it at Half Price Books one day. It's basically a parable writ large, across four books, that ties into another series (The Paradise Trilogy) that he wrote.

So what has me thinking about what I'm reading? It's realizing what I'm NOT reading, at least not regularly or enough. I have an anthology of 66 books that I carry around frequently. I have a study version of it, multiple translations in electronic version, and accounts on several websites to try and help me study it. Yet I may read a few passages each morning with my devotionals, and a bit more here and there if I'm studying for a lesson. Yet I don't treat my Bible as a work of literature to sit down and read, and that's a shame.

I look forward to grabbing a Dekker book, or an essay by John Piper, or the latest from David Platt. Yet I find it burdensome to sit down with the Word of God and read it. The full arc of human history is spelled out in its pages, from the creation of the world to the fall of man to our final redemption through Christ's death on the cross. It's part narrative, part poetry, part mystery, part thriller, and wholly truth.

I wonder. If God's people spent as much time reading and studying His Word as we do immersing ourselves in all of the other mindless and inane forms of entertainment at our disposal, what would our world look like?

2 Timothy 3:16
Psalm 119:11
2 Timothy 2:15
Deuteronomy 11:18

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26 (ESV)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Why are we so hesitant to share the Gospel?

This is something I've struggled with over the years. Christians are clearly called to share the good news and to spread the Gospel to all corners of the world. However, it is easier to write a check for the missions budget of the local church or to financially support a missionary organization than it is to talk to our next door neighbor. If I know someone is already a Christian, I can talk God all day long, but if there is any doubt about their faith, I find myself tongue-tied and reluctant to talk.

This past Sunday, my pastor was continuing his sermon series on the book of Acts. His scripture this time was Acts 17, specifically Paul's sermon in the Areopagus. He pointed out that whenever the Gospel is preached, there will be one of three responses. The hearer will either reject the message, reconsider their position, or will come to repentance.

What does this have to do with sharing the Gospel? Human nature. It finally clicked in my head that what muzzles me is that first possible response. I fear their rejection. I've struggled with this before in other areas. I care, probably too much, about what other people think about me, and I jealously guard whatever good reputation I think I have. Since I fear rejection, that stifles my witness.

I think this is unfortunately true for too many of us. We are called to live in the world but not be of it, yet we worry what the world thinks of us. First, we need to remember that when someone rejects the Gospel, they are ultimately rejecting God and His message, not us. Yes, as the messenger, that rejection frequently follows onto us, but we are not the ultimate target of the rejection. Second, Christ warned that just as He was rejected, so too would we be rejected. If the world is NOT rejecting us, then perhaps we are doing something wrong. Or, as the teacher in my small group put it, as we mature in Christ, we should feel more and more uncomfortable living in the world.

Are you sharing the Gospel every opportunity you have, or do you hold back? Do you worry more about what your neighbor or co-worker thinks about you, or more about what they know of God?

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26 (ESV)

Friday, May 24, 2013

QOTD - The Cost of Discipleship

Barry Cooper looks at the difference between free grace and cheap grace, the cost of discipleship, and asks why don't churches do a better job of discipleship.

When the gospel is preached in your local church, what do your people hear? Do they hear, “Of course you’ve sinned. But now everything is forgiven. Jesus paid the price for your sin. So everything’s taken care of.”

That’s okay as far as it goes. But it doesn’t go far enough. The problem is that this gospel contains no demand for discipleship. There’s no requirement for repentance. No holding out for holiness. Isn’t that at odds with Jesus’ insistence in Mark 8:34? “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

As the old truism goes, grace may be free—but it isn’t cheap. It cost Jesus his life. And it will cost us our lives too, if we want to follow him. The invitation may be extended to all, but only those who obey Jesus’ call—deny yourself and take up your cross—have received it.

And the question is, are we teaching this gospel in our local churches? Does our gospel contain the demand for discipleship? Or do we cough loudly over Mark 8:34, and relegate it to the small print, hoping no one will notice until after they’ve signed on the dotted line? Are we lowering the cost of discipleship in the hope that more will buy? (emphasis mine)
Is the church pulling a bait-and-switch on its followers? We need to preach the entire gospel, without pulling any punches or hiding any of the hard truths. The fact is that life in this world will not automatically be made "easy" just because we choose to follow Christ. In fact, He tells us exactly the opposite. Jesus warns that just as he was persecuted so will his followers be persecuted. Our treasures are stored in Heaven, and we serve with an eternal purpose.

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26 (ESV)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Goodbye Google+ comments

I was experimenting with Google+ comments, but didn't like them. I wasn't getting notifications, and it required commenters to have a G+ account.

I read numerous complaints about how it worked, especially on blogs that had customized their templates in any fashion (which I had). So, I've turned off G+ comments and reverted to standard Blogger comments.

One downside to this is it appears any G+ comments have now gone the way of the dodo bird. I don't believe it was very many, but since I never got any notifications I really don't know.

So, if you had commented on a post, and it's now gone, my apologies. I didn't delete it on purpose, and I'm not trying to stifle the signal. I just changed commenting systems.

One of these days I may have to finally take the plunge and move over to WordPress instead.

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26 (ESV)

Friday, April 26, 2013

Cleaning up Kronos Employee Groups and Labor Level Sets

In Kronos Workforce 6, one the key components of security is the Labor Level Set when used as an Employee Group. These sets restrict the employees that a manager can see.

One issue with these sets are that they are not self-healing or self-maintaining. If you deactivate a labor level entry, it will still be included in a labor level set. While this doesn't directly cause any harm (it won't grant someone access to employees they shouldn't, for example) it can negatively impact system performance. Why include a condition that is no longer valid?

Unfortunately, there are no system-delivered reports that will identify inactive labor level entries assigned to sets. Likewise, there is no magic "cleanup" button that will just go through and remove them for you.

This became a specific pain point for me just recently. We went through a major account change in our financials system that reworked a bunch of our labor levels. This rework included inactivating a lot of old ones that are no longer used. This was coupled with a quarterly audit report of manager accounts that showed exactly what labor levels each manager had access to. Seeing a lot of old inactive departments included on the audit report caused a bit of consternation and raised a few yellow flags.

The question then became, "What is the easiest way to clean up the labor level sets?" In our case, we completely changed our naming schema, so it was pretty easy to tell the old accounts by visual inspection. However, I didn't relish the thought of manually going through hundreds and hundreds of labor level sets looking for old labor level entries to remove. Instead, I poked around in the database schema and was able to come up with a query to identify inactive entries for me.

This query was written against the 6.0 schema on SQL Server 2005. If you are on Oracle, you may have to tweak the syntax slightly. I don't believe these tables have changed in the 6.x product line, so it should work all the way up to 6.3.

inner join
    laboracctset.laboracctsetid = llelabacctstmm.laboracctsetid
inner join
    llelabacctstmm.laborlevelentryid = laborlevelentry.laborlevelentryid
    laboracctset.labacctsettypeid = 2 and
    laborlevelentry.inactive = 1
order by
A few explanations are in order. The field 'LabAcctSetTypeID' in the LaborAcctSet table specifies what type of Labor Account Set it is. Since I was just worried about Employee Groups, I specified a value of '2'. The other possible values are 1 (All Sets) and 3 (Labor Level Transfer Sets).

I plan on adding this query to my routine maintenance checks, so that we can keep our Employee Groups cleaned up. Also, a partner query that I plan on writing is one that will identify unused Labor Level Sets. I prefer to keep these types of configuration items as lean as possible. There is no reason to hold on to old, unused sets if they're no longer used by anyone.

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26 (ESV)

Social Media Customer Service Done Right

First, a little background.

I've been slogging through some drudgery work here at the office, reviewing user account audits and making changes as necessary. I have a dual-monitor setup on a laptop running Windows 7 Pro SP1. Well, it's a docking stations for my laptop with an external monitor, configured in dual display mode.

The external monitor is configure as my primary display, and the laptop as secondary. For processing these reports, I've had the application window open on the monitor, and the audit reports open on the laptop screen. The reports are Adobe Acrobat PDF files. My frustration is that whenever I double-click on one of the reports to open it, it has been opening on the primary monitor, even though the secondary monitor has "focus".

With most other business applications, they launch on whatever screen currently has the active window. So, basically, where ever I have Windows Explorer when I double-click the file to open, that's where the application launches. Either that, or the application remembers the last monitor it was on and opens there.

But not Acrobat Reader, for some reason. The only way I can get it to open a new PDF file on my secondary monitor is to close the document I was viewing but leave the application running. Then, when I open a new file, it opens in the active application window. But if Acrobat has to launch a new application window, it always does it on the primary monitor.

So, now that I've bored you with the technical details, on to the moral of the story.

I was pretty frustrated by this after the 15th or 20th time I had to move the Acrobat Reader application window, so I took to Twitter to vent. I fired off a quick screed and thought nothing else of it. I felt better, so my primary purpose was accomplished. I didn't even tag Adobe's primary Twitter account, mostly because I wasn't sure what it was and was too lazy to go look it up. I just used the hashtags #adobe and #acrobat in my tweet.

Imagine my surprise when I received a response to my tweet from Adobe today. They apologized for my troubles and said they would forward it on to the development team. Do I actually expect the dev team to do anything about it. Probably not. But the fact that they have a social media team actively looking for Adobe mentions, and not account mentions but just name and product mentions is impressive. And they actually responded, which is even more impressive.

I like Reader for the most part, and the PDF format is ubiquitous, especially in the business world. (Don't get me started on Flash; that's a post for another time). It's refreshing to see a major technology company not just resting on its laurels, but actively engaging the community and hopefully looking to improve the usability of their product.

Even if it's something as simple as opening on the "right" monitor.

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26 (ESV)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

How to be a friend

We all go through trials and tribulations in life. Some are relatively minor while others can be earth-shattering in their impact. Whether it's an external pressure or an internal struggle, having someone come alongside you and help you through it is of immeasurable worth.

Ecclesiastes 4:12 makes it abundantly clear when it says that "[a]nd though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him--a threefold cord is not quickly broken."

This is something that we talk about in Celebrate Recovery as well. Having a support team, comprised of accountability partners and a sponsor, along with regular fellowship and attendance at the meetings is crucial to facing down our personal demons. 

Regardless of whether it's an addiction, depression, co-dependency, or being unfairly attacked and maligned, a helping hand is most helpful indeed. It's even more helpful if you can find someone that has already walked that road before you. It gives you the hope that the obstacle can be surmounted. And it gives you the wisdom of someone that's already made the mistakes, so you don't have to make them again.

Jennifer is standing in the gap with a friend. I have no idea what life circumstances her friend is going through, and it's really none of my business, but it's obvious Jennifer has been there before. For being willing to share the pain, and share your wisdom, I thank you. And please tell your friend that she has my prayers.

For others that are struggling with life, regardless of what it may be, please know that there is hope, and there is help. Reach out to someone. Be willing to admit your weakness and cry out for help. You'd be surprised how many people are willing to stand in the gap with you.

I know I was.

For those that have friends that are struggling, please know that you can help. Be a friend. Lend your ear, not your judgement. One of their biggest fears is that people will be disappointed with them, or won't understand, or they'll be angry about it. Let them vent their spleen. Let them share. Stand in the gap with them, and it will make all the difference in the world.

I know it did for me.

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26 (ESV)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Happy Pi Day!!

Why have I never noticed that before?!?!?

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26 (ESV)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Google is killing off Reader - No More RSS For You

According to this blog post, Google Reader is going the way of the dodo bird in their latest round of spring cleaning. I understand that development and maintenance resources are limited commodities, and they should be focused on those applications that are growing or heavily utilized. I find it highly ironic, however, that I read about the impending shut-down using the very tool that they are killing off.

The D-Day for Reader is July 1, 2013, or just under 4 months from now. The one good thing is that Google provides the Google Takeout tool (part of their data liberation initiative) to export all of your Reader subscription data. It also includes files with all your starred items, bloggers you follow, etc.

The only trick now is finding a suitable replacement RSS tool. One of the things I liked about Google Reader was that it was "in the cloud" and was browser agnostic. Most of the previous RSS tools I've used were plug-ins or add-ons for specific browsers. Either that, or they were thick-client installs. Reader allowed me to maintain one RSS subscription list that I could access from a multitude of devices. Granted, the Chrome browser is available on almost every device I use, and it has synchronization capabilities for its plug-ins, favorites, etc. I don't know how that plays with RSS readers, and I still don't like the idea of my RSS feed being tied to another piece of software. When it was in the cloud, I could use any browser to access it, so I was only halfway tied to the Google ecosystem.

So, does anyone have recommendations for an RSS reader that works across multiple devices and OSes, will synchronize item state across all of them, and is not a pain to manage?

I'll share anything I find and let you know what I settle on, if you care.

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26 (ESV)

Jeff Gordon's "Test Drive" - Who is in control?

This Pepsi MAX/Jeff Gordon "Test Drive" video has been making the rounds on social media lately. If you haven't seen it, take a few minutes to watch it real quick.

All done? Good.

It's hilarious. There's are several visceral reactions going on at once. You see, we are in on the prank, so we can laugh at the sales rep's expense. His exclamation such as "You are liable for any damages!" and "Sir, please take us back now!" are belly-slappers because we know who's driving the car. The sales rep is naturally freaking out because all he knows is that he's being driven around by some sort of psychopath.

But did you catch what happened at the end?

Watch those last 15 seconds or so again. Jeff reveals himself, realization dawns on the face of the sales rep, and then he says "Can we do it again?!?!?"

Once he knew who was in control, what was a horror show became a thrill ride to be experienced again.

How many times in our lives has this same dynamic played out? How many times have we stressed out because we felt out of control. Once we realize who is in control, we can actually sit back and enjoy the ride.

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26 (ESV)

Monday, March 4, 2013

LG HDTV UI Fail - OTA Program Information

I must admit, this has to be one of the most confounding User Interface/functionality design gotchas I've ever seen. And in 15+ years of doing IT, I've seen (and perpetrated) and lot of bad UI designs.

I own two LG HDTVs. Neither of them are network capable, and they are not "Smart TVs". Both of these TVs allow you to set the time on them. It is generally displayed when the devices first turn on, but there are a few other times it will display the time. You can also use the time feature to let them turn on and off automatically and different times. The time feature has two modes: Automatic and Manual.

When I was on digital cable, the Automatic setting didn't work. I'm assuming there is a standard time signal that can be embedded in the broadcasts that the TV uses. In the IT world we have NTP servers to automatically set the date & time on our computers, so I imagine it's something similar. As I said, it never worked, presumably because my digital cable provider didn't embed that signal in their repackaged broadcasts.

As I mentioned previously, we finally cut the cable. I had noticed that the Info button just displayed "No Information Available" on the OTA broadcasts. I was mildly frustrated that I'd lost program guide info, but just assumed it wasn't part of the OTA signal. Well, last night I noticed that the Info button wasn't displaying the current time even though it was set on the TV so I went into the settings to poke around. On a whim, before manually resetting the time, I toggled the setting over to "Automatic" (hope springs eternal, right?). Imagine my surprise when it actually showed the correct date & time!!! Obviously, the OTA broadcast has some sort of NTP signal embedded in it.

Once I exited the configuration menu, I hit the "Info" button again. Imagine my further surprise when it displayed the current time, the current program name, the current program time slot (including a bar showing how far into the program it was) and the description of the current program.

So riddle me this. Why does changing the Time setting from Manual to Automatic control whether or not the OTA program guide information is displayed? The only thing I can come up with is that all of this information is embedded in the same side-channel of the broadcast. Disabling automatic time control tells the TV to not read that side-channel at all. When you're on digital cable, which provides its own program guide functionality, it's not a big deal at all. You never use the TV "Info" button anyway. A better design, to my mind, would be for the TV to always consume the program guide side-channel, and only set the time automatically if that option is turned on. There is no logical connection between program guide and the time setting for most casual consumers.

I'm just happy I accidentally stumbled across this, so I don't have to grab the TV Guide app to figure out what's currently playing.

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26 (ESV)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

New Elections Legislation in Kentucky

Now this is a piece of legislation I can fully support.

Due to various vagaries of the Commonwealth's Constitution, we apparently have elections 3 out of every 4 years in the election cycle. Senator Chris McDaniel has proposed a constitutional amendment that would move the election of "constitutional officers" (Governor, Lt. Governor, Secretary of State, etc.) onto the same cycle as the Presidential elections.

Why can I support this?

From the article at the Cincinnati Enquirer:
By combining the statewide office elections with the presidential elections, Kentucky would only have elections on even years. This would save the state $4 million to $5 million dollars in the odd years and save even more for local governments, McDaniel said.
The county clerks from Boone and Campbell counties said adding the state constitutional offices to the presidential election ballot would save money without causing difficulties.
The major costs associated with conducting an election are primarily labor-related. The counties have to pay the poll workers, get the machines out and set up, and collect everything at the end of the day. Those are all fixed costs. If the commonwealth can completely remove one election day from the cycle, I really don't see any downside.

I hope that it would also increase voter turnout in non-Presidential years. Voting is not an overly onerous or difficult task, but it's easy to get tired-head when it feels like there's political ads up every single year.

The one hangup? It would extend the term of all the current constitutional officers by one year. I can see someone arguing that this is just another conspiracy theory to protect some elected official. But really, the only other choice is push it out a full cycle, shorten that term, and then elect on a four-year term again. That's just asking for a lot of confusion. I think adding one year to the existing term to align the cycles is cleaner.

Also, it requires a constitutional amendment. That's not a bad thing, but I can't say that I trust the legislature to do the right thing. That being said, I'm hopeful for this one. I really don't see a downside to it at all, and it should easily pass the 60% threshold to be put on next year's ballot.

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26 (ESV)

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Paul Harvey - "If I Were The Devil"

Dodge had one of the more impactful commercials during this year's NFL championship game with "God Made a Farmer":

Old NFO points us to another classic Paul Harvey monologue, "If I Were The Devil":

And yes, it sure looks like Lucifer has kept on doing what he was doing.

What are you doing to counter him?

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26 (ESV)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Sanitize Your Inputs

In the tech world, especially when writing software, there is a philosophy known as GIGO, or Garbage In, Garbage Out. In short, what this means is that no matter how well-written the code, if you have junk input, you will most likely get junk output. But even worse than junk output is when this bad input causes the program to misbehave.

This is actually the attack vector for a lot of security vulnerabilities. Hackers will attack websites using various methods like SQL injection attacks, code injections, or cross-domain scripting attacks. For desktop applications or embedded software (the software that runs devices like your corporate desk phone or your BluRay player), these vectors are usually buffer overruns and underruns.

The biggest tool in the IT security toolbox for preventing these types of attacks is a philosophy known as sanitizing your input.

Perhaps if they'd learned about parameterized queries. . . . 

Basically, your program should never trust the user to enter valid data, and everything should be checked. If it's a field expecting a numeric value, ensure that they actually entered a number. If you're writing to a buffer, check the length of the input against the length of the memory buffer before writing it to memory. If you're executing SQL statements from a web page, make sure you use properly parameterized queries to isolate the user input from the execution engine.

This very concept of sanitizing inputs doesn't just apply to tech geeks, however. It also applies in our daily walk with Christ. Romans 12:2 says "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." (emphasis added). We are to test everything, so that we may discern the will of God. We shouldn't just accept things that are presented to us.

Why should we do this? Proverbs 4:23 says that we should guard our heart because it's the wellspring of life. The principle of GIGO applies to us as well. If we are constantly filling our mind and our heart with impurities, it poisons our spiritual wellspring. We begin to reflect and repeat all of that nastiness, hiding the light of Christ that is within us.

So, how do we go about sanitizing our inputs as Christians? Well, first we have to reject all those things that we know are immoral or unworthy. We might have to change what we watch, or what we read, or who we hang out with. We have to evaluate every decision we make through a lens of holiness and godliness. Colossians 3:5 is very blunt on what we should do. It tells us to "[p]ut to death therefore what is earthly in you:sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry." Howver, if there is one thing I've learned over the last year, it's that nature truly does abhor a vacuum. It is not enough to simply take out the bad, you have to replace it with something good (see Matthew 12:43-45). So, what do we replace it with? When we've put to death what is earthly in us, what do we bring to life in its place? Philippians 4:8 is a perfect road map for this: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."

But none of us are perfect and we all carry around baggage. Even one of the great Kings of the old Testament struggled with sin. David wrote the 51st Psalm after he committed adultery with Bathsheba. In verse 10 he cries out "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me."

So this is our model for sanitizing the inputs of our life. Through faith in Christ we are born again, and we are given the clean heart that David cried out for. We put to death our earthly desires and instead replace them with things that are worthy of praise.

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26 (ESV)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Cutting the cable

For a variety of reasons, but primarily economic, my wife and I made the decision to cut the cable. We were spending well over $100 a month for internet, phone and video services from the local provider. With the changes in taxes and health care premiums, it was rapidly becoming a luxury we couldn't afford.

So, how did we do it?

First, we signed up for a 20MB internet service from the other local provider. I decided to move my business after Insight Communications wanted to raise my monthly cost for dropping a service from our bundle. I'm sorry, but spending $10 more a month for less service was not a winning proposition for me. Second, we went with MagicJack for our home phone services. We decided to port our number, and our ongoing costs will be in the $30 - $40 a year range. Third, we already had a Netflix streaming account and Bluray player and gaming console that provide access to that service. We will most likely supplement that with either a Hulu Plus account or an Amazon Prime account. Finally, I bought an antenna to provide access to the over-the-air broadcast channels. In the Greater Cincinnati area, I am able to pull in 21 channels. Granted, the majority of them are public television of some sort, but I get all the Big 4 networks.

I did have one bit of luck in that when we built, I had the house fairly well wired. There is an A/V and networking distribution panel in my basement that feeds the rest of the house. This is where my internet service primary router is located, so I was able to put my MagicJack Plus device down there and connect it to the supply feed for all my phone jacks. We didn't have to make any changes with regards to phone placement or anything like that. Also, my best antenna reception came from the 2nd story of my house (for very obvious reasons). The antenna that I purchased (an RCA ANT1650R digital flat antenna) included an amplifier. I was able to take the feed from the amp and run it into a splitter. One leg from the splitter went straight to my TV upstairs. The second leg I connected to the CATV port installed in the wall. The other end of this connection was down in the wiring closet in the basement, so I was able to run that feed back up to my living room connection. One antenna, located upstairs in my bedroom, is able to drive both of my televisions.

All told, I had upfront costs of around $175 for the MagicJack Plus, the antenna and a few other ancillary items. My monthly costs are going to be around 1/3 of what I was previously paying for service, and my ROI is less than 2 months.

The only thing I thin I'm going to miss is ESPN. If they ever offer WatchESPN access as part of an ESPN Insider subscription, or through some other subscription model, you can just about guarantee I'd pick that up.

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26 (ESV)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The truth about Robb comes out

Ahhhh, and now we know why Robb Allen doesn't wear pants.

He's a quantum physics kind of guy.

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26 (ESV)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Mr. President, what are your priorities?

As a new presidential term begins, attention naturally turns to the agenda and tone that he will pursue. Across the entire political spectrum, pundits are putting forth their ideas for what he should do, what he shouldn't do, and what he'd be crazy to try or leave off the table. There have been copious electrons sacrificed to analyses of his prior term and expectations for his new one.

Predominant themes are gun control in the wake of the Newtown shooting, marriage equality for homosexuals, the fiscal cliff, and religious freedoms under the Affordable Care Act. Poll 5 pundits, and you'll receive 15 different answers, depending on which tracking poll they've looked at last.

Well, here's your chance. You have been named President. You are guaranteed that your next policy or legislative proposal will receive filibuster and veto proof (of course, you're the President so why would you veto it, but let's ignore incongruities for now, shall we?) votes for adoption or passage in Congress, and it will be fully funded in the requisite budgets or appropriations bills. Let's double-down and state for this thought experiment that this legislation will remain in effect for at least the next 12 years (your entire term, and the next two presidential terms). Unfortunately, you do not know, you have zero guarantee, as to how your proposal would actually work out. This isn't complete fantasy (just a very close approximation). You don't get to override the Law of Unintended Consequences. You still have to pay the piper.

So, what would your legislative proposal be? What critical ill of the nation's would you attempt to solve? Why is that issue more important that any other? On what basis do you think you have the authority to pass that legislation?

I have gone back and forth on this. The three issues that concern me the most right now are protecting the 2nd Amendment, preserving religious freedoms, and restoring some sort of fiscal responsibility in Washington.

My three proposals would look something like this:

2nd Amendment
I would push for National Reciprocity, with a definition of civilian firearms that basically stated that if it's good enough for LEOs it's good enough for civilians, excepting weapons capable of select fire. I have Federalist concerns, but between the 1994 AWB and NICS background checks, that horse has left the barn. The Federal government already intrudes in State legislative control over those matters.

This is a Constitutional question, and the President is sworn to protect and defend that document. Now, granted, the fight would simply move on to other issues of populace thought-control, but I would draw the first line in the sand on this one.

Religious Freedoms
I would provide that  any and all persons or organizations would be allowed to claim the religious equivalent of conscientious objector status to the mandated coverage requirements of the ACA. In fact, I would try for broader legislation that would grant this status for all persons in any economic activity. If a wedding photographer wants to limit their clientele, I believe that should be their choice. Let the nature of free market economics sort it out. If no one is willing to utilize their services, they won't be in business long. However, I don't think the government has any right to force a company to do business with someone when such a business transaction would violate their religious beliefs.

Government Spending
This would be omnibus legislation incorporating several proposals. These would include initiatives like a Balanced Budget Amendment, having the annual budget tied to GDP, and No Budget, No Pay for Congress. Something has to give, and I fear it's too late.

Yes, I'm cheating at my own game by not proposing a single initiative to push, but these are the three "biggies" on my list. They are most likely listed in order, too, but the first two could easily be flipped.

So, that's where I sit today. What say you?

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26 (ESV)

Sunday, January 6, 2013


This morning, I tweeted "If we spent as much time 'following', 'friending', 'liking', and 'pinning' #God as we do each other, what would our lives look like?".

I asked this question after I realized I'd spent over an hour catching up on social media and news feeds. I was reading (even more) post-game reactions from the Aggies victory over the Sooners in the Cotton Bowl, trying to think up my latest failed bon mot to put out on twitter, and seeing what the rest of my extended friends and families were up to. Finally, I said "well, I guess I could go read my morning devotional."

Why don't we spend as much time catching up on God and what He's doing as we do our earthly friends? I can name most of the big-impact players on the Aggies football roster, but I can't name all the books in the bible. I can rattle off weird acronyms like OSPF, BGP, EIDE, SCSI and SATA (and know what they mean!!!), yet I stumble around concepts like Christology, epistemology, and sanctification.

In Deuteronomy 11:18, God tells us that "[y]ou shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul." Peter reminds us that we should always be prepared to give a defense.

Why is it then that too often studying God's word is an after-thought? As we step into this new year, let's make it a priority to put God first. Let's be more interested in what He's doing, in what victories He's winning, than some random collection of highly talented entertainers.

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26 (ESV)