Saturday, October 28, 2006

Signal 41

So this afternoon I'm driving back from our men's retreat. As we get close to Florida and Bearss there's an accident with an overturned car. I have no idea how a car managed to flip there, but it did. Even though there's already one engine on the scene, I feel kind of guilty just driving by, especially when I see that they're actively working inside the car. If I had been by myself, I might have pulled over and offered another pair of hands or some muscle. But I didn't. I did however pull out a scanner and listen for a couple of minutes. I heard a heavy rescue unit responding as part of the call. A heavy or technical rescue unit carries lots of tools and supplies for hard extractions. Everything from vehicle entrapments to baby in the well. Then I heard the engine on-scene tell the heavy rescue to downgrade to a non-emergency response. Hmm. Is that good or bad? A couple seconds later, "Driver is signal 41." Dead. Not just dead. Dead in a way that it's obvious that there is no hope left. It was heart-wrenching, knowing that we'd just passed a few dozen feet from someone that had just passed away in the past dozen minutes.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Social Norms

Not too long ago I caught an interesting podcast from NPR's A Moment of Science about social norms (listen to the MP3 here).

Psychologist Robert Chaldini described how there are two types of social norms, descriptive norms and injuctive norms. A descriptive norm informs by way of example or suggests what is commonly done. An injunctive norm directs us toward what ought to be done; toward what is socially approved or disapproved. It all sounds pretty boring and psycho-babblish, but once you understand the implications, it is surprisingly useful.

If I think these norms in the way things are marketed, especially around our church, I can see why many marketing campaigns fail. For example, we regularly tell people that they "should" get involved in a ministry area or a small group. Yet we know for a fact that people almost never get involved in anything because they "should". It's almost always because one or more friends invite them or especially when they see many people that they know getting involved. The "should" is the injunctive norm and just doesn't have much of an impact on people. The "everyone is doing it" is a descriptive norm and is the one that really has an impact.

I can really see the difference when I look at campaigns we've run, even if I just look at what my reaction to them has been. I assure you that when I hear anything like a "you should ..." or "we'd like everyone to ...", I don't respond in any positive way. But when I hear things like "250 members already signed up ...", it really gets my attention. I really didn't make a firm commitment to joining a small group until I realized that most of the guys I knew at church were in one. Whenever someone invites us to an event, we want to know who else is going. I almost skipped my second men's retreat a couple years ago but decided to go after looking at the list of who else was going.

The worst thing we can do, and we've done this repeatedly, is to try to encourage people to go by announcing that not many people have signed up yet. If anything we need to say that we may run out of space.

Friday, October 20, 2006

What's on my Palm?

Palm TreoI've been a big user of PDAs for almost 10 years now, moving from Psions to Windows CE to what is now my third Palm, a Treo 650. I really became a heavy Palm user with my Zire 71.

So what's on my Treo? So much stuff I won't even list it.

In any given week, here is what I might do with my Treo.

Make phone calls. It's at least as good of a cell phone as my last two, getting good coverage and reasonable battery life. The contact management is pretty good and for once I didn't have to spend hours updating my new cell phone with my contact list from my Palm. I'm still not using a Bluetooth headset, mostly because I just don't make that many calls.

Listen to MP3s. I've had a small set of MP3 music on my Palm for a few years now, mostly to use to drown out background noise while I read, work, or study. Now I've expanded that set (thanks to today's huge SD cards) to include more music just for listening or while walking. I've also started loading up podcasts. I mostly listen to them in the car with an FM transmitter, but now I can fire up my Treo and listen to a podcast anywhere. With PocketTunes I can even set a 15 minute sleep timer and fall asleep to some boring NPR show.

Manage my todo list. As I try to follow Getting Things Done, I've been tweaking my Palm's todo list to fit how I work. Now I have several lists for different contexts (Home, Work, Errands and Store plus Waiting For and a general Next Action). By trying really hard to dump random thoughts into there, I'm really getting less surprises and spending less time trying to remember some random thought. If I need dish soap, it goes in the Treo and I forget all about it until I'm at the store.

Calendar. I have a really weak calendar system because it's spread over three systems. I have an Outlook/Exchange system at work which mostly has work stuff and Google Calendar for all my personal stuff plus the rest of my family and other events like football games and Brownies. Since I really don't sync my Treo at all, I don't keep it in synch with either of those calendars, so all that's on my Treo are the important reminders and GTD actions that have a date trigger. Unfortunately, that just isn't working too well. I need to get it synched with at least my Google calendar.

Offline websites. I've got a decent collection of websites that I've packaged using Plucker and Sunrise Desktop. It's great to have MousePlanet on my Palm when we're trying to decide on the fly if a Disney restaurant is worth trying or if at check-in time, it's worth upgrading to a different resort. I also carry Bruce Eckel's Thinking In ... series to constantly keep relearning patterns, Java, C#, C++ etc.

Alarms. I have 2-3 different wakeup alarms and can set it up to let me sleep in on the weekend. I have alarms set to remind me when it's time to wrap up classes so we end on time.

Bible. I use MyBible to carry several different bible translations on my Palm. They now have NIV Study Bible notes and the Life Application Study Bible notes as well as almost every current translation. It's great to be able to flip back and forth between translations and compare. The software also supports hilighting and taking notes but I don't make use of that.

Photo courtesy aditza121

Thursday, October 19, 2006

It took me about 5 exposures, but I finally had to go look and see what this was that I was seeing in yard signs, bumper stickers, etc. I'm not sure why I didn't guess that it was a church, but sure enough, it was. Good hook.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Livin' It with Stephen Baldwin

Salon has an interesting article up now about Stephen Baldwin and his Livin' It ministry. Most of the article is just a recap of his story and what his X-Games style skateboard-themed ministry is like. I got to hear Stephen speak live at the 2005 Contagious Church Conference at our church, so I already knew the background. Somewhere I even have one of his DVDs and get regular mailings from Luis Palau's ministry.

The hook that got me to read the article was Stephen's criticism of Bono in his new book Usual Suspect.

I just watched Bono a couple of months ago in a taped interview at the 2006 Leadership Summit and he blew me away. Bono talked about his faith and how much he doesn't want to be like Christians.

I even felt like Bono was holding back and I really wanted him to speak his mind. Bill Hybels wrapped up the interview by asking Bono if he had anything that he'd really like to say to 15,000 pastors and other leaders around the world. Bono actually looked intimidated and I swear he backed away from what he really wanted to say. I was so hoping that he'd just unload on them -- us.

So back to Stephen and his world view. He apparently criticizes Bono for not being a sold-out gospel-preaching evangelist instead of what he is, which is a rock star. Stephen apparently thinks it's a waste for Bono to campaign for debt relief for Africa. Maybe Baldwin's wife can read him some of the many biblical references about usury. Bono quoted an amazing statistic. Live Aid raised about $250 million, but the same African countries now owe over $250 billion. Their annual debt payments completely dwarf any money we spend on humanitarian aid.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Detour, Week 2

We had our second night of Detour this week. Overall, things went a little smoother, but even the first week wasn't very chaotic. We had a few more kids for homework help and tutoring, which is great. I think that will really continue to grow. I had to fill in again for science and since I had a boy the first week that really wanted to learn about light bulbs, we did light bulbs and electricity this week.

I started with some different batteries and measuring the voltages on them. Then I took a 6 volt bulb and applied the different voltages to it so they could see how bright it was. Then we applied more and more voltage to the bulb until it finally died. It took almost 20 volts from some some pretty high-current sources (a big AGM lead-acid battery and a pack of NiMH rechargeables), but it finally burned out. Then we talked a little about what's inside the light bulb that burned out. One of the kids even beat me to it and told everyone else that there's no air inside the bulb. Then I did the demo that I was worried about. My big lead-acid battery, jumper cables, and some steel wire. I knew I should have put down some foil or something to catch the hot wire, but I didn't. The wire burned to a crisp immediately and fell right on the table-top, melting a nice line into the new table. Did you know that light-colored Formica table-tops have only a thin layer of light material over a dark base? I do now.

Then I went on to talk about different conductors and resistance. The big demo there was dropping some clip leads into a cup of water and adding salt until the light bulb lit. It started sort of cool for the kids, especially since they'd played with chemistry the week before. But then they got a bonus electro-chemistry demonstration as the tin plating dissolved from the anode alligator clip and the water turned an "awesome!" brown color accompanied by a steady stream of bubbles. I knew I'd get a little of that, but I didn't think it would be that much. They thought it was cool.

Then my big finale was passing out little LED keychain lights (RadioShack clearance). We had a little talk about being responsible with lights and electricity, then it was time to go.

We had a somewhat disappointing attendance this week and might have even had a few less kids than the week before. But looking around the room, I could tell that we had a lot of different kids this week than we had last week. Something I've learned is that there's no good way to predict or even understand attendance fluctuations like that. Sometimes we just have a "down" night where even a lot of the regulars miss, and we usually can't explain it.

I'm pretty excited about the future of Detour. We keep hearing great comments from kids and parents and people keep coming up with good ideas for 4-week workshop topics for kids. We've got some really great ones lined up for later in the year, especially in the spring when more teachers can make the commitment.