The Missing eMail (4.7)

This past week I went 24 hours without email – really!  It was a wonderful, yet frightful, experience.

Here’s what happened.. On Wednesday I left my office about 11:35 for lunch.  When I returned after lunch I was surprised to see no emails – but I wasn’t too worried since I had a 1:30 and 2:30 appointment.  To make a long story short, I ended up missing my 2:30 appointment and working in my office all afternoon.  However, for the entire afternoon I didn’t receive a single email message – which was wonderful because I got so much done.  You have to understand that my Blackberry seems to buzz non-stop throughout the day (and even night), so the fact that I had five hours without a single buzz allowed me to get caught up on a lot of back-work.

That night I checked my Blackberry before I went to bed (as I always do), just to make sure there are no “surprises” waiting for me the next morning.  No new emails.  Interesting….  The next morning I woke up and checked my BB again – no new email messages.  Again, interesting, but I was more relieved than anything and felt a sense of “Wow, life is good.”

That morning I arrived in my office and worked in my office all morning until I was getting ready to leave for a lunch appointment about 11:15.  Just before I left I realized that it had now been 24 hours (almost to the minute) since I had received any email messages.  Now I was beginning to wonder if something was wrong… So I went into my Gmail account and sent myself an email – but it never arrived in my inbox.  So then I sent myself an email from within the work email program and it did not come through.  All of a sudden, I realized I had a problem.  So I began search – I looked in my  Spam folder, not there.  I looked in my Junk folder.  Not there.  So I started going through ALL my folders and finally, when I opened up my trash, I found over 75 unopened email messages from the past 24 hours!  All my email had been routed (incorrectly) to my trash without me ever seeing it.  I quickly moved them back to my inbox and spent the rest of the afternoon (after lunch) going through 24 hours worth of emails!

Which got me thinking… How often does God send me a message but I miss it because I’m looking for it in the wrong place or the wrong way?  How often do I take what he’s trying to tell me and send it (either accidentally or intentionally) to my “trash”?   And how long would I have to go without hearing his voice before I even realized there was a problem?

While I was questioning the lack of emails I received over that 24 hours, it wasn’t until it had been a solid 24 hours that I even began to try and figure out what the problem was (a sorting rule gone awry – it took me about 5 minutes to figure it out and about 30 seconds to fix it).  How long would I have to go without hearing from God before I began trying to figure out why?

I noticed my email problem fairly quickly because electronic communication fills such a large portion of my life – in this instance, over 75 instances in 24 hours; but normally it is many times that!  Each of those 75 emails required a response, and many of those responses resulted in extended exchanges – so I literally exchange hundreds of email in a single day.  But how much time every day do I spend interacting with God?

How about you?  Which of the following would you notice a problem with soonest: your email, your cell phone, your wallet, your Facebook account, or hearing from God?

How we answer that question is a good measure of where our priorities lie.


Cloud Storage

(cross posted on the Tar River Educator)

I’ve been playing around with several cloud storage options over the past several months and I’ve found another one I’ve decided I like.  And this one is DropBox.  Here’s what I like about it:

1) I do not have to be connected to the Internet to access my files – they are stored locally on my system and uploaded only when I’m connected (great for working at home on the laptop, which doesn’t always get a connection)

2) Allows for syncing of files between multiple computers

3) Extremely easy to use and quick to upload/download files

4) Works on both Macs and PCs seamlessly (I have a Mac at home and put up with a PC for work!)

Here’s what I don’t like about it – and there’s only one thing: the free storage capacity is set to 2GB (I could purchase additional but I’m too cheap for that).

Here’s how I’m using it – and why I’m already close to my storage limit.  The past six months I’ve been working to combine all my accounts and settings into one area, and I have three key accounts: my personal ones for home, my work ones for school, and my church ones for my church job.  So in my dropbox I have three main folders: one for home, one for school, and one for church, and I can access any or all of them at any time.  It’s the (for now) cloud storage answer for files that is similar to my use of Google Bookmarks with the GMarks-add-on for Firefox that keeps all my bookmarks synced together on all my computers.

Think of it this way – DropBox is like having a flash drive with you at all times without having to keep a flash drive with you.  Unlike Windows SkyDrive or Google Docs, I do not have to be connected to the internet to access the files, but like those two services I do have the ability to share folders with other users so they can access them.  (Now if DropBox would just up their storage limit I would be a much happier person).

For those who are considering installing it on their computers, just know that once it’s installed it saves all the files in a folder called “My DropBox” under the “My Documents” folder on your desktop.  By saving files directly into the “My DropBox” folder  – or any subfolder within it – (from Word or Excel or any other program) your files will automatically be uploaded and stored on the cloud server.  Here’s three examples from this past week where I used it:

1) I was working on a new faculty handbook for my new staff.  I saved the file to DropBox when I left work and then accessed it from home that evening to review and edit it.  When I got back to work the next day all the changes were already there.

2) Sunday afternoon I created a new worship set for my church service and put together the slide show for the congregation to follow along (something I do every Sunday) – I saved it to my DropBox folder and then when I arrived at church I accessed DropBox via the web side and downloaded the file onto the A/V computer in my church so the slide show was there.

3) I planned to use some new musical arrangements for a worship service this past Sunday that required print-outs of new sheet music.  I uploaded them to my share folder on DropBox and the other musicians were able to access them and download the files they needed for their individual parts.

If you don’t currently use some sort of Cloud Storage consider giving DropBox a try – and if you click on this link you should get a free 250MB of storage!

Google Docs, Skydrive, and Gladinet

Cross-posted on the Tar River Educator

As much as I like Google Docs for some things (surveys in particular), I get very frustrated at times because it doesn’t work 100% with Microsoft Office files.  For example, I have a lot of forms I’ve created with Word for common tasks (evaluations, observations, different data collection stuff), and uploading to Google Docs doesn’t convert everything correctly.  I love being able to have the virtual drive that I can upload files to so I can access them at home, but I hate having to go through the step of uploading files every time I leave work so the most recent version is available (if I’m using a document that Google Docs doesn’t support).

So then I looked at Windows Skydrive, which seemed like a great alternative, because once Office 2010 comes out it will most likely have native support to save and open files directly from the Skydrive.  This solves the problem of having documents that need Microsoft Office and won’t work in Google Docs.

But it still was clumsy to work with (at least at this stage of development), so I was trying to find something to allow me to easy move files back and forth between my Google Drive, Microsoft Skydrive, and/or local computer.  That’s when I stumbled upon Gladinet.  This wonderful free utility will allow you to mount your online drives as network drives on your computer.  So that way I can save and open files directly from Microsoft Office (or any other program I’m using).  It’s setup on my computer as the Y: drive.  I’ve actually got both my Google Docs and my Skydrive mounted, so when I go to my Y: drive I see a folder for “Google Docs” and a folder for “Skydrive”.  This also allows me to copy files and put them on the virtual drives via Windows Explorer (so I don’t need to upload files individually but I can move entire folders).

There are obviously two huge advantages to using Gladinet (or other similar programs) to copy files to your virtual drive.  For one, you can save directly to the drive (by choose “Save as..” in a Word/Excel/any program and selecting the destination as the Y: drive).  The second, though, is that it provides a great option for backing up files.  Since you can copy entire folders it gives you the option of backing up your entire file system by simply copying them over via Windows explorer.

For the record, Skydrive has a storage capacity of 25 GB, which is pretty significant.  All three of these “programs” (Google Docs, Windows Skydrive, and Gladinet) are free.

Valuing People

Cross posted on Tar River Educator Blog

I am going to share a pet peeve of mine, and I know it seems insignificant, but I believe it’s particularly important for leaders to think about this type of thing..

This year I have made a conscious effort to communicate face-to-face as much as possible, or call someone on the phone, even though sometimes it can be more “efficient” to converse via email. I’m one of those few people who still doesn’t have a texting plan on my cell phone – I only use the cell phone for making calls, and my plan has a shared number of minutes with my wife of only 550 minutes a month. Too often we as people, and especially leaders, forget the human component of the jobs we do, and that is most obvious in how often we substitute authentic communication for “efficiency” (didn’t I learn somewhere that 70% of communication is non-verbal?)

This is actually a fairly common rant I read, so I don’t feel I’m sharing anything revolutionary. What I don’t ever read (or hear), however, is the how to use technology well when people rant about this topic. Let me share with you two things that have happened this week… First, I sent an email to a person in my district asking a simple yes/no question. All I got back was a one word email with the word “Yes” in it. The second is an email I sent to another person in my district letting them know I had done something they asked. This one at least had two words: “Thanks tom” (yes, they had my name in lowercase). They did not sign the email or anything, but it did have the customary “This was sent from my blackberry” tag line that many people have on their emails.

So, a few things.

First, why can’t people put a greeting in their emails? I’m not saying I need a formal, “Dear Tom” or “Most beloved friend and colleague:” A simple “Tom – ” at the beginning of the email would be nice.

Second, why can’t people sign their emails with something more than their pre-filledout signature that the email program automatically inserts? It’s kinda like getting a letter from someone and realizing they did nothing more than use a rubber stamp to sign their name.

Third, get rid of the darn taglines at the ends of the emails. I am so tired or reading that emails are sent from Blackberries, iPhones, iPads, or any other electronic device. I’m seriously considering putting at the end of all my emails, “This email was manually typed on an old-fashioned keyboard on an old-fashioned desktop because I think you are important enough to receive my best instead of a quick text message that I send on a whim.”

When we do these things I personally believe it helps reinforce that people we communicate with have value – call it the technological equivalent of looking someone in the eye when they talk to us. Technology is a great tool and an asset, but let’s not put it above the human resources we need to function in our world.

Just have to share this…

Cross posted on the Tar River Educator Blog

Okay, I just have to share this post from another blog… I have said for years that Smartboards are a great tool but they’re also not all they’re cracked up to be. I have seen too many teachers use Smartboards as an expensive whiteboard – and it drives me CRAZY. Here’s another person’s thoughts on the whole thing, and I think I have to agree with him…

Why Smartboards Are a Dumb Initiative