Happy Easter

On Good Friday, 2011 I decided it was time to quit with Pastoral ministry.

We had come to the end of the “Way of the Cross” service in Glens Falls. Many of the downtown churches participated, starting at the Catholics, ending at the Episcopalians, with the Baptists, Methodists, Salvation Army and Lutherans all along the way.

Volunteers carried a large wooden cross from church to church.

Where the service ended, in the Episcopalian sanctuary, clergy sat up in the chancel, laity in the nave.

That last reflection was about leaving your burdens at the cross. People were given the opportunity to come forward, to write whatever was burdening them, whatever was sapping away their life, on a scrap of paper they had received as they had entered, and to leave their burden at the cross.

As the reflection ended, and as the people came up leaving their scraps of paper, I realized that pastoral ministry had become a burden that was sapping my life. I also realized that I didn’t have a scrap of paper. None of the clergy had paper scraps. Denial, I suppose, that clergy might carry life-sapping burdens.

I went down and got in line anyway. I took off the robe I’d been wearing, and when it came my turn, I left the robe there.

Then I sat down in the nave with the rest of the common folk.

If anyone else realized what I’d done there, nobody said anything.

The next day the Episcopal Rector called to ask me if I wanted my robe. “You left it at Good Friday,” he said. “I thought you’d want to know in case you needed it tomorrow morning.”

“Thanks,” I said. “I won’t be needing it any more. If you know of a mission where someone needs one, send it there.”

“Oh,” he said. Then after a long pause, “Ok.”

“Thanks,” I said again. “You helped me finally do something I’ve needed to do for a while now.”

“Oh,” he said again. “Ok. You’re welcome.”

That was it.

A few weeks later I announced my resignation, and finished things out until the end of June.

That year Easter really was a resurrection experience for me.

I remain convinced that Easter really happens whenever I, or anyone, can manage to lay down a life-sapping burden and then begin to live, whether for the first time or the first time in a long time, without picking it back up again.

Happy Easter

Heartbleed, Part 2: Change Your Password Today

A little more than a week ago I wrote about the Heartbleed vulnerability.

The security hole was announced on April 7. Most online services you’re likely to be using patched things up pretty quickly. Other smaller sites, not so much.

Here’s the thing. In all the hype about the issue, nearly everyone was talking about changing passwords. You might have changed your passwords back then. I didn’t recommend that when I wrote about it on April 10. But a lot of news people did. It was bad information.

If you changed your passwords back when it was first announced, you actually did it too soon.

Your may have fixed your password on all your major sites after they’d patched. But more than likely  you “fixed” your password before the patch was forwarded around to all the other places and devices that access the major sites.

How’s that?

You’ve probably got sites accessing one another. You know, when you’ve allowed other sites to “Log in Using Facebook.”

If all those little sites (and you can’t even remember how many or which ones) weren’t patched yet, they’ve exposed your shiny new password. Sorry. It’s just as toast as your old one.

Now that the dust has settled, and all those little sites have had time to catch up — NOW it’s time to change your password. Now. Even though you changed them the night you heard about it on the news. Even if you already did it, do it again. Just do it.

And don’t use “123456” or your dog’s name.

Get a password manager so you can use 20-character long strings of randomness for your passwords and not worry about forgetting them.

I use and recommend Dashlane. It’s free. 1Password and LastPass are also good.

Now that you have your password manager, you’re ready to change your passwords.

Here’s the list of passwords you have to change.

Go do it. Now.

A Few of My Favorite Things

Silas told his friend’s grandmother that his favorite thing to do was reading.

She told me this when I went over to pick him up after a get-together with his friend on Wednesday.

“Really?” I said. “Are you sure you’re talking about my kid?”

“That’s what he told me,” she said.

Since then, when Silas has been swooning with boredom, asking “What can I do now?” I’ve been telling him, “Read a book. I hear reading is your favorite thing to do.”

But he refuses to read a book.

I’m beginning to think his real favorite thing to do is to be bored.

My favorite thing to do is code. Reading is a close second. Left to my own devices, you’ll probably find me doing one of those two things.

There are a lot of other things.

Today I fixed the screen door. I made meatloaf for a church supper. I told my kid repeatedly that he should read a book.

You can say what you want about favorite things. I once knew someone who said his favorite thing was French. Ok. But he never did any French. He just talked about French.

Talk is cheap. The real favorite things are the things that you actually do when you’re completely on your own to decide.

So– What’s your favorite thing?

A Little Database Magic

Here’s a little puzzle I’ve been thinking about for the past couple of days. I’m sure this has been done before, but it’s the first time I’ve run into it, and it’s been a fun little exercise.

The ACME Company needs to keep track of some inventory. The inventory is kept in several different locations. For each product they need to be able to tell how many units are in which location.

The puzzle is to design a database that handles that information. Ideally, the database can sync the inventory in one or more locations with the database of their online store.

At it turns out the database is pretty simple. You can do it in three tables:

TABLE 1:

Products
SKU
ProductName

TABLE 2:

Locations
Loc_ID
LocationName

TABLE 3:

Quantities
Quant_ID
SKU
Loc_ID
Quantity

The magic happens in Table 3. In Table 3 SKU is keyed to the SKU from Table 1. Loc_ID is keyed to Loc_ID from Table 2. Then you set a multi-column unique index so that any given SKU-Loc_ID combination can appear only once in the table, representing the Quantity of any given product code at any given location.

Now you can search on Table 3 by either location or product. Table 3 automatically expands to accommodate new values whenever a new product is added to Table 1 or a new location is added to Table 2.

I love magic.

Enjoy!

What We Did on Summer Vacation

On Monday it was 82° and the kid had friends over to run through the sprinkler.

This morning it’s 16° and there’s a ½ inch of fresh snow on the ground. The kid’s having a friend over this afternoon for sledding.

School was out for the summer break this week. They’ll be going back to school next Tuesday.

It seems like the seasons just fly by these days. Except for Winter.

Taxes and Death

I filled out the 1040 a week ago Saturday.

Since then I’ve been trying to figure out how to pay the bill. It also got me thinking about how to avoid having to go into debt for the crime of making a modest living next year.

The only way I can think is to die.

So I’m announcing today that when I put my taxes in the mailbox, I’m also going to file my death certificate.

Friends and family members may leave their condolences in the comments below this post. In lieu of flowers, please send cash.

I know you’re not supposed to send cash in the mail, but I’ll need to close all my bank accounts and remain “off the financial grid” so long as I’m dead, so I won’t be able to cash your checks.

Also, if you’re paying me for anything, like websites or computer repairs, you’ll have to send cash from now on.

Don’t worry about reporting anything to the IRS on next year’s 1099s. Since I’m dead, you can just say “I had this cash, but I lost it.” It wouldn’t be lying. It would be gone, and since you won’t know what I did with it, it would be lost.

Meanwhile, I’ll be writing here daily as Caspar the Ghostwriter, and making occasional appearances as Caspar the Ghost. (I’ll let you decide whether you think I’m “friendly.”)

It’s been nice knowing you all these years.

Be well.

I suck at marketing.

I read several blogs about marketing because I learn a lot about how it’s supposed to work. Several of them have plenty to say that applies to fields other than marketing, too. They’re interesting and entertaining.

For all my reading their blogs, though, I still suck at marketing.

My friend René-Paul can sell ice to an Eskimo. (He doesn’t have a blog.) Three years ago he visited every Rotary club in upstate New York, Montreal and Ontario selling cookbooks.

They were cookbooks with recipes collected from people around AuSable, NY. A bunch of recipes like Presbyterian Chicken. No famous chefs involved.

He sold over 1000 cookbooks, in English, to French-speaking Canadians at $20 each.

He did it by doing what all these blogs I read say you have to do. Tell a compelling story.

Proceeds from the sales went to Rotary clean water projects. He was really selling the Rotary clean water project, not the cookbooks.

The cookbooks weren’t worth $20. I still have 500 of them rotting in my garage. I can’t even give them away.

People were pitching in $20 to be a part of a bigger project. They probably dropped the cookbooks in their recycle bins when they got home.

I suck at marketing. But it’s fascinating to see how people who are good at it do what they do.

I guess I’ll have to stick to what I’m good at: code. Over the past couple weeks several people have asked me how I do the magic I make computers do.

I wish I could tell a compelling story about it. Most of the time, the details put people to sleep.

I’ve started settling for a 1-word answer: “Practice.”

That’s probably how great marketers do it, too.

Presbyterian Chicken

We have a pot-luck dinner at church tonight. I’m taking Presbyterian Chicken.

It’s pretty good, even if you don’t happen to be Presbyterian.

  • 4 whole chicken breasts. Split. Boneless. (We also do skinless, but that’s up to you.)
  • 2 cans Cream of Chicken Soup
  • 8oz Sour Cream
  • 1 tube Ritz Crackers
  • 1 stick Butter

Preheat oven to 350°. Then:

  1. Divide each ½-breast into thirds (you’re starting with 4 whole, divided by 2 halves is 8 half-breasts, so you end up with 24 pieces) and arrange them in a 9×12 glass baking dish
  2. Melt the butter.
  3. Mix Cream of Chicken Soup and Sour Cream in one bowl.
  4. In a separate bowl, crush the crackers and then mix in the melted butter.
  5. Pour Soup/Sour Cream mix over the chicken pieces to cover
  6. Sprinkle buttered crackers over top
  7. Cover and bake for 50 min to 1 hr.

Serves 12 if you give everyone 2 pieces (or 24 if you’re taking it to a pot-luck or party at the neighbors’ house — you have 24 pieces, you do the math).

Easy peasy. Enjoy.

First Garden Seeds

Silas and I planted our first garden seeds yesterday. Tomatoes and broccoli in little egg carton cups.

Today we’re putting in the peas and the carrots, which the packets say we need to get in “as soon as the soil can be worked.”

We have a little raised bed garden plot we started last year. The soil after three days of temperatures in the 60s is workable. So in they go.

The other more fragile seeds will go in at the end of may or early June, after frost danger’s past.

It’ll be good to be outdoors in the sun after a week of dealing with security updates.

I can almost taste the veggies already.

My First Fifty

A “Fifty” is a story with exactly 50 words. No more, no less.

Fifties are flash fiction on steroids.

I found out about Fifties this week from the WordPress Daily Post’s Weekly Challenge.

“Why not try one?” I thought.

Here goes.

(I’ve taken 47 words introducing it.)

The base station attendant was the last person to see him alive as the gondola rose away.

“I could see his breath through the glass.

“Just him and his skis,” she told the officer taking statements.

At the top when the door opened they’d found one bullet, but no gun.