Monday, February 1, 2010

Streamline your Mac

As I prepare for tax season, I'm looking forward to what might wind up being a decent-sized income tax return (having a kid helps!). Being that my current Mac is three years old, I'm hoping that it works out for me to upgrade (that, and my wife needs a new Mac badly!). Thinking about that, I started cataloging all the little things that I would need to install to make myself at home: OS X is incredible right out of the box, but here are some little tools that I think would help any Mac power user.

1. Quicksilver

Never, ever, ever use a Mac without Quicksilver. I use but a fraction of what Quicksilver can do, but it's still an indispensable tool for me. Quicksilver is an application launcher: you invoke it with the Ctrl-Spacebar key combination, and then start typing the name of the application or other file you want to open. Since Quicksilver actively catalogs your hard drive, it quickly knows what you are typing, and a simple Return key launches the file or app. Quicksilver also allows navigating through folders, allowing you to find other files and apps that are close to where you currently are in the folder hierarchy.

2. Caffeine

Caffeine is probably the second thing I install on a new Mac. This is a simple little menu item that allows you to force your Mac to stay awake. This is handy when watching YouTube videos or performing other tasks that would normally allow the display to sleep. Instead of adjusting the Energy Saver preferences, clicking the little Caffeine cup icon in the menu will keep your Mac awake until you turn it back off.

3. Jumpcut

Another menu item that I am never without is Jumpcut. This handy little utility stores up to the last 40 things copied to the clipboard, and allows you to select them from a drop-down menu and paste them into the current application. If you prepare sermons or other typed information on a regular basis, Jumpcut is indispensable.

4. iStat Menus / iStat Pro

iSlayer's iStat line of tools are a great help in many areas. The Menus add-on give you detailed controls and views in the menu bar of things like RAM and CPU usage, network connections and activity, temperature statuses, disk usage, and a very handy time and date replacement that includes a drop-down mini calendar. iStat Pro is a dashboard widget that gives you much the same information, but in one place out of the way, just in case you don't want it on your menu bar.

5. OnyX

OnyX is a very powerful utility for your Mac: use carefully! It contains many options and configuration options for power users to play with, but newer users should probably avoid it. OnyX allows you to manually run maintenance scripts and repair disk permissions to help keep your system running smoothly. Use sparingly, but you could very well see a significant performance boost after using it if your machine seems bogged down.


I have only a few things that I do to get a new system ready for me, and I'll outline what works for me and how you might be able to customize them to your liking.

1. Exposé & Spaces

In System Preferences, at the top you'll see the Exposé & Spaces preference icon. Exposé gives you quick, one-button shortcuts to access the different applications that you have running. By default, the F9, F10, and F11 keys invoke basic Exposé functions as follows:

  • F9 shows you all the windows that are currently open in every application
  • F10 shows you all the windows in the currently selected application
  • F11 moves all windows to the edge of the screen so you can view your Desktop

Other Exposé keys include F8, which shows you all the active Spaces (if you have Spaces turned on), and F12 brings up the Dashboard, the place where your Widgets live.

Spaces gives you multiple "copies" of your desktop; though the icons on the Desktop remain the same, the applications either opened in each Space or specifically assigned to that Space are viewable there. If you Command-Tab to switch to an application that lives in another Space, you will automatically be moved there. Spaces are easily navigated (once switched on) with the Control+Arrow Key combinations.

My favorite detail of Exposé, however, is the Active Screen Corners option. With these drop-down boxes, you can assign each of the four corners of the screen a function; for instance, when I move my cursor to the top-right corner of the screen, it behaves as if I had pushed the F10 button: it tiles all of the selected application's windows. When I move the curser to the bottom-right corner, F11 is invoked, and I see my Desktop. My other corners are bottom-left for F9, and top-left for "Put Display to Sleep" in case I want to shut the screen off quickly (Screen Saver can also be invoked instead).

2. Finder Preferences

The only other main thing that I change when I set up a new system is the behavior of the Finder (including some Dock thingamajigs). First, I invoke the Finder Preferences with the Command-comma key combination (remember that: it's the default way to quickly access the Preferences in almost every Mac app). Under the General options, I set new Finder windows to open in Applications instead of the Home folder; I generally want to access Apps, but you can set it to whatever makes life easier for your workflow. I also uncheck the "Show warning before emptying the Trash" option under Advanced options; when I go to empty the Trash, I'm doing it on purpose, so I don't need a reminder!

As far as the Dock (back in System Preferences:  Menu -> System Preferences, or use Quicksilver!), I set the size about of the way down the slider: I want to be able to see everything, but I don't want the Dock taking up my whole screen. Secondly, I set the Magnification about 70% of the way toward the Max end of the scale: I need to be able to fine-tune my Dock actions, and with the size being rather small, Magnification is the easiest way to make sure that I'm doing exactly what I want to.

If you're using Snow Leopard, you'll notice a new, nifty little option: "Minimize windows into application icon." This sends minimized windows into that application's Dock icon instead of to the right side of the Dock. I can't stand it when there are several different things minimized into the Dock: it stretches everything out and makes the Desktop look cluttered.

That's all that I can think of: leave me a comment with more questions if you have any!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Top Ministry Uses for the Apple iPad

On Wednesday, the 17th of January, Apple introduced its newest creation, the iPad. While the name is unfortunate (in my opinion), the iPad opens up some new avenues for individuals in the ministry. Here I will provide some ideas as to how your ministry can use the iPad to help enhance and streamline your ministry.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

List of free programs useful for website design

Many ministries and churches design and maintain their own websites, mostly due to cost restrictions. As such, it can be difficult in finding useful tools, and oftentimes, people resort to using pirated software to do the job.

Obviously this is an ethical problem, especially in regards to churches and ministries. While no one may know you used a pirate version of photoshop to create that brilliant page header, or that you used your ripped copy of dreamweaver to create your beautiful web page, God does.

I have compiled a short list of useful tools that are absolutely free (and guilt free!) to use, that are equivelent to commercial products.

Graphics - GNU Image Manipulation Tool
Commonly abbreviated to G-IMP or even GIMP, this is a graphics program that is absolutely free, but with the power of photoshop. Unfortunately, it is not for the faint of heart. Like photoshop, it has a steep learning curve, but anyone familiar with graphics editors in general can probably figure it out quite quickly.

Download it here -

Alternatives - For a simpler graphics program, which still has features like layers and filters, you can try

Website Editing - KompoZer
Not every pastor is a whiz with HTML or CSS. Bible college doesn't tend to teach you much about divs and spans and tags. So most pastors either get someone in their congregation to create their website, or do it themselves.

While KompoZer is not a one click website creator, it is comparable to dreamweaver in terms of features. It can do almost everything dreamweaver does (and the features it doesn't have, most churches won't miss), and once again, it's free.

Download it here - (most people will want the windows binary)

FTP Access - Filezilla
So, you have your website, it looks good, and it works. But it's on your computer. No one but you can see it. How do you get it online?

Well, first of all you need a host. There are many online webhosts around, and some are fairly priced. For a church website, especially a small local church, I wouldn't pay more than $8 a month for webhosting. Any webhost that tries to offer you all this fancy stuff like secure hosting, and a bunch of other stuff is just trying to get your money. More than likely, unless your church also runs a store, you won't need anything fancy to run your site. A domain name and a host.

Your domain name is the name people type to get to the website. For example "".

The host is where the files are stored.

To get your files uploaded to the host, so people can visit, there are several ways to do it. Some hosts provide a way to upload files online, but by and by, it is easier to use an ftp program. Which is where FileZilla comes in.

You may need a bit of technical understanding to use FileZilla, but in general, all you need to know is

1. Your host name (usually the same as your domain name, sometimes with ftp in front of it instead of www)
2. Your username you got when you signed up
3. Your password you got when you signed up
4. The port number (usually 21, but your host should tell you)

You can put this information into FileZilla, click connect, and be able to quickly upload all your files.

Download it here

Audio Programs...

I just wanted to do a quick post concerning audio programs. Specifically just one, but I'll mention a few others, as I'm sure there are tons of them out there. The program I wanted to mention for those ministries on a low budget or no budget at all is the sound program called Audacity. Audacity is a powerful little sound program that is free source. That's right, it's completely free. You can use it to record your sermons or special music. The reason I really like Audacity is one feature of which I use it for is taking out background noise.

Say you are recording from a cassette tape which you don't have a cd or mp3 for. Those old tapes get a static backgound noise. With Audacity use the "Noise Removal" select a section of the audio where just the noise is playing... then have Noise Removal remove that noise in the whole audio. It will take some playing with to get it to sound good, but it's awesome.

The next great thing besides being free is it's a cross platform application. Which means it works on both Mac and Windows machines.

The down side to audacity is you can export as an MP3, WAV, or Ogg Vorbis. When you attempt an MP3 it says "Audacity does not export MP3 files directly, but instead uses LAME". Something you need to get separately. I'm too lazy to look for that stuff. So I just export as a .WAV file then convert it to MP3 using iTunes. May lose some quality, but I don't notice.

However the program I use for recording the sermons at church is "Sound Studio" Sound studio does cost $124.94, but you can download a full demo for free. To my knowledge it does not have noise removal like Audacity. And Sound Studio is a Macintosh program only. I've found it works better for me while doing live recordings to my lap top via a "iMic" that plugs into any head phones jack. And it saves in any audio formatt, of which I use .AIFF. These files are huge, but when burnt on a CD will play on any CD player, unlike the MP3 that will only play on CD players that support MP3 formats. Which I would think most are today, but some of the elders won't know the difference and have older CD players.

Well sorry for the long post and that's all I have for now. I would mention "Garage Band" is used by most Mac people, but I didn't want to be too Mac biased in the post lol. Let us know if you use a different sound program.

Mac Apps: Bento

I'd heard about Bento many times; from my MacWorld magazine to online reviews, I'd heard quite a few positive things about it. What is Bento? Well, it's hard to say, really. It's a database. It's an organizational tool. It's a really sweet app. But what can it do for you? Let me see if I can help with that.

First, Bento interfaces seamlessly with iCal and Address Book, basically removing the need to have those two open at any time. When you add or edit something in Bento from iCal or Address Book, it changes it in those apps. Bento stores information, like any other database, in a spreadsheet-like table, and displays it in a form. However, unlike Microsoft's Access, you can work in the form, dragging and dropping fields and data, and Bento creates and fills out the forms for you.

Bento comes with templates for many things, from Project organization and To Do items to Events, Files, Home or Business Inventory, Time Billing, Exercise Log, Vehicle Maintenance, Items for Sale and many others. Bento is an excellent organizational tool for Mac users, and not priced badly at $49. There is a free demo that can be downloaded HERE.

Operating Systems for the Ministry

In the modern computing world, there are basically three options when it comes to operating systems. The vast majority of people use Microsoft Windows by default, simply because that's what Best Buy or Wal-Mart had when they went to buy a computer, or that's what came with the computer that so-and-so gave them. It's unwise to be picky when someone gives you something, but when it's time to pick out and buy your own computer, you have to make the decision for yourself, and it helps to be educated on the topic.


The least-known of computer operating systems, Linux is a light-hitter when it comes to consumer computing. However, it also happens to be the only mainstream operating system that's completely free. (we Baptist like the word "free") Linux is also very sparing on resources, so you can run some distribution of Linux on almost anything that will boot up.

Linux is "Open Source," meaning that the entire program and its source code are freely available to anyone to use, modify and share as they please. Linux comes in many different flavors, from Red Hat to Ubuntu to Debian and others. Ubuntu is the most popular distribution of Linux currently.

The things that Linux lacks currently are software and hardware support. There are many different programs available for Linux, but sometimes the available options aren't what people in the Ministry want. If you simply want a machine that can get on the internet, send and receive email, type prayer letters and map your trips, then Linux is probably all you'd need. However, if you want to get into more complex things, such as presentation and design, Linux is likely not the system for you. Supporting some hardware is also an issue, as drivers for different equipment have to be developed and released by unpaid members of the community. It's also a somewhat more complex process to install those drivers that are already available as well.


Microsoft Windows is the most ubiquitous operating system on the market at this time. Windows runs on almost any computer platform, and there are thousands of pieces of software for the pastor or missionary to choose from. From many Open Source applications to commercially-released software, Windows users can rely on being able to find an application that will let them accomplish what they need to do.

Microsoft Office is an expensive though full-featured set of applications that will let you design flyers and prayer cards, publish letters and documents, create complex databases, build spreadsheets and organize a multimedia presentation. Microsoft Office is available for Windows, and can be pre-installed on some machines for a discount. Open Office ( is a free alternative to Microsoft Office; it allows you to import and edit almost every file type that Office uses, but at no cost to you.

Most external hardware is designed for Windows, from printers and scanners to projectors and displays. Simply connecting to the internet to download the drivers, or installing the drivers with the included CD will get your system up and running with your new peripheral.

However, there are drawbacks to a Windows system. Windows is susceptible to thousands of viruses and spyware, so without an often costly anti-virus software, your computer is at risk. Windows also has a tendency to become slow and unstable after long use; frequent restarts are a normal occurence. Microsoft's latest version of Windows, Vista, has been touted the worst Operating System in years, based on stability, hardware recognition and conflicts, user response and outrageous resource use. Windows has addressed many of these problems with a Service Pack update, but many users still complain about Vista.

Mac OS X

In the past, Apple computers have been viewed as nerd machines, or only for professionals. Many people still think that Apple computers (Macs) aren't suitable for the general consumer. However, in the last 8-10 years, Apple has opened up the Mac to much development by building an OS on an Open Source foundation and supporting adn integrating Open Standards in their systems and applications. Apple's Operating System, known as Mac OS X (pronounced "oh-ehs ten") is widely regarded as being the most stable commercial OS in existence. To date, no viruses exist for OS X, and the OS is built on a rock-solid UNIX core (developed by computer hackers) for optimum stability and security.

Mac OS X was designed for a multi-user environment, and allows limitless control over accounts and access options. OS X comes with support for thousands of peripherals built right in, so many things that would require a lengthy install on a Windows system are Plug-and-Play on a Mac. Mac computers have advanced options for networking and internet sharing, including two built-in firewalls for ultimate security.

There are thousands of apps available for OS X, one being Apple's own iWork suite that has a word processor and page layout app, a world-class presentation application and a spreadsheet program. Every Mac comes with iLife, Apple's award-winning group of applications including GarageBand (useful for recording audio including music and sermons), iPhoto (simple yet feature-packed photo cataloging app), iMovie (allows you to record and edit professional-looking videos), iWeb (design and upload easy web sites), and iDVD (create beautiful DVD menus). Other apps are available, as Apple enthusiasts have developed thousands of applications for Mac OS X over the years. Microsoft Office is even available for Mac, if you prefer to use that.

Overall, Apple computers have the lowest cost of ownership, while Windows computers are more prevalent, and Linux systems are the low-cost option. Being an Apple user myself, I could never advise anyone to buy anything other than a Mac, but your ministry is your ministry, and you must make that decision for yourself.

Technology for Bible Believing Ministries

As a man called to the mission field, I have a strong burden to do whatever I can to support missions and missionaries. As a self-employed, newly-married entrepreneur, I'm broke. Therefore, I've decided to take what small talent in the technology field that God has given me and use it to help missionaries and pastors find electronic advice to help their ministries, whether it be hardware, software or online services.

I'll also seek other individuals with more experience in this area to contribute, in addition to posting articles from missionaries and pastors with technological experience. Feel free to comment and ask questions; we'll try to answer them as soon as possible.