3 Positive Uses for the Internet and their Pitfalls

tumblr_lwqxz8Vrav1qdxo33Finding information – One of the greatest uses of the internet is being able to find information on almost any topic quickly.  When it comes to fixing things around the house or garage, I’ve always been one of those do-it-yourselvers.  I’m not afraid to jump in and get my hands dirty, and with the aid of my home computer or smart phone I can usually find a working solution within seconds.  Weather I’m changing a water pump on my truck, panning for gold in the Current River, researching the Riemann Hypothesis for a math paper, or just looking for world news happening that moment, I can find it.

This access to information is amazing, and it sure beats my Encyclopedia Britannica of the 80s, but it does have a down side—false information!  With so much information to sift through it’s sometimes difficult to find the exact thing you’re looking for, and this is particularly important when it comes to news.  Any Joe Schmo with a smidgen of HTML knowledge can put up a website and say, “This is what is happening in the world today.”  When it comes to info you dig up on the internet it’s best to look at multiple sites and make sure they are reputable. It’s so easy to spread false information, so don’t repost something that just has a cute picture with a catchy phrase.  My favorite piece of misinformation has a picture of Abraham Lincoln and it says, “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet just because there’s a picture with a quote next to it. –Abraham Lincoln”

Connecting through social media – Probably the most used aspect of the internet in our personal lives today is connecting with others through social media.  In the “olden days” one would have to get in the car and drive to a friend’s house or walk over to the wall phone and dial their number, afterwards spending 5 minutes untangling the spiral chord that attached the handset to the base.  These days, we all sit on our couches and watch TV while the laptop, tablet, or smart phone is open in front of us.

Communication has become convenient, and we can connect with large groups of people instantly, but are we really more connected?  It is easy to blurt out how we feel and what we think without allowing the feedback of a deeper relationship back into our lives.  I’ve made it my goal to always have positive comments on my social media outlets.  I want my words to encourage, strengthen, build up, and even make people laugh.

Sending digital currency – A third positive use for the internet is the ability to send money digitally to others.  This has been going on for years behind the scenes for banks and businesses, but has really exploded for personal use over the last decade.  According to Gallup, in 1998 only about 10% said that they were likely to shop online for Christmas items, but in 2013 this number was up to 53%.

Banks and businesses often provide you way to send them money, but it has become increasingly easy to share your wealth with other individuals.  Through services like PayPal, you can create an account and send or receive money.  It’s crazy to think that anyone with a credit or debit card can give me money through my personal PayPal account –waiting, waiting!  Another not so well known form of currency that’s gaining interest is something called a Bitcoin.  It is a software-based online payment system that allows individuals to send money to others.  The benefits are the ability to send money to others directly without the need for a third party and tractions are cheap, but they are not widely accepted and your Bitcoin wallet can be lost which makes the money irretrievable.

The obvious negative side of sending digital currency is security.  When we hear of viruses and hackers in the news it’s easy to say the system is broke and not use it, but with just a few small steps you can be safe and secure.

  1. Always keep your operating system and antivirus software updated, and run weekly scans.
  2. Always make sure there is a padlock in the address bar of your browser when you shop.
  3. Only shop at stores you trust. Anyone can create a website and accept credit cards.
  4. Use a credit card over a debit card. They provide more legal protection and don’t pull directly from your checking account.

5 Tips for a 25 Year Marriage

sadfaSome of the best marriage advice I received as a young man came from my pastor. He said if you want a marriage that lasts, then find someone who’s been married a long time and watch them. At the time the “Old People” in my life seemed really strange and I thought they’d have no clue how to face the current issues of my day, but I was wrong. These older couples may not have been experts in my culture or changing technology, but they did understand relationships and how to strengthen them. Today is my 25th anniversary, and now that I’m walking on the other side of the fence I’d like to offer a few tips of my own. Below are Five tips for a twenty five year marriage.

The first tip is to never say the “D” word. Divorce–doesn’t even sound good does it.  Debbie and I decided very early in our marriage that we would never say the word divorce.  No matter how mad we got or how tired we were we would not mention that word in an argument.  It was difficult at times and the word often popped into our minds, but it was never spoken.

It’s too easy to say things you don’t mean when you’re angry, and when you begin to throw the “D” word around you begin to think about it.  You begin to believe it.  Before long it seems like the only solution to your problem.  Instead of looking for reasons to stop being together, you should look for reasons to build your marriage.

The next tip is: don’t go to bed mad at each other.  I would be lying if I said I never went to bed mad at my wife, but I can say we made it a priority to resolve our issues before the day ended.  There are times when couples need a little distance, and some time to work through hard feelings, but when its all said and done we need to learn to set our emotions aside and communicate openly and honestly.

We still have fights after 25 years of marriage, but they look a lot different than when we were first married.  Arguments these days often last about 2 minutes.  I say what’s bothering me, she says what’s bothering her and we drop it.  I’ve learned to hear what she’s upset about and try to make changes and she does the same.  We don’t have very many “BIG” fights any more.

Always make sure to kiss each other goodby.  You never know when your last kiss will be, and we’re not guaranteed of tomorrow.  And I’ll also add, on occasion throw in the 10 second kiss.  I won’t say much more….just try it.

Tell your spouse, “I love you” everyday.  One of the most basic needs of every human is to be loved, and it’s important you tell your spouse that you love them.  Try and think of the kind words you use as building blocks to your marriage.  The more nice words you use, the stronger your marriage will be, and probably the nicest thing you can say is, “I Love You.”

There are certain roles only a spouse can fill, and don’t allow others to fill them.  When we think if intimacy often times sex comes to mind, and that’s part of it, but only a small part.  Sex is one of those things that only your spouse fulfills.  That may seem obvious, but infidelity happens, so maybe it’s not as obvious as you would think.

Beyond sexual intimacy there are places in the heart that should only belong to a spouse.  I consider my wife as my best friend.  She listens to me when I talk.  She laughs at my jokes.  She makes corny comments like, “You’re sexy and I know it,” and just hearing her say it makes me smile.  If I were ever to allow another woman that place in my heart it would be wrong.  That place belongs only to her.

If you were to ask a hundred people what makes a marriage last you’d probably get 100 different answers, but these are a few of my top tips.  I’ll leave you with one final thought.  A marraige relationship is never complete.  You’re always pruning it, watering it, and working on it.

A Good Pair of Shoes

loveI’ve felt for the longest time that we believers make our jobs harder than they really are—spiritually speaking. We often focus on processes, styles, and even the details of our doctrine causing us to overlook the essentials of our spiritual walk. Don’t get me wrong; I think these things are important to our journey, but misaligned spiritual priorities can leave us feeling empty, frustrated, and even judgmental of others. With the wrong focus we become like the Pharisees, and that’s not fun, especially for those around us.

In the gospel of Matthew chapter 22 Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.

Once a person takes the first step of believing that God is real, the idea of loving him comes naturally. It’s an amazing experience when a one comes to the point of understanding all that He is and all that He’s done for us. How can you not love someone who gave their life for you?

The second commandment, to love people, seems to be a bit more difficult. People aren’t perfect. They sometimes get in our way and ruin our plans. They have ideas that don’t line up with our own. They cut in line at Wal-Mart and drive slowly in front of us on the highway. They say bad things about us on Facebook and sometimes even sit in our pew at church. How dare they?

It’s not by chance that the Apostle Paul placed the “Love Chapter” in the midst of verses that talk about our talents and spiritual gifting. He basically tells us that we may do great things, make big sacrifices, or even perform astounding miracles, but if we don’t have love then it’s meaningless.

I once saw a photo of a pair of shoes, and on the top of one was written the phrase, “Love God.”  The other said, “Love People.”  If we all were to write these two statements on the tops of our shoes, and remembered everywhere we stepped to love God and to love people, then just think of how different our world would be.

Excel Pivot Tables

I’m not sure if you’ve ever been tasked with pulling meaningful information from 10,000 rows of data, but it can seem a bit daunting. Once you start scrolling down page after page of long boring lines of similar data it can all seem to flow together. Was I looking at line 922 or 923? Did my last record read 34 or 43? Before you know it you’re yawning and heading for the coffee pot for a refill. But there’s no need to worry—Excel has a powerful tool called a pivot table.

Pivot tables are a great way to analyze large amounts of data very quickly, and I think it’s one of Excel’s best tools available. In a matter of 15-20 seconds, you can insert a new table, select the data you want to analyze, drag-n-drop a few columns to the table, and that’s it—your data has made the meaningful transition to information. Below are a few quick tips on how to use pivot tables. insert-pivot-table

The first step is to insert a new pivot table, and you can do this by going to the Insert tab in Excel and then click PivotTable in the upper left corner.  This bring up a box where you can select the data you want to analyze.

After you have selected your range of data Excel places a blank pivot-table form onto the sheet.  From there you can drag and drop a field directly onto the table to display that info.  In the following image you can see some of the field names in the list to the right (Qty, LP, Activity Type, Zone, Shift, etc).

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Beneath the PivotTable field list on the right are four areas where you can drag and drop fields also.  The Row Labels area on the right matches the Drop Row Fields Here on the left and so forth.  In the example below I’ve dragged the Zone field and dropped it on the Row Labels area, and have dropped the LP field into the Values area.  Now instead of seeing 2,012 rows of data it is summarized into the number of LPs picked in each area in the warehouse.  If we wanted we could replace the LP field with the Qty field and instead of using the Count of LP in the Values area we could change it to Sum of LP and see how many actual cases were picked in each area.  There are several other functions we could also use like Average, Max, Min, Product, etc.

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Another very helpful feature is that you can now double click inside the data area of the pivot table and see the records that make up that data.  For example, if I double click the number five next to Frz HS NO FIT it will create a new sheet with just those five records.

 

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The last tip I will mention is that it is just as easy to create a pivot chart.  It is created in exactly the same way, except you click on the drop down on the PivotTable button and select PivotChart instead.  In the example below, I’ve taken the same data from the previous pivot table and applied it to this chart, and I’ve also added a filter to the Zone field and only selected the Zones related to the cooler.

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How Safe is Your Identity?

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One scary moment of my life was answering a call from my credit card account manager who asked, “Mr. Lucas, did you recently purchase a dozen roses and four bottles of wine in New Jersey?”  Well, considering I’ve not been to Jersey, I had never used that card, and I don’t drink wine, my answer was, “No!”  I began immediately thinking about how bad this could be. Would I have to cancel my cards? Would I spend hours on the phone trying to clean this up? Luckily that’s all the further that theft went. I didn’t have to pay for the charges, and none of my other accounts had been compromised.

It is becoming increasingly harder to stay safe. In a world that’s wired to the internet and a culture dependent on a variety of electronic gadgets, identity theft is thriving. “You can’t prevent identity theft! No one can!” says financial expert Dave Ramsey. Even Todd Davis, the CEO of a large identity protection company, who shared his social security number publicly had his identity stolen 12 times, says the Phoenix News Times. While this may be a bit unsettling, understand that you can make it extremely difficult for the prowling identity thief. Don’t become the feeble gazelle faltering at the rear of the heard. When it comes to identity theft, there are three areas to consider.

Minimize the risk–There are a number of ways we can lower the risk of attack, and they all limit access to your personal data.

Get a shredder and properly dispose of old documents that have sensitive data; don’t just throw them in the trash. Anyone can drive around in the early morning hours and pilfer through your garbage. Don’t give out personal information to someone who calls you. If you need to give the info, then hang up and call their publicly listed number. Never trust that the person on the end of the line is who they say they are. And finally and most importantly, be cautious of what you put on the internet. From a person’s Facebook account or website it’s often easy gather all kinds of personal information. Even something as simple as, “Here’s my cat named fluffy!” Many people use their pet’s names as passwords.

Monitor your accounts. –Another big way to keep yourself safe is to monitor your existing accounts. If you can catch illegal activity when if first happens you can limit the damage.

Watch your monthly reports. Keep your receipts and match them with the report item for item, and if something appears that you didn’t buy then call. You can also check your annual reports for free at https://www.annualcreditreport.com. You can get reports for all three (Trans Union, Equifax, Experian) of the reporting agencies from them. Another simple step to take is reduce the number of accounts you have. It’s easy to miss unwanted activity if you have 10-15 different accounts to watch.

Maximize your protection. –One final way to reduce the time and money spent on costly clean-up is to purchase identity theft insurance.

You must change your mindset. No person or company can prevent an identity theft from occurring, but a good company can help manage the aftereffects, and repay stolen money. You insure the things that are valuable to you, your homes, and your cars, so why not insure your identity?  You can find a good identity policy for around $6.75 a month. Dave Ramsey recommends the Zander Insurance Group as a good provider of identity theft protection.

How to create an executable Jar file

A Java Archive file (Jar) is a compressed file based on the ZIP format. Jar files can contain many types of files and folders, but most often they hold Java .class files. The Jar format helps keep all the files in one place, and reduces the overall size of a project. Another very useful function of Jar files is that some of them can be executed. The purpose of this tutorial is to explain how to create an executable Jar file.

First I’ll make the assumption that you have downloaded and installed the Java SE Development Kit (JDK), and have also set up the PATH and CLASSPATH environment variables. If you can run and compile .java programs from the command line, then you’re set to go.

First thing you need is a Java source file. A simple program that just gets and sends data to the command prompt will work as long as you run it from the command-line, but you will not be able to see any output if you just double click on the Jar file. So, in this tutorial I will use an example that creates a window using JFrame.

Step 1. Create a folder called test and put your Java source file in it. For my example I’ve created a simple clock application that just counts the number of days since something has happened…the number of days since you’ve quit a bad habit, the number of days your website has been up, etc.

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Go ahead and create a simple Java application and compile the source. You should now have a test folder that contains the source file, and a .class file.  Mine has two .class files because my source file contains two classes.

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Step 2. Create a manifest file…I’ll call mine Clock.MF. A manifest is basically a file that contains information about the files packaged inside the Jar file. You can create yours using a text editor, just give it a .MF extension. Here’s what needs to go in this manifest file:

Manifest-Version: 1.0
Main-Class: Clock
Created-By: 1.2 (Sun Microsystems Inc.)

The first line tells us that this file conforms to 1.0 of the manifest specification. The second line tells which class inside the Jar file contains the “main” function. And the last line defines the version and the vendor of the java implementation on top of which this manifest file is generated.

Step 3. Create the Jar file using the jar command. In the example below (jar) is the name of the executable you call to create the Jar file. The jar command has a number of options…I used four of them (c –create the jar file, v –generates verbose output to the screen during file creation, f –specifies the file to be created, and m –indicates the manifest file to be used) After the options parameter comes the name of the jar file to be created (clock.jar), followed by the name of the manifest file to use (Clock.MF). The (*) wild card indicates to include all files in that directory. If you wanted you could use *.class to only include class files. Here’s the command:

jar cvfm Clock.jar Clock.MF *

Your test folder should now contain four or more files depending on how many classes your app has…one of them being the new clock.jar file. You should be able to double click on the clock.jar, and it will execute. You can also execute this code from the command line by typing (java -jar clock.jar).

Click here to download the Clock.java example and here to download the Clock.jar.

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Four quick tips for Excel

Excel is a powerful spreadsheet tool that is sold in the Microsoft Office software bundle. It allows you to manipulate and view data in various ways, and with it you can quickly organize your data into meaningful and manageable pieces. However, if you’re relatively new to this cool tool, it can be a bit daunting. This article will give you a few tips to help you get the most out of your Excel experience.

Functions are probably one of the most useful aspects of the Excel spreadsheet. By clicking on the Formulas tab then clicking the insert Function along the top; you can see a list of all the available functions. If you click on one of the functions it will give you a simple description of what it does. In the table below, containing made up data of employees, I’ve used three functions. COUNTA in our example counts the number of employees. SUM adds up the hours yielded and hours worked. And AVERAGE gives the average production rate for all employees. Cells A14, B14, C14, and D14 contain these functions.

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Patterns are also a very helpful functionality of Excel. For example, you can have 3 consecutive cells containing 1, 2, and 3; then highlight all three cells and drag them across. Excel will automatically calculate then next numbers in the series. You can see below that Excel knows a 4 should come next. You can also use this for functions—if you drag a function across it will copy the existing function but shift the rows it looks at. This horizontal or vertical dragging can save you a lot of retyping.

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Charts are also useful when sharing data with others. It’s good to give the chart a good title that explains exactly what you are looking at, plus the date range that the data is for. Also make sure that the X and Y axis of the chart have labels or are self-explanatory. The chart below shows each employee and how many hours they’ve worked compared to how much work they’ve done. Employee #1 is pretty far behind, but Employee # 10 has accomplished more than expected.

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My last tip for this article is about security. One of the biggest ways a computer gets compromised is through email attachments and particularly through Microsoft Office documents. If you are receiving an Excel file with the extension .xls or .xlsm then be aware that those documents can contain executable code called macros. Macros are a useful functionality of Excel, but they can also contain malicious code. And always make sure that you keep your antivirus up-to-date and never open attachments from people you don’t know. If any attachment looks even slightly suspicious then contact the person who sent it. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

A picture may be worth more than a thousand words

a_picture_is_worth_1000_words_by_refrigeratorbingo-d465awbYou’ve probably heard the phrase a picture is worth a thousand words.  Well, when it comes to your cell phone photos it might be more.  As most of you know, when you take a photo with a digital camera it will save the data from the image into a image file on the camera, and this file can then be copied to your computer or uploaded directly to a number of popular social media sites.  An image is made up of thousands or millions of little dots called pixels and the data file stores the location and color of each dot, but what you may not know is that these image files can contain a lot more information.

Some of the data embedded into this file might be things like: type of phone, lens used, exposure used, colors used, and even the GPS location where the image was taken, and with the right tools anyone in the world can view this information if it’s stored online.

Earlier today I took a picture with my phone, then uploaded it to a website that can extract this information to see what it would show.  The image below shows some of this data.

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So far, it’s not too bad, and many of the images you find online and on facebook will show no more info than this.  However, if an image is taken on a phone where geo-tracking is turned on, then the image file will contain the exact GPS coordinates, and this website will show those coordinates in google maps.  When I scroll down to the bottom of the page this is what I see.

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Wow, now that is revealing.  With google maps,  you can zoom down to the exact house where the image wast taken.  I have edited the image above so that you won’t know my exact location, but the point is, you could unknowingly be putting unwanted info about yourself on the internet.

There is a bit of good news though.  It is possible to turn off the geo-tracking on you camera.  It may be different for different cameras, but on an android you need to start the camera, then open the settings, then uncheck the icon that looks like an upside down tear drop.

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Top Tech Gifts 2013

vaioAs the holidays approach many of you may be hunting for that perfect tech gift. Whether that be for a friend of just something really cool for yourself, it’s good to know what’s available. I stayed away from the phones and tablets in this article because many of them were out in 2012, but here’s a short list before we get into our featured tech items: iPhone 5, Moto X, Nokia Lumia, HTC one, Galaxy S4, Google Nexux 7, Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7, Microsoft surface Pro 2, and Kindle Paperwite.

The Galaxy Gear Smartwatch reminds me of something you’d see in a James Bond movie. The watch has several great features. It links to your smart phone and allows you to answer your calls without picking up your phone. It will allow you to give voice commands and also receives notifications from your phone. You can also take photos with it, and leave yourself voice notes. It is priced around $300.

I thought the Apple iPad Air was worth mentioning. It basically has the features that other tablets do but is incredibly light. It weighs in at just one pound and is 20 percent thinner, and still fairly durable. Some of the pre-release complaints were that it had no USB drive, kickstand, and that it was too thin. The iPad Air starts at about $500.

The Play Station is one of the most popular gaming systems around, and this year the PS4 will be released in late November. The main design theme behind the PS4 is the “frictionless and seamless” gaming experience. In a multiplayer environment it has the ability to track different player’s faces and when a player moves to the other side of the room the screen will automatically be swapped. It is priced around $400.

Microsoft is going head-to-head with the PS4 with their release of the XBOX One—also this November. At first it seemed the PS4 would gain the upper hand with all of the pre-release complaints about the XBOX One. Features like the 24-hour online check-in restrictions on the used game market were not well received, but Microsoft listened and scrapped those features. This console attempts to bring the entire living room together by integrating, TV, games, movies and other web services like Skype. The XBOX is priced around $500.

The Chromebook is a laptop running the Chrome operating system. It boasts that it starts faster and stays faster than traditional computers. It allows you to use many of the apps you’d see on your smart phone. It has a guest mode, so that you can lend your Chromebook to a friend without giving access to your personal files and its supervised user accounts make it family friendly. It’s priced around $250.

The next Google gadget we’ll look at is the Google Chromecast. It is a HDMI streaming media player. With it you can stream online video or music to your TV using your smartphone, tablet, or laptop. It supports applications like Netflix, youTube, Hulu Plus, Pandora, and Google Play movies. It works with Andrid, iOS, and Chrome. To set it up all you need to do is plug it into your HDTV and connect to your home WiFi network. The Chrome casts costs about $35.

The Fitbit Flex is a wireless activity + sleep wristband. It will track your steps, distance, calories burned and active minutes, and also monitors how long and how well you sleep. It features a silent alarm that will wake you and not your partner. It will sync to iOS and Android devices. It costs about $100.

If you’ve ever traveled much you know how frustrating it can be to lose track of your luggage. The Trakdot Luggage Tracker is a cool little device that is designed to give specific location information about where your stuff is. The Trakdot uses cellular technology, so it works anywhere your phone works. The Trakdot is priced about $60.

The Sony VAIO Duo Ultrabook is designed to let you switch it up. You can go from tablet to a laptop and back again effortlessly. The Ultrabook boasts of a 10 hour battery life, and if you can’t decide between a laptop or tablet—then why not get both?

As technology gets better we see it moving into more practical places. The Nest Learning Thermostat is a smarter thermostat that works with your other devices. Other programmable thermostats have to be manually programmed to your daily needs, but the Nest Learning Thermostat picks up on your habits. This device connects to your WiFi which allows you to set it from your phone or other portable device. The Nest Learning Thermostat costs about $250, but it will pay for itself by lowering your heating and cooling costs.

Are You Spiritually Bankrupt

hagmann121512I’ve often wondered why I’ve met some of the meanest and some of the nicest people in a Church.  I’ve decided it’s because some of them are rich while others are spiritually bankrupt.

There are few things in life that bring you the joy of loving others.  When you give of your self, sacrifice, show kindness, politeness, use a little self-control, and a good portion of gentleness, then you are spiritually rich (Gal 5:22-25).

A life that is focused solely on self…in the end is lonely, depressing, and and only leaves you longing for more.  I like how 1 Corinthians says it below–If you don’t have love, you are spiritually bankrupt.

1 Cor. 13:1-7 If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.