Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

A minor example of the social web facilitating the gospel

July 16, 2009

This past Sunday (July 12) we had a excellent sermon on Habakkuk by one of our elders.  This particular elder is a high school and college history teacher and has many “friends” on Facebook, including myself.  After I published the sermon Sunday night I posted the link on his Facebook wall.  I was hoping to see a bit of a bump on the web stats.

Habakkuk stats bump as of July 14, 2009

Habakkuk stats bump as of July 14, 2009 for Word of Life Christian Fellowship

I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the bump we received.  A bit under half of the hits were referrers from the Facebook post. I pulled the raw stats and found the number of clicks on the PDF sermon notes was about the same as the Facebook referrer count (as was the sum of the hits against the audio format hits).  I’m not going to say that each referrer from Facebook clicked on the PDF and listened to the audio, but I will say that a fair percentage appear to have.

I post our sermons to our Facebook group every week and we receive almost no hits from Facebook normally.  Those associated with our Facebook page typically have already heard the sermon in person.  It is the diversity of his “friends” that, I think, is the difference here.  It is an interesting enough difference that I think I need to reconsider how I’m using Facebook a bit.

WordPress Plugin: Breadcrumb NavXT

June 19, 2009

I just finished installing the Breadcrumb NavXT WordPress Plugin on the church site.  I’d been half-heartedly been looking at what it would take to write the equivalent functionality into my template.  It wasn’t seeming to be too bad, but  when I ran across this plugin, I had to give it a try.  Why rewrite something already done and working?

Obviously, you’re situation may be different from mine, but after activation I changed exactly one value (use “Home” for the Home link title instead of “Blog”), and dropped the default code into my standard and wide page templates.  The result was precisely what I was looking for: standard breadcrumb navigation.  PHP5 is required, but I needed to enable it anyway for the DST support added in WordPress 2.8.

All-in-all, another good plugin and another demonstration of the positive value of WordPress.

WordPress 2.8 Upgrade

June 13, 2009

I finished upgrading three sites (including the church site) to WordPress 2.8 and had absoluely no problems at all.  I am so very pleased with this platform.  For about a year now I’ve been working seriously with it and its been rock solid all the way along.

Interesting Church Tech Links for May 3, 2009

May 3, 2009

Some good articles for WordPress and Google Apps.

Syndicated WordPress Plugin Keeps Your Brand Intact
A WordPress plugin that does URL shortening so you don’t need TinyURL.com or such and you keep your domain name in the resulting URL – good for keeping your brand identity in the steam for Twitter and such.
Mt. Gilead’s Experience with Google Apps for Domains – Part I and Part II
Some interesting analysis and experience with Google Apps for Domains
Embed WordPress Functions Outside WordPress
Used this technique to integrate my error pages into the WordPress template.

Auto-Email Web Server Errors with WordPress

April 30, 2009

404/403 Website Error Pages with PHP Auto-Mailer from Nettuts+ scrolled through my RSS feeds the other day.  I was thinking that since I have WordPress installed it should be really easy to add some auto-emailing to the 404 template page.  While there are a few 404 WordPress plugins I didn’t see any that added the emailing.  So I added this to the bottom of my 404.php file:

<?php
$s_headers = "";
$s_to = "" ;
$s_subject = "404 Page Generated" ;
$s_message = "<ul>" ;
$s_message .= "<li>Request URL:" . $_SERVER['REQUEST_URI'] . "</li>";
$s_message .= "<li>Request Method:" . $_SERVER['REQUEST_METHOD'] . "</li>";
$s_message .= "<li>Referer:" . $_SERVER['HTTP_REFERER'] . "</li>";
$s_message .= "<li>Remote Address:" . $_SERVER['REMOTE_ADDR'] . "</li>";
$s_message .= "</ul>";
mail($s_to, $s_subject, $s_message, $s_headers ) ;
?>

So when a 404 gets generated I now am informed what failed, where it came from, who it came from and if it was a GET or POST.

What about other errors?

Ok, that was easy for the 404 because it was built into the WP template system.  But what about other errors like 500 (server error) and 403 (forbidden)?  WP doesn’t have templates for them.  Well, its pretty easy to take an arbitrary PHP script and include the entire WP environment.  I created a 500.php file that looks something like this:

<?php
define('WP_USE_THEMES', true);
require_once('wp-load.php');
?>
<?php get_header(); ?>
<div id="content" class="narrowcolumn">
<h2 class="center">Server Error - Pray For Us</h2>
</div>
<?php get_sidebar(); ?>
<?php get_footer(); ?>
<?php /* all that emailing code I just wrote in the 404.php file but used "500" instead of 404 */ ?>

The define() and require_once() functions pull in the WordPress environment.  You only need to watch out for the relative path to the wp-load.php file since it depends on where your PHP script is executing.  Now, duplicate code is a poor programming practice and I had access to all of WP; that means I had access to the functions.php file for the current template.  So, I took the original emailing code and wrote it into a function in the functions.php file.  Of course, if I change the theme I’ll have to make sure this function moves also.  The alternative is to put it into a separate PHP script and include it like the wp-load.php script.  The last line of the 404.php and 500.php files now look like:

<?php mail_request_info( "404 Page" ) ; ?>

and

<?php mail_request_info( "500 Page" ) ; ?>

Wrapping Up

You’ll want to follow their tutorial for how to update your Apache environment to reference the 500.php in the event of a server error.  I also wrote a 403.php file that worked the same way.  This effort paid immediate dividends for me as I found a couple of minor broken links on the site.  Nothing an HTML validator wouldn’t have found but I don’t run one against the site unless I’m redesigning it.  Between these scripts and the Redirection Plugin there are now very few broken pages since the major redesign on the site.  One note of caution, if you’re a high-volume site you might get flooded with emails.

Question: What are you doing for site backups?

April 21, 2009

Recently I read of some web host failures. It got me thinking about what it would take to recover my church’s site. I periodically back up the WordPress db, but that doesn’t save the uploaded content.  So nothing would be preserved in the WP uploads folder or the sermons and other media that’s uploaded via FTP. If my host couldn’t recover the files we’d be very much out of luck and I don’t have local back ups of multiple years of MP3 and uploaded event pictures.

So how would you fair if your web host lost everything?  What is your disaster recovery strategy for your church’s web site?

Interesting Church Tech Links for April 19, 2009

April 19, 2009

Theme for today is “WordPress”.

WPSeek.com
I’ve been working on a new WordPress plugin and not being all that familiar with the details of the WP environment this site has been a valuable resource.
Removing Curly Quotes in WordPress
This has long been an annoyance and its a simple fix.
Embed WordPress Functions Outside WordPress
In case you’re writing some PHP outside of the WP environment and need to tie in, this is how you do it.
Top 50 WordPress Tutorials
There’s many “Top 1000” type posts out there – this is a good one from a good source.

Legally playing CDs at a church service

March 16, 2009

This might be old news to some, but in my research I found a fair amount of anecdotal “its ok” and some mis-information about the legalities of playing CD’s at a church service.  I needed to figure it out and I wanted the hard facts – the law itself.  This is what I’ve found out:

It is indeed legal to play the music from a CD as part of your service without violating the copyright.  It doesn’t come from the fair use provision (US Copyright Law section 107 “Limitations on exclusive rights: fair use” ).  This is a common misconception.  It instead comes from section 110 “Limitations on exclusive rights: exemption of certain performances and displays” paragraph 3.

“(3) performance of a nondramatic literary or musical work or of a dramatico-musical work of a religious nature, or display of a work, in the course of services at a place of worship or other religious assembly;”

So, it is fine to to play the CD as part of the service.  Now, this doesn’t include projecting lyrics or printing guitar tabs or choir parts, etc.; that’s all under CCLI.  This also doesn’t cover recording the audio as part of an audio or video recording – that’s a reproduction issue and paragraph 3 provides an exception for performance, not reproduction.  Also, there probably is some question about if you want to play a CD as background at a church potluck.  I suspect that since such a performance is not during the “course of services” that it would not be legal.  But, that is outside of my initial search parameters for playing music during a church service proper.

Here are my key sources:

I hope this is helpful.

How are you recording sermons for the web?

February 26, 2009

I’m looking for some help.  Over the last several years we’ve been trying to double-up the projector PC as also being the recording station.  Our online sermons  are growing in their use but we’ve had a few problems.  On occasion, but usually an important occasion, we don’t get the file saved properly or we don’t get the right feed from the board (any no one notices) so we record nothing.  After some discussions, I’ve been given permission to do something different.

I see two primary solutions: 1) put a new PC in place dedicated to recording, or 2) find a device that better integrates into the board – something like a stand-alone, solid state, field recorder.  I’m ruling the first option out as I don’t want another PC in the sanctuary.  So that leaves option 2.  My leading candidate is a Zoom H2 from Samson.  It is portable, has a line input (can connect to the board), built-in mics for small groups, and not too expensive.

I’m wondering what others are using to record their services.

Copyright’s “fair use” within the church

February 16, 2009

Church Marketing Sucks has Richard Byrd as a guest blogger writing about fair use rules for copyright as it applies to churches.  So far the first of three posts is up and I like how its being considered.  I’m looking forward to the rest of the posts.  This is an area I think we all need to become better versed in and nicely complements my earlier post on copyright law and how it applies to churches.

Maybe we can start agreeing that doing something for a church doesn’t justify breaking the law.