LDS Online Resources

Wow, it has been a little while. Well, before I start playing catch-up, I wanted to get this down…

Last week I did a presentation in Church on some of the resources the Church has made available. I had a half-an-hour (my fist practice took 3 times that long). It actually ended up going pretty well, given how nervous I was.

I put together a list of the stuff I covered (read: mentioned) as well as some thing I wish I could have covered. Here it is (The organization follows the outline of the presentation):

[Edit] And the menu and site structure for lds.org has just been changed. A lot. So I’ve gone through and tried to update my links below.

Site Directory
LDS Account ldsaccount.lds.org Online account for Church websites
LDS.org lds.org Main website
Magazines lds.org/magazine Links to each of the Church magazines
Mobile Apps mobile.lds.org

Official apps for Apple, Android, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry

Describes what apps are available for mobile devices
Getting Started tech.lds.org/wiki/LDS.org_getting_started_guides Guides for many of the Church tools and resources
     
Media Content
Media Library lds.org/media-library Video, Audio, and Picture resources, many downloadable
Mormon Channel mormonchannel.org

Mobile Apps: mormonchannel.org/mobile

The Church’s online radio.
Bible Videos lds.org/bible-videos

Mobile App for Apple, Android

Free videos of the events of the bible
LDS Music lds.org/churchmusic

Mobile app for Apple

Songs from hymnbook and children’s songbook. Can view and play the music with many other features
     
Official Social Accounts
Facebook lds.org/media-library/accessing-media-facebook Scroll down to see a list of Church Facebook pages
Youtube lds.org/media-library/accessing-media-youtube Scroll down to see a list of Church Youtube channels
Twitter lds.org/media-library/accessing-media-twitter Scroll down to see a list of Church Twitter channels
     
Resources for Children
Friend Magazine lds.org/friend Children’s magazine, with games and activities
Primary Manuals lds.org/manual/primary Church Primary manuals, incl. Faith in God
     
Resources for Youth
Youth Site youth.lds.org Main site for Youth – Other resources linked here:

  • For the Strength of Youth
  • Duty to God
  • Personal Progress
  • Seminary
  • FamilySearch Youth
Youth App Mobile App for Apple and Android Videos and images geared towards youth
Scripture Mastery Mobile App for Apple Tools to help memorize scripture mastery scriptures
     
Adults and Families
FHE lds.org/topics/family-home-evening Family Home Evening Resources
Addiction Recovery Program addictionrecovery.lds.org 12 step program for addiction recovery
Gardening www.lds.org/topics/gardening  
Combating Pornography www.lds.org/topics/pornography Includes information for prevention as well as dealing with addiction and helps for others affected
Provident Living providentliving.org Self-reliance and welfare resources
Self-Reliance providentliving.org/self-reliance This sub-site of Provident Living replaces much of the previous Family Well-being sub-site. Resources for:

  • Employment
  • Finances
  • Food Storage
  • Emergency Preparedness
  • Gardening
  • Physical Health
  • Education
Internet and Family Safety tech.lds.org/wiki/Family_Safety Community-driven site containing information on safe technology usage for families
Ward Directory lds.org/directory Directory information. Web site allows editing and setting permissions.
Calendar lds.org/church-calendar Calendar for the ward and Church building. Individual rooms can be scheduled by members.
LDS Tools Mobile App for most platforms incl.

Apple, Android, Windows Mobile

Provides access to the directory, calendar, and ward callings.
Gospel Library Mobile app for most platforms incl.

Apple, Android, Windows Mobile

Scriptures, talks, articles, manuals, etc. Integrates with Notes and Journal (can mark passages, add notes)
Notes and Journal lds.org/study-tools/folders Holds marked passages and notes from Gospel Library and other articles/resources on lds.org
     
Service Opportunities
Volunteer and Contribute lds.org/service/volunteer-and-contribute or lds.org/topics/service Provides links and ideas for helping with some of the Church’s efforts
Vineyard vineyard.lds.org 5-minute tasks to help the Church
LDSTech ldstech.org Provide assistance with Church software development
FamilySearch Indexing familysearch.org/volunteer/indexing

Mobile app for Apple and Android

Help index genealogical records (arbitrators needed!)

Mobile Apps are very different from desktop program

JustServe justserve.org Links volunteers with charitable causes. Just starting out.
     
Sharing the Gospel
Sharing Online lds.org/church/share or

lds.org/church/share/profile-creation

Lots of ideas and suggestions
Missionary Service lds.org/callings/missionary Includes information for senior and service missions
Mormon.org mormon.org Site for investigators, but content is from members
     
Other
Locations and Schedules lds.org/locations Helps you find LDS Buildings and Schedules anywhere in the world
FamilySearch new.familysearch.org Family History
Disabilities lds.org/disability Information for working with people with disabilities
Church News lds.org/church/news  
History history.lds.org Resources and information on Church History
Joseph Smith Papers josephsmithpapers.org Attempting to compile and annotate all known documents written by or scribed for Joseph Smith
Lesson Schedules lds.org/lesson New tool allowing classes to post their lesson schedules online
Newsletter lds.org/member-news New tool for online ward news
LDS Jobs ldsjobs.org Employment resources
Plan of Salvation www.lds.org/topics/plan-of-salvation  

It’s Worth One Dollar

Having been thoroughly sucked into the world of tablets and smart phones, I’ve learned a couple things about the apps that you can get. And one lesson in particular stands out:

The app is worth one dollar.

A very common revenue model for apps is that there are two versions, a free app that has ads and a paid version that does not have ads. So far we’ve just downloaded the free version and ignored the apps.

However, even on our regular computer we’ve found that our kids aren’t always discriminating about where they click on the screen. Sam has already purchased and downloaded an app (we have no idea what it does…). But the kicker for me was when I accidentally clicked on an ad inside of an app, and found that I was one more click away from adding an additional $10 to my monthly bill.

What!?

Yep, some dinky ad that I accidentally clicked on started signing me up for some additional service, that would automatically charge me $10 per month, which would very nicely (and conveniently) be added to my phone bill. And I’m sure that opting out or canceling would be very simple and painless.

So, I’m thinking that the extra dollar to get the paid app is a worthwhile investment, especially if you ever let your kids play with your phone or tablet.

Gadgets and the Spirit

So, I’ve had some  cool new gadgets to play with recently. I’ve been using my tablet for preparing and giving lessons in Elders Quorum, and it has been really handy; particularly using the Gospel Library and Study Notebook.

One member did mention to me (in good humor) that he was just a little bit disappointed when he saw me bringing my tablet to Church–he had liked the fact that my lesson notes were all in books and on paper.

A few years ago I got a feature phone that I thought was really cool. It had a web browser, a small keyboard, a note-taking app, and actually one of the better sets of speakers on a phone (or tablet) that I’ve heard to this day.

At any rate, I was really excited about the phone, and I thought about how useful it would be at church for taking notes with; ignoring the fact that I never did take a lot (if any) notes in church.

So I’m at church with my cool phone, ready to get spiritual impressions and put them in my neat note-taking phone. You can probably guess how much I got out of church, and how much I actually used that cool note application.

A few Sundays later, again at church, I suddenly did have some spiritual thoughts (rare though it is, it does occasionally happen), and I was able to use my phone to write them down. It was actually rather remarkable.

The difference between the two is really rather obvious–the first time my concentration was all on the phone, and what a cool gadget it was. I certainly was not in a frame of mind for any kind of spiritual instruction. On the other occasion, while I did have the phone it wasn’t what I was focusing on; it was simply an available tool for me to use.

I’ve heard both arguments about using smartphones and/or other gadgets in church, and for me the answer is: what are you using it for? What is the purpose, and what is the focus? Is it a tool, or a toy?

Now, in general, for me, computers and such are very much toys (“Never met a gadget I didn’t like”). I actually recommend that considering a computer as a toy is a good way to get to figure out how to use it.

So is it possible to take something that is a toy on Saturday and consider as only a tool on Sunday?

Android Gospel Library Tip: Updating Bookmarks

I’ve enjoyed having the LDS Gospel Library on my phone and tablet quite a bit, but one of my frustrations with it has been bookmarks–it’s fairly straightforward to create a bookmark, but how do you update (move) an existing bookmark for when you’re doing your daily scripture study?

Someone recently showed me how to do it. It’s really pretty simple. I created a bookmark called “Daily” and set it to where I’m at in my scripture study. Then, when I was done with my scripture study and ready to update my bookmark, I open up the bookmarks dialogue and longpress (press and hold) on the “Daily” bookmark. When I do that, I am prompted whether or not I want to update the existing bookmark, and I say yes.

New File Server

So, at my house we tend to use up disk space pretty quickly, and one of the ways I’ve tried to consolidate that is by having a home server. It was really just another Windows XP box but with some file shares on it, which actually works pretty well.

About a year ago we ran out of space on our server. And we were also out of money. No problem; I had lots of old hand-me-down computers, so I gutted a number of them, ripped out their hard-drives and stuck them in our server. It was touch-and-go for a bit; and while I did eventually get it working, the phrase “held together with spit and twine” seemed rather applicable, and I knew I needed to find a better solution at some point.

Then we ran out of space again. Nuts. How do we keep running out of space? Well, we takes lots of pictures, and I’m rather paranoid about backups–we had a new external drive fail on us previously, and lost about a year’s worth of pictures. Lesson Learned: Keep at least two copies of everything you don’t want to lose, preferably three (one of them being remote).

We still weren’t quite ready to buy a new computer. Well, I was (You might be a geek if you find yourself occasionally getting on Newegg.com to spec out a computer just for fun), but my wife provided the voice of reason. So we made a compromise. We bought an external hard-drive that we could use to relieve some of the space on the server, and would get a new computer in the fall.

So, fall has come and I’ve got a new file server going. It actually took more effort to put together than I thought. I bought the parts individually, and also bought a different operating system based on a friend’s recommendation (Windows Home Server, which for an Microsoft OS is pretty cheap). I wanted to make sure I got computer hardware that would be relevant for a decent amount of time. Some of the things I was looking for were:

  • Motherboard and power supply with plenty of SATA connectors (so that I had expand-ability)
  • Lots of initial hard-drive space with room to grow
  • RAID support
  • Support for both USB 3 and SATA 3 (which provide for much higher data transfer speeds than their predecessors)
In the end I purchased a Gigabyte AMD motherboard that had what I wanted, and I found a good deal on a Rosewill power supply. For hard-drives I purchased two Hitachi 3TB 7200 RPM drives. (Did anyone else just hear Ralphie saying, “I want an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle!”?)

My blogroll: MakeUseOf.com

My blogroll has been getting pretty hefty–I’m going to have to trim some of them down because it is getting impossible to keep up with all the items that I come across.

One of my favorite additions recently has to be the blog from the site MakeUseOf.com. It is a site that contains countless tips, tricks, hints, guides, and tutorials on using anything computer-related.

Family History Programs

So one of the things that I’ve started looking into is a decent way of storing and sharing family histories. I’m less interested in the dates and sources, although I do agree that those are important. I don’t think nearly enough emphasis has been placed on learning the histories and stories of our ancestors.

A couple quick examples:

  1. I really don’t need a census to tell me that I have a great-grandfather. I am very certain that at one point he did exist. So what? Why do I care? Why should I care? Well, when I heard the story about how he and his father worked together for a time, something inside me resonated with that. It did so enough that when I got a chance to work with my dad professionally I jumped at the chance. I even left a solid job for one that was rather shaky (the company did go under a couple years later). But I not only love and respect my father; he is one of my best friends, and I wanted to have the same experience my great-grandfather had. Virtually everyone I talked to warned me about the dangers of working with family–you can really ruin your relationship that way, etc. But you know what? It was awesome! I loved it–it was a wonderful experience. I’m sorry it didn’t last longer.
  2. Let’s say that you ask me how my day was, and I respond like this: “I woke up at 4:00 am, ate a very small breakfast. Lunch was at 12:35 pm, dinner at 6:30. I went to bed at 11:00 pm.” What have you learned about me? I’ve given you some facts, but without context it means nothing to anyone. It proves I was alive, but doesn’t show anything beyond that. In fact, that particular answer is misleading; as it implies that I get up extremely early–I did get up extremely early that day, but that was very much the exception. I’m actually known for sleeping in somewhat. You don’t know if that was a good day or a bad day, or whether it was remarkable in any way. The day I just described was June 11, 2011, when I ran the Utah Valley Marathon with two of my sisters. It was extremely hard, due to lack of both sleep and training, but still a very worthwhile (and remarkable) experience. Will my children and their children be affected in some way because they learn that I enjoyed running long distances? Probably more so than just if they know that I existed.

Now, I’ve heard my parents tell a couple remarkable stories about our ancestors, and I want to know more. I want to record those and share them. That’s where this gets a little tricky. The traditional genealogy programs out there focus very much on dates and sources–proving that this person was your ancestor. That is valuable and important. To a Mormon like myself, it’s even important for our salvation. But I believe that is only half of the equation. The Bible talks of the hearts of the children turning to their fathers. For myself I have experienced this as I have learned about them–what kind of people they were and the stories of their lives.

I want a program where the focus is on sharing stories. I want it to be collaborative. I want it to be sharable. I want it to be simple. Family History is done largely by people who are unfamiliar with computers, and even I get confused at all the buttons, options, and choices presented to me on some of the programs I’ve seen. Why is it so complex? Why is it that the only place to put histories is in the notes? And why, oh why is it that I can only upload pictures and sounds? Why not RTF documents, PDFs, videos, etc, or even text documents? Histories do not belong in the notes section. Notes belong in the notes section. Thankfully the genealogy programs seem to be improving somewhat, but the focus is still on proof and dates much more than stories and histories.

Personally, when I see a quick summary view of an ancestor, what I would like to see is:

  • Their picture, if available
  • birth and death (years ONLY)
  • A one or two sentence summary about the person (“Cattle thief. Good with kids”).

The detailed view of the individual would have the picture, full birth and death dates and summary at the top. The main section would be their full biography. Other data (birth place, ordinances, etc). would be in an info box to the side. Sources would be at the bottom. Something along those lines.

I thought a wiki-based approach would be a good way to do what I consider to be a family history program as opposed to a genealogy program. It is collaborative, it is online, so it’s sharable. The trouble is that without some serious work, the average wiki is too complex. We don’t want the users to have to learn wikitext. They need a rich text editor. They need a simple way to attach families, individuals, pictures, movies, etc.–the process would be more like writing a blog than using PAF.

I just recently installed a wiki with the intent to try and grow it into something useful, but a friend pointed me to a few sites that are doing this kind of thing, and I’m looking into those as well as trying to do further research on additional existing functionality. So far the ones that are the most interesting to me are werelate.org and familypedia.org, although there is a lot more research to do.

I’m especially intrigued by the idea of combining family history information (including the dates and places that I’ve been ranting about) with the idea of the semantic web, making that information (and the associated stories and histories) easier to share not just by pointing people to your specific site, but allowing other sites and programs to easily find, interpret, understand, and re-share that same information.

For the short term, I’m going to research the existing products more, and decide whether to continue trying to build my own or to use an existing program (and/or assist in developing it). Part of me wants to build my own, of course, but that would be a very large undertaking, and I don’t have very much time to spare.

Do you have any family history programs you would recommend? How do you share your family stories?

NFJS 2011

My company sent me to this year’s No Fluff Just Stuff conference, and I really enjoyed it. I haven’t been to a lot of conferences, so I don’t have much to compare on, but I learned a lot of interesting things. There was a very nice range of applicability–I attended a couple classes that were theoretical pie-in-the sky kinds of topics, a number of topics that dealt with my current line of work (services) that I could start researching and using in the next few months, and a few talks that were programming techniques and tools that I started using the next time I went in to work.

It’s Just Who We Are

A coworker told me how he explained a little bit of programming culture to his wife: “I told her how we attended this software conference where the presenters–the gurus and experts… well, one of them was wearing dockers and a faded Flash Gordon T-Shirt, and another wore a black T-Shirt that said simply GEEK with a fishing vest over that.”

Bottle Opener Flash Drive

Another thing that I thought was kind of funny was the USB drive that we were given (containing presentation notes etc). Now I don’t want to be one to look a gift horse in the mouth…

The size certainly made it harder to lose, but I confess it’s not something I plan on putting on my key chain anytime soon. It does hold 4GB, which is decent. The bag and binder they handed out were both pretty nice though…

Is Java dying?

One of the major focuses of the conference was on JVM languages. While no one out right said, “Java sucks” (that I’m aware of), that was rather the impression that I got. The topic even came up during the Experts Panel, and the response was along the lines of, “No, we don’t hate java at all… the JVM is really cool, and there are a lot of neat languages built on it besides Java.”

Java does seem to be losing popularity. I’m not sure if there is any real merit to that, or if it is simply the fact that Java is rather old at this point and/or the fact that it is now owned by Oracle. It’s not exciting anymore, so we naturally want to find the next really neat thing.

For Further Reading

This conference also got me rather excited to learn more about my profession. Here are the books that were suggested in the classes I attended:

  • Restful Web Services
  • Restful Web Services Cookbook
  • Rest in Practice
  • Refactoring to Patterns
  • Clean Code
  • Working Effectively with Legacy Code
  • Lean Software Development
  • Pragmatic Programmer
  • Continuous Integration
  • Domain-Driven Design

And there were lots and lots of websites and blogs…

Like a Giant China Town…

Just like New York City, you can find all kinds of cool things on the internet. And, just like New York City, there are all kinds of scams and tricks that you need to be aware of. Many of these things are the kind of thing that you can detect if you keep your eyes half open.

One of the more common things that happen is when you download and install a legitimate program, the installer also (quietly) asks you if you want to install something else. This is typically a toolbar for your web browser,1 but lately another common one is McAfee Viruscan. Any time a program or website requires your email address, look for a way to disable automatic email communications like newsletters (this is often enabled by default). If it’s not required, I don’t provide it.2

As I said before, this is not uncommon when installing even legitimate programs. Again, like New York, the main key is to keep your eyes open. I have come across a couple websites that explain some of the tricks that are used:

I highly recommend everyone reading through both of these sites… and keep your eyes open. You don’t need to install another toolbar.


Footnotes
  1. I use the number of toolbars installed and running on a web browser as one indicator of how computer-savvy the owner is []
  2. Many sites legitimately need your email address for important notifications. Look for a statement explaining how your email address will be used []

Geekcode

So I was wandering the internet the other day and stumbled upon the Geek Code, which apparently was used to identify other online geeks to each other. Basically it is a string of letters that indicate various character traits (general clothing style, appreciation for Star Trek, and so on).

While it is indeed very outdated, I nevertheless have put together my own geek code, and here it is:

—–BEGIN GEEK CODE BLOCK—–
Version: 3.12
GCS d- s:– a>? C++ U— P– L+ E— W++ U?
o– K- w+ O? M V? PS-(+) PE-(+) Y+ PGP t 5?
X R !tv b++ DI+(++) D- G e++ h—- r+++ y?
——END GEEK CODE BLOCK——

…yeah, I’m not really sure the purpose either, but it was fun to do…

Enhancements to the geek code could include such things as:

  • Star Wars (esp. classic vs. prequels)
  • Lord of the Rings (books vs. movies)
  • blog usage
  • facebook usage
  • youtube usage
  • flash videos created
  • iphone apps created
  • number of email accounts
  • whether you were a geek before being a geek was cool (with a qualifier indicating that while you are too young for that to be the case, you certainly would have been in that category)
  • number of RSS feeds currently subscribed to
  • number of podcasts currently subscribed to
  • number of computers currently owned
  • current WOW character level
  • favorite search engine
  • Big Bang Theory (TV show)
  • How many Java frameworks you are proficient in
  • Cell phone data plan

…And, really, there are some that should have been in there originally:

  • comic books
  • time spent on personal hobbies

Well, what do you think? Did I miss any?