Blogging with Heroku, Git and Toto

When I read, about a month ago, that I could set up a “Ruby powered blog” in five minutes, I was intrigued.  Saving the link to instructions on how to do this, I came back to the task early one morning last week.  After about 30 minutes I had made some progress, but had to get ready for work.  Later in the day I came back to the project and, after an additional couple of hours, managed to take the blog live.  Apparently the “five minutes” only applies if you are an experienced programmer familiar with Ruby and Git in particular.

Two steps missing from the instructions linked above were creating SSH keys (click here for more on that, and use dsa instructions) and setting up/installing git (sudo apt-get git should do it).  One other missing step was installing the Toto gem: (sudo gem install toto).

To publish a post I have to add it as a text file to my articles directory and then commit and deploy through git.  Editing the layout and pages involves going to the templates folder and working with CSS and html.  There are, obviously, far easier ways to set up a blog, so why bother with this rather arcane path?

Learning and experience.

Before setting up this blog I had no experience with git, though I’d heard quite a bit about it.  While I’d installed Ruby gems before, I’m still pretty “green” with this sort of task.  I know pretty much nothing about CSS and need to continue expanding my familiarity with html.  JavaScript will come into play as well, I’m sure.

Nothing that really matters will be posted to my “hacker blog.”  At least, nothing that I don’t also save or post elsewhere.  The real value to me isn’t in the blog, but in the learning experience this affords me.

Camp Manatawny Junior High Retreat 2010


Manatawny Junior

High Retreat

Theme: “Masterpiece”

For those in 6th – 8th grades

April 16 – 18, 2010

Speaker: Andy Hower

Director: Ken Coble 717-235-1470

According to Ken Coble, director of this event, there will be devotionals, singing/worship, small group games, camp fires, art projects and more.” This will take place at Camp Manatawny in Douglassville, Pennsylvania.  It’s a couple hours drive from northern New Jersey.  I’m hoping to take my daughter and possibly a couple of her friends.  For more information click here.  Download the mail-in registration form here, or you can do the registration online.

The price for this retreat is excellent: just $35 for two nights and one full day at camp.  That price is valid if payment is received or postmarked two weeks prior to the event.  Otherwise it’s $50.  Retreat-goers are advised to take extra bedding as they’ll be sleeping in the regular cabins.

Book Review: Dawn of the Dreadfuls really enjoyed Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (PPZ), so when the publisher contacted me with the offer of a free review copy of the prequel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls (DoD), I jumped at the chance to read it.  (Consider that the legally required disclaimer.)  This, despite the fact that I was pretty unimpressed with Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (SSSM).  Although I wondered if this prequel would live up to the original, I figured it couldn’t go wrong with zombies.  I was right!

The original PPZ was a mash-up novel, one that took the original work by Jane Austen and worked in martial arts and zombie mayhem in the midst of stuffy Victorian England.  It was my good fortune to not be assigned Pride and Prejudice in high school and telling from the roughly 85% of Austen’s work that remained in the mash-up.  Boring!  At least with PPZ I could trudge through the long, windy sections about formal balls and courting with the expectation of a putrid, decaying undead creature busting onto the scene.

DoD is, as I mentioned above, a prequel to PPZ.  Not based on a pre-existing text, DoD is written on a far more readable level with a contemporary style.  In PPZ I could practically feel the re-writes as I read, but in DoD there’s none of this.  Less Austen, more zombies and a lot of fun.  This novel doesn’t take us to the very beginning of Victorian England’s “Troubles,” but it shows us where the Bennett girls get their start in the anti-zombie resistance.  The opening chapter takes us to a very proper funeral that, perhaps predictably, is disturbed by the rise of the dead.

Some questions are vaguely answered, leaving still more questions (Only England?  How long’s this been going on? Etc, etc, etc….).  This makes for an excellent setup to more prequels or even sequels.  What began as a quirky literary mash-up could become a franchise.

If you haven’t read “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” yet, start with “Dawn of the Dreadfuls.”  If you like undead fiction written in somewhat comical style, you’ll love these books.

See Also:

Book Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Book Review: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

Notes from the 3rd Annual New England Church Growth Conference

Originally published on Missional Outreach Network
March 14, 2010

My friend Ricardo and I braved the roads on an incredibly windy and rainy Saturday morning and arrived with time to spare at the 3rd Annual New England Church Growth Conference, hosted by the Manchester Church of Christ. Aside from being a good excuse to get out of New Jersey, I was looking forward to seeing Monte Cox from Harding University. He was to give the keynote talks at the beginning and end of the event that day. Unfortunately, Monte’s daughter was overdue to give birth and he opted to stay in Arkansas because she’d reported having contractions that morning. She and her husband are preparing to do at least 10 years of mission service in Africa, so he wants has much time as possible with his grandchild.

Although Monte couldn’t be there in person, we heard him speak via Skype. That was an experience. The video, projected on a screen, was predictably choppy. At one point during the end of his second (and last) keynote, the connection failed. Brother Cox completed his comments via telephone held up to the microphone.

The following are my notes, however limited, from the day’s events. I am not much of a note-taker…never have been, likely never will be.

The main theme of Monte Cox’s first keynote can be summed up in the following phrase: “God is looking for people who are looking for people who are looking for Him.” He told stories centered around how God works to bring people who are looking for Him in contact with those who can share the Good News. Another interesting image brother Cox passed along was that of a “lost person” being present at all church board meetings. Though he or she would have no vote, he/she would be privy to all the conversation and would likely, at some point, raise his/her hand and ask, “What about me? These things you’re discussing are all well and good, but I thought your entire mission was to find me.”

After the keynote I headed over to Bill Williams’ talk on Natural Church Growth. It was apparently the first of two talks, so I missed the second. I usually try to get around to hear a diversity of speakers at this type of gathering. Bill shared information from the book “Natural Church Development.” We’ve been friends online for some time, but not in real life, and we had a chance to talk briefly later in the day. It was good to finally meet him in person, and I regret not getting a picture of us together.

After lunch I went to hear Jerry Tallman speak about personal evangelism. I’m really glad I did. Although his style is applicable mostly to those who already accept the authority of the Bible in some way, he had some handy tips on how to conduct a good evangelistic Bible study. Sometime later I may share something clever he did with Ephesians 2. Two questions he asked during his talk really stuck with me:

  • What would you do if you had absolutely no fear?
  • If every single Christian were serving with the same level of efficiency as you right now, would the church be growing or dying?

That second question really challenges me.

During the break after brother Tallman’s talk I spoke with him briefly, then bought a copy of his evangelistic Bible study book: “His Eternal Plan.”

The last workshop speaker I heard during before the closing keynote was Gareth Flanary. Two important points from his talk regarding the mission of the church spoke to what is needed in the life of the disciple individually and of the church collectively:

  1. Continuity with who Jesus is.
  2. Continuity with the missionary identity of God.

He emphasized that the church does not exist for herself, but for God and His mission.

And interesting quotation from his talk:

The Spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions, and the nearer we get to him, the more intensely missionary we must become.“Henry Martin

The final keynote from Monte Cox guided our thoughts toward the challenge of being both "sanctified” and “sent,” as seen in the prayer of Jesus in John 17, before his death. Being sanctified means being set apart, yet in the same prayer Jesus asks that his disciples be sent into the world. Christians are meant to both stand apart from the world and go into the world.

Monte mentioned having a picture in his office that sometimes he takes to class. It shows a grand cathedral with a major thoroughfare superimposed on the center aisle. The result is a huge church building with a highway running down the middle. What do his students think of the picture? Some see it negatively, as the world making inroads into the church. Others see it positively, as the church reaching the world. Who’s right? According to Monte, it can be both at different times. Disciples of Jesus need to be 100% committed to being sanctified and 100% committed to being sent. It can’t be merely one or the other.

The three final points from brother Cox were:

  1. We need to get serious about mobilizing members (see Ephesians 4).
  2. We need to know how to deal with the current situation, the world as it is and not as it was.
  3. We need to move beyond our internal squables and (I think I heard him say) our legitimate differences.

There was a plea for unity in mission in there.

Metro Christian Convention 2010

It’s hard to believe I’ve lived in northern New Jersey, the suburbs of New York City, since 2005 and only just heard of the Metro Christian Convention. The independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ have many such gatherings throughout the United States, and this one is especially for the greater New York metropolitan area. Registration is only $20 per family before April 12 and $25 after, so no one can reasonably say it’s too pricey.

If you are going to be in the city on April 24, why not register to attend? I’m planning on going, Lord willing, so you’ll “know” at least one person there. If you can make it, let me know so we can meet up.


Dr. Clay Perkins

President of Mid Atlantic Christian University

Main Speaker

Saturday, April 24, 2010

9:00 AM to 4:30 PM

Worship led by

Hillside Church of Christ


Central Islip Church of Christ

at the

Highland Church

160-20 Highland Avenue – Jamaica, NY 11432

(Entrance on 162nd Street)

PDF Downloads:
Metro 2010 Bulletin Insert

Metro Registration Form 2010 with Lunch

Domains and Webhosting on the Cheap

Nearly a decade ago I wanted to build a website to share about my mission work in Brazil.  Not having much technical knowledge, I turned to a helpful Brazilian friend to show me the ropes.  He spent a couple of hours showing me Microsoft Frontpage, but I really didn’t like it.  Time passed and I eventually discovered Tripod.  There were ads (many more now than in those days) and the site I built wasn’t very imaginative, but it was easy to put together and maintain.  While I also didn’t own a domain, I really didn’t care.  Fast forward to now.  I have not only multiple sites and domains, but also use different platforms.  For anyone looking to set up a website with a personalized domain “on the cheap,” this post’s for you.

First, have a look at WordPress.  Though I don’t care for it, there are folks who like it…a lot.  You can set up your site and then go to “My Dashboard” and then “Upgrades."  There you’ll find options, including registering and mapping a domain (see picture below).  I use WordPress for one of my blogs.  Two issues with this service irritate me:

  1. The dashboard bothers me.  Although I’ve been using it for a few years now, I still have trouble finding my way around.  Something about it just isn’t intuitive.
  2. Limited flash and no javascript.  It is often difficult to embed videos in posts and impossible to use third-party widgets.  This is incredibly frustrating at times.

Second, how about Blogger?  I’ve had a blog through this service since 2006 and have been very happy with it.  Last year (if memory serves) the ability to create stand-alone pages was added.  This makes it possible to make the blog look more like a regular site.  Many, many free templates are available online, the blog layout is easy to adjust (mostly drag-and-drop) and the post editor is excellent.   Under Settings > Publishing you will find a link to purchase a domain, if that’s what you want.  Blogger makes it easy and inexpensive, allowing you to obtain a domain name and also e-mail addresses associated with your domain (up to 50!) for only $10 a year.  This is a major bargain.

Third, the least expensive option involves Go Daddy and Weebly, but takes a little more effort to set up.  Through Go Daddy you can buy a domain.  The cheap part?  You can buy a .info domain for as little as $1.07 with tax!  Why would you want a .info?  Why not?  It’s cheap, it’s personalized and it will turn up in search results like any other web page out there.  I use this type of domain for my GizaPage and also for a catch-all site.  Once you’ve purchased your .info domain (or something a little more expensive) through Go Daddy, head over to Weebly and sign up for an account.  Build a basic website (just as a placeholder).  Then, follow instructions here and here to associate your Go Daddy registered domain with the Weebly site.  For less that $2.00 a year you’re online!  The worst thing about Weebly is the shabby blog editor, but if cheap is what you’re going for, this is an excellent option anyway.

There you have it.  Three options for low-cost domain registration and website hosting.  If you know of any other good options, let me know in the comments.

The Missional Purpose of Christian Unity

Originally published on
Tuesday, April 17, 2007

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-23 NRSV).

The movement of which I am a part was born with two driving objectives: A return to original Christianity and the undenominational unity of all Christians. At the moment I am undecided as two which of these is more naïve.

The conservative position in the Stone-Campbell movement has been that unity can only be found in accepting only what the Bible says and either leaving everything else out (as the Church of Christ claims to believe, though imperfectly in practice) or leave opinions as “non-essential” (per the independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, a position which also has difficulty in practical application). The liberal angle, as found in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), has been to go for organizational and institutional unity through ecumenical means with other denominations.

All attempts have shown themselves to be failures. So, has Jesus’ prayer failed?

Jesus prayed for the unity of his disciples, and not only those who followed him in his earthly ministry. He made it clear he was praying for all of us in every century of this present age. The trouble, in my view, is that we’ve misinterpreted this passage. We’ve assumed that somehow it will be possible to get everyone on board with specific doctrines and practices. Yes, we must struggle to find our commonalities and discover the ground we share together, but I don’t believe that this will be found in any conference or meeting room. It will be found on the mission field…and the entire world is the mission field.

Traditionally, this prayer of Jesus has been read to mean that once we acheive unity, the world will see our harmony, want the peace we find together in Jesus, and be converted. This is plainly not true. In context, we have every reason to believe that Jesus was talking about a practical unity, a unity in mission and not in every detail of faith. It was not institutional unity that Jesus was interested in, but rather missional unity.

A little girl goes lost in the forest. Very soon a rescue team is formed and volunteers join trained workers in the effort. A base camp is established, though it is empty most of the day. A few coordinaters work from there, while teams spread out to search. There is a ground effort as well as a search by air. After three days a couple of searchers on one of the teams spots the little girl next to a creek. She’s tired, hungry and scared, but otherwise okay. A helicopter airlifts her out while paramedics take her vitals and give her juice.

The people on that rescue team may have had a lot of ideas about a lot of things, but they were united in their common objective: Seek and save the girl.

Now, I know that in a church the issues can be far more complicated. We have Scriptures that guide our faith and any number of personal issues to deal with, but we also have our common mission: Seek and save those far from God.

Jesus was not praying that we would be a showcase for love and harmony (though that is a very desirable by-product of working in common mission). He was asking the Father’s blessing for us to be able to work smoothly together in advancing God’s rescue mission to this world. It is only in this way, as we unite our efforts and coordinate our energies, that the world will be effectively reached with the Good News that Jesus is Lord.

New York Linux Users Group

For a little over a year now I’ve been attending events and gatherings of the New York Linux Users Group (NYLUG). It’s been an interesting experience, and I’d like to share briefly a little about it.

First, there’s the monthly “General Meeting.”  The date varies but it’s typically held on a Wednesday the third week of every month.  For the General Meeting a speaker or speakers are lined up to talk about anything involving open source software.  We’ve had people talk about everything from Rockbox (open source firmware for mp3 players) to Puppet (a configuration management tool, written in Ruby) and everything in between.  The meeting starts with announcements and then goes straight into the presentation for the evening.  For those interested in open source technology, there’s a lot to learn at these meetings.

Second, twice-monthly “Hacking Society” meetings are held in the basement of the Hudson Park Library.  This was originally a Python workshop, but in recent months the organizers have decided to open it up to any code, any programming language.  The motivation for this was apparently to attempt to attract more people than just Python enthusiasts and learners.  Hacking Society meetings are informal to an extreme.  Normally no one really takes the lead, and even when there is a guest teacher/speaker everyone tends to keep their heads down, tapping away at their laptops.  This isn’t necessarily bad, but visitors can feel a little lost and the meetings can, at times, seem rather meaningless.  Recently, however, Robert Menes has volunteered to teach Smalltalk.  The going is slow but the opportunity for programmers, especially newbies like me, to learn on the cheap is compelling.

Check out the NYLUG website, sign up for announcements and try to attend one or the other of the regular meetings.  If you’re into computers and live/work in the New York metropolitan area you’ll probably enjoy getting to know this great bunch of geeks.

National Missionary Convention 2010

After going on my first mission trip to Brazil in 1997, it seemed only natural to attend the National Missionary Convention (NMC).  This annual event, associated with independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, seeks to promote mission work by bringing together Christians supportive of missions, prospective missionaries, current missionaries and mission agencies.  That year the gathering was held in my favorite North American city, Tulsa, Oklahoma.  A couple of years later I managed to attend the NMC in Peoria, Illinois.  Sadly, that was the last time I was able to go, and I doubt I’ll make it this year.

If you can be in the Lexington, Kentucky area in November and are interested in missions, check out the National Missionary Convention.  There are workshops, worship sessions, special events for teens and representatives from various mission groups in the exhibition area.  For those who have a heart for God’s mission, this can be time well-spent.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

12 noon — Exhibitors move in
2:00 pm — Corporate Officers Meeting, Business Meeting
6:30 to 9:00 pm — Pre-Convention Session: For Missionaries Only

Thursday, November 18, 2010

8:00 am — Exhibits move in.
8:30 to 12 noon — Pre-Convention:For Missionaries Only
9:00 until 12 noon — Missions Trainers Forum
1:30 to 4:00 pm — Church Planters Forum
5:00 pm — Exhibit Hall opens to public
7:00 pm — Main Session
11:00 pm — Exhibit Hall closes

Friday, November 19, 2010

8:00 am — Bible Study
9:00 am — Main Session
10:15 am — Break
10:45 am — Workshop A
12 noon — Lunch with Missionaries
2:00 pm — Workshop B
3:00 pm — Visit Exhibits
4:00 pm — Workshop C
5:00 pm — Visit Exhibits, Dinner Break
7:00 pm — Evening Main Session
8:30 pm — Visit Exhibits
11:00 pm — Exhibit Hall closes

Saturday, November 20, 2010

7:30 am — Continuation Committee Breakfast
8:00 am — Bible Study
9:00 am — Main Session
10:00 am — Visit Exhibits
10:30 am — Workshop D
12 noon — Lunch Break, Lunch with Missionaries
2:00 pm — Workshop E
3:00 pm — Visit Exhibits
4:00 pm — Workshop F
5:00 pm — Visit Exhibits, Dinner Break
7:00 pm — Evening Main Session
8:30 pm — Visit Exhibits
11:00 pm — Civic Center closes

Sunday, November 21, 2009

9:00 am — Morning Main Session