28 April 2007

Podcast Update -- All Souls Shreveport

Last Sunday, I had prepared our second podcast recording for uploading to our web site (Rev. Jonalu Johnstone, President of Interweave, spoke at our church).

I also used the sample RSS feed template from the Apple iTunes web pages to create the RSS syndication feed.

I've also submitted the RSS feed for inclusion as a free podcast in Apple iTunes music store.

If one does a search within the iTunes online store, we are the only search result for a "shreveport unitarian" search.

24 April 2007

"Why Do You Live in Louisiana?"

Between 13 and 15 April 2007, I was visiting the Pacific Southwest District of the Unitarian Universalist Association. I was there to co-facilitate a facilitators training workshop for the Our Whole Lives Grades 7-9 and 10-12 comprehensive sexuality education curriculum jointly developed by the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ.

During the weekend, I would related experiences with sexuality education, bisexual - gay - lesbian - transgender rights, and the local "Bible Belt" culture from my time in Northwest Louisiana and the Southwest District of the Unitarian Universalist Association. These experiences would cause participants to ask me "Why do you live there?"

I think I found the answer in Monday's Shreveport, Louisiana daily newspaper. I can guarantee that the following letter to the editor would never be found in the Los Angeles Times:

Outlawing this sport (cockfighting) will put a lot of people of out jobs and hurt the economy of all Louisiana. They don't think of the people that will be put out of work. The feed stores will lose about one-third of their sales, that is a lot of business. Grain the farmers grow to feed these birds will not be bought by the feed stores, hurting the farmers. Hotels, gas stations and restaurants these people patronize will no longer get this business. Towns these fights are held in have come to depend on the out-of-town people to help them survive. At times, there are a thousand people coming into these towns for four to five days to stay and spend money. Some people raise chickens to sell to others, taking away their livelihood. These chickens have to have medicine and be wormed each month; this will hurt the veterinarian.

When you think outlawing cockfighting will help, think of the people you know it will hurt. Then decide what is more important — people losing their jobs and livelihoods, towns losing business they need to help survive, making outlaws out of honest people, or giving in to these animal rights groups that will leave Louisiana when they get what they want, but your fellow Louisianans will still be here without the way of life we love and without the revenue the sport generates.

In a sportsman magazine, the Humane Society said cormorants should be left on the endangered list and not be punished for what they do naturally, which is eating fish. Why can't a game rooster do what he does naturally, which is fight?

Tony Pickard
Sarepta LA

And opinions like this are what makes our region so unique and special. According to Wikipedia, cockfighting is illegal in all 50 states and the District of Columbia with the singular exception of Louisiana.

As Unitarian Universalists and religious liberals, we will never run out of social justice work in my state. There's always something that needs fixing.

18 April 2007

Two Computer Articles For Churches And Other Small-Budget Non-Profit Organizations

I found two articles today that may be useful for churches and other small-budget non-profit organizations:

How To Revive An Old PC With Linux

The article is described as a "short guide to getting your old clunker up and running again with a free Linux download and a reasonably quick installation."

The second article deals with computer security and personal computer firewalls:

How To Secure Desktop PCs With Personal Firewalls

This article may be useful for your church staff persons who travel and use wireless networks away from the secure network that one controls in your church.

08 April 2007

Exploring Digital Audio Recording at My Church

I've had the good fortune of having both an old computer that was gathering dust in our choir loft and ready access to "open source" audio recording and editing software at my congregation.

I've been experimenting with adding digital audio recording at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Shreveport, Louisiana. This is yet another way to allow members, friends, and potential members to participate in congregational life and learn more about Unitarian Universalism. It's also something that our minister wants to start doing.

Digital recording allows our members who want a recording of the worship service to have it on audio CD. Audio CDs are useful for members who want a worship recording but don't have a cassette player in the car. The digital recording will also let us put digital audio files on the congregation's web site.

The old computer that I've plugged into our sanctuary sound board is a generic Windows PC-compatible clone that was formerly used by our office administrator until June 2006. It had an AMD Athlon 1200 MHz CPU, 768 megabytes RAM, 40 gigabyte hard drive, and a CD/RW drive. This older computer was purchased at least 4 to 5 years ago and had been upgraded from Windows ME to Windows XP Professional during its time as the office administrator's computer.

Since we don't have wired internet access in our sanctuary, I've installed a D-Link WDA-1320 PCI 802.11 b/g wireless LAN card on this computer. This allows me to access the internet using our church's wireless router (e.g. installing the latest software patches and security updates, uploading files to our congregation's web site, etc without having to drag the computer to a 10/100-Base-T internet connection in the church office). The reason for choosing this type of wireless LAN card is past experience using this card with Ubuntu Linux. It works "out of the box" without any special trick for the "Dapper Drake" and "Edgy Eft" releases).

To get the best performance out of this older computer, I installed Ubuntu 6.06 "Dapper Drake" on this computer instead of the Windows XP operating system. After installing the basic "Dapper" install and the latest security updates, I used the "Unofficial Ubuntu 6.06 (Dapper Drake) Starter Guide" to assist me in finishing the setup. The starter guide provides step-by-step instructions for installing "Automatrix2" on our computer. Automatrix2 automates most of the multi-media setup required for setting a computer that can read and write mp3 podcast files.

Ubuntu records the audio files in the "ogg" open-standard format. To edit these files (e.g. cutting out dead air time) and to convert the digital audio file into mp3 format used by nearly every portable audio player, I installed "Audacity," an open-source audio editor for Windows, Macintosh, and Linux.

Now that I've confirmed that all the hardware and software works during today's worship, I need to create some user documentation for the volunteers who run our worship audio system so they know how to record digital audio, edit for length if needed, and burn the digital audio to CD.

I will need to find some time to do that between the Our Whole Lives trainings I'm co-leading between now and June 2007.

There will be more to follow on this documentation in a future blog article.

Who Speaks for Unitarian Universalism on the Web?

In a blog article about the Unitarian Universalist Association's web site text describing the role of Christianity in modern-day Unitarian Universalism, UU blogger and minister Scott Wells raises the following questions:
"But today, with increasingly decentralized Internet communication and the name recognition this brings, editorial control for Unitarian Universalism is now much wider than the UUA staff and a few independent (but low circulation) periodicals. The emerging 'how long' question is 'how long will it be before an outsider won't necessarily go to UUA.org first?'"
Based on the search results on Google for Unitarian Universalism, this may already be happening.

The first search result listed isn't the "official" Unitarian Universalist Association's web site (which if you haven't noticed, has undergone a major redesign).

The first search result reported is the Wikipedia article on Unitarian Universalism. For comparison's sake, the first Google search result reported for Unitarian and Universalist are the "official" UUA web site.

For those Unitarian Universalists who are "polity wonks" (my adaptation of "policy wonk" to describe those who are concerned with congregational and association governance issues), who speaks for Unitarian Universalism on the web is an important question.

The Unitarian Universalist Association is the member congregations and the paid and volunteer staff should be responsive to the desires of the member congregations. The collective authorship of Wikipedia may be responsive to the Wikipedia readership but it may not be responsive to UUA member congregations.

This doesn't mean that Wikipedia is less accurate than the UUA web site. Wikipedia will probably cover some controversies that the UUA would not prominently cover on their web site (e.g. the "language of reverence" and "borrowing from other religions" debates). And the "group editing" process may more accurately reflect reality (even if this isn't the "corporate message" that our congregations want to present to the world). The Wikipedia article on us is pretty accurate.

For example, the UUA web site does mention the "hot-button" polyamory topic (based on a Google search of www.uua.org). Some of the search results are still active pages and some are not active after the web site redesign.

However, the UUA web site does not list Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness as an official UUA affiliate organization. However, Wikipedia does list it as an official independent affiliate. I'm sure that this doesn't sit well with persons who disapprove of this perceived connection between polyamory and Unitarian Universalism.

My concern with the trend towards decentralized communication is a lack of accountability. Who would our future decentralized internet voices for Unitarian Unversalism be accountable to? The loudest voice speaking about Unitarian Universalism on the internet may not reflect the desires of our congregations through an open and democratic process but rather something else entirely different.