Living Stones Updates

 
 
 
  • About

    Updates to the software and services provided by Living Stones Ministry
  • Living Stones Ministry

    The mission of Living Stones Ministry is to be used by God to build up His body, the Church, by providing software tools and building blocks

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

 
Stay Connected October 25th, 2005

This column first appeared in the January/February 2004 issue of Success magazine.

Business people talk. Good business people listen. To be in business today, you need the best tools for talking and listening – you need great telephones! This issue’s toolbox focuses on the coolest telephones – and telephone service – to make it easier than ever to stay connected with your customers.

The coolest telephone service this side of heaven

If you have a broadband connection to the Internet, you can now virtually move your small office or home office to any of the cities served by Vonage – that covers most major cities in thirty-three states. Or, how would you like to make your small/home office appear to be in two or three or even fifty different cities? All of this is not only possible, but easy and affordable with Vonage’s Small Business Plan.

For $49.99 per month, you get to choose the city/area code for your Vonage telephone line. You get an unlimited number of incoming calls to that number, an unlimited number of outgoing calls to anywhere in the U.S. or Canada (and really low rates for international calls), and unlimited voice mail storage. You also get a separate dedicated fax line with unlimited usage.

For an additional $4.99 per month, you can add an additional virtual telephone number in any city served by Vonage. There’s no limit to the number of virtual telephone numbers you can add, so you can appear to have offices in dozens of cities for just $4.99 per city!

All of this is enabled by Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology. Vonage provides a device that connects to your broadband Internet connection into which you connect your favorite traditional telephone and your fax machine. That device allows a call to a Vonage number in a remote city to be routed across the Internet to your broadband connection and to your telephone. Since it’s all packets and software, any call can be routed anywhere. VoIP also enables very cool voice mail features, including checking your voice mail through a web browser, or even receiving your voice mails as audio attachments via e-mail.

And best of all, it all costs less than just the monthly fees on a traditional business line plus fax line! What’s not to like about that?

The latest in cordless technology

While you’re upgrading your telephone service, you might as well check the market for the best telephone to connect to that Vonage device. The latest cordless phone technology on the market is 5.8GHz. In case you’ve lost track, standards for cordless phones have been climbing the radio frequency spectrum. The original analog cordless telephones operated at 50MHz. The first generation of digital phones worked at 900MHz, followed a couple of years later by 2.4GHz. Along the way, the telephone industry has also implemented improvements in privacy with spread spectrum protocols.

Today’s 5.8GHz telephones offer the clearest signals over the longest distance yet, without sacrificing the privacy/security of digital spread spectrum technology. These products also continue a trend introduced with 2.4GHz cordless phones – the expandable system where a single base station can connect several relatively low-cost handsets.

One of the most feature-rich of these new products is the AT&T model 5840. This unit can support up to six handsets, each with a built in speakerphone. The base unit also includes built-in digital voice mail with three separate mailboxes. Each of the handsets can “call” any of the other handsets, creating a small internal telephone network that may be just perfect for the small office with a handful of employees, but only enough telephone traffic to justify a single line.

You should be able to find the AT&T model 5840 for around $170. Additional handsets are in the $70 range.

Convergence in your pocket

And finally, for those days when you actually need to leave the office, Handspring, the newly acquired division of Palm, has introduced a combined cellphone, digital camera, and personal digital assistant that finally works as all three.

The Palm PDA that is built into the Treo is fully up-to-snuff with plenty of power and memory for your favorite Palm applications. The 600 also features a new, brighter screen than previous Treos, making this device much more usable in the great outdoors.

The cellphone within the Treo 600 is perhaps the first truly useful converged phone/PDA. This gadget actually looks like a telephone, so you won’t feel like a total geek when holding it up to your face. With about five hours of talk time, the 600 also significantly outlasts previous attempts to converge these devices. The Treo 600 is being offered with calling plans from Sprint PCS, AT&T Wireless, Cingular, and T-Mobile in the U.S.

The weakest component of the Treo 600 is the digital camera. With only 640×480 resolution, the Treo won’t replace your “real” camera for special moments, but for all other occasions when you don’t want to lug along yet another gadget, the Treo will do admirably. The fact that photos, once taken, can immediately be sent via telephone to any e-mail address, or easily downloaded and printed the next time you sync your Palm is just another feature proving that this concept (if not this particular implementation) is the future of photography.

At around $500 with a qualifying cellular plan, the Treo isn’t cheap, but how can you put a price tag on having the coolest cellphone on the planet?

Three great products to bring your telephony needs fully up to date. Until next issue – stay connected and keep talking!

Rejoice! October 25th, 2005

This article was first published in the TeleChoice newsletter TeleSparks in November 2002.

+=+=+The News+=+=+

Many say that the telecom/networking industry is to blame for the failure of the economy.

+=+=+The TeleChoice Take+=+=+

The telecom industry is clearly in the midst of intense trials and tribulations, but we must not lose sight of the incredible blessings delivered through networking in the past few years. Looking back on this first year of TeleSparks, I believe it’s time to dwell on the good fruits of the industry, the things deserving of praise.

It is incredible to look back just 5-10 years and see the awesome improvements in how people and businesses operate because of the advances made in our industry. I think the foundational (but enormous) impacts can be summed up into four key areas of benefit:
– Immediacy of communication
– Freedom from time
– Freedom from place
– Ubiquitous access to information

Obviously, there are overlaps between these areas, but I’d like to explore each one briefly to help us all dwell on these good things at the end of a very bad year.

+=+ Immediacy of Communication +=+
Go back 10 years. How did you communicate? You probably used three primary tools: telephone calls, faxes, and letters/memos. Do you remember when an Inbox really meant a metal tray on your desk and not something accessed using your phone or your computer? It wasn’t that long ago.

Think back – official communications were largely put in writing. Faxes were not yet accepted as legally binding communications, so an original document had to be physically delivered.
Internally, memos were hand carried from building to building, from floor to floor, from secretary to secretary, and finally into that metal inbox. In the large company where I worked, mail was picked up and delivered to our floor twice a day. If I put a memo into my outbox before my secretary brought in my morning mail, it could make it into the afternoon mail pickup, get sorted in the basement, and hopefully delivered to my co-worker 20 feet below me the next morning.
Moving outside our company added more days to the process. In those rare circumstances when I could justify overnight delivery, getting a letter into my outbox in the morning might get it into the FedEx truck that afternoon for 10am delivery. If the mail sorting department on the other end was operating well, it might be on my correspondent’s desk by mid-afternoon – a day and a half after I “sent” it. Best case, his response to me would be in his outbox the next morning, and best case, I’d have the response on my desk by the afternoon of the fourth day. (Day 1 a.m.: my outbox, Day 2 p.m.: his inbox, Day 3 a.m.: his outbox, Day 4 p.m.: my inbox).

Of course, most correspondence didn’t rate express delivery, so add at least a day into each of the above steps, and we’re talking a week or more for roundtrip communication. (Mon. a.m.: my outbox, Tue: transit, Wed p.m.: his inbox, Thursday a.m.: his outbox, Friday: transit, Monday a.m.: my inbox).

Compare this to e-mail. Roundtrip best case: 5 minutes. Roundtrip worst case: typically 1 day.

Sure – fax was faster, but in most companies, fax machines were centralized and delivered through the same 2-a-day cycles described above. So, if a document wasn’t legally binding, and would be legible when received via fax, then the process for communicating anywhere in the world would be reduced to the same timing as internal communications. (Day 1 a.m.: my outbox, Day 1 p.m.: faxed, Day 2 a.m.: his inbox, Day 2 p.m.: his outbox, Day 3 a.m.: faxed, Day 3 p.m.: my inbox).

And, of course, we could always pick up the phone and call, if our need for immediate information justified the cost (daytime rates of $0.50/minute?). If I was lucky, I’d catch my counterpart at her desk and able to talk. If not, the response from the other end might go like this: “I’m sorry, Mrs. Jones is not at her desk, would you like to leave a message? No, I don’t know when she might be available. She keeps her own calendar. Would you like me to write your message down on a pink sheet of paper so that she can return your call and try to catch you at your desk?”

Praise the blessings of voice mail, e-mail, cell phones, pagers, blackberries, and falling long distance costs!

+=+ Freedom from Time +=+

Directly related to the above description is how networking technology has freed us from the constraints of time.
Those of us doing international business were the first to experience this blessing. Fax machines were the first broadly available technology to combine, the immediacy of telecom networks, with the ability to time shift communications. I recall projects where work was being done on two continents with no overlap in workdays. Work would progress on one continent. A summary of progress would be faxed at the end of the day to the team on the other continent, who would receive it first thing in the morning. They would work all day addressing any issues and fax their results back at the end of their day. This early technology, although primitive, laid the foundation for how most of our business is conducted today.

Between voice mail and e-mail, we are now almost completely freed from the constraints of time. Even among people working in the same time zone, how many messages do you receive that are either left or sent outside of your “normal” working hours? Think about how many tasks you’ve been able to accomplish purely through voice messages or e-mail messages sent back and forth, without ever speaking directly with each other? Think about how many times you’ve been able to reach conclusion on an issue within one day, despite the fact that schedules would not permit a direct meeting or conversation?

Of course, the concept of time shifting has extended well beyond these critical tasks and now is taken for granted. Think about audio conference playbacks, hosted storage of streamed videoconferences, even the mundane task of
watching TV using a TiVo or ReplayTV unit.

Praise the blessings of falling networking costs, falling storage costs, and the development of technologies that have made time shifting as simple as speaking into a phone, typing on a keyboard, or looking into a webcam!

+=+ Freedom from Place +=+

Remember when that metal box and that black phone on your desk would wait patiently for your return, along with the growing stack of pink message slips.
I remember when I dreaded returning to the office after either a long business trip or vacation. The stack of memos and messages would take days to wade through and return. Sometimes I wonder if it’s better, but now, at least I can wade through the voice mails and e-mails on a daily basis – deleting the unimportant, and responding to the urgent.

Cell phones, of course, make you reachable almost anywhere in this country, and most places you’re likely to travel in the world. In fact, no one even needs to know whether you’re sitting at your desk, across town in the doctor’s waiting room, or in a far corner of the world. If you need to be reached, or if you need to reach someone, it’s now as easy as if you were still chained to that desk.

But even beyond this incredible freedom we all regularly enjoy, the freedom from place can be even greater. The way that TeleChoice operates is a great example. We often struggle to answer the question “Where is TeleChoice based?” Our employees literally stretch from Maine to San Diego. Our CEO is in the Northeast. Our President is in the Southwest. And our CFO is in the Southeast. And our business has taken us to every continent on the globe (except for Antarctica – so far). And yet, as you ‘do business with us, you probably have no sense of where we are, unless you ask. And even then the answer might surprise you. On a recent conference call, client participants were in the U.S. Pacific time zone and London, while TeleChoice participants were from Pacific, Mountain, Central, and Eastern time zones. And yet through web conferencing and teleconferencing, we were able to communicate nearly as well as if we were all in the same place.

A key component of TeleChoice’s ability to cohesively operate despite out physical separation is our use of Instant Messaging. Through my IM client, I can quickly see who is “in the office” and can easily “stick my head” in someone’s “doorway” to ask a quick question and get a quick answer. In fact, if I’m able to multitask, I can actually use this technology to carry on several such conversations at once.

Thanks to incredible networking technologies, there’s no longer any sense that place matters when performing in business. Other than the amenities of your comfortable desk chair and keeping your lunch in the office refrigerator, there’s no difference between doing business from that Steelcase desk with the metal inbox and black phone, and doing it from an airport lounge in a far corner of the globe.

Praise the blessings of ubiquitous network coverage, increasing wireless options, and wonderful applications, which have made the desktop, truly a virtual reality.

+=+ Ubiquitous Access to Information +=+

What was life like before the web? Did you ever have a job that required much research? Do you remember what the terms “copy” “cut” and “paste” originally meant? Do you recall what the inside of a research library looks like? Do you own an encyclopedia that takes up more than half an inch of physical shelf space? Do you remember when the analyst reports you purchased only came in big binders (I mean, really big binders with more “thunk value” than “thought value”)?

These days, we’re surprised when we CAN’T find some information within seconds from our desktop. We’re shocked when we can’t receive an information product in electronic, downloadable form with instant delivery. We’re frustrated when someone only has the document we need in a physical form that has to be mailed or hand delivered to us.
My how times have changed, and how rich our blessings are, thanks to the World Wide Web and all of it’s offspring (Adobe Acrobat, secure credit card transactions, e-mail attachments, online magazine archives, Powerpoint presentations, the list goes on.)

+=+=+What’s Next? +=+=+

In a year that has focused on the failings of our industry, when many have collectively painted us as fools or charlatans, please take a moment to savor the richness of the blessings that our industry has delivered to the world. Perhaps this is just a private moment, or perhaps these are thoughts that you can share with others to remind them that you have no need to be ashamed of the industry you serve.

This has been a tough time for many in the industry. It has been painful to watch great teams dismantled, great technologies lost for posterity, and great people suffer personal challenges. I hope that this final TeleSparks of the year can encourage us all to continue to amaze and deliver.

Specifically, think on these things:

– How can you and your company build upon the foundational benefits discussed here. Research in Motion is a great example of a company that has done just that. What are your opportunities?

– What other barriers can be knocked down through networking? What physical constraints can be eliminated when we replace the physical with a networked virtual equivalent?

– What opportunities exist to make these advances available to every business, every organization no matter how small or no matter in
what corner of the world they operate (or in how many corners, for that matter)?

– Microsoft and National Semiconductor are focused on “smart objects” – making everyday items intelligent and networked. How will this change how we live and work? What opportunities does this create for you and your business?

– Are you and your firm taking full advantage of these advances in how you operate, or do you still chain people to their desks with a metal inbox and a black phone?

The ability to appreciate the past while envisioning a better future will always be a critical requirement for success in every industry. Let us know if we can help.

+=+=+Need Some Help? +=+=+

TeleChoice helps companies everyday better position their firms and products for success, whether re-examining fundamental business strategy or clearly communicating unique position and value in today’s tough marketplace.
Contact us at info@telechoice.com.

+=+=+About TeleSparks+=+=+

On occasion, we share with our industry friends our views on major events and issues in telecom. We use TeleSparks as the primary vehicle for sharing these (usually highly opinionated) views, and we welcome your feedback. Feel free to forward these on to others, but please copy us on the messages so we have a sense of the extent of distribution of our views.

TeleSparks is generally authored by Russ McGuire, TeleChoice Chief Strategy Officer, with input from others throughout the TeleChoice organization. You may contact Russ (rmcguire@telechoice.com) or your favorite TeleChoice contact to share your thoughts on these matters.

Using Technology to the Glory of God October 24th, 2005

This article first appeared in the July/August 2004 issue of Business Reform magazine.

As Christians in business, how are we to view technology? What a simple question with a seemingly simple answer. Let me start with the answer and then we can explore whether this is consistent with God’s revealed will.

Technology, as is true of all of creation, is a gift from God, for our benefit. It is incumbent upon us to use this gift to glorify God and to bless our neighbors and ourselves. We must appropriately use technology within our businesses as we serve others to make our businesses more successful and prosperous, and by doing so glorify God. There are also tremendous opportunities for churches and ministries to use technology to more effectively serve God.

Is it possible for technology to be used for evil and to tempt us? Absolutely. But isn’t this true of all of God’s gifts to us? Even something as basic as our tongues, for whom no one but God deserves credit for creating, can be used for the most base evil or the highest glory, as James made so clear (James 3:8-10). And yet, we must strive to turn all of these gifts to the glory of God.

Before we jump into the Word to examine whether this is true, let us first understand what we mean by technology. Dictionary.com defines technology as “The application of science, especially to industrial or commercial objectives.” And it defines science as “The observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena.”

In other words, technology is the study of God’s creation and the application of the gained understanding to better accomplish work. So, three key components are combined to create a new technology: God’s creation, our knowledge and creativity (aspects of man being created in God’s image), and work. All holy and noble components.

Today, we think of technology as electronic devices, computers, networks, wireless phones, digital cameras and MP3 players. These are the newest technologies in these early days of the 21st century. However, every age has had its latest technologies.

For Paul, the latest travel technologies allowed him to move around the Roman Empire. The latest communications technologies allowed him to send epistles to the churches.

For Solomon, the latest building technologies were used in building a royal palace for himself and to build the temple on Mount Moriah.

For David, the latest pocket-sized weapon was used to protect his flock and to slay Goliath.

For Moses, the latest storage and transportation technologies allowed Israel to carry away the rich gifts of the Egyptians and to carry the holy tablets through the wilderness.

For Noah, the latest (and the first!) shipbuilding technologies were employed to build the Ark.

Throughout scriptures, we see God approving, encouraging, and even at times directly inventing these new technologies.

In Genesis 3:21, God invents the first clothing, which became a pattern for all the clothing innovations that have led to what we wear today.

In Genesis 6:14-16, God invents the first ship and instructs Noah in how to build it.

In Genesis chapters 25 – 31 God lays out detailed plans for the Tabernacle and all of the elements of worship. Specifically, in Genesis 31, God calls out by name men skilled in using the latest technologies for metalwork and stonework and woodwork to apply these technologies to create a place and tools of worship that would be glorifying to God.

Similarly, in 2 Chronicles 2:6-7, Solomon calls for those most skilled in working with technologies to build a temple that would glorify God.

An angel of the Lord commanded Philip to join the Ethiopian eunuch in his latest technology chariot to reach him with the Gospel in Acts 8:26. Undoubtedly that same transportation technology allowed the eunuch to participate in rapidly spreading the Gospel.

And so, although the Bible never mentions computers or telephones or other devices we think of today as modern technology, time and again, God has clearly encouraged the use of new technologies for His glory, both in directly worshiping and serving him and for more mundane activities in our calling to work and to provide for our families and even to enjoy all of His creation.

So, then, as Christians in business, how shall we view technology?

Clearly, it is a blessing from God and should be handled appropriately. In the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25, Jesus teaches us that we will be judged based on what we do with what we have been given. God has given us great capabilities in today’s technologies. How effectively are we using them?

Therefore, be like the good servant and be faithful with the technologies with which God has entrusted you. Make your business more effective and efficient. Help your church and other ministries to use technologies to advance the Kingdom. And do it all to the glory of God.

The Law of Mobility October 24th, 2005

This article appeared in the September/October 2005 issue of Business Reform magazine.

So far there have been two major technology mega-trends that have defined business in the information age. The first was the personal computer. The second was the Internet. I believe we’re on the cusp of the third, which is mobility.

The PC revolution was defined by Moore’s Law which states that computer processing power doubles every 18 months at the same cost point. This made it productive to put a computer on the desk of every information worker. The implications of this could not have been foreseen, but in hindsight have radically transformed business. For one thing, this revolution gave small businesses the kind of processing and creative power that previously had only been available to the largest of their competitors.

The Internet revolution was defined by Metcalfe’s Law which states that the value of any network increases exponentially with the number of users. When the Internet had a thousand users, it was only mildly valuable to those thousand users. When it reached a million users, it was more than a thousand times more valuable to each of the users, and the value continued to increase. Once the Internet reached a mass market tipping point, it was so valuable that everyone had to have it. For most of us, the Internet has become an increasingly valuable part of our business and our personal lives. The implications of the Internet also could not have been foreseen, but in hindsight have radically transformed business. Among other things, the Internet revolution has given small businesses the kind of reach and connectivity with markets that previously had only been available to the largest of their competitors.

The mobility revolution is also defined by a new law. The law of mobility states that the value of any product increases with mobility. If a product is available for my use an increasing percent of my time, without a significant increase in cost (in terms of product cost, operating cost, and convenience), then it will be more valuable to me. As the cost of building mobility into products approaches zero, then virtually every product will become mobile. This is happening by converging devices you normally don’t have with you into products that you always have with you, and by using wireless networks to make information products always available everywhere. The implications of mobility on businesses are unforeseeable, but I would venture to guess that the mobility revolution will empower small businesses in ways that had previously only been available to their largest competitors.

Let me try to make this mobility concept more tangible. There are lots of places you probably go without your camera. If you’re like me, there are times when you say “I wish I had a camera.” If you are one of the growing millions of people who have camera phones, then you have a camera with you almost all the time. The camera in a camera phone is typically not a high end model, but the value of that camera is significantly increased by the fact that it is always with you. Camera phones are not significantly more expensive than camera-less phones, further adding to the increased value of the product.

A second tangible example of the law of mobility is my Bible. My phone runs the Windows Mobile operating system. I’ve purchased the Bible Reader software from Olive Tree and so I always have with me five different translations of the Bible, plus Greek and Hebrew dictionaries, plus a collection of commentaries. There have been a number of times when I’ve unexpectedly found myself with a spare 10 to 15 minutes where I can pull out my phone/Bible for a mini-quiet time or to work on a Sunday School lesson. These moments would be lost if my Bible collection hadn’t been mobilized.

How will this change business? I think we have yet to see, but let me give a couple of examples. A friend of mine recently told the story of how using wireless e-mail allowed him to avert a minor business disaster. It was a Friday afternoon and he was four hours from home. Just before starting the drive, he pulled out his Palm Treo phone and checked his e-mail. He had received a message from a vendor saying that a product couldn’t be shipped to one of my friend’s customers without a missing piece of information. My friend called the vendor, provided the missing data, the product shipped, and the customer was thrilled to receive it Monday morning. Without mobile e-mail, my friend would not have seen the message until Friday evening, after his vendor had shut down for the weekend, delaying shipment until Monday meaning that my friend would have failed to meet his commitment to his customer.

As a second example, one dumpster company has armed all of their truck drivers with camera phones. When a customer complains that their dumpster wasn’t emptied, often, the truck driver will have taken a picture of the dumpster, blocked by someone’s improperly parked car, and will have uploaded it wirelessly into the customer service database. The customer service rep then e-mails the picture to the customer so that everyone is better prepared to have a successful transaction next time around.

What does this mean for you? I believe that businesses will be as transformed by the mobility revolution as they have been by the PC and Internet revolutions. These changes may come from your employees finding new ways to do their jobs using the power that is unleashed by the increasing mobility of a variety of products. They may come from customers who encourage you to change the way that you do business with them. Changes may be forced on you as competitors learn these changes faster than you do. No matter where they originate, be very aware of these changes. Seek out the power that is inherent in these opportunities that can differentiate your business and improve your performance. But also be cognizant of the danger inherent in extending your business information into a mobile world. Stay on top of emerging tools and services to manage these risks while maximizing the benefit of mobility.

As with the previous two technology revolutions, the mobility mega-trend must factor into how you can be the best steward of the resources with which you have been entrusted.

Posted in Articles || 1 Comment »
Previous Articles October 24th, 2005

Russ McGuire has written articles published in a number of Christian and secular publications including Business Reform magazine and it’s online partner WorldNetDaily, Success magazine, and Network World. Some of these articles may be useful to those exploring Living Stones Ministries, so they are identified here: