Category Archives: Tech and religion

District assembly or…?

The Pacific Central District of Unitarian Universalist congregations managed to schedule its annual meeting, district assembly, for this Saturday, the same day that Wordcamp is taking place. So I could go to district assembly and hear Paul Rasor talk about theology, or I could go to Wordcamp and learn more about using WordPress as a Website platform.

Much as I’d like to hear Paul Rasor, it’s no contest: if I didn’t have to run an OWL retreat at church on Saturday, I’d go to Wordcamp. Theology is cool, but learning more about how WordPress could power online religion feels like a more pressing need right now. After all, I can always read Paul Rasor’s next book when it comes out. (If you go to Wordcamp SF, leave a comment and let us know what you learned.)

Media consumption habits

I live in a city which is very, shall we say, traditional. Many people do not bother with computers, unless they have to use them at work. Whereas all my media consumption happens online. Here’s a conversation I had recently:

Other person: So did you watch the inaguration?

Me: Yeah, I watched it on the BBC Web site.

Other person looks at me like I have two heads. Pause. Other person: Oh. So, um, did, you hear Obama’s speech? …obviously assuming I had not…

Me: Oh, yeah, great speech, loved it.

Yet while I spend hours each day online, I never watch broadcast television, I don’t play video games, I don’t go to movies, and I hardly ever listen to the radio. As a result, my media consumption is pretty much out of synch with the surrounding community. Another typical conversation:

Other person: So why don’t you ever print up copies of your sermons?

Me: I put nearly all my sermons up on my Web site.

Other person looks at me like I have two heads.

Me: Um, you can get to them from the church Web site.

Other person looks at me like I have two heads.

Me: Um, just call the church office and tell Linda which sermon you want, and she’ll mail you a copy.

Other person: OK, thanks!

Me, sotto voce: I’m such a geek.

Problem solved, or denominational politics

Looks like Unitarian Universalism is about to enter into another denominational conflict. Some folks are questioning plans for this year’s General Assembly, our annual denominational meeting. In this video, I outline the conflict, and (in imitation of King Solomon who said “cut the baby in half”) I offer my own novel resolution to the conflict.


Virtual worlds! Goshwowboyoboyoboy!

In an article posted yesterday, Mark Ward, technology correspondent for the BBC News website, reports on “Second Life,” the well-known virtual world. According to Ward, Philip Rosedale, a founder of Linden Lab and thus one of the creators of “Second Life,” believes that virtual worlds could even replace the World Wide Web in many instances. Rosedale points out that virtual worlds offer a sense of place and a sense of identity in a way that the Web has never done:

“Virtual worlds are inherently comprehensible to us in a way that the web is not,” said Mr Rosedale. “They look like the world we already know and take advantage of our ability to remember and organise.”

“Information is presented there in a way that matches our memories and experiences,” he said. “Your and my ability to remember the words we use and the information we talk about is much higher if it’s presented as a room or space around us.” Link to full story

Pointing out that some educators and corporations already use Second Life to do online collaboration, Rosedale speculates on the possibilities of a portable online identity, built into some kind of online-world-browser, which would browse online worlds in the way Web browsers now browse the World Wide Web. Rosedale even seems to call for “a sufficiently open platform” that will allow people to “move into it quite rapidly.”

Indeed, one of my big complaints about the World Wide Web is that you never quite know where you are, or how you got to here from the last place you were. In a virtual world, you could move across a virtual landscape to find information/knowlege/social contacts that interested you — and you would know where you are, and how you got there, and how to get back.

Or think about it this way: instead of visiting this blog in your Web browser, you could travel to a virtual place in an online world where my avatar would periodically show up to post new reading matter, videos, etc. If your avatar and my avatar happened to be in that virtual place (a “virtblog”?) at the same time, we could chat; or if I’m not there, you could chat with whatever other avatars happen to be there, and when you got bored you could all head off to some new virtual place.

Or think about virtual online church committee meetings. Or virtual online adult religious education (I’d love to do online Bible study from a liberation/feminist perspective!).

Or who knows how virtual worlds will evolve. Or even if they will evolve. Uh, can someone get Tim Berners-Lee interested in creating VWML (Virtual World Markup Language)?

More about videoblogging

My videoblog is out of action until I resolve my laptop problems. But I recently received email from a Unitarian Universalist who’s thinking about making some hip new online UU video, and wanted to know how to go about doing it. So in lieu of the usual Friday video, I’ll repeat some of the advice I gave to him, in hopes of tempting more of my readers to start making online video.

Question: What’s a good resource to help a newbie start making videos fast?

Answer: A book worth getting is “Secrets of Videoblogging” — it’s a year old and so a little dated now, but the info on compression (codec) is worth the cover price alone. This book also has a good overview of everything from storyboarding, to legal permissions, to technical stuff.

Once I got that book, I just started making videos. At first, I threw most of them away. But it’s really pretty easy to make a short video. So I guess my advice is to just start making videos and see what happens.

Q: What tools do you recommend for making online video? — camcorders, editing software, hosting sites, etc.

A: I use a consumer-grade camcorder, which is more than adequate for the quality you get once you convert a video file for the Web. I have no worthwhile advice on camcorders, because the models change so fast.

For editing software, I use iMovie ’06 on a Mac platform. (iMovie ’08 is apparently a worthless piece of crap, so be warned!) On a Windows machine, Windows MovieMaker is supposed to be perfectly adequate, and essentially equivalent to iMovie ’06.

I upload videos to ( It’s free, and I think they do a better job than YouTube — but YouTube is more than adequate, and has the potential of getting you lots more traffic.

Q: How about making videos for my church’s Web site?

A: First, look around at some of the videos that other Unitarian Universalist churches put on their Web sites, and you’ll see how easy it is to make really boring videos. Too often, the videos on church Web sites look like they were created by a committee (which they probably were), and they are often insipid and dull. And sermons do not translate well to online video, in my opinion — unless you have a professional videographer doing the work.

Q: Any last thoughts?

A: Remember that it takes a fair amount of time to make an online video! It could take me six hours to make a three minute video (two hours to develop a concept and shoot video, four hours to edit and upload).

Church Web cam

Just back from three days at a ministers’ retreat, I can’t resist passing along a cool idea. The featured presenter for the retreat was Scott Alexander, senior minister at the Unitarian Universalist church in Bethesda, Maryland. He told us that not long ago, the Bethesda church was engaged in a major construction project, and some of the nerds and techies at the church installed a Web cam so members of the congregation could watch the progress of the building.

When the construction project was over, Scott asked if the Web cam could be moved to the main church. It now provides a live video feed of all worship services. A Web cam may not be super high quality video, but it’s perfectly adequate for Web streamed video. The video feed is in the section of the church Web site that is password-protected, in order to protect the privacy of worshippers who might appear on the video. With the Web cam, shut-ins and people who are traveling can watch the Sunday morning worship services live. But also, when there’s a memorial service or wedding, the church can give out temporary passwords so that those who couldn’t make it to the service can still watch it live.

I’ve been thinking it would be fun to install a Web cam in the public portion of our church Web site. We would turn it off during worship services, to protect privacy of worshippers. But the rest of the time, we could leave it on so that anyone could see the play of the sunlight at different times of the day — leaving our virtual doors open so that anyone could come in and sit (virtually) and meditate in a peaceful setting.

New media links

I like keeping an eye on new media around the Web. While I’m out in Chicago leading a workshop (with no time to produce a video), I’ll share some links to sites that have got me thinking about new ways to use new media. Check these out, and see what you think….

Just reading the titles of the sessions for Podcamp Boston 2 is already making me think. How about “Podcasting on the Cellphone [and] Building a (near) Realtime Audience”? And then there’s “Podcasting as a Tool for Non-Profits: What does it take to do a high-quality podcast for your organization?” Or how about the session titled “What is the sound of your brand?” Link.

I’ve been following an online animated video called Unleashed. The animation is minimal, but effective. The sound quality is exceptionally good. The whole online show is low-budget but very effective — and the basic structure should be relatively easy to replicate. Link.

Speaking of low-budget, “xkcd” is a very low-budget online comic strip. The drawings are crude, but the strip is funny and has developed a huge online following. Once again, this structure would not be hard to replicate. Link.

All these sites represent new ways of delivering new media content online. The real problem, as always, is coming up with content that people will want to have delivered to them….

25,000 for Peace — 100,000 for Peace

Rev. Bill Sinkford, the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), and Rev. John H. Thomas, the president of the United Church of Christ (UCC), will be headed to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on October 10. They’ll be visiting the offices of elected representatives to deliver the message that religious liberals want to end the war in Iraq. Continue reading

Email [curse | blessing], part four

The fourth installment in an occasional series where I think out loud about using email effectively. First installment.

Anarticle in today’s New York Times unequivocally answers the question that is the title of this post:– email is a curse. A front-page article by Brad Stone titled “Tell-All PCs and Phones Transforming Divorce: In the Digital Age, It’s Growing Hard to Hide Dirty Secrets” tells all about how email is changing divorce proceedings.

One man, suspecting his wife of cheating, installed a piece of software on her computer that took a screenshot of whatever was on her monitor every 15 seconds, and sent it back to him via email. She thought no one was watching; he discovered that she was having an affair, and that she and her lover were seeking sex from strangers via the Internet. Another woman checked her doctor husband’s email account — he had shared his password with her — and discovered that he was having an affair with a much younger medical resident, and that he bought a three million dollar condo so he could tryst in style. By the way, it turns out both these strategies for gaining access to email are perfectly legal.

The Times reporter quotes divorce lawyer David Levy as saying, “I do not like to put things on e-mail…. There’s no way it’s private. Nothing is fully protected once you hit the send button.” Actually, nothing is private once you type it into your computer. The Times reporter also quotes a private investigator, James Mulvaney, as saying, “Every keystroke on your computer is there, forever and ever.” Mulvaney claims that the only way you can erase data from your hard drive is to “throw your computer into the air and play skeet with it.” [Commercially available neodymium-boron-iron magnet can erase floppy disks and the magnetic stripes from credit cards; one would imagine that a strong neodymium magnet could erase the contents of a hard drive if placed directly against the disk; but I digress.]

This brings us back to the single most important rule for email: Do not write anything in an email message unless you would feel comfortable seeing it on the front page of the local newspaper. Or in court, for that matter.