Techno Savior

This is the first part in my series on 5 life lessons that I learned from Labor Day weekend in 2005, while volunteering with efforts after Hurricane Katrina.

On that Monday and Tuesday I served in a temporary data center for a 6,000 person shelter that had been setup at the River Centre in Baton Rouge, LA.  As a computer guru and web application developer, I knew that a few technology tweaks could make this data processing much more useful.  It was frustrating to be there and know that something better could be done.

Then on the drive back to Illinois on Wednesday, we were listening to a Steel on Steel podcast and they were talking about how technology could possibly solve our oil shortage.  I was like, “Yeah… technology can solve any problem.”

Then, suddenly, I realized what I was saying.  I really did tend to think that technology can fix any problem.  Technology is amazing.  It can solve starvation, resource scarcity, data analysis, recovery from natural disasters, etc.  It can literally save people.  Or can it?   Can technology fix all our problems?  I sure tend to think it can if we can just wrap our minds around a solution.

I realized that much of the time I look to technology to fix us, instead of God.  The world’s core problems can only be solved by God.  My deepest problems can only be made right by God’s miraculous touch.

If I don’t watch myself, I start to worship technology, rather than the one who created order to our world and gave us the left and right parts of our brains in order to develop and apply technology to our worlds.

Lord, help me to rely only on you and realize daily that technology is something you created for us to use to glorify you.

How do you tend to worship technology?  What else do you worship instead of God?  Politics?  Wealth?

Distributed Storage on Your Desktops

So, wouldn’t it be cool if your organization didn’t just have a few centralized file servers and backup solutions?  What if you could have racks of servers distributed throughout your entire organization that could act as redundant storage for your file servers and backup servers?  And wouldn’t it be awesome if you could have all this without increasing your current hardware budget?  Or even decrease it?  Impossible you say?  Well, maybe not.

You probably already have several distributed servers in your organization.  But, instead of calling them servers, you probably call them desktops.  But, what’s the difference between a server and a desktop?  What’s the difference between a client and service?  Can’t we start to blend the lines between these?

It’d be like implementing Grid computing into your organization.  Or similar to RAID, which used to mean redundant array of inexpensive disk. Why not a redundant network of inexpensive storage servers?  Most modern desktops have an under-utilized CPU, network connection, and hard drive.  Why not make them useful?

It’d be like P2P in the organization, but it’d have lots of extra features like permissions, levels of redundancy, dynamic network topography mapping, distribution of data, search features, fault tolerance, version history, etc.

It’s like taking RAID, ZFS, a distributed file system, drive mirroring, backup software, data integrity, and a search engine and packaging it all into a desktop client that acts as a P2P server.  It’d ideally be integrated into common directory services like LDAP, Active Directory, and Open Directory.

I doubt this is an original idea.  In fact I seem to remember talking about this general concept (probably involving ZFS) with a coworker a couple months back.

What do you think?  Could it work?
Does anything like this exist already?
What other features would be useful?

Unplug and Relax

8:05a: The power goes out.
8:08a: The power comes back on.
8:10a: I discover that my internet access is still down.

I’m lost and confused.  How do I check my email?  How do I read my morning news?  How do I read my Bible?  How do I collect my thoughts?  How do I plan my day?

It’s kind of scary just how much I depend on my internet uplink.  I really do feel lost when I’m disconnected from the grid.

Seems like I’ve got two options… 1) go buy myself an iPhone, or 2) relax and chill out for a few minutes.  I’ll choose option 2 this time (until the deluge of email kicks back in).

Rethinking Parent Alert System

I broke the Visual-Pager keypad at church yesterday. This device allows workers in our nursery to notify our tech booth operators that they need to display a number on our video projection system. Each parent and child are assigned a number and parents know they are being paged back to the nursery if their number appears on screen.

Being the frugal geek that I am, I’m trying to rethink if there is a free way to replace this system instead of spending another $250 on a new keypad. I’m thinking there should be some way to setup some service so that our nursery workers could call a special phone number and type in the number. Then this number is communicated to the tech booth operators via SMS, IM, or Twitter.

The closest I’ve come up with so far is to setup a special Jott account and link that in with a Twitter account. The nursery worker calls Jott, says they want to contact Twitter, and then speaks the number and name of the parent. This would require the tech booth to be running a Twitter client to see the alerts. Here’s a sample of what I’ve got it doing so far:

I’m thinking there should still be an even easier way to do this, hopefully involving fewer internet services. This solution wouldn’t work if our phone service, internet service, Jott, or Twitter experienced any outages. And, it’s not totally straight forward for our volunteers to use.

Anyone have a simpler idea?