Posts Tagged ‘Hardware’

Helpful Computer Hacks

Written by Nick B. Nicholaou on . Posted in Articles, Uncategorized

© 2017 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from MinistryTech Magazine

I grew up in an age when a ‘hack’ was someone who was incompetent. In those days there were no personal computers or mobile devices. Now everyone has access to multiple computers and various mobile devices. And wouldn’t you know it– ‘hack’ has a new meaning! Today a hack can be a clever way to get things done well.

Following are some hacks that can really help improve your efficiency on a computer!

Hacks for Computer Users
The following hacks are especially helpful for computer users.

Keyboard shortcuts. In today’s world of Windows and Mac operating systems we have become dependent on pointing devices. Granted, those devices are very helpful. But before these current operating systems, we used keyboard combinations to do some of what we now do with a mouse or track pad. Those keyboard shortcuts are still available to use, and they can save time! Here are six I still use often:

Function

Windows

Mac

Print

Ctrl + p

⌘ + p

Copy

Ctrl + c

⌘ + c

Cut

Ctrl + x

⌘ + x

Paste

Ctrl + v

⌘ + v

Italics

Ctrl + i

⌘ + i

Bold

Ctrl + b

⌘ + b

Multiple Monitors/ Displays. For those who’ve always used one monitor or display, having two or may three seem excessive. But the increase in productivity with two or three is surprising! I always recommend at least two now; the cost is minimal and the benefits are significant! My desk is configured with three: the one on my left always has Outlook running on it, the one in the middle is where I do most of my work, and the one on my right is for research references (browser, database, etc). I also find it helpful when opening large spreadsheets to stretch them across my middle and right displays!

Recurring Tasks. We all have them: recurring deadlines that are due every Wednesday, once a month, quarterly, etc. I use Outlook’s task functionality to set the reminders I need to help me hit my deadlines. This is one of the most helpful and least used tools available. I also use Outlook tasks to remind me to do things I’ve promised to do, helping me avoid them falling through the cracks of my active schedule.

Managing Email. Email consumes a larger part of our days than most of us want. I have three email hacks that help me stay focused and efficient, even though my average daily email count is well over 100.

  • Inbox. I keep my Inbox as empty as possible so I don’t waste time reading the same emails over and over. When an email comes in I either respond and then delete the original (a copy of the original is in my response!), put a flag (due date) of when I want to respond by and drag it to a subfolder based on the type of email it is (personal, business, etc), or delete it if it’s one I don’t care about (like an ad).
  • Sent Items. Once I send an email I delete it unless I need a reminder that I’m waiting for a response or it was a topic that could have legal ramifications (if it was, I make a PDF copy and store it).
  • Trash. I empty my trash at the end of every day. In the rare case that I need to find something I deleted, I log into our email server via browser (using Outlook Web Access), search deleted files, and restore it.

Automatic Backup. I always feel bad for someone who says a hard drive crashed and they lost all of their files, including photos that were irreplaceable. Losing important files is painful. There are many cloud services available to consumers that will automatically back up files to their cloud servers. There are also utilities in the Windows and Mac operating systems that will automatically back up files to an external drive.

Hacks for IT Professionals
The following hacks are especially helpful for IT professionals.

System setup checklists. As IT pros, we often set up new systems. If the process isn’t automated, I recommend creating a checklist to help achieve standardization. In addition to improving setup consistency, checklists save time because you don’t need to review your work to determine what you’ve already done after an interruption.

Professional Relationships. It’s so helpful to build friendships with people you can turn to when a challenge comes up that stumps you! Those ‘lifeline’ calls can save so much time! The best professional organization I’ve found for those in church and ministry IT is The Church IT Network (http://churchitnetwork.com). They have a low-cost annual gathering in the Fall, and low-cost regional gatherings in the Spring.

Monthly Backup Test. Set a task in Outlook to test your backup monthly. A good test is to restore a file or folder structure and then open the file(s) to verify the backups you’re relying on are good.

Those are some hacks that can really help!

The Facts about FAX

Written by Nick B. Nicholaou on . Posted in Articles, Uncategorized

© 2016 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
Ministry Business Services, Inc. President
Reprinted from inSIGHT

Fax (short for facsimile) is a tool that sends scans over telephone wires. How is that different than emailing a scanned file? Why do some still insist on sending and receiving faxes rather than scanned attachments via email? That doesn’t seem to make sense! Let’s talk about it.

The History of Modern Fax Technology
Believe it or not, the earliest fax technology predates the telephone! The first facsimile patent was issued on May 27, 1843 (British Patent 9745, for Alexander Bain’s “Electronic Printing Telegraph”). Fax technology has gone through many improvements, but it is very old technology. The modern fax machine was developed more recently– in the mid-1900s.

The first time I used a fax machine was on a job in 1975. I was amazed that I could send a document almost anywhere immediately. What a timesaver! The process was:

  1. Clip a copy of the document to a drum,
  2. Connect the fax machine by putting a telephone receiver in to a modem’s acoustic coupler,
  3. Dial the receiving number, and
  4. Press send. The drum them rotated at a fairly high speed as it was scanned, digitized and compressed, and then transmitted.

How Does That Differ from Email Scans?
Many government agencies and legal authorities still insist on receiving documents via fax rather than as digital scans. What they probably don’t realize is that a fax is a digital scan. The difference is in how it is transmitted–or in how it used to be transmitted.

Fax machines connect to telephone lines, and those phone lines that are older are a spec referred to as POTS (POTS means Plain Old Telephone Service) lines. POTS lines are like those that once connected homes and businesses via copper cables, and they are analog. But the world has been replacing analog lines with digital lines for some time, and now most homes and businesses are connected by digital lines. These are the same lines the internet connects over.

So, when fax technology was younger, it only transmitted over analog lines. But more recently, faxes transmit their digital images over digital lines just like email does.

It’s Time for Fax Technology to Go the Way of Rotary Phones
Since faxes and emails both transmit digital images over the same digital communication lines, there is no longer a good reason to only accept faxes. Emailed scanned attachments are the natural successor to faxes.

Many authorities now accept attached email scans, but some still don’t. They’re stuck in but we’ve always done it that way mode.

We see the impact of that thinking in how our clients implement new phone systems! New phone systems use VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technology, but many clients tell us they still need to maintain analog fax lines. The usual reasons are that their bank or some other authority requires them to use fax technology. Those lines cost hundreds of extra budget dollars per year, and shouldn’t be necessary!

What Can You Do?
A common saying is that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission. I recommend telling those who insist on the use of fax that you no longer have that ability; that all optional analog lines have been disconnected and that you no longer have a fax machine. Let them know that you can scan whatever they need and send it as an email attachment and can also receive email scan attachments, and chances are very good they will allow you to do so!

The savings will be hundreds annually, and the money saved by letting go of ancient fax technology can be much better spent on programming that helps accomplish your organization’s mission!

Nick’s Printer Picks & Tips

Written by Nick B. Nicholaou on . Posted in Articles, Uncategorized

© 2016 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from MinistryTech Magazine

As a team of consultants who work on church and ministry networks nationwide, we have worked with a lot of printers. For personal and workgroup printers, HP is always the easiest to work with and the most dependable for ongoing quality. We put a couple of new HP printers to the test, and here’s what we found!

Introducing the PageWide Printer!pagewide
For a long time there has been a battle between InkJet and LaserJet computers. There’s no doubt that LaserJet printers print better quality, but many who want personal printers find it easiest to simply buy an InkJet printer from a local store. IT people dislike InkJet printers because their supplies are expensive, and because having many in a large office can be a challenge to maintain (print cartridges and drivers, especially).

HP recently introduced a new InkJet technology that may change all that! They call it PageWide because the inkjets no longer move across the page, and the result is a good quality printed page with lower maintenance costs.

We tested an HP PageWide Pro MFP 577dw, which is a workgroup quality printer. The speed was fast (70 pages per minute), the quality very good (best with paper that has the ColoLok seal on its package), and the features pleasing (print, copy, scan, fax; 6 seconds for the first page out; 1,000-6,000 page monthly duty cycle; mobile printing capable; 2-sided duplex printing; and networkable).

For the budget conscious, this is a workgroup printer worth considering! At a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of only $900 (we found them advertised by resellers for about $625), they are a good deal.

Hello Mr. LaserJet!
laserjetWhen printing presentation-quality pages, the LaserJet still rules. The problem perceived by many, however, is the cost of buying an enterprise-quality LaserJet printer. We tested an HP Color LaserJet Enterprise M553, whose suggested retail price is only $1200 (we found them advertised by resellers for about $925).

We found the printer fast (40 pages per minute, with a first page out speed of 6 seconds); print quality very high; 2,000-6,000 page monthly duty cycle; mobile printing capable; 2-sided duplex printing; and networkable.

What is Mobile Printing Capable?
Both of these printers have the ability to receive page prints from mobile devices. They use a few specs to accomplish it so they can work well with nearly all mobile devices: HP ePrint, Apple AirPrint, NFC Touch-to Print, and Wireless Direct Printing. We found the setup to print from our smartphones easy, and the convenience terrific! How nice to be able to print from a mobile device and get pages with the same quality as if printed from a computer!

What about Larger Copiers, Printers, & Duplicators?
In recent years many of our clients have added larger machines from Sharp, Konica Minolta, and others to drive down printing cost. There are many aspects of that kind of purchase or lease that make recommending a solution challenging, at best. There is a related recommendation I can make, however, that can significantly lower the cost of ownership for those larger solutions.

I wrote an article a few years ago about an attorney who specializes in negotiating copier lease negotiations. His name is Wade Cascini with Xippa (www.xippa.net), and he has saved a number of churches and ministries a lot of money in large equipment lease negotiations. I recently learned of a megachurch that had saved a copy of my 2011 article and just recently connected with Xippa for help. Xippa saved them 21% from the best proposal prior to their involvement! I recommend contacting them when you are negotiating a larger device than a workgroup printer.

Nick’s Hardware Picks

Written by Nick B. Nicholaou on . Posted in Articles, Uncategorized

© 2016 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from MinistryTech Magazine

As a team of consultants who work on church and ministry networks nationwide, we have wrestled through many hardware options. There are two issues we always consider: 1) hardware that improves system reliability vs that which hurts it, and 2) budget sensitivity. In this article I’ll share with you the hardware we currently spec for our clients– specs that affordably help ministries build the Kingdom.

Locally-Built vs Name Brand
I’m surprised every time I learn of a church or ministry that still buys locally-built computers. In the early days of personal computers many preferred buying locally-built computers because the support would be more convenient. Maybe in the 1980s that was sometimes true, but more often locally built systems need more support because they do not have the benefit of the level of R&D (Research & Development) a larger company, like Dell, can invest in them.

Even consumer-class systems have some R&D; but locally-built systems are only assembled. A local shop may do its best to buy great components, but local shops have limited ability to test how each of those components work together. There is no way a local shop can compete with the quality, reliability, and support of a well-engineered system, like Dell.

Workstations
We have found the two most reliable workstation manufacturers to be Apple and Dell. Though both are about equally good from a quality perspective; Dell is the clear winner from a support perspective. The truth is that both are man-made systems that occasionally have support needs. Dell comes to you to replace the failed component (for up to 3 years), whereas you need to take your Mac to Apple.

  • Desktop Computers
    • Apple. The 27″ iMac is terrific for most graphics processing, and the 21″ is a great general workstation. For a graphics workstation, be sure to get a video card with its own memory (rather than borrowing from the logic board memory), and the more RAM and processor speed, the better. For a general workstation, 8gb RAM is probably more than adequate.
    • Dell. Dell is our preferred Windows desktop provider. We recommend Dell Optiplex desktop computers because they are Dell’s enterprise (optimized for corporate networks) line of desktop computers. These reliable systems come in a number of configurations. Our basic church desktop spec is an Optiplex 7040 small form factor (3.4ghz Intel i7 Quad Core processor, 8gb RAM, 180gb flash storage, Gigabit NIC, 22″ monitor, keyboard, and optical mouse) running Windows 10 Pro. With a 3-year next business day on-site warranty, the cost should be under $1200.
  • Notebooks & Tablets
    • Apple. Most Mac users will be very happy with a MacBook Air configured with 8gb RAM and 256gb of flash storage. For those doing higher-end graphics, though, a MacBook Pro is the only way to go because it’s Apple’s only notebook with the option of getting a video card that has its own RAM.
    • Dell. For those wanting a more traditional notebook, we recommend the Dell Latitude 5470 (2.6 i7 Dual Core processor, 8gb RAM, 128gb flash storage). With Dell’s 3-year next business day on-site warranty including accident coverage, the cost is about $1560.
    • Microsoft. Surprise! For those wanting a Windows tablet, you can’t beat the Microsoft Surface Pro 4. Under 2lbs, configured with an i7 processor, 8gb RAM, and 128gb flash storage, and docking station, the cost is about $1980.

Network Servers
Servers come in many shapes and sizes. Because ministry teams rely so heavily on these systems (the most important part of the network), they need to be engineered with The Right Stuff.

We usually recommend three levels of servers depending on our client’s needs. Though we work with tower and rack configurations, to save space I’ll only mention our tower configuration here.

  • Level 1 (about $3665). Dell PowerEdge T430, two Intel Xeon 3.0ghz Quad Core Processors, 16gb RAM, dual 8gb SD Boot Module, three 1tb SATA drives w Perc H730 RAID Controller, DVD, four Gigabit NICs, iDRAC Express, two Power Supplies and Cords, 3-year Next Business Day On-Site Pro Support
  • Level 2 (about $4690). Dell PowerEdge T630, two Intel Xeon 2.4ghz Six Core Processors, 32gb RAM, dual 8gb SD Boot Module, six 1tb SATA drives w Perc H730 RAID Controller, DVD, four Gigabit NICs, iDRAC Express, two Power Supplies and Cords, 3-year Next Business Day On-Site Pro Support
  • Backup/Light Purpose (about $1150). Dell PowerEdge T110 II, one Intel 3.1ghz Quad Core Processor, 8gb RAM, two 1tb SATA drives w Perc H200 RAID Controller (requires Windows), DVD, one Gigabit NIC, one Power Supply with Cord, 3-year Next Business Day On-Site Pro Support

We usually put into a network server as much hard drive capacity as we think will be needed for the next two years. As technology continues to improve, more can easily be added later, and probably for considerably less than it would cost today.

We also like to go large on RAM; it is inexpensive, and the more you have, the better your network will perform.

SANs
SANs (Storage Area Networks) are large external hard drive arrays. They are optimal for those with large hard drive capacity needs (10tb or more), though they are expensive. The key is to make certain your SAN has full redundancy of all components to keep your services running and available in case any components fail.

SANs are different from NAS (Network Attached Storage) devices in that they do bit-level storage (much more efficient) rather than file-level storage. NAS devices cost less than SANs, but don’t have the reliability of SANs and so should not be used in mission-critical roles.

Firewalls
Every network must be protected from intruders and malware. Firewalls, like servers, need to be refreshed periodically to make certain your network and users are protected from the latest schemes that have been devised to hurt them. Our favorite appliances to keep your system safe are:

  • Protection from SPAM: Barracuda Networks’ SPAM Firewalls are king when you’re looking to keep your team focused on mission. They eliminate SPAM very well, and that keeps most malware from getting into your system.
    • Many think that by going with Microsoft O365 they can rely on Microsoft’s anti-SPAM solution. Our experience, however, is that an inappropriately high amount of SPAM makes it through Microsoft’s anti-malware solution.
    • To help churches and ministries save money, my firm inexpensively hosts SPAM filtering using a Barracuda SPAM Filter 600, and thus see statistics on a large scale. Surprisingly, more than 83% of all email is SPAM!
  • Protection from intruders: There are computer programs and people trying to exploit your networks’ vulnerabilities. The best appliances to protect your system are from SonicWALL, which have a sweet spot match for the services churches and ministries need while staying budget sensitive. SonicWALLs even have an option for internet content filtering that works well, and does not overburden your system or team. We consider it essential.

Network Switches
When building a network, the best you can hope for is that the process is trouble free, and that the system is, simply, reliable. Foundational elements such as cable and switches must be dependable. Our team has worked with just about every brand of switch available. Many mistakenly think they need what’s referred to as Level 3 features, but it is the very rare church or ministry that can take advantage of those expensive features. The switches we believe offer the best balance of reliability, features, and price are Dell’s Networking X Series. They combine high performance, management, and reliability with a very reasonable cost.

Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPSs)
Network servers and switches should be protected by uninterruptible power supplies to keep them up during short power outages. These unsung heroes of the computing world keep our data from being scrambled like an omelet. We prefer the American Power Conversion series of Smart UPSs. A ‘smart’ UPS is one that communicates with the servers and can be programmed to shut the servers down when necessary; then bring them back up again when power is restored. Our favorite models are the APC Smart UPS 750 and 1500.

Where to Buy
Through a special arrangement with Dell, you can purchase hardware at a discount by calling their representative who is focused on helping those who are referred to Dell by our firm, MBS. Because Dell reps change, I recommend going to our website (www.mbsinc.com), selecting the Links option, and then choosing the hardware category. We keep the Dell link there updated so that you’ll know who to call and how to reach them– just make certain you tell them you’re calling at MBS’ recommendation (we don’t receive any proceeds for referring to them).

Well, there you have it. These are tried and tested solutions that work in ministries of all sizes: from small-staff churches up to the largest ministry networks in the country. Our networks have earned a reputation for very high reliability– based in part on the right hardware.

Serpents & Doves

Written by Nick B. Nicholaou on . Posted in Articles, Uncategorized

© 2015 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from MinistryTech Magazine

Jesus made an interesting statement in Matthew 10:16b, “…be as shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves” (NASB). I believe these words of His are good guidelines for Christians to apply in every aspect of doing business. We are to be shrewd, yet innocent.

The word translated as shrewd sometimes means being prudent, sensible, and practically wise.[1] Jesus gave this counsel to his disciples, and it may also have had the sense of acting with prudence regarding to their own safety. Being innocent, on the other hand, means to be pure.[2] In other words, negotiate wisely; but always honor the Lord by loving those with whom you negotiate. Be willing to ask, and to do so in such a way as to bring the other person closer to Jesus– or at least in a way that doesn’t drive the other person further from Jesus.

What does all of this have to do with computers? Let’s see.

Off-The-Shelf Software
Some software, such as off-the-shelf productivity suites, offer very little over which to negotiate an improved position. Open for discussion, however, are:

  • If you’re actually buying software in a store, don’t be afraid to make a “counter-offer”– a price lower than that posted on the package. If the salesperson won’t reduce the price, ask that another program or some supplies be added at no extra charge. While you may hear, “No” fairly often, you’ll be surprised at how often you hear, “Yes”!
  • If available, always ask for charity pricing! Many software providers offer SKUs that steeply discount their solutions for charities.

Vertical Market Software
Software that isn’t normally sold over the counter by a local retailer is often called vertical market software. Vertical market software usually has a narrow market niche, thus its name. Church, school, and donor management software are examples of vertical market software. When buying any of these, open for discussion are:

  • Ask for a full-system demonstration. Automated online demos don’t always tell the true story. If there isn’t a representative in your area, maybe they can do one live over the Internet via WebEx or some similar system. Perhaps this could also be accomplished by asking for an extended trial period to help you determine whether the system will meet your needs. Most will be willing to give you at least a thirty day, no questions asked window within which to return the software if you’re not satisfied.
  • One of the greatest causes in church, school, or donor management software dissatisfaction is due to poor implementation and a lack of understanding how to use the program. Require the seller to include implementation guidance and training in your package. You may be required to do it over the Internet, but try to get someone onsite if possible (that’s always the most effective way). This is a major investment for your ministry, so even though it may have a cost attached, it’ll be worth it.
  • Insist on getting documentation that details the formats and/ or tables of the software’s data. Requiring this as a provision of your license agreement up front may save you a lot of grief and frustration if you decide to change systems a few years down the road. If a publisher is unwilling to grant this request, they may not be one with whom you want to do business. Remember, it’s your data.

Hardware
Though hardware profit margins are fairly thin, computer prices are almost always open for negotiation. When buying a computer, consider asking for the following:

  • Suggest a lower price for the system, maybe 5% – 10% lower. Most hardware, if it can be purchased, is at least a little outdated (manufacturers are always working one or two generations beyond what is currently available), so asking for discounts is often something they’ll agree to.
  • Always ask to upgrade the memory (RAM) beyond that offered in base models. You’ll never be sorry with more memory. And if the price is fixed, maybe this is an area for negotiating a compromise.
  • Ask for a large capacity USB flash drive to be included with the system. If one already comes with it, ask that a full-featured software package be thrown in rather than the “software-lite” packages usually included.
  • The system should come with an operating system and will probably have some software “bundled” with it. Look over the software, and ask to exchange any of the pieces if you prefer different products. For instance, if the system comes with Norton Anti-Virus software, but you prefer Sophos, ask that the two be exchanged. The retailer will often accommodate such a request.

The Greatest of These Is Love
Remember when negotiating to love your neighbor. There is nothing wrong with knowing what you want and asking for it. And certainly there is nothing wrong with challenging the profit margin of the seller by asking for more than is normally offered for the same price. But there is everything wrong with negotiating in a demeaning manner. Remember to love and respect those with whom you are negotiating. Jesus died for them. Be wise, yet innocent.

[1] Vine, W.E., Page 222, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, page 222.

[2] Vincent, M.R., Word Studies in the New Testament, Volume I. McLean, VA: MacDonald Publishing Company. page 40.