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I have written about the square card reader before which is the easiest way for you to begin swiping cards at your next parent meeting or fundraiser, but they have taken it to a whole new level with Square Register.

Designed to operate as a cash register for a business, Register transforms the iPad into just that, but better! After you download the app, you input your items (think summer trip costs or fundraiser items) choosing or taking a picture that represents them. Then, you decide where you want those images to appear, and you are ready to rock and roll. Pass the iPad to the volunteer and they simply touch the items someone needs to pay for, swipe the card, let the buyer sign on the iPad and the program texts or emails a receipt!

Incredible, I know. AND square’s fee is simple. The app is free, the card reader is free, and they take a simple 2.75% off the top of each transaction and direct deposit it at the end of each day. Yeah. You probably have already left to download the app, but if you haven’t… go get it!

Though I am not using this at our Passover Seder, I couldn’t resist sharing it here.  Those who were a fan of the digital story of the nativity will love this.  I am definitely using this the next time we talk about the exodus!

I was watching some podcast Brian Brushwood was on when I first discovered RecordSetter.com  This is a online, user-generated world record site.  (I almost feel foolish writing anything else because I know your brains are already spinning on this one.)  It’s easy.  After signing up, you post a video as proof.  They review it and then confirm you made or broke the record.

After hearing about this, one of our students immediately went and broke the record for number of times saying “pretty” before “good” in one breath.  He was beaten soon after by a girl from Canada, but rest assured that he considered it a matter of national pride to get this  record back in American hands!

So, we hosted a world record event and set a bunch of great ones that are being verified as I type.  As a fun promo for the event our staff broke several records including my own world record:

Facebook is a great tool for ministry.  Outside of going to school campuses, there are very few places a youth minister can go outside of the church and interact with more students.  However, Facebook added a setting which they made default that is proabably hindering your use of facebook as a ministry tool without your knowledge.

If you go to your feed and click most recent, most people assume that is everything posted by every one, but that is most likely not the case.  Click the disclosure triangle next to “Most recent” and the go down to “edit options.” Now look at the field next to “show posts from:”  Unless you have changed from the default you will notice that “Friends and pages you interact with most” is selected.

For a while, I had been noticing that I wasn’t seeing baby pictures from my extended family or my Church’s main group updates, but figured they were getting lost in the feed.  These were groups that, though I wanted to see the information, I didn’t interact with very much.  All you need to do is change the setting to “all your friends and pages.”  Then, just hide the people and pages you don’t want to see in your feed.

It’s been a while since I have posted here because I was a youth minister who was having a baby in the middle of the already full-throttle state that is a youth ministry in summer.  This being our third child and me being a geek, I thought with my first post back, I should pass along a great iPhone app that has been a part of the birth of all three of our children: Labor Mate.

Labor mate is a typical great iPhone app in that it does one thing incredibly well.  It times contractions.  Press a button when the contraction starts, press again when it stops, and Labor Mate puts together a nice list of the frequency and duration.  Think it’s about to get real?  Labor Mate will email the contraction log to your doctor for him or her to review.  It will even update twitter and Facebook if you are the type who loves to over share!

My advice for all people who are pregnant is to go straight to the app store and spend the $0.99 for this perfect little app (and ask your wife before tweeting contraction information).

Every time we have been gearing up for some fundraiser or another, I think (at the last minute), “It sure would be convenient if we could take credit card donations/payments easily. A couple weeks later I have the same thought about registrations for camp. Each time I remember my research into the cost of machine with the receipt paper, the percentage off each sale it takes as well as the per transaction fee and decide it is not worth the hassle.

Then I stumbled upon Square.

Square is simple. From the little one inch by one inch plastic reader that plugs into the headphone jack on your phone (iOS or android) to the flat 2.75% fee per swipe to the super-straightforward, free app there is one word to describe it: simple.

Did I mention cheap? All you have to do to get the reader is give them basic accounting information and they mail it, at no charge, to your home or office a couple days later. How do they make money? Most places charge variable rate fee from 2.5%-5% per transaction and a $0.15 per transaction fee. Some level the percentage to three or three and a half, but square is cheap and simple. 2.75% per card swipe transaction.

The Square app is super easy to use. All you do is download the app, plug in the dongle, log in and you are ready to take a payment. To do that, you enter the amount and an optional description (we put the budget line item and the event) and swipe their card. They are then taken to a signature screen where they can sign with a finger or stylus if you have one. When they press the continue button, they are prompted to enter a cell number or email address where the app immediately sends a link to a receipt for the transaction. The money is then deposited (one lump sum deposit per day) into whichever account you provide.

You then have access to all that data (minus the full card number) in their clean, user friendly site which will allow you to download it in excel format with a ton of data attached to each transaction.

A couple of weeks ago I was stopped on Sunday morning on my way to the youth area by a member who said that he was sorry that he had not yet brought me his donation for a fundraiser.  He never has his checkbook at church.  I told him that I could take a credit card, and he was relieved.  I plugged in the square dongle, opened the app, swiped his card and it was done.  Brilliant.

Simple, cheap and brilliant, but not perfect. If you want to use this for multiple ministries, it may get difficult. You will have to sort through all the transactions to figure out which one went to which ministry. It would be nice if they could have sub-accounts to break things out easily.

Overall, I am telling everyone I meet to stop whatever they are doing, go to the Square website and start making life easier for them and their members.

 

I recently discovered this interesting Google Labs project called Google Ngram Viewier that piggy backs on the data Google is collecting via Google books.  You probably already know that Google books is is not only adding new texts, but scanning (and OCRing) all the books currently available in print at massive libraries all over the world.  You can imagine the interesting types of things you could do with that massive data set.  When you combine all the world’s digitized books with a google algorhythm and their massive amounts of processing power, you get Ngram Viewer.

It is pretty basic right now.  You put in a list of terms separated by commas, and it gives you a line graph showing how popular those words were in print from 1500 on (or any subset of years).  Turning our attention towards our graph of Heaven and hell from 1800-2000, we can see that, with a few exceptions, heaven was firmly in the lead until it took a turn around 1930 from which point hell has been on the rise and not looking back.

I look forward to seeing the interesting sets of terms you come up with!

Yesterday Apple announced the second version of their game-changing iPad product.  It is another product for us to drool over and desire, but the question most (usually under paid) youth pastors are asking right now is can I justify this as a “ministry expense.”  To that I answer a definite maybe.

That is to say that I would have told you no this time last year about the original iPad.  Apple’s M.O. is to initially release a revolutionary product that is a bit more simple than their final intention (think original iPhone with no app store, copy / paste, or 3G).  Which means that unless you are uber-wealthy or have some other justification, you always wait for the second version.

This is no exception.  We now have an iPad with a stout processor, front AND rear facing cameras, multi-tasking and a robust number of apps (60,000).  That means that you will have no problem justifying whether the hardware is going to be made totally obsolete in a year the way this has pretty much done with the original iPad.

Now that we’ve justified the hardware as a legit expense, we need to turn our attention to the apps.  This is what will make or break your proposal.  Here’s the question you need to ask: will these apps increase the effectiveness of your ministry and/or save you money?  There are several interesting things you can do with apps now.  You can video chat with a missionary you are supporting, you can control keynote and ProPresenter, you can record your praise band with garageband (8tracks), you can edit movies with imovie, you can have a virtual whiteboard run into the projector, and you can show HD movies off of netfllix or other streaming services through the new HDMI attachment.  On the saving money front, you can use this as an ebook reader which has saved me as much as $30 on a single book.

What do you think?  Justifiable?  Maybe.  The clincher may be using this to replace your laptop or desktop, but that is a bit trickier.  While this is incredibly powerful for a tablet, it is lacking in that department when compared to a notebook.  Though, if you don’t do a TON of serious video, graphics, or audio work, you might be able to make this work.  It will allow you to connect an external keyboard and mouse via bluetooth which makes it a bit more credible, but BE careful.  If you are looking into using this to replace a traditional form-factor computer, I would suggest borrowing one for a couple of days to see if it does everything you need.

So, go ahead and run the numbers, write a proposal, and let us know how you end up using this to connect with teens!

Leave it to Improv Everywhere to make handbell choirs cool. I am going to try to sell our choir director on this!

Audio Podcasting 101 (Part 2)

Jeremy —  November 30, 2010 — Leave a comment

… Continued from Part One.  As I mentioned, I have been working on a youth ministry training podcast, 10-Minute Training, and after publishing about a dozen, feel ready to share the process here.  This post wil look at the recording process itself, and the final post in the series will cover editing and publishing.

Now that you’ve got your gear set and scheduled some recording time, you’re ready to go!  I am a mac guy, so I use the great multi-track recording software that comes bundled with every mac: GarageBand.  If you aren’t a mac fanboy, you can opt for a great free open source option:  Audacity.

The way it works with my setup is I open wiretap and select my inputs: Shure X2u to record my voice and Skype audio to record its audio.  It then creates a virtual audio card with four channels that can be selected in the audio preferences of GarageBand.  After doing that, I select which audio goes to which track and I’m ready to test the audio levels.  The one thing that I dislike about GarageBand is its audio meters.  They are small and not extremely accurate.  Instead of trusting them, I test record audio from both sources a couple of times until they are as loud as possible without distorting.

The reason for doing all this work to get the different audio sources on different tracks is simple.  Though I want to be able to get a podcast that is pretty much ready to chop into 10-minute pieces and publish, I want to be able to go back and fix problems like if the audio levels are too different, the guest wants to edit something out , or if a cell phone goes off in the guest’s office, etc.

A cheaper, but more time consuming, solution for this is to buy Call Recorder from Ecamm.  With this method, you record the skype call in one file and your audio in another.  After it’s all over you import the two files into the editor and move them around until they are synced (tip:  make a loud noise at the beginning that can be heard in both audio files… then you match those sounds together… much faster!)

I generally shoot for recording about 30-45 minutes of audio in each interview that I can then chop down into three episodes after it’s all over.  While doing the interview, I watch the clock and when we come to a stopping point at about ten minutes, I make a break and start over as if it was a new episode (which it will be).

After it’s recorded, I go through the effects to get a good sound on the voices, I generally use male narrator for both the Skype audio and my own.  I save the file, open another and get my next guest on the line.  Over and over again until they are all recorded and saved!