Monday, August 29, 2016

Desiring God for Kids

As a parent of nine kids, I don't have a lot of time for blogging. But I do have ideas -- lots of them.

My ideas typically revolve around things that don't exist but should. Here's one: a high quality website that provides free gospel-centered, biblical instruction to kids -- perhaps something like Khan Academy, but geared to Christian spiritual instruction.

There are millions of kids in the world who haven't heard the gospel. Many have internet access via a computer or smart phone. They are reachable, but we're not reaching them.

Of course, many websites offer outstanding resources to Christian parents. Some even offer content geared specifically to kids.

Unfortunately most of these sites rely on trying to get a parent (or teacher or church) to buy something.

It's an inefficient, wasteful model of trying to reach kids. Most of the stuff sold probably ends up in the dump or collecting dust in someone's garage.

The old failed model requires adult involvement. Many kids don't have parents, or their parents could care less about what the Bible says.

Don't get me wrong: parents are responsible for the spiritual upbringing of their kids. But we're busy people, and we need all the help we can get.

The world gets this. Just look at the abundance of websites and apps geared to kids. There's PBS Kids, Sesame Street, National Geographic Kids, and many, many more.

What's missing (or somehow I've missed) is a serious, well-funded effort to reach kids electronically with the gospel of Jesus Christ -- and its implications -- free of charge.

Like Desiring God, but for kids.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Conservative Alternatives to Slate

A friend writes:
Do you know of any thoughtful online magazines from a conservative perspective? I'm thinking of something that has analysis of political, cultural, and other current events. The reason I ask is that I read quite a bit from Slate, which I generally appreciate for its thoughtfulness, and because I want to understand how liberals think about the world. But the liberalism can just be too much sometimes, so I'm looking for something comparable from a right-leaning perspective to balance out the picture.
Below are my ideas for thoughtful alternative content from a generally "right-leaning" perspective (note: not all are magazines). I'm sure this list is incomplete. Who else would you suggest adding?

Albert Mohler
Family Research Council
WORLD Magazine

Heritage Foundation
Hoover Institution / Policy Review archives
Human Events
National Review
Real Clear Politics
The Weekly Standard

Tax Foundation

Monday, June 25, 2012

Custom Temperature Alerts

Have you ever found your home air conditioning running when the outside temperature has already fallen below the temperature inside your house? I have. It's really irritating, and it wastes both money and energy.

The solution is simple, free and most of the time works fairly well.

Use IFTTT to set up a temperature alert for your zip code. Specify a temperature and how you want to be notified.

If you'd like to try it out, feel free to copy my "Open Windows" alert.

Don't care about temperature? Check out other recipes at IFTTT or create your own.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Yelp Should Buy The Entertainment Book

The Sacramento Entertainment Book has 1496 coupons for restaurants, plus a few hundred additional non-dining coupons. Many of the deals are buy-one-get-one-free -- perfect for dates with my wife or kids.

Trying new places is fun, but since the Entertainment Book provides no restaurant reviews, it's difficult to know which places are good and which are not. Try cross-referencing coupons in the Entertainment Book with online reviews at Yelp. It's neither easy, nor fun.

I'd love to see a website or app that integrates restaurant reviews with Entertainment Book listings.

Sort of like A Better Queue does for Netflix and Rotten Tomatoes.

Alternatively, Yelp could just acquire Entertainment Publications, LLC and integrate their two websites for us.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Good Short Podcasts

Last Updated 1/17/16

It's your choice: you can turn on the radio and listen to what someone else wants you to hear (along with a bunch of commercials), or you can embrace the podcast.

I've become a big fan of podcasts. I like being able to listen to a program from start to finish and pause it whenever I'm interrupted. I like being able to pick the programming I want to hear when I want to hear it. You just can't do that with radio.

(Note: If you own a smart phone, you'll want to get a good podcast app. You'll also want to develop a good playlist, so before you start driving, you can hit play and the latest episodes from each podcast will play one after another on your commute home. If you become a podcast junkie, you may want to get a car stereo that has an auxiliary input and a USB adapter.)

Among my favorite podcasts are those that provide high quality content without wasting my time.

Here are a few I recommend:

ESV Bible Readings - Try the Outreach New Testament plan first, since it is the shortest. (Hopefully someday ESV will add a few more shorter options, like an Outreach Old Testament, Psalms and Proverbs podcasts for those of us who like to customize our playlists.)

Proverbs Podcast - Max McClean reads the "Proverb of the Day" in NIV.

Grace Gems Daily Podcast - A new podcast I set up to make it more convenient to listen to the daily Puritan audio devotionals from 11/1/12)

Morning and Evening - The classic daily devotional by Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

Al Mohler's The Briefing - I like to say Dr. Mohler reads the New York Times so you don't have to. In just a few minutes he highlights top news stories of the day and provides insightful analysis from a Christian worldview.

Ask Pastor John - An outstanding podcast. Dr. Piper answers listener's questions, reasoning from Scripture with wisdom and grace. (Added 11/29/14)

Five Minutes in Church History - If you don't mind the Cranberries, this podcast is great way to digest a few facts about church history in easy-to-swallow, bite-size portions. (Added 11/29/14)

NPR News - Yes, I admit it. I listen to public radio. But these five minutes of (nearly) commercial-free news headlines are hard to beat. And by subscribing to this podcast, you no longer have to wait until the top of the hour to catch the news.

NPR Politics - Like it or not, NPR does some outstanding in-depth politics reporting. Plus, when you work in politics, it's always a good idea to monitor the enemy's airwaves.

Marketplace - One of my favorite public radio shows, Kye Risdall and the Marketplace team are always both informative and entertaining. If you want to understand recent economic developments, this podcast is a great place to start.

The California Report - Left-leaning, but good, in-depth coverage of California issues. (Added 11/29/14)

California Politics - Hands down the best podcast for California political news and analysis. Veteran Capitol reporters John Myers, Anthony York and Marisa Lagos provide their take on the most significant developments of the week. (Updated 1/17/16)

Capital Public Radio News - By subscribing to Capital Public Radio's podcast, you'll at least be sure to never miss Ben Adler's ace reporting. (Updated 1/6/13)

Accuweather - Get the latest weather conditions and forecast in less than half a minute. This link is for Sacramento, but there are also similar podcasts available for other cities.

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day - Learn new words or the origins of words you already know.

In addition to the podcasts suggested above, both my boss and my church have podcasts you might want to check out.

I hope these suggestions are helpful. Please feel free to leave a comment recommending your favorite podcasts.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sacramento Home Prices in 2011

It's been more than a year since I wrote a blog post criticizing the notion that Sacramento home prices had stabilized. We now have the benefit of hindsight. How did Sacramento home prices fare last year?

According to Sacramento Real Estate Statistics, the median asking price fell 6% and the average asking price per square foot fell 5.89%.

Zillow shows a 9.1% year-over-year decline in home prices through November 2011.

Sacramento Zillow Home Value Index

And, as reported by the Sacramento Bee, a Sacramento Association of Realtors survey found a 10% drop in the median price of a single family home in the region. Furthermore, the median home sales price in December 2011 was the lowest since 2000.

So, by nearly any measure, home prices are lower today than they were a year ago. And interest rates? Those fell too -- see this chart.

By way of disclosure, my wife and I purchased a short sale in the Sacramento area this past fall. We're still not convinced prices have fully bottomed, but we're thankful to be settled once again in a home we own.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Social Media Plan for a Sacramento Start-Up

As we've been making various repairs to our house, my wife and I have noticed that many small business owners and contractors have missed the boat on social media.

This isn't surprising, since most of them aren't tech geeks. They know their business, but find the digital world confusing and a bit overwhelming.

This morning I received an e-mail from a friend who is planning to start a new business in the Sacramento area. He sent me an ad for a social media service he found on Craigslist and asked for my advice.

My response is below. Perhaps these tips will be of assistance to others seeking cost-effective ways to enhance their social media presence. Feel free to weigh in if you have additional thoughts that might be helpful.

Social media is important, but it can be overhyped. I certainly wouldn't pay someone hundreds of dollars a month to manage it right out of the gate.

As the boss, it's important for you to at least understand what your social media presence is, how it is set up, what your passwords are, etc. It needs to be an integrated part of your overall business plan and advertising efforts.

There are a lot of social media gimmicks out there, but the best social media will happen authentically from real customer engagement if you have good customer service and find creative ways to invite your customers to stay connected using social media.

Keep in mind the best and most widely adopted social media is still e-mail, so be sure that is a part of your plan.

Here are the steps I suggest:
  1. Design your logo. If resources allow, pay a pro (I recommend Kevin Yee). Otherwise, try a free service like Logo Instant)

  2. Set up Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Youtube, etc. These are free, so the sooner you get them up and running, the better. Even static "coming soon" pages might begin to attract interest and followers.

  3. Register a good domain name, then have someone build your website (preferably using Wordpress). Feature a blog (for updates/promotions) and links to your social media.

  4. Connect your social media accounts to your website using so they will automatically post new content.

  5. Establish an e-mail list (save money by first trying a free service like MailChimp). Include a sign-up form on your website and at your business.

  6. Plan ways to harvest e-mail addresses (e.g. collect business cards for a giveaway).

  7. Drive customers to engage via social media (e.g. give something away free for folks who check-in on Yelp or Facebook, do a video contest on Youtube, etc.)

  8. Maximize your reach by sending out new updates/promotions via e-mail and posting them to the blog. They will automatically post to your social media sites.

  9. As time and resources allow, post special promotions, coupons, surveys, videos, etc. to social media sites to increase customer engagement. Develop creative content that has the potential to "go viral."

  10. As resources allow, develop a budget for using Google Adwords, Facebook ads, etc. to attract new customers. Target likely customers within 10-15 miles of your zip code.
All of this can be done for very little expense. When the time is right, feel free to send me your business name and logo, and I'd be happy to help you get things up and running.