Blog - Page 2

Transfer Angry Birds data from iPod Touch to iPhone

I recently (finally?) upgraded to a smartphone. I had been using a basic phone for quite some time and got the additional functionality offered by a smartphone by carrying my iPod Touch with me at all times … after all, I reasoned, WiFi is offered nearly everywhere. Anyway … it’s great to be carrying around a single device (the iPhone 5) that is thinner, faster, lighter, and all around way cooler than my LG EnV + iPod Touch combo. Plus, the iPhone’s GPS and 4G network will be helpful when we move out to Seattle later this month.

But, I was bummed to find that my Angry Birds game data got lost in the transition from the iPod Touch to the iPhone. I had both devices syncing application data to iCloud, but when I loaded up Angry Birds for the first time on the iPhone, it appeared I’d have to start from scratch. When I first got the iPod Touch, I played the series of games quite frequently, so starting over then wouldn’t have been a problem. But now my relationship with the game is more casual, so I didn’t want to have to redo all those levels again. So, today, I set out to find a solution.

After a little research, I learned about a few tools that will allow you to access the iOS device’s file system and transfer data to your computer. After quickly following Angry Birds Nest’s tutorial on transferring game progress, I’ve got all my Angry Birds data on my iPhone.

Sigma 17-70 Lens Profile for Lightroom 3

I went out shooting this afternoon with my Sigma 17-70 f/2.8-4 OS to test it out after getting the AF adjusted to correct a severe rear focus issue I was encountering. It turned out I’d accidentally reset my D90 from RAW to JPEG and when I went to edit the images in Lightroom 3, I discovered that it couldn’t find a matching lens profile. A quick Google search led me to learn that the list of available lens profiles differs when editing a JPEG vs one of the RAW formats. I went back and checked some images I’d taken earlier and sure enough, the profile appeared.

So, for anyone else who is wondering … Several of Sigma’s lenses can be corrected in Lightroom only when you shoot in RAW. Apparently on a Windows 7 PC you can find the list of lenses supported in RAW at the following location:

(replace Nikon with your camera body manufacturer)

Source: Lightroom Forums – Lens profile – Sigma 17-70 F2.8-4.5 DC Macro

Comparing the Nikon D90 and Canon T1i/T2i

Several months ago, I picked up a used Nikon D90 and two lenses to replace my broken Canon G7. I’ve got the 50mm f/1.8 lens and the kit 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 VR lens.

When I finally decided to get a traditional SLR rather than micro four-thirds, I was trying to decide between the Canon T1i and T2i. Several friends have one of these two and had let me explore: Aaron Eberline and Stan Lemon both have a T1i, my brother and a friend from high school have a T2i, and one of my wife’s bridesmaids has an XSi or XTi. I ultimately picked the D90 over either of these primarily because of a deal I found on Craigslist; I got the camera, lenses, flash, tripod and backpack for $1000 (Sept 2010). I was much less familiar with the D90, but the D90 and the T2i were the two SLRs that my brother had selected from, and a guy at Mike Crivello’s told us that both were excellent cameras, even though the T2i was released much more recently than the D90. Additionally, I found a real helpful review that essentially said they’re very similar in image quality.

After using the camera for a few months, here are some highlights about what I like better about the Nikon:

  • The D90 has two dials, one for shutter speed, and one for aperture, whereas the T1i/T2i has only one. On the Canon if you want to change the aperture, you’ve got to hold down a different button while spinning the dial.
  • On the D90, the ISO can be set in 1/3 stops, while I believe the T1i/T2i only allow full stops.
  • The D90 will display the current shooting settings both on the LCD on the back AND on a small grayscale LCD on the top of the camera, next to the shutter. The extra LCD on top is a handy feature that Canon reserves for the 50D, 7D, and maybe 60D?
  • My brother seems to think many of the less expensive (non-pro/”L”) Canon lenses have a cheap feel to them. He thinks my 18-55mm kit lens is better than Canon’s competition.

But, there are still some things I prefer about the Canon:

  • On the T2i, the camera will still meter with manual focus / non-CPU lenses. On the D90, you can only get some semblance of metering if you’re in Live View. This is really a bummer for me because I was hoping to pick up some cheap used manual focus lenses to play with. You’ve got to move up to the D300 (or maybe the D7000?) if you want metering on these older lenses.
  • The T2i has a much higher resolution than the D90, but if you read the article above, you’ll find that it doesn’t necessarily give it much of an advantage.
  • It seems to me that the T1i/T2i have less grain at higher ISOs than the D90. I’ve got nothing conclusive on this, but some article suggested that they performed nearly the same in low light, up to 1600, after which both were “unusable”. I guess it all depends on your needs.
  • On both the T1i/T2i and D90, the LCD screen on the back shuts off every time I push the shutter half way down (to autofocus, meter, etc.), but on the Canon the display turns back on when you release the shutter. I’ve looked through all the menus on the D90, read through the manual, looked online, and I cannot find a way to configure this differently on the D90. There also aren’t any firmware updates that allow me to configure this.

If I were looking to buy a camera now, I’d definitely look again at the D90 and T2i, but I’d also have to take a close look at the Canon 60D and Nikon D7000. I believe those are both in the same price range as each other but are more expensive than the D90 and T2i.

A few tips for anyone who is looking at buying a DSLR:

  • has lots of helpful reviews and a nifty flash app to compare camera performance side-by-side at various ISOs. (E.g. Compare ISO 800 on the D90 to T2i).
  • has tons of helpful reviews, especially about Nikon gear. I’m always reading his review of lenses I find on Craigslist. He makes some interesting observations and camera recommendations.

You can view some of my photos on my Flickr page.

Why Study Software Engineering at MSOE?

About a year ago, a high school senior researching colleges wrote me to learn why I chose MSOE. I wrote the overview (novel?) below. I recently met this student at an MSOE function, and he said that what I’d written helped him to make his decision. Whether or not you decide to go to MSOE, I hope what I’ve written will be equally helpful for you.

A few caveats before I begin. I graduated from MSOE in May 2007, so some of what I’ve got to say may be slightly dated. Also, you’ll find that most of what I’ve written is fairly positive. This is not completely normal for me, as I tend to be a pessimist. Two reasons for this: One, I really feel that my experience at MSOE was valuable and, though it was a challenge, and required a lot of hard work, the benefits (from the perspective of two years out) outweigh the pain. Two, I’ve come to realize that when I recall memories, I tend to shed a more positive light on an experience than it appears while I actually experienced it.

Here we go …

There were several reasons I chose MSOE over other schools; I’ll go over those in a little detail, talk about some of my experiences, and then address specific questions I’ve been asked.

Private School vs. Public School

Before learning about MSOE and their software engineering program, I figured I would attend U of I in Champaign/Urbana, where many of my high school peers studied. I’d also heard that they have a good computer science department. There are positives and negatives to large schools; my personality and interests aligned more closely with the advantages of a small private school, so that’s the route I went. Some of the specific advantages of MSOE in this regard:

  • Small class sizes – The biggest classes I ever had at MSOE were physics classes, which had about 20 people in the laboratory component of the class, and combined with another section for lecture, for a total of about 40 students. Small class sizes mean you don’t get lost in the crowd, and your professor knows you by name and has the time to answer your questions either after class or during lecture. I understand that lectures at larger state schools often have 200-300 students.
  • Professor-led classes – All courses at MSOE are taught by professors who either have an M.S. or Ph.D. and real-world experience in a related field. Your instructors therefore are qualified and knowledgeable about the material. One professor, Dr. Durant, got his Master’s and Ph.D. right after graduating from MSOE with his B.S., and started teaching immediately. He, too, has real world experience; he spends his summers doing research. Other professors worked in the industry before joining the faculty at MSOE and also spend their summers doing something interesting in a related field. To compare, many courses at larger schools are taught by Teacher’s Assistants who are working on graduate school work and have little real-world experience.

Software Engineering vs. Computer Science

When I started looking at colleges, Software Engineering was a relatively new field. MSOE’s SE program wasn’t accredited until they graduated their class of 2003, which is the same year I graduated from high school. So, there weren’t a lot of schools for me to choose from if I wanted to go the Software Engineering route. MSOE was the closest school to home with a Software Engineering program, so that made my decision pretty easy. The only other school I applied to was Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, which, at the time, had a computer science program with an emphasis in software engineering. I just took a quick look and it appears they now have an accredited SE program; the courses look very similar to those I had at MSOE.

Software Engineering shares a common foundation with Computer Science, but it goes beyond that, applying engineering practices to that discipline. In a Software Engineering program, you learn not just how to write code, but how to build software. You learn the processes: Gathering requirements (so that you build what the customer wants and needs), building a robust design that accounts for all the requirements and is sustainable and will support the needs of the client going forward, writing the code, and ensuring quality through testing. And, even more importantly in the business world, estimating accurately how long a project will take and how many defects it will have, and at which phases of the project. Now, I’ll admit, even though I graduated from MSOE’s Software Engineering program with a decent GPA, this last item, namely estimating effort for a project, is still a discipline, the surface of which I am only beginning to scratch. When I was in the program, we had a single course that discussed some specific estimating processes (PSP); but I think they’ve made improvements since then to use some of that methodology in subsequent courses to help students to better realize the value of these practices.


As with any school, MSOE has its share of good professors and bad professors. There’s a web site – – that can be helpful when it comes time to pick your classes.

As for specific professors … I’d like to highlight a few professors for you. I think a good professor takes pleasure in seeing his or her students learn and succeed. I would say that is abundantly true for each of these professors. This list is, by no means, exhaustive; there are several others who I could mention. Also, since I started at MSOE, there’s been some turnover among SE professors at MSOE.

  • Dr. Sebern is now the program director for the SE program. He’s spent a lot of time at Carnegie Mellon’s Software Engineering Institute. If I recall correctly, the Software Engineering discipline originated at Carnegie Mellon; Dr. Sebern’s close relationship with the people there ensures MSOE’s SE program is always on the cutting edge.
  • Dr. Taylor was my faculty advisor and was a real nice guy; I never had him for class but those who did said they really liked him as a professor.
  • Dr. Meier is one of the Electrical Engineering professors, but I had him for a few of the courses in the SE track. His classes were the most difficult I had at MSOE, partly because of the material, partly because of the way Dr. Meier quizzed us. But I liked the challenge and appreciated Dr. Meier’s humor and teaching style.

Other memorable / noteworthy professors in other disciplines include Dr. Yaz (Math), Dr. Korn (Physics), Dr. Jung (History/Social Sciences), Dr. Swiontek (Electrical Engineering), and Dr. Howell (English).

Real World Preparation and Hands-on Experience

MSOE’s approach to education, as a whole, includes all sorts of hands-on experience. The Software Engineering program, specifically, provides two venues especially geared toward this end:

  1. The Software Development Laboratory (SDL) begins during the winter trimester of junior year and lasts for three trimesters. In the SDL, you’re placed into a team of several students (4 or 5 when I was in it, but I understand the teams are a little bigger now – perhaps 6 or 7) and assigned an existing project. Your task is to pick up where the previous team left off; define goals, determine what tasks to complete during the quarter, divide up the work, monitor progress, and report on successes. Most projects have a stakeholder, usually external to the Software Engineering department, often someone from the industry.
  2. All engineering students at MSOE are required to complete a senior design project. Again, teams consisted of 4 or 5 students, often working together in a cross-discipline project. This time however, we were not given an existing project to complete but were given the opportunity to decide what we wanted to work on and complete the project from the ground up.

In both the SDL and Senior Design projects, teamwork plays a vital role to success. However, teamwork is not introduced for the first time in SDL. Rather, from square one, students work in teams. My freshman year I had at least two classes in which I remember working on teams. That being said, not all work is team-oriented; I felt like MSOE provided a good balance of team and individual projects.

In addition to real-world learning in the classroom, MSOE students have a variety of opportunities to gain real world experience through internships with companies in the Milwaukee area.

Job Placement

When it came time for me to find a job, my experiences at MSOE enabled me to answer the interviewers’ questions satisfactorily. It is common practice for companies to ask behavior-based questions. For example, “Tell me about a time a member of your team was not carrying his or her weight. How did you handle the situation?” Over and over again, I answered such questions by referring to specific experiences either in the SDL, my Senior Design project, or my internship. I received several job offers and was able to take my pick which company I worked for.

Obviously, right now, the economy isn’t doing as well as a year ago, so I’m not sure about current placement rates, but MSOE graduates have historically been a hot commodity. Software Engineering, specifically, has been one of the fastest growing career paths for a few years now, and I can speak from my brief experience in the “real world” that companies always looking for more qualified, skilled, software engineers to bring life to our projects. Now and then, hiring rates might slow, but given a little time, it picks back up again. Even in our current state, I’ve heard that companies are starting to hire again. Four years down the road, the market will be in a completely different place.

Social Atmosphere

My freshman year, my dad told me that the friends I’d make in college would be friends for life. I haven’t been out long, but so far that has proven to be true. My closest friends and I all live in the Milwaukee area now. We lived together after graduating until we each got married, we were in each others’ weddings, and we hang out fairly frequently.

There are two additional aspects of the social atmosphere at MSOE that you’ll want to keep in mind when making your decision:

  1. Male to Female Ratio – When I was looking at schools, my uncle made a comment to me that many people meet their spouse in college. MSOE’s male to female ratio is approximately 75% men and 25% women. In the software engineering program, the ratio is even lower. My class had 0 women; other classes before and after had 1 or 2. For some guys I’ve talked to, this is a deal breaker. For others, it’s not a problem. About half of the married couples I know from MSOE who my wife and I spend time with regularly both attended MSOE and met while in school. The other half of the guys (myself included) went to MSOE but married a graduate of a different university.
  2. Finding Students with Similar Interests – Non-engineer types often describe the majority of MSOE students, especially those in the Software Engineering program, as nerds. My freshman year a friend told me he didn’t really fit in while in high school and was pleased to find that many of his peers shared similar experiences. You’ll find that most of the guys in the SE program (yes, there are very, very few women in the SE program) share a common interest in video games. I’ve never enjoyed video games all that much; instead I found a common bond with other students in the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) organization on campus. We’d have Bible studies on a couple different floors, weekly meetings with the entire chapter, and even occasional meetings with IVCF groups at nearby schools such as Marquette, UWM, Alverno, Mount Mary, Caroll, Carthage, and UW-Parkside.

Dorm Life

Unless you’re from the Milwaukee area, you’re required to live on campus your first year or two. After these first two years, many students move out. I chose to stay in the dorms all four years. I felt like living in the dorms gave me a good opportunity to meet other students, spend time with friends, and participate in the Bible studies led by IVCF. One of the things I really miss about dorm life is the fact that I can’t just walk across the street to get together with a bunch of friends; we’ve all got to get on the phone, find a time when we’re all free, and drive to someone’s house.

MSOE has three dorm buildings: the two main buildings, RWJ and MLH, house two people in a room, 20 rooms and 2 bathrooms (2-3 sinks, showers, toilets) per floor. The third building, Regents, has more of a suite concept; each suite has up to 5 people.

I stayed in RWJ all four years. The rooms in RWJ and MLH are small, but you can do a lot with them. MSOE allows students to build their own lofts for their beds, so you’ll see people come up with all sorts of creative ways of maximizing space in their rooms. My freshman year, I bought a deck from someone else, which raised the floor by the windows up 22 inches and provided additional storage space. My dad built a folding loft, which allowed us to flip our beds up “into” the wall when we weren’t using them. You can bring your own TV, gaming console, decorations, etc., to make your dorm room feel as much like home as possible.

Graduation Rate

I don’t have any specific numbers, so I can just estimate from my experience. I think my class started with 40 or 50 students, and I graduated with about 20 others. So I guess that’s about 50%. Some dropped out because they played too many video games, some changed programs, and some decided MSOE wasn’t the school for them. Is MSOE’s Software Engineering program challenging? Yes, but not so hard that it’s impossible. The challenge is what makes it such a valuable experience. I think most students who drop out are fully capable of succeeding, but are unwilling to put forth the necessary effort to learn the material. Video games, partying, or other distractions draw them away from their school work. I wrote more about how to succeed in college in another post. I really want to emphasize the fact that though MSOE is difficult, you can do it. MSOE offers services to help: There is the TRIO program that helps those who have learning disabilities and a peer tutoring program, and professors are accessible and willing to (even enjoy to) spend time helping students.

Course Load

I don’t have a whole lot to say on the issue of course load other than that it’s fairly manageable. For each of the programs at MSOE, the program director and other faculty members have created a “track” of courses that students must complete to graduate from that program. There’s some room in the track for you to pick electives, and it goes at a very manageable pace. That being said, you still have to work hard. You can view the details of the current Software Engineering curriculum on MSOE‘s web site. If you click any of the courses listed there, you’ll see some details about that course: Required materials, what you’ll cover, etc.

A few recommendations:

  • You get started on major classes right off the bat, so it’s best to know what you want to do when you start at MSOE so as to not get behind. But, if you’re torn between similar majors, such as Computer Engineering and Software Engineering, and decide to switch sometime your freshman year, you can usually work out something that isn’t too painful.
  • If possible, take AP courses in high school and, if they go well, take the AP exams in attempt to pass out of a few courses once you get to MSOE. I was able to skip some calculus and a basic C++ class, which afforded me a little more flexibility in my schedule and gave me a lighter course load my senior year.
  • When possible, limit the number of lab classes you have in a given quarter. Lab classes, because they have more than just a lecture component, usually will consume more time than a lecture-only class. Most lecture classes have 2 – 3 exams and a final. Sometimes there will also be a paper or research-type assignment. It really depends mostly on the class.

Did I enjoy my time at MSOE?

Growing up, I was never one to enjoy school. My first year at MSOE was a bit rough; not because the course load was difficult (Freshman year was actually the easiest), but just being in a different environment, missing home, still in the process of establishing close friendships, etc. All that got better over time.

Looking back, I wouldn’t trade my experience at MSOE for anything. I felt MSOE prepared me very well for working and succeeding as a software engineering professional in the “real world.” I established friendships that I expect to last many years in the future, and have lots of fond memories to reflect upon.

Closing Thoughts

If you get a chance, go to an open house at MSOE! They have them every couple months, and it’s a great opportunity to learn more about the school, talk with a few alums of and some of the professors in the Software Engineering program. You might even get to meet me!

Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any other questions I can answer for you!

Garage Door Springs

My dad is doing some reorganizing of his DDM Garage Doors web site. He recently put up a comprehensive overview of garage door springs that covers both torsion springs and extension springs. He’s got over 6000 springs for sale to do-it-yourselfers who feel confident in how to replace their own springs after reading my dad’s spring replacement tutorial. I’m working on finishing up a shopping cart application to facilitate easier ordering and purchasing of the right spring for your needs. It’s tough to balance that with my “real” job, wedding preparation, friends, and other activities.

How to Enable Gmail Themes in Google Apps for My Domain

A while back, I found out about the Google Apps service that allows you to host Google applications, such as Mail, Chat, Calendar, Sites, and Docs using your own domain name. I set this up for and have been using it for quite some time. I’m hoping to set this up for my fiancee, Ellen, once we get married. She’s a big fan of Gmail’s themes, so I wanted to make sure Google made this functionality available in Apps Mail. When I looked in my Settings initially, I did not see the option to use a different theme. After doing a little digging, I found out how to enable themes for my domain’s Google Mail application.

Enabling Themes for Google Apps Mail accounts

  1. Log on to your Google Apps control panel. The URL will look something like
  2. After logging in, from the navigation across the top, click the Domain Settings button.
  3. Under New Services and Pre-release Features, there are two check boxes. Click both of them:


  4. Click the Save changes button.

I cannot guarantee that this will enable themes for your instance of Google Apps Mail. However, this is what worked for me and, assuming that Google has rolled this out to all their Apps users, this should work for you as well!

Commenting Back Online

One of my gracious readers pointed out to me that he received an error when trying to comment on my LTD article. The CAPTCHA image was not showing up because I was exceeding my disk quota. I’ve resolved the issue and now you should be able to comment on my articles again. Please let me know if you encounter any additional problems!

More thoughts on LTD, Quixtar, and Amway

I’ve been getting a lot of comments recently in response to my post about Leadership Team Development, Quixtar, Amway, and Greed. I’ve got a few additional thoughts I’d like to share real quickly:

  1. If you’re considering responding, please use the Scriptures in your response. My concern is with peoples’ souls, and how involvement in the organization affects their relationship with Christ. My standard for living is God’s Word. I am not interested so much with what man has to say, but with what God reveals to us in His Word.
  2. Consider Proverbs 30:8-9: “Remove falsehood and lies far from me; / Give me neither poverty nor riches / Feed me with the food allotted to me; / 9 Lest I be full and deny You, / And say, “Who is the LORD?” / Or lest I be poor and steal, And profane the name of my God.”

Life After College

I originally wrote this article as an e-mail to a friend before he graduated from Wheaton College this past spring. I’ve edited it a little bit to make it more applicable to others who have recently graduated. So you’re aware, though, if you’re looking for generic advice about what it’s like to be done with college, this may not be the article for you. If you know me well or have read much of my web site, you’ll know that my relationship with Christ is pretty important to who I am. Much of what I share here reflects my beliefs and may not apply to you if you don’t believe similarly. But, feel free to read anyway and let me know what you think.

I attended the Milwaukee School of Engineering. Anyone who is attending or has attended MSOE will tell you that the school requires a lot from its students. The school seems to accept nearly anyone but only a small percentage of those who start there actually graduate from the school. There is a lot of pride, in some strange way, that goes along with that … those students who are able to make it see their education as superior and more difficult to obtain than that which is provided by other schools in the area, namely Marquette and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The general consensus was that MSOE students had to work harder than most “other” students and, therefore, are not subject to the notion that when you graduate from college your life actually gets busier. That assumption is partially correct.

My junior year of college was by far my busiest year of college and I undoubtedly have more free time now than I did during that year. I remember days, weeks, where nearly all I did was go to class, eat, run, do homework, and sleep (aside from taking a day of rest on Sundays). My senior year was quite a bit easier. I had a little more free time during the day and in the evenings. So, I that’s a bit long winded, but hopefully it helps provide a foundation for a few “conclusions” I’ve drawn about working:

  1. I do, indeed, have more free time than when I was in school, in that my nights are not filled with homework.
  2. I don’t have as much free time as when I was school, in that I can’t take an hour break in the middle of the day to go run an errand or take a nap, chat with a friend, etc. Well, I suppose I can – that’s what lunch is for – but I like to keep my lunches shorter so that the end of the day comes a little sooner.
  3. I don’t have as much free time as when I was in school, in that my weeknights fill up quickly with activities. I find that I have time really to do only one activity per night. Monday nights, I eat dinner at a friend's house and play volleyball afterward. Tuesday nights, it's my turn to cook for my roommates. Wednesdays and Thursdays are open. Fridays, I play volleyball. The main difference between this and school is that I get to choose which activities to do.

I lived in the dorms all four years of college, so this may vary based on people's unique situations, but I've found that living “on your own” is a bit different. You’ve got more responsibilities. There are dishes that need to be done, meals that need to be cooked, a house / apartment that needs to be cleaned, and so forth. These tasks have to fit in with the other activities you’ve got going on in the evenings. One thing my roommates and I have done is to take turns cooking. Each of us cooks one night of the week, which leaves the other free to have a little bit more time to do what they need to do. It works well, but you need to have people that are willing to cook, try new things, and not just throw in a pizza every week.

Before I started my job, someone commented that my paycheck would be about 60-70% of what my salary actually is. This is true. I think mine is actually 50%, after I do all the 401k, medical and dental insurance, employee stock purchase plan, and other benefits that Metavante provides. But, planning for the future and investing is part of wise money management, so it’s all in all a good thing.

In school, you have a lot more vacation time than when you’re working. MSOE was on the quarter/trimester system, and we had a week-long break after each “quarter.” Those two weeks, coupled with the week for spring break and two weeks for Christmas accounted for five weeks of vacation in a year, not to mention the flexibility in a summer job of taking a day off here or there if the need arose. Once you start working, it is rare to get five weeks of vacation. I heard someone comment recently that most people who actually get that much vacation time are too important to their company and too busy to actually use it.

Building friendships once you’re done with college is a lot more challenging. For those who attend a Christian college or are deeply involved in a Christian organization on campus, you’re surrounded by lots of great people who are your own age and share your beliefs and love for the Lord. When you work, you aren’t necessarily with other people your own age, let alone people who follow Christ. Several of my friends have gotten or are getting married soon, and I feel like I’m losing them to a certain extent, and it’s easy to feel lonely and friend-less. Be sure that, wherever you end up, you find a good church to get involved with where there are people who can hold you accountable to your walk with the Lord as you begin this new stage of your life. You might not be able to find a church where there are a lot of believers your age, but don’t let that hold you back from getting involved … we all, as believers, need that fellowship.

On a similar note, living in the world is not always easy. Even though I went to a secular (yet private) college and public schools all my life, I still feel like being in the “real world” has opened my eyes to some things that I had never seen before. In school, I was surrounded by other Christians because of my involvement with InterVarsity. Now that I’m working, I work with a bunch of people who are lost and need Christ. And their actions, their attitudes, their language reflects that. Last summer, I was in a training program at work. The group of people I was with consisted of recent college grads like me, which was great, but I remember saying to another Christian in the group, “Dude, do you ever feel like you don’t fit in with these people?” … and he shared my sentiment. I felt like I had little in common with these other individuals in my group. They are all concerned with going out and having a good time on the weekend, finding a hot girl to mess around with, making lots of money to buy a nice car, condo, house, or fun toys. Contrast that with the attitude Christ has called us to have, and those things which he has called us to value. “Do not be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Drinking is pervasive and commonplace. It’s not that a little alcohol is bad once in a while, but people our age like to go out and get drunk. And it can be awkward if you don’t go along with it. I don’t mean to sound all negative, but it’s one of those things which takes an adjustment when moving into the “real world.” I guess people’s attitudes weren’t much different when I was in school, but I didn’t notice it as much because I hung out mostly with believers.

For those who have recently graduated or will soon be graduating: I hope I haven’t overwhelmed you with any of this … just remember that God gives us the grace to take things one day at a time, one small step at a time. Just take things in stride…and do all things through Christ’s strength as unto Christ and not man.

Leadership Team Development, Quixtar, Amway, and Greed

LTD is Quixtar is Amway

In the past few months, I’ve been contacted by several individuals about joining Leadership Team Development. I did a little bit of research and found hints at a connection between LTD and Quixtar. I asked one of the individuals who had contacted me and she told me straight out that LTD is Quixtar. I did a little additional research and found out that LTD is headed up by Larry and Pam Winters, a couple who is “Double Diamond” pin level with Quixtar (see Quixtar Wiki). So, for anyone who is wondering, LTD is Quixtar. And, we all know that Quixtar is Amway.

The Perils of joining LTD, Quixtar, or Amway

These organizations (or should I say “this” organization, singular, since it’s all really the same thing) portray an “overt Christian emphasis” at “the rallies, events, and in the motivational material”1. Having only gone to these seminars when I was very young, I can’t speak to the accuracy of the Amway / Quixtar “Christian gospel” message, but it is clear to me that the members’ greedy pursuit of worldly riches conflicts with Christ’s preaching. My dad, who used to be a part of Amway and was motivated by Larry Winters’ tapes, described Amway’s “motivational meetings as nurtured by and nurturing greed.” Nurturing greed while also proclaiming the Gospel is dangerous and often leads people to the conclusion that Christ came and died on a cross to make us prosperous or wealthy here on this earth. This is a different gospel than the one Christ preached.

Following are some thoughts I’ve gathered about this topic – the dangers of greed, and how the pursuit of wealth stands in opposition to what should be our greatest treasure: Christ.

But first, I’ll reference another guy’s comment I found while doing some research about LTD.

I found it offensive that this couple tried to bill this as a ministry opportunity. I went, and took the wife with me because I really liked the couple, we need some friends, and they seemed genuine. Now, I wonder. I wanted to do some networking in the Christian world. Since I’m in finance for Christians, that is an important part of what I do. I did not expect to be invited to satiate my greed and carnal laziness. Oh yeah, did mention that one could make enough to take one’s child to Costa Rica to study Spanish, and work from there? Or that you could work only a few hours a day and make a quarter million?

It’s sad that people fall for this, but then it meets our most basic and carnal desires. We are sinfully lazy, lust for power and wealth, and are inherently rebellious towards those in authority. To be self-employed, make a lot of money, and do it in very few hours seems great right? It’s too good to be true, and don’t be taken in.

Excerpt from “LTD’s Pyramid Scheme

In my conversation with the second individual who invited me to join LTD, I was told, “Yes, people can be wealthy and a Christian … lol … I never knew either.” I’m not contesting the fact that someone can be both wealthy and a Christian. I just wonder how closely the pursuit of wealth, fame, popularity, knowledge, pleasure, etc, aligns with the pursuit of Christ. How does seeking after riches measure up to seeking Christ’s kingdom first? Revelation 22:20 says, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” Can I sincerely pray “Come, Lord Jesus” while musing, “Show me the money!”? Is eager anticipation of Christ’s imminent return congruent with the pursuit of riches?

My point is not to suggest that earning money is a bad thing. It isn’t. I have a job, I’m earning a living. I would be a bad steward of those gifts which Christ has entrusted to me if I did not work. But, my chief goal in life is not to earn a lot of money, to “make it big” or to be successful, as the world defines it. Rather, my desire is to know Christ and make Him known. (You can read more of my thoughts about success in my paper, “Happiness Through Humility“.)

John Piper discusses the surpassing value of the pursuit of Christ in his book, Don’t Waste your Life. Piper comments, “God created us to live with a single passion to joyfully display his supreme excellence in all the spheres of life. The wasted life is the life without this passion. God calls us to pray and think and dream and plan and work not to be made much of, but to make much of him in every part of our lives” (emphasis added). I simply cannot comprehend how building up treasure for myself here on earth makes much of Christ in my life.

What you think about, what you talk about betrays the state of your heart. I’m reminded of Luke 6:45 – “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” What is the abundance of your heart speaking?

Earthly riches will pass away. Recall James 1:9-11, “Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 11For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.”

My concern is simply that the appeal of wealth and material success can be such a great temptation and we need to guard our hearts against our desire to pursue those things. These things are passing away with this world, but the word of Christ will stand.

On January 8, 2006 Joshua Harris gave a sermon titled Affluenza – the Disease of Greed at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD. They no longer have the MP3 available on their web site, though I’m sure they would provide it upon request. Anyway … I wish I could post the entire sermon text here – Harris hits the nail on the head when he preaches on Luke 12:13-21.

Sixteen out of the 38 parables of Jesus deal with money, possessions, their use, and their relationship to us.

Jesus never condemned wealth in and of itself, but he knows how easily our hearts can make money our god. Jesus knows and he wants us to understand that one of the greatest, if not the greatest hindrance to spiritual life and spiritual growth is material wealth and the temptations it brings with us. Friends, if we ignore the dangers of affluenza, we put ourselves in great spiritual peril.

Jesus says to all of us, “you DO have a money problem.” Money has too much of your heart. God wants us to see that when it comes to money problems, our greatest concern should be avoiding the pitfalls of covetousness.

Greed says that the quality of life, their worth is measured in the size of their bank account and the quality and quantity of their possessions. But in verse 15, Jesus warns us not to fall prey to this mindset. He says, “Take care. Be on your guard against all covetousness. Watch out for it because, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” In other words, watch out, don’t believe the lie of greed. Don’t buy into it. Because if you do, you’ll pass by what truly matters in life.”

Greed blinds us. It blinds us to what is truly important in life. It blinds us to spiritual realities and Jesus illustrates that by telling us a story of a rich man who has believed the lie of greed. It’s important to note that Jesus doesn’t say that having money or being skilled at making money is wrong … The issue is how we view the money we have, how we use the money we have. The rich man’s problem is not that he is rich, but that he is selfish. He hoards what he has. He uses it for his own pleasure and he puts his trust in his wealth.

Where do you put your trust? Is it in your wealth? Is it in the “safety” of America? Would you be satisfied if you never earned more than 40k per year (+ whatever normal inflation is)? Would you be satisfied with less? Or is your life meaningless if you can’t earn a bigger salary, have a bigger house, nicer car, and more possessions?

I like what Paul says in Philippians 4:12 – “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” Paul’s happiness is not contingent upon worldly success. His life is not caught up in the pursuit of financial gain. Rather, it is in knowing Christ. Earlier in the book (1:21-24), he says, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.” Earthly riches are the absolute last thing on Paul’s mind. For that matter, anything that is “of this world” is of no concern to Paul. His only reason for desiring to remain on earth is so that he may encourage the Philippians in their pursuit of Christ.

What is the state of your heart? For what do you live? Do you live to earn a lot of money, to buy a large house, to “keep up with the Joneses?” Or do you live to proclaim Christ’s message of salvation to this lost and desperately needy world? When you face Christ on that final day, will you joyously receive his praise, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” or will the way you live now require you look on Him with head hung low and receive his reprimand, “You wicked and lazy servant”?