I’m Benjamin Gray

a developer & information technologist in Atlanta

about me

I’m a full-stack web developer from Chicago now living in Atlanta. I build web apps and products. Since 2005 I’ve been engaged in the everything from front-end UX to back-end SQL; all the way down to the iron on which the software runs.

Here I ramble about things such as software development, security, and living life.

RIAA Continues Finger Pointing

The RIAA continues its search for entities it can blame for the ever-increasing amount of music piracy its experiencing. Or, at least, that’s what I glean from a recent blog article wherein they place blame directly on Google for enabling internet users to find pirated content.

Clearly the current process is not working. Google is routinely directing people to unlawful sources of content, which is clearly at odds with data that suggests most people rely on search engines to identify trusted websites at the top of search results. If Google truly doesn’t want its search results directing people to materials that violate copyright laws, more should be done to address this problem.

Now, you’ll have to forgive my lack of sympathy for the RIAA, but this whole “blame everyone but ourselves” rigamarole has been played out, and it’s time to move on.

How can any reasonably intelligent person find fault with a search engine for their failing business model? Yet this is exactly what the RIAA is doing. They fail to see that their profits are falling not because people are pirating more content, but because their product itself is valued at a lower price. The market simply will not bear the current cost of music. Indeed the market has changed.

I suggest that instead of pointing fingers and blaming others for the decreased market value of their products, they apply their time, money and energy toward rethinking their revenue streams. Instead of fighting the market, play the market. Give the market what it wants and make profit from it. The people they’re fighting against are the very people to whom they want to sell.

It’s time to stop pointing fingers for your lack of revenue, RIAA. It’s time to start giving your customers more of what they want. What do they want, you ask? Well, I think you can figure that one out on your own.

written in in RIAA, copyright, piracy

Why Octopress?

For years I was running Openswitch on WordPress, and even released a theme for it which found such popularity that it was adopted as a stock theme on WordPress.com. Then, I switched over to Textpattern; its markup was more simple, and was easier to customize to my liking. Unfortunately, both of those content management systems left me wanting more… and less. This led me to Jekyll and ultimately to Octopress. Let me explain.

written in in blogging, octopress, wordpress Read on →

I Am the Office IT Guy

One of the blessings & curses of being a Gen-Xer is having a basic knowledge of computers. We’re born knowing how these machines work. But at my church you’d think I was the Dalai Lama of computers judging by the amount of requests I get to “fix” someone’s computer.

One recent conversation went like this:

“Hey, Ben, you’re good with computers, right? Can you set our office computers (4 of them) so they can talk to each other?”

“You mean a LAN?”

“Um….yeah, whatever it is, can you do it?”

“Sure thing.”

Another conversation several weeks ago:

“Hey, Ben, you’re good with computers right? I opened up my internet [browser] and it’s just a small box. I think I broke it.”

“No, just click this box here.” I click the maximize button and the screen magically maximizes. Oooooo’s and Ahhhhhh’s commence.

Honestly, I like the attention. I’m being recognized for something I’m good at. Never mind the fact that I’m good at being a youth pastor too, I know COMPUTERS!

Today a lovely older lady in the church came to me. She wanted to buy a laptop computer and had some questions. Her first sentence was, “Hey, Ben, you’re good with computers right?” As a side note I’d like to point out that how people know I’m good with computers is beyond me. I don’t go around advertising it. But people obviously must be talking with each other about the new youth pastor who’s good with computers. The funny part is I’m not that good, I’m average. Compared to the real IT guys I’m a doofus. I digress.

Back to the lovely lady who’s in the market for a laptop. Evidently someone had told her that all she needed was to install a wireless card in her computer and she’d have internet access for free by getting it from a satellite. I realized that I had to start with the basics and explain how people connect to the internet. Then I explained what a wireless internet cloud was. I drew diagrams and everything. She caught on really quick too. It feels good being able to help someone understand something better.

All this to say that it’s funny to me how I was hired to be a minister to students but have also taken on the role of the unofficial office IT man. I’m not complaining, though it would be nice to get the same recognition for my madd exegetical skillz.

written in in ministry, technology

Farts and Giggles

My son, the unintentional comedian, is learning new words at a feverish pace. Unfortunately he’s not always able to remember which definitions go with which words. For some time now he’s been aware of his and everyone else’s burps. So when he burps or is within earshot of a burp his eyes widen and he exclaims, “BURP!” with such exuberance that you’d think he’d discovered a method of cold fusion. More recently he’s discovered his own flatulence. But instead of calling it a toot, a flutter or even a fart, after he “breaks wind” he widens his eyes, points to his posterior and belts out, “BURP!” to anyone willing to listen. If no one is listening he’ll repeat it louder and louder until someone does listen. He then proceeds to giggle at his funny body. He’s a boy through and through. Why do we men find our bodily functions so amusing? I certainly don’t know the reason, but evidently it’s genetic.

Part of me wants to correct him, “no son that was a toot.” But the other part of me finds this mistake too darn adorable to educate into oblivion. Besides, he essentially correct. Isn’t a fart very similar to a burp from your butt? Well, doctors may disagree, but to a 2 year-old it makes perfect sense to use the same word to refer to these two bodily functions. I never thought farting and burping could be cute until I heard those otherwise gross sounds come out of my son. And I NEVER thought I would be able to tolerate somone farting on my lap!

written in in children

10 Things I Wish I Knew My First Year in Ministry

I’ve been a minister to students for four years now. Looking back I’ve realized, mostly because hindsight is 20/20, that going into it I was blissfully ignorant of several aspects of serving full-time in a church. For the sake of all the young ministers out there who are about to begin serving in a church I’m writing this list of things you should know as you go into ministry. I hope it helps.

Ministers have a love/hate relationship with their calendar. Without a calendar you are dead (or dying) in the water. On one hand you can’t let it rule your life, on the other hand you can’t live without it. Get one and take it with you everywhere.

Keep it together. Keep all your crap together. Don’t have loose pieces of paper floating around your office with important information on them. Remember Trapper-Keepers back in grade-school? Yeah, the grown up version of those is a legal pad holder like this. Get one, treat it like a lady does her purse.

Receipts are more valuable than gold. Keep every single freakin’ receipt you get. File them away for eternity (actually, about 3 years.) Similarly, always ask for a receipt when you buy something. If you forget to, you can plan on needing that very receipt later. Also, remember that ministers are among the most frequently audited by the IRS. And their inquisitiveness is second only to that of a church board.

Write down everything. Take extensive notes, then put them in your grown up Trapper-Keeper. Never assume that you’ll remember something. In fact, you should assume that you will develop amnesia five minutes from now. Ministers are notorious for forgetting stuff when they don’t write it down.

Shake the hands, kiss the babies. This is just a part of being a public official as well as a minister. Like it or not, people expect you to be a friendly person. I’m not saying you need to be someone else or change who you are. Just be the friendliest version of yourself possible.

Learn to say “no” tactfully. As a minister you’ll get asked to do a lot of things. Some of the requests will make you think, “Do I look like a (insert profession)?” Learn how to say “no” without sounding like a lazy jerk, because you’re not one.

To know you is to love you. The thing is, you have to give people a chance to get to know you. How you go about accomplishing this task is really up to you. Just make sure you take steps to let people in to your life. In effect, one of your goals in ministry should be to “pour” your life into others.

Befriend the pastor/staff. More likely than not, the staff members with whom you serve really do want to be your friends. They want to know you and to spend time talking with you about stuff unrelated to ministry. You should want to be their friend too. Believe me, they’re the best allys or worst enemys you can have. Take steps to make them your allies.

Don’t compare your ministry to others. Your ministry is unique to you and how God has made you. You’re not called to be the next Billy Graham or Rick Warren. You are called to be the best “you” that you can be. By default your ministry will look different than others. Besides, when we compare our ministry to others we typically compare our weaknesses to their strengths. This will always result in a skewed perspective.

Remember your calling. Your calling (probably) is to minister the Word of God to His people. Your calling is (probably) not to overhaul a church’s policies. Play by their rules. If you’re constantly battling over policies chances are you’re hurting your overall effectiveness in the one area that God called you to: feeding His sheep. P.S. – I say “probably” because there are indeed some people who God called to change church policies. However, far too many ministers think they’re called to that when they aren’t.

written in in ministry

Why Parents Must Mind MySpace

I’ve been saying this for months now, ever since I found out about MySpace.com. Finally MSNBC has put out a piece that deals with the inherent dangers teens face when they share personal information on their MySpace pages. This article was posted by MSNBC on Jan. 27th, 2006 and as of that date they report that,

In the last month, authorities have charged at least three men with sexually assaulting teenagers they found through MySpace.com and just this week police found a missing 15-year-old girl who investigators say was sexually assaulted by a 26-year-old man she met through the site.

The problem is that the vast majority of parents are basically worthless when it comes to keeping up on their children’s internet activities. I’m the minister to a youth group comprised primarily of girls so information like the above quote scares me to death. I don’t know what we as responsible adults can do about this danger besides educate the kids and their parents. Personally, I feel like my hands are tied. Realistically all I can do is spread the word to use extreme caution when sharing info online.

written in in media, parenting

Sometimes I Fake It

(Warning: this post rambles)

This may come as a shock to some of you, but some Sunday mornings I fake it. I fake wanting to be there, I fake wanting to talk to people, I fake my praises. Don’t hear me say that I dislike ministry because I love it, I can’t see myself doing anything else. Similarly, don’t hear me say I dislike Southside Baptist Church, because they’re like family to me. I’ve actually had a person ask me to consider coming and serving at another church as student minister but I turned them down because I love Southside so much. What I mean by “I fake it” is just that; I fake a good attitude.

Why did I fake it today? It all started seven days ago. This past week I worked Sunday through Thursday engaged in the usual pastoral duties: visiting, calling, writing cards, reading, reading, studying, studying, studying. Then Friday (which is usually my day off) I had a great, yet exhausting, time with the students at a local Fun Park for eight hours. Saturday offered no respite because I was in charge of a children’s ministry event, a “winter celebration,” and that was even more exhausting than the student event. So today, when I came to church I had had my fill of being around people. All I wanted was to stay in my office and read. Indeed, that’s just what I did up until the worship service started. I virtually closed myself off in my office until with one minute to spare I bolted down the hallway to the platform where I sit during the morning service.

I knew that if I went into that sanctuary with time to kill I’d get caught up in a conversation filled with pleasantries. The type of pleasantries that people who only speak to each other once a week engage in. This type of conversation, by the way, I have to prepare myself for. It EXHAUSTS me. Some people get energized when they spend time in situations like this. I, however, do not. After a bout of chatting and shaking 100+ hands in the matter of 30 minutes I have to retreat to my solitude like a recluse and recover.

I gave the morning announcements and the invocation prayer with the usual excitement in my voice, but it was faked. I sang all the worship songs as though I’d rather be doing nothing else, faked. After the service I shook hands and told people how good it was to see them, fake, fake. I was faking it all. What did I want most this morning? To be sleeping.

“Normal” people get to choose whether or not they go to church. If they have a cold, they don’t have to go. If they legitimately need to catch up on their sleep, they don’t have to go. But for me it’s not just church. I don’t go there just to lay my worship before the Lord. I go there to work. I go there to earn money. I go there to support my family. It’s my trade. 99% of the time I love my trade. I love it when “work” involves me taking a group of teens to Six Flags Over Georgia. I love it when “work” means I get to go to church and am paid to be there. But sometimes I wish I could just opt out of a Sunday here and there. Sometimes my heart’s just not in my work. In that way I suppose being a minister is just like any other vocation. There are days when you love to work and there are days when you have to work. I suppose I shouldn’t expect ministry to be any different.

In conclusion, I praise God that He’s given me the ability to work and the privilege to work for Him! Though, perhaps we should keep in mind that any job a Christian does he should do it as if working for the Lord. I wonder, does that mean we are to never dislike our work? I think not.

written in in ministry

I Have My Price

I’ve told my youth group this so I have no problem telling you, I’ll do almost anything for the right price. I say “almost” because I won’t do anything immoral or illegal for any amount of money. Examples of things I consider immoral would be self-mutilation, putting myself or others in harm’s way, etc. Otherwise, there’s nothing I won’t do for a certain amount of money. The amount of money, of course, varies based on the thing you want me to do. You want to see me eat brussel sprouts? $5. Eat a hissing cockroach alive? $100. You get the idea. It’s with this concept in mind that I will pose some questions to you, readers.

1) If you were given a choice that upon the flip of a coin you would either get $100,000,000 cash (if it’s tails) or die (if it’s heads) would you do it? Would you take the chance?

2) If you were to be given $100,000,000 in exchange for you leaving the country ALONE and could never return nor contact any family or friends in the U.S. again, would you take the money?

3) If someone offered you $100,000,000 in exchange for sensitive government information (pertaining to the country in which you reside, and assuming you knew something extremely sensitive like codes to nuclear missile silos) would you take the money and become a traitor?

written in in ministry, personal

You Look Good

There are at least three aspects that a blogger needs to consider when creating and writing for his blog: design, content and functionality. We’ve read all about how a blog needs to be functional and how we shouldn’t “worry very much about the design of [our] blog. Image is a fakeout.“ Those things are very true. After all, who wants to read a blog that’s using a font/background that makes your eyes hurt? (That was a jab at all those teens who have ugly Myspace accounts.) And if I can’t figure out where I am or how to get around I’ll probably not come back to a site as often. Also, we must always keep in mind that it’s the content that keeps readers coming back for more. They’re not gonna come back to sit and look at your awesome header graphic you made in Photoshop (I speak to myself here as much as anyone.)

Still, according to new research the design of a blog or web site is actually vital to the site’s success. It’s been shown that potential readers can make snap decisions in just 50 milliseconds upon first seeing a site. That means that no matter how substantial your content is or how easily someone can navigate and use your site, if it’s not aesthetically pleasing chances are you’re not developing the readership you could.

written in in blogging, design

Little Pianist

Little Pianist

Thomas loves playing on the piano. We try to encourage his obvious love of music. For this shot he had already pulled himself up on the bench and began gently tapping away at the keys. He’s so intentional in how he “plays” the piano.

written in in children