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Review: “For These Tough Times” by Max Lucado

by Benjamin Anderson 23. December 2008 19:10

This book is the perfect companion to the pastor that can’t always speed all of their time with the families going through hard times.  While we all try to be there to encourage and provide supporting comfort to individuals suffering through trials, there are times that we not only can’t be there enough physically, but we also can’t provide adequate answers for the questions at hand.

This small book is a great alternative to just handing over a list of scriptures and a Bible.  Max Lucado walks through multiple individuals in scripture that struggled with the questions that we all have during the hard times.  He also walks the reader through Romans 8 and God’s love and support for us.  The explanations are brief and to the point, allowing them to reach the heart through all the chaotic noise of trauma and tragedy. 

This book isn’t a standard inspirational reader, it is a small 80 page book that is meant to be absorbed quickly and provide answers in places like the waiting room and the court house lobby.  An individual not going through the drama of life’s hardships will not get as much experience from this book as someone already hurting and overwhelmed by lose and confusion.  This book is more an asset for the comforter than it is a book for the everyday Christian.  There are multiple titles already available for individuals that aren’t struggling with the complications of lose and trauma, and those will provide a more meaningful value for learning and discipline than this brief, but purposeful book will provide.

Overall, I feel that this book fills its purpose well, and I would recommend it for anyone that needs a gift to give someone waiting for answers.

 

You can find the book here and here.

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Categories: books | review

Cloud Churches and Their Communities - Questions

by Benjamin Anderson 21. December 2008 18:45

Where does the “Cloud Computing” and “Cloud Community” come into play with the church?  How does it impact the church?  Where will the church itself actually exist in 30 to 40 years?  What will it looks like?  How feasible are church cloud communities now?

These are a couple of questions I’ve been rolling around in my head for the last four or five days.  I’m preparing a post on it, which will be up later this week, but I wanted to posted to questions to get others thinking about it as well.

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Categories: ministry | Cloud Communities | church

Cloud Communities – Part Two

by Benjamin Anderson 21. December 2008 18:40

Cloud communities will begin to alter our interaction with other in our day-to-day routines.  If you look at how the Japanese culture has been overrun by the cell phone and all the standards that have arisen from the innovation there, then you’ll begin to understand the impact that the Cloud Community will have on our lives.  The URL will no longer by the destination or address used in advertisement, nor will the physical address and telephone numbers.  The information will be based off of the 2D and 3D barcodes on the advertisements.  Even television will begin to be altered by the changes.  Why try to dump the contact information on your market and use up space and time that should be used for sharing marketing material?  The recipient isn’t going to remember your contact information or take the time to record it when they are being bombarded by information at every turn.

On top of the marketing material, the marketer has to also consider the community aspect of the campaign.  The viral marketing campaigns used frequently within the last 4 to 5 years have already reached their limits and have saturated the market.  The idea that “any press is good press” is not true, and often times, the more attempts to persuade the consumer a marketer uses, the more the market begins to feel like it is being vomited on.  Good old fashioned word of mouth is going to be the single most affective marketing technique as we move into the cloud community era.  The more friends, co-workers and communities link to each other online, the larger their influence and voice will become.  Not only will individuals influence stick with them as the move from one community to another, but so will the market voice that follows them.

A perfect example of this has already been seen within the last two years.  Microsoft’s Vista campaign wasn’t a failure due to the techniques, the information or even the product.  The campaign failed as a result of communal voice, the media wolf pack ran together and spread the news louder and faster than any marketing campaign with any budget could counter.  The result this time around is that Microsoft has been forced to listen to the voices around the Internet and be more open with it’s progress for Windows 7.  Another aspect of their altered campaign is that they are showing off the improvements and featured in a more controlled environment with the “louder” voices on the Internet.  This helps reign in the mass negative wild fire that spread even before Vista was launched.

So, what does this mean to the smaller businesses, the blogs and the other organizations out there?  Simple, it means that while you might have a loud voice, if you have the influence, there are a lot of other loud voices out there, and your influence is more important than the volume and the information you provide.  The inter-personal relationships and virtual friendships will be more valuable that the money spent doing character campaigns, information dumps and bribing the world towards your side.  Essentially, you have to have friends on your side that have influence themselves.  This also means that fan boys are counterproductive and harmful to your message, because they will push people away and reduce the effectiveness of your communities ability to communicate to the world.

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Categories: business | mental dump | Social Networking | Cloud Communities

Cloud Communities

by Benjamin Anderson 20. December 2008 21:08

Today in technology, one of the most used terms when talking about the progression of computations and technology is “cloud computing” and hosting in the cloud.  “The Cloud” is simply the internet.  It’s the vague-void that exists outside of your physical domain of control.  As a “technologist”, the cloud is something that we have to work with on a daily basis.  It is something that we have to think about, plan around, evaluate and dream about. 

The Web 2.0 movement is often anchored to the social network movement.  At its origins, the social network movement starts long before the Internet became a house hold “utility”.  Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) were used back in the dialup days to link similarly minded technology users with each other and allowed them to chat, post messages, share files and commune with each other.  Then Internet Services Portals and Providers arrived on the scene, and these groups got a little bigger, but were still fairly confined to their physical, local networks of users.  Such services were Prodigy, CompuServe, MSN, and AOL here in the US.  These services took the BBS communities and expanded them to multifaceted groups and allowed for a broader and more general connection with others.  These services offered Bulletin Boards (forums), chat rooms, portal pages with shared links and groups, and eventually instant message services.  Eventually we ended up with generalized Internet access with the Social Networks being completely independent of our access and locations.  MySpace and a slew of other services similar to it have been around since the beginning of connectivity, but within the last year or two, these communities have become the focus of our technology and Internet worlds.

Today, the social networks are just a single companies service.  The “Web 2.0” movement pushed the existing social networks to open up, which makes them less a website or service and more of a platform.  Twitter isn’t a site or a single service in its actual use and significance, it’s the backbone of a network of tools and teams that are evolving our communications and connectivity with everyone around the world.  The communities are now longer just on a couple of servers owned and controlled by a single company that created the platform.  The community itself begins to move, migrate and evolve into a cloud community.

Projects like Open-ID and the other single login movements are not new, but they have not have a fundamental backing or purpose until now.  The lines of ownership are beginning to blur when it comes to the communities.  At the moment Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, MSN, Google, and Yahoo all own the communities and their basis, but in a year or two the dependency on even those services themselves might dissolve.  During this erosion of ownership, there will also be an increase is anonymity and a laps in privacy.  The increase in the ability to bounce around means that not a single corporation will have all of your community records and activity, but at the same time, you will be tagged and traced by a single identity that will uniquely flag you and spot light you in the world-wide crowd.

Your actions in one community and forum can be traced and follow you around to every other community and forum.  Unless you create multi identities, which defeats the purpose of the network, you will have to begin to deal with the consequences of immature and rude behavior.  Trolling would become less carefree, since the actions towards one group would begin to have consequences in the groups that you care about.

There are thousands of people that hate the idea of having a single ID system for those simple facts.  But the reality of the situation in communities is that we are heading that way, and we will end up using it.  The selfish desires of the individual will become less powerful and important on the Internet, just as they have in every other evolution of a society since the dawn of man-kind.  For the health and safety of the community, more and more groups will become more dependent on open identification systems, and even global blacklists.

For individuals that blog and depend on their online personality to make a living, the single identity for multiple communities and sites is a very promising and exciting idea.  It provides the individual the ability to carry over their influence into other groups without having to build it back up as much as they currently do with completely independent sites.  Your title and influence will be linked to your following and the already existing network of contacts.

How do you feel about the impact of the use of open identification systems and single login prospects?  I have very mixed feelings about them.  But the more I evaluate the results and potential of the systems, the more I’m excited about the possibilities.

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Categories: Social Networking

Ministry in a Flat World – Part Two

by Benjamin Anderson 12. December 2008 19:50

The Good

The changes and influences of the world and the information age don’t all negatively impact our ability to minister.  As stated in the previous entry on the topic, the tools that the internet provides make it easier for our leaders and the pastors to keep each other in touch and accountable.  Services like X3Watch and other accountability tools help keep everyone accountable to each other, and protect us from ourselves.  Communities like Facebook and Twitter help keep each of us connected and provide a simple and easy to use tool for share resources, information and planning.

There are hundreds of sites that help with ministry planning, ministry organization, idea and creativity resources and multimedia resources galore. Anytime the week has been to chaotic or hectic to right a sermon or prepare visual aids, there is always a solution found somewhere on the internet.  The online communities allow us all to gauge how the community is doing, what is most affecting them and how we might best impact our fellow believers.  They also offer easy means of providing feedback from the community after events and activities.

The Bad

We all know that the overly connected world can do the exact opposite and be very destructive too.  We hear far too often about an adult being arrested for pursuing a minor or crossing boundaries.  The anonymity of the Internet tends to cause even the most mature adult to regress into their juvenile self and believe that they are invisible to the consequences of their actions online.  The scariest part is when it translates into everyday life and the user’s corruption and baggage online becomes real-world corruption and baggage.

Pride always leads to a downfall, and the large majority of those downfalls are sexual in nature.  When you are too proud to answer to others, to do what is right and to protect yourself, then you are also too good to obey the laws of your heart and the laws of the land.  This translates directly into sexual sin against oneself and others, and then can quickly resolve in to sexual sins involving others.  Sexual sin and pride do not require the Internet to sprout from seeds easily planted in one’s heart, but the Internet, the anonymity and the plethora of porn in every imaginable taste, make it too easy for the seeds of corrupt nature to grow violently.

This is where the honesty and accountability really come into play.  But…  The reality of it is, that if the person, your leader, doesn’t want to get caught, they do have the smoke and mirrors to hide behind now.  They are less likely to get caught surfing for porn and downloading pirated content over the Internet than they are to be caught walking into an adult bookstore or the shady side of the flea market.

The Unsettling

There is also the unsettling part about the Internet.  The information part.  I’m not referring to the information and communities that you don’t agree with, I’m referring to the life and lack of death of information.  Almost everything said and uploaded to the Internet is cache, archived and indexed in some form or fashion.  Every stupid mistake, every angry word, every incriminating photo, and every vocal opinion.  Individuals cannot escape their own sin now.  Not only does the Internet remove the personal connection between people and make it easy to judge them without regard for their well-being, but it also provides a wealth of information from everyone’s past to feed our opinion and desire to judge the “soulless” personality some where out “there”.  We’re so removed and disconnected that even the person down the street can be viewed as an object and not an individual simply due to the proximity vacuum produced by the Internet.

Everyone’s mistakes and pain are indexed and searchable by everyone else on the Internet.  This means that anyone that has ever had a past that isn’t perfect will be haunted by when their move on to do God’s work.

The Baffling

The baffling part is that our reach may extend far beyond our physical community.  Our stray words on our blogs, websites, community forums, and other social networks can spread like wildfire and reach people in other countries, cultures and places in life.  Our light can shine farther and faster than ever before, even in the overly black and life sucking void of the Internet.  Your pray, encouragement and relationship with God can influence someone in Japan, China, South Africa and Chili the same way it can impact your neighbor down the street.  Due to the technical nature of the content of my blog I’ve had several people visit my site from all over the world.  The largest international groups have been from Denmark and Japan, but I’ve had several visitors from Brazil and other countries around the world.

It is just as easy to provide inspiration for believers all around the world as it is reaching your leaders and members of your congregation.  And the larger the impact you have in your local community, the larger the impact you’ll have online.  If you can balance both your communities local relationships and growth with the influence and connectivity within your online community then your impact on the world will become a lasting one with far reaching arms and exponentially warm hearts.

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Categories: mental dump | ministry | church

LINQ Zip Operation

by Benjamin Anderson 11. December 2008 17:10

Every thought about working with elements in two sequences in a aggregated way similar to the way a zipper works with the two panels of teeth?  The Zip operation for LINQ in C# 4.0 will do just that.

 

Bart De Smet’s blog covers the topic: http://community.bartdesmet.net/blogs/bart/archive/2008/11/03/c-4-0-feature-focus-part-3-intermezzo-linq-s-new-zip-operator.aspx

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Categories: .NET

Ministry in a Flat World

by Benjamin Anderson 10. December 2008 20:57

Last semester I took a class on Globalization and Internationalism.  The course covered how the internet and technology has impacted our economy and how our businesses function in a virtually flat world.  Companies like Intel and Texas Instruments have used teams consisting of people all around the world to work on projects 24 hours around the clock for several years now, and as a result of the internet and new technologies even more companies and industries are able to streamline their workflows and take advantage of workforces all around the world.  As a person that has always rode on the very edge of technology my entire life, the changes aren’t a surprise to me, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t unsettling.

I’ve done contract work for the last two to three years to pay off debt I accrued due to my lack of discipline while in Master’s Commission, and it has helped accelerate my ability to pay off my debt.  But doing freelance technical and graphical work for companies has become increasingly difficult to compete for when the customers are aware of how easily they can get help on the other side of the world for a third of the rates.  I’m not going to get into the argument about whether the value is the same, or whether what the companies under financial strain are helping or farther compounding their problems.  That isn’t the discussion here, since it is an extremely small part of the picture.  The point here is that I’ve experienced the impacts of the changes first hand, and I’m well aware of the arguments and issues on both sides.  The over arching issue is that these changes impact everyone, everything and every organization.

Impaired Development

Why are churches and ministries always the last to notice, read or even react to cultural changes when they are constantly trying to find out how to reach everyone? The cultural changes that result from the information age and the virtual flattening of the world have far greater reaches than just impacting out businesses, economy and our schools.  These changes impact our youth faster more more directly than any other age group.  For anyone that works with youth or young adults, this isn’t a surprise because we’ve seen the impact and the exponential change in the culture from year to year.

Statistics have shown that it is increasingly difficult to group the younger generation into generational groups, the groups span fewer and fewer years as the generations get younger.  Similar to the technology growth and evolution, the youth are changing exponentially faster every year.  Watch the following video to get just an idea about what I’m saying. 

So, how does all of this impact ministry?

In order to reach a generation that has more information available to them, being forced feed to them, and producing more information than any generation ever before, we have to change our ministry tactics drastically.  Young Adult ministries (18-30yrs) are just as impacted and dependent on the changes as the youth ministries are.  Frighteningly, the children’s ministries will no be far behind. All of these changes result in individuals that have unlimited connections, unlimited resources and unlimited opinions, but they doesn’t really have stable inter-personal relationships or proper filters in place to help them manage and understand what they truly believe themselves.

Today, more information is shared with people we have relationships with through social networking sights than is ever disclosed in person.  I’m not just talking about the lack of boundary information and TMI factors.  I’m talking about the fact that our friends are more likely to find out what is happening in our lives through Facebook than they are to find out about the events in our life in person through an actual conversation. How can a ministry communicate love, compassion and grace when there isn’t a meaningful connection with a person as a result of the callousness and numbness due to our sensor and mental overload?  How can a personal savor impact a young person’s life, when almost no one is truly a part of their life?  How does a youth in today’s and tomorrow’s culture adapt to exponential changes and develop a healthy and fundamental understanding of God’s creation and compassion when the norm is that even their families are broken, segmented and distant?

The answer is right in front of us.  Ministry isn’t supposed to happen any differently than in did in the first century.  The church isn’t supposed to function any differently than it did in the first century. We’re supposed to build a body, strengthen that body, and grow that body.  But, the big catch is, this will not happen in the traditional church organization.  The Acts church wasn’t an organization that met in a building and had an organized service. The Acts church was a community.  Today’s church body has lost it’s community, and due to the cultural changes, it’s losing it’s body.  When an individual has all the information in the world available to them, a lecture in an organized event in an overly regarded building isn’t going to change their lives.  We all know that it isn’t the service that changes their lives, it’s the Holy Spirit, but we still have to do the work God has called us to do in order for the Holy Spirit to work through us.  The information overloaded will not be susceptible to emotional heart tug that has been used for the last 200 years in evangelical outreaches and services.

Ministry will have to be relationship based process all the way through.  And relationships are formed in services.  You cannot go on top a school campus and find the relationship being built in the classroom during a lecture.  The relationships are formed outside of class, during the passing periods, the lunch break and the group projects.  You won’t find relationship growing and forming in large corporations during the meetings and the conference calls.  They are formed over lunches, during the normal working day, not during the agenda driven information dumps dictated by the few and participated in by the many.  How can a church expect to grow when their ministry consists of the lecture and then meeting?  Just because we have collective music performances and cram people in closely together doesn’t mean that relationships are forming.  Many times these environments hinder the ability to form relationships, even if the both individual was outgoing and hungry to connect with others.

Ministries need to focus their efforts more on the picnic, the party, the restaurant, and yes, even the bar in order to become relevant to the future.  Sadly the churches have more to change and need to change more than businesses and schools do.  Secular culture has been faster and more willing to adapt to these changes than the church has been willing and capable of doing. 

It isn’t the message, it’s the messenger

In the mind of a calloused and numbed individual heavily involved in the riches of the informational age, the church consisted of a bunch of stuck up, ignorant, hot-headed, hypocritical, conservative jerks. Why would our information every alter that opinion when there are more voices and louder voices in the infinite stream of information known as the Internet continuing to perpetuate that view?  The only way that you can break through the falsehoods is to exactly and realistically depict Christ’s love for them in real life.  No amount of information or emotional service will overcome the pain and damage caused by the false information available every where else and the hypocritical messenger found in all the other places.  The youth and young adults have to be met and attracted to Christ through their personal and unworldly interaction with loving born-again Christians.  That means making the decision now to do exactly what Christ command us to do and love our neighbors.  That means making the decision now to set aside your judgments of others and love them regardless of their past and present in hope that their future will be one you’re more than willing to love.

That means that we cannot and will not be able to depend solely on the paid ministers in our churches.  There are not enough of them!  It takes too much work and too many people to reach individuals through meaningful and real relationships.  That means that the Pastors’ job isn’t to preach, lecture and teach, it’s the lead.  The members are the ministers.  Those paid staff members jobs are to guide, assist and disciple leaders and members so that they do the ministry.

I don’t see the church in its current form lasting much longer beyond the life of my parent’s generation.  The rituals will very quickly be abandoned and the organizations die out, all due to the reprogramming of the world’s wild web of information.  The virtual friend has more authority and input in our youth’s life now than our church and even their parents have in their life.  And as a result changes have to be made in order to break through the fuzz filter put around their minds that is grown and developed from all of the noise and garbage accumulating in their minds.

The message hasn’t changed.  The message won’t change.  Christ hasn’t changed, and he won’t change.  But our means of delivering the message have to change.  Who is delivering the message has to change.  Personally, every Christians’ reason for carrying and delivering the message has to change.  We can’t focus on a seeker sensitive method any more, because not everyone is seeking.  The ministering will be based on our ability as believers to understand our own message and focus on living that message.  This creates a taster-sensitive ministry, which is exactly what the non-Christian will be in 20-30 years. 

Real-Time Jesus

At this point it appears to be almost impossible to minister to everyone, because leaders in the church already know it’s impossible to get even the majority of members actively involved in church.  How do we continue to grow and minister when so much of our body consists of just consumers?  Simple.  Exponentially multiple the providers.  We already know and use the largest provider in the known universe as our provider, and so long as we constantly depend on God to provide for us we won’t fall short of resources there.  But, that doesn’t explain how to exponential grow our ministers.

How do we grow, and grow exponentially? The same way our youth and young adults continuously overwhelm themselves with information and shallow virtual relationships.  Use the tools and social networks.  Follow your friends, respond to your friends, and actively pursue them as disciples.  I don’t suggest you run them off due to your expectations and pressures, but tools like Twitter, Facebook and MySpace can help you gauge how your members and disciples are doing.  Those tools can also help you plan one-on-one relationship building times, easily provide the means to delivery personal encouragement and love, and the opportunity to network and exponentially expand that net of love and compassion.

These tools also allow the Pastors to gauge and guard their leaders and their discipleship of others.  When the disciples of the disciples begin to disciple other disciples, communities like Facebook and communications tools like IM, email and Twitter allow one individual to quickly connect and gauge the health and growth of the body they are responsible for.

An SMS message to everyone in a persons phonebook is the fastest way to emotional dump a shocking situation on the world, but it is also the church’s easiest means of quick response too.  Prayer networks will never form faster than what you’ll see through SMS, twitter and Facebook when the recipients are compassionate, loving brothers and sisters of a single body.

Side Note

Unless you already have a large online presence and a relatively active and young congregation, I would not recommend attempting to create your own private online community.  It will not offer enough benefit to the general member for the project to be successful.  If you chose to create such a network start with the leaders first and get them involved, including moderating responsibilities and other roles, so that it is as much their project as it is the church’s.

I would not discourage having a blog or community forum for your leaders after you have a larger number of leaders who are all actively involved and own the ministry in their own way.  Communal ministries cannot form and grow while one person is the face of the community.  The other leaders have to be as much a part of the ministry as the pastor is because the leaders can feel that the cost of participation in another online community is worth their effort.

 Part Two

I'll continue this discussion in part two with "How does the "Flat" world change our ministry".

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Categories: ministry

Crazy Evening.

by Benjamin Anderson 8. December 2008 18:53

Weather.com’s note for my area:

Tornado Warning until 12 am CST Tuesday

  • A tornado has been sighted or indicated by radar in your area - seek shelter immediately!
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    Categories: life

    Is it time to get good at functional programming?

    by Benjamin Anderson 5. December 2008 18:42

    Dr. Dobbs had an article posted this week about the need for a larger and greater understanding of functional programming in order to correctly develop and program in the emerging parallel environments of the future.  With every chip manufacture adding more and more cores to their processers in order to increase the throughput of their platform.

    While I understand where the article is coming from, I don’t agree that FP is the future.  FP has a very distinct and and specific field of use in areas where processes can be cleanly defined and work in a workflow without interruptions.  The majority of applications that will need to take advantage of the multiple cores and multi-threading will have to be done through threading and standard stateless functional systems, due to the nature of the software.  Information services and data models can fit into FP models, but the processes and user interactions can’t be crammed into a singular workflow.  Things that depend on a stand dataflow will work great for FP on multi-core systems, but stand data flows cannot encompass a user.

    Introducing the human into the mix severely limits the ability to solely develop in a FP model without becoming extremely inefficient.

    There are several efforts to make functional languages a mixture of state-full and stateless to make them more efficient and allow for better management of exceptions, errors and the human user, but there is still a lot of work that has to be done and even more techniques and methods to be learned and used before the changes can work their way our of research and academia.

    MS has been doing a lot of research in this area for F# and other functional areas, and Brian Beckman discusses some of those things on the Channel9 site in a two part interview. Part 1 Part 2

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    Categories: Programming | theory

    brand new beginnings, a second time

    by Benjamin Anderson 4. December 2008 18:58

    Well, I have finally moved to a new blog platform, which means I’ll write more.  I absolutely hated working with the old platform I was using.  The only thing that has prevented me from migrating was finding a blog that would work on my server correctly, had the customization I wanted and was scalable.  I finally ended up going with the .NET BlogEngine.

    It’s not as nice as WordPress or MovableType, but it runs and runs with minimal effort.  MovableType did run, but it would have taken too long for me to get things up and running, and half of the things I wanted to do with it weren’t working correctly.  ActivePerl didn’t have or wouldn’t work correctly with some of the XML packages needed for several of the newer plugins and features I wanted to use.

    Moving to the .NET BlogEngine means that I’m giving up the PHP and perl platforms that I was going to work with, and started migrating my old sight towards .NET, but it took almost no setup to get running.  I unzipped it, changed the theme and it was ready to roll.  Three hours of work max.  I spent 24 working MovableType before trying WordPress again, and I couldn’t ever get the PHP for WordPress running with FastCGI correctly on IIS.  In the end, I just gave in and tried .NET BlogEngine.

    So, things might start to roll out a little faster now that I’m on a platform that just works with the tools I use and has the features I like and want.

     

    Just for reference, my old blog is still available until I migrate the information from it: http://www.benanderson.net/blog

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    Categories: life | blogging

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    About the author

    Benjamin is a software developer in the DFW area.  He spends his free time playing video games, programming, doing graphics design and photography, and reading.

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