Getting SAASY

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My vocation as a Salvation Army Corps Officer centres on being a pastor and preacher, but (inevitably) there are other duties and roles I have to undertake and fulfil as a Minister of Religion responsible for a worship and community centre in Wallsend. One that doesn’t sit comfortably with me is that of administration and particularly accounting, but it’s a role I have to fulfil in the absence of a treasurer (although I have an excellent Corps Secretary who works with me as a volunteer).

The finance system the Salvation Army uses goes by the wonderful name of Agresso, and is soon to have an upgrade to SAASY (Salvation Army Accounting SYstem) at the start of the new financial year. Today I attended a training day for the new web-based system, with an excellent buffet lunch provided by my Divisional Headquarters. By the end of the excellent training day my eyes had well and truly glazed over, but only because I can only deal with finance in small doses.

So, what’s my initial verdict? Well, it’s a lot for everyone to get their heads around, but I think (ultimately) it will be an improvement all round. I just feel sorry for those who prefer to do their accounting in a ledger with a pen! What are the thoughts of my colleagues?

Be afraid America

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Be afraid America…and the rest of the world. By sacking Attorney General Sally Yates (who acted with integrity in upholding the rule of law and the constitution), replacing her with with a yes man, as well as calling her a ‘traitor’ who’s weak on security, Donald Trump has given notice to all American public servants that if you don’t say what he wants to hear you’ll be fired. This isn’t a TV game show anymore, so be very afraid. There are vital principles at stake here which transcend party politics, and we ignore them at our peril. Truth needs to be held up to power, well done Sally.

Inauguration Day 2017

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Whilst not always agreeing with Barack Obama, I have huge respect for him and his family. He brought intelligence, thoughtfulness, class and grace to the office of President of the United States. These qualities are today being replaced with mediocrity, impulsiveness, crass attitudes and spite. I really hope Donald Trump does well for everyone’s sake, but on the evidence so far I’m not holding my breath. Short and sweet, but that’s all I have to say. God bless America.

Windows Defender

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I have a policy of never paying for anti-virus software; but is this stance justified? Why pay for software when the free Microsoft Defender comes with Windows?

I agree with those who say Defender isn’t the best out there, but it has to be said that no anti-virus software is 100% reliable. Defender’s advantages are that it integrates perfectly with Windows 10, it’s free and it’s not system hogging. I also immunise my PC regularly with SpywareBlaster and scan regularly with Malwarebytes (the free versions of both).

This is how I live with Defender’s limitations. But the best anti-virus protection is the PC user; don’t go to dodgy[dot]com and always pay attention to potential threats. This is my joined up plan around Defender, one that has served me well for many years, and remember that most PCs get viruses (and the like) because of users’ ignorance or gullibility. So, as I often say, ‘Keep up and pay attention’ – security is your responsibility, you know it makes sense.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

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I’ve always had an interest in astronomy; it goes right back to my childhood, and it’s nurtured my love of science as well as my outlook on life. I’ll probably write about it in the future. In the meantime, one of the websites I visit on a daily basis (as well as the BBC and Facebook amongst others) is Astronomy Picture of the Day. Every day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer. I often bookmark some of the best ones, although you need to save the link in the archive rather than the main page (otherwise you get taken back to the main page in future).

Footnote: As I was writing this the death of Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon was announced. “We leave as we came, and, God willing, we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind.” – Cernan’s closing words on leaving the moon at the end of Apollo 17.

Microsoft Windows 10

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I’ve now had experience of upgrading three computers to Windows 10, so I thought it might be helpful to share my thoughts as you may be undecided.

My first upgrade was on a Windows 7 work laptop which I upgraded before the [Get Windows 10] taskbar icon appeared. I started the process on the Microsoft website, and this went smoothly with no problems. My wife Naomi’s Windows 8.1 laptop had been having a few problems and eventually wouldn’t boot up, and so I did a factory reset followed by the Windows 10 upgrade (called a clean upgrade) which again went well.

Things started to go wrong when I was upgrading a work Windows 7 netbook. It was a simple job to backup the files on the netbook to a USB flash drive before doing a clean upgrade. So far so good, and Windows 7 successfully updated to Windows 7 Service Pack 1 (SP1). The problem came when Windows Update froze during the upgrade to Windows 10, and the process wouldn’t complete. A little research (in the form of a Google search) showed this to be a common problem, and a simple manual fix from Microsoft sorted out the problem. On my third attempt Windows 10 installed successfully.

A couple of things are worth mentioning. It’s a good idea to review the default settings in the final stages of the upgrade, and to switch on System Restore when it’s completed (it’s off by default). System Restore is necessary to return your computer to an earlier state after you’ve made changes and can sometime be a life saver. Also, the option to return to your previous version of Windows remains in Settings for a while should you wish to go back.

Windows 10 retains the feel of Windows 7 and integrates the new features fairly seamlessly. The distinctive features of Windows 8 (generally not well-liked by users) are there, but in a restrained way, unless you choose to make them more prominent. In fact, it’s worth finding your way around Windows 10 and tweaking it to your personal taste.

Overall, I think ‪‎Windows 10‬ is a big improvement on both ‎Windows 7, 8 and 8.1, but this is possibly down to personal preference. If you’re upgrading from Windows 7 you’ll find 10 easy to use, and if you don’t like 8 you’ll love 10. However, the free upgrade period has now passed, and the latest version is the Anniversary Update (an improvement on the original release).

Living in a social media bubble

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Oxford Dictionaries decided that the word post-truth (or is that two words?) should be Word of the Year for 2016. They define it as an adjective ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’. Two major news events of 2016 illustrate how untruths (or should I just say lies?) were an an illustration of this; namely, the debate prior to the UK referendum vote to leave the European Union and the campaign that resulted in the election of Donald Trump in the United States of America (even if he didn’t win the popular vote).

Many people were surprised by these two events, and one explanation is the so-called social media bubble. This is a phenomenon which links us to like-minded friends and others; sharing and liking similar news stories, views and opinions. The algorithms of Facebook (and the like) decide our friends for us, those with similar views. Yes, this goes on in the everyday world, but the effect is magnified by the very nature of the medium. Many were surprised by Brexit and Trump because they weren’t aware of many people who favoured them, they just weren’t in their circle of friends, or possibly kept quiet. Add to this the problem of hoaxes, fake news and unreliable quotes, and things can get quite quite messy. What is truth in a post-truth world after all? Falsehoods are easily spread by people unwilling (or too busy) to make a simple check of their veracity – Google can be your friend, or possibly your false-friend in a post-truth world, who knows anymore?

In the space of the last two days I’ve heard both Brian Eno and Laurie Anderson speak about the feature on Amazon that shows what other people bought after you’ve made a purchase. Another example of the bubble effect? Wouldn’t it be better to have a reverse filter suggesting what they didn’t buy? Shouldn’t we be reaching out those with different opinions to our own and seeking to understand? Just my recent reflections, but what do you think? Do you possibly disagree with me? That’s OK, right?