Friday, February 24, 2012

Taking a Small Bite out of a Big Microsoft (Office Live to 365)

We were fairly content as Microsoft customers.  We had three domains through Office Live, and we had been with Microsoft for years.  Then, out of nowhere earlier this year, Microsoft announced they were transitioning to a new system, and that existing customers would not only have to pay a monthly fee (that's excusable in my mind), but that we would have to manually transfer all our website content and e-mails to the new system.  According to Microsoft, one should expect each transition to take at least a few hours; it's not a simple process. On top of it all, we only had a couple months to make the move.

In fact, the whole transition process from Office Live to 365 seems remarkably slipshod and convoluted. Why can't Microsoft make something that works seamlessly--like say, an Apple product?  I've always been ambivalent towards Microsoft, but now I'm starting to see them as increasingly irrelevant.  On top of that, they've managed to really alienate longtime customers this time 'round.

I tried to begin the transition process a couple times, but, let's face it, I'm an English major--not a techie.  I was getting frustrated enough to write on the topic in my silly blog, The Restless Auditor.  I gave it my best, and I even inquired into hiring someone to make the changes for me.  Then, I lost all patience that remained...

Finally, I decided to explore alternative solutions.  Through chat boards like this one, I heard of other options which were not only arguably better and more user friendly, but they were also FREE.  As a state government worker and writer on the side, I particularly like the free part!

For some mysterious reason, a lot of smart people have been asking me for advice on this transition.  So, I thought I'd outline what I did.  If you have any questions, feel free to let me know.  They're free--as long as you follow my blog(s).  (Just kidding.)  

Keep in mind that this is very rough.  These are just the broad brush strokes of a somewhat complicated painting, and it just outlines one direction you may wish to pursue.  By the way, you can check out our sites at Karl Erickson and Kimberly Erickson.  (My site, in particular, remains a work-in-progress.)

1.  Backup important e-mails and consider saving a copy of your websites onto your hard drive.

2.  Go to manage domains section of your Office Live account.  Initiate the domain transfer to Melbourne IT.

3.  Create the user account at Melbourne IT and go ahead and activate the DNS Management option setting under "Manage Services."  (You may wish to transfer your domains at some point to a site like  You'll find that they're cheaper--but the transfer process can be time-consuming when things don't go right.)

4.  Go to, and follow the simple directions to create a new website--for FREE!

5.  At this point, I just copied some information over from the original site to the new Weebly pages.  (This worked especially well for artwork and other images.)

6.  Once done at Weebly, go ahead and cancel your Office Live account.  Be prepared to lose your e-mailing ability from those accounts soon.  (There was a 24-hour delay, or so, for me.)

7.  Follow the clear directions at Weebly to setup your Google App domain e-mail for FREE--depending on number of users.

8.  The Google App process is not bad, and their support is actually quite good.  (I was surprised to receive a call from one of their polite technicians--with a British accent no less.)  If you encounter problems, my suggestion is to take a break and come back to it the next day.  

10.  Remember to keep track of the usernames and passwords you decide upon, and don't be afraid to follow the instructions for contacting their support.

11.  My one suggestion for Weebly and Google Apps' required domain verification is to read the Weebly instructions carefully.  They really did a great job at making a powerful yet intuitive user interface accompanied by remarkably understandable instructions; they're in English!

10.  When you're ready to flip the switch and turn on your domain, you just need to follow the DNS instructions in order to basically project your Weebly website onto your domain.  This may take a few hours before it's up.  I did it the night before, then it was up the next morning.  

Hope this helped!  Don't forget...Weebly may wobble, but it won't fall down.  (Sorry, couldn't resist!)

Monday, February 20, 2012


Kimberly's photo of rock cliff face in area of Seal Rock, Oregon.
We're happy to announce that we have updated websites today.  Hope you can drop by and introduce yourself!  

Karl Erickson

Kimberly Erickson

By the way, please note that communicating with us might be a bit more challenging, because we said goodbye to several e-mail addresses that we've had for years.  Although I can't say it was exactly intentional, the streamlining may prove beneficial.  If you'd like to get hold of us, one of the best ways is to go to the contact page of our websites.  Those messages will be directly relayed to us.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

God's Love & True Love

Well, better late than never, as they say.  (I suppose this might have been better timed for Valentine's Day.)  In a similar vein as "Closer than a Brother," I wanted to pause and offer a few short reflections

The first reflection focuses on what's often derided as a romantic cliche.  It's the idea that there is one person for you, your own mister or "Mis'ess" right.  A number of intelligent people have made the argument that married couples could find happiness with any number of people, and that the idea of that "perfect match" is overly romantic, betraying a naive worldview. 

I'm not sure why this particular opinion rankles my brain, but perhaps it's because I believe the opinion itself to be employed as a kind of dismissive excuse.  In a day and age where divorce is skyrocketing and broken families are becoming the norm, I think it's time well spent to examine the argument's reasoning.

First, the argument opposing the idea of that perfect someone relies heavily upon the hypothetical.  In my mind, it's also an example of circular reasoning.  That is, the argument goes that any one of us could be happy with any number of partners, so why give thought to that special someone?  It's a kind of intellectual arrogance based upon an error in logic.  Because, of course, the obvious error is that we cannot really ever know this supposition to be true or false; it's an opinion based upon a hypothetical existence--i.e. an existence or reality that does not in itself exist.  

I suppose the counter argument could be made that a person who has lived long and survived past spouses might have some particular insight on this topic.  Even there, however, we are not islands.  People affect and change us.  The older woman who is happily married to her second or third husband is not necessarily the same person she was when she married her first.  

So, in one real sense the argument appears to be rooted in a false idea of reality vs the hypothetical, an argument that gives more weight to the unreal than the real.  As mentioned before, I also sense it's a line of reasoning brought forth by people who may be struggling with guilt, infidelity, or even jealousy.  In my mind, at least, it seems to open the door to a brave new way of looking at relationships.  Yet, the view that tries to systematically tear away at the magic may hide something darker at its own core.  

Second, I think the argument betrays a misunderstanding of the nature of God and eternity.  That is, if God is eternal and outside of time, He has foreknowledge of our choices.  The foreknowledge doesn't suggest influence, but it implies a single reality, what becomes with the passage of time an historical truth.  If we agree that the best scenario, with regards to romantic love, is one man and woman united in marriage for life, then this suggests there is indeed a special person, set aside as it were, for us.  My reasoning may not be particularly airtight, but I offer this as food for thought concerning how God shows His love of us through others.

Not to widely digress here, but the second observation concerns other ways where God can pass along His love and care of us in a unique way.  I am a firm believer that animals can play a special role in ministering to us at times of great stress.  When a close relative of mine passed away last year, for example, I found myself standing at a fence with a couple horses on the other side.  One of these beautiful creatures came over to where I was and put its head over the fence and laid it against my chest, just leaving it there for a few moments.  The friends who were with me at the time were astonished, remarking that this horse did not get along with people in general--especially strangers.  It was kind of like God placing His hand on my shoulder and saying that all would be well.  It meant a lot, and it still does.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Coercive Attack on Free Speech

Last Friday evening I had the opportunity to interview a man whom I've known for some time.  (Unfortunately, he needs to remain anonymous.)  He currently serves in the Army as a Chaplain Candidate.  He has very strong feelings about what is happening to our First Amendment rights, but, in case you've missed some of the news, let's begin with some quick background.

An important part of President Obama's mandated health care plan has become the controversial requirement that all insurance plans must soon include contraception, abortion, and sterilization benefit options.  Then, just last Friday, a "compromise" was offered with regards to religious organizations--but we'll get to that later.  

I'd like to focus on one dimension of this debate that has become increasingly chilling to those for whom Free Speech is a sacred and treasured right.  It's happening in the military.  Recently, Archbishop Timothy Paul Andrew Broglio, overseeing the military chaplains, had planned to distribute a letter to Catholic chaplains to be read to their congregations in Mass.  The letter was an eloquent and powerful protest of the the administration's health mandates, and was written by Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Phoenix Diocese.  When the Chief of Chaplains, Donald Rutherford, got wind of the contents of the letter, he forbade it from being read in Mass.  Here is an excerpt of the letter in question, the letter that could not be read in churches presided over by Catholic chaplains who served in the US Army.

We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law.  People of faith cannot be made second-class citizens. ... In generations past, the Church has always been able to count on the faithful to stand up and protect her sacred rights and duties. I hope and trust she can count on this generation of Catholics to do the same.  (Letter quoted in its entirety at the end of the blog.)

So, mandated health care is bad enough, but there is something perhaps even more chilling, Orwellian even, when we have the US military dictating what can and cannot be said within a voluntarily attended religious service.

At the conclusion of the following interview, I will offer a few more thoughts on the purported health care compromise.

1.   Why should we all care about the Health Care Mandate, and how does the birth control requirement effect free speech?

The precedent here goes far beyond the issue of contraception.  There’s also the issue of the abortive medications as well and sterilization.  The intrusion of federal government into the free exercise of religion is unprecedented.  I don’t know of other cases of this happening in the USA before.  I’m familiar with examples of this with regards to Russian history and in Germany...
To require anyone to purchase a product is unconstitutional, and this takes away a freedom.  To coerce people to go against their beliefs in these's forcing people to violate either the law or their conscience--effectively removing them from their ministry and service  If we violate our conscience, we are turning against the nature of God and ignoring the very mission of God in following Christ.  

According to Dr. Richard Land, President of the Southern Baptist Convention, Christians will be jailed if Obama has his way.

      2.  What do you think is behind this action?  Does this reflect a larger agenda, or open the door to more serious troubles down the road?

The issues raised are so troubling that I find myself questioning what I'm doing in the Army.  I'm nervous about the future.

While Broglio and Rutherford are both Catholic, it's important to understand that the Chief of Chaplain's position is not one of shepherding; that is not, and never was, Rutherford's job.  In fact, this high position could belong to anyone of any faith tradition.  This is more than an internal disagreement within the Catholic Church.  

Someone higher up obviously wanted the Chief of Chaplain's to intervene and stop this letter from being read from the pulpits.  It's one thing for the command structure to direct a chaplain to say or not say something at a public ceremony, because the chaplain is representing the state.  When voluntary services are held, however, the chaplain is no longer representing the state.  The government has no authority there.  For the government to come into a religious service and censor what's said from the pulpit is just unbelievable.        

3.  What are your thoughts on today's "compromise"?

The President is getting a lot of flack for this, and it's not going away.  The references to a doesn't appear to be a compromise at all.  It's the principal of a thing, and not the logistics of it.  The references to a compromise doesn't make it a compromise.  Pushing this issue seems to run counter to the President's own party.  The political fallout is too great, and he's trying to backpedal.

Calling it a compromise is an empty and lawyerly gesture.  First Amendment rights shouldn't have to be compromised.

4.  Some have commented that the Army seems particularly soft when it comes to issues like this.  Do you think the Army has become too "touchy-feely?"

Well, there are definitely different cultures within different branches of the service.  There are different cultures even in the same service--support and logistics versus the foot soldier, for example.  My sense with regards to the Marines, for instance, is that they tend to be more professional; no one cares about your feelings there.

5.  Any parting thoughts on this freedom of religious speech issue?

The Chief of Chaplains may not have realized the gravity of his objections.  It could have been an honest mistake, but a person at this level should know better.  He should be acting as an advocate for the chaplains against governmental intrusion and political correctness.  Using his governmental authority to trump the bishop's authority clearly sets an awful precedent.

(Interview Conclusion)

I find the mandated health care compromise foolish on multiple levels, but it also offers fascinating insight into our opponents' thinking.  I believe they really thought the act of pushing the mandate off upon the insurance companies was a perfect solution, but it reveals such a shallow grasp of ethical thought that it would be humorous--if this weren't such a serious Free Speech battle.  

As it was described in the interview, it's very "lawyerly" indeed.  In fact, that's the perfect word to describe it.  First of all, it suggests that all Christians care about is appearances--the letter of the law so to speak.  It's embracing the line of misguided reasoning that says you can do whatever you wish on Sunday, but, come to work, you better not let religion color your thought or actions.  Of course, if it doesn't color our thoughts and deeds, it's hardly worth the time, is it?  As any person of faith knows, living a life of faith is all about the struggle to infuse every part of one's being with the grace and message of our Savior.  We're not looking for excuses; we're looking for truth and lives of meaning.  

It's a clear case of cause and effect.  Having the insurer, provided by the religious employer, covering inherhently immoral practices (clearly opposed by the employer on religious grounds) still creates a situation where the religious institution is facilitating an intrinsically evil act.  The link is still plain as day, and that link should not be permitted under any circumstances.

The lawyerly compromise from the current administration also fails to recognize or acknowledge the actual financial relationships here.  The insurance company has been contracted by the religious institution to provide services.  To say that the insurance company will provide those services for free is silly--the difference will be made up elsewhere.  What's being proposed is a meaningless distinction that would only afford peace of conscience to the most shallow and unreasoning of believers.  As Jimmy Akin pointed out on Friday in National Catholic Register, it's not like the insurance companies print money; it has to come from somewhere.  This is a classic shell game, and those of faith are the "marks."  (As an aside, it's important to note that we haven't even scratched the surface when it comes to religious institutions who are self-insured.)

I would like to conclude by pointing out that President Obama has made his opposition to faith and Christianity abundantly clear now.  Personally, I don't see how a Christian--let alone an informed Catholic--in good conscience could vote for him.  His aim seems to be to make it as easy and convenient as possible to destroy the lives of the unborn, served up upon the altar of Moloch.     

...But the worshippers of Moloch were not gross or primitive. They were members of a mature and polished civilization abounding in refinements and luxuries; they were probably far more civilized than the Romans. And Moloch was not a myth; or at any rate his meal was not a myth. These highly civilized people really met together to invoke the blessing of heaven on their empire by throwing hundreds of their infants into a large furnace. We can only realize the combination by imagining a number of Manchester merchants with chimneypot hats and mutton-chop whiskers, going to church every Sunday at eleven o'clock to see a baby roasted alive.  (Everlasting Man, by G.K. Chesterton)

Further reading offered in three categories:

1.  Religious 

Catechism of the Catholic Church

Humanae Vitae

Father Tim Mockaitis interview (touched on some related issues)

2.  Political and free speech

United States Bill of Rights

United States Constitution

3.  My Related blog posts

Just a Stay-at-home Mom

What is the Legacy of Margaret Sanger

A Few More Words on Sanger--and Life

Bishop Olmsted's Letter

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

I write to you concerning an alarming and serious matter that negatively impacts the Church in the United States directly, and that strikes at the fundamental right to religious liberty for all citizens of any faith. The federal government, which claims to be “of, by, and for the people,” has just dealt a heavy blow to almost a quarter of those people - the Catholic population - and to the millions more who are served by the Catholic faithful.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced last week that almost all employers, including Catholic employers, will be forced to offer their employees’ health coverage that includes sterilization, abortion- inducing drugs, and contraception. Almost all health insurers will be forced to include those “services” in the insurance policies they write. Almost all individuals will be forced to buy that coverage as a part of their health insurance plans.
In so ruling, the Administration has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics our Nation’s first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty. As a result, unless the rule is overturned, we Catholics will be compelled either to violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees (and suffer the penalties for doing so). The Administration’s sole concession was to give our institutions one year to comply.

We cannot - we will not - comply with this unjust law. People of faith cannot be made second class citizens. We are already joined by our brothers and sisters of all faiths and many others of good will in this important effort to regain our religious freedom. Our parents and grandparents did not come to these shores to help build America’s cities and towns, its infrastructure and institutions, its enterprise and culture, only to have their posterity stripped of their God given rights. In generations past, the Church has always been able to count on the faithful to stand up and protect her sacred rights and duties. I hope and trust she can count on this generation of Catholics to do the same. Our children and grandchildren deserve nothing less.

Therefore, I would ask of you two things. First, commit ourselves to prayer and fasting that wisdom and justice may prevail, and religious liberty may be restored. Pray the rosary, asking Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Patroness of our Nation, to intercede for us. Without God, we can do nothing; with God, nothing is impossible. Second, I recommend visiting, to learn more about this severe assault on religious liberty, and how to contact Congress in support of legislation that would reverse the Administration’s decision.

United in prayer and in confidence in God’s mercy, I remain Sincerely yours in Christ,

Thomas J. Olmsted Bishop of Phoenix

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Reflections Upon Laughter

It's a funny thing, but most people who know me in an official capacity (that is, the office), think of me as a very serious and focused individual.  This makes sense, of course, because work is our professional side.  I can't imagine having my identity tied-up with my profession of number-crunching.  In fact, I'd say that my work right now I think is a sure sign that God indeed has a marvelous sense of humor.

For me, at least, humor is an important outlet in keeping things in their proper perspective.  In the past, I was able to explore the humorous side in my children's books: Tristan's Travels and Toupee Mice (coming later this year).  Today, I have my silly blog: the Restless Auditor (for an older audience).  I suppose this kind of thing might be referred to as sublimation by some out there--e.g. I can't wear a dead chicken on my head at the office, so writing silly and zany stuff is a positive outlet.

There's probably some truth in that, but I think, in a more significant sense, good humor offers us a glimpse of ourselves in a larger context than our daily life.  Let's face it, being able to laugh at yourself is certainly a sure sign in favor of sanity.  In this day and age, I'd say that humor gives us both this ability to stand back and laugh, which comes down to perspective and balance, as well helping us cope with uncomfortable or stressful situations.

As a child, for instance, I relied on humor as a way to see me through childhood as an overweight kid of divorced parents in a town that I felt, at times, was a backwards joke.  (My views have softened since on my hometown.)  Faith was more important, but the humor seemed to go hand-in-hand with it at times.  It was like God was reminding me that I would not be in junior high forever.  Being the class clown was not always a good experience, but it was a tool to help me cope.  

I think too often we try to exclude or push away humor as unimportant or trivial or in bad taste.  Of course, many times humor does cross that line of good taste, but it doesn't have to do so.  I have a number of very serious-minded friends who seem to avoid reading fiction or humor, because, I think, they see it as serving no purpose.  I guess a laugh or a good story are not a purpose in and of themselves, pointing to the mystery and depth of us as people created in the image of God.

It's interesting to pause and reflect on how great Catholic writers of the past have used humor.  Flannery O'Connor's characters, for instance, are cases in point of tragic humor.  For instance, who can forget Hazel Motes in "Wise Blood?"  He refuses to acknowledge that everything he does is a frantic search or flailing for Christ's truth.  His desperation becomes comic as much as it is tragic at its core.  Redemption is something Hazel can't bring his conscious to ever accept, but his subconscious certainly recognizes its presence.  

I'd say that there is also a deep humor running through much of G.K. Chesterton's works.  It's like he's pointing fun at the world, while, at the same time, acknowledging the seriousness of it all, as well.  Particularly strong  examples of this would be The Man Who was Thursday and The Everlasting Man.  Chesterton and Flannery O'Connor aren't the only great Catholic writers to be associated with humor--Hilaire Belloc would be another whose cutting satire and irony reflected a greater truth.  (Someday, I'd like to talk to Dr. Joseph Pearce about Shakespeare's use of humor.)

Of course, not all humor is going to rise to such a powerful level, but it can, and it does.  Laughter can be a cathartic tool in helping people deal with hardship, and it doesn't have to be limited to a clown visiting the hospital.  Humor and laughter aren't just for children either.  I'll conclude with an observation from Chesterton.  That is, God's humor is evidenced by His creation.  In other words, if you watch some birds or animals (or neighbors) you can't come away with any other sense that God must be smiling .  An entirely serious God would have no business creating the clown fish or tufted puffin, after all.