Nutty Grace

Last week, we received the results of our younger son’s most recent allergy tests. For those of you who don’t know him, he has quite the laundry list of sensitivities: milk, wheat, egg, soy, peanut and more. Each year his blood is tested for the antibodies that indicate whether or not he is still allergic to those foods.

This year, the doctor added tests for cashew, pistachio, and almond, after our son had a reaction to a snack bar containing those three nuts. You might think, “Shouldn’t he have stayed away from those anyway? He’s allergic to peanuts, right?” Well, peanuts are legumes, not tree nuts, so a peanut allergy is a bird of a different color. People who are allergic to peanuts usually have to stay away from the others because they’re often processed together, and the risk of cross-contamination is high. The bar he ate was from a peanut-free company. He had safely eaten almonds and pistachios before, so we thought he’d be fine. He wasn’t, though. The recent tests showed that our boy is now quite allergic to pistachios and cashews.

Here’s the really nutty part, though: he’s not allergic to pecans. Four years ago, when we bought our house, it did not occur to us that the two, large pecan trees in the back yard might pose a threat to our son’s health. His first allergy test was done two months after we moved in, and Katherine asked the doctor to test specifically for pecans. The result? Negative; the boy regularly enjoys pecan butter on his wheat-free bread.

We don’t know how common it is for someone to be highly allergic to some tree nuts and not at all to another, especially the one that happens to be right above his head. Katherine and I look at it as grace given straight from God to our precious little boy. The next time you see pecans in a bag at the store or in the pie on your plate, take a moment to thank God for such grace!

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How secure are YOU?

Data security is of increasing concern within Wycliffe. From the translation project in a sensitive area of the world to the financial data center, nearly every part of our organization has information to protect. The first word in data security is encryption, the scrambling and obfuscation of data to the point of being unreadable or inaccessible without the right password(s) or key(s). It’s possible to encrypt any form of data, whether it’s your email messages, your connection to a website, a phone call, or the files on your hard drive.

On the Dallas campus, I serve a number of people who need to be concerned about the security of the information that they use and carry with them when they travel. Today, I spoke to a group of Wycliffe counselors who have legal and ethical obligations to protect their client files from prying eyes. Many of them acknowledged that they don’t do nearly enough to secure that information, and they were all interested in what counsel I could give them.

I talked to this group of counselors about two encryption solutions: TrueCrypt encryption software and the IronKey encrypted USB flash drive. The first is free and the second is, well, not so free. Both are excellent. Click on the links to see more information about each. I’ve been practicing using both products lately so that I can be equipped to advise people who need encryption and assist them in putting encryption to use. In October, I plan to present the IronKey product to my peers from around the world at our biannual technical conference. I’ve also been involved in an online discussion about data security with some of those same people. I’m not a security or encryption expert, but I know a good idea when I see it … and use it.

Do you have information that you wouldn’t want someone else to see? Encryption’s not a subject for the timid, but neither’s identity theft. Think about it. If you have a question, post a comment.

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Training can be so much fun

My role in our IT department makes me responsible for our training room, where we have eight “student” computers and a “trainer” computer that’s connected to a projector. We and other people on the campus use this room for small groups that need to learn and practice computer-related tasks. For the past several years, these computers have been running Microsoft Windows 2000, which is approaching the end of its life, so far as Microsoft is concerned.

These computers don’t quite have enough “oomph” to handle Windows XP, which itself is no longer sold in stores, but they are still in decent condition. So I spent part of yesterday and today installing Ubuntu, a free “distribution” of the Linux operating system. Ubuntu does well on both old and new computers, and it has all of the software that the average user might need. In fact, I’m writing this post in Ubuntu, which I have installed on my office laptop.

So what are we supposed to do now if people need training in Windows, or in a program that only runs in Windows? Well, we have a special Windows server that people can log in to from another computer. It has Microsoft Office 2007 installed, as well as several other Windows programs. Our Ubuntu desktops are able to log in to this server, giving our learners the Windows environment they need.

I set up each training computer so that it automatically logs in to Ubuntu when turned on, and I created a desktop shortcut that will log the person straight into the Windows server. After logging off that server, the user can click another shortcut that immediately turns off the Ubuntu computer. The whole process is really easy, and there’s very little that can break or go wrong (famous last words, right?). This setup will allow us to put off the expense of replacing the computers for perhaps another year, while continuing and expanding the opportunities for training.

In case you haven’t guessed, my little project brought me a lot of satisfaction. I can’t wait to announce it to the folks working on the campus. Want to know more? Put your questions in a comment so everyone can benefit.

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