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Chris Powell

A Darth Vader Piñata

A Darth Vader Piñata

I had planned to go to the cabin this weekend but last week Chris Powell came into my office and asked if he could borrow Mark this weekend.  A good parent would have gotten some details but I said, “Sure, what do you need him for?”  Chris said, “A human piñata”.  Sounds reasonable to me.

Later I asked, why Mark was going to be beaten with sticks and I found out he was planning to have a Star Wars themed birthday party for his six year old and he needed someone for them to hit with lightsabers and he thought Mark could take the punishment and be Darth Vader.

Now that is some fine birthday planning folks.  Not only is Chris putting on a good party but he has outsourced the pain to someone else.  Of course it isn’t all good.  We had a heated discussion at the office when we found out that Chris is not sending home party bags.  Chris’ weak argument is that parents and even kids hate bags full of toys that are designed to break in the car ride home.  If they do make it inside, parents just step on them and hurt themselves.

To that line of reasoning we say, “I want a guy with a parachute to throw down the stairs”.  That and Mark is now available to be rented out for beatings at your own kids party.

Getting to know Chris Powell

Here is a video that I shot of Chris Powell that explains a bit of his accent (he is from Georgia) and why he works at The Lighthouse.


Earlier this week Wendy called me from Safeway and said that a guy that knew me was homeless and needed help.  I had dealt with him for years at The Salvation Army but they wouldn’t let him stay because he didn’t have funding and he didn’t have any money.  I know him pretty well, we had our ups and downs but we got along together, he posed no threat to anyone, and I liked having him around.  It was the end of the day and I told the staff that when he came in, he was the kind of guy who like to help out so find some task to cover his stay.  If he did work for an hour, he would be fine.

The next morning I came in and he was gone.  He had cleaned for three hours (he got on a roll) and had gone to day labour early.  I heard the same thing each morning.  He had shown up, worked really hard cleaning, was pleasant, and had taken off to work early that morning.

Yesterday was stressful but Chris, DeeAnn and I took off to pick up Tara Funk at the airport and had a fun lunch with her.  As we were back at The Lighthouse, there were all sorts of arguments breaking out.  As Chris was out trying to deal with one, the guy we had been helping came in.  I was happy he had come in early but in reality  Chris and I were there late and I had lost track of time.  As Chris was restoring order, the client and I went into my office and sat down to chat.

Chris joined us and we had this fantastic talk.  The client always lives on the edge of the streets, almost always in a shelter and for the last two weeks has been homeless.  So Chris and I listened, talked, and figured out a way to house him in the short term and also the long term.  He did something that kind of shocked me, he sighed.  You could just see the stress leave him.  He had a big smile and walked out relaxed.

The weird thing is that like a lot of people we have been dealing with lately, they don’t fit the system and what I keep learning is that you have to decide to house them first and then figure it out how to do it later.  There is funding, behavioral, and location issues that have to worked out but once you decide we are going to find a place to house him, it’s relatively easy.  The guy that we helped tonight isn’t a bad guy, he’s actually a really good human being and has done well with the front desk staff at The Lighthouse.  My life is actually better off from knowing and helping him but he will be able to fit into housing without some help and today it was very rewarding to give him that help.  It was also even more rewarding that I was able to do it with some other’s help.

So that didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped

So the saga of the computer lab is ongoing.  As you recall, I installed Windows XP and Open Office on a P4 Dell several months ago as the start of a computer lab at The Lighthouse.  For an internet connection, I bought three of these low profile wireless connections from OTV in Saskatoon with the idea of installing three desktops out there.  My thinking was that with the low profile adapters, they wouldn’t be noticed and why would someone steal the one piece of equipment needed to get online.  I was wrong.  They were all stolen.  When they weren’t being stolen, clients would do anything they could to make sure others couldn’t get online.  It was frustrating.

As I wrote recently, Chris Powell’s solution was Joli OS which was an elegant and functional Linux solution but when we went to install a wifi card into the machine today, it only accepted Windows drivers so back to Windows XP we go.   The plan is to install Windows SteadyState on them.

SteadyState provides simple control of more than 80 restrictions covering both individual users as well as the system as a whole. Many of these settings are based on Windows’ Group Policies, while others are implemented by SteadyState itself. Using SteadyState, an administrator can forbid a user from performing actions that may be undesirable for that environment. Some settings include the ability to turn off the control panel, disable registry editing tools, disable the command prompt, and stop the user from executing batch files or programs not in the windows or program folders.

We’ll see how this goes, shortly after Windows XP installs about 300 updates.  Now I need to figure out how I keep the speakers from being stolen.

Two connected projects at The Lighthouse

I wrote about the computer lab we are trying to set up at The Lighthouse.  We used Windows XP and it went about as poorly as expected.  Residents changed the settings, stole the wireless dongle, took the speakers, and basically trashed the system.  For version two, Chris Powell suggested we use Joli OS which is a Ubuntu fork that is designed to create a fast version of Linux to run on netbooks.  The interface is similar to iOS which he argued was different enough from Windows to avoid confusion.  We installed it on a Dell Optiplex P4 and while the installation wasn’t smooth, it did work.

A screenshot of the Joli OS desktop

The other alternative that people set up was Chromium and it was too difficult to install to be an option.

With this option hopefully working better than Windows, the next project has been to do some resume and employment search help.  In addition to writing a resume, we will be helping anyone who wants to set up a profile on  It only takes a couple of minutes to set up and guys like Jeff Jackson use it really effectively as a personal website.  Employment will be the first step that many of our residents will need to take to leave the emergency shelters and any help we can give them makes a difference.

The Lighthouse Staff Blog

When I started at The Lighthouse, I was caught on what was the best way to communicate with the staff.  I didn’t want to use memos and while email works, I wanted something that would keep a narrative of where we started from.  I set up an intranet with Google Sites and while it was impressive, I didn’t think it would get checked enough and was a bit of a pain to post stuff too.  I finally settled on setting up a password protected staff blog using Blogger.  It took about 2 minutes to set up and invite the staff to.  Another 60 seconds and I had invited Chris and DeeAnn to post to it as well.

The response to reading it was good but there were some technical difficulties.  Once those were settled it will be even more productive.  The main technical obstacle is staff forgetting their passwords at home and then wanting to read it at work.  That was solved by setting up a generic account that can be accessed by anyone at work to read it.

We are only six posts into it and I am not sure what the end result will be but the hope is that it will be a resource that will bring staff up to speed quicker and give them a better feel for the ethos, feel, and personality of The Lighthouse quicker than ever before.

With it being so easy to set up and publish to, I am surprised that more employers aren’t using internal blogs more.  I have loved the idea ever since I heard of the idea of Blogger in Google shortly after Google acquired Google.

Blogger in Google Screen Shot

From MacWorld:

"Google Inc., which implemented an internal Web log system behind its firewall about 18 months ago, has seen tremendous benefits from it and may in the future consider providing tools and expertise for this purpose to interested clients, a Google executive said.

Google deployed an internal blog for its employees shortly after acquiring the blogging service Blogger in early 2003, and since then Google staffers have found many useful and creative ways for the internal blog, said Jason Goldman, Blogger product manager at Google.

"Since then, we have seen a lot of different uses of blogs within the firewall: people keeping track of meeting notes, people sharing diagnostics information, people sharing snippets of code, as well as more personal uses, like letting co-workers know what they’re thinking about and what they’re up to," Goldman said. "It really helps grow the intranet and the internal base of documents."

Google executives have talked in the past about the company’s internal Blogger implementation, called Blogger in Google (BIG), and a Google employee even posted a screenshot of a BIG page last year".

It’s not a new idea but it has the potential for The Lighthouse to have a big return on almost no investment.