Dusting Off My Feet

It is a good thing the church doesn’t publish instructions on how to perform this ordinance, because I would have probably done it about a hundred times by now to the church’s computer system.

Let me explain.  One of my callings is clerk, so I’m one of the guys who stay after church on Sunday and account for the donations.  We enter all the information into the computer, make sure it all balances, and then transmit it all to the church’s main computer in Salt Lake City.  Simple enough, right?  Well, it is, unless the computer you are using is ten years old and you have to transmit over DIAL UP.

There are several frustrating things about it all.  The old computer is slow enough already, but then the church adds all kinds of monitoring and filtering software which imposes even more overhead.  The network’s name is Moroni, and my guess is the reason that name was chosen is because nobody wants to get caught looking at teh porn on the toobz by Captain Moroni.  But Moroni is old and slow, and when you combine that with a computer that is old and slow, and then you combine that with a dial-up modem, you have the perfect recipe for clerkly frustration.

This is how it went for me on a recent Fast Sunday.

2:30  Church is over.

2:45  Go to the clerk’s office with bishopric counselor.  Begin opening envelopes and counting donations.  Enter it all into the computer.

3:30  Begin the balancing process. Make sure that the money counted matches the total on the donation slips. Double check everything.

3:45  Begin preparing the bank deposit and transmission to SLC.

4:00  Begin transmission.  Listen to the modems squawk at each other as they synch up.  Watch the progress bar telling you that the process is now 5% complete.

4:10  Rearrange the drawer which holds post-it notes and paper clips.  The progress bar says 23% complete.

4:15  Go get a drink (of water).  Stop in the foyer and listen to the speaker in the other ward for a minute.  Back in the office, the progress bar now says 48% complete.

4:25  After reading scriptures for a few minutes, you see that the progress bar is at 62%.

4:30  Think of all the ward members now at home who are digging in to their second helping of dessert.  Wonder if any of them appreciate you.  Conclusion:  No.  Progress bar says 71%.

4:31  The modem drops the line and the transmission is aborted.  [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted].

4:32  Begin the transmission again.  This time you can’t hear the modem squawk because your growling stomach is making too much noise.

4:40  You only get to 15% this time before somebody calls the bishop’s office.  Since the bishop’s phone is on the same line as the modem, the transmission fails again.

Such is my life on a Sunday afternoon.  I have sometimes had to try nine (9) different times before a successful transmission was achieved.  At a time when I should be home enjoying pot roast and a nap, I’m stuck in a windowless cell of a clerk’s office, growing an ulcer and wondering why the universe hates me.  Sometimes we clerks commiserate and we have concluded that the reason the office doesn’t have a window is because we would be tempted to throw the computer out of it and then yell “We’re mad as heck and we’re not gonna take it anymore!”

I realize the church has many demands on its resources.  I realize that on  Sunday afternoon there are probably thousands of wards strung out all the way from downtown Salt Lake City to Fleabite, Louisiana all trying to transmit at the same time.  But let’s get serious, this is the twenty-first century.  Let’s join it, and install high speed Internet access in the clerk’s offices.  I will be grateful, my growling stomach will be grateful, and most of all, my bishop will be grateful, because then I won’t need to make an appointment every week to repent of my language and close calls with the Word of Wisdom.

We can do this.  Yes, we can.

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Comments

  1. LOL! *I* appreciate you, Mark. Dear husband positively loathes the software too.

  2. you are a saint, clerk Mark.

  3. Here in the UK we’ve been using broadband to sync MLS since the beginning of the year. It’s transformed the life of our Ward Clerk!

  4. Mark,

    As a former Financial Clerk (pre-dialup!), I sympathize fully. Your sacrifice is noted and appreciated. ;)

    Now go to your Assistant Stake Clerk responsible for Computers, and/or your Stake’s Physical Facilities representative ,and find out why they haven’t yet hooked your building up for broadband. It’s an authorized expenditure, and shouldn’t require any special approvals, it just needs to be requisitioned…!

  5. I had no idea… That’s insane. I fear I wouldn’t delete my expletives.

  6. What Patrick said. It’s an authorized expense. I am assuming you don’t have a Family History Center in your building, since you should have high speed access with a center, but it is authorized.

  7. Our modem is broadband … I’m not sure if you could actually get dial-up in this country anymore. However, the modem mounted to the wall is the size of a large microwave oven, and has a lock to which none of us have a key. The hilarity of speculating about the true content of the box, well, you had to be there I guess.

    Also, we don’t do tithing counts very often. There are no paper checks used here, and most members pay electronically into the ward’s account. The financial clerk does his stuff during the week. There are about five members who pay cash, but they all pay on the same Sunday, bless their hearts.

  8. Mark,
    Ray and Patrick are right. Just hit up the Stake for new stuff. I did this, and all of our ward members were given new netbooks to play with during Sacrament. It’s fantastic.

  9. Sounds like it would be cheaper, take less time, and spare you the frustration for you to catch a plane to Salt Lake and hand a bag of little gray envelopes directly to President Monson.

  10. I sit next to the Ward clerk at work. He said last Sunday (while he was away on vacation), the assistant clerk decided he would do a member a favor and print a report. They had to force the date because the date she wanted had already passed. Anyways, they locked up the system and everyone was locked out. This was on Monday and he said he would have to spend that night getting everything fixed.
    Nice vacation.

  11. I’ve been working on getting broadband hooked up in our office at church ever since the directive came out last year that wards with a FHC could extend the network over to the clerks area. My mother had a saying about church employees to the effect that “if you pay peanuts, well, you get monkeys”. I feel that way about facilities….
    Fortunately I enjoy the modemic symphony that comes from our landline every Sunday, partly because of the sense of nostalgia it brings, and mostly because it works first time.

    Just curious how long does it take to download and install the periodic software updates they conveniently force on you on a Sunday morning?

  12. John Mansfield says:

    Interesting. I was doing this task a dozen years ago, and the dail-up system worked well enough. It is disappointing when something functional falls apart. The onward march of broadband internet saddens me a bit. A year ago the functionality of dial-up diminished to the point that I got fiber optic service installed. Simple text-based blogs are larded with megabytes of overhead. General Conference audio used to play fine over dial-up, but not since about 2006. Ward clerking is a task where the data content ought to be very amply accommodated by low-speed dial-up, but apparently it isn’t anymore.

  13. My heart goes out to you. Thanks for taking one for the team.

  14. My favorite part is how you can be working in another window (Word or something) and the modal dialog box from the LDS software grabs the focus and interprets whatever key you’ve just pressed as an activator for the default message—clearly labelled ‘cancel’. It drove me nuts.

  15. Our ward clerk’s office computer doesn’t even have Word or other office functions and there is certainly no possibility of getting on the internet. We just have the MLS system with the dial-up connection and that’s it. Forget it if you need to use the clerk’s office computer to create a letter or flier. But at least our dial-up doesn’t have the funcionality issues that yours seems to have. Also, very few ward members pay their tithing over here through the brown envelopes. Most pay through Her Majesty’s Inland Revenue’s gift-aid scheme straight to Solihul through either an automatic monthly transfer or even by a direct payroll payment.

  16. But isn’t this a happier post than yesterday’s on being unemployed? (What a sad read that was!)
    Here we know what can be done, and how we can do it. Let’s hope for a happy ending for both the Mark and those that have lost their jobs.

  17. A member of our ward, who works for Google, frequently says, “just because the church is true, doesn’t mean the software is.” AMEN!

  18. i really am sympathetic and grateful…it’s just that it’s harder to tell because I am also laughing

  19. Though basic broadband is increasingly inexpensive, I imagine to some folks (those who have never been clerks), it would seem a little wasteful to get a full-time broadband connection for an activity that (should) take only 5 minutes or so 2 or 3 times on one day a week. Of course this would exempt any building with an FHC, but those already have dedicated broadband connections.

    Couldn’t we devise a system where the Church’s financial software creates an encrypted file that is loaded onto a password-protected USB key (or other storage device) which any ward clerk or member of the bishopric could then take home and transmit the file through a secure Church web site?

  20. The encryption key would of course only be held by someone at Church headquarters. Once the data went in, it doesn’t come out until it gets to SLC.

  21. John Mansfield says:

    I don’t see how the equipment on the ward clerk’s end can be to blame. Each donation slip contains about 50 bytes of information if the donator is identified by his 11-digit membership number. If everything on the slip needs to be transmitted as text, including the donator’s address and the name of his ward or branch, that would still be under 2 kilobytes for each donation slip. In Mark Brown’s example, he typed all the data in 15 minutes.

    Suppose each donation does take a big, fat 2 kilobytes, and he has a hundred of them, making 200 kilobytes. Let’s round up to half a megabyte of data for the whole transmission. Using a 56kbit/second modem, that would take under two minutes. Using a 9600 bit/second modem, which I don’t think you could find for sale in the last dozen years, it would take seven minutes.

    I think the problem has to be at the headquarters receiving end, and I don’t see how a new machinge with a high-speed connection in the clerk’s office changes that. Any IT people see how the clerk’s computer would be at fault?

  22. Steve G. says:

    I’ve been clerking since the Dos days in one capacity or another. Right now I’m the ward clerk. I started making a habit of doing a send/receive during sacrament meeting so that afterwards I could come in, kill a tree printing all the stuff it wanted printed, and leave clear the queue for the finance clerk later in the day.

    Happy day last Sunday we got to use broadband for the first time in the clerk’s office. Just being able to access maps.lds.org from the clerk’s office makes my job so much easier.

  23. Christopher Bradford (Grasshopper) says:

    While this won’t solve the problem of the line dropping on its own, you can disable call waiting when using dial-up. You configure the modem to dial a particular code (usually *70), followed by a comma, which instructs the modem to pause for a second to get a dial tone before dialing the actual number. This will prevent an incoming call from disrupting the transmission. More info here: http://www.ehow.com/how_8458_turn-call-waiting.html

  24. Zionssuburb says:

    I’ve been either a clerk or Exec Secretary for the last 10 years or so and saw the transformation from the older text-based system to the newer gui system. There have been many issues with the new software, however about 2 years ago there was a real Transformation in the delivery of the computer system, updates happen frequently, have value and work to help clerks perform their jobs better, or save the Church a bunch of money.

    The CHURCH POLICY now allows for Broadband to be implemented, if you are still using dial-up CHANGE!… Last year the Church started allowing units with a Family History Center to ‘piggy-back’ on that connection, but have recently authorized stakes to start implementing broadband for ALL units.

    The Church has even developed a Web-based Video Conferenceing ‘black box’ plug’n’play unit to help stakes with very large geographic boundaries have meetings, PPI’s and broadcast Stake Conference only 1 time… how’s them apples. These are all very good things, and I am hopeful of the future. If you would’ve asked me a few years back I might’ve had similar comments to those previously, and this conversation might be good for a historical look at how things used to be, but for me…. these days are long gone!

  25. You are really a saint for putting up with this. From the other comments, it sounds like there will be a way to get away from dialup.

    Your slow computer is another matter, however. This is probably heretical, but I feel that in-kind tithing donations are legitimate. Just buy a new computer for the church and subtract the cost of it from your tithing.

  26. Mark Brown says:

    Thanks for the sympathy and suggestions, everyone.

    John M.,

    In our case, I think the fault is mostly with the quality of the phone line connection. Sometimes it’s hard to even pick up a dial tone without a lot of static. And sometimes it works just fine, and the transmission completes in just a few minutes. Also, the phone in the bishop’s office rings nonstop, so even when the transmission is going rapidly, you stand a very good chance of it being interrupted by an incoming call.

    Steve G.,

    Yes, it isn’t just the financial contributions, but also all the membership records moving in and out, updates to records (baptisms, ordinations, etc.) and updates to the software which the church wants to download that make the process cumbersome.

    I tried doing a send/receive during sac. meeting once and it did make the following financial-only transmission smaller and easier, but then I got a semi-nasty email telling me that I was hogging more than my share of bandwidth at HQ by running the process more than once on a Sunday, and that I should cease and desist immediately. I might start doing that again, though. The worst they can do is fire me.

    Once we had family visiting and when the transmission failed the first time, I just went home and put it off. Early Monday morning I stopped by the church on the way to work and the transmission went lickety-split. But later that morning the bishop got a phone call informing him that this was unacceptable. Aaarrggh.

  27. SLO Sapo says:

    Yikes! Get the broadband. Our ward clerk and I can count tithes and offerings start to finish in 20 minutes max.

  28. esodhiambo says:

    Our building has wireless. We welcome move-ins.

  29. Kevin Barney says:

    If the stake or whoever refuses the request to get broadband, I seriously think I would quit. You’ve tried two good faith workarounds, both of which were rejected by SLC. It is unconscionable to make a clerk stay hours after church trying to get a transmission through. I would tell whoever denies the request that he can man the transmission from now on, because I’m outta there.

    Church is reallly much easier once you realize it really is a volunteer organization and no one can actually make you do anything you don’t want to.

  30. “Early Monday morning I stopped by the church on the way to work and the transmission went lickety-split. But later that morning the bishop got a phone call informing him that this was unacceptable. Aaarrggh”

    The Church wants to reduce the float time. On Monday the church knows how much to move from the various accounts and does this because all of the transmissions are done on Sunday. You violated the law of the float!

  31. If I had a lot of membership changes to make during the sunday school hour. (its a blessed way to escape gospel doctrine for us clerks) I’d run another send/receive to clear the queue before priesthood. On some sundays I’ve run 3 or 4 send/receives and never heard a word of complaint from HQ about it.

  32. Mark B – You forgot how nasty it is being a financial clerk when the membership clerk gets handed a ton of changes to make before *he* can leave on Sunday. Oh wait, I’ve been that membership clerk.

    Church is reallly much easier once you realize it really is a volunteer organization and no one can actually make you do anything you don’t want to.

    Yeah, but the IT staff and programmers are paid staff. And they don’t work Sundays. (Trying to hold my tongue here for how I feel about the professional IT staff.)

    Our bishops have hated the fact that when they call SLC for an issue on a Sunday, they are told to call back during business hours. This is a Church, with certain Sunday work. Aren’t business hours Sunday?

    Stake centers have broadband. The other buildings are supposed to be on a schedule.

  33. Though basic broadband is increasingly inexpensive, I imagine to some folks (those who have never been clerks), it would seem a little wasteful to get a full-time broadband connection for an activity that (should) take only 5 minutes or so 2 or 3 times on one day a week.

    @AHLDuke: The broadband connection we have also extends into the Bishop’s office. The bishopric uses the access to LDS.org and other sites to quickly access data. On top of that, the Church has a lot of online-only software planned for the future which will make universal broadband access much more useful.

    Any time you add new technology to solve a particular problem, you also open the door for innovative uses of that technology beyond its intended use. Broadband for all is a good thing.

  34. If I had a lot of membership changes to make during the sunday school hour. (its a blessed way to escape gospel doctrine for us clerks)

    I a 2-year span, I attended gospel doctrine 8 times in over 2 years, three of which when I was traveling.

    Is it frightening to think that the Bloggernacle *is* my gospel doctrine?

  35. Even more important than broadband is a decent PC. I don’t think broadband will help us much when we have to recycle MLS two or three times per hour because of memory usage issues, and we can’t add more memory because the age of the PC.

    We’ve been told that there is a refresh process for PCs, but it hasn’t happened yet. Of course, every new ward that gets created out of ours gets the newest stuff, because they’re new… :)

  36. Just curious how long does it take to download and install the periodic software updates they conveniently force on you on a Sunday morning?

    Sometimes it’s 30 minutes or more over the modem. SLC is better at warning people in advance, so I found Saturday nights work pretty well for that (helps if you live <5min from the chapel, and then you don’t have to do the update during financial batch or when the HPGL wants to enter home teaching stats).

  37. John Mansfield says:

    “Any time you add new technology to solve a particular problem, you also open the door for innovative uses of that technology beyond its intended use. Broadband for all is a good thing.”

    I wish I could be convinced, since that is the direction of things whether I like it or not, but I worry about ever-changing technology getting in the way of simpler, reliable, old techniques and changing the habitat so those techniques aren’t viable anymore. Young people who don’t know how to manually write a note come to mind. A couple of lectures by Nobel physicists come to mind. One spent a minute discussing the grant proposal he submitted decades ago that started funding for the prize-winning work. The proposal was about a half dozen pages. Paraphrasing, “Now it would have to be about fifty pages long. Since we have word processors, we have to spend more time writing things now.” The other, Joseph Taylor, discussed the discovery of the first variable pulsar, an important test of relativity. His student, Hulse, had made the observations at Arecibo while Taylor was in Massachusetts. Taylor held up the letter that Hulse had sent him with the news and joked about how that was the way things were done before e-mail.

  38. Rameumptom says:

    Our ward has broadband, and a new computer. Works great.
    I recall being a young ward clerk, having to type everything on an old IBM selectric typewriter. I moved into a ward, where the previous clerk had sent in all the deposits to the bank, but had not done any of the required receipt typing (one to donor, one to Church) for over 6 months. I pondered why he, and his son, the bishop, had not yet been called to task by a stake auditor (or a Church one, at that).
    I spent the next 3 months working on the financial records, and fixing them. Then moved onto the membership records. Of the 850 members, only 200 were active.

    How I would have LOVED a 10 year old computer with dial up. One of my following callings was to put into every ward unit a MS-DOS computer with the original FIS/MIS software. That was head and tails above the hours of typage and dead trees I went through on a weekly basis.

  39. Holy Cow, Mark. You are a saint. My suggestion is contact all the wards between you and SL and set up a Pony Express. Old tech but faster (plus it would make a great activity for the youth).

  40. Zionssuburb says:

    When I was doing transmissions over the modem lines, I transmitted multiple times on Sunday and during the week without hearing anything from CHQ as well. I had the practice of transmitting before church prior to donations and it seemed to work very well. On the very infrequent occasions that transmission didn’t work for some reason on Sunday, I resubmitted on Monday morning, no letters…

    Twice in the last 8 months the Church has had serious outages in the system, there were certainly IT Staff on-site fixing it, not waiting until the next day. IF we’re talking about a transmission issue for a single unit, sure, call back during work hours makes sense.

    Nowdays there is a tech community hosted by the church with almost immediate response or gathering of data. The second time the issue happened I popped on the site and found that multiple units had the same issue, determined it was a server problem, and went home to be with my family. Like I stated earlier, there has been serious improvement in the last 2 years or so… IMHO, it’s getting better.

  41. Steve G. says:

    MLS has made clerking so much easier than it used to be. I started clerking when we still wrote out checks and had to manually track them against the paper ledgers. While this sounds ancient, it was less than 6 years ago I think. When I got the calling I soon discovered that the previous clerk hadn’t reconciled the ledger for over 18 months. We weren’t reconciled with CHQ by thousands of dollars. I spent many hours going through old records and working forwards until I finally had us reconciled. Once I had the accounts reconciled the calling became much more enjoyable. I was part of the transition from the DOS based computer to MLS and was overjoyed at not having to handwrite checks anymore. I have watched the improvements as they have happened over the years and the church has done an excellent job of improving the program to make clerking easier.

  42. It’s probably extremely dangerous to try enjoying a pot roast and a nap at the same time.

  43. When I was a missionary BP in Chile, I walked into a branch with 500 member records. It took a long time to manually move about 300+ of them to the “Unknown Address” file in Santiago. Yes, MLS is great, in comparison.

    But there are a lot of basic design issues with MLS (particularly as they relate to family dynamics in the 21st century) that make me wonder if the MLS designers and programmers have ever met anyone with a strange name, anyone other than a nuclear family, anyone whose children have email or cell phones…

  44. John Taber says:

    If you frequent tech.lds.org or clerk.lds.org you’ll find that they either are dealing with those things, are trying to deal with them, or at the very least are being pestered about them.

  45. It is correct that high speed access is authorized. However, in our building (since we don’t have a FHC) the cost would come out of the ward budget. We were told it would be $70/month ($840 annually). That’s more money than the Primary gets. It’s hard to justify.

  46. no thanks says:

    I assure you the church IT staff responds to outages on sunday I have a ward member who is on the monitoring team and i’ve observed him on conference calls on sunday. I work IT(not the church) and trust me we get massacred over outages. MLS is light years ahead of mis/fis. I do membership and simply being able to print certificates is wonderful

  47. I hear you brother. I’m the finance clerk for our ward and I experienced the same exact pain more times than I care to remember UNTIL… they upgraded us to broadband about six months ago. My prayers have been answered. Keep they faith, maybe your building will be next.

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