Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year from Wilmette!

Happy NewYear!
May 2008 be filled with with health, wealth, and happiness for your and yours.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets

It has been many months since I went to see a movie, but yesterday I went to see National Treasure: Book of Secrets. After seeing just a part of the trailer, I was pretty sure that I would like it. I did. The story was a little silly, but it held my interest the whole time. Since I have the habit of falling asleep when movies bore me, the fact that I was awake the whole time makes it worth a recommendation. It had good scenes of London, Paris, and Washington; car chases with fancy cars; good guys and bad guys; a bit of fanciful history; conspiracy theories; a love story or two--sort of; and some not bad acting.

I'm not a movie critic, but lots of people are, so you can read what they have to say if you want some insightful analysis. Book of Secrets is a sequel to National Treasure, but since I never saw that movie I couldn't compare the two. While the movie requires a fair amount of the suspension of disbelief, if you are looking for a little light entertainment I think you will enjoy it, too.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

In Memoriam: Benazir Bhutto, Democracy Advocate

Benazir Bhutto 1953-2007
At a news conference the day after the attempt on her life in October, Benazir Bhutto said she would not be surprised if there was another attempt. "The attack was not on me," she said. "The attack was on what I represent--it was an attack on democracy."
Photo tribute with eyewitness account of the final rally from Pulitzer Prize winning photographer John Moore of Getty Images.
Benazir Bhutto video interview discussing the importance of Democracy for Pakistan and the October attempt on her life.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Oyez Oyez Iowa! What About Biden?

If you are in Iowa and you are going to a Democratic caucus, I think you ought to consider, and then vote for, Joe Biden. He is the best candidate the Democrats have to offer. He is a good candidate, a candidate who commands respect in both the Democratic and Republican party. He has real experience, long experience, and is head of the powerful Senate foreign Relations Committee. His Senate tenure has lasted through seven Presidencies. In every election he has beat his Republican opponent handily. He is a patriotic American. He understands how government works. He knows the essential importance of a return to bi-partisanship, which served our country well for many long years. His long record isn't based on promises, it's based on experience and willingness to stand up for what he believes.

Solving the problems in Washington can't be done by outsiders, or those who claim to be outsiders but aren't. Barack Obama isn't an outsider, he came up as a solid Democrat member of the Illinois Senate, which has spent years figuring out how to bankrupt this state. His record is tarnished by his Cook County connections and land deals with don't pass muster. And Hillary Clinton? She has a great deal more Senate Experience than Barack Obama, but her major experience is as First Lady. Remember those missing records and a health care initiative that didn't quite pass legal muster? The deals she made while her husband was governor of Arkansas continue to raise questions.

Biden offers strength against Republican contenders, and a vision of American as a good and great country.

Remembering the South East Asian Tsunami

Three years ago all the news was bad. Two days after the South East Asian Tsunami, the extent of the devastating destruction in Asia was just becoming apparent. The earthquake and tsunami remains one of the worst natural disasters in history.

UNICEF has a three year progress report which is hopeful, but it is clear that there is still a great deal of suffering by the survivors. Do take a minute to reflect upon their stories

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Santa Baby - OLPC Update

I was expecting a ton of blog posts on Christmas Day on how to use my new OLPC XO laptop. I was sure that proud moms and dads who had purchased the little computer under the Give One Get One (G1G1) program would have a lot to say, but no such luck. Are they are as puzzled as I have been?

I’ve been searching on a near daily basis for new info on the OLPC’s, but have mostly come up empty. About all I was able to find after Christmas were these directions for making a viewfinder out of Legos for the built-in OLPC camera--pictured above. As I mentioned the other day, this is a sort-of do-it-yourself laptop.

So who's getting the OLPC in the US under the buy one get one program? From the evidence, its technical sorts--or their kids. Some are clearly the children of software gurus. One mom blogs "One thing we [she and her husband] agree on: before we had a child we asked ourselves "When can she have a computer game?" and Michael's answer was always, 'When she can program it!' " I will refrain from comment . . .

Other people clearly have a hardware or engineering background based on this excerpt from an OLPC news forum post about an OLPC that was dead on arrival: "Get a DC voltmeter and check the output of the power supply. Maybe it is NG, in which case you can probably cobble up a replacement yourself faster than getting a new one from OLPC. Remove the battery and check the voltage on its terminals. Even if it is dead, there should be some voltage on the open terminals."

I don't have a clue how to do any of this stuff. But even a greater source of concern is that those technical sorts seem puzzled, too. I am beginning to think that maybe I should just stick the OLPC in the bookshelf for a while, based on this forum query: "Since the user guide for Pippy in the OLPC Wiki is pretty thin, I thought I'd ask if anyone had figured out how to save program code (there seems to be no way to do that reliably, and if there's a specific syntax guide or if any Python syntax guide would be sufficient. We're puzzled here..."

This is not a good sign . . . I am pretty sure that most of the villages where the OLPC's land won't have that level of expertise. In fact, my research turns up the fact that Peruvian children are mostly taking pictures. With OLPC Internet enthusiasm and idealism high, I am sure that the youth of the Andes, once they master Google and English, will find the picture on this blog a great help. But God forbid I question: I tried to leave a comment on the OLPC blog, and got back a page that said my comment appeared to be spam. When I used the back button, everything I typed was gone! Clever, eh?

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas! - Tidings of Great Joy

"And it came to pass, while they were there, the days were fulfilled that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son; and she wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were shepherds in the same country abiding in the field, and keeping watch by night over their flock. And an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people. For there is born unto you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord."
- Luke 2:6-11

The Good News
The Word
What is a Christian

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Little Something for You Under the Tree!

I've wrapped up a little something and put it under the tree for you! It's a new Christmas book--actually an old one from 1902--from Project Gutenberg. It's named Christmas: Its Origin and Associations by William Francis Dawson. The illustrations make this 350 page volume (with an index) particularly special. It has plenty of answers to those Christmas questions and lots of interesting Christmas facts. Or maybe you are in need of a very last minute free Christmas present--if you're out of time, an e-book travels fast, and this one is better than cheap, its free! Hope you like your new book!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Telling the Christmas Story: Why Bethehem

"Now it came to pass in those days, there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment made when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to enroll themselves, every one to his own city. And all went to enroll themselves, every one to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house of David. To enroll himself with Mary, who was betrothed to him, being great with child."
- Luke 2:1-5 Commentary

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Third Candidate Joins Dan Seals and Jay Footlik in Democratic Bid for the 10th

It appears that a third candidate has thrown his hat into the ring in Illinois' hotly contested 10th Congressional District Democratic Primary. Pictured above is the War Room ("WRWCoS ") for newly announced contender, El Rider, a Chicago blogger. In a rare moment of solidarity with his fellow Democrats, Dan Seals and Jay Footlik, Rider has chosen the campaign slogan of "El Rider for Congress - I Don't Live There Either!" Rider is a resident of Lincoln Park.

Rider, who will be running as a write-in due to a technical glitch in his WRWCoS, has promised to avoid raising his ethnic roots as part of his campaign. It is unclear whether that is due to principle, or his Irish identity, which fact alone has often been sufficient to ensure victory for candidates in the Chicago area.

Distinguishing Rider from the current field of Democrats is the fact that he is gainfully employed. An additional plus for the Democrats is that Rider originally hails from Kenilworth, the same suburb where incumbent Congressman Mark Kirk grew up, thus neutralizing any advantage which Kirk might enjoy due to his long association with the area which he represents.

Rider's campaign will focus his campaign on lower taxes and a strong national defense. His position on Iraq is currently unknown.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Will Lieberman's Endorsement of McCain Change the 10th District Congressional Race?

Will Joe Lieberman's endorsement of John McCain affect the outcome of the Democratic Congressional primary in Illinois' 10th Congressional District? It might. Lieberman, the Vice Presidential candidate in 2000, was popular in the 10th District, and is a far more moderate voice than either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. Many 10th District voters--who Republicans consider to be Democrats--consider themselves to be independents, voting for person over party. To their minds, the straight ticket is never a thinking person's choice. Over the years, time and again these voters have entered Republican primaries to vote for a specific candidate who they fully intend to support come November.

With Seals and Footlik holding similar views, its possible that many of these independent voters will, at the least, consider entering the Republican primary to cast their vote for McCain. It will be interesting to see how this endorsement plays out locally in what has been, up to now, a very boring primary season.

Note to Dan Seals: Residency is a Serious Issue

Why doesn’t Democrat 10th District Congressional candidate Dan Seals think that living in the district which he wants to represent is a serious issue? According to a story in the Chicago Sun- Times, Seals said he couldn’t move into the district because he’s “not a millionaire.” When presented with evidence that there are a number of houses on the market located in the 10th Congressional District that sell for under $400,000, Seals dodged the residency issue, explaining that people wanted to focus on “serious issues.”

I can’t think of a more serious issue than the identity of the person who seeks who represent you in Congress. Dan Seals emerged three years ago in Wilmette fresh out of Washington, D.C. and the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, without a lick of government experience, either locally or downstate, ready to be anointed as the Congressman from the North Shore. Local Democrats were happy to find a tall, affable Democrat with good social skills seeking their vote, even if he had not bothered to move into the district, or prepare himself for the job by of serving downstate or locally. They gave him a pass and never asked why he didn’t bother filing to run for office to represent the people of the district into which he had recently moved. In one of the best Democrat years on record, Seals garnered a good showing, but lost. Taking only a couple of months to catch his breath, he again started running for the same office, which should make his campaign , by the time the primaries roll around, one of the longest on record.

For those who think residency doesn’t matter, I would offer as evidence of Wilmette President, Chris Canning, a lifelong Wilmette resident, who has improved all aspects of government in the Village of Wilmette. There is only so much you can learn about a district by attending coffees in area homes of the politically active. In order to capably represent a district, to really care about an area and its people, you must have greater ties to bind you than a mortgage and a tax bill.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Trouble with my OLPC

Updated! Scroll Down.
I took advantage of the "give one, get one" One Laptop per Child (OLPC), and I have been pretty excited about this little computer's arrival. It came yesterday, and it's very cute. It weighs more than I thought it would, though. Two of us at our house have tried to figure out how it works, but we can't figure out anything.

I was able to play some notes on the Tam Tam music making program, but some of the keys didn't work. While I watched the Youtube Tam Tam tutorial about a week ago. I was unable to switch between instruments. Granted, I haven't read the instructions (available on the Internet only), but for the life of me I have no idea how the children will be able to learn. Theoretically, there is free Hotspot access for one year for purchasers, but there is no information about that, either. I wasn't able to connect to the Internet, but I didn't realize that you have to click on an icon that looks like a Tinkertoy.

Trying to figure out how to use the little computer was so frustrating, I think it may be a while until I try again. If this doesn't get easier pretty quick, maybe I can donate it to a disadvantaged child. However if the children for whom these were designed experience the frustration level that we have experienced around here, I can't imagine how they would ever have any interest in computers at all.

If you have purchased one of these little OLPC laptops for a child in your life for Christmas, run, don't walk to the toy store and buy a few more gifts. If this is your child's big present, and you have planned for hours of pleasure from this new toy, it's going to be a grim, grim Christmas.
UPDATE: We are making progress! We have now managed to make some sounds in Tam Tam that rival that mini pocket piano that I bought for a dollar a couple of years ago! We have also managed to make the little XO OLPC meow like a cat and moo like a cow! One of the neighbor children had a book with little keys on the right hand side maybe a dozen or more years ago that did exactly the same thing. We feel very clever, but with the OLPC too big for a paperweight and too light for a door stop, we feel it must have more to offer to avoid third world child rage.
UPDATE 2: We note that the OLPC laptop has easy keyboard access to the double s character for the disadvanged German children and an o with a slash in it for the children of the less developed area of Scandinavia. How cool is that?
UPDATE 3: We have managed to figure out how to take a picture with the OLPC. Unfortunately we can't figure out how to save it, but keep in mind the only resources we have are 2 additional laptops (which manage to connect to the Internet pretty easily, as opposed to the OLPC which can find the wireless connections but can't connect) and 19 collective years of education beyond 8th grade. We remain optimistic that the children of the world must be far smarter than we are.
UPDATE 4: I have managed to connect to the Internet, but pages load so slowly it is enough to make you wish for dial-up! I found a Googlepage once before I was able to connect, but now I can't find it at all. Also, I now have learned that troubleshooting the OLPC will be done by the children themselves, and they will help each other find solutions. This is pretty impressive. Since the laptops have apparently been shipped already to Peru, if you know any OLPC kids there, say perhaps the smarter ones (hopefully already possessing Ph.D.'s from MIT or University of Texas at Austin) would you please ask them to post up their info instanter? Also, please make sure they have an English version. I am in very bad need of their advice.
UPDATE 5: Having failed to find a pint-sized PhD to lend a hand with the OLPC, I've been looking around at the OLPC Wiki. There I learned that even though the OLPC has a built-in microphone, the "internal one doesn't work at this time," so its necessary to plug one in. I also discovered that Opera, a very nice browser, can be used on the little XO. Unfortunately, these are the instructions: "Installing Opera on test machines is easy. From a shell, run these commands as root: . . ." Right. Easy enough for those open-source Linux types, but for me? Apparently, the idea is that if you don't find what you need in your OLPC you'll just write up a little program to solve the problem post-haste. Even more puzzling is this: "If you are having trouble with rpm, just grab a tarball." Well, enough for the OLPC now, I'm off to go look for a tarball, whatever that is . . .

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Wilmette Salutes Sharp-eyed Citizen

Hats off to the new Wilmette resident who wasted no time in calling 911 when he saw three men peering in cars in front of his house in the early morning hours of December 7. Our police responded quickly, and ended capturing two of the three, who are suspected of several local burglaries. Today's Wilmette Life has the story.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Is There a New Face of Jihad?

Is there a new face to Jihad--which, by now, we are all aware means some sort of life-struggle addressed by Islam-- the ugly face of which has been featured for several years now on the covers of weekly news magazines? The above picture, from a story featured today today at Drudge (showing the placard "Live Free or Die,") is a group of students at Tehran University who are protesting the policies of failed blogger, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran. "Live Free or Die" is, of course, the motto of the State of New Hampshire. Pretty boring photo, huh?
Nearby Pakistan also has a number of students and members of "civil society" (a kind of Germanic concept for us Americans) who are demonstrating on a daily basis for fundamental human rights.
Today is the UN's Universal Human Rights Day, the anniversary of the Universal Declaration. The Declaration will look pretty familiar to anyone in the US, but apparently is more acceptable to the world without the American Brand on it.
Last April, I blogged about a protest in Iraq with thought that the idea of advancing political causes through freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and the ballot box, rather than through violence, would be a wonderful development. Boring as the above picture may be, let's hope that these non-violent pictures will be the new face of political involvement in the Islamic world and a harbinger of better times to come.
If this story interests you, you might want to read about how free, online rap and hip-hop is the new voice for political freedom in Iran.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Getting Ready for Christmas

Time to start planning to take a few days away from the cares of the world. Time to put up the Christmas Tree, or the Festivus Pole, if so inclined. Time to buy some Christmas cards, address and send them. Time to buy a wreath.

Is there enough time in one day? I'm looking to save a few minutes wherever possible. I found some good presents over at Carson's at Edens Plaza the other day; how easy is that? I also went to see the new Fresh Market specialty grocery store that went into what I think was the Fidelity office. They have a lot of items there that would make nice little presents, especially for people at work. There is a lot of fancy food there for the holidays. I was disappointed to see fish that is endangered, though, and wish they could expand on their music repetoire to something more than the theme for Masterpiece Theater and its clones. There is too much high fat food, but maybe that will change over time. Best of all the store isn't too big.

I got a very pretty plant for a present which was from the Chalet. Think we may be make this an "all Wilmette" Christmas!

I don't even have the lights up yet, so no more time today for blogging. Earlier this morning I made some Gingerbread scones and they were pretty good. The recipe is here.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

All Religion Is Local--and Personal

In the wake of George Romney's speech on the Mormon faith, we bring you a report from the BBC that proves religion is a mighty personal thing, and often seems weird to those who aren't practitioners.

In the eastern state of Jharkhand, India, the deities Ram and Hanuman have been summoned to appear personally in court to give testimony in a property dispute case. Judge Sunil Kumar Singh has sent notice to the two gods by personal service (no report as to outcome), by mail (notices were returned for incomplete address), and then by publication, to the monkey gods, pictured above.

Since the Internet is global but all religion seems to be local, I am hoping that if I got the facts wrong, a Hindu reader will leave a comment.

There is no further information on whether contempt proceedings are contemplated if the two do not show up for next week's hearing.

Friday, December 07, 2007

December 7, 1941: Pearl Harbor Day in Chicago

Today is Pearl Harbor Day, the date of December 7, 1941 still lives in infamy, when the Empire of Japan attacked the US Navy at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Chicagoan Robert F. Gallagher has a very interesting chapter from a book he wrote (complete with photos) on World War II, posted online, about Pearl Harbor Day in Chicago in 1941. The first chapter chronicles how he and his friends transformed themselves from lazy teenagers enjoying fun days in high school, hanging out in his South Side neighborhood, to US soldiers. It's a great story, and well worth reading.

The University of Missouri-Kansas City has comprehensive information about Pearl Harbor Day, including FDR's famous speech (although all the links may not work.) Won't you take a few minutes to educate the children tonight about Pearl Harbor Day, and perhaps play FDR's famous 7 minute speech? As the Greatest Generation passes away, it is incumbent on us to discuss how America got involved in World War II, before the anti-American propagandists rewrite American history.

Hat tip: El Rider
The photo above is not Chicago, but Pearl Harbor. It's believed to have been taken from a Japanese airplane.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Oh No, It's Snow!

The mood around this blog, of late, has been entirely too serious. Plus, I'm getting nervous. Every time I seem to make a comment, something big happens. First, it was Pakistan, now its the snow. With this much snow on the ground by the 5th December, I am reminded of the last time we had so much snow so early--it was that year when we almost ran out of a place to pile the snow when we shoveled it. To lighten the mood, I thought you might chuckle to see this kitty, whose picture I found in the inbox this morning, perfectly decked out for the weather.

h/t Joyce

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Annoyance of Elections

The current crop of Presidential candidates are annoying, very. They jet around the country with the same abandon you might show walking over to your wastebasket, they talk endlessly, mostly about nothing, they smile and they pose.

Aggravated as we may be, we take it for granted that we will be forced to witness this spectacle for quite some time yet, despite our grumblings. In a few weeks we'll take some time to vote for one of these candidates, and bye and bye, there will be a lot of losers and two winners, both of whom will continue jetting and talking and posing until right after Halloween next year.

I've been contemplating a post on the ennui of all of this, but I must say it's looking all good compared to the election season in Pakistan. Pakistan's plan to have elections seemed to be perking right along despite some serious problems amid a great deal of hopeful news. America's Ambassador, Anne Patterson, has been working on the election issue in Pakistan. When she went to visit Pakistan's Supreme Court Bar Association president, currently detained under house arrest, and was only able to visit his wife, she noted "I think it certainly casts doubts on the capacity to hold free and fair elections. If candidates are under arrest, it makes it very difficult to hold a campaign.” You think?

Meanwhile, students at what is more-or-less the Pakistan's University of Chicago Business School, LUMS, are being visited by the police, who tell them that they have a list for arrest. There's a government camera man on campus taking pictures, finding ever more suspects among those who have been assembling on a near daily basis to support Democracy. Of course, those photos won't make it to the news here, the pictures are too boring. Nevertheless, how this plays out could be this evening's very troubling news report. Let's hope not.

Geo TV, taken off the air by Pakistan's regime, but pressing on via the Internet, is reporting, "In a major development, the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy and the All Pakistan Democratic Movement has decided to give the government a ‘Charter of Demands’ to ensure free, fair and transparent elections in the country." That's the coalition led by former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto, who is currently taking a drubbing for her limited abilities in Urdu, and Nawaz Sharif, whose petition to run for office was refused by the government.

The final chapter in Pakistan's election season hasn't been written yet, but this is the first day when I can say I worry. Will the Democracy movement in Pakistan shortly be as missing as the monks of Burma?

Sort of makes you want to sidle over to Rudy's or Hillary's or Mitt's or Barack's current unecological transport of choice, and shout "Fill 'er up!"

Please click here for the lovely picture I chose to head this article. While it's been posted on Flicker, its been made transparent.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Ready for Winter?

Are you ready? Any morning now, we will be seeing something just like this if not much worse! I haven't even checked the snow shovels, but I'm pleased to report that the storm windows are in the doors and the hoses disconnected.

I had a nice week's vacation after Thanksgiving, but am really exhausted. Since I took off a day after Thanksgiving, I haven't had one turkey sandwich, and I am starting to feel a little deprived.

JB Powers, over at the St. Barbara Blog has a great little post about the Salvation Army, which I missed due to being on vacation. Since I don't have much to say today, I suggest you go read it. You may find yourself thinking twice before digging too deep this season for spare change for those omnipresent kettles.