Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Review: Creating a Web Site: The Missing Manual

Author: Matthew MacDonald Format: Paperback, 606 pages Publisher: Pogue Press; 2nd edition (January 7, 2009) ISBN-10: 0596520972 ISBN-13: 978-0596520977 Matthew MacDonald is something of an "in-house" author for the Missing Manual series. He's "penned" (and I use the term loosely in this day of the word processor) Access 2007: The Missing Manual, Excel 2007: The Missing Manual and, of all titles, Your Brain: The Missing Manual (and since I've reviewed all three of these books, I can tell you that he had a little expert help with the last one, especially). He's also written quite extensively for Apress and seems to be well versed on a number of topics. That's why I thought Creating a Web Site might be a little "light" for him. I don't belittle the creativity and technical expertise involved in developing a website (and having created a few in my day, I know whereof I speak), but HTML, CSS, and a smattering of JavaScript isn't perhaps as challenging as writing about how your brain works. On the other hand, there's really so many details to web design that, instead of being to "light", MacDonald may have bitten off more than he could chew by trying to cram "everything" into a single book. Of course, I'm speaking from the point of view of not having cracked open the cover yet. Let's see what this book has under the hood (and I'm really mixing my metaphors in this paragraph). Actually, it's "the hood" I noticed first, or rather the red "ribbon" on the cover saying, "Fully-Revised 2nd Edition". I'm used to reviewing later editions of earlier classics (the first edition of this book reviewed quite well), but "fully-revised" caught my attention. When writing a subsequent edition, often much of the original content doesn't need to be changed; just the bits of the technology that have been updated in the few years between books. Fully-Revised implies MacDonald overhauled the entire thing. It would be almost like writing a new book. No clues were to be had on the back cover, so under the hood I went. I was also disappointed that the Introduction held nothing that said "What's New in this Book". I'd be willing to bet that Part Five: Blogs is probably one of the sections that was added. Of course, if MacDonald really did completely redo the book from scratch, there will be no new "parts" of the book; the entire structure and content will be new. Sadly, I didn't find any direct indication of this in the opening parts of the book, either. What I did find, at least at the beginning, was a book written for the beginner. Fortunately, there's no "history lesson" on the development of "the Internet" or web browser development (I don't think I could have forced myself to take another stroll into the early years of Netscape). Chapter 1 does lightly gloss over about a page worth of Internet history, the major browsers (including Google Chrome; newbie on the block) and various conceptual items. Chapter 2 offers the reader the opportunity to create their first webpage and so on. Definitely starting at ground zero, which isn't a bad thing. If you wanted to design your own wee site, you'd want a book to hold your hand and guide you along the front end of the trail. There's enough in the second chapter to get the reader to create a single HTML page and display it in a browser. Progressing through the book is like walking up a set of stairs. This is good for a linear thinker like me. Since this is a book about building websites, it presents more than just HTML and such. Chapter 3 talks about how to choose a webhost; necessary if you expect people to be able to access your site via the web. Chapter 4 introduces the reader to web editors including Adobe Dreamweaver (of course) and Microsoft Expression Web, but also lesser known editors such as open source Nvu and's Amaya. Since this is a general text about building websites, the material here goes into virtually no depth at all and we know that entire racks of books have been dedicated to Dreamweaver. Don't expect to become an expert on any of the editors from what this text gives you. Part Two takes the reader back into the basics of building and developing web pages, going into more detail about XHTML and CSS, then building on those concepts and practices. This part of the book is what you'd typically expect and MacDonald delivers. In fact, at roughly 200 pages, you could consider this section to be a small book all it's own, teaching the language side of website construction. Remember though, a generalist book has to cover a lot of territory. Part Three is the "marketing" section. Once you've built a site, it doesn't do much good if people don't visit. There's even some material on how to monetize your site using tools such as Google AdSense, Amazon Associates and so on. I thought we were probably through with the "technical" side of website development, when MacDonald took me back into the realm with what he calls "Web Site Frills". These days, I don't consider JavaScript a "frill" but rather a standard "screwdriver" or "hammer" in the web designer's toolbox. Of course, limited to one chapter, there's not a huge amount of information to be gleaned (and The Missing Manual series has an entire book dedicated to JavaScript written by David Sawyer McFarland, but I digress). Of course, how many amateur web designers just "Google" for the bit of JavaScript they need and paste the ready-made code into their webpages? The part of the book on Blogs seemed a bit of a departure from everything that came before, mainly because a blog isn't a website as such. People (myself included) often have a website and blog, since they fulfill different functions on the web. Even MacDonald introduces this section by telling the reader that he's moving away from the web site building agenda. He makes heavy use of Google's Blogger which is building a blog with assistance. I will admit that the skills the reader should have learned up to this point will let them customize the style sheets underlying the standard templates, so they can create their own look and feel (functionality is still largely controlled by the available widgets). I found the "hazards" of blogging box interesting as the author addresses some of the social pitfalls of putting what amounts to a personal journal on the web for all to see. If you've never made a blog with Blogger before and think you might be intimidated by the process, this section contains a nice tutorial for the you. "Marketing" your blog is restricted to another box at the end of the section, but it might be helpful for the uninitiated. I was pleased to see that the appendixes included the expected XHTML reference and a "useful web sites" list, but I'm not sure what to think of the book overall. It's been awhile since I've needed a basic primer on building a web site, and I'm torn between thinking the book was too short and too long. It really tried to cover all the basics and then some, and yes, the reader will be able to design, develop, and publish a site to the web if they follow what this book says. On the other hand, it's a mile wide and an inch deep. You can't cover everything you'd really need to know to design a really good site in a single book, even if it's over 600 pages long. I think the book might better have served its audience, even if it reduced itself in size, by confining itself to teaching web design and publishing basics. I'm not even sure I'd have thrown JavaScript into the mix but instead, would have pumped in more HTML and CSS. I'm torn because, as I previously said, you hardly find a site on the Internet anymore that doesn't have some JavaScript. So where do you draw the line as far as what to put in this book and what to leave out? What I really wanted to see was references to the other Missing Manuals that more exclusively cover the technologies barely touched upon in this text. The Missing Manual series has books on just about everything that addresses CSS, JavaScript, Dreamweaver, and such and in depth. Using this book as a spring board into those other books might have been the way to go. Don't get me wrong. The book will teach you want you need to know to create a web site, and MacDonald is honest, albeit in the Blog part of the book, that what the book doesn't address is how to maintain a website. If you do what the book says, you'll have a website on the Internet that will function at least adequately. If that's the goal of the book and the reader, then you're all set. It's just that so much more can be done and many of the book's chapters could have ended with something like "Please see CSS: The Missing Manual to get more out of your style sheets". As a parting thought, I received Head First Web Design from O'Reilly the same day as I did the Missing Manual book, so it'll be interesting to me (and hopefully to you) to compare the two books when I write the "Head First" review. Which book is better for the beginning web designer or, does each book point to a different audience? We'll find out soon.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Peace with Islam is A Call to Democracy

Update, January 28th: I've been hearing about this for a few days now and heard about it for the first time months ago. Can Islamic terrorists be "rehabilitated"? Sounds like the idea is that you're treating them as if they'd been brainwashed by a cult (which I guess is more or less true) and the treatment is some form of "deprogramming". You can read all about it at and see if this seems like a viable solution. As it's presented, it will probably be most effective at the low-level jihadists who would be convinced to blow themselves up...what used to be called "cannon fodder". For the Bin Ladens of the world, all the therapy available since Freud smoked his first cigar wouldn't help.

Original post starts here: I've been following President Obama's efforts to keep this campaign promise with interest, and some trepidation. Under the Bush administration, it was a foregone conclusion that the vast majority of Muslim Arab nations were at least at odds with our national interests if not our outright enemies (read: Iran). Obama has been busy reversing just about every act Bush ever made as President, but can he really accomplish his goal of peace with Islam? Can there be peace between America and the Muslim nations? As far as establishing peace with Islam, it would be naive to assume that the Muslim Arab world would ever truly desire peace with the U.S. as long as we support the existence of Israel. If we advocated the total destruction of every last Jewish man, woman, and child in Israel and turning the entire land into "Palestine" for the "Palestinian Arabs", then they'd say they want peace with us. The issue of "Palestine" cannot be extracted from the entire debate, since every Arab nation, including our ally Saudi Arabia, supports the establishment of a Palestinian "homeland" within the borders of Israel (kind of like moving the fox into the back bedroom of the hen house). The irony in all this is that, whenever the Palestinian people have sought to establish their presence in any of the Arab nations, they were sent packing back to "Palestine". Even today, movement of Palestinian citizens to into Egypt, right next door to Gaza, is strictly controlled by the Egyptians. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has long expressed his heartfelt compassion for the Palestinian people, once suggested that, if the Europeans felt so guilty for the Holocaust, why didn't they establish a "Jewish homeland" in Europe, and leave 100% of Israel for the Palestinians? I'm sure that Iran has more than enough real estate for Ahmadinejad to annex some portion of it for "New Palestine". Why doesn't he follow his own best advice? The issue of "extremist" (as if they're just three guys in a garage somewhere in Montana building bombs) organizations is another potential roadblock. Islamic terrorist organizations act out the will of the mainstream Islamic hard liners. Many "average" Muslims support terrorist acts towards the US and Israel who they are told are the enemy. While these average people may never commit a terrorist act themselves, they at least emotionally and cognitively support terrorism, if not donate to terrorist causes. How will those people, who have already been convinced that we are the enemy, be "unconvinced"? While Obama says he wants to establish peaceful relations with Muslim countries like Iran but totally rejects Islamic Terrorist organizations, he doesn't acknowledge that Iran is the willing training ground for Al Queda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and so on. Did the CIA fail to brief the new President on these facts? How can we support peace on the one hand, and still ignore that our would be allies continue to support violence against us? What about the human rights violations committed on a daily basis in Iran and other Islamic nations? How can we close down "Gitmo" in order to wash our sins from our hands, yet ally ourselves to nations that employ the same (or worse) interrogation techniques on their political prisoners? Do we accept a superficial "peace" with these nations while turning a blind eye to the suffering of their prisoners and their citizens? We tried that with the Soviet Union and it didn't work. Even after the fall of Communism and establishment of relationships with the former Soviet states, many problems remain. Is our desire for "peace" stronger than standing up for our stated ideals of Justice and Freedom for all? Despite what I said earlier about "average" Muslims supporting terrorism, at least passively, I do think that most Muslims, here in the west and in the Arab nations, want to have peace. I believe that many Iranian citizens desire that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad be replaced by a more moderate leader. However, just as citizens in every nation run by a dictator have very little say as to the official policies of their country, the average Arab may have no control over implementing these desires. An excellent book that illustrates the plight of a subjegated people is Natan Sharansky's The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror. Sharansky himself was a Soviet Jewish dissident, living in Russia during the cold war period. He points out that, while some of the citizens truly supported the Soviet goals and were "partners" with the oppressive regime, most people wanted to at least have a greater dialogue with the west and at most, the freedom to leave the Communist state. Few people live in a dictatorship by choice. The same propaganda process existed for the Soviets then as it does for Islam now. If people in the Soviet Union believed the west was "evil", it was because their leaders told them so. Some chose to believe while others saw through the lies. The same is true today in Islamic dictatorships, except while the Soviets chose to "demonize" religion, Islam by definition, uses religion as the compelling tool to convince the people that Allah (not the same as the Jewish or Christian God) believes the west is "evil". This not only justifies violence against westerners and Jews, but demands it. Obama is not ignorant nor stupid, and I find it hard to believe that he's even naive. So what does he expect to gain out of extending the hand of friendship to a dictatorship that could not function attached to a democracy? As allies, wouldn't we be critical of their many human rights violations? The answer I see is that he gets to make good on his promise. No, I don't believe Obama is shallow, but I do believe he has a rationale. There have to be a set of "reasonable" conditions for us to accept a nation as a friend (at least if Obama really means he wants to run government without duplicity...a first, if he can pull it off) and new ally. That means, we couldn't reasonably accept friendship with countries such as Iran unless they ceased (not just "agreed" to cease, but actually ceased) all of their internal activities that violated the rights of their citizens and stopped 100% of their support for terrorist organizations. I frankly don't see that happening unless or until a revolution occurs in Iran, tossing out the old regime. There's nothing wrong with stating that we are not aggressors and desire to have peaceful relations with the nations of the world. That said, we must accept that, if we are true to the principles of democracy and freedom, we are not going to be friends will all of the nations of the earth. We can extend the olive branch to the Islamic world, but we need to not be afraid to say that there will be no peace while Islam supports injustice and violence. Source articles: The New York Times and

Monday, January 26, 2009

Click: What Millions of People Are Doing Online and Why it Matters

Update: The article What the Web knows about you is a frightening companion to Tancer's book. Author: Bill Tancer Format: Hardcover, 240 pages Publisher: Hyperion (September 2, 2008) ISBN-10: 1401323049 ISBN-13: 978-1401323042 Bill Tancer's book first hit me as a strange cross between a voyeur's look at the Internet and Orwell's 1984. I got the distinct impression as he was detailing just what he could learn from tracking our web searches, that "Big Brother" had arrived. That's something of an exaggeration, since all of the personal information is stripped out of Tancer's data (hopefully), but I found it amazing what he said he could learn about people, just by looking at patterns in searches. Tancer's innate curiosity about people is definitely communicated throughout his writing. It's not that he's interested in specific individuals per se, but in how people as groups search and what it means. His blog at Hitwise (where he works) can be reached at the URL and I think he means it. I think it's almost like Tancer is "in" love with data, what it can tell him, how it can be manipulated, and so on. The chapters weren't as tightly associated as I'd expected. Going through the book was like reading a series of loosely associated vignettes, each with its own special theme, and all tied together using the topic, "data". Tancer is quite casual; actually conversational in his writing, so the book is an easy read. That's a good thing since, if you don't love data, the book could have been impossibly dry and static. If you are looking for a detailed, penetrating business analysis of how Internet searches and marketing are associated, try enrolling in an MBA program. You won't get it from this book. Not that the information isn't particularly helpful, but it is presented for a very wide readership. That means it doesn't contain the amount of information or level of detail that specialists in their fields would find terrifically compelling. It is rather compelling for everyone else, though. While the first half of the book exists to establish the foundation for how data patterns can be analyzed, the second half describes how certain phenomena on the web works and can even be predicted. Ever wonder how sites such as YouTube, Facebook, and MySpace literally took off overnight? Tancer provides information to at least try to explain these viral phenomenons. You can see how Tancer makes the connections in data points as they crisscross across the Web 2.0 landscape, even when he's describing how a little known band called "Arctic Monkeys" became a smash hit within a year of their birth; to the astonishment of the band members themselves. As I rocketed through the book and approached the final pages, I wondered if, as Tancer puts it, we are what we click? Can human behavior be derived from Internet behavior? In the world of Web 2.0 (and rising) and having just elected our first Internet President, it certainly seems like it should be so. After all, according to Tancer, whenever we're online, we leave a trail of the sites we visit like so many breadcrumbs. It's this trail that Tancer follows to come up with what he presents in his book. On a personal level, I rather hope we aren't just what we click. I would rather believe that people are more than just what they look for on the web. On the one hand, if you're reading this, you are interested in reading a book, which is outside the web's sphere (at least in theory). On the other hand, you're reading this book review on the web and will probably buy the book at Amazon. Maybe you'll email the link to this review to a friend, post it on Facebook, or tweet it on twitter (or all that and more). I suppose that means I'm wrong and Tancer's right. To find out more, buy his book and go through it. 240 pages go by fast, so you'll be at the point of making your own conclusion in no time.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Programming in Python 3: A Complete Introduction to the Python Language: A Book Review

Author: Mark Summerfield Format: Paperback, 552 pages Publisher: Addison-Wesley Professional; 1st edition (December 26, 2008) ISBN-10: 0137129297 ISBN-13: 978-013712929 I wasn't particularly happy when I heard that Python 3 wasn't backwardly compatible with previous versions of Python, but I tried to keep an open mind about this. When I heard that Programming in Python 3 was being published in Addison-Wesley's Developer's Library series, I saw a chance to get up to speed quickly with what had changed. I don't code on a daily basis, so my skills wax and wane, depending on how often I get the time to work with a programming language and, unfortunately, it doesn't take long for me to become "oxidized". I was interested to see how Summerfield would approach this book, published just barely a month after Python 3 itself was officially released. Would the approach be as a strict reference guide for the experienced Python user looking for what had changed, or would there be something within the pages for people trying to learn Python for the first time? The answer, or at least part of the answer, was found in the first few pages of the Introduction. Experienced Python users will be happy to know that the book works to explain what practices they may be accustomed to using in Python 2, will no longer be necessary (or productive) in Python 3. New Python users will be happy to know that the author's intent is to completely teach the Python language, rather than just offer information on what has changed in the latest version. I say "complete" with the caveat that not all of the Python libraries are represented in this book. Hopefully, that won't short circuit even the complete Python newcomer since, once they've gotten some experience in that arena, the reader will know how to access and use any of the standard Python libraries. Summerfield and Addison-Wesley have thrown a really wide net over the entire topic, and the book claims to have something between its covers for everyone, from the curious student to the most experienced developer. That's a pretty tall order, and every book that says it is all things to all people, runs the risk of having to prove it. Many times, books that say they cover "everything" are found to cover certain areas well while other areas are only sparsely presented. One thing I was looking for from this book in particular, was the ability to write some productive, or at least emotionally satisfying scripts, fairly quickly. Nothing is more frustrating when trying to learn a language from a book, than to be able to do no more than echo back "Hello World!" when you're 140+ pages into the book. I'm all for learning concept and agree that you can't be very productive with a language if you don't understand what's under the hood, but on the other hand, programming is about making something happen. That said, the first thing you learn after finding out how to install Python 3 (not as easy as you might imagine, depending on your OS platform), is learning "Hello World!". Once past that, Chapter 1 does a couple of nice things. First, it introduces the reader to the basics of programming which is a plus for the new learner (though will likely bore the experienced coder to tears), and starts the reader out right away with using Python 3. The differences aren't earth shattering, but they exist and, if you are going to learn the latest version, you should learn it from the ground up. The end of each chapter does what I wish more "learning" books would do; presents a series of exercises for the reader to reinforce the material presented in the chapter. You'll never learn a programming language unless you get your hands dirty, hit a few dead ends and, occasionally want to beat your head against the wall (but only a little). The other thing that learning books need to do is provide the answers to all exercises somewhere at the end of the book, just in case the reader gets stuck. Fortunately Summerfield and the Developer's Library series does both of these things. Another nice little feature about the book is that, if a topic is mentioned on a particular page, there's a reference to where else in the book you find information on that topic. That saves a lot of page turning and frustrated index consulting. The writing is linear and progressive, which is exactly what I need as a learner. Summerfield isn't going to win awards for comedy writing, but he's not amazingly dry either, so the 552 pages of this text are quite readable. Beyond the introduction to programming in Python 3 in the first chapter, if you progress through the first six chapters in sequence, you'll be well on your way to taking off with using Python independently. Actually, I'd recommend going up through at least Chapter 8 before taking off into the "wild blue yonder" of Python programming, to get more experience using with statements and context managers. Of course, I'm not saying to abandon the book after the eighth chapter, but I am saying that you should be a fairly competent Python programmer at that point. The rest of the book's content tends toward specialty topics. An example of a "specialty topic" is Chapter 12, which presents the Python Regular Expression language and, to get a preview of what this chapter contains, you can visit and read the chapter excerpt for free. Definitely a plus if you want to get more of an idea of what the book contains before committing to spending your hard earned green buying this text. A few caveats. I run Ubuntu Hardy Heron and had a heck of a time trying to figure out the correct repository to add to /etc/apt/sources.list. I finally took the advice I found at this blog, though I much prefer letting the apt system manage my software. The Intrepid Ibex's repos have Python 3 already, so If you're an Ibex user, you're all set. I mention this only because the book isn't going to be able to give you every possible method of installing Python 3 for all conceivable operating system platforms and their versions. Believe me, I worked Google to the bone before going with an installation option that didn't start out with sudo apt-get install. The other important thing to note is that, if you have programs running on your computer or server using earlier versions of Python, don't make Python 3 the default. You'll want to run both versions of Python side-by-side to avoid breaking anything (that is, unless you don't mind rewriting everything in Python 3). If you're the proud owner of this book, comment back here on my blog and let me know what you think. Update: If you want Python 3 on Ubuntu Heron, you'll have to install it via the link I posted in the review. Only the Ibex repositories will have it available. Looks like it's time for me to upgrade.

BBC Report: Former British Army Colonel Discusses IDF Gaza Ops

Colonel Kemp's statement to the BBC News reporter gives a very good understanding of what really happened in Gaza and how Hamas is the party who truly endangered the civilians in Gaza, not Israel. A very insightful report, particularly for a major news outlet like the BBC.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Should Christians believe in Global Warming?

Relative to faith in the God of the Bible, believers have to ask themselves, "can people really, significantly mess up the Earth?" The general conclusion is "probably not". From the purely secular and scientific point of view, it's possible and even likely that people will (sooner or later) mess up the Earth to the point where the planet won't be able to support life. We'll be committing "self-extinction". That rather flies in the face of Christianity, since the Earth and the people who live on it must exist when Jesus returns. Therefore, from the point of view of a Christian, global warming can't be as bad as all that, can it? There's another angle to consider from a Biblical point of view. In Genesis, God created the Earth and then turned it over to Adam and Eve saying basically, "Here's the Earth. It's yours now. Take care of it". I'm paraphrasing rather heavily, but people were given "stewardship" (that's an important word) over the planet. Unfortunately, that has sometimes been used as an excuse for treating our environment anyway we want, as long as we get the resources out of it we desire. Does the Bible justify "clear cutting" and "strip mining"? I don't think so. Recall the parable of the talents that Jesus told (Matthew 25:14-30, Luke 19:12-28). The "moral of the story" is that we are to be wise investors of the gifts we are given. The parable uses monetary terms (investing a dollar to get ten dollars back), but it can be applied to any gift we're given. We're not only supposed to make sure what we're given doesn't decay (making a bad investment of your dollar to get a return of only a quarter), and doesn't just stay the same (burying the dollar in a hole for a year, then pulling the same dollar back out...with inflation, the dollar is worth less, anyway), but we're to actually improve upon the gift. What does that mean when "the gift" is a planet? Even a casual "Googling" of global warming will turn up just a ton of results and recent news items across the web indicate that even the most staunch "anti-global warming" experts are now finally coming around and acknowledging that global warming is real. Is this a denial of faith? No. It's more of an acknowledgement that people have been poor stewards of the gift they were given; the Earth. Judaism has the concept of Tikkun Olam or "Repairing the World". The idea is that we not only have the ability, but have the responsibility to make the world a better place to live in, both spiritually and physically. Acts of kindness and charity are considered part of enacting Tikkun Olam but acts of "kindness" upon the Earth are also included. Picking up even a single piece of trash, or walking to the store instead of driving, are part of "repairing the world". From a Jewish point of view, each act of Tikkun Olam, brings the coming of the Messiah just a little closer. The great commission as recorded in Matthew 28:16-20, is where Jesus directs his disciples to make disciples of all the nations (the citizens of the Earth), and Christians generally believe that by "converting" (which isn't exactly what the commandment says) more and more people to the faith, brings Jesus one step closer to returning. It's actually somewhat similar to Tikkun Olam, though both Christianity and Judaism would probably deny the connection. That said, both faiths have an understanding that people have a responsibility to prepare the Earth for the Messiah's coming or return (depending on your point of view). Of course, Christianity doesn't have as strong an "environmental" component as Judaism, but factoring in Genesis and the parable of the talents, you can easily make up for that. For Christians, the question of global warming is "can people mess up God's plan?" In an ultimate sense, the answer is "no". God cannot be surprised, diverted, or defeated by anything people do. However that's not to say we don't have free will and aren't subject to our sin nature (see Genesis). We do have the ability to make things better or worse as individuals and as a society, and there will be an ultimate reckoning for how we use the gifts we have been given (see the parable), including how we treated our environment. Did we use our gifts wisely or did we squander them? Did we treat the Earth well, or did we tear it to shreds? Secularists, humanists, atheists, and scientists often believe that people of faith are stupid, crazy, superstitious, irrational, and deniers of fact. People of faith often believe that non-believing people are self-driven, sinful, foolish, and deniers of truth. Both camps draw a line in the sand about many issues including the environment (and this is irrational from a Christian point of view and especially relative to Matthew 28, which tells believers not to push non-believers away, but to make students of them). One of the things we have in common is the planet we live on. We only have one Earth. If you don't believe in a Creator, then you have to be scared to death right now that we'll screw up the world enough to extinguish ourselves. If you do believe in the Creator, then you need to be concerned enough about your responsibilities; your stewardship to not let the Earth go to waste. In either case, you have a job to do, if you haven't been doing it already. Start taking care of the Earth. Start being concerned. Start acting on your concerns. Become partners with people who share your concerns, people of faith and secularists alike. This isn't just a "Greenpeace" thing, or a "Sierra Club" thing, or a "tree hugger"'s a "people" thing. Don't allow divisiveness to keep the blinders on you. There's nothing in the Bible that says we can't allow sin to mess up the world. It already did in Genesis and that process is still at work. You don't have to just throw up your hands and say you have no power to change it. A life of faith says you do have the power to make the world a better place to live in. Just tap into that power, get your marching orders, then get to work.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

How Open Can Obama Make Government?

Update: This sounds like a challenge to "ObamaWeb 2.0"; the so called spy-proof 'BarackBerry' phone. Original blog post starts here: When I say "open" in my professional life, I usually mean Open Source. The question posed by this blog post is somewhat related, but it really talks about "openness" in a much broader sense. My post was actually inspired by a link Tim O'Reilly posted on twitter to the O'Reilly blog What Does it Mean to be an Internet President? I have no intension of reinventing the wheel and rehashing what writer Joshua-Michéle Ross wrote (even if I could), but one piece of the blog post captured my interest:
"getting beyond a paternal sense of government (what government does for me) and towards a participatory model of government"
The point Ross makes is almost like describing the differences between Web 1.0 and 2.0 (static vs. interactive/participatory), though John F. Kennedy's famous Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country statement was certainly an ancestor. However, at our core as Americans, are we ready to move that far? Are we ready to be truly participatory in our government? You might think I'm nuts even asking that sort of question. After all, wasn't our nation founded on equal representation in government? Yes, in theory, but I'm not sure it ever really worked that way. I know it doesn't work that way now. I think if offered, people are going to have a hard time adjusting to as much access as Obama and Co. seem to offer. As Ben Parker said to his young nephew Peter, "With great power comes great responsibility." Responsibility comes with access and interaction, too. Right before the inauguration, CNN posted a story to their politics page about a group of Republicans in Wyoming who were not at all thrilled that Barack Obama was going to be President. Part of their concern (and they were very polite and measured when expressing their concerns) was that traditionally, Democrats favor "big government" and significant Federal government involvement in the States. Many of us who live in the West, tend to favor each individual State having more control over its own affairs and smaller Federal government involvement (some would say "intrusion"). There's a sense you have in the West about taking care of your own messes "in-house" so to speak, and not calling on "Big Daddy" every time you scrape your knee. In fact, the State Constitution of Idaho (where I live) poses very strict limits on when the State can legally ask the Federal government for assistance; more than most states. The sort of access that the Obama "Web 2.0" administration is proposing has a lot of advantages and a few disadvantages, as least as I can see it. With that level of participation, information goes both ways. In some sense, if we as citizens are more involved with the Federal government than ever before on an interactive level, then the Federal government will be more involved with us. I suppose if you see the government as a completely benign entity, that may not bother you much. With the overwhelming sense of good will that seems to have attached itself to the Obama administration, the idea of "trust" may not have entered into the minds of most people just yet (unless it's framed as "I trust Obama completely"). The other side of the "trust" coin is how widely will Obama open the access doors? Government tends to have it's dark corners and it's shadowed closets where none but the "insider" may venture. Certainly, the President can't do away with the concept let alone the practice of "national security" in a day (or a week, or a month, or a...). Will there truly be no secrets from the American people anymore? Where do we draw the line in terms of information flow relative to allowing other governments and outside groups access (If I can find it on, so can Hamas or Al Qaeda)? In my living memory, the government has always been "paternal". You could question it, but only up to a point. You could "buck the system", but if you pushed too hard, the system pushed back (ask people like Abbie Hoffman). Even the "kindest and gentlest" government could bare its teeth if you stepped on its toes. It's hard to imagine the kind of openness that is being discussed in articles like the one Ross posted. It's quite possible that I've gotten so used to relating to the government in one way, that I find it difficult to change gears, at least very quickly. Yet the digital age is all about very fast information transfer and manipulation. On the other hand, Obama has been in office for little more than a day. As one person commented on the blog I've referenced, "He hasn't done anything yet and people continue to praise him. Amazing." In the sense of openness I've been discussing, the responsibility isn't solely on Obama's shoulders. It can't be to fulfill it's purpose. The door has to swing both ways. Both sides (here I go again..."us vs. them") have to be willing to be "open", providing give and take of information, participation, exchanges of ideas and energy...and especially responsibility. If the American people don't want the government to be a "Big Daddy" anymore, then they're going to have to grow up...we're going to have to grow up. That means we participate and take the risks that go along with it. If it works, it could be revolutionary, but even revolutions take more than a day. One of the things that slows down the "revolution" for me, is whether or not we can or should trust the government, and whether or not they're willing to trust us. On the surface, the offering of trust by this administration seems to be the intent, but just because Barack Obama will be sleeping in the White House tonight, doesn't mean that the entire "Military Industrial Complex" has rolled over. Part of us being responsible citizens is making measured decisions. In any relationship, even the most intimate relationship, 100% of all information is never exchanged. "Personal privacy" isn't a dirty word, and I don't see a citizen's relationship with the government being all that "intimate". Am I ready to throw caution to the winds and immediately accept and embrace all this? Well, I've never been much of a "hugger". The government already knows a great deal about me and yet, I don't find myself thinking of our relationship as "intimate". I think I'll see how the relationship develops, before I let myself relax that much.

I Could Be Wrong about Obama

Update: And so it begins. That is, the demands of the Arab world on Obama. Both the Arab world and Israel have a set of expectations relative to the newly minted American President. Since you can't make all of the people happy all of the time, it'll be interesting to see how President Obama responds. Original Blog starts here: I'm not above eating my own words when I'm wrong. I hope I'm wrong. This article published by Arutz Sheva seems to indicate that I'm wrong. Let me explain. One of my concerns about President Obama has to do with his statements that he wanted to forge a new relationship with the Muslim world. That's fine and well in the spirit of international cooperation, but some of those nations and groups have long called for the total destruction of Israel and the US; actions I certainly am against. Yet the aforementioned Arutz Sheva article states that the Arab world is, at best, suspicious of President Obama's motives with some referring to him as a "Black Bush". No rational person would consider Obama's stated policies anywhere near those of George Bush's, so the assumption is a tad psychotic. On the other hand, it seems that Arab suspicion is crystalized by a statement made by civil servant Khalil al-Attar, "Despite everything that has been said about his Arab origins, something I personally don't believe, he will act according to the interests of the people who elected him." The President of the United States acting on behalf of the interests of the people who elected him? Well...yeah. What do you expect? By the way, what "Arab origins"? Obama's birth father was from Kenya and his step-father was a Muslim from Indonesia. Of course, Arab suspicion aside, no one will know for sure which way Obama will jump on the issues in the Middle East just yet. Campaign rhetoric is one thing, but we've already seen that once elected, Obama has demonstrated a tendency to make his own decisions in his own way. While there was celebrating in Gaza by Hamas and their supporters when Obama was inaugurated, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ignored the proceedings, based on the "hostility" he perceives Obama has against his country. While millions in Israel cheered as Barack Obama became America's 44th President, we can only wait and see who in the Middle East has more reason to be concerned about this nation's actions, the Arab world or Israel. I hope I'm wrong. I'll gladly eat my words. But before I put the napkin around my neck and raise my knife and fork, I'll need to see what is on the plate in front of me.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

God and the Inauguration

I was glad to see that the prayers some people tried to prevent from happening, were able to be said at Barack Obama's inauguration. I've been wondering about this all day. While I was successfully able to follow the event just by keeping my eye on twitter, the issue of prayer, much discussed and argued over in the weeks before the inauguration, wasn't brought up once. After I got home, I scanned the online news again and discovered that had covered the story (I haven't taken a look at CNN yet). At one point, the somewhat controversial Reverend Rick Warren (by virtue of the fact that he supported Proposition 8 in California), seemed to have "knuckled under" slightly, not referring to Jesus by name but "in the name of the one who changed my life". He also quoted from the Shema, Judaism's holiest prayer (Deuteronomy 6:4) "Hear O' Israel, the Lord our God; the Lord is One". He also referenced what commentators referred to as "a phrase from Muslim devotion", "the compassionate and merciful one", but this phrase is also common in Jewish prayers (I checked) and probably predates the Islamic usage. Later in the news article, it stated that Warren invoked the name of Jesus in English, Spanish, Hebrew, and Arabic, so he didn't become so "politically correct" for the occasion (pardon the obvious pun) that he withheld the name of Jesus in order to accommodate the sense of inclusiveness promoted by the event. Actually, the only unhappy comment regarding Warren's prayer came from Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, interreligious outreach leader of the American Jewish Committee, who said, "inclusive even as it was slightly exclusive", referring to the mention of Jesus and ending the prayer with The Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9–13, Luke 11:2–4). That's rather a faint criticism, though. Of course, if Warren is to be true to his faith and his beliefs as an Evangelical Pastor, it's unreasonable to expect that he'll pray any other way, publicly or privately. The news story also mentions some of the other religious leaders present who offered prayers, and Obama was true to his mission of offering inclusion to the faithful and the secular alike. During his campaign, Obama has mentioned his own faith more than once, but the expressions of his faith seem to include issues that those people referred to as "the religious right" would not find in their Bibles. The article made a point of mentioning that "the religious right" did seem to play a significant role in the Bush Presidency, which may be yet another reason why so many people were anxious to see Bush get out and Obama go into the White House. Is God inclusive of all things and all people? He certainly wants all people to come to Him. The problem arises when people decide how they want to define God, and go church (synagogue, mosque, whatever) hopping to find a place of faith that will be tolerant of (which these days means "wholeheartedly accept") their particular lifestyle and habits. I know from my studies of the Bible that God is not tolerant of sin (well, he's more tolerant than we deserve, but there will be an ultimate reckoning), so people tend to go "God-hopping" looking for a faith, or a faction of a faith, where "God" includes whatever they want Him to include, and often where the concept of "sin" is never mentioned. Many Christians refer to America as a "Christian Nation". Personally, the way America is going, I don't see it and haven't for quite sometime. While Obama states that his faith is Christian, his desire to include all other faiths plus non-faith (unless one has faith in Science or Society) will likely, officially define America as "not" a Christian nation for the first time in our country's history. I'm glad to see the prayers were said at this historic event. Matthew 18:20 says, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." I take heart that He was there in the midst of those who have faith in God and attended Barack Obama's inauguration. May He continue to have a presence in this nation, especially at a time when so many are demanding that He leave.

Living up to Expectations

Post the Obama Inauguration, the whole world and certainly the United States, seems to be doing one big happy dance. The Messiah apparent has now taken the throne and all of our troubles and woes will quickly vanish, and an age of unprecedented and everlasting peace is upon us...maybe. It's a little too soon to start analysing President Obama's performance. After all, he hasn't had a chance to actually do anything yet. That's not a criticism, it's a fact. And yet, I do see signs of unrest already forming in the clouds. There are many examples, some of which I outlined in my previous blog I feel sorry for Barack Obama...and I admire him. I want to use just one recent example; the controversy over Obama's appearance on the cover of MS. Magazine. The link I posted in the last sentence includes a picture of the cover, which depicts Obama, ripping his shirt open in "Superman" fashion with the t-shirt underneath saying, "This is what a Feminist looks like". In fact, feminists were split on whether or not this was a good thing. Occasionally, but rarely, does MS. Magazine have a man on its cover and many dissenters thought that a woman such as Hilary Clinton or even (gasp) Sarah Palin should have appeared instead. Others, and chiefly the editorialship of MS. Magazine, say that it's possible for a man to be a feminist and that an Obama Presidency is good for feminists. The previously mentioned dissenters still, to some degree, are smarting that Clinton didn't win the Democratic nomination for President (and possibly the Presidency itself), nor was she even vetted as a possible VP for Obama (the latter would have ended up in a hopeless battle of wills between two strong leaders, neither one wanting to take the back seat to the other...Clinton will better serve "the party" as Secretary of State). As I recall watching and reading the various reports on this issue, one of the criticisms levelled against Obama's being displayed on the magazine's cover, was that he hadn't appointed enough women to high Cabinet positions (and I previously discussed this). I guess this means Obama failed the "feminist" test by not meeting his "woman-in-high-places" quota. Before you condemn me to "male chauvinist pigdom", I do believe strongly in equal access and don't believe in making distinctions between men and women in terms of capability for any role. I have no problem with Obama being President based on race and would have had no problem (had it worked out that way) with Clinton being President based on gender. What I am saying is that I don't believe that anyone is entitled to any particular role just because of race or gender. In other words, I don't believe in quotas. Affirmative Action's dismal failure proves they don't work. In fact, quotas are demeaning to the very people you're trying to benefit, because they say "you couldn't have made it on merit need help". Obama is supposed to be the superhero that rights all wrongs, frees the oppressed, heals the sick, raises the wait, that's Jesus. Well, as far as the American public and citizens of the world are concerned, Obama is all that rolled into one person. He can do no wrong, at least today. However, when tomorrow and the day after tomorrow come around, criticisms such as those I've just mentioned will rise over the horizon like rain clouds hiding the morning sun. The feminists are just an example. Every interest group expects President Obama to serve their particular needs. It's almost as if each American individual is expecting Obama to service just them. What happens when he doesn't? What happens when President Obama continues to use his own judgement to make decisions rather than everyone's expectations? What happens when someone asks him for something and he has to say "no"? Everyone loves a rising star, but will turn them into "paparazzi-fodder" the split second they appear to fail. Obama doesn't even have to actually fail to be turned against by the fair-weather fans. All he has to do is seem to fail by not meeting everyone's expectations all of the time. Given the dismal reputation George W. Bush takes with him, like a personal storm cloud, as he leaves the White House for the last time, it's relatively easy to be the popular new kid on the block. All you have to do is say, "I promise to be different than Bush". The whole world is ready for that. The question of what "different" actually means will become important in the weeks and months ahead. We not only must pray that Obama guides this nation with wisdom, but we have to pray that we understand that a leader must lead the people, and not follow their every whim.

Monday, January 19, 2009

And I will not leave them undone

A friend sent an email to me the other day (ok, sent it to my wife...then she sent it on to me) that made me pause. Lately, I've been so focused on the whole Hamas/Israel conflict in Gaza (just read this blog and my Facebook posts, if you don't believe me) and how the traditional "world view" of the media skews evil into righteousness (and vice versa). This email was sent by a person living in Israel and who is witnessing these events first hand. She had some good advice for everyone, particularly me. While I don't regret my stance on the conflict and calling the terrorists what they are, I realized that I was missing out on the "real" battle. As anyone who reads this blog (all two of you) has probably figured out, I believe in the God of the Bible and the promises He made; that Israel has been given to the Jewish people in perpetuity. I believe the day will come when God Himself will do battle for Israel, and that one day, the battle will be over.
But everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid; For the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken. --Micah 4:4
I was forgetting that, as tragic as the war is, and as tragic as the loss of innocent life is, that there is a much larger perspective to consider.
These are the things I will do, And I will not leave them undone. They will be turned back and be utterly put to shame who trust in idols, who say to molten images, "You are our gods..." Isaiah 42:16-17
God will keep His promises and evil will ultimately be defeated. I'm not pointing fingers at individual Palestinians and calling them "evil" but the process of evil; the process that allows Hamas to endlessly launch rockets into Southern Israel and lets the world hardly notice; yet the world screams its head off when Israel dares to defend itself. This is what will be defeated. It will get much, much worse before it gets better. What we are seeing now is what the Bible talks about when all nations will turn against Israel and the Jewish people. As they say on "Family Guy", it really "grinds my gears", but it's got to happen. As much as I hate it, this process must continue and will be fulfilled, ultimately, finally, in God fighting for His people and His Land. They will be turned back...but not when I want it to happen. They will be turned back at the right time, when He says it is to happen. I will continue to stand up for what I believe is right and just, but I'll also try to be better at waiting for the author of Justice to right the wrongs and defend the innocent.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Review: Google Apps Deciphered

Author: Scott Granneman Format: Paperback, 592 pages Publisher: Prentice Hall PTR 1st Edition (December 14, 2008) ISBN-10: 0137004702 ISBN-13: 978-0137004706 Update 3, January 21st: I've been doing a little research on Web 3.0 as it relates to Google Apps but particularly to my upcoming review of Bill Tancer's Click: What Millions of People Are Doing Online and Why it Matters. Update 2, January 20th: Interesting comparison between Google Docs and MS Office at InformIT. Update: I wonder how this story I found at Slashdot will impact Google's SAAS plan? First of all, to really appreciate this book, you'll have to become comfortable with surrendering data you'd normally have contained in apps on your hard drive onto "the cloud". You'll also have to become comfortable with surrendering that data to Google. Then again, maybe you've already gone a long way down that path without even realizing it. Let's see. What are Google apps? Do you have a Gmail account? If so, you at least have an idea about Google apps, even if you haven't used a single one. Actually, Gmail is a good place to start. You may consider Gmail no more significant than any other web-based mail system (Hotmail, Yahoo, and so on), but there's a lot more to it, at least once it becomes part of an application service. One of the goals of Gmail as part of Google apps, is to move your personal and business activity off the desktop and into the cloud...which in this case, lives in Google's data center. All of Chapter 3 of this book is dedicated to showing the reader how to migrate their emails from a variety of other platforms to Gmail. Outlook and Exchange are covered here of course, but you can also migrate from other desktop apps, such as Thunderbird and from other webmail systems, such as Hotmail. Once you've migrated from these other platforms to Gmail, the adventure isn't over. Granneman considered Gmail so important, that he dedicated Part II of the book, a total of four chapters, to the intricacies of managing communications with Gmail. While it's not quite the central theme for this book, since it's the most common Google apps used, I thought I'd start out here by way of launching this review. Of course, "cloud computing" isn't just Google's bright idea. As illustrated in this New York Times article published in September 2007, Microsoft has long been a proponent of this strategy. Google and Microsoft continue to struggle for the hearts and minds of the computing faithful throughout the world. Microsoft is the name we think of whenever we think of our computer, but Google is what enters our minds whenever we need to search. Office 2007 is Microsoft's latest foray into the office suite and it continues to be desktop based. For Google, cloud computing is here and now. The chief advantage of cloud-based applications is that they are completely hardware platform free. It doesn't matter what computer you are using to access your email or to create documents; your work exists "out there". With high speed Internet connections, both LAN and wireless being the norm, there's virtually no noticeable delay between input and output. Your work is at your fingertips in just the same way its always been. But how successful is Google in this endeavor? According to the Introduction in this book, over 3000 businesses a day sign up with Google Apps, with Google claiming over half a million companies total as Google Apps users. Ok, caveat time. These business are paying customers who use the Premier Edition of Google Apps, which is somewhat different than what you and I would have as individual freebee users. Is this author just shilling for Google, writing a book that makes Google Apps look good? When (or if) you buy this text, are you just going to be reading advertising? The beginning of the book certainly seems that way. Sure, it's not entirely blatant, but to sell the book, the reader has to be sold on the idea that Goggle Apps is something they should at least seriously consider. Otherwise, why shell out the dough in the first place? No one buys a book on Microsoft Office 2007 if they aren't planning on using the application. Of course, both Scott Granneman and Prentice Hall need to have some sort of faith in Google Apps, at least in terms of its "sellability" to create the book in the first place (though I'm willing to bet that Prentice Hall relies heavily on Microsoft Office products to generate its wares). At least as far as the first Chapter presents, there's an obvious comparison between MS Office and Goggle apps in an attempt to convince the reader that there are other alternatives besides the house that Gates built. But what about cloud computing? It's also known as Software-as-a-Service or SAAS. Chapter 2 of the book is the "real" salesperson of the text in explaining what SAAS is and how it is implemented through Google. I was a tad bit misleading earlier in the review when I implied that being a Gmail user made you a Google Apps user. While Gmail is a significant component of Google Apps, you still have to sign up separately for Google's SAAS service. The standard edition is free but you can try out the premier edition free for 30 days. The comparison list shows the stark difference between the two. I have to admit, going both through what Google Apps has to offer, and how Google's foray into cloud computing has been documented by Granneman has left me impressed. This isn't a matter of just cobbling together a bunch of different services that people already use (Gmail, Blogger, Picasa) and stamping "Google Apps" on the box. This is a completely integrated package of applications suitable for the business user, made available from the web. Just about everything you'll need to run a company's communications is available, from creating websites, to instant messaging, to managing videos. I did rather miss having something like Visio to create detailed diagrams, though. Am I convinced enough to throw caution to the winds and abandon the desktop for the cloud? No. Of course, I'm a pretty conservative person and I don't make changes quickly and easily. I use for most of my office suite needs, at least at home. On the other hand, I use Gmail extensively, as well as Blogger and occasionally Picasa Web Albums; all extensions of the Google universe. Google is already quietly entering our lives, one free, online app at a time. If you'd like to see if you should take it to the next level and consider formally running Google Apps, either as an individual or corporately, Grannerman's book would be a good place to start.

Why do thousands of Palestinians want to be Israeli citizens?

From most of the world's point of view, including the popular media, it doesn't make sense for anyone identifying themselves as Palestinian to apply for Israeli citizenship; a move that most Arabs would consider equal to treason. Yet an article published by YNET News (English language edition) states that there has been a sudden surge of new applications over the past four months. If Israel is "the devil" in Palestinian eyes, what's going on here? The applications in question (an unprecedented 3000 over the past few months) come from Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem. The article states that about 250,000 Palestinians live in Jerusalem as permanent residents but, since 1967 when Israel liberated the Holy City, only 12,000 have applied for Israeli citizenship (roughly 300 per year). Palestinians in Jerusalem under this status are eligible for full welfare rights, municipal voting rights and unrestricted movement - without putting their loyalty to the Palestinian Authority into question. The average Palestinian family in East Jerusalem currently receives a $770 monthly stipend from Israel, according to this news story. So why put yourself and your family at risk by applying for Israeli citizenship and renouncing your Palestinian identity? The answer seems to stem from the upcoming Annapolis peace conference talk. A significant agenda item at the April meeting will certainly be the consideration of declaring East Jerusalem the "Palestinian capital". If this comes to pass, apparently the quality of life for those Arabs now living in that part of the city will suffer a dramatic change, and Palestinians are willing to face the consequences from the PLO by applying to live under Israeli rule which includes significant advantages. This is a startling development given the recent events that have occurred in Gaza, world opinion on the matter (which is quite predictable, though lacking insight), and the apparent attitude that Palestinian residents of Gaza hold towards Israelis. Here we see that, given a choice, the average Palestinian would rather live as an Israeli citizen and that it is largely political and perhaps religious pressure from the PLO, Hamas, and the Arab states that maintains the status quo. Please recall that we in the west once thought that the citizens of the Soviet Union wanted to live in a totalitarian state and not in a democracy. We now know that the Soviet government and the popular media created that illusion and that, since the fall of the Berlin wall, former Soviet citizens have expressed their desire for democracy in great numbers. Why shouldn't the Palestinians be the same? Of course, those that hold either permanent residency status or even citizenship (and Israel does have Arab citizens) continue to feel free to "damn" the Israeli state that provides for them and accepts them. This could be just to "save face" for some, however others may have no problem "biting the hand that feeds them". Update: Lest you think that only Israeli news sources have carried this story, I also found similar articles at The McClatchy Washington Bureau and BBC News. The BBC story is particularly interesting, because it carries a warning from Ikrima Sabri, top Muslim cleric in Jerusalem renewing the fatwa (edit) against Arabs becoming Israeli citizens. Violation of such edicts can have "violent" results.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Letting Sleeping Scandals Lie (again)

Tim O'Reilly's recent tweet pointed to an opinion piece written by Paul Krugman for the New York Times regarding how to address the latest government scandal. To quote, Last Sunday President-elect Barack Obama was asked whether he would seek an investigation of possible crimes by the Bush administration. “I don’t believe that anybody is above the law,” he responded, but “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” Krugman disagrees, based on the principle that any abuse of power needs to be examined, and those responsible need to be held accountable. Apparently, that hasn't held true in past similar scandals such as Iran-Contra (Reagan), and while President-Elect Obama seems in favor of sweeping Bush's "possible crimes" under the rug, Krugman would like to drag them out into the light of day. I'm all in favor of "justice for all". If the Bush administration is guilty of illegal acts, then the individuals involved, right up to and including the President of the United States, should be held accountable. I believe that was the idea behind the Watergate hearings (remember Nixon?). It would seem like Obama should be all in favor of justice. Why would he suggest otherwise? The article states that healing bi-partisan wounds could be part of the motivation. Obama has made a point out of crafting an administration using players from both of the major teams (Democrat and Republican). This is a great time for "mending fences", and dragging Bush and Co. up before the inquisition would likely tear those fences down, crush them to sawdust, and then ignite them, burning said fences into ashes. The other thing to consider is what you get from moving forward and not back; letting the sleeping scandals lie. You get (ideally) the same treatment from the next administration as far as whatever mistakes or (gasp) misdeeds you may commit during your time in the White House. Could Obama be looking ahead, not only at the big picture, but also at the mirror? Who says that only Republicans are capable of making mistakes or (at least being accused of) breaking the law? Are Democrats scandal-proof? Bill Clinton would probably say "no" (though, he's bounced back rather nicely).

Friday, January 16, 2009

Building Your Own Learning Path

I pulled a link from twitter for an O'Reilly article called Choose your own adventure... er... learning path. Basically the idea is that, there's at least as much information available on the web for any given topic as you'll find in any classroom or perhaps, any university program. The question is, assuming that university credits or a degree aren't part of your goal, can you tailor your personal educational program using just web resources? The fact that the Brett McLaughlin article mentions the O'Reilly School of Technology means that part of the purpose of the story is to promote O'Reilly's online, for profit, educational center. That said, the write up also discusses what people look for in free online resources, relative to their learning goals. The trick is organization and discipline. If I sign up for a course, whether online or classroom based, and pay my money, I'll be sure to show up and work hard. I don't want my hard earned greenbacks to go down the drain, especially in this economy. If it's true that you get what you pay for, part of the payoff is the boost in self-discipline that being frugal (tightwad?) results in. Both this article and the John W Lewis blog it links to, mentions sequencing of learning as being particularly important. The Internet may be the world's largest library, but Google isn't the world's best librarian. While you can probably find everything you need, you'll have to design the curriculum yourself. Your success or failure in this endeavour depends on your organizational skills as well as your self-drive to achieve a goal. The O'Reilly blog entry has been there for a couple of days now as I write this, so the comments section there has grown lengthy. I suppose I'm just reinventing the wheel at this point by writing about the topic here, but self-education is one of my interests and, when Tim O'Reilly pointed to the blog from twitter, my commentary took on a life of its own.

Book Review...YouTube: An Insider's Guide to Climbing the Charts

Authors: Alan Lastufka and Michael W Dean Paperback: 301 pages Publisher: O'Reilly Media, Inc. (November 28, 2008) ISBN-10: 0596521146 ISBN-13: 978-0596521141 I suppose this would be a better, or at least a more contextually relevant review, if it were a video on YouTube instead of in text on my blog. Alas, my face and voice wouldn't do either YouTube, this book, or this review justice, so you'll have to read it instead of watching it. Also, since Lastufka and Dean chose to write a book and not produce a short movie, posting a blog is a good way to respond. The blurb on the back of the book lists Lastufka as "one of the Top 100 Most Subscribed Comedians on YouTube" and bills Dean as the director of the film "D.I.Y or DIE: How To Survive as an Independent Artist". I figured the book would be all about the art of YouTube and contain little or nothing about the technique or technology involved. Of course, what can you really learn about a book just from reading the back cover? I pressed on. As the subtitle states, this is a book not only about using YouTube, but about self-promotion (self-promotion isn't a bad thing...why do you think I write a blog?). Again, quoting from the back cover, "Want to make a splash on YouTube? Even go viral? You've come to the right place." To go into a bit more depth, the Why You Should Buy This Book section of the Preface says that this book won't promise to make you rich and famous. It promises not to lie (which always makes me suspicious), and promises that, if you're smart (the definition of being smart anyone who buys this book) and talented (the definition of being talented is being attracted to this book), and have some good ideas (no definition was offered by the authors for this part), you'll be able to use this book as a guide to making quality work and having that work actually viewed. The rest of the Preface is pretty standard boilerplate for an O'Reilly book as far as telling you how the book is organized, where to find bonus material online, how URLs are managed (and there are a lot of them, given the topic of the book), and so forth. Now, as they say, "on with the show". The first chapter is a history lesson. I get a history lesson in the first chapter of a lot of books I review. When I review Linux-related books, the first chapter tends to bore me, only because the history of the Linux kernel is the same in each one (if they're accurate). If you know little about YouTube though, it might be worth your time. On the other hand, if you picked up this book, you probably know at least something about YouTube beyond just viewing videos, so maybe you don't care and just want to cut to the heart of the topic: "climbing the charts". On the other hand (again), the first chapter also includes a section called "Going Viral" which, if you understand the term and want it to apply to your work, might be something you don't want to pass up. If you don't understand the term, it is definitely a section you'll want to read. I mentioned earlier that I thought this would be more of an "artsy" book, but it does contain the technical aspects related to YouTube, at least the portions you'll need to know to get started. There's even a section (if you need it) on how to shoot a video. This is the authors' (and O'Reilly's) effort to cast as wide a net, in terms of gathering an audience for the book, as they can. If the book were written strictly for the video professional or talented amateur, people like me and thee (assuming you know as little about shooting videos as I do) wouldn't give the book a second thought. If you are a person who is considering shooting a video for YouTube and want to learn more, this book is basic enough to serve your needs as well. Fortunately, the book doesn't end there. If it did, it would only appeal to beginners and amateurs and the more experienced videographer who wants to get more out of their YouTube experience, would have to seek information elsewhere. There's also the audience of experienced film maker/YouTube newbie to consider. The book also is a good guide for those folks who are old enough to have been making films before anyone ever heard of YouTube, let alone the Internet, and want to make the digital transition. Lastufka and Dean (who aren't that old) wrote this book to also fill that gap, and present plenty of information to keep experienced film makers and YouTube users engaged. The book, taken as a whole, isn't actually for the amateur, who will be satisfied posting their vacation-to-Hawaii videos to YouTube, so the Aunts and Uncles back home can see them. While the book starts at the beginning for the neophyte film maker, the expectation is that you want to learn the craft or improve upon what you already know, and produce good, quality films for the web. In many ways, it's a book as much about the art and craft of film making in general, as it is on how to use YouTube as your primary venue. I can't evaluate this book from a film maker's point of view (though I had something of a flirtation with film making decades ago), but I can tell you that this book will generate the desire to make good art for YouTube, if even just a seed of that desire exists in your mind and heart. I hate giving books "top marks" in my reviews because I always feel like I must have missed some flaw, but I can't find where you'd go wrong in buying and using this book. If you are a film maker who wants to learn YouTube or learn it better, you've come to the right place. If you want to be a film maker, I can't say this book is all you'll need, but relative to YouTube, it's not a bad place to start.

Guarding the Gates of Hell...uh, Hall

funny pictures of cats with captions
more animals

Thursday, January 15, 2009

I feel sorry for Barack Obama...and I admire him

I know he probably doesn't feel sorry for himself, and many people won't understand my position, but hear me out. Based on the Washington Post story of December 7th of last year and a variety of similar articles, Barack Obama isn't living up to the expectations of his supporters. Don't get me wrong; he's still loved by millions, but that love isn't as completely unreserved as it was during his campaign for President. In a nutshell, Obama's cabinet picks haven't exactly fit the mold of the standard liberal "progressive" and in fact, many have seemed to be more "centrists". Just as an aside, I've been trying to figure out what a "progressive" is and why such a person would be desirable. To that end, I Googled for definitions. In simplest terms, a progressive is a person who promotes progress and change. Naturally, you have to have some sort of idea of what defines progress, and not all change is necessarily good. Of course, Obama's entire campaign platform was built on the concept of change, and it was assumed that such change would fit the ideas dancing in his supporter's minds and hearts. Based on Obama's decisions to date, there doesn't seem to be a one-to-one correlation between Obama's definition and those of his supporters. I suppose we all have a different idea of what "the Messiah" will do when he comes to power. If you are thinking of the Jewish Messiah or the Christian Christ, you might have some sort of idea, based on the Bible, of what the Messiah will do to "fix the world". I don't think there's any such book or guide available to tell you what to expect from Barack Obama, except perhaps what guides you in your own imagination. Reality, as people are seeing, is somewhat different. After all, Obama has a mind of his own. That means he's quite capable of making his own decisions and I commend him for it. What I see (and I'm not any particular fan of Obama's), is that he's sizing up each position, what qualifications a person needs to be able to fill those positions, and then making his choices based on who can best fill the given roles. That is, he's choosing the best person for the job, regardless of race, creed, color, national origin, or sexual orientation. He's doing what you'd think most "progressives" would just love...he's being completely non-discriminatory. He's not playing favorites. He's not putting more women in cabinet seats because he's worried about meeting some sort of "woman quota". He's not putting more people of color in cabinet seats because he's worried about what people of color will think of him. He's doing what I have always wanted a President to do. It's kind of cool, actually. I feel sorry for Obama, because I can see a time when the "progressives" who supported him, will turn on him like so many rabid dogs who didn't get their ears scratched in exactly the way they expected. Progressives seem to think that if you put the right percentage of "types" of people in high cabinet positions, then everything will work out fine. I'm no mind reader, but from what I can tell just observing Obama's choices in this area, he seems to think that if you put the most qualified people in these positions, then you have the best chance of getting a really good job done. What the heck is everyone complaining about?

Obama Inauguration Declared a National Emergency

LOL. I actually did chuckle when I first saw the link to this New York Times story posted on twitter. The "emergency" as such, is that additional funds are required to deal with the extraordinary crowds that are expected to show up for this historical event (and whether you're an Obama supporter or not, this is a historical event). The ironic point here, is that those who haven't and don't support Obama (apparently a minority of the world's population), probably see this as an "emergency" of a different type.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

NOW you're worried about Gaza's kids?

A link to this YouTube video was forwarded to me via email but was originally sent by Naomi Ragen, a Jewish novelist and playwright who was born in America, but who has lived in Jerusalem since 1971. I already knew about how Hamas treats Palestinian children, but if you aren't aware of their practices, this video may be startling and disturbing. Sadly, that makes it no less the truth.

Linux Journal looking for "experts" to write for them

Linux Journal is looking for "any "experts" out there in their respective fields that love Linux? I'm looking for experts for new @linuxjournal web column". To reply, you have to either have a twitter account or create one.

How to Teach Kids About Money

Actually, this is a lesson that is valuable for everyone, but is obviously aimed at people with small children (the younger the better). Taking a look around at the economy, most people can tell that we're in trouble. Retail outlets are hurting because people are holding back on buying things they don't really need. Debt is at an outrageous level and many people are "suddenly" aware of how bad off they are because of their debt. Sure, almost everyone has to take out a loan to buy a house, but it's assumed that you can't just save up to buy a car, and that you must max out your credit cards perpetually in order to achieve and maintain the standard of living the TV commercials say you should have. After all, you want to live the same way that movie stars and other celebrities live, even though they have 100 times or more the income you have, right? Most people are unconscious about how their spending habits result in carrying such a large load of debt. They were never taught how to manage money. In fact, most people don't realize that they can live carrying little or no debt. All we really need is to understand some basic truths about money, about our lives, and about self control (I know...such a "dirty" word). That's where the wikiHow article How to Teach Kids About Money comes in. Yeah, it's still not too late for adults to figure out a better way to manage money, but why not pass that wisdom on to your kids right from the beginning of their lives? If you're depending on some high school economics class to clue them in, forget it. It's too late to make a really big impression by then, and they won't gain the self-wisdom to figure out what went wrong with their lives until much later. Last summer, I attended a series of video trainings created by a guy named Dave Ramsey. Before you click that link, please understand that Ramsey is a Christian and ties the understanding of money and debt elimination to Biblical principles. Even if you're not a Christian, the advice is quite good, but be warned, in case you find Christianity offensive in some way. I don't agree with everything Ramsey teaches and there were a few points he made on his DVD lecture series that just about drove me nuts (let's just say that his perspective on "the Law" and mine are quite different). On the other hand, he is very talented at presenting the concepts of financial planning in a way that is very approachable and understandable. He has made a fortune, lost it, learned from his mistakes, and made another fortune that he hung onto this time. He uses his experiences to teach the rest of us that we can be wise with our earning and spending habits, too. Read this stuff. Learning to be financially responsible is very important and especially in a world economy that is crumbling around our ears.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Eliminating a Carbon Footprint is still stalled

Early in January, I posted a news item at The Linux Tutorial site called is changing. I enjoyed the news features and frequently posted to the NewsVac but, when I visited their site shortly after the new year, I was confronted with a discussion forum on their main page where a news features page had been. There was a short explanation as to what what happening, and a "please stay tuned for further developments" message, but that was it. I've tried to be patient, but gave into temptation and dropped in on them again today. Alas, nothing seems to have changed. There have been some posts to their forums in January, but no other apparent activity. I looked for more notices about what may have changed or changes to come, but found nothing. From the stark absence of information to the contrary, and the fact that their discussion forums appear on their main page, I can only believe that is focusing on developing its boards to the (at least temporary) exclusion of all other concerns. Frankly, do we really need yet another Linux discussion board? It seems like the web is more or less saturated with them (then again, you could say the same thing about Linux news sites and particularly, about blogs). There's nothing on their site that specifically says "Contact Us", though you can still submit a story to the NewsVac and comment on prior feature notices. None of the forums in their board seems quite designed for making comments about the changes they've made. About the only thing I can do is to email their editorial staff at to see if they can shed some light on the future of their site. While tends to be my favorite Linux news site (and it's easier to submit material to them), I still enjoy some of the in-house staff's insights at I'll let you know if or when I hear back from them. Update: I just got an email back. Basically my source is sworn to secrecy about what's upcoming, but information will be forthcoming once the "powers-that-be" say "Go".

My Next Book Review

Since my review of Joe Haldeman's The Accidental Time Machine ruffled a few feathers in the forums at, I thought my next review should be on a book that wouldn't bring up issues of "political correctness". I was at my local public library and happened to run across a copy of Bill Tancer's Click: What Millions of People Are Doing Online and Why it Matters and thought it looked interesting. The reviews on Amazon are mixed, but generally favorable. It's on a topic that is both professionally and personally interesting and, at only a little more than 200 pages long, seems like a quick read. I should probably say that I have nothing against the fine folks at (pronounced "elixir"). They've published links to many of my book reviews over the past few years, including reviews that, strictly speaking, had little to do with FOSS. The "discussion" of the religious interpretations found in the Haldeman novel were, after all, extremely predictable.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Let's Be Realistic

Barack Obama: "I want to be realistic here...Not everything that we talked about during the campaign are we going to be able to do on the pace that we had hoped". Is this where I get to say, "No, you think?" To be fair, I don't believe any person who is running for President of the United States has access to all of the necessary information to actually make promises they'll be able to keep. I can almost see the moment when Obama finally won. Then, some people in dark suits pulled him aside and said, "Excuse me Sir, but we need to talk. This is why you aren't going to be able to keep all those promises you made". Obama listens, first attentively, then solemnly, and finally with a look that says, "Oh my G-d! I had no idea!" Shortly thereafter, President-Elect Obama starts saying to the news media, "I want to be realistic here..." Speaking of the news media, the source of the quote is at

All Things to All People?

President Elect Barack Obama has taken a fair amount of heat for selecting Reverend Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at Obama's inauguration on January 20th. Unless you've been hiding in a cave, you know the issue centers around Warren's support of Proposition 8 in California, which won and effectively bars same-sex couples from becoming legally married (they can still retain most or all of the rights of a married couple under the domestic partners laws, and there are any number of churches that will perform same-sex religious weddings). The Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender community has taken it personally and don't believe that the choice of Warren for this plum position at the inauguration, represents Obama's stance on inclusion of all American peoples in political process. Obama seems to recently have taken steps to correct this oversight. According to this Yahoo! News story, Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, will "offer a prayer at the Lincoln Memorial at an inaugural event." While Robinson himself denies that this decision was made to appease the Gay community after the outrage of including Warren, it can't help but be noticed as Obama's olive branch to the Gay community that all "minorities" (and equating sexual orientation with race in terms of "minorities" is still a rather thorny issue) are welcomed as Americans. This raises a couple of issues, though. The first is the issue of "fairness". Obama, in the context of these decisions, can be seen as trying to be fair to the widest set of groups possible, by showing in a tangible way, that each group has a representative at the inauguration. While the Gay community can most likely see that including Robinson is fair, does the door swing both ways? That is, can the Gay community also see that it's "fair" to include Warren to represent conservative and traditionally Christian Americans? Often, in the liberal world view, something is "fair" only if it includes representatives of the liberal view point and deliberately excludes opposing perspectives (such as Warren's). The other issue has to do with splitting hairs. While there are quite a number of different Christian denominations that present their version of Biblical interpretation, do all versions represent God as God sees Himself? Assuming that Obama actually has a personal understanding of the Bible and thus, what God stands for and expects from humanity, can Obama reasonably "play politics" with his faith and "dance on the head of a pin" like so many proverbial angels? All Presidents since the ol' cherry tree chopper himself, have stated that they have a Christian faith, but all Presidents have tended to lead the country first as a politician and somewhere down the line (I won't say "second" because that might put their faith too high on the list), as a Christian. Recently, even "Dubya" has gone public and said that he doesn't believe that many of the events depicted in the Bible are literally true. Politics not only makes for strange bedfellows but also for strange "pew warmers". In being so inclusive, does Obama risk appearing as if he has no personal convictions on faith at all? Having both Warren and Robinson in attendance may present Obama as "inclusive" but what message does it send about what he believes, in terms of his core faith? I certainly don't expect to find Obama sharing the same faith view as the very conservative Rick Warren (a likely heir apparent for such old guard Christian icons as Dr. James Dobson), but with Robinson, Warren, and other religious luminaries present, just what can we conclude about Obama's faith? Based on the observation of the events leading to the inauguration to date, I haven't the faintest idea.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ending Sunday night with something light

...though apparently not for Data.

Are the civilians being hurt and killed in Gaza innocent?

According to Steven Plaut on the Israel Forum blog, "there ain't no such animal" as an innocent civilian in Gaza. More accurately, Plaut says, "Let us bear in mind that the years of rocket savagery by the Hamas were a direct result of the vast majority of the residents of the Gaza Strip voting for the Hamas in the elections,such as they were, that were held there". Do I really buy this? I don't live in Israel, so I can successfully be accused of lacking a certain perspective on this matter. While I generally believe that Israel has the right to defend itself against the rocket attacks by Hamas from Gaza, I don't believe that every man, woman, and child in Gaza is worthy of extermination just because some or most of the adults foolishly voted Hamas into power. That would be like saying the children of people who voted George W. Bush into power deserve to have shoes thrown at them by an Arab journalist. Ironically, Hamas is doing more to put Gaza civilians into danger than the IDF, by setting up their operations in civilian quarters, hospitals, and schools. Perhaps Golda Meir's most famous quote, "We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children. We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us" applies here. If Israel backs out of Gaza now, without definitively stopping the threat posed by Hamas as this CNN story suggests, then they will have spared children in Gaza injury and death at the expense of their own. Yet, it is Hamas who puts children and adult civilians at risk, first by hiding their operations behind the innocents and secondly, by continuing to attack Israel from Gaza, provoking Israeli response. Are their innocent civilians in Gaza? Yes. You can say that voting a dictatorship into power means you are responsible for the results, but how many people have agreed, voluntarily or otherwise, to a particular ruler, without being able to see the future consequences of their actions? Many Germans whose votes allowed Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party control of that country lived (or died) to regret their decision. During the cold war, Americans generally thought all citizens of the Soviet Union were corrupt and "evil", only to find out decades later that those citizens didn't want to be controlled in a dictatorship. Once under the totalitarian thumb however, they couldn't easily escape. What does this say about the citizens of Iraq who are now no longer under the Hussein regime? What does this say of the citizens of Gaza under Hamas? Natan Sharansky, a former Soviet dissident and current Jewish Israeli citizen, dedicated his book A Case for Democracy to the belief that almost no citizen of a totalitarian state voluntarily wants to be there. Although the liberal media machine and those who believe their every word, may consider me at least insensitive and at most a monster for agreeing that Israel has a right to defend itself from Hamas rockets; I don't actually celebrate the deaths in Gaza. Children are the same the world over; they're not responsible for the decisions of their parents or the adults around them, and they shouldn't have to be maimed and killed because of those decisions. Unfortunately, history teaches that innocent people are always victimized by war. Even when the cause is just, innocent civilians died in the firebombing of Berlin and the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima. Even when the cause is just, innocent civilians are dying in Gaza, and their blood will be on all our hands, especially when we fail to do justice and call terrorism "fighting for freedom". Stop Hamas, and the innocent won't die in Gaza from anyone's bomb. Stop supporting Hamas with "world opinion" and we stop supporting terrorism. Challenge the one-sided perceptions of the news media and U.N. who can't see that allowing Hamas to operate unchecked and preventing Israel from defending itself, won't stop the deaths but instead, will accelerate them. Of course, if you only care about children in Gaza dying and don't concern yourself with children in Ashqelon and Ashdod, I guess it doesn't matter.