Saturday, February 28, 2009

What Am I Going To Do With These Things?

This is a wooden block with a slit cut in it. I don't mean to insult your intelligence, I simply want to be sure that you understand what we are dealing with here. I've got a large bag filled with around 150 of these little things, leftovers from a silent auction some years back (they held up description cards).

They measure 2.6" x 2" x 3/4" and feature a slit running halfway into the block at a roughly 75-80 degree angle. At least I think it would be 75-80. They range a bit in color, since they were probably cut from junk wood, and a few have paint splashes on them, but they overall uniform.

I hate throwing them away, so if I can't figure out good and craft-worthy plan, they're heading to the local Freecycle list. So I ask you all: What on earth am I to do with these things?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Because People Want To Know...

I happened upon an ABCNews story about Twitter that featured such luminaries as George Stephanopoulos and MC Hammer. I've got no idea how to post the damn thing in here, so I'll just link out to it: John Berman catches up with MC Hammer about Twitter. John Berman (@abcdude) gave a pretty good rundown of Twitter, although I again got the feeling that microblogging was some sort of funny joke.

Still, it got me to thinking. Mashable's recent-ish article about Twitter's growth is enough to make one's head spin. 752%? That's insance, but even with ~6 million users, the distinction between "user" and "USER" should be clear to anyone who has spent a few months tweeting. My curiosity is this: What is the "saturation point" for Twitter, i.e. when does it become normalized in much the same way that searching with Google or finding friends on Facebook has become blasé?

Is it going to be 15 million in the US? 40 million worldwide? When does Twitter use become so commonplace that we take it as a sine qua non of our online experience?

Thursday, February 12, 2009


So my boss came to me, very distressed, with a browser that had somehow started up minus all of its bookmarks and saved passwords. This was bad news. My boss asked me where they might be, so I sat down to take a look.

I was staring into the gaping maw of Netscape; and not just any Netscape, but AOL Netscape! This is a browser that I haven't used since 2002. That's a long time. I poked around for a while, tried a few things, and eventually gave up. I simply didn't know. Now I'm not entirely certain that I could have fixed the same problem on IE or Firefox, but I think I could have given it a better go (had I been dealing with a "pretty" GUI, that is).

It made me wonder why on earth my boss would use such old software. While I was thinking, I turned and looked at the office fax machine. This is a piece of technology that has existed, in one form or another, for 100 years. I thought of all the times that I've helped a customer send a fax as he or she stood transfixed by this ancient technology. Is antiquated ubiquity a problem for young people today? I think so.

Should we be counted upon to understand outmoded technologies? I would say yes. A healthy respect for where we've come from is important for sure. Still, I pray that my boss someday discards the horse-and-buggy for the Maserati.

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Stimator - How much is my blog worth?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Kyrgyzstan and the United States

The BBC reports today that Kyrgyzstan will be shuttering the United States air base outside the capital city of Bishkek. This is pretty big news any direction that you cut it, but given our new "focus" on fixing things in Afghanistan, the closing of the Manas base is really, really, really important. You can check out my paper about Democratization in Kyrgyzstan on GoogleDocs; it has a few bits about the air base and its importance.

We've never really treated our Central Asian presence as seriously as I would have hoped for, and it shows. The turning down of American interests in Central Asia is to be expected, even in the face of President Obama's hopes for changing the perception of America. Russia has come out ahead, largely because they have decided to pay the Kyrgyz for the privileges of hanging out.

This sucks, yes, and I don't know how to recoup these losses. Between Manas and the Kharshi-Khanabad "issue" in 2005, the United States is being edged out of one of the most important places on earth.

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The Pork Protest

It's official - I've decided to protest pork in the upcoming stimulus bill. CNN has a nice list (compiled by House GOP folk) of some of the sillier bits:

• $2 billion earmark to re-start FutureGen, a near-zero emissions coal power plant in Illinois that the Department of Energy defunded last year because it said the project was inefficient.

• A $246 million tax break for Hollywood movie producers to buy motion picture film.

• $650 million for the digital television converter box coupon program.

• $88 million for the Coast Guard to design a new polar icebreaker (arctic ship).

• $448 million for constructing the Department of Homeland Security headquarters.

• $248 million for furniture at the new Homeland Security headquarters.

• $600 million to buy hybrid vehicles for federal employees.

• $400 million for the Centers for Disease Control to screen and prevent STD's.

• $1.4 billion for rural waste disposal programs.

• $125 million for the Washington sewer system.

• $150 million for Smithsonian museum facilities.

• $1 billion for the 2010 Census, which has a projected cost overrun of $3 billion.

• $75 million for "smoking cessation activities."

• $200 million for public computer centers at community colleges.

• $75 million for salaries of employees at the FBI.

• $25 million for tribal alcohol and substance abuse reduction.

• $500 million for flood reduction projects on the Mississippi River.

• $10 million to inspect canals in urban areas.

• $6 billion to turn federal buildings into "green" buildings.

• $500 million for state and local fire stations.

• $650 million for wildland fire management on forest service lands.

• $1.2 billion for "youth activities," including youth summer job programs.

• $88 million for renovating the headquarters of the Public Health Service.

• $412 million for CDC buildings and property.

• $500 million for building and repairing National Institutes of Health facilities in Bethesda, Maryland.

• $160 million for "paid volunteers" at the Corporation for National and Community Service.

• $5.5 million for "energy efficiency initiatives" at the Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration.

• $850 million for Amtrak.

• $100 million for reducing the hazard of lead-based paint.

• $75 million to construct a "security training" facility for State Department Security officers when they can be trained at existing facilities of other agencies.

• $110 million to the Farm Service Agency to upgrade computer systems.

• $200 million in funding for the lease of alternative energy vehicles for use on military installations.

If there's one thing that we can trust Congress to do, it's to ignore the task at hand and do something silly. This cannot stand. It's a stimulus bill, not a pet project...project.

The regular media has to talk about this more - I only hope that regular Americans call their elected officials. Many of these programs are worthy, yes, but they will not jumpstart (or even rescue) the economy.

This is the Pork Protest.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Quick Responses and Warm Bodies

I'm helping to organize some malaria awareness events on campus this quarter and the next, and I had the bright idea to find a real anti-malarial anti-mosquito bednet. Not having any idea where I might find such a thing, I contacted my point-person at the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, who promptly beeped someone at Malaria No More.

When I walked into my apartment this evening, there was a strangely-shaped package waiting for me. It was from the kind folks at Malaria No More. It has been exactly 4.5 days since I inquired as to where I might find a bednet. Note: It is Monday right now.

The package contained not only a real-life anti-malarial bednet (to use in demonstrations on campus), but also a full press/marketing package: postcards, toolkits, promotional materials, sample PRs and sign-ups, and a whole lot more. There was even a copy of last year's annual report.

What a fantastic experience. It's not like Malaria No More is working overtime to keep me as a "customer;" they lose nothing if I look for bednets elsewhere. They aren't counting on me to write a lengthy blog post about how nice they are. They saw a need, a resource gap, and they rushed to fill it, not for personal gain, but to inspire and support an activist who wants to make a difference. I now have far greater capacity to plan for our upcoming events, and I know that I can count on these people.


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Sunday, February 1, 2009


Ephesus - Originally uploaded by timbrauhn
For as long as I can remember, I've been inspired by old things. It seemed like, as a little kid, I was always imagining myself as some knight of the realm or old pioneer, striding across the valleys of the world to pitch a tent in some far off place. Somehow, the world of history was of more consequence than the world at hand. I felt more at home in the past.

I've been lucky enough to travel to some pretty old places. Two in particular stand out - London and Turkey (specifically, Ephesus). In London, I stood in the Tower of London and saw the places where some famous Brits were imprisoned or worse. Henry VIII's giant codpiece was directly in front of me. I saw Roman walls and old Norman artifacts.

In Ephesus, I walked along streets that had once been filled with Greeks, speaking of the news of the day. I stood in the amphitheatre where Paul addressed the jeering crowds. I breathed in thousands of years of habitation and history, yet I was also acutely aware of the desolation of the place - it has not been lived in for some time.

I'm not sure why old things have such power over me, but I feel that humans are inclined in some way to remember bits and bobs outside of our experience. I'm troubled when people forget the past, sometimes angrily. It's all part of learning...or something like that.