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Monday, December 13, 2010

Beware of these common holiday scams

Beware of these common holiday scams

Offers of "free" iPads:

With Apple products topping most shopping lists this holiday season, scammers are busy sending out fake offers for free iPads. Consumers are asked to purchase other products and provide their credit card number to get the free iPad. Of course, victims never receive the iPad or the other items, just the headache of reporting a stolen credit card number.

Help! I've been robbed!

This travel scam sends phony distress messages to family and friends requesting that money be wired or transferred so that they can get home.

Fake Gift Cards:

Cybercriminals use social media sites to promote fake gift card offers with the goal of stealing consumers’ information and money, which is then sold to marketers or used for ID theft.

Illegitimate Holiday Job Offers:

As people seek extra cash for gifts this holiday season, Twitter scams offer dangerous links to high-paying, work-at-home jobs that ask for your personal information, such as your email address, home address and Social Security number to apply for the fake job.

"Smishing":

Cyber criminals are now “smishing,” or sending phishing SMS texts. The texts appear to come from a bank or an online retailer saying that there is something wrong with your account and you have to call a number to verify your information. In reality, these efforts are simply a trick to extract personal information from their targets.

Suspicious Holiday Rentals:

During peak travel times when consumers often look online for affordable holiday rentals, scammers post fake holiday rental sites that ask for down payments on properties by credit card or wire transfer.

E-Cards:

E-cards are a convenient and earth-friendly way to send greetings to friends and family, but cybercriminals load fake versions with links to computer viruses and other malware. Computers may start displaying obscene images, pop-up ads, or even start sending cards to contacts that appear to come from you.

Low Price Traps:

Shoppers should be cautious of products offered at prices far below competitors. Cyber scammers use auction sites and fake websites to offer toogood- to-be-true deals with the goal of stealing your money and information.

Charity Scams:

The holidays have always been a prime time for charity scams since the season is a traditional time for giving. Common ploys include phone calls and spam e-mails asking you to donate to veterans’ charities, children’s causes and disaster relief funds.

Source: UMCDF Today!, Monday, December 6, 2010, used by permission.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Scientifically Disappointed

Scientifically Disappointed

I work for a laboratory.

In my mind, a laboratory is best described as the color white. I always imagine a laboratory to have white countertops, white walls, white cabinets, white floors, white computers, white ball point pens. No, maybe not the pens...I imagine the pens being black. Black pens with a chrome retractor and a chrome clip which allows it to be placed securely in the pocket of a white lab coat. If you look closely at the chrome clip you can see a reflected image of a white laboratory.

I remember being so excited when my second-grade elementary school teacher announced to us second-grade school children that the lavoratory was just down the hallway from our classroom. A lavoratory! That's the same as laboratory, just pronounced differently, right? No. I sadly learned the truth five minutes later as we all trooped down the hallway to experience the lavoratory. "Lavoratory" was a fancy word for "bathroom", which is the common, rural word for "restroom", which is entirely misleading in my opinion. For a child, the restroom was not a place of peace. It was fraught with anxiety which I will not describe in detail other than to say that I was not an unselfconscious seven-year old child.

Back to the laboratory.

I still maintain my belief in the whiteness of laboratories, despite my early disappointment with lavoratories. I imagine white-coated scientists using complicated, precise instruments to measure and manipulate and investigate and inquire. I have long desired to experience the systematic exploration of phenomena and brilliance of new discoveries.

Look carefully at the sentence that introduces this essay. I work "for" a laboratory. Not in, but FOR a laboratory.

At times during the course of my workday I happily get the opportunity to see inside a laboratory. I even know the names of a few of my co-workers who work IN a laboratory. But I am a data-collector only. I pick up and deliver samples to be analyzed, and I maintain the equipment that automatically collects and analyzes samples. I am only a field technician supporting the scientists who work in the laboratory.

I felt keen disappointment when I realized that I would be working FOR a laboratory, rather than IN a laboratory. I was fifty years old when I was hired, yet I still had the childish imagination and expectant hopes of a second-grade school boy. Told that I would be working for a laboratory, my seven-year old heart skipped enthusiastically over the word, "for", and convinced my fifty-year old mind that I would soon be donning a white lab coat and doing science "in" a real lab.

On my first day of work, I was shown the real laboratory, and indeed, I saw white-coated scientists measuring and calibrating and calculating and precising. "Precising" is not a word. That shows how distant I am from being a real scientist.

On that first day I became a technician. I donned beige coveralls, which are euphemistically called "whites", and steel-toed boots. I carried a sack lunch, not to the lab, but to a maintenance support building. My boss issued to me a gray, plastic toolbox, with a combination lock, and a army-grade tool belt. And a Leatherman multi-tool. The only item remotely connected to a laboratory were safety glasses with side-shields. Carpenters wear these same safety glasses, at least in workshops complying to federal safety laws. At work, I could easily be mistaken for an OSHA-Compliant-Carpenter.

Thus I began work as a laboratory technician, far away from my dreams of a laboratory scientist working on white countertops.

It's not too bad. In fact, I completely recognize that I would not be happy working in a pristinely white laboratory. I need the fresh air. I need to wrench nuts and bolts and join tubes and pipes, repairing and controlling and devising and adjusting. I wouldn't last long working on a molecular level.

I still want a white lab coat, however.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Local Color

Local Color

Watch the full episode. See more OPB Specials.

Not sure where I've been the last 53 years...a lot of this is new to me. Growing up white in small town eastern Oregon, I was insulated from racial conflict. I could easily imagine legal segregation and popular discrimination and violent hate happening far, far away, but not at all in my home state of Oregon.

This video is about ten years old now, but this is the first I've heard of it. I regret my ingnorance. I regret being ignorant of the dark truth of Oregon's social and political heritage. But, better late than never.

One of the statements captured in the video still echoes in my mind: "For life to get better for the blacks in Oregon, whites had to change."

For me, experiencing this video is a part of that change.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

ELDERLIBRARIES

ELDERLIBRARIES

ELDERLIBRARIES IS IN NEED OF A VOLUNTEER FOR ASHLEY MANOR

The Hermiston Public Library outreach program Elderlibraries has been asked to provide services to Ashley Manor, the adult care facility.

We need a volunteer who can give one to two hours every three weeks to take books to Ashley Manor residents.

If you are interested in helping with this important program please stop by and talk to Sue, our Volunteer Coordinator, for full information and an application. Or call her at 541- 567-2882.

All adult volunteers for the library must be willing to submit to a background check.

Monday, September 27, 2010

An Effective Cover Letter

An Effective Cover Letter

Your resume is NOT the first thing an employer might look at. Your cover letter, the one-page summary you attach to your resume is the actual portal to next step in getting an interview.

Toni Bowers lists seven essentials for writing an effective cover letter. You can read the entire article here:

http://blogs.techrepublic.com

Here are the highlights of the article.

Determine what the employer is looking for and meet that need.

Keep your cover letter short and to the point.

Don't repeat the contents of your resume.

Try to remain positive.

Write in clear and accessible terms.

Write your cover letter, let it sit for a few hours, and then reread it.

Proofread.

That last tip still echoes in my mind: PROOFREAD! Toni writes that many recruiters have told her that they will toss a cover letter and resume in the trash if there is a typo.

Proofread!

Source: http://blogs.techrepublic.com

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

RAH! RAH! RAH! Recycle Area Hurrah! RAH! RAH! RAH!

Does your Local Neighborhood Food Store strive to keep its recycle area or container return area clean and safe? Let's recognize them!

Here's how to do it:

Make a point of looking at your local food store's recycle area.

If it looks clean and safe, dash inside and tell the manager or assistant manager, "Thanks! The Recycle Area looks clean and safe!"

And then, dash home and click your browser to this blog: 

Add a comment telling us the name of your store (you don't have to say what town, although you can if you want), and why you thought their recycle area was worthy of a shout out.

Remember, we're looking for positive comments. We want to recognize the good work of our local stores in maintaining clean and safe recycle areas.

RAH! RAH! RAH!

R. A. H. Stands for Recycle Area Hurrah!

RAH! RAH! RAH!

My Neighborhood Food Store Recycle Area looks MUCH better!

A quick run downtown to pick up some fresh pineapple and strawberries allowed me to take a peek at my latest adopted Cause...and it looks great!

As I parked, I could see a couple of orange-vested store employees mopping the concrete floor surrounding the container-return machines. The bottlecaps were swept up, trash disposed, and the squeaky-clean floor appeared  hygenic, safe, and inviting.

Thank you! Thank you, Neighborhood Food Store, for listening.

I purchased my fruit and asked a clerk to direct me to the manager. She pointed me to Checkstand #5, where the Acting-Manager was working. As I stood near the end of the checkstand, Acting-Manager smiled pleasantly at me. I quickly told her, "Thanks for cleaning the Recycle Area; it looks much better!"

She thanked me in turn and seemed to be genuinely appreciative of the gesture.

Felt good.

AND...it gave me another great idea! (This one's going to go viral, I just know it!)

Here it is: Let's every one of us actively look for an opportunity to give our own Local Neighborhood Food Store a hearty RAH!: Recycle Area Hurrah!

Here's how to do it:

Make a point of looking at your local food store's recycle area.

If it looks clean and safe, dash inside and tell the manager or assistant manager, "Thanks! The Recycle Area looks clean and safe!"

And then, dash home and click your browser to this blog:

RAH! RAH! RAH! Recycle Area Hurrah!

Add a comment telling us the name of your store (you don't have to say what town, although you can if you want), and why you thought their recycle area was worthy of a shout out.

Remember, we're looking for positive comments. We want to recognize the good work of our local stores in maintaining clean and safe recycle areas.

That's it! We'll together compile a blog's-worth of appreciation for stores who make an effort to keep their recycle areas clean and safe.

Remember: R. A. H. stands for Recycle Area Hurrah!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Update: Neighborhood Food Store

Yesterday I visited the website of my Neighborhood Food Store (not their real name) and entered a comment on their Contact Us page, briefly describing my experience with the Recycle Area and including a link to my blog. Got a quick email response back today. Didn't expect one until at least tomorrow, today being Sunday. Thanks, NFS!

They apologized for the mess (and they used that word, "mess"), and their message did not contain any bit of rancor or impatience or coldness. That's a definite plus...I kind of expected to get a demerit for not contacting the store manage directly.

They asked for the exact location of the store. There's only one store of that brand in Hermiston...kind of a lame question to ask...but I Googled the store, snapped a screenshot of the listing and sent it to corporate headquarters with a note saying thanks, here's the address, and I resorted to only one short, snide remark which I quickly apologized for (but did not delete).

Drove by the store tonight, checked on the RA...much better! Bags of trash gone, no discarded containers on the ground. Bottle caps strewn all over still, so they didn't get the broom out, but their improvement level has risen from about a 1 to perhaps a 3 or 4.

Still hoping for some small cafe tables and Italian music.

I'll keep you posted.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Dear Neighborhood Food Store,

Dear Neighborhood Food Store,


Looks nice. From this side.

But walk a bit closer, just before the main entrance, and glance left, into the recycling area.


Here's the view from the other end:


Not nice.

I shop here often. The aisles are wide and the prices are fair. Good selection of fresh and baked foods. Nice deli. Even a Starbucks. High-tech, too...they have several Self-Checkout stations...just scan the barcodes, swipe your card, and you're done.

They have a Blockbuster Express video vending machine.

Cool.

But their recycle area is...atrocious.


It's never very clean, and the machines sometimes don't work, but tonight it was at its worst. I had to dash downtown for a couple of cans of tomato soup. It was about 5:00 PM. I parked on the side of the store nearest the recycle area and walked through it to the main entrance, and returned to my car the same way. Almost scary. Certainly repulsive.

I was halfway home when an idea struck me. And the idea grew. By the time I got home it was a definite plan. Grab the camera and dash back. Snap some pics. Go home and write about The Idea.

So, here's The Idea.

Dear Neighborhood Food Store,

Please clean up your mess.

Thank you,

A Loyal Customer

Seriously, there are at least two easy, quick, inexpensive ways to do this thing better.

First Thought: Think AARP.

Have your store manager pass the word to all the employees that the store will hire someone, perhaps a retired person who likes people (and bottles and cans) to care for the recycling area. Ask that person, the Recycle Area Technician (just made that up...pretty good, huh?) to keep the bottle caps swept up, greet the customers cheerfully, and help the customers turn their bottles and cans in. They could work part-time and set their own hours.

Tell the RAT (not sure about the acronym...might have to rethink the job title) that lunch is paid by the store. Anything from the deli or bakery, and coffee from Starbucks.

I can easily envision a couple of patio tables and chairs set out near the entrance. Print up some coupons for free coffee at Starbucks available for customers who come by. Make sure the RAT is provided free refreshments during the afternoon.

Make the Recycle Area attractive, clean and friendly.

Second Thought: Think ARC

Same setup, but hire someone from the local ARC, someone challenged with a physical or mental disability, but able to learn to work the Recycle Area.

Get creative. Get outside the box. Get moving.

Thank you.

Call me.

We'll do lunch.

Your Loyal Customer,

Milt Reynolds
Hermiston, Oregon
September 17, 2010

Monday, September 13, 2010

Apple Seeds and Cyanide

Apple Seeds and Cyanide

I offhandedly posted a comment that I eat apples...cores, seeds, and all. I chew on the stem until it tastes and feels like a used toothpick, and then I spit it out.

Several responses to my post have given me cause to examine closely my preferred method of eating apples. I'd heard that apple seeds contain a small amount of cyanide, but I'd also heard that it's harmless unless one were to eat an immoderate amount of apples, much more than a person could stomach in one sitting.

But I didn't really have any research to support either position: Are apple seeds poisonous or healthy?.

So I went searching.

One hour's worth of time spent searching the internet has given some interesting, semi-scientific, good-enough-for-me evidence that eating an apple's worth of seeds a day, or even three or four apple's worth, is not harmful. At worst, it may introduce a tiny amount of cyanide into my body, at a level which my body can easily detoxify. At best, it provides a tiny amount of cyanide into my body which may help guard against cancer.

Cyanide occurs naturally in many plants as a part of sugars. (www.atsdr.cdc.gov)

Wikikpedia explains that natural cyanides appear to defend plants against herbivores. (wikipedia.org, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the lethal dose for hydrocyanic acid (HCN) is 50 milligrams.

I couldn't find a reputable source for how much cyanide is in an apple seed. That highly classified information is contained in several scientific documents which would cost me upwards of $30 or more to download, and the question just isn't that important to me. (www.sciencedirect.com, www.informaworld.com)

However, I did find an interesting, but not scientifically supported, article entitled: How To Kill Yourself With Apple Seeds. jarvissa.blogspot.com

According to Jarvissa, one gram of dry apple seed contains 0.6 milligrams of HCN. This calculates to around 85 grams of dry apple seeds...around half a cup.

That's a lot of apples.

Cyanide is only a very small portion of a natural substance found in plants from the Prunis family, which includes apples, cherries, apricots, peaches, almonds, millet, lima beans, soy, spinach, bamboo, and cassava root (used in tapioca). This natural substance is called amygdalin. Enzymes in our body breaks amygdalin into glucose, benzaldehyde, and hydrogen cyanide. (chemistry.about.com)

Raw amygdalin and a modified version, called Laetrile, are widely promoted as alternative cancer treatments. (www.cancer.org)

The U.S. National Library of Medicine posted several instances of toxic effects suffered by people ingesting Laetrile in massive quantities as treatment for cancer. One woman experienced fever, headache, cramps, eye irritation, and big words for "sick" following a regimen of 1500 milligrams of Laetrile daily. A man experienced muscle and nervous system weakness after a daily dose of 500 milligrams of amygdalin. In both cases, symptoms disappeared when the drugs were discontinued. (toxnet.nlm.nih.gov)

I have no intention of eating more than two or three apples a day. In actual use and practice, I eat one apple, seeds and all, only about three times a week. One apple has about five seeds. Even if I eat three apples for every meal, every day, that's only 15 seeds per day...maybe a spoonful?

Everytime I eat an apple core and chomp the seeds and swallow them down, I envision an ugly, voracious herbivore being scared to death of taking a bite out of me.

And that's a good thing!

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Break the Chain

Break the Chain

This is a summary of BreakTheChain.org.

Experienced internet and e-mail users can easily recognize a new user: they forward an inbox-ful of email chain messages, urban legends, feel-goods, and end-of-the-world alarms.

I usually forgive a new user - for a few weeks anyway - but I don't have too much patience with emails that are obviously rehashed versions of decade-old chain letters and alarmist screams for attention, forwarded by friends who should know better.

E-mail is wonderful for immediate, personal communication between individuals. It is extremely poor for accurate mass-mailing.

Forwarded messages are particularly vulnerable to abuse. Internet users should ALWAYS carefully consider whether to forward a message, whether to one person or to an entire group. USUALLY, the forwarded message has been corrupted or blatantly perverted by multiple senders before you've received your copy of it. By sending it on, you are endorsing and recommending the message and the messenger, with little justification or validity behind it.

Here are four sites that you can easily use to verify a suspect email:

  • http://www.snopes.com/
  • http://urbanlegends.about.com/
  • http://www.breakthechain.org/
  • http://www.truthorfiction.com/

These sites have at least ten years of experience in tracking down hoaxes, chain letters, and urban legends. They can be trusted to give the straight scoop.

Do internet and e-mail users have a responsibility to verify messages before forwarding them?

YES!

It's an abuse of e-mail systems, a deceptive habit, and a perversion of communication to simply pass on false information under the blanket attitude of "It can't hurt, and it might help!"

An excellent resource for the proper, honest, responsible use of e-mail can be found at BreakTheChain.org: http://www.breakthechain.org/about.html.

John R. Ratliff created BreakTheChain.org in 1999. His mission is to educate people about the shortcomings of e-mail as a means of distributing information to the masses.

Ratliff has nearly 20 years experience with computers and the internet: researcher, editor and web designer. A degree in industrial/organizational psychology, and more than ten years of communications and public relations experience give him a expert status in print, radio, and television programs throughout the world.

BreakTheChain.org adheres to four basic principles:

1. E-mail was designed for person-to-person communication.

2. People act differently online than in real life.

3. E-mail poses significant privacy and security risks.

4. Both sender and recipient have a responsibility to check facts before passing them on.

What is a Chain Letter?

A chain letter is any message sent by e-mail or posted on chat rooms or bulletin boards that encourages the recipient to forward it to others. This includes:

  • Virus warnings
  • Missing or sick child alerts
  • Jokes
  • Good or bad luck wishes
  • Get-rich quick schemes
  • Editorials
  • Health advisories.

What does "break the chain" mean?

"Break the chain" means to consider the limitations and implications of using e-mail to broadcast a chain letter.

Ratliff does not suggest automatically deleting a chain letter or stopping its spread. Rather, he recommends that you ask yourself if there is a better way to distribute the information, or a better source for it.

E-mail is not reliable: it rarely remains true and faithful to the original as it circulates.

E-mail is not valid: the source of the information is often lost (or concealed), and the sender of the e-mail is easily made anonymous or falsely named.

There are far better ways for broadcasing information to a large audience.

Forward with care, and only if you can personally vouch for the facts you send.

Monday, August 30, 2010

To Crack Or Not To Crack — Does It Really Make A Difference?

To Crack Or Not To Crack — Does It Really Make A Difference?

Reprinted with permission from UMCDF Today, August 24, 2010

Numerous studies have been conducted and have confirmed something we all already knew — during the summer, the inside of our car gets, well, as they say, "just plain hot." However, other facts that we might not have been aware of have also been discovered: How fast does it get hot in a vehicle?

One study showed that within 10 minutes, the inside temperature rose 20 degrees higher than the outside air, 34 degrees within a half an hour and 40-50 degrees within an hour.

Another study showed the inside temperature hitting 116 degrees within an hour with an outside temperature of only 72 degrees. And in one more study, with an outside temperature of 93 degrees, the inside temperature was recorded at 125 degrees after 20 minutes and 140 degrees after 40 minutes.

Windows "cracked" — yes or no?

Three vehicles were used to look at whether "cracking" your windows had any cooling effect. One car was left with all of its windows fully closed, one had four windows open to 1 1/2 inches and another had two windows opened 1 1/2 inches.

The car with the closed windows showed an inside temperature of 115 degrees at an outside reading of 94 degrees. The car with the four "cracked" windows showed an inside temperature of 113 degrees at an outside reading of 95 degrees. The car with only two windows "cracked" had an inside reading of 109 degrees with an outside reading of 99 degrees. So it doesn’t look like it makes a significant difference whether you leave your windows "cracked" or not.

Dark cars vs. light cars

A study using a dark-colored car with windows closed and a light-colored car with two windows "cracked" 1 1/2 inches showed that after 40 minutes with the outside temperature reading 93 degrees, the dark vehicle had an inside temperature of 140 degrees and the light vehicle had an inside temperature of 138 degrees. As in previous studies, it appeared that "cracking" the windows were ineffective at keeping the car cool no matter what the color scheme.

What does this mean?

Just think, a can of spray paint can burst if exposed to over 120 degrees for a period of time. Not only are people and pets at risk, the heat will affect other items as well such as food and medicines that need to be kept cool. The main thing to remember? It doesn’t take long for the inside of your car to turn deadly hot in summer.

Try these tips:

• Take your vehicle to a mechanic to have its air conditioning system checked ahead of time to be sure the refrigerant level is OK and that there are no leaks in the system.

• Invest in a good, reflecting windshield sun shade (the silver foldable type). It will keep the interior temperature lower and keep your dashboard looking good longer.

Reference Links:

UMCDF Today, August 24, 2010

http://www.mydogiscool.com/x_car_study.php

http://ggweather.com/heat

http://ggweather.com/heat/heating-small.wmv

http://ggweather.com/heat/fig1a.gif

http://ggweather.com/heat/rise.gif

http://www.injuryprevention.org/states/la/hotcars/hotcars.htm

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn7631

Monday, August 23, 2010

Social Me-dia, Splintered

Social Me-dia, Splintered

Louisgray.com has posted a pivotal, insightful analysis of the state of social media. Read it here: social-me-me-me-me-me-media.html

I cannot add anything to his message. But I also cannot hold back from echoing it in some way.

Here are some highlights:

Social media sites change, but people do not.

The driving motivation for creating, using, reading, retweeting, and joining social media sites like Facebook, Twitter or Google Buzz is one human desire: the desire to feel important and interesting.

People measure success by how much attention they receive.

Yet the internet superhighway has allowed social media streams to multiply beyond quantification. The voices seeking attention vastly outnumber the the mind's ability to hear - we begin to shut down, ignore, or simply miss most of what's being shared.

Louis points out that many blog posts are getting fewer and fewer comments. Tweets get no replies. Conversations lag, photos repose unviewed.

"With so many streams flowing by and so many sources and people demanding my attention, even the strong soldiers that fatigue during battle are left behind in our own self-directed charge up the mountain."

He's reduced the number of Twitter accounts he follows. Other social networks he's also trimmed back. but inanity and disjointed conversations still make it tiresome to try to follow.

"One of the hardest things to do for anyone is to find real value amidst the noise, and the massive volume means that people can get missed."

Louis concludes by focusing on blogging as his foundation. He calls blogging a "searchable, indexable, discoverable entity with longform, permanent content, not an ephemeral short-time share that adds to the minute or the hour, but not much longer."

The "longform" quality of blogging allows permanence and authenticity. It's a history and it's about me personally, even when writing about others.

I appreciate Louis' strong encouragement for engagement. Whether on Twitter or Facebook or a blog, if I initiate a conversation, I have a responsibility to respond and engage with readers who reply.

It's a damaging addiction to base my identity and worth on counting reactions. "Top dogs get dozens or hundreds of retweets, comments and shares." If my posts go unnoticed, I feel a loss of worth and purpose.

This week for me personally has been a perfect example of this counting-reactions-addiction. I posted a how-to article on instructables.com. It struck a chord with the DIY crowd, and I earned a (temporary, very temporary) place on the Featured and Most Popular pages. It felt good.

But fame dissipates quickly. I did make a point of trying to respond to each comment. I subscribed to several users as a way of returning the favor of being noticed.

But the Internet Superhighway was built for speed, not settling down. The thrill is in the journey, not the destination, so those who take the exit ramp to visit me stay only a moment, and they are back on the expressway quickly, on to the next attraction.

So the writing is really just for me. Me alone. I write to make myself clearer to myself.

And that pleases me.

Christian. Muslim. Love. Unconditional.

Christian. Muslim. Love. Unconditional.

Rachel Held Evans is right on target.

Rachel posted a thoughtful response to the Islamic community center planned for New York City.

Read the article here: Loving our Muslim neighbors unconditionally

Here are the highlights and some comments.

Rachel quoted Tony Campolo as he warned against persecution of Muslims and Arab Americans:

"As Christians, we can’t let this happen. These are our neighbors, created in the image of God. They deserve our love and respect."

Persecution.

It seems a harsh word. But it seems to fit the tone of some of the comments and opinions I'm hearing from Christians.

Islam is offensive to Christianity?

Islam threatens the American way of life?

Rachel asks a rock-solid, convicting question:

Have these Christians forgotten that our first allegiance is not to our own interests or to the "American way of life," but rather to the Kingdom of Heaven?

Think of the culture in which God placed Himself as a man. Jesus the Man was born and grew up in perhaps "the most oppressive and cruel empire in history." He preached to people who had every fleshly right to fight the government - every right to be bitter and offended. Yet, what did Jesus preach?

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven...Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you...if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. (Matthew 5)

Rachel describes a "tragic disconnect" from the way of Jesus when Christians say,

"We will respect your faith when you respect ours" or "You can build a mosque in New York when we can build a church at Mecca."

Regardless of Muslim's motives or allegiance to American ideals, we have a mandate from Christ to love unconditionally:

Love our neighbor.
Love our enemy.
Pray for those who persecute.

At least one of these applies to every person we meet or read about.

Our identity is in Christ - crucified, risen, and exalted. Not in any "American Way".

Rachel ends with two conclusions that are without argument:

The constitution guarantees that Muslims should be able to worship when and where they please.

Compassion compels us to reach out to those who are hurting...on either side of any divide.

Who Speaks and Why?

Who Speaks and Why?

I am stymied by the global climate change discussion. The need for dramatic, negative social change could be real, or it could be orchestrated. For me to accept the need for change, I must trust scientific and political decision-makers for conclusions that I lack the time and ability to research for myself. To reject the need for change, I must reject solid historical evidence that technology has had harmful, devestating effects on our earth.

I just read an article posted by the President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Wildlife Federation, Larry J. Schweiger. His thoughts coalesce my frustration.

"Scientific findings can be just as contentious today as in the 17th century."

Schweiger cites several scientists who suffered for their discoveries and conclusions:

Galileo endured a life-sentence "house arrest" in 1632 for the heretical idea that the Sun, not the Earth, was at the center of our universe.

Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring in 1962, warning of the harm that DDT was bringing to bird life. Manufacturers of DDT attacked her relentlessly for the rest of her life.

Dr. Herbert L. Needleman discovered the harmful effects caused by the lead in vehicle emissions and paint. His research was attacked by oil and chemical industries that sold gasoline and lead-based paint.

Dr. Needleman reflected back on his experience, saying "If you find evidence that a compound worth billions of dollars to its manufacturer poses a public health risk, you will almost certainly find yourself in the middle of a contentious battle that has little to do with scientific truth."

Schweiger sees the same profit-driven fight to obscure research happening today in the climate change arena.

Hackers gained access to private email accounts and managed to cut and paste forged messages that appeared to show that two leading scientists were falsifying evidence and manipulating data concerning climate change. Investigation by the British House of Commons has found no credible evidence for the charges.

This affair caused Schweiger to quote Rachel Carson as she responded to her critics: "I recommend, that you ask yourself: Who speaks? And why?"

Every editorial, every news article, every forwarded email chain message should be evaluated with this question: "Who speaks? And why?"

There seems to be tremendous financial incentive to be the winner in the climate change debate. But money should be at most secondary to the larger priority: clean water and air, and healthy land. I would much rather err on the side of being too green than too sick.

So, for me, the burden of providing evidence is upon those who say that technology is NOT causing global climate change. The consequences of future, irreparable harm to the earth are too dire.

Reference Link

http://www.nwf.org/News-and-Magazines/National-Wildlife/News-and-Views/Archives/2010/Climate-Science-Under-Attack.aspx

Tools of the Trade: Watercolor

Tools of the Trade: Watercolor

I'm a beginner. I don't paint often, and so I don't paint as well as I'd like. But to the extent that my skill, and patience, allows, here are some thoughts about the tools and techniques of watercolor painting.

This are my painting tools. From left to right:

  • Brushes
  • Ruler (six-inch plastic)
  • Pen (ballpoint)
  • Pencil (#2)
  • Paints
  • Jar of water to clean brushes
  • Jar of clean water to add to paints
  • Mixing palette
  • Water brushes
  • Small bottle of water
  • Watercolor paper (fairly heavy, to resist curling)
  • How to Watercolor book

Experienced painters will immediately pick up on my innocence...I don't have a clue what type/size/style/quality my brushes are. I don't buy expensive brushes, but I do throw away any that shed their hair.

I especially like the small water brushes.

The water brush has a small, refillable water reservoir, making it easy to add water to color, create washes, and clean. Gently squeeze the barrel to exude a drop of water, before/after/during dipping brush into the paint. I use a medium and fine point.

I made my own traveling watercolor paint kit, following an article found on Instructables.com:

I only have six colors. The limitation is a help for me as a beginner. I don't feel overwhelmed by choices. I have the three primary colors:

  • Red
  • Yellow
  • Blue

plus, a brown and a dark gray.

I also have a green, even though I could mix yellow and blue to get a decent green. But the pre-mixed green seems better. The other secondary colors are okay when mixed:

  • Orange = Red + Yellow
  • Purple = Red + Blue

It's good to keep in mind a simple color wheel while painting. The illusion of distance is best obtained by adding a bit of the color's opposite.

For example, if I'm painting a red barn, and I can see two sides of the barn, I'll paint the two sides slightly differently. The side nearest me, the one in the foreground, I'll paint with basically a red tone.

For the side away from me, the one further in the background, I'll add a bit of red's opposite into the mix. The opposite of red is green (yellow + blue). Just a bit of green added to red will reduce the red's intensity, giving the illusion of distance.

  • Opposite of red = green (yellow + blue)
  • Opposite of yellow = purple (red + blue)
  • Opposite of blue = orange (yellow + red)

Mix all three together, and you get...MUD!

I've got three containers of water:

  • Brush cleaner
  • Clean water
  • Water supply

When I travel, I can fill the small bottle with water. To paint, I'll fill each of the two jars about halfway.

One of the jars will become the brush-cleaning jar. A good way to clean a brush before using it to paint a new color is this:

1. Gently squeeze the brush with paper towel or a cloth. This takes most of the paint out.

2. Dip, but do not swish, the brush into the brush-cleaning jar of water. Don't wipe it, swish it, or shake it. Just dip once and immediately squeeze with the paper towel or cloth. Repeat this until you no longer see color transferring to the cloth.

3. Now, swish the brush gently in the brush-cleaning jar of water. Your brush is clean, ready for a new color, or ready to be stored away.

This method of cleaning the brush keeps the rinse water fairly clear of paint longer, making it easy to clean the brush. When the rinse water gets dirty, dump it and add fresh water from the water supply bottle.

Before placing the clean brush into storage, I like to form the wet hairs into a nice-looking point. My preferred method of doing this is to stick the clean bristles into my mouth and gently pull it out, forming a lovely point. For the fastidious painter, I suggest you gently form the point with your fingers!

The second jar of water is kept clean. Try to keep paint out of this second jar. Use it for water that you add to your paint to thin it. You can dip a clean brush and then squeeze a drop or two of water out into the paint, or use the water brush. The blue rubber syringe which looks suspiciously like a nasal bulb syringe is perfect for transferring clean water to a jar, a waterbrush, or directly to the pans of paint.

My watercolor paper is not expensive, but I try to get fairly heavy stock, 140-pound. This allows me to paint freely with little curling or distorting of the paper. I don't need to stretch my paper, even when covering it entirely with a wash.

All that remains to discuss is the instruction book in the background:

I Draw, I Paint Watercolor

This gem of a book was published in English by Barron's Educational Series, Inc. in 1991. It was originally written in Spanish by Isidro Sanchez, with paintings by Miguel Ferron and Jordi Segu.

Before finding this book, I collected several different how-to books. I found them all interesting, and somewhat helpful, but they all lacked something basic: How do I learn to paint if I know NOTHING???

I Draw, I Paint Watercolor meets that need. It is obviously written for children, but it's just what I need as a beginner.

The explanations and illustrations are very easy to understand, and the pace in which each technique or step is introduced is perfectly suited for my need. I STRONGLY recommend this book!

The first ten pages are solidly basic:

  • What paints to use
  • What brushes to use
  • What paper to use
  • Containers, towels, sponges, supplies
  • Adding water
  • Brushstrokes
  • Background washes and gradations
  • Primary colors, color wheel, and color value

The book ends with twelve exercises, with each step carefully illustrated and explained. The exercises start simple and gradually mature in technique and style toward the last exercises which are worthy of framing.

I really enjoy this little book! For me it has made watercolor painting enjoyable and successful.

That's All!

That's the extent of my watercolor tips and techniques. It's a hobby, one that I enjoy doing once a month or so. Actually, it's probably less often than that. I really enjoy writing and blogging, and I find myself gravitating toward the computer more than my paints. Painting requires a dedicated space and time, whereas my laptop can be grabbed quickly and used to fill any empty time, from ten minutes to several hours.

But painting allows me to express a different part of me. Watercolor, especially, is less linear, more creative, more freeing, than writing or coding.

I need that freedom more and more.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Creating a Watercolor from a Photograph

Creating a Watercolor from a Photograph

Mother's Day...

I decided to try to paint a couple of pictures for my mother, and for my wife (she's not my mother, but she is a mother, and a great one!)

I've collected quite a few photographs, postcards, calendar scenes, magazine pages and newspaper clippings of scenes I'd like to consider painting. Most are way beyond my beginner-level skills, but I found a couple of flower images that I thought, just maybe, perhaps, I could translate into a watercolor painting.

I set out my tools, a cup of coffee, and found a comfortable, well-lit place to work. I add a few drops of clean water into each pan of paint and allow the paint to absorb the water, becoming liquid. For strong, bright colors, I'll dip my brush into the pan and paint directly on the paper. For lighter colors, or a wash, I'll swap my brush into the pan, and then wipe it into an empty, clean pan and add more water, or another color to create a different hue.

My first step was to lightly draw a pencil sketch of the main areas of color. I knew I'd not want to try to reproduce every detail, so I drew just the larger, more prominent areas. I often squinched my eyes, allowing just the brighter areas to show through my partially closed eyelids. This helped me to isolate the stronger focal areas, the parts that are in the foreground, the areas I want to emphasize.

This step helped me decide what colors and areas I'd be painting first. I decided that I'd paint the bright yellows and reds first, and then fill in the background greens, grays, and browns later.

Now I had my finished pencil sketch. I'd keep the photograph near so I could frequently refer to it for color and necessary detail.

My next step was to start painting. I started with the yellows.

The yellow seemed too bright, so I mixed up a reddish-orange blend of color in a separate pan. I painted this directly over one of the yellow flowers, but it was too orangish! I said to myself, "Oh, well!" and thinned the orange with more water and added some of it lightly to the remaining yellow petals.

The light greens were next, followed by darker green for the shadows and depth, and browns and purples. It seems to work best to paint the lighter colors before the darker ones...watercolors don't allow me to easily make a dark area lighter.

And here's the finished painting!

I followed the same process for a different picture:

For this one, I painted the light pink color over the blossoms, adding darker pink for shading and depth. Then I painted the light green, followed by dark green. Lastly, I painted the dark brown background, helping to define the shapes.

I like them!

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Start of a New Website, Part 4

The Start of a New Website, Part 4

Here's how the coding has turned out so far.

From this...


...to this:


And, from this...


...to this:


One other version that I developed:


This version is almost identical to one of their brochures. It demonstrates how a design meant for printing on paper can be translated into a webpage. I scanned the images, resized and added text. Each image is an active link to a different section of the website.

I posted the different version to the client's website, using a private URL address, so that the organization can see them on the web, but they are not yet available to the public.

I hope to find out in a couple of weeks which versions most appeal to the client, and then I can start adding content!

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Politics of Meriwether Lewis

Do you long for the good old days, when politics was kinder and gentler, with high integrity? Kind of like when Tom J. was president? When different parties got along and worked together?

Think again.

http://franceshunter.wordpress.com/2010/07/28/the-politics-of-meriwether-lewis/

KidWash Mister

KidWash Mister

Another must-make for this summer!

Selah, get ready to get kidwashed!

Complete plans at Instructables.com: http://www.instructables.com/id/KidWash-2-PVC-Sprinkler-Water-Toy

Monday, July 26, 2010

Mini-Smores-Grill

Mini-Smores-Grill


What a great idea! I'm going to make this when my granddaughter comes to visit - We're going to have Smores!

Complete plans found at Instructables.com: http://www.instructables.com/id/Mini-Smores-Grill/

Monday, July 19, 2010

Size versus Quality

Size versus Quality

I'm trying to figure out the relationship between the file size and the quality of digital images.
To start, I've selected a JPEG image (a photo taken of an oil painting by a great artist...me!)
The following series of images are all the same size, but I've progressively decreased the quality. IrfanView allows me to select options for saving JPEG or GIF images.


The only option I changed for each of the following examples is that of quality, starting with 100% and decreasing to a minimum of 1%.
Image #1: firefighter-400x312-100.jpg, 84 KB


Image #2: firefighter-400x312-90.jpg, 28 KB


Image #3: firefighter-400x312-80.jpg, 20 KB


Image #4: firefighter-400x312-70.jpg, 16 KB


Image #5: firefighter-400x312-60.jpg, 14 KB


Image #6: firefighter-400x312-50.jpg, 12 KB


Image #7: firefighter-400x312-40.jpg, 10 KB


Image #8: firefighter-400x312-30.jpg, 9 KB
Image #9: firefighter-400x312-20.jpg, 6 KB


Image #10: firefighter-400x312-10.jpg, 4 KB
Image #11: firefighter-400x312-01.jpg, 2 KB


Severe degradation is not seen until the quality is reduced to about 20%.
A huge reduction in file size is seen at the 90% level: from 84 KB down to 28 KB.
Now, let's use a sharper image to start with.
soda-pop-400x533-100.jpg, 172 KB
soda-pop-400x533-90.jpg, 62 KB
soda-pop-400x533-50.jpg, 29 KB
soda-pop-400x533-20.jpg, 18 KB
soda-pop-400x533-10.jpg, 14 KB
soda-pop-400x533-01.jpg, 9 KB
Again, at about 10-20% the quality is unacceptably degraded. But even at 50%, the image is fine, at least for small images. Probably, the larger the image, the more critial resolution becomes. But for purposes of a blog, even as low as 30% is fine, and the file size is greatly reduced, making site load times much faster.
For larger images, I plan to make several trial versions of the image, selecting the one that is lower in file size, but still acceptably sharp.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.