Sunday, February 15, 2009

Blog post bingo wrap up


blog improvementWell I didn’t manage to do all 10 posts that Kim listed in her blog improvement project  but I had fun trying. I learned that I agonize over what I’m going to write whether it’s a blog post or a school paper, 200 words aren’t very many and 700 words are.

Here is a list of the posts I did complete for the project:

A list post: 10 things not to say to a bereaved parent

An opinion post: What not to say

A question post: Kindle – necessity, luxury, or hype

A how to post: How to edit and share photos with just a few clicks

A review post: Wicked

Free space: Twittering the day away… or not

And another one that doesn’t really fit the categories – since I couldn’t get to over 700 words or keep any of them under 200: Vint Cerf – father of the internet

It made me realize that it’s tough to blog regularly, but it is a great way to avoid schoolwork. I’ll see if I can post on a more regular basis. Thanks for this fun challenge!

Twittering the day away… or not


So by now you know that I’m a bit of a tech geek and heavily addicted to the internet in general and Facebook in particular. But one thing I just cannot get is Twitter. If you’re not familiar with Twitter (ie. you live under a rock) it’s a micro-blogging tool that lets you send short updates (140 characters) to your friends and family that basically answers the question “what are you doing?”

Here’s a short video by Sachi and Lee LeFever of Commoncraft explaining Twitter in plain English:


Twitter has become this insane phenomenon and I definitely feel like I’m on the outside looking in. According to Read Write Web, Twitter has just raised another $35 million, bringing their total to $55 million. The Pew Internet and American life project just released a report stating that 11% of online American adults use a service like Twitter. And it seems like everybody is tweeting. These twitter guides list the top twitter users though I don’t know how up to date or accurate they are. The  top 150 Twitterers includes Barack Obama (#1), Wil Wheaton (#6 – he played Weslely Crusher on Star Trek: The next generation), Darth Vader (#13), and Bill Clinton (#67 – I know what you’re thinking) while Twitterholic lists Barack Obama, Britney Spears, Lance Armstrong,  and Al Gore in their top 10.

While the Twitter sensation is astounding what’s even more amazing are all the Twitter applications which are being developed to post to Twitter and follow others. In the various tech blogs that I follow not a day goes by without Twitter being mentioned repeatedly.

What can I say? Even though I’ve read Twitter: Why So Many People Don’t Get It I’m still not convinced and not a convert. Though if I ever do jump on the bandwagon I’ll definitely  need this article : HOW TO: Live Inside Twitter and Still Stay Productive.

If anyone wants to weigh in on this, I’d love to hear from you.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Kindle – necessity, luxury, or hype?


Ever since I first heard about Amazon’s e-book reader (or wireless reading device, as they call it), I’ve wanted one. Then I decided I would wait for them to come out with a new model so some of the kinks would be worked out. After all, with the hefty $359 price tag, I want something I’ll be happy with. This week  Amazon debuted the Kindle 2 which will be released on February 24 and the web has been aflutter with reviews, blog posts, feature wish lists, and of course, controversies.

The big appeal of the Kindle for me is that I am a voracious reader and English books are hard to come by in Israel. And they are expensive. You can download a book for the Kindle for $9.99 which is comparable to what I pay for the newer books in my favorite second hand bookstore in Netanya. The biggest drawback for me is that you can’t use a Kindle on Shabbat. I personally think I should get a heter – it’s definitely pikuach nefesh if I don’t have what to read on Shabbat.

But as I read the various posts and articles online I wonder if maybe I should wait a little longer. The NY Times Gadgetwise has four suggestions of what we need on a Kindle and 64 reader comments weighing in with what they think the Kindle is still missing. Some valid ideas are the ability to read PDFs, borrow e-books from the library, Wi-Fi, and backlighting.

One of the big complaints about the Kindle is that Amazon has chosen to be “the Apple of eBooks, not the Google” (Blankenhorn, 2009). Currently Kindle books can be downloaded and read only on a Kindle, and Kindle books cannot be read on other devices. Books whose copyright has expired and are freely available in the public domain from sites such as Project Gutenberg or e-books that can be downloaded from your public library cannot be read on a Kindle. Blankenhorn says that the money is not in the hardware (the readers) but in the books themselves. Ironically, Amazon sells music without copyright protection (as opposed to iTunes) so you why not copy that model to their book?

A new feature of the Kindle 2 is the Text-to-Speech feature, which allows the Kindle to read your book to you. Though the quality is not comparable to having an actor perform a book as an audiobook, it is supposedly passable. This feature is generating controversy as the Authors Guild feels that this might cut into the publishing industry’s audiobook sales, which was more than one billion dollars in 2007. The guild’s executive director, Paul Aiken, is quoted in the Wall Street Journal saying,  “They don't have the right to read a book out loud. That's an audio right, which is derivative under copyright law."

What do you think? Is the Kindle just an overpriced gadget that nobody really needs? Or is it the wave of the future and you just have to have one?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

How to edit and share photos with just a few clicks

Congratulations! You just got a new digital camera and you can’t wait to share your photos with friends and family. Too many people just download the photos to their computer and send them off via e-mail or upload them to their Facebook page without giving any thought to what happens when the recipient tries to see the pictures. Huge photos that take ages to download and make Uncle Bob scroll to see Junior’s smiling face will not endear you to anyone.

If you don’t mind parting with your money, you can try one of Adobe’s Photoshop products. I have Photoshop elements and I’ve been happy with it though I don’t think it’s that intuitive or user friendly. Recently, I found Picnik, a great online tool for photo editing and sharing that makes it inexcusable for anyone to send unedited photos. If you do nothing else, please, reduce the size of your photos!


Picnik allows you to upload photos from your computer’s hard drive or from several sites including Facebook, Flickr, Myspace, Picasa web albums, and Photobucket. You can upload 5 photos at a time with Picnik’s free account while a premium account for $24.95 a year allows you to upload 100 pictures at a time and gives you some advanced effects.

Once you’ve uploaded a photo you’ll see 5 tabs: Home, Library, Edit, Create, and Save & Share. The edit tab allows you to autofix, rotate, crop and resize your photo, as well as fix red-eye quite easily. 


Good sizes for sharing pictures or for posting online are 640 x 480 or 800 x 600. You really don’t want to go larger than 800 x 600.


Picnik’s Create tab lets you add all sorts of cool effects to your pictures, as well as text, stickers, and a variety of frames.


Finally, the Save & Share tab allows you to save the edited photo to your computer, e-mail it directly from Picnik, or upload it directly to a social networking site such as Facebook, Flickr, Myspace, Photobucket, or Picasa web albums. This is a great function that cuts out the step of first saving it to your hard drive before sharing it either by e-mail or uploading it to a Web site.

With a few clicks and a short amount of time, you’ll be sharing photos like a pro. Give it a try!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Vint Cerf - “Father of the Internet”

vint cerf Tuesday night I went to hear Vint Cerf speak at Temple Emanu-El in San Jose. I heard about this great opportunity from the Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley whose updates I get via e-mail. I was thrilled to share the experience with my SJSU SLIS instructor, Debbie Faires, who has definitely helped foster the geek in me. It was great to actually meet in person as opposed to in Google talk, Meebo, Second Life or Elluminate.

Vint Cerf, vice president and chief Internet evangelist for Google, is considered one of the fathers of the internet. He spoke about the past,  present, and future of the internet and while much of what he said went over my head, it was an incredible experience to hear him. In the 1970’s Vint Cerf co-designed TCP/IP with Robert Kahn. He talked about those early days of discovering that they could successfully move packets between 3 networks and watching that network expand and explode into today’s internet.

Dr. Cerf spoke about how the nature of the internet will continue to evolve as the population of internet users expands in Asia. Currently, there are about 1.5 billion internet users with the largest percentage (73.6%) being from North America which represents 248.2 million users. 15.3% of the internet users are from Asia but this translates to 578.5 million people. Dr. Cerf said that as the number of users from Asia approaches 70% the nature of the internet will be more heavily influenced by these users and will change. One change is the possibility of internationalized domain names using non Latin characters, though there are still issues that need to be addressed. Dr. Cerf said that mobile phones will continue to shape the internet as more applications are written to allow users to fully access the internet’s powers, particularly the geographic capabilities and possibilities.

Another change coming to the internet is IPv6, the next generation of IP protocol needed because we will run out of addresses sometime in 2010 according to Dr. Cerf. He takes full responsibility for this and says it was his fault as when he had to give a number of addresses they would need, TCP/IP was basically an experiment that they weren’t sure would work and he thought  232 addresses would be enough. He further said that IPv6 will provide enough addresses to last through his lifetime and then it’ll be someone else’s problem.

Dr. Cerf finished his talk by talking about interplanetary networks, which I can’t really explain but has to do with developing a protocol that allows communication in space and he explained how the Mars rovers transmit data back to Earth.

Dr. Cerf told amusing anecdotes (and a corny joke) and it was amazing to listen to him discuss both the beginnings of the internet and where he sees it going in the future. He could probably rest on his laurels quite happily but is involved in all these cool projects. You don’t get the chance to hear a legend every day. It was aweome!

What not to say…

 Speak no evil

Aliza Hausman, a native New Yorker of Dominican descent who converted from Catholicism to Judaism, writes a blog Memoir of a Jewminicana, that I discovered when I read her article My uterus is none of your business on Beyond BT

Her newest post, What to say and what not to say to a convert,  talks about how converts are asked, often publically, why they converted. Besides this being a halachic no-no, as Aliza points out, it’s just plain rude. Besides being asked outright if they’re converts, Aliza says that people will say things like “That’s not a very Jewish name” to elicit information that they don’t deserve. I have to admit that I did something like this once, but it wasn’t to get a confession. I met someone from some hicksville place and said “oh, I didn’t know there were Jews there.” In my defense, I’d like to say two things:

1. I’m from New York. I didn’t know there were Jews anywhere till I was almost 18.

2. When I grew up, nobody was a convert. And if they were, it certainly wasn’t talked about. It’s not like today where I know many people who are either converts or in the process (maybe it’s a California thing). It never occurred to me that the person I said that to was a convert. I was just being a stupid New Yorker.

Even today, it’s not really on my radar. Unless I’m told I have no idea whether someone is or isn’t Jewish and whether they were born tribe members or joined later. I will admit to having uttered “Why would anyone convert to Judaism?”

Aliza’s previous article, My uterus is none of your business, talks about people asking her if she’s pregnant or trying to get pregnant. Another incredible invasion of privacy. It seems that today people feel it’s their right to ask whatever they want and get answers. Sometimes they’re bold and ask directly and other times they just try to stare you down.  I’ve felt this personally after answering the dreaded question “how many kids do you have?” In the orthodox Jewish world having 2 children is suspect but having only one means either you’re selfish or there’s a good story lurking there. So if I say I have one child usually the other person will just look at me like they’re waiting to hear why I only have one child. And if I say that I have a daughter and I had another daughter who died I’m inevitably asked what did she die of. Well, first of all, it’s a hard question to answer and certainly not in one short sentence. No “she had cancer” or “she died in a car accident” or “terrorist attack” [almost expected since we lived in Israel]. Life (and death) don’t always fit into neat little boxes. And secondly, chances are, I don’t want to get into it. I know you’re incredibly curious but I don’t want to talk about it.

Now that I’m working among the world at large for the first time (the gentile world), I’ve noticed that it’s only Jews who seem to ask these intrusive questions. The people I have told at work about my daughter greeted the news with an I’m sorry. And that’s it. They didn’t feel the need to pry. So Aliza, while some think the Jews are better than everyone else it seems that there are some midot we can learn from our gentile friends.

Monday, February 9, 2009



wicked This afternoon we went to see the musical Wicked in San Francisco’s Orpheum theater. I kept hearing how great it was and as soon as I heard it was coming to San Francisco I signed up for SHN’s e-mail updates so I could find out when tickets were going on sale. And so, I was able to get Orchestra seats (not as close at it sounds) for today’s matinee.

Written by Winnie Holzman and based on the novel by Gregory Maguire, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, Wicked, stars Kendra Kassebaum as Glinda and Teal Wicks as Elphaba, and tells the story of rivalry and then friendship between the two women who become Glinda the Good and the Wicked Witch of the West in the land of Oz. We learn about Elphaba’s childhood and meet the incredibly popular Glinda who first ridicules but then comes to love the misunderstood Elphaba.

Supporting characters include Carol Kane as Madame Morrible, the college headmistress, David Garrison as the Wizard of Oz, Deedee Mano Hall as Nessarose, Elphaba’s younger sister (who famously grows up to be crushed by a house), and Nicolas Dromard, as Fiyero, the love interest of both Elphaba and Glinda.

The play opens with the citizens of Oz celebrating the death of the Wicked Witch of the West, confirmed by Glinda the Good. When one of the Ozians asks Glinda if it’s true that she knew the Wicked Witch of the West and was actually friends with her, the story backtracks to Elpheba’s birth, her arrival at Shiz college where she meets the beautiful and popular Galinda, and the road from hatred to friendship that they travel.

When Elphaba fulfills her dream and meets the Wizard of Oz she is disappointed and stands by her convictions which turns her into a hunted outcast. Do she and Glinda remain friends till the bitter end? Who winds up with the handsome Fiyero? What is the truth behind Elphaba’s death at the hands of that farm girl? For those answers you’ll just have to go see Wicked for yourself.

I thought the music was great (though sometimes it’s hard to hear/understand the lyrics) and the costumes were wonderful but then green is my favorite color, and as you can imagine, it features prominently in the Emerald City. I also think the story idea is brilliant – it fills in the unanswered questions you might have about the Wizard of Oz and it’s wonderful to think about the women behind the personas of the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good.

I asked Arthur and Maor who they liked better – Glinda or Elphaba. Arthur was undecided and Maor liked Glinda. I preferred Elphaba, the difficult, misunderstood outcast. Hm.

I have to say that the highlight of the day was the kiss I got from Maor at the end. She has a science fair project due this week and was upset that I got tickets for this Sunday (to my defense, I got them before I knew when the science fair is). She was angry at me and said she didn’t want to go to some stupid play. I told her that it was supposed to be great and I expected her afterwards to tell me I was right and give me a kiss and a hug. And to my incredible surprise – she did! Really made my day.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

10 things not to say to a bereaved parent

When your child dies, people are often at a loss of what to say. I know that people don't mean to be cruel or thoughtless but many times, their comments just add to your pain. Remarkably, there is no statute of limitations on 'stupid' comments and 6 years later, we still hear them, although not as frequently. So to help the well meaning, here are 10 things not to say to a bereaved parent:
  1. "He's with God now/he's in a better place." Maybe. But we want our children here with us. Call us selfish.
  2. "You're young - you can have more kids." Well, maybe yes maybe no. But one child does not replace another. We want the child we just lost, not a different one.
  3. "I know how you feel." (often followed by "I lost my mother/uncle/dog") Unless you lost a child you don't know how we feel. Losing a parent (or pet) is NOT like losing a child.
  4. "I wanted to come by/call but it was too hard." I'm sure it was. But it was hard for us too.
  5. "It will get better with time." Not really. As time goes by you realize more and more that death is forever and you will NEVER see/hug/kiss/talk to your child again. That doesn't make it better.
  6. "Aren't you over it yet?" You NEVER get over the loss of your child. NEVER. Full stop.
  7. "This must be so hard for your wife." Men are often shafted in the grief department. Guess what? Men love their children too. I've seen fathers fall to pieces while their wives "seemed" to be handling it.
  8. "You're so strong/I could never go through what you're going through." Well, nobody gave us a choice and there aren't any other options.
  9. "At least you have other kids." See #2. One child is not a substitute for another. We are thankful for the children we still have but it doesn't diminish the loss.
  10. "God doesn't give you more than you can handle." First of all, this is not necessarily true. Many people collapse under the weight of a tragedy. Secondly, we are not more special than anyone else, didn't sign up for this, didn't ask for it.
So what should you do? Listen. Mention our children by name. Just because they're gone doesn't mean we don't think about them or want to talk about them. Understand that grief is a lifelong journey with ups and downs - today we might be fine; tomorrow getting out of bed is a chore. There is no rhyme or reason to this. Understand when something is too hard for us. It's not that we're not happy that your child is celebrating, it just reminds us that our child never will. Call. But don't be angry if we can't answer the phone and talk.
And if you do say something that might be insensitive (we all do it, including bereaved parents themselves), apologize. It goes a long way.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

"But I JUST joined Facebook!"

"But I JUST joined Facebook!", originally uploaded by dstaffen.

If you're one of my two hundred or so Facebook friends, you probably know that I'm incredibly addicted to Facebook. Last semester when I was taking a class in
Web 2.0 and Social Networking Tools I could hang out on Facebook and claim I was doing homework... and sometimes I actually was. Unfortunately, this semester when you see me on Facebook I'm just slacking off and you should refuse to talk to me and tell me to go work on my e-portfolio.

Like many others, my Facebook world includes an eclectic group of people - friends, newly found school pals, co-workers, family, former employers, fellow SJSU SLIS students, and instructors. One benefit of such a diverse group is the varied and interesting links and opinions that get shared. But that is also one of the danger zones - you can call me paranoid, but these stories show that Big Brother IS watching, and nobody is safe, no matter where you live or whether you're low down on the totem pole or at the top of the heap.

Personally, I think that what happens on Facebook stays on Facebook. No, you can't call in to work and say I need the day off to go to my grandmother's funeral and then post pictures of yourself sitting on the beach with a drink in your hand. Do that and you deserve to be fired. You're too stupid to be gainfully employed. But everyone has a private life, from the janitor to the CEO, and we're all entitled to kick back on the weekend and expect to show up for our job on Monday morning bright eyed and bushy tailed without worrying about being fired.

But why take chances? How to friend mom, dad, and the boss on Facebook...Safely and 10 privacy settings every Facebook user should know will explain how to share your information only with those you really want. I admit that I haven't done most of these - I'm on Facebook because I want to be found. If my profile wasn't searchable how could the boy I had a crush on in first grade have found me? [I'm not disclosing that info; he knows who he is]

Ever wonder what it would have been like had Facebook been around centuries ago? Or if some of your favorite people or deities had Facebook? Check out the Facebook of Genesis, explore Hamlet's Facebook page, find out what if the USA had a Facebook page during the Civil War, and finally head over to see Sarah Palin's Facebook page.

Finally, listen to the Facebook anthem, to the tune of We didn't start the fire, by one of my favorite artists, Billy Joel:

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Blog improvement project: blog post bingo

Yet another way to avoid schoolwork - which I don't want to talk about but thanks for asking.
I found out about this from Suey's blog, It's All About Books and then found the original project on Kim's blog Sophisticated Dorkiness.
This week's activity is:

Blog Post Bingo!

Take a look at the 10 types of blog post below. Over the next two weeks, try to write as many of these different kinds of posts as you can.
  1. A Link Post - share a series of links your readers might find interesting
  2. A Short Post - less than 200 words
  3. A List Post - simple as it sounds, a list of some sort
  4. An Opinion Post - take an event, news, or another blog post and share your opinion on it
  5. A Poll or Question Post - post a poll or ask your readers a specific question for feedback
  6. A How-To Post - You’re an expert in something; big or small, share how to do it
  7. A Long Post - more than 700 words
  8. A Review Post - self-explanatory, I think :)
  9. A Definition Post - show your expertise about a topic related to your blog
  10. FREE SPACE - a type of post of your choice (that is not the same as one of the previous posts)
If you decide to participate and sign up on Kim's blog you can even win prizes. Stay tuned for my upcoming posts!