The girl who inspired a posthumous miracle

Rachel Beckwith, 9 years old. Maybe you’ve heard about this young girl already? Her story truly made me grateful.

As background, two charities are nearer to my heart than any others: charity:water and water.org. With the technology at our disposal, I believe everyone should be able to have clean drinking water.

Well, Rachel Beckwith thought so too, at 8 years of age. She already knew it was wrong that some children don’t reach their 5th birthday because of lack of clean water. In fact, estimates are that about 1 billion people don’t have daily access to that resource.

Rachel’s 9th birthday was June 12th, and this little girl asked for NO presents except to help her raise $300 in donations to charity:water. By her birthday, she was $80 short of her goal.

Then she died in a horrific, 14-car accident.

The story spread, and her own member page on charity:water was flooded with donations.

Take me for example. Even though I’m a member, I donated specifically in her name, and here is what I wrote:
I’m already a supporter of charity:water, but I’m glad to donate again specifically in Rachel’s name. She picked the right cause, and we WILL one day ensure no one goes without clean drinking water.”


Rachel’s posthumous charity:water donation page simply asks for $9 donations to represent her 9th birthday…but guess what? The girl’s wish has led to over $320,000 in direct donations. Her page is here: http://mycharitywater.org/p/campaign?campaign_id=16396&amt=9.00.

The Rachel Beckwith charity:water miracle has taken on its own life, multiplying due to people’s gratitude for this young child’s unselfishness.  And as I write this, there are still 26 days left for contributions before Rachel’s final gift has been counted; many more benefits will come.

With a smile on my face, I see that Rachel wanted her initial $300 donation to help 15 people; 3 families. At the moment, a minimum of 15,000 people and 3,000 families will be better off. It will be a joyous celebration to see the final tally.

We can remember this lesson in perspective for the rest of our lives. Some people say it’s impossible for one person to change the world. And many people would say it’s impossible to collect $320K for any cause in less than a week. It’s not. It’s a matter of having the right perspective.

Here’s more on this story:

Reasonable compromises in an age of Washington madness

This morning, I read an interesting piece entitled “Is Obama the last reasonable man in Washington?” The author, Joy Reid, points out the following reaction to the nation’s first African-American President, Barack Obama:
…his very presence, from his name to his cultural background to wild conspiracy theories about his ideology — has seemed to incite a near frenzy of hatred on the right (and a sliver of the far left).
Sadly, Ms. Reid is correct. To validate the latter part of her comment, we need look no further than Jane Hamsher, the founder of the far left site Firedoglake. She recently called Obama supporters: “the dumbest motherfuckers in the world.”
Now, the President may not be the only reasonable man left in Washington, but he’s certainly one of only a handful. And it is extremely difficult to find any reasonable person among the Republicans hired to represent their constituents.
This past Friday morning, the President held a town hall in Maryland, largely focused on debt negotiations in Washington. A teacher asked an important question: she wanted to know what she was supposed to teach her students in an anti-cooperative age. She asked whether something had fundamentally changed, when members of the opposing party were willing to go on record saying they would not compromise. It is indeed a sad age; I feel for that teacher and for the members of government who are interested in leading this country towards a better future.
This President has been willing to compromise on every issue. He radically limited his healthcare reform package after holding a bipartisan summit with Republicans, and ensuring their concerns were addressed. In return, he got zero Republican votes for the resulting legislation. He limited his Wall Street reform. He allowed the Bush-era tax cuts to continue.
Now, on an issue that actually threatens to destroy the world economy, the President has been willing to grant cuts to Social Security and Medicare that even Republican presidents would have had a hard time offering. In exchange, Republican leaders walk out on talks because Obama asks them to end tax loopholes for corporate jet owners and absurdly profitable oil companies. No compromise from the GOP: not one solitary penny of additional revenue from millionaires and billionaires during times they’ve been successful, and the middle class has been decimated.
The fact is: though this clearly centrist President is willing to agree to almost any terms, we’ve seen where Republicans draw the line. That party believes that their Tea Party revolution is a powerful force. However, according to Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly, it represents about 20% of American voters, and is in serious danger of self-destruction.
Enough is enough. If the GOP thinks that is a revolution, just wait until they see the reaction of the country and the world to their destructive, obdurate radicalism.

Rebecca Black & Bun B release new song “Mondayz”

Rebecca Black (verse):

Mondayz

Mondayz

Nothing worse than Mondayz

First it was the weekend,

Saturday, Sunday,

Now it is no fun in the classroom, classroom

Bun B:

Mondayz

Tough as f**k

Signing that paperwork, paying for the beats

Lambo’s broke down so I’m using this Enterprise rental

I see a school bus on my right, must be R.B.

***k, Mondayz suck

Rebecca Black: [BRIDGE]

Mondayz, Tuesdayz, before that was Sundayz

And Fridayz

We was excited

So excited

Now we’re

BORED  (Bun B: …Outta our minds…)

[Repeat first verse 17 times]

APRIL FOOLS…although I wouldn’t be surprised.

And apologies to http://www.RapBasement.com for the use of your name in my Tweet. Great site. Visit it often.

Apologies also to Bun B.

The unboxing of me

I just received the FedEx package containing me.

FigurePrints can produce 3D figurines of avatars from Xbox Live (XBL) and other online platforms. I’m fascinated by 3D printing, as it is used very successfully, for example, in Formula 1, and was intrigued with being able to have a collectible memento of the process.

The FigurePrints process for a customer is very simple. My XBL avatar quickly appeared on the screen.  The XBL representation is a reasonable facsimile of me as a cartoon, so I wasn’t hesitant to immortalize it in a bonded, coated plaster. FigurePrints offers the choice of selecting from multiple poses for the figurine.

Some pictures of the finished figure are at the bottom of this post. I’m certainly happy with it. It’s about 3 inches tall from base to the top of head, and under its base, there’s a FigurePrints Microsoft Tag. The entire process of production and shipping took about 3 1/2 weeks.

Details of my online cartoon, such as my wedding ring, goatee, glasses, and even my facial mole, have been successfully captured.

There aren’t many “cons,” except to say that a 3D figurine caricature of an online caricature is bound to not look quite right. For example, the mini-me is scrawnier than my online avatar, who, like the real me, has a wide chest. Also, its neck is skinnier and longer than my avatar’s or mine. I will bet that at least the second issue would have been resolved by a different pose. But hey, if FigurePrints is erring on the side of skinnier and scrawnier representations, I think that’s better than erring on the side of being too bulky.

As I say, I am very happy with the figure. Living in a time when we can recreate ourselves as digital proxies to compete in online sports and other games is interesting enough. Being able to use a company like FigurePrints to then summon ourselves out of the machine, almost literally “from thin air,” is even more impressive.

(Just FYI, this post was unsolicited by either FigurePrints or Microsoft, and I received no compensation or discount of any kind on this service.)

Posted from WordPress for Windows Phone

What would life be like with Facebook-Twitter, Inc.?

Rumors abound about Twitter considering buyout offers from Google and from Facebook. Wait, check that: Twitter has flatly denied a deal with Google.

What Twitter has not done is deny a deal with Facebook. A deal that rumors say would be worth over $9 billion…especially since Twitter was recently valued at $3 billion without considering competing suitors. Is it notable that Twitter won’t deny a potential deal that would make it a Facebook subsidiary, while denying that it intends to sell to Google?

Plenty of people think it is notable, and even go as far as to say that a Facebook/Twitter deal is “inevitable.” An alternative theory: a case of some very savvy guerrilla negotiations where Twitter purposely denies what’s really happening, while showing Facebook what could have been (via the public reaction).

Let’s assume, though, that a Facebook/Twitter deal is consummated. I’ll call the new mega-social giant Facebook-Twitter, Inc., or FTI for short. The sea change from no formalized “social media” to one giant social monopoly in less than a decade would be stunning. (By the way, a legal study on the anti-trust concerns will be an interesting read and make for lively debate.)

Here’s where I stand. I am not in favor of a world where a private company creates a de facto, neo World Wide Web, where every Netizen would need an account to have a rich online experience. Doesn’t it already bother you that individuals and companies publish Facebook-only content, use Facebook Connect-only web apps, and basically consider you a lesser friend or lesser customer unless you have a “key” to get in? I believe we already need to step away from the Facebook-as-THE-web brink. Ever have a friend think you were dead, or that you’d converted into a technophobic monk or nun, if you didn’t have a Facebook account? Of course, some of the same issues can be raised with Twitter’s domination of micro-blogging and quick, real-time marketing.

Let’s start with the positives of a theoretical consolidation that results in FTI.  It would be a powerful force for social change. It would accelerate the development of the new industries that Facebook and Twitter have created. (Had you ever heard of a social media guru until a few years back? Dreamed of forking over $10 bucks to have someone DELETE your Facebook identity?) It would also accelerate positive changes in the world, because Twitter and Facebook separately have already allowed us to support extremely important causes and revolutions in real-time.

However, there have already been grumblings that the coziness between Microsoft and Facebook (Office integration, Bing search, Windows Phone 7 devices with seamless Facebook integration) has changed the social experience negatively. This comes from the realization that Facebook isn’t your friendly collegiate geek letting you try a nifty new social tool, but rather a behemoth that partners with an even bigger software behemoth, and now may buy a micro-blogging behemoth.

As someone who to this day refuses to have a Facebook account, I could be even more strident in hatred of this potential deal. I’m also a Twitter lover, and wonder what changes the deal would bring to one of my favorite concepts of all time. Worst of all, could a Facebook purchase mean that FB simply absorbs the Twitter staff and kills off the Twitter identity (as has happened with some of its other acquisitions), unlikely as that might seem? However, instead of being afraid or angry about the future of social media, I’m looking at whatever happens in a new light.

I firmly believe it’s time for some competition, not monopolization. Since November, I’ve been helping to craft a new social network. I believe it addresses key complaints of actual Facebook users and Twitter users. I also know that it strikes a great balance between true privacy — of the sort Mark Zuckerberg intended when he visualized The Facebook as being an exclusive Harvard network — and the freedom to explore and connect more freely than the unwashed non-users of Facebook. I believe it is in a perfect market space to excel by having key traits of LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Path, and Namesake.

This major project, supported by a female CEO and great young co-founders, will be in beta very soon. I bring it up because in the face of big companies consolidating all the time, we not only are seeing a world of monumental change and foundational structure, but also one of opportunity. No matter what you think of a world where Facebook-Twitter, Inc. may soon “dominate,” do not ever stop innovating and believing that you have the right to compete to make things better.

Guest teachers in public schools

My parents, as high school sweethearts, were the product of public schools a handful of miles from downtown Atlanta, within what we know of today as the Atlanta “perimeter.”

The nearby Atlanta public school system (APS) today is in the kind of trouble that hurts its students badly, and also can have a far reaching impact on the city and state economy.  One reason is a scandal that we might call “cheatgate,” wherein it’s alleged that there was a fairly widespread effort on the part of APS employees to falsify their students’ standardized test scores. Constant coverage of “cheatgate” by the regional paper The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has put the school system, its superintendent, and its teachers in an unpleasant light.

Now, Atlanta Public Schools has been put on accreditation probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

Atlanta city councilman Kwanza Hall asked the following excellent question on Twitter today:

If you were selected to be superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools what would you do first?

To which I responded:

I’d work on a seamless approach to get professionals from the cmty to be able to guest teach without having formal ed training.

That answer is a short version of a hazily defined vision I have for the future of education in high schools and state colleges. I believe the future of public education — at least, at the secondary and post-secondary levels — needs those members of the community who have proven expertise in their fields to become more involved in the education of the next generation.

Now, I’m familiar with the excellent Teach for America program, which trains college graduates as well as professionals to serve in inner-city schools for a period of two years. But there are factors we must consider: the societal norms of the professionals who need to be involved (workers from Generation X, and those from Generation Y and Generation Z who have entered the workforce), and the ideal learning environment for our high schoolers and college students.  Taking those factors into account, I believe it’s best for the professionals and the students to take even more of a “short-burst” approach than a two-year commitment.

We need to encourage those who are passionate experts in their chosen careers to be able to guest teach or lecture in public school / state college classrooms for short periods of time.  Perhaps every public high school class in any topic should be strongly encouraged to bring in an outside speaker once every few months (or, if community involvement is high, even more often). What are the obstacles?

  • Finding / rewarding interested guest speakers
  • Fostering an environment that encourages students to be respectful to the guests
  • Fostering an environment where the actual teacher is comfortable with having guests and integrating them into a lesson plan
  • Correlating a guest teacher/lecturer to actual content that needs to be covered

I believe all of the above are solvable. But there may be one other big obstacle:

  • Most professionals won’t want to undergo any other educational training, like getting a teaching certificate

For all of the above reasons, and perhaps especially the last one, I return to my Twitter response that a “seamless solution” is needed.  Such a solution would require business organizations and trade groups working closely with state and federal education personnel. I envision a US-wide government portal website, akin to today’s http://www.Serve.gov or http://www.Teach.gov.  However, the new portal would serve the sole purpose of making it easy for professionals and schools to network and find each other for guest teaching opportunities. A professional should be able to see requests from his/her local schools, and a teacher/administrator should be able to post his/her exact needs.

Who knows? After a careerist outside the school system does a few guest teaching stints at various schools in her neighborhood, she may very well decide that teaching is her true calling. That would be both a wonderful side effect, and a commendable choice.

Relatively early in his Presidency, Barack Obama set a mandate of ensuring high school students are ready for “college or career.” I believe school systems and their communities need to take that seriously.  In summary, one of the ways to work towards that goal, and become more closely connected, is by fostering this kind of “short burst” involvement by passionate professionals.  There’s an old African proverb which has been quoted by many authors, and one famous First Lady/Senator/Secretary of State: “It takes a village to raise a child.” This vision of streamlining a path for career professionals to assist with public education is another way to try to meet the demands of that proverb.

Sarah Palin blows another chance at real leadership

Blessed with a platform and an opportunity to help change a toxic tone of discourse, Sarah Palin does no such thing.

Recently, I’ve become disturbed with those who aren’t willing to “fess up” to the fact that their words reference — and even encourage — militancy and violence against our elected government.  The other day, in an excellent article banned from Huffington Post, Cenk Ugur referred to the small percentage of the population which can be incited to actual violence as “hate-seeking missles.”  The video that accompanies the post, documenting a recent history of violent speech, is also well worth your time.

I believe our culture has changed dramatically and regrettably since the campaign of Senator John McCain and then-Governor Palin.  As Kimberly Krauter points out in this post, Ms. Palin’s rhetoric during that campaign was beyond the pale.  Numerous articles and videos — which can be found in any Bing search — documented cries such as “terrorist,” and “kill him” in McCain/Palin rally audiences.

So today, I watched Ms. Palin’s entire professionally-produced video of “condolences,” and I was sickened by it.  The propagandistic narrative made it clear that she wasn’t backing down from this highly charged language of hatred and violence, nor was she going to hold her followers or anyone in her party accountable for their lingo.  Contrast this with Keith Olbermann recently admitting blame for something he said once on the air, and taking a pledge to abandon the use of inflammatory phrasing that could incite violence.

One of the first goals of the Tea Party was to defeat the reform of America’s broken healthcare system.  A strategy was distributed in writing at that time, intended to harass public servants at town halls (documented here).  At its core, it embraces tactics of being disruptive early and often.

The other day, I happened across a piece by a Tea Partier who actually referred to “the soft TREASON of civility.”  (I will not link to such a piece.)  Civility is treason?  What is happening to the discourse in my country? “Take them out?”  “Reload!”  “Second Amendment Remedies!”  This has gone far enough.

Politicians like Ms. Palin and radical radio/TV personalities like Glenn Beck are encouraging this type of content and vile tone.  We have leaders on the right who won’t even use the word “compromise,” and consider those across the aisle their “enemies.”  Will this devolution of a peaceful political process lead to a world fit for our children and grandchildren?

After more than two years of ridiculous vitriol, Americans have a right to request a calmer, more reasoned political discussion.  Ms. Palin could have acknowledged that and pledged to use her platform to bring about positive change.  She could have pledged to encourage political discourse containing no reference to militancy and violence.  But she did not, and I doubt she and her colleagues on the radical right ever will.

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