A Word, Please

Monday, June 27, 2005

Mission Accomplished

About twelve weeks back, the president of our Toastmasters club issued a challenge to all members to complete their next goal by June 30. The club receives distinction when it meets a certain number of goals. Well, I did it. I achieved my Competent Toastmaster (CTM) goal! To qualify for this I had to give ten speeches from the Communication and Leadership manual.

Next on my list is either my Advanced Toastmaster Bronze (ATM-B) or Competent Leader (CL). I have made the first step toward my CL by volunteering as an officer of the club for the next year and completing officer training. I look forward to the advanced speeches which include storytelling. I would love to practice that with my nieces and nephews.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Roll Your Own Home

I have decided to build my own home, that is be my own general contractor. I will chronicle the progress of this project in my new blog The House That James Built.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Gutenberg 2.0

Toastmaster Speech #6

Today I want to talk to you about blogging. You've probably heard about it on the radio or television. You may even be a blogger yourself. Anyone can do it. It doesn't require any special skills or knowledge and costs little or nothing to produce. The only thing you need is access to the Internet and something to say.

What's a blog? That's not a real word, is it? According to Merriam-Webster it is. The word blog is short for web log, a journal that you publish on the World Wide Web. What can you put in a blog? What is your favorite animal? Bloggable. What did you do this weekend? Very bloggable. The truth is you can write anything in your blog. My blog has movie reviews, political rants, even a haiku about the video game DOOM3.

What is so special about blogging and why is everyone talking about it? Well, it has caused a revolution of sorts. A revolution no one saw coming. Around 1450, Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type and with it mass media. Since that time, only a select few could publish their work. Most media outlets today are huge corporations with vast resources. The news, slick and polished, is delivered by celebrity journalists. But what about the average Joe? Could he possibly compete with the big dogs? It turns out he can.

After September 11th, some bloggers cried out in favor of the war with Iraq. The most notable was Instapundit, a blog created by University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds. Joshua Marshall, with his Talking Points Memo, influenced the fall of Trent Lott as Senate Majority leader after Lott's controversial statements about Senator Strom Thurmond. Dan Rather's doctored Bush memos were famously exposed by bloggers and lead to his resignation as anchor of the CBS evening news. One of the most influential bloggers, Andrew Sullivan, receives over 100,000 readers a day, more readers than he had subscribers when he was editor of The New Republic magazine.

What is revolutionary is that the average person can publish news and opinions worldwide-- instantly. By publishing regularly, with honesty and integrity, she can develop a reputation for journalism rivaling that of huge media conglomerates and their spokesmen. Technology makes it possible. Services such as blogger.com, livejournal.com and xanga.com offer free hosting and easy to use software, delivered straight to your web browser. If you can type, you can blog.

As powerful a medium as it is, most bloggers are not out to change the world. For most bloggers writing is a personal experience. Many blogs are simply electronic diaries. October 14th, I ran into the nicest woman at the supermarket... or ...photos of Jonathan taking his first steps. People write about their vacations, publish poetry. Some have even published entire novels on their blogs.

As fun as blogs are to write, they are just as much fun to read. If you like politics, there are plenty of blogs to choose from, whether you be Democrat, Republican or Independent. One of my favorites is by Libertarian and Gulf War Vet, Eric Cowperthwaite, Eric Grumbles Before the Grave. On the opposite side of the spectrum are the absurd and bizarre. I highly recommend, Zapato Productions Intradimensional. Here you will learn the truth about black helicopters, the many uses of aluminum foil and that Belgium doesn't really exist. This has to be my favorite website of all time.

What can I say? Blogging is fun. It's cheap and easy to do. What we have to say is important. Blogs allow our voices to be heard around the world. The next time I turn on my television or radio and hear about blogging, I hope they are talking about you.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

DOOM3

Crimson sands of Mars
Experiment gone awry
Gimme my shotgun

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Raise your glasses

A few weeks ago I joined Toastmasters. I have nothing but positive things to say about it. Toastmasters is an organization dedicated to improving the communication and leadership skills of its members. We practice our public speaking skills by presenting prepared speeches at weekly meetings. There is a segment of the meeting called "Table Topics" where we speak, unprepared, on anything ranging from springtime memories to our favorite foods. This gives us a chance to think on our feet. The program is structured and well organized, with activities to improve specific skill areas. I recommend it to anyone who is seriously interested in practical self improvement.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Hot time in the old town

I was listening to a news program on the NPR the other day. It was a story about the controversy over the United States rejection of the Kyoto treaty and alternatives being proposed in Congress. For those who are unfamiliar with it, the Kyoto treaty is an international effort to limit emissions that cause global warming. To clarify, this is not a rant on whether or not the US should sign the treaty, but how this issue affects us ordinary citizens and what we can do about it.

To understand why global warming is a problem, I first had to understand what it is. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency,

Global warming refers to an average increase in the Earth's temperature, which in turn causes changes in climate.

The average temperature has risen 1°F since the 19th century, a change scientists consider significant. Scientists also believe human activity causes global warming. We burn fossil fuels to create energy to power our vehicles, operate our factories and light our homes. When burned, these fuels put gases into the air that trap the suns heat. This is known as the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect, when balanced, makes the Earth a comfortable place to live. When out of balance, it can cause the Earth's climate become unstable.

Why should we care whether or not the earth warms up? The short answer is: because we live here. Coastlines will shrink as the polar ice caps melt. This process has already begun. The EPA projects the sea level in the Gulf and Atlantic coasts will rise by a foot in the next fifty years, two, possibly four feet by century's end. This will affect wildlife habitats, commercial fishing, farming and tourism. We can expect greater rainfall in some areas. This, combined with high sea levels, will increase the risk of flooding. In other areas, drought may threaten our food supply. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, higher temperatures will increase heat related illness. Insects and rodents that thrive in warmer climates could spread infectious disease. Global warming is also a matter of national security. These changes may destabilize countries that cannot cope, leading to economic collapse and political conflict.

Now, you may say to yourself: "I'm just one person.What could I possibly do to help?" I believe the key is not some massive effort by government or industry, but the actions we take as individuals.

  • Reduce the amount of fuel you consume. For short trips, walk or ride a bike. Share a ride when you travel by car and increase your mileage by keeping your car in good repair. When you buy a new car, choose one that gets high gas mileage.

  • Create an action plan to make your home energy efficient. Many utility companies can provide you with tools and advice to get you started. You can also save energy by using energy efficient appliances. In the US, look for ones that have the Energy Star logo on them.

  • Shop for cleaner energy. There are companies that specialize in providing electricity from sources such as wind, water, solar and natural gas that produce little or no greenhouse gases.

  • Vote with your dollar. Hold industry accountable by purchasing products from companies that are environmentally friendly. Boycott those that pollute.
Global warming is happening now and we are beginning to feel its effects. It impacts our health, our economy and our security. Politicians can debate it. Diplomats can make treaties. As citizens of the Earth, we can do something about it now. Lets take action.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Look boss. The plane, the plane...

I sat in my room the other night, flipping through basic cable channels trying to find something interesting to watch. One Christian network was showing an infomercial from an organization called Feed The Children. Their mission is to help the poor and displaced with the necessities of life. The show depicted kids, living in filth, trying to survive day to day in the slums of an African city. There were crying babies with distended bellies, children mining garbage.

A few channels over was the news. Surely, they would be reporting on human suffering of this scale. The scene I witnessed was of a runway. A private jet sat in the darkness with its running lights on. The scene was repeated on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. It was a live shot. Martha Stewart was being released from prison, and each network was there, live, to cover the story. The commentators would go on about why Ms. Stewart was sent to jail, what the impact of her release would have on her company, and her new role as the star of The Apprentice: Martha Stewart. Occasionally, the would remind the viewers just tuning in why they were watching a plane sitting in the dark.

It seems there is a hierarchy of news topics. War, politics, natural disaster are near the top of the list. "Celebrities in trouble" trumps them all. Just a few weeks ago the most devastating tsunami in memory took hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced millions. A week later, Brad and Jennifer's tragic break up was all anyone talked about. We have the Robert Blake trial, the 50 cent shooting and the Bill Cosby groping scandal. Of course the king of them all is the child molestation trial of the King of Pop.

Is it news? I like to think of the news as a public service that gives us information about important events. The information should be timely, accurate and relevant. I need to know when we are going to war. I need to know if there is a psycho killer in my area. I don't care who Ben and JLo are dating or who Britney's is marrying this week. When we cover celebrities, it waters down the news. If we want entertainment, we should turn to the E! channel where, by the way, they are airing a theatrical reenactment of the Michael Jackson Trial every night at 7:30 and 9:00 PM EST.