Saturday, September 11, 2010

Letting the Qur'an Burn Makes Us Stronger

The phrasing in the headline isn't accidental. I said "Letting the Qur'an burn," not "Burning the Qur'an." Let me be clear that I think burning the Qur'an, the bible, any country's flag, the US Constitution, or even a copy of Fahrenheit 451, is a really bad idea.

Just in case that's not clear, let me repeat: it's a really, really bad idea. I do not in any way approve of anybody burning or destroying something that is sacred to somebody else.

But our country is strong because we allow people, even bigots and racists and just plain stupid folks, to have opinions which are -- you got it -- bigoted, racist, and just plain stupid. And burning stuff is just one way of expressing your opinion. If the Taliban or Al-Qaeda were in charge, you wouldn't be allowed to dissent. You'd have to do it in secret or risk being stoned to death.

If you're one of those radical, intolerant Christians who want to destroy something sacred to somebody else, you're not alone. In fact, you're just like the people you claim to hate the most. The Taliban destroyed buddhas, including the ancient and irreplaceable Buddhas of Bamyan. And as for Al-Qaeda ... maybe you've heard of the World Trade Center. Burn some Qur'ans and you'll be in great company.

We're better than that. We let people dissent. We know that a few bad people, like Qur'an burners, the Taliban, and Al-Qaeda, do not represent all Americans, all Christians, or all Muslims. Just like Timothy McVeigh and Terry Jones do not even come close to speaking for either all Christians or all Americans, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda do not come close to representing all of the Middle East or all Muslims.

So, hey, you want to be stupid, go ahead. The rest of us aren't interested in inciting more hatred.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

No Tweeting During Philip Glass

I saw Philip Glass with my son tonight at the Kirkland Performance Center. I know this may come as a surprise, but I didn't tweet once during the performance. It's impossible to not notice the trend where people engage in social networking like tweeting instead of actually enjoying what they're doing. Maybe that works at a boring restaurant while you're waiting for your food to arrive, but complex music like what I heard tonight takes concentration! I can't imagine interrupting to tweet.

And, yes, the concert was awesome. I'd seem him once before, circa 1987, with a whole ensemble performing Koyaanisqatsi live. That was amazing and engrossing in a different way. This was just Glass on piano, a more intimate performance. Koyaanisqatsi live was unforgettable. I don't think this reached up to that bar, but I'll let you know in five or ten years.

Favorite pieces were a few of the seven etudes he played. He said he's written 16 of a planned 20, but he's only learned 10 of them so far (writing them is evidently easier than learning them). I also loved Night on the Balcony as well as Closing from Glassworks, which he played as an encore.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

So You Got A Camera

So, you just got a camera. And the folks in the store are anxious to sell you an "accessory kit". They're anxious to do this because it's a high-profit item -- put a bunch of low-quality items together, give it a name, perhaps a name for a specific camera model, and sell it for a premium.

Ignore the accessory kits and instead think about what you need. Here are my suggestions:

  • A memory card. Probably the one that came with the camera is too small. You need a minimum of one decent-sized card and a maximum of two. The price per GB is constant up to 16GB, so forget the idea of getting more smaller ones. The only advantage of two is the ability to transfer pictures from one card while you're using the other one. Always transfer the images to your computer and delete them off the card. Calculate how much space you need by estimating how many pictures you'll take between opportunities to transfer to your computer and then multiply by the space needed for the size you'll be shooting at.
    • Speed does matter. With most cameras, faster cards let you take pictures faster. The cheapest cards off-brand cards seem to be the slowest.
    • If your camera uses Compact Flash (CF), consider a UDMA card and a UDMA reader (see below).
  • A UV filter, if you have an SLR. The real purpose is to protect your lens if it gets knocked. You don't need to pay absolute top dollar, but the cheapest ones may introduce distortion.
  • A bag (not a case). You want a bag to stow the camera in when you're actually using it and possibly when you're using it not at home. I have a small Velocity 7 for active work. You don't want any case that is supposed to be used *while* you're actually taking pictures. They get in the way.
  • If you have an SLR with multiple lenses, consider a backpack. I have an excellent one from Kata.
  • Stability aka a tripod. You probably want some combination of the the following.
    • A tripod. The best recommendations I know of are by Thom Hogan of (he also writes great books). Most people can get by with less, maybe even just putting the camera on the edge of a table and using the self timer.
    • A small tripod. Gorilla pods aren't bad (get the larger one, not the small one, it also comes in green). Or, maybe a Green Pod.
    • A monopod. They're lightweight and good for added stability. Even a really cheap one can make a big difference. I've heard good things about the SteadePod.
  • If you don't have one, you need a card reader for your computer. I have a Lexar dual-slot reader that supports UDMA. It does not have an attached USB cord (more convenient for packing) and closes to keep dust out.
  • Consider a cheat sheet from Bert's Cheat Sheets. Small and handy. I also got one for my external flash.
Don't get:
  • A memory card that's bigger than you actually need. Bigger is not always better: with some cameras, particularly point-and-shoots, larger cards mean the camera takes longer to turn on.
  • Additional batteries or an external battery charger. You can always buy them later.
  • An external flash, unless you know what you're doing (in which case, you probably don't need my advice anyway).
  • Any lens adapter that goes on the outside of your lens.
  • Remote control, unless you know you'll use it.
  • Anything labeled an accessory kit.
And don't forget: enjoy your new camera!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Be The Change

My wife, Emily, and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary today by signing up to be bone marrow donors. Yes, you read that correctly.

Twenty years is quite a milestone. The average length of a marriage in the United States is just eight years. Knowing how much work it is to keep a relationship working, I can understand that statistic. We've had twenty great years, but not every moment was perfect. It takes work and compromise and love. We spent a lot of time thinking about how to commemorate this special milestone and we both wanted to do something special. But what?

Then I saw a tweet and a blog post from a friend of mine, Scott Porad, who wrote about his cousin Katie who needs a bone marrow transplant. There are 12 million people on the registry as potential donors and none are a match for her. And there are thousands of others in Katie's plight.

Organ donation isn't something that we're new to. Emily and I have both been signed up as organ donors since before we were married. When my sister and father died, tough as it was to make the decision at a time like that, we donated their organs. We heard back in both cases that their organs were used successfully (I don't know if that still happens). We've also both had close relatives die of cancer and we've donated money to cancer research. But we'd never signed up to be on the bone marrow registry. What was stopping us? Mainly lack of knowledge. Not knowing how trivial it is to sign up and how simple the actual donation process is -- in most cases, it's a relatively minor outpatient procedure. Once we learned the reality, it became a no-brainer to sign up, and it seemed like a pretty good way to celebrate life.

It costs money to add people to the registry, so you may be asked to defray the processing costs with a donation. If you can't afford to donate, they won't turn you away, but do think about donating if you can afford it. For us, the donation was an anniversary present to ourselves and two other people we'll never meet who will have their registration paid for. If you're excluded from registration for age or health reasons, I hope you'll consider donating to sponsor the registration of someone else. And, as long as we were at the Puget Sound Blood Center, we decided to donate blood too.

Will our signing up help Katie? Or any specific person in need? Chances are low. Very low. And that's why it's so important to get as many registrations as possible. It's a numbers game and, right now, the numbers favor cancer. Every person who registers helps to change that.

To join the registry anywhere in the US, visit the Be The Match Foundation at

For more information about Katie, check out

If you tweet about this, please use the hash tag #savekatie and reference @BeTheMatch. The short URL for this blog post is

"Be the change you wish to see in the world" -- Mohandas K. Gandhi

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Message is Love

No, I'm not a day late on my September 11th anniversary blog post. This is a post-9/11 post. In 2001, my wife wrote the following poem shortly after 9/11. You may have already read it as it was distributed fairly widely on the Internet and read at some events and eerily echoed in the opening monologue to "Love Actually".

The Message is Love
by Emily Dietrich

© Copyright 2001 by Emily Dietrich
Redistribution permitted for non-commercial purposes
Contact for other uses

Unlike the Titanic and Oklahoma City, this tragedy contained a window, created by a coincidence of technology and a few moments of life before imminent death, that allowed some victims an opportunity. They could send a last minute message, put one more thought out into the world, and they could know it would be heard.

This is what they said.
"I just wanted you to know that I love you."

They said,
"I love you."

That’s what becomes urgent.
That’s what a person wants to say,
wants the world to know when death is certain.

"I love you."

No one called to say
"Get these bastards."

No one spent dying breath to say
"I want revenge."

The calls were made to say
"I love you."

And in 2001, a time when technology has brought cell phones, voices from the sky, we are able to hear their last words. With our own ears, we hear those who will die in seconds say their last words, a rare privilege.

They said,
"I love you."

The answer to hate is love.
The opposite of terrorism is charity.

Let’s cherish the great gift these victims of terrorism have given us.
Let’s honor the promise implicit in the privilege of hearing their final words.
Let’s fulfill the obligation to life that our dying brothers and sisters ask of us.
Let’s use our lives to say
"I love you."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Make a Difference - Play Scrabble

When big companies make big donations to charity, they get a lot of publicity out of it. Today, I got an email from a small company that's giving back in a (relatively) big way. The company is Protiles and, as of June 1st, they are giving 10% of every sale to charity. Even though I've known about this company for a long time and think their products are fantastic, I had no idea what they were already doing for charity.

If you play Scrabble, Clabbers, or Anagrams, check out their products. They're the best Scrabble tiles available and are required use in most tournaments. I like the white injection-molded tiles myself, but they're all good. They have some funny videos too.

Here's the message from Protiles:

For several years Protiles has been selling sets of white tiles with pink letters and a pink breast cancer ribbon on the blanks.  Five dollars from every set sold is donated to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.  
Last year Protiles donated over 240 sets of Protiles to the 2008 Players Championship in Dayton, OH. 
In the last eight months Protiles has donated more than 150 sets of Protiles to school teachers in 15 states for use in their classrooms.  Here's a typical request:  "I am interested in using letter tiles in my class next year to help teach spelling.  Unfortunately, we have no funding available.  Do you ever make donations to a class or give a great discount to teachers?  I teach first grade at Bethlehem Elementary in Taylorsville, NC."
So far Protiles has sent sets of tiles to teachers in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, California, Illinois, New Jersey, Kansas, Tennessee, Florida, Nebraska, Texas, Indiana, Colorado, Arizona and North Carolina.  
Protiles also would like to honor Rose Kreiswirth's memory.  Rose was an expert Scrabble® player for over 30 years and cherished the game for its educational values. An accomplished player, Rose was as well known for her sense of fairness and her congeniality as she was for her competitiveness. The Rose Award will be awarded each year at the National Scrabble Championship to a female player who, in the opinion of the judges, best exemplifies the fierce competitiveness and compassion that we remember Rose for. 
Finally, my local Starbucks store asks customers to donate the new instant coffee, VIA, to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The coffee comes in a small packet and works with both hot and cold water, perfect for a cup of coffee away from the comforts of home.  Would you buy a cup of joe for a soldier?
Beginning June 1, 2009 Protiles will donate 10% of the sales price of every set our customers order to these good causes.  We'll send sets to school teachers, we'll honor Rose, we'll support breast cancer research, and we'll send some good-tasting instant coffee to the troops.  
When you order Protiles tell us where you'd like the 10% to go.  If you choose not to choose, we'll choose for you.  Either way you'll know that we're doing something good together. 

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Day That Analog Died

A long, long time ago...
I can still remember
How that TV used to make me smile.
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could see those people dance
And, maybe, we'd be happy for a while.

But digital made me shiver
With every DVD delivered.
Bad news in my email;
I couldn't stand another FAIL.

I can't remember if I cried
When I read about problems denied,
But something touched me deep inside
The day analog died.

So bye-bye, Miss American pie.
Took my telly to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
And them good old boys were watchin' CSI
Singin', "this'll be the day that I die.
"this'll be the day that I die."