Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween Fun

"Halloween Family" courtesy of sachyn

When I was online yesterday I ran across a couple of fun sites with some Halloween theme and thought that there were a few other fun sites or posts that you might enjoy. So as you prepare for your Halloween activities or maybe as you stay home handing our candy to all the trick or treaters you can check these out.

Here is the Magic Geek carving up his Halloween pumpkin...

Dogs dressed up as Darth Vader and Princess Leia
(I can"t believe that the dogs sat still this long!)

I ran accross a video where lyrics were created and played out to the Halloween movie theme song. It is very creative, but I didn't embed it because of some pretend slashing (Halloween is one of the original slasher movies after all) although it is in fun it might not be appropriate for little kids (don't want to give them nightmares)

Whatever you might be doing this Halloween weekend, I hope that you have a safe and fun time.
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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Participate in World Savings Day With Your Kids

Every year in October all the kids eagerly await that magical day of the month where...they march to the bank with all their coins so that they can be treated wiith whatever goody their local bank might be offering as part of their World Savings Day promotion. Did you think that I was going to talk about Halloween and trick or treating?

We received an adverticement from one of the local banks about October 30th being World Savings Day and I saw a little segment about it on one of the local morning magazines. I saw an entry in Wikipedia about it but they said it was on October 31st. Whichever day it is, you might want to see if any local banks are offering any special promotion for the event. Even if you don't see a promotion that you wish to particpate in or if the bank that you prefer to use (better locations, terms, or any other appropriate reason) isn't offering any promotions it is good to get an account open for your kids and/or add money to accounts that they already have.

Such a promotion is a good way to get your kids into the habit of saving. A lot of the habits that we pick up as kids stay with us all our lives and making a visit to the local bank to put money into your kids savings accounts can be made into a fun event and can help them to put some positive assocations with savings money. For kids it can be a lot of fun putting any spare change that they find laying around into their piggy banks and it can be fun counting the money that they have collected. They can also get excited about seeing the amount that they put into their accounts show up in deposit receipts and later on in account statements.

Even with all the recent turmolt in the financial markets and with banks, in many countries normal savings accounts have some kind of protection, but to be sure you might want to check to see what is really guaranteed and what isn't. Most kids's piggy banks probably won't have to worry about being over that limit.

Find out if their are any local banks that are doing any special promostions for the World Savings Day that you'd like to participate in. If there aren't why not make up your own special promotion for your kids. So why not participate in World Savings Day with your kids and help them to develope and attitude that saving is fun, and why shouldn't it be?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Don't Forget to Vote!

Note: while this post encourages people to get out to vote, some opinions raised here won’t necessarily be agreed by everyone.

As November 4th American election draws closer, I just wanted to remind you to vote. With a little more than a week left, many people will be glad that the campaigning is finally over. Certainly there is a lot at stake and this could be one of the most important elections in many years.

Although media coverage tends to focus on Obama, and McCain (with a lot of discussion about the effect of Palin), it is easy to overlook that there are a lot of possibly key House and Senate elections and a variety of people running in races that could have very strong and lasting effects on our lives. There are also a lot of local elections for a whole host of positions. In my home state of Michigan there are a variety of college board members and trustees up for election, that could have a huge impact on the direction that these institutions take in the future. There is a board of trustees a local community college that has apparently been so ineffective that a local newspaper is calling for the two board members that are up for re-election to be defeated. There are several state judges (partisan and non-partisan) that are up for election. In many states there are varying ballot proposals and initiatives up for consideration.

I have already submitted my absentee ballot and in many states there is early voting, so you don’t necessarily have to wait till November 4th to vote. America has historically held national elections on Tuesdays, have you ever wondered why? While living in Germany, I’ve noticed that elections are held on Sundays in many European countries. In the past, it was thought that because Sundays were meant for worship, elections shouldn’t be held on this day, since it might keep people from going to church and Tuesday seemed like a good day because it allowed people that were traveling to make it to their polling place to cast their ballot.

I have tried to stay away from political issues, especially ones that tend to get people all worked up, but I have to admit that I have been very disappointed by the lack of progress made by both major parties in Washington on some of the big issues that are facing America and the world. So often it seems that both major parties are only concerned about getting elected and keeping power. In Washington, the politicians spend way more time raising campaign money and campaigning than they actually spend doing the job that they’re elected for. A culture of partisanism, where the big and important issues don’t get tackled has become the norm. If businesses were run this way, they’d be out of business and quickly. If people outside of government did their jobs this way, they wouldn’t have them for very long. I’m certain that our founding fathers would be disappointed if they could see what has become of the government they designed. Social security: health care: the environment: our dependence on foreign oil (much of which comes from many countries that don’t like us very much) and fostering the design and use of alternative energy; a corporate culture that doesn’t seem to feel any social responsibility; education; the cost and sustainability of American foreign policy and its military; good paying jobs that allow people to be able to afford to raise families and buy homes; and the financial crisis that we have all recently become aware of, need to be tackled and not just with the stop-gap measures that Washington has done for the past few decades. Both major parties have been pushing the “hot button” issues that get people fired up (abortion, same-sex marriage, and gun ownership rights). These issues have been around for a long time and will never really disappear (think about how long gun powder has been around) but many of the other issues we’re facing do have deadlines, where if action isn’t taken our options to do anything about them become less and less and more expensive the longer we hold the “age old” debates on the “hot-button” issues. America and the world needs leaders that can look past the next election, people willing to risk their own re-election and do the job that needs to be done. In his Gettysburg address, Lincoln referred to the American government as a “government of the people, by the people, for the people”, the peoples’ voice doesn’t seem to be heard over corporate and other lobbyists’ money.

I’m encouraged to see numbers of young people that have taken an interest in the election and hope that they will become more engaged and less apathetic. With all the polling mentioned you hear that it is more and more the undecided voters that decide and will decide elections. The undecided voters are not necessarily a group of like-minded people, but people that don’t see themselves represented by either main party. I hope that the candidates that we elect will pick up on this. Please vote, and bring a friend or two.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Be Aware of Thieves

"Black Wallet" courtesy of sritenou

A recent event has made me aware that we need to pay more attention to our wallets and purses. While much of the world is currently caught up in all the turmoil in the financial markets (and I don’t claim to have the “big” answers, at least not yet anyways) being distracted by this and other daily activities often leaves us and loved ones open to thieves.

Last weekend my mother-in law had been to the bank and took out a few hundred euros for shopping and some other monthly expenses. She promptly put the money in her purse and went to the supermarket that was in the same shopping center as her bank. She was shopping and left her purse in her shopping cart (to look at some produce I believe) and hadn’t been gone very long at all. When she got to the checkout and wanted to pay for her groceries, she noticed that her wallet was missing from her purse! She told me shortly afterwards that she thought someone must have watched her take the money out of her atm and followed her into the supermarket, but it didn’t have to be that dubious, it could have just been that her pursue sitting in the shopping cart was too tempting a target, not to get hit!

Looking at the event with hindsight we can see that there are a few things that my mother-in law might have done differently.

  • Do not let your purse or wallet out of your sight, while you’re in any public area
  • Do no keep a lot of money in your possession for longer periods of time than necessary
  • If you need to have a large sum of cash on you then try to limit how much you’re carrying
  • Decide if you really need to carry cash, maybe a credit card or even atm card would work and it would give you some added protection if there are problems with a purchase
  • Limit the number of credit cards that you carry in your possession, because this will limit the number of accounts that you need to contact companies about in the event that they were stolen
  • Limit the number of keepsakes that you carry in your purse or wallet, because credit cards, id cards, and so on can be replaced but all those lovely pictures of family and friends aren’t so easy to replace (if there isn’t another copy of them anyways). Some proud parents might keep pictures that their children drew or other things that are not so easy to replace
  • Know what is in you wallet or purse. When it is stolen, is really not the time to wonder if this credit card or that credit card was in it

Prepare for the loss of your wallet or purse by knowing what phone numbers to call to report your cards lost or stolen. You’ll also want to have the account numbers assessable so that you can report them, if you have a consolidate list, be sure to keep it in a safe place because this too is something that you don’t want to fall into the hands of the wrong people.

Losing you wallet or pursue can seem trivial compared to losing your identity. You hear more and more stories about peoples’ identities being stolen either because of some security breach with a company (i.e. a bank or governmental agency), someone getting a hold of a carbon copy of a credit card sales receipt, various online activities, and a variety of other ways. There are some things that you can do to try and prevent this.

  • If someone calls you asking for sensitive data, you don’t really know that the person on the other end of the phone is who they claim to be. It is best to provide sensitive information only when you made the call. If you call the help desk for a company, then you can have more assurance that you’re speaking to an authorized agent of that company than when you receive a call from someone claiming to be from that company. In any case, you’d ask a police officer to see their badge (not that most of us would know a real badge from a fake one anyways) why not ask for some kind of proof before giving our your information, this may deter people trying to get your sensitive information.
  • If you buy something in a store and a carbon copy is produced, always ask for your copy and any copies that aren’t required for the store. Many people have gotten accounts numbers from carbons!
  • Guard your social security number, account numbers, user ids, and passwords with your life. Sure you might need to give this information out from time to time, but why not ask if it is really necessary or if there is some other information that can be used instead.
  • Think about changing your security or challenge question from your mother’s maiden name. This is a default question used all over the place and probably not too hard for someone to find out.
  • Give some thought to your passwords. Most people have passwords that are easy to crack. Many people write the password on sticky notes that are at their computer, might as well keep a key to your house under the welcome mat!
  • Be on the lookout for hoax emails asking you to do strange things. Before you do them, you should verify that they’re credible. Many people have deleted key system files needed for their computers to operate correctly because of a bogus email.
  • Before you pass on any email to family, friends, and co-workers asking for people to do strange things, you should verify the authenticity. Many people give credibility to others that they know and are willing to do things just because they received an email from them, when in fact the person you know fell victim to some email hoax or scam.
  • Be careful about information that you provide within social networks, blogs, and public profiles that are posted online. If you provide a telephone number that will be published, make sure that you know who will be able to see it before you do so or you might get many unexpected and unwanted calls. I would never provide a cell phone number that will be posted online.
  • Think like a scammer. Before you provide sensitive data, think about how this could be used by someone that doesn’t exactly have the best intentions. If some else can pretend to be you without worrying about the consequences, they can think up some pretty ingenious things to do that would amaze us all, so don’t help them with this!

The world has changed a lot even in the past ten years so we need to be more aware of where are wallets and purses are but even more aware of sensitive data. Try to use some common sense and put your thoughts into what you’re doing in the moment instead of the ten things you need to do next and you’ll find yourself less likely to fall victim, but if you do then having some strategies in place for how to deal with them will limit the impact. Be sure to pass this information along to those that you care about and people that you run across in your daily life. Enjoy life but be aware as you live it!

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day 2008- Poverty

Today is the second Blog Action Day, with this year’s them being “poverty”. Meike Bosserhoff, A friend and a colleague of mine, recently returned from three and a half months of volunteer work at the El Shadai foster home in Uganda, so I was excited to her about her first hand experiences in Africa and thought that it was appropriate to the Blog Action Day theme of poverty.

In Uganda there are over 2 million orphans (18 years old and younger) and 50% of the population is under 15 years of age. El Shadai takes in kids from the streets, poor families in neighboring villages, and some real orphans. Currently during school holidays there are 35 kids living there and when school is in session, that number drops to 20, with 13 off at a boarding school, and 2 attending university. The home provides food and shelter for the kids staying there and they pay for school age kids to go off to a boarding school. The home is 8-10 km away from Uganda’s second largest town (Jinga) and 80 km from the capital. It is also close to Lake Victoria and the source of the Nile.

The kids’ diets are limited to mostly beans and corn flour and water type of paste. The kids can also have rice but this requires that they eat way larger quantities to feel even remotely full, so it isn’t eaten that often. Fruit is too expensive to be served very often. Although the home does have a refrigerator, they aren’t always able to pay the electricity bill and it is often without power, so it can’t really be used to keep food cold and from spoiling, further limited what can be served to the kids.

Malaria and Typhoid are not uncommon and it is a challenge to get good drinking water. Boiling water to make it safe is too expensive and not a real option. The home is required to burn charcoal, which is more expensive than burning wood and so the charcoal is used more for cooking than for boiling drinking water. Meike’s saw one of the girls that had gotten tired of the limited diet that the kids were being offered and wasn’t eating regularly, got sick and she had to convince the girl to eat, even though the girl didn’t want to eat. The girl’s medicine required that she took it with some food in her stomach. I can very well imagine that I would tire of that diet as well! Also, I know that beans don’t always agree with me when I do eat them.

Living in the home provides other challenges that many of us aren’t used to as well. Water pressure in the showers was not what many of them were used to. In addition the home had a hot water tank on top of the complex that absorbed heat from the sun in the daytime, but it was not uncommon for the volunteers to have to take cold showers. Many volunteers made arrangements at take a hot shower away from the home so that they could occasionally have a hot shower.

Treatment of animals is different than many of us are used to. Animals are generally not “pets” but have a real function. They would buy a cat because there were mice. A dog was to be a watchdog and help to keep people off the compound. During Meike’s stay one of the dogs vaccination expired and it got sick. It lost its balance and wasn’t able to walk and was howling with pain. Meike paid for eggs, milk, bread, and some chicken along with treatment so that it could recover. The children weren’t used to seeing anyone providing such care for an animal before. They were relieved and happy that their dog recovered and lived.

I’ve seen several of the pictures that Meike posted as well as many on various web sites related to El Shadai and I’m amazed at how happy the kids appear. Many of them have had hard lives before coming to the home but you don’t really see it in their smiles and laughing faces. The home provides many of them opportunities that didn’t exist for them before. One of the goals of the home is to provide an education for all the kids living there, in many cases that will include studying at a university.

Fundraising efforts for El Shadai have resulted in the home being able to buy the land that the home is located on and while they’re living on this land, new construction is planned. The donation of construction materials, transport of the materials, and people to build it are all still needed. In addition, it would be great to make use of solar power to help with the power needs of the home and clean safe drinking water would be most certainly welcomed.

Meike has written about some of her experiences at El Shadai in her blog (German version, English version). She has several web albums of pictures at Picasa. In additions to the albums of pictures from her time in Africa (album 1 and 2) there are some other albums with pictures of items that Meike brought back from Africa and is selling (all money will go to El Shadai). You can also donate at Meike’s sites and she will transfer the money to the home. For anyone needing receipts of donations for tax or other purposes, you can donate to Friends of El Shadai (based in the U.S.) or to Bulungi (based in Germany). You can become a volunteer at El Shadai, the length of time that you would stay would be up to you. Keep in mind that you would need to pay for your flight and other associated transportation related costs, housing and food costs during your stay, and there is a donation built into your stay, weather it be 2 weeks, 3 months, or longer. If you’d like to sponsor a child you can do this at Friends of El Shadai or at Bulungi, as the El Shadai website is not equipped to take donations. You can also donate money for some other specific purpose, just be sure to let either of those sites know that this is your wish.

After talking to Meike I saw a segment on CNN about PlayPumps that looked very promising. They put in water pumps in sub-Saharan Africa that are powered by kids playing on merry-go-rounds, so there is no need for electricity to power the pumps. The pumps are typically drilled near schools, so there are lots of kids to power the pumps and because the water is not coming from rivers and lakes that typically are contaminated, they produce cleaner and safer water that doesn’t need to be transported the great distances that people currently do from rivers and lakes. I’m hoping that one of these could be set up at El Shadai, but I haven’t had the chance to check this out yet. Since more than a billion people worldwide don’t have access to clean safe water this is serious problem that this organization can help with.

I hope that you’ll get involved in helping eliminate world poverty. Helping kids to attend school in Uganda at El Shadai or getting involved in PlayPumps efforts to provide safe and clean drinking water are a couple of ways that you can make a difference.

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