Sunday, May 25, 2008

Russian Communists and Other Anachronisms

According to a news article posted at MSN, Steven Spielberg's new Indiana Jones movie has upset the leader of the Russia's Communist party. He says that the movie inaccurately portrays Russia, and he says that the movie runs the risk of provoking a new Cold War.

That's pretty funny, coming from the leader of a party which used to respond to anything even remotely resembling criticism by sentencing such dissidents to imprisonment in Siberian labor camps. Apparently, the Russian Communists are now so toothless that they have to resort to whining on their websites. They're calling for a "boycott" of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull". As if Russia was ever a big market for American movies anyway! For decades, our movie makers thrived in spite of the censorship which prevented our movies from reaching Russian viewers. Somehow, I doubt that Spielberg cares a whole lot about whether or not a few disenfranchised Russian Communists watch his movies.

I also think that it's rather amusing that the Russian Communist party chose to express its opposition to Spielberg's movie on its website. Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't the U.S. military establishment basically create the Internet as a means of assuring that the military would have a reliable means of sending messages to and from various locations in the event of a nuclear strike initiated by the Soviets? So now Russian Communists are using our military technology in order to protest our movies.

To the clueless individuals who think that America was largely responsible for the Cold War, I would suggest a rerun of the video showing Nikita Krushchev as he pounded his shoe (in an infantile display of aggression) during a 1960 meeting of the United Nations. That, combined with his earlier 1956 statement to the effect that the Soviet Union would "bury" the United States, made it seem altogether reasonable to surmise that the U.S.S.R. did indeed plan to impose its evil ideology on the rest of the world.

Nina Krushchev later explained that the "shoe banging incident" was caused by the new and uncomfortable shoes her father was wearing at the time. His watch subsequently fell off as well. Gosh, those Ruskies made such quality products! Prior to the dissolution of the U.S.S.R., Russian Communists didn't seem to mind making people wait in interminably long lines for shoes which were ugly and uncomfortable (if they could even get shoes at all). That's what happens, folks, when you utterly remove all financial incentives for manufacturers to go the extra mile. Maybe if the U.S.S.R. hadn't sacrificed quality for egalitarianism, they'd have had fewer Westerners (and fewer Russians) rooting for their demise.

Of course, shoddy workmanship and long waiting lines was the least of their problems. The fact that West German Communists shot people for attempting to cross the Berlin Wall from east to west didn't exactly do anything to ease people's fears, either. Nor did historical knowledge of Stalin's "Great Purge," in which millions were murdered. Nor did the fact that Soviet leaders blatantly oppressed Russia's numerous Christians, whose views about God were ostensibly made obsolete when the state was deified by Stalin, Lenin and their ilk.

Reagan was right. The U.S.S.R. was an "evil empire". Russians who want to rewrite history in order to make it appear as if Russian Communism was a noble enterprise are always free to make their own propagandistic movies, as they have always done, but Americans who value the truth will not give a fig what Russian Communists think about the latest Indiana Jones movie (which, if anything, portrays them in a much more positive light than they deserve).

Friday, May 23, 2008

Art, Commerce and Polaroid Manipulations

Polaroid Corporation arguably started out as one of the most unique companies in the annals of photography. It was the first company to understand that numerous photographers wanted instant gratification. For decades, Polaroid was the only game in town for people who wanted such gratification. The maximum size of prints was typically pretty small (unless one was one of the tiny handful of people who could afford their gargantuan 20x24 Polaroid view camera), and the cameras themselves were nothing to get particularly excited about, if one ignored the ability to produce instant prints. But Polaroid films did offer some unique capabilities, not all of which were intentional on the part of the manufacturers.

Artists discovered that Polaroid films possessed some unique properties which encouraged them to manipulate those films in order to produce images which looked as if they might have been created by painters, not photographers. The films made for the Polaroid SX-70 cameras were particularly useful in this respect. The gelatin-based emulsions which created images in SX-70 film (later changed slightly and renamed Time Zero film) didn't become completely dry and permanent until some time after they'd emerged from the cameras (or, in some cases, from the Daylab processors used for the purpose of making exposures onto such film, using 35mm slides created in traditional 35mm cameras). By manipulating the malleable emulsions with appropriate tools, photographers were able to create impressionistic images which were instantly identifiable as SX-70 manipulations.

Interestingly, Edwin Land (who invented the Polaroid camera) is said to have been greatly displeased by such manipulations. I think that he viewed it as a sign that he'd failed to achieve his goal, which had nothing to do with creating prints which took a long time to achieve anything resembling permanence.

Here are several web pages which display such manipulations:

Floral photos by Klaus and Elke Wolfer

Polaroid Manipulations by Kathleen T. Carr

J.B. Schilling (Gallery One)
J.B. Schilling (Gallery Two)
J.B. Schilling (Gallery Three)

This web page on the Daylab website explains how such manipulations were made.

Kathleen Thormod Carr even wrote an entire book on the process!

The images produced with that process were really quite small, so the solution (as documented in Carr's book) was to scan the manipulated images at high resolution, in order to significantly enlarge them and print them out with giclee printers such as the ones made by Epson, or with digital photo printers such as the Durst Lambda or the Fuji Frontier.

Sadly, Polaroid has now discontinued all of its special films! Which means basically that once the remaining stock of Time Zero film is gone, photographers will no longer be able to create such manipulations. (We may be at that point already.)

The bottom line was that the user base which appreciated the unique artistic potential inherent in the SX-70/Time Zero films just wasn't enough to justify Polaroid's continued production of those films. Polaroid still exists, but there's no longer anything special about the company, other than its unique history. They're just competing with all of the other companies which make digital cameras --- and not doing a particularly good job of it, in my opinion. Personally, I think that the company's days are numbered, unless they can introduce something so groundbreaking that they will once again regain their lost momentum.

Now, here's what I'm thinking. It's likely that we will never again see a film comparable to SX-70/Time Zero film, unless some small company owned by hobbyists is able to successfully petition Polaroid to release the technical information which would enable them to manufacture such film once again. But that may not be a big loss.

I've seen a number of digital filters (usually sold as Photoshop plug-ins) which can emulate a wide variety of traditional films. Also, the Liquify filter offered with Photoshop is similar to SX-70 manipulations in some respects.

So why not make an interactive digital filter specifically designed to emulate the look of Polaroid SX-70 manipulations? It could be designed to work in conjunction with the Wacom tablet, which would essentially serve the same function as the styluses once used for manipulating real SX-70 film.

In many respects, such software would be an improvement over the original process. One could work on high resolution images, for instance, thereby eliminating the need to scan manipulated prints at high resolution and retouch them in order to produce big prints. It's also likely that using the pressure-sensitive capabilities of the Wacom tablet would enable people to exercise more control over the actual manipulations. Using multiple pixel-aligned layers in Photoshop, people could blend manipulated and unmanipulated versions of the same images together, using varying levels of opacity and various blend modes in Photoshop, in order to achieve effects which would have been extremely difficult to achieve the "old fashioned" way. They could use layer masks in order to smoothly combine the best parts of multiple manipulations of the same images! They could also save their "SX-70 manipulation" movements as meshes which could then be used with the Liquify filter, if desired. A final benefit, compared with the traditional process, is that there would be no time limit imposed on the process. One could return to the image several months after creating the manipulation and add more manipulations. That wasn't possible with real SX-70 film, since the gelatin emulsion eventually hardened so that it could be manipulated no more. More working time would mean that people could be more reflective about what changes they chose to make.

While they're at it, the software programmers responsible for creating such a filter could also add the ability to emulate other artistic Polaroid processes, such as the image transfers and emulsion transfers described in another book by Kathleen Carr.

If they wanted to go even further, they could also add the ability to emulate all of the "alternative processes" described on this web page. And they could finish it up by adding functionality which would enable photographers to easily generate proper digital negatives based on the principles taught by Dan Burkholder, for the benefit of people who wanted to use the real alternative processes rather than just simulating them digitally. Want to create a platinum/palladium print based on a digital emulation of an SX-70 manipulation? With such a software program, that would be a very real possibility, without the need to do any scanning (assuming that the original photo was taken with a DSLR).

Alas, I'm not a computer programmer, and I wouldn't have a clue about how to go about creating such a Photoshop plug-in. But there are enough talented programmers around that I'd imagine that they will see the need, sooner or later, and they will then create such a program.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Photo Books for Nonprofits

In my last blog post, I discussed the new options offered, in terms of print on demand publishing of high quality photo books, by companies such as I also talked about a number of ideas I've had for photo books which I might like to design, write and publish. However, in spite of the length of that blog post, I didn't discuss all of the ideas which have occurred to me. Some of my ideas have been inspired by past job experiences I've had.

From 1996 to 2000, I worked as a database specialist for a nonprofit organization which was a division of the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago. It was known as "YMCA Child Welfare". Like Catholic Charities, which had a somewhat larger operation than our own, our agency managed the cases of numerous foster children. There were about 950 foster children in my Microsoft Access database when I first started working there in 1996, but changes subsequently made by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services caused our caseloads to dramatically decline in later years, leading to staff cutbacks. That explains why I no longer work there. Of course, no one else does, either. At one time, YMCA Child Welfare employed something like 80 different caseworkers, but the agency was eventually disbanded, and their remaining cases were handed over to other social service agencies. (It bears mentioning that a similar thing happened with respect to the child welfare division of Catholic Charities.)

During my years as an employee of YMCA Child Welfare, I became acutely aware of the extent to which nonprofit groups tend to rely heavily on the ability to tell their stories effectively, so as to be able to persuade potential donors to furnish them with the funds which they need for operating expenses.

Most nonprofit groups and social service agencies, whether public or private, are in the people business. The justification for the existence of such organizations can be found in the ability of those organizations to meet human needs which would otherwise go unmet. Therefore, when seeking funding, their ability to obtain such funding can hinge on how effective they are in selling potential supporters on the idea that they are providing services which are deeply needed.

Testimonials are therefore extremely useful. For instance, if an organization is in the business of offering rehabilitation services to drug addicts or former criminals or handicapped people or homeless people, it isn't usually sufficient to make an abstract statement to that effect. It's much more effective to present the stories of real individuals who have actually been substantially helped as a result of their programs.

There are numerous ways to accomplish that goal. Videos, for instance, can be very useful. But not everyone has the time to sit through a video presentation in the middle of a work day. Not everyone has the equipment with which to watch a video presentation at home. (And there are several different video formats, so a video should really be offered in multiple formats, including YouTube, if one hopes to reach the maximum number of people with that video.) As for online videos and presentations, it should be remembered that they tend to eat up a lot of bandwidth. Sad to say, there are still a lot of people in the world who enjoy very limited Internet access, and there are even people who still rely on dial-up connections or on public computers at places such as libraries and Internet cafes. For such people, online videos may not be a very good option.

Therefore, even though videos are useful, other options ought to be explored as well. And it seems to me that photo books published and sold online by ought to be seriously considered when exploring such options.'s books come in three different sizes (7x7, 8x10 and 13x11), and four different orientations (i.e., both "portrait" and "landscape" for 8x10 books), with as many as 440 pages! That's a lot of space in which to tell an organization's story with text and visuals. Such a book could be organized any way one wished, but I would suggest that it ought to include the following elements:

  1. The organization's mission statement.
  2. A statement about the inspiration for the book, and a statement summarizing the multifaceted objective of the book (which may include raising funds for the organization, via online book sales).
  3. A table of contents.
  4. A statement from the leader of the organization, with that person's photo.
  5. Multiple stories about people whose lives have actually been improved by the work of the organization, accompanied by art and/or photos which enhances the text on those pages. Portraits of the people who have been helped are certainly useful, but it's also important to include images which give a context to their lives, such as photos of the environments in which they live. Principles which are applicable to good, socially responsible photojournalism are applicable to such a project as well.
  6. Information, following the people profiles, regarding needs which the organization has, and various options for those who believe in the organization's work and want to help. That might include monetary donations, "gifts in kind", volunteer work, and purchasing various products being sold for fundraising purposes (including the book, but also including things such as fine art prints, tickets to fundraising events, and so forth). A book which could potentially be as long as 440 pages certainly would have space for pages which displayed fundraising products and which furnished prices, order forms, shipping information and other details needed in order to effectuate the sales of such products via the information presented in the book. This would further maximize the fundraising potential of every single book.
  7. A glossary of terms (if applicable).
  8. An index (if deemed necessary and useful).
  9. A bibliography of reference books and articles relevant to the work being done by the organization.
  10. A reference list of resources (such as other social service agencies involved in similar work).
  11. A detailed list (divided into donor levels) of people, organizations and businesses who have already supported the nonprofit organization in the past. This would enhance the likelihood of procuring additional support for those individuals in the future, since it would let them know that their generosity had been greatly appreciated. It would also encourage potential supporters to support the work of the organization, since they would be made aware that their names would be added to the list when future editions of the book were published, if they too chose to support the organization and it's work.
  12. Credits for all art, photos and articles in the book, if the book is a collaborative work (as it probably should be), and contact information for all contributors.

Of course, it's possible to create effective books which don't include all of the aforementioned elements, but it's nice to know that those options exist.Currently, there are roughly 56 books under the category of "Nonprofits & Fundraising" in the online bookstore. But I think they're just getting started. Once people begin to brainstorm and think about the ways in which such books can help them to raise funds for their nonprofit groups, I suspect that many more organizations will want to explore that option. Here are the primary ways in which nonprofits could be helped by such groups:

  1. Revenue from the online sales of such books, via e-commerce bookstores set up by
  2. Giving such books to big donors as incentives and rewards for their generosity.
  3. Including such books as part of an organization's presentation whenever applying for grants and/or loans from government programs, private foundations, corporations and well-heeled individual philanthropists.

I am currently exploring the option of visiting with the leaders from several local charities and nonprofit groups in order to suggest that I would be willing to help them to develop such projects, in exchange for remuneration for my efforts. I believe that I have the writing skills, the graphic design skills and the organizational skills needed in order to bring such projects through to completion in a manner which would enhance an organization's ability to raise support and thereby fulfill its mission.

Here are several samples of books which show how some people are using books for such purposes:

Children of the Miracle Foundation
Faces of the Hanna Project: A Study in Sepia

(Be sure to click the Book Preview links in order to open PDF files which will enable you to browse through those books.)

The following is a brief (and very incomplete) list of a few worthy nonprofits I hope to approach with this idea, with the objective of working with them in order to develop fund raising books for their organizations:

Franciscan Outreach Association
Access Living
Lawyer's Committee for Better Housing
Anixter Center
Chicago Coalition for the Homeless
Inspiration Corporation
Chicago Christian Industrial League

In some cases, endeavors in which the aforementioned organizations are already involved lead me to believe that they would be receptive to my ideas.

For instance, Streetwise's main focus is on empowering homeless people (and people who are in danger of becoming homeless) by allowing them to earn money selling the newspapers which the company publishes.

The Franciscan Outreach Association has recently held a fundraising art auction, which leads me to believe that they'd be open to the idea of selling art books for fundraising purposes.

Access Living recently became involved in an "arts and culture initiative" which enabled disabled people to exhibit their art via its "disability art collection," and they've also auctioned art off for fundraising purposes (at their annual gala), so it would be a natural for them to sell photo books, giclee prints and other products featuring such art.

The Anixter Center operates a variety of businesses in order to furnish handicapped people with employment opportunities.

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless holds fundraising benefit concerts and sells coffee online for fundraising purposes.

The Inspiration Corporation currently operates three restaurants (Inspiration Cafe, Cafe Too and The Living Room Cafe) for the purpose of offering employment opportunities to homeless people, and also for the purpose of raising funds for operating expenses. The organization also sells merchandise online (including coffee, aprons, T-shirts etc.) for fundraising purposes.

Thresholds operates a florist shop (known as Urban Meadows) which gives its employees a new lease on life.

Chicago Christian Industrial League operates a landscaping service which offers work opportunities to homeless people in the Chicago area.

In short, the practice of operating various legitimate business endeavors for the purpose of funding nonprofit organizations is well established. Provided that things are run properly, there is no reason why such fundraising endeavors needs to jeopardize a group's tax-exempt status.

I have created this blog post, in part, because documenting these possibilities may prove useful to me in the near future when presenting proposals to some of the aforementioned organizations (and also to other potential business partners, such as public schools which could raise substantial funds for special programs by publishing books featuring art created by their students).

Such proposals will include the creation of books, but other related options (such as sales of fine art prints, greeting cards, and various products which could be produced by a company such as may also be included in my proposals.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Great Publishing Options at

Until recently, persuading a major book publisher to publish a coffee table book featuring one's photos and/or art was a major undertaking. "Print on demand" companies were mostly limited to text-only books such as novels. Fortunately, that is now changing. is a company which offers the ability to publish high-quality hard cover and paperback books which one can then sell online via one's own e-commerce website. ( also offers the option of selling one's own photo books online, but their onetime setup fee of $200 might deter some people from exploring that option.)

Blog books, business books, cookbooks, photo books, poetry books, portfolios and wedding books are just a few of the possibilities which are listed at They can also print text-only books, but their real strength seems to be in their ability to publish full-color books (including hard cover coffee table books) and then sell them online on behalf of their authors.

Other similar on-demand book publishers which offer the option of printing full-color photo books include, Apple (via their iPhoto service),,, and and seem to be the best choices if you not only want to publish your color photos in books but you also want to sell them online via your own e-commerce web pages. is a nice option, but seems to offer more sizes: 7x7 (square); 8x10 or 10x8 (portrait or landscape orientation); and 13 wide x 11 high (landscape orientation; hard cover only). And each book can have as many as 440 pages!!!

Consider this: The very nice photo book "America 24/7" has 304 pages, and measures 13.1" x 10.6" x 1.2". It's a massive book, but no larger than what's possible with the parameters offered by

I also like the fact that the site includes its own online bookstore where people can browse through all of the books they've published at any given date and time, so you don't have to know about a specific book in advance in order to easily learn about it. What's particularly impressive is the huge number of books they've published so far! Specifically:

Architecture (80)
Arts & Photography (5220!)
Biographies & Memoirs (335)
Blogs (60)
Business (36)
Children (592)
Comics & Graphic Novels (18)
Computers & Internet (2)
Cooking (168)
Crafts & Hobbies (40)
Education (74)
Entertainment (66)
Fine Art (217)
Fine Art Photography (989)
Gay and Lesbian (10, unfortunately)
History (113)
Home & Garden (87)
Humor (36)
Literature & Fiction (55)
Medicine & Science (15)
Mystery & Crime (3)
Nonprofits & Fundraising (56)
Parenting & Families (208)
Pets (153)
Poetry (250)
Portfolios (340)
Reference (18)
Religion & Spirituality (157)
Romance (50)
Science Fiction & Fantasy (15)
Self-Improvement (26)
Sex & Relationships (13)
Sports & Adventure (413)
Travel (1804)
Uncategorized (8839)
Wedding (1178)

In short, they've already published a lot of books!

I also like the fact that each e-commerce page can have an author profile, a text description of the book, tags which make it easy to find the book, a PDF preview of the book (so people can make intelligent buying decisions rather than buying solely on the basis of the cover and the description), and the ability to bookmark or e-mail interesting books. Here's a sample of what I mean. Author's can also have their own home pages and their own "bookstores". That's is particularly useful for promoting their own websites, and for gathering all of their books together on a single page. authors also get to set their own prices, so they can make as much or as little money as they wish (provided that they charge enough to pay for printing and other costs).

Another interesting note: seems to have integrated its services with, resulting in an alliance which would seem to enable writers to use photos from the latter web-based "microstock" company (in case they aren't able to produce the photos they need themselves). See this page for details. That might be very useful for poets and other types of writers. It's likely that one would need to pay for the Extended License versions of each image, though, in order to keep things legal.

I can't speak from personal experience, with regard to the quality of's books, because I haven't yet created or bought my first book from them. But I think that what I've seen looks very promising.


Here are some ideas I have regarding books I'd like to publish via and/or

The Creator's Creators: A visual overview of artistically talented Christians and their work. This would include samples of their work (and/or photos of them at work, in the case of musicians, actors, etc.), plus pen & ink portraits of all featured artists (created by myself using my stippled pen & ink technique), plus written profiles and interviews featuring each artist, plus complete contact information so that creative directors, concert promoters, art collectors and other interested parties could contact the people featured in the book. In that sense, the book would be a creative directory comparable to the ones which have been used by photographers and illustrators to obtain work in the past. Examples of such directories have included American Showcase, The Black Book, the Graphic Art Guild's Directory of Illustration, Stock Illustration Source, and Workbook. Publication in such directories (as well as regional publications of a similar nature) is useful both for the artists featured in the books (and related websites) and also for those who need a quick way to view numerous portfolios without waiting for the individual artists to contact them. A secondary purpose of the directory would be to draw attention to those artists who've specifically made a point of publicly expressing their Christian convictions, or who are making a special effort to target the religious marketplace (such as Christian record companies, book publishers, art galleries, etc.). A third function would be to spur collaborations and fruitful exchanges of dialog between diverse artistic Christians.

The Life of The Body: This book would be somewhat similar to America 24/7, which was a collaborative photo book based on digital images submitted online by numerous Americans throughout the United States. (That book stimulated regional versions for every state in the union, as well as similar books focusing on other countries and other subjects such as dogs and cats. The Life of The Body would be a collaborative photo book focusing specifically on the lives (both in and out of church) of diverse members of the Body of Christ throughout the United States. Brief text profiles would be included, but the primary contents would be visual. The objective would be to make people more aware of the extent to which the influence of the Christian Church permeates the cultural life of the United States. (Additional editions might later be created for other nations and/or continents.)

The Taste of Mercy: This would be a book which would combine my Christ-centered poetry, my photography, my pen & ink portraits (and other art, such as digital abstract art) and more. In addition, the book would contain order forms and related information, for people who wished to commission pen & ink portraits or purchase related products such as fine art prints. There would also be text which would describe my comprehensive vision for Artistic Christian Endeavors, and information for people who wished to book me as a speaker in relation to that project. Later, my hope is that I could produce and publish similar books which would feature the work of numerous other artistic Christians, such as poets, painters, photographers and so forth.

Other book ideas I might pursue, all of which would benefit from the services at

  • A portfolio book featuring numerous samples of my pen & ink portraits, along with detailed descriptions of how to go about commissioning me to produce such portraits.
  • An art instruction book which I would use for the purpose of teaching others to create stippled pen & ink portraits. (Other ideas for art instruction books I could write are also running through my mind.)
  • A catalog featuring numerous fine art prints and related products produced by myself and other members of the North American Alliance of Artistic Christians. The catalog would include detailed pricing and ordering information, along with an order form (for people who wish to photocopy that form), along with the web address where a downloadable PDF order form could be obtained.
  • A portfolio book featuring commercial graphic designs I've created in Photoshop (such as full-color business cards, postcards, etc.). This book would supplement a related website as a means of presenting my capabilities to potential graphic design clients.
  • An illustrated cookbook featuring numerous recipes contributed by members of the North American Alliance of Artistic Christians. Proceeds would be used to raise funds for the ministry. (Additional recipes could be sold in a book published via The book wouldn't have full color photos.)
  • An anthology of Christ-centered short stories and poems by various writers. Ideally, there would be illustrations which related to the subjects of the stories and poems.
  • Church directories published for the purpose of helping members of various churches to get to know one another better, thereby enabling them to more effectively serve Christ together.

The preceding book projects would be sold online in order to raise funds for Artistic Christian Endeavors. The books would be published under the name Priceless Pearl Press.

There would be a related literary journal known as The P3 Review. (The literary journal would be published as an e-book, for ease of distribution and low cost. There might also be a related blog and a related podcast. The podcast would enable me to include audio interviews, music excerpts, audio excerpts from movies, readings from short stories and poetry, and so forth.)

While all of the above projects would be created partially for the purpose of raising badly needed funds, making money would not be the only objective. I sincerely believe that every one of the projects listed above would be valuable contributions to the world of reading. Some of the aforementioned projects will be very time consuming and difficult to create. Others should be fairly easy. But all of them are doable, and I believe that I have what it will take to complete these projects, with the help of numerous others who see the potential in my ideas.

UPDATE: Be sure to read my related, more recent blog post which discusses ways in which photo books could be used in order to raise funds and achieve other goals in relation to various nonprofit groups and charitable organizations.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Relatively Short Autobiography

Now that I've discovered the web publishing benefits of Google Docs, I've decided to use that program's nice little free word processor in order to create a document consisting of a short autobiography of myself. The nice thing about Google Docs is that it makes it easy to turn word processed documents into web pages which aren't cluttered with all of the doodads (sidebar links and so forth) which characterize posts on this and other blogs. Just a clean, crisp white page with text and links. Of course, one can also add graphics if one wishes to do so, but it isn't necessary.

I especially like the fact that one can set things up so that the HTML web page is automatically updated whenever one updates the word processed document on which the HTML page is based. I've decided to use that feature in order to enable me to periodically add more text for the purpose of expanding and completing the aforementioned autobiography.

The Google Docs word processor can also export text in various formats, including Microsoft Word (.doc) and Adobe Acrobat (.pdf). And even though it isn't as full-featured as Microsoft Word, it's surprisingly capable, with a lot of useful features, such as Bookmarks so that one can easily navigate to different sections of the document after saving it as a web page.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Double Standards For Christian Musicians

Here's a link to an article which I recently posted via Google Docs. You may find it enlightening.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Whole Lotta' Shakin' Goin' On

On April 18 of this year, I woke up in the early morning to a peculiar sensation which I'd never felt before. It felt as if someone had replaced my ordinary bed with a vibrator bed. I heard shifting and shaking sounds from the boxes of books piled up in my room, indicating that it wasn't just me. How peculiar, I thought. If I didn't know better, I'd think that Chicago was experiencing an earthquake! I looked at the clock next to my bed. It was 4:44 a.m.

Later, I learned that Chicago had indeed experienced an earthquake, as had numerous other cities in the Midwest. As earthquakes go, it wasn't very destructive, but some Chicago residents felt it more than I did. (In a letter to the editor of TimeOut Chicago, one resident talked about "books and knickknacks" falling off his shelves.)

Apparently the epicenter of the earthquake was six miles from West Salem, IL, which is 140 miles east of St. Louis, MO. West Salem is either 230 miles from Chicago (if you believe the writer of the Chicago Sun-Times article) or 270 miles from Chicago (if you believe Google Maps, as I'm inclined to do). The Sun-Times also mentions Mount Carmel, IL, which Google says is 283 miles from Chicago.

Even though the earthquake caused no serious damage, it made me aware of how vulnerable we all can be to nature.

I'm extremely thankful that I've never experienced any life-threatening natural disasters on a personal level. There have been a number of tornadoes in or near my home town of Springfield, MO, but I've never actually seen a tornado or experienced any tornado-related property damage.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

What Happened To All The Pay Phones?

Not long ago, RCN (my phone company) cut me off because I fell too far behind on my phone bill. (I currently owe $220.) I didn't want to fall behind, but I had no income other than a small check I was receiving every month from a woman in Missouri. I was scarcely able to pay my rent, much less pay that phone bill. (I should mention that a substantial part of the $220 was late fees, not charges for actual phone calls.)

I figured that if worse came to worst, I could continue to search for work by using a pay phone for the purpose of making calls related to my job search. I'd have used the pay phone in the building where I lived, except that it often got so noisy in the residential lounge that I could barely hear myself think, much less hear someone at the other end of the phone line. (That's one of the drawbacks of living in a building inhabited by large numbers of rude and thoughtless people. They're often so loud that it's virtually impossible to hear dialog when watching shows on the TV in the lounge.)

It was very annoying for me to have to walk over to the Omni Hotel or Northwestern Medical Center in order to make such calls and in order to check my voice mail messages (at 773-509-8126), but it was doable. That's what I've been doing for the past couple of months.

No more. I went to the Omni Hotel today, and I discovered that there was no longer a pay phone in that building! That was upsetting enough, but when I walked over to Northwestern, I discovered that their pay phones had been removed as well, with the exception of one last pay phone (in the Feinberg Pavilion) which (for all I know) could easily be removed soon as well.

What's going on? I have no idea. The fact that pay phones were removed from multiple unrelated locations seems to suggest that Ameritech itself is to blame. (That's the company which was identified as the phone service provider on all of those phones.)

I guess that explains the lousy service I've been getting from them when I've tried to make long distance calls from those pay phones. They no longer have any commitment to good pay phone service, probably because they're getting out of the pay phone business in Chicago.

The one pay phone remaining at Northwestern (in the Feinberg Pavilion) has a sign indicating that AT&T is the company behind that phone. So maybe that's why it hasn't been removed yet. But the way things seem to be going, I wouldn't be surprised to return to that location and find that phone missing as well.

It might come as a surprise to some people, but not everyone in the world has a cell phone! Some people just can't afford their own cell phones. Plus, people who do have cell phones sometimes find themselves in need of pay phones because they left their cell phones at home, or their cell phones were lost or broken. What are they supposed to do if they can't find pay phones in such situations? Build smoke signals?

It's a weird situation when one can buy a phone which will take photos and play MP3 files and YouTube videos and games, but one can't find a simple public pay phone with which to make a call when one needs to make a phone call.

It's really a scary situation for me. I am never going to get myself out of the financial pit I'm in if I can't get a job. But how am I supposed to get work if I can't even find a phone with which to check my voice mail messages or contact potential employers? True, I do tell people that e-mail is the best way to reach me whenever I speak with them. But they don't always heed that advice. And there are a number of Help Wanted ads where they don't even list an e-mail address, so my only choice if I want to be considered for such jobs is to call them on the phone during normal business hours.

I shudder to think what would happen if I could no longer use the computers at the Apple Store or the library for sending and receiving e-mail. I'd be almost completely cut off from potential employers. That's unlikely to happen at the library, but I've seen a lot of changes at the Apple Store since they first opened their doors here. Today, it's possible to just walk in the door and use one of their computers to send and receive e-mail. Tomorrow? Who knows?

I do have a friend who might conceivably let me go over to his apartment in the evening and check my voice mail messages. But I don't want to constantly impose on him. Besides, I have to be able to make calls during the daytime, too, if I'm going to call potential employers, most of whom are only accessible during business hours.

One possible solution may lie in the fact that there's a Life Development Center (LDC) on the 5th floor at the Lawson House YMCA. They have long offered certain services in connection with the search for employment. They've allowed me to use the fax machine to send out resumes. (They insist on operating the fax machine themselves, even though I'm perfectly capable of doing so myself without any help.) If I explain the dire situation in which I now find myself, perhaps I can persuade them to allow me to regularly use one of the phones in that office in order to make job-related calls during the daytime. I really hope so.

Obviously, the ideal would be for me to pay my phone bill at RCN so I could get my own phone service again. I definitely plan to pay that bill when I'm able to do so. But first I have to get a job and a decent income!

It's highly unlikely that anyone from the phone companies will ever read this blog post, but just for the record, I think that the current dearth of pay phones stinks. Of course, if they want to give me a cell phone for free (even if it's just a prepaid phone with a limited number of minutes), I might revise that opinion. But that's not likely to happen.

UPDATE: Here's a link to a document (created with Google Docs) containing some additional notes on this subject.

Moral Degeneracy In The Name of God

At some point, I will very likely come back to this blog post and expand on the thoughts herein. For the time being, I'm pressed for time, so it will have to suffice for me to say that this article is just one example of how corrupt and ungodly certain branches of the Christian Church have become in recent years.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Why The Democrats Won't Get My Vote

It's way too early to predict who will be elected President of our country in 2008. However, if Barack Obama loses the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination, or if he loses the presidential election in November, it seems likely (based on the racial paranoia which afflicts large segments of this country) that numerous people will claim that he lost because he was black.

There may be some people in this country for whom Obama's race is considered an important factor. But I'm not one of them.

I'd be happy to vote for Alan Keyes, for example, if I thought he had any chance at all of winning during this election cycle. (In fact, I think Keyes would make a much better candidate than John McCain --- and maybe even a better candidate than Mike Huckabee, although that would be a close call for me.) Unfortunately, I think that the probability of Keyes winning is virtually nil. Even though McCain isn't my idea of the ideal candidate, he's still a much better choice than Obama or Clinton.

There are many issues facing our country, so it's important not to be a one-issue voter.

Having said that, I believe that some issues so outweigh other issues that those issues are pivotal in deciding how one ought to vote. During the antebellum era, that issue was slavery. In my opinion, that pivotal issue is now the abortion issue. In America, abortion has taken roughly 50 million human lives since being legalized in 1973. What could possibly be more important than passing laws (and amending our Constitution) in order to end America's national holocaust?

When it comes to the abortion issue, it really doesn't matter whether the Democratic nominee is Obama or Clinton. The views of both of them on that subject are equally abhorrent. Notwithstanding the fact that Bill Clinton wanted to make abortion "rare," and notwithstanding his written acknowledgment that human life begins at conception, his unwillingness to support pro-life legislation made his alleged dislike of abortion essentially worthless. Hillary's views on that subject are virtually indistinguishable from Bill's.

One doesn't need to be a conservative Republican or a Christian such as myself to understand the importance of the abortion issue. In an article by jazz critic and Democrat Nat Hentoff, Hentoff (a writer for the Village Voice) said that he was appalled by Barack Obama's extremely liberal views on the subject of abortion. (Here's a link to a longer, and earlier, article Hentoff wrote about abortion. Hentoff also wrote an excellent book about the hypocrisy of liberals who claimed to value civil liberties while simultaneously opposing the freedom of conservatives to express their opinions in the public square. The book contained a detailed consideration of the way in which "pro-choice" people suppressed the choice of people to make up their own minds about the abortion issue by hearing both sides of the argument.)

There have been a few rare pro-life Democrats (such as Bob Casey of Pennsylvania or Glenn Poshard of Illinois), but the overall evidence leads me to conclude that the Democratic party as a whole is on the wrong side of the most important issue currently facing our nation. That's particularly true when one considers the shameful way in which the Democratic party (which allegedly values "tolerance" highly) has excluded or marginalized people such as Casey and Poshard time and time again.