Vote Smarter

Snoopy voteTuesday, November 6th, 2012 is really just around the corner. My biggest complaint during past elections has been that there wasn’t an easy way to get enough info to feel like I was making an informed decision at the poll. But that may be about to change…

Project Vote Smart, founded by former Arizona Senator Richard Kimball, aims to help. This free non-profit, non-partisan research organization collects and distributes comprehensive information on U.S. political candidates and elected officials. In particular, the VoteEasy tool can help you zero in on a candidate based on his/her official stance on a range of key issues or criteria. It even includes historical voting records so you can trend how candidates have performed in years past.

Especially interesting is the Political Courage Test that measures each candidate’s willingness to provide citizens with their positions on key issues. (Note that all of the 2012 Presidential contenders fail this test!)

I do my part and cast my votes but honestly, I’m still fairly skeptical about the real net value of individual votes in our electoral system (although I’m feeling slightly less iffy about this after some further reading). What are your thoughts on this? Do you feel your efforts at the polls are meaningful?

Sunday Sundries

A few assorted links & tidbits to start off the week:

iTunes nixes network rentals

Sadly, there are some things you just can’t get via Netflix (either streaming or disc) so Dede is relieved that we squeaked in Glee: Season 2 just before the hammer fell. According to the ZDNet article Apple Finally Drops TV Rentals From iTunes, Apple quietly pulled the option to rent television episodes from its iTunes online store in the the past few days.

Kick it up a notch with Kickstarter

Kickstarter is an innovative new website that lets would-be entrepreneurs submit a pitch about a project they need help getting off the ground. Via crowd-sourced fundraising, projects have a set amount needed and defined funding levels—most start at very affordable $5, $15, $25 levels—and in addition to helping get the project going, all “investors” (that’s you and me) get a little something extra as a reward for having some faith in the product and/or its creator. And a project must reach its funding goal before time runs out or no money changes hands, which protects both project creators and investors.

So with Kickstarter you can help breathe life into cool ideas like:

World Gone 2 the Dogs

My brother Rich has jumped into the fray with his own World Gone 2 the Dogs blog. Head over there and join the conversations!

Khan Academy – Free online tutorials!

Speaking of Rich, he sent me a link to Khan Academy several weeks ago and I never took the time to check it out. But then just this weekend I read an article in Wired Magazine by longtime fave writer Clive Thompson called How Khan Academy Is Changing the Rules of Education and it really grabbed me. Khan Academy features a library of over 2400 free videos by Sal Khan covering K-12 math, science, finance, history, and many other topics. Each instructional video presents material in easy-to-handle chunks lasting 7-15 minutes. Students can watch videos at their own pace and can even practice math problems online. Be sure to read Clive’s article for more info! Сlassroom rental sounds a good idea for discussions and teamwork.

One of the really interesting by-products of Khan Academy and other online video tutorials is that they are enabling teachers to flip the classroom. That is, some teachers are experimenting with the idea of inverting traditional school model, delivering instruction online outside of class and using interactive classroom time for homework.


Have you heard about this? We were completely unaware of the concept of planking until our friend Ryan explained it to us last night. You can read all about it here but basically, planking is to lay down (like a plank) in some unusual setting and take a picture to post on the Planking Facebook page. I looked at a few of the pictures and found them amusing. It seems like harmless fun but some do take it to extremes and put themselves in danger to take the photo. Ryan is into a variant called owling instead of planking because as this poster sums it up, planking is just so two months old!

Update:   According to Rich, we’re still behind the curve—planking & owling are out, Batmanning, is in!

All Atwitter

atwitter   (u-twit’ ur)   adj.  [1825-35]
Being in a state of nervous excitement;  to chatter quickly;  aflutter;  twittering

By now, unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, chances are very good that you’ve heard of Twitter.   But maybe you’ve intentionally ignored the buzz or aren’t quite sure what it’s about.   Twitter is a free, real-time social messaging service.   Okay, that description may be technically accurate, but it sure doesn’t give a prospective user much to go on, does it?   And in turn, that sort of dry summary also shortchanges the service.   So, what then is Twitter, really?

twitter birdDeceptively simple, Twitter is a free online social networking platform that allows users to send & receive text updates, or “tweets,” from other users whom they’ve opted to “Follow.”   Think of “tweeting” as sending an instant message to a whole group of people.   So Twitter is a global conversation; a DIY chat room; a link -sharing service; a permanent cocktail party where it’s socially acceptable to join in on any conversation.   (You can also have private conversations via Twitter’s Direct Message, which are exactly like the public messages except that they can only be read by the intended recipient.)

But really, the following Common Craft video created by Lee & Sachi LeFever explains Twitter far better than I can:

Twitter was designed as multi-platform service so tweets are limited to 140 characters in length so they can be delivered to a cell phone, email account, the Twitter webpage, or any of a vast array of Twitter reader applications that can be installed on nearly any kind of computer. And if you wanted to accomodate a seemingly interminable link that won’t fit its end in, do not fret for people are still going to get the redirection [to the website] you wanted to give them. You may find the 140 characters to be rather restricting at first, but you quickly become adept at writing very concise posts to work within those confines.   And I recommend using one of the free URL shortener service like to compress lengthy web addresses down to more Twitter-suitable sized URLs so you can share links with your Followers.

On Twitter, you are, of course, free to talk about anything you want, but the question, “What are you doing?” may be a bit misleading.   Oh sure, you can tweet about the awesome BLT sandwich you just ate, but a much more effective or interesting approach is to think of the question above the input box as, “What would be funny, interesting, or useful to one or more of my Followers?”   So for example, while your Followers may not be all that interested in the awesome tuna wrap you’re having for lunch, they might be quite excited to read about the incredible deal you just discovered on a .

Ready to give tweeting a try?   Pop on over to Twitter and get started!   Or if you need a little guidance, check out Darren Rowse’s How to Set Up a Twitter Account article.

So, what’re you waiting for?   Get all atwitter on Twitter!

Word Up!

Thanks to Brian over at The Cheek of God, I discovered a nifty & free little web-based “toy” by Jonathan Feinberg called Wordle.

Wordle generates very snazzy “word clouds”—a visual depiction that gives greater weight or prominence to words that appear more frequently in the provided source text—and lets you tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, color schemes, & more. It may seem like just a fun time-waster at first blush, but I think you can glean a bit of useful insight with this tool; since it prominently highlights your most commonly-used words, you may discover some interesting vocabulary trends within your writings.

I plugged in a sampling of 2Dolphins posts from the past 2-3 months and here’s the interesting result:

2Dolphins word cloud from Wordle

This reminds me of the Which Words Do You Own? study that I submitted our blog to last year. It’s interesting to see the difference in the word cloud from back then vs. this current one from Wordle.

It’s Like, Us!

Rob & Dede's Simpsons avatarsBack in July when the movie released, Dede whipped up custom Simpsons avatars on The Simpsons Movie website that depicted us as Springfield’s newest residents.

Then yesterday, I came across a link to another fun Simpsons character generator widget that does an even better job of transforming a photo of you into a Matt Groening-style Simpsons character.   Here’s what Dede & I look like according to Simpsonize Me!


Rob & Dede's DoppleMe avatarsAlso earlier this week, I stumbled across the DoppleMe Free Dynamic Avatar Maker and decided to see what we’d look like in their little world…

It’s a little surprising how well some of these avatar generators capture your likeness.   You can use these images on Internet forums or social sites.   Have you tried any of these?   Post a link or pic so we can see what you came up with!

July Blogtipping

Blogtipping iconJuly is here already so it’s time for another round of Blogtipping.   Blogtipping, coined by Easton Ellsworth, is an opportunity to say 3 nice things (& offer 1 tip or suggestion) to 3 of your favorite bloggers.   So here are the sizzlin’ entries for this month:

Webomatica from Jason Kaneshiro covers the subjects of technology, movies, music, comics, television, bottle caps, and, well, just about anything else he can think of.   Webomatica keeps me coming back because…

  1. I really like Jason’s writing style and the blend of content.
  2. There’s a constant stream of new & interesting posts.
  3. Very clean & easy-to-navigate site design.

Rory Sullivan’s hamelife is billed as a site for parents who want to be different.   Spend much time there and you’ll find plenty to like:

  1. Rory’s slant on parenting aligns closely with the Love and Logic approach that Dede & I strongly endorse.
  2. I like the conversational tone and great sense of humor that Rory lends his posts.
  3. Plenty of parenting topics are covered, but there’s a variety of other interesting stuff too!
  • Tip: I’d like to see more photos!

Fortify Your Oasis by Rowan Manahan is a recent discovery which promptly made its way into my Google Reader list because of…

  1. Rowan’s interesting workplace & career insights & advice.
  2. He seems to dislike PowerPoint (the mindset, not the software) as much as I do!
  3. He had me hooked with the Rives’ If I Ruled the Internet video.
  • Tip: Great content, lots of pics, but if I had to nit-pick, I’d say the Blogger banner at the top needs to go!


Blogtipping iconThe past month was the third wettest and, with an average daily high of just under 68°, also among the coolest Mays on record.   But Summer’s finally stirring and the thermometer is inching perilously close to the century mark.   With these warmer, longer days, it’s not always easy to divvy up time for being cooped indoors surfing websites.   Even so, there’s no shortage of noteworthy blogs.   And Blogtipping is a chance to give three compliments — and offer one useful tip — to three fellow bloggers:

Connected Internet from British blogger Everton Blair covers gadgets, web development & marketing, computer gaming, gadgets, and a range of general technology news has a lot to offer:

  1. Very clean & easy-to-navigate site design.
  2. Features a steady stream of new & interesting tech content.
  3. Well-connected (pun intended!) with its reader base, CI even features a message forum.
  • Tip: Everton’s a bit enigmatic – I’d like to see him join in on the Face Behind the Blog meme so we can catch a glimpse of the wizard behind the curtain.

Fire Ant Gazette from West Texas blogger, Eric Siegmund is offered as "observations from a decidedly ordinary perspective," but I’ve found it to be uncommonly good because of…

  1. The conversational tone and wry wit.
  2. Post topics vary greatly but are often of local interest.
  3. Between the blog comment banter and his meeting with other area bloggers, Eric fosters a real sense of community.
  • Tip: Earlier this year, the blog featured more photos & I’d like to see that trend make a comeback.

Life Is Risky by Susan Driggers is a relatively new blog that I only just discovered a few days ago, but immediately made its way into my Google Reader subscription list due to:

  1. Thought-provoking content about writing, technology, & just generally-interesting stuff.
  2. Her promotion of community-building blog carnivals & friendly web marketing techniques.
  3. Although a revamp is forthcoming, the site layout is already clean & accessible.
  • Tip: As with the other Blogtippees this month, more photos and/or graphics could sure spice this site up.

May Blogtipping

We’ve commented often since it began that, with our Russian adoption journey, time has ceased to pass in increments of hours or days, but instead it ticks off in months.   Even so, it’s hard to believe we’re already back around at the first Monday of the month.   And with that, it’s time for May’s Blogtipping.

You may recall from my April Blogtipping post, this notion was originated (One year ago this month!) by Easton Ellsworth over at Business Blogwire as an opportunity to give three compliments — and offer one useful tip — to three noteworthy fellow bloggers.   So, here we go…

Blogtipping icon

Wise Bread is a team blog dedicated to sharing insights to help you live a savvy & fulfilling life without sacrificing your financial independence.   There’s so much to like about this site:

  1. The editors offer really diverse & relevant personal finance tips.
  2. They also include unexpected but very applicable lifestyle posts.
  3. Easy-peasy email link right at the top of the page.   (Amazing how many sites miss that.)
  • Tip: There doesn’t seem to be a list of editors or contributors, which might be nice.

The Presurfer is Dutch blogger Gerard Vlemmings’ ode to the weird, wild, wacky, & wonderful websites strewn across the Internet.

  1. I’ve been a fan of this blog for a few years now.   The interesting entries just keep rolling!
  2. Post topics range from useful to trivial, plain to bizarre, and just about everything in-between.
  3. Site navigation is a breeze!
  • Tip: Seems like none of the content prior to moving to Blogger this year made it over, which is a shame…

Things That … Make You Go Hmm is TDavid’s blog offering reviews & commentary on technology, movies, music & more.   I’ve been following it for about a year now and this blog is true to its name because:

  1. Posts cover a wide variety of stuff like other sites, but always with a personal slant, not just generic linkdumps.
  2. New entries are added often and comments responded to quickly!
  3. Hmmcast!   TDavid boldly ventured into weekly videocasts this year.
  • Tip: I’d like to hear more about how the “no TV for almost a year” project is going.

Track and Field

Dede & I don’t usually send many packages but recently we’ve done quite a bit, between racing around to prepare & ship reams of paperwork needed to update our expiring Russian adoption dossier documents, ordering supplies for our upcoming master bath redo, and having our wayward digital camera shipped home after our most recent Brady trip…   (Thanks again, Glenda!)

So I went Googling for a better way to track all of these packages rather than having to go to each company’s website for each item shipped.   And I found Jason Young’s Simple Tracking which lets you enter a FedEx, DHL, or USPS tracking number to get quick info on the whereabouts of your packages in transit.   Even better, it provides a link you can use to subscribe to an RSS feed for automatic shipment tracking updates.

Want to see it in action?   Type "859552121988" in the form below & click the Track button:

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While you’re at, be sure to sign the online petition to allow them to do UPS tracking!