Fish Friends

Emma and I made this video today:

She made all of the models except for the white fish. iStopMotion is a really nice app for doing this. You can even use your Apple Remote to trigger frame captures.

Screencast: Install weather plugin for b2evolution

Here's a video showing how to install and use my Weather plugin for b2evolution.

Screencast: Install b2evolution

I made the video below to show how to install b2evolution in under 5 minutes.

If you have ideas for other video tutorials, please leave a comment.

Brian in Iraq

My brother-in-law, Lucas, did two tours in Iraq and now one of my very good friends is in the process of being deployed. He's keeping friends and family up to date at http://brian-in-iraq.blogspot.com/. (As I'm writing this, I typed in http://brianiniraq.blogspot.com/ to see if I remembered his url correctly. I was wrong, but it's a real site, too. That's kind of depressing.) Brian is an awesome guy. Regardless of how he feels about politics and the war, he's honoring his commitment and serving bravely. We're going to miss him while he's over there. Following the election this year won't be the same if I can't trade links with him and chat about strategies, issues and life in general.

I think the world of Brian, Lucas and all the others like them who serve our country. But I wish they didn't have to go. I wish the war was over and our troops could come home and stay home.

Be safe, Brian.

MacHeist II

The Apple community/fanboys are abuzz about tomorrow's Steve Jobs keynote address. It's always fun to see what they come up with, but I'm not in the market for a sub-notebook or renting movies through iTunes, so it won't mean too much to me. If they announce a new iPhone with 3G, GPS and a huge price cut, then I might get seriously excited.

MacHeist is selling software bundles in conjunction with MacWorld Expo and giving 25% of the proceeds to charity. It's fun to watch because as the sales go up, they add more apps to the bundle. The price is $49 and the current list of apps retails for $368. I'm looking forward to making some stop motion animation, balancing my checkbook and maybe making some screencasts with the bundled apps. Pixelmator is the latest to be unlocked. It's a PhotoShop-type app with stunning Mac style. Check the list of apps and the causes that they're supporting. If you decide to buy, please use my referral link below:

MacHeist II

b2evolution version 2

Development releases of b2evolution version 2 have been coming out since September. I've watched the new features and waited for things to stabilize a bit before upgrading the brendoman.com install. Version 2.3.0 should be out in a day or two and it's being labeled a release candidate. I've upgraded most of my plugins to work with the 2.x series, so the main obstacle now is upgrading all of the brendoman.com skins. What's new in version 2?

In addition to all the bugfixes and subtle improvements that come with new versions of most software, this update has some notable features.

New admin interface

Francois was working on the new admin skin during his US trip this summer, so I got a sneak peak at it. I think it's really beautiful. One of the things that drew me to b2evolution originally was the very attractive admin interface, and the new version continues that tradition. Don't take my word for it, check out the demo.

Toolbar

While you're there, take a look at the new toolbar at the top of the page. There are links to the pages that you'll use the most, and this toolbar also displays when you're viewing the blog, too, provided you're logged in.

Widgets

This may be the best feature of the new version and it will be totally unnoticeable to readers. In old versions, when a blog admin installed a new plugin, they would have to edit the php files that make up their skin in order to have the plugin display something. With widgets, you install the plugin, click a link to add the widget and it's on your site. No php knowledge required. This is great for any admin, but especially for multi-user sites like ours. Now when a user wants to change up their sidebar, they can do it themselves. And if they switch skins, their sidebar goes with them. It's also nice for plugin developers because we can trim a few steps off of our install instructions.

jQuery

Here's one that may only matter to developers. b2evolution now ships with the jQuery javascript library (actually it has since 1.10). This will help us add features that make b2evolution faster and easier to use. The very small number of changes that I've made to the core were centered around this feature.

Improved urls

b2evolution has always had clean urls for posts, but this release adds them for categories, too. Instead of yoursite.com/?cat=123 you can have yoursite.com/category_name. There are more choices for post urls, including /post_title, /category_name/post_title and /2007/12/27/post_title (the old default).

SEO

This doesn't matter much to me, but if search engine placement is very important to you, you'll be happy to see that you can choose from among 5 SEO expert recommended settings or you can tweak the SEO settings yourself.

Photoblog

For several months now, Francois has been adding features to make it easier to post photographs. That now includes image resizing and skin dedicated to displaying photos.

I'm really looking forward to getting brendoman.com on this new version. Once I finish upgrading all the plugins, I'll have to deal with skins. The skinning api changed more than anything, so upgrading old skins will be time-consuming. If any of the hostees want to volunteer to switch to a skin that already works for version 2, that would speed up the process.

Congratulations to the developers on this new release. If you run your own b2evolution install, be sure to give it a look. You can find 2.x-ready plugins here and here.

USASpending.gov goes live

The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 required that a searchable site of federal spending be online by January 1, 2008. The site is now live at USASpending.gov. It's not perfect, but this is a great step toward more government accountability. The site includes information on how complete its records are (plenty of room to improve), and it has an API so that programmers can extract the data and present it in their own applications.

There's already been some interesting things turned up. For example, since George Bush took office, the government spending on paper-shredding contracts has gone up 600 % (dug up by Radar Online). I'm sure there will be more good finds in the coming months. My hope is that if they know the data will be open to scrutiny, Congress will begin to curb irresponsible spending.

Congratulations are in order for the Senators who introduced the bill that made this site happen: Republican Tom Coburn and Democrat Barack Obama. Great work, guys.

On nation indivisible

A Perspective on the Pledge is a story set in an alternate universe where the Pledge of Allegiance was changed in the 50s to read "one white nation, indivisible" instead of the 1954 change that added the words "under God." It's an interesting way to look at the issue. What do you think? Is the analogy apt or not?

Reading this prompted me to get familiar with the history of the pledge before and after the 1954 change. It was written by Francis Bellamy in 1892 to help sell flags. It quickly caught on and was being recited in schools within months.

The effort to add "under God" started in the Knights of Columbus in 1951, was rejected by Congress in 1953 and then accepted in 1954 after President Eisenhower backed the effort. Ike was convinced by DC Presbyterian minister George Docherty who preached a sermon on the subject with the President in attendance. Docherty said, "There was something missing in the pledge, and that which was missing was the characteristic and definitive factor in the American way of life."

It started as an advertising gimmick, how much more American can you get? But seriously, I disagree with his statement. I think that liberty and justice are more important to America than religion.

Here are some questions I'd like to ask to my readers.

1. Is the "one white nation" analogous to "one nation under God"? In what ways are religion and race similar and different?

2. Which is more important to the American way of life, liberty or faith?

3. Does the pledge imply that non-believers are second class citizens?

4. What do you think of loyalty pledges in general and our Pledge of Allegiance in particular?

(via Bay of Fundie)

Romney is no Kennedy

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney gave a speech today to deal with concerns about his Mormon faith. Many evangelicals don't consider Mormonism to be a part of orthodox Christianity. It's a voting bloc that Romney can ill afford to lose, yet he's seen his lead in the evangelical stronghold of Iowa slip away in the wake of the meteoric rise of former Baptist minister Mike Huckabee.

When John F. Kennedy faced similar concerns about his Catholic faith in the 1960 Presidential campaign, he gave a speech to a group of Protestant ministers in Houston, TX. Romney welcomed the connection between the two candidates, even choosing to deliver his speech in the same state today and to refer directly to Kennedy. I just read the full transcripts of both speeches. You can find them on NPR's website: John F. Kennedy, Mitt Romney.

Naturally, they make some of the same points. Both pledged to not take policy direction from their church leadership. Both said that the specifics of their faith are not as important as their commitment to serve the country. Both refused to become a spokesman for their church. But I'd like to look at a few quotes that show some serious difference in their approaches.

Romney

There are some who may feel that religion is not a matter to be seriously considered in the context of the weighty threats that face us. If so, they are at odds with the nation's founders, for they, when our nation faced its greatest peril, sought the blessings of the Creator.

Kennedy

While the so-called religious issue is necessarily and properly the chief topic here tonight, I want to emphasize from the outset that we have far more critical issues to face in the 1960 election.

Kennedy all but apologized for even feeling the need to make the speech. Romney was more eager to talk about faith. Later in the speech Romney goes into much more detail than Kennedy did about his view of Jesus. He avoids the distinctions between the Mormon and Christian views of Jesus. I think he felt the need to make some statement about Jesus because those distinctions are much greater for him than they were for Kennedy. Whether he succeeded in reassuring the evangelical community remains to be seen.

Romney

Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.

Kennedy

I believe in an America . . . where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice.

As a secular American, this is the part of the speech that bothered me most. Kennedy at least gives this brief recognition to the non-religious. Romney claims that without faith there can be no freedom. Joe Conason wrote in Salon that "This statement is so patently false that it scarcely deserves refutation." Romney only mentions secularism in a negative way, saying "They are intent on establishing a new religion in America - the religion of secularism. They are wrong." Note that Romney was introduced by George H.W. Bush, who once said that atheists should not be considered citizens.

Romney

Given our grand tradition of religious tolerance and liberty, some wonder whether there are any questions regarding an aspiring candidate's religion that are appropriate. I believe there are.

Kennedy

I would not look with favor upon a president working to subvert the First Amendment's guarantees of religious liberty. Nor would our system of checks and balances permit him to do so. And neither do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test — even by indirection — for it. If they disagree with that safeguard, they should be out openly working to repeal it.

"No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States" (Article VI, section 3 of the US Constitution.) Asking and answering questions about faith certainly doesn't violate the letter of that clause. While Romney mentions this clause later in his speech, he seems to be evoking to avoid getting into doctrinal specifics as much as to uphold a principal he deeply believes in.

Romney

In recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life.

Kennedy

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.

Maybe when it comes down to it these two politicians shared a commitment to the principle of separation, but their different phrasings are striking.

Romney made two more points that are just begging to be corrected.

Romney

The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation 'Under God' and in God, we do indeed trust. We should acknowledge the Creator as did the Founders - in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge . . .

God wasn't added to our pledge and money until the 1950s. It had more to do with Communism than it did with the founders. Romney doesn't come right out and lie here, but he does juxtapose two ideas with the intent to deceive those who don't know their history.

I was going to save my specific complaints against Mormonism for another day, but with this statement, Romney is asking for it.

Romney

It is important to recognize that while differences in theology exist between the churches in America, we share a common creed of moral convictions. And where the affairs of our nation are concerned, it's usually a sound rule to focus on the latter - on the great moral principles that urge us all on a common course. Whether it was the cause of abolition, or civil rights, or the right to life itself, no movement of conscience can succeed in America that cannot speak to the convictions of religious people.

The Mormon church was against abolition and civil rights. The church did not give full membership rights to blacks until 1978. What did Romney think of the doctrine of his church regarding black people during the 10 years between his 18th birthday and the "revelation" that changed the church's policy?

In Kennedy's speech, he listed several times when he publicly contradicted the official stances of the Catholic church. Is Romney willing to do the same?

Obama and national service

Barack Obama LogoThere are many things that set Barack Obama apart from our current President. His recent call for greater national service is one of them. Bush is the only President in history to cut taxes in a time of war. The closest he's come to asking for sacrifice from the civilian population is when he said they should go shopping more. This week Obama announced a plan to expand AmeriCorps and double the size of the Peace Corps.

Helping Obama introduce the plan was Harris Wofford, an aide to John F. Kennedy who was instrumental in forming the Peace Corps. Wofford said, "I haven't felt this way since the days of high hopes of John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Barack Obama has picked up the torch that they lit."

Obama is not unique among the Democratic candidates. Edwards and Dodd have similar plans. But Obama seems especially capable of leveraging his charisma and leadership to inspire the public to service in a way that hasn't been done since Kennedy. And he's ready to back his rhetoric up with real programs. What's more, Obama's career in community service shows his commitment to this cause.

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