September 22, 2006

Caitlyn seems to have discovered buttons, the kind you push and get some sort of response from. She has a small collection of such toys, from a dancing bear with excerpts of five classical works to a key chain with sounds for a doorbell, a car horn, and a UFO launching (although it's just as common for her to hold the keys to her ear and say "Ahlo?"). Thinking that maybe more buttons might be interesting, we went looking for our ideal buttoned toy.

Only to find that it apparently doesn't exist. There are lots of toys with buttons and lots of toys that make noise. But they are static. Here's what we were looking for:
  • Something (closed) laptop sized, that has a touch screen that fills a side
  • Color display
  • Water resistant enough to survive repeated wipe-downs after jam-covered fingers get a hold of it
  • A wireless stylus that can be attached or removed depending on activity and/or age of user
  • An USB connection for temporary hook-ups to a parental computer for installation of programs and activities
  • An open architecture (or whatever the proper term is) so that lots of programs/activities could be available. I don't want to be limited to just a single publisher for content. A thriving open-source community that was constantly coming up with new stuff would be fantastic. Also, it would be cool if programming for it was simple enough that the kids/users could get involved.
This devise could be a sketchpad for one user (for use with stylus or fingers), for artistic creations. It could be a "teach me how to write my letters" toy, first with printing and later with cursive. It could display a keyboard and be a "teach me how to type" toy. There could be letter/word games, math/number games, matching games, ebooks (how cool would it be to have a familiar story but with the opportunity to draw the pictures yourself?), and probably all sorts of other things I haven't thought of.

The idea here is to make top (or near-top) technology available to kids, not call a red and blue plastic thing with 5 activities and 20 buttons "My First Laptop". I want a device that's durable enough to survive repeated maulings by toddlers and adaptable enough that it is neat now and still cool and usable when Caitlyn is 3 and 7 and 10. The whole thing should be available for less than $100 (it's a slimmer $100 laptop after all) and new material for it should always be available for $5-$30.

That's not unreasonable, is it?

September 20, 2006

A recent conversation on our family mailing list brought 911 Mysteries to my attention. (Watch part 1, part 2, and part 3 of the first installment, Demolitions.) The producers make a pretty compelling argument, although I could just be too willing to believe people in positions of power are capable of shocking feats of corruption.

The movie doesn't make accusations, perhaps one of its strongest aspects. It just presents lots of evidence, about buildings and steel and fire and explosions and demolitions and insurance and investments and permits and planes and volcanoes and thermite and basements and the weekend before 9/11, then leaves it up to the viewer to ask the gut-wrenching impossible questions: What if...?

I had just finished reading Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible the week before 9/11. In the novel, some of the characters get caught up in a removal of a legitimate African government apparently orchestrated by the US since the African government wanted something out of line with American expectations. I remember thinking after 9/11 that I wouldn't be surprised if it came out someday that somehow the US government was behind or aware of the tragedy. If some portion of our government is orchestrating coups in other countries and no one calls them on it loudly enough, it's really only a matter of time before that portion tries the same scenario at home.

They must have felt so confident. Decades of pulling off the downfall of governments, of protecting the interests of the few at the cost of the many, of using popular mainstream media to tell a gullible public what to believe. After so much practice abroad, to so little consequence, it must have been easy.

May the truth, the unbiased, uncompromised, unadulterated truth, whatever it may be, be revealed.

September 14, 2006

Apparently, this "where does my money go" site (see previous post) isn't an original idea, although why the best summary of the battle for getting the matter unveiled appears in a Scots newspaper, I'm sure I don't know. According to the font of information that is Wikipedia, the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act has passed both House and Senate and is awaiting a Presidential Signature. It looks as if it's focussing on listing the organizations that receive federal funding as well as the amounts received. Depending on how that gets translated from the legal-speak of the bill to an actual website, it might be somewhat less than I'd hoped (since there doesn't seem to be a requirement that the receiving organization detail what they did with the money after they received it). But it's a start.

September 07, 2006

So, it's that time of year again, and I'm wading through a (mercifully short) voter's pamphlet in preparation for Washington's mid-September primary. In compliance with some apparent rule out there that says one cannot have an election without something about taxes in it somewhere, there's a local initiative looking to add approximately $150 to the "average" homeowner's property taxes. They insist that these funds would go exclusively to local schools.

I'm probably naive when it comes to things governmental, and I'm generally pro-education, but I find I have a small problem with all the repeated requests for more money (more taxes). Not that I'm going to spurn broccoli and pontificate about No New Taxes or anything, but it seems that there's quite a bit of money going to the various governments out there and that it never quite seems to be enough. If our government is supposed to be "for the people, by the people", is it too much to hold our government to the same standards as regular people? I balance our checkbook weekly, and the government can't be bothered to balance a budget once a year?

So here's my suggestion: Let's have a website (or several) out there, covering each level of government (city, county, state, federal), with a plain-English (ie, you don't have to be a lawyer to understand it) breakdown of where the money comes from and where it goes. Seattle has a population of 573,000; let's be conservative and hypothetically say that a quarter of those people are property-owners. That's 143,250 people to pay property taxes, with an average of $3,209 each. That's a total of $459,689,250, which looks like a large number to me. And this isn't taking into account business taxes, sales taxes, use taxes, vehicle taxes or any other way the government has of getting income. Government price tags always seem to run millions to billions, so clearly this hypothetical $460 million isn't quite enough, but where does it go?

I'd like to see how much money comes in for a government and where it comes from. Then, I'd like to see where it's going. And not just "14% - transportation". I should be able to chase that 14% down to the dollars and cents spent on stop signs and reflective paint. Don't say "Administrative costs"; tell me how much you spent on pencils and the person who sharpens them.

If it was clear exactly where the money I hand over to all the various levels of government go, then I might feel better about the larger picture. I might not mind polite, well-reasoned requests for more money. Because if I can clearly see that the government is spending it's money wisely and responsibly, balancing it's checkbook and not wheeling-and-dealing on credit, then I can trust that there is truely a need and that the government is going to spend the newly requested funds on what it says it will spend them on.