Thursday, September 22, 2011

Governor Beebe Hoses The Little Guy

While trying to add Amazon ads to my posts, I noticed I no longer had access to the ad program.  I logged into my account only to find my account disabled!  Say what!?  Well, I contacted Amazon support, and this is what I learned:
Hello from the Amazon Associates Program,

Thank you for contacting us regarding your concern for the status of this Associates Account.  I apologize for the frustration and inconvenience this situation may have created for you.

For well over a decade, the Amazon Associates Program has worked with a large number of Arkansas residents. Unfortunately, a new state tax law signed by Governor Beebe compels us to terminate this program for Arkansas-based participants. It specifically imposes the collection of taxes from consumers on sales by online retailers - including but not limited to those referred by Arkansas-based affiliates like you - even if those retailers have no physical presence in the state.

We opposed this new tax law because it is unconstitutional and counterproductive. It was supported by big-box retailers that seek to harm the affiliate advertising programs of their competitors. Similar legislation in other states has led to job and income losses, and little, if any, new tax revenue. We deeply regret that its enactment forces this action. The unfortunate consequences of this legislation on Arkansas residents like you were explained to the legislature, including Senate and House leadership, as well as to the Governor's staff.

As a result of the new law, contracts with all Arkansas residents participating in the Amazon Associates Program will be terminated on July 24, 2011. Those Arkansas residents will no longer receive advertising fees for sales referred to Amazon.com, Endless.com, MYHABIT.COM or SmallParts.com. Please be assured that all qualifying advertising fees earned on or before July 24, 2011 will be processed and paid in full in accordance with the regular payment schedule.

You are receiving this email because our records indicate that you are a resident of Arkansas. If you are not currently a resident of Arkansas, or if you are relocating to another state in the near future, you can manage the details of your Associates account here. And if you relocate to another state after July 24, 2011, please contact us for reinstatement into the Amazon Associates Program.
To avoid confusion, we would like to clarify that this development will only impact our ability to continue to offer the Associates Program to Arkansas residents and will not affect their ability to purchase from www.amazon.com.

We have enjoyed working with you and other Arkansas-based participants in the Amazon Associates Program and, if this situation is rectified, would very much welcome the opportunity to re-open our Associates Program to Arkansas residents.
So, thank you, Mr. Governor.  If I had paid attention, I'm sure I would have known about the law.  Even so, I don't know that I would have realized the impact this would have on people like me: a blogger trying earn a few pennies with click-through ads.  I can see why we are no longer the "Land of Opportunity."

Now, I need to see what I can do to have this ridiculous law repealed.

No significant difference...

The phrase, "No significant difference" has been tossed around for years, usually in relation to something education-based: technology in education, technology in higher education, pay-for-merit teacher salaries, distance learning programs, etc.

The kicker is that the phrase itself can be used to prove a particular point or to disprove the same point.  For example, a decade ago, studies suggested that students taking classes through distance learning (more specifically, through interactive live video services) produced "no significant difference" in grades, assignment completion, etc compared to students who attended 'traditional' classes (that is, teacher live in the room).

This finding was used to convince schools that putting in distance learning systems would have little to no impact on graduation rates, grades, etc. and that they should jump on the bandwagon.

The same is being said for "target testing" these days, what with NCLB, AYP, API, and a myriad of other acronyms.

Maybe it's just my particular viewpoint, but my response to "no significant difference" surfaces as "then why bother?"  Why spend all the money to implement programs that ultimately show no significant difference than the programs already in place?  Why add to the already overworked, overstressed workload of teachers, principals and students if there is no significant difference between what they are already doing and instituting some new program that will cost the district (and/or state taxpayers) additional money?  What is the point?

As for distance learning, I see the implementation as one of providing opportunity. That is, schools should only use distance learning programs as a way to enhance student learning.  Many small schools cannot offer the same variety of classes as many larger ones (different foreign languages, various alternate career courses, etc).  I see that as a HUGE benefit.  Small schools (also any-sized economically challenged ones, etc) cannot afford to hire a fulltime teacher to reach 5-10 students interested in taking a particular course (or to take college credits while still in high school, etc).  In these cases, the cost of a distance learning teacher can be shared among several districts for one teacher to teach multiple sites.

As for testing?  I have no idea.  I would love some input, insight, direction on that one.  If target testing (target assessment or whatever your district may call it) is showing to have no significant difference (NSD), then why bother?

Now, I do understand that the problem with 'no significant difference' centers upon the question(s) being asked and upon the population of respondents/study subjects.  That is, NSD would be much more pronounced over a larger population surveyed than a targeted one.  I know of many teachers who love the assessments because they use the data to help reach their students where the students lack skill and understanding.  Other teachers might read this and have no idea what I'm talking about.  Perhaps the issue is not that testing makes NSD, but rather what is *done with* the information the testing provides.

In general, though, if a program (ANY program) is shown to make no significant difference, then I question the costs, the time, the resources involved with implementing and keeping up such a program.  Sometimes, NSD is not a good thing, but should instead serve as the point at which administrators, legislators, and taxpayers stop and say, "then why are we doing this?"

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A little side project

We have an abandoned Ford dealership in the town where I live.  In fact, I think it closed down about a year or two after I bought my Mercury Mistake, er, Mystique there.  Man, how I grew to hate that car.  That's a post for another day.

I pass by the old place every time I head down Hwy 67 to the office in Hope, and then back again.  At one point while diving and letting my mind wander, I thought it would be fun to park my car under the old "Used Cars" area and snap a few pictures.  So, the other day, I did:

This one didn't work so well because of the shadow falling across the parking spot...


This is my favorite, especially after tweaking the coloring a bit for a rustic, antique feel:


I really wanted to park under the "GUARANTEED" section, but there is a LOT of junk under there - boards, trash, and who knows what else:


This is actually to the right of the photos above, behind what was once the new car showroom.  I thought this would make for a cool photo: 


It's hard to see, but I purposely caught the legible reflection of "BODY - SHOP" in the hood of the car.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Nine-Eleven

What I remember most about 9/11 is a feeling of utter shock and helplessness - not that I was helpless, but that I was in Arkansas, far from those who needed help and there was nothing I could do about it. So, I prayed. I wondered if more attacks were coming. I watched reports (accruate and not) of events unfolding, of amazing survival stories, and of loss.

But, what I remember the most comes after I got home.  I specifically remember going outside on my deck and looking up.  The skies were a beautiful blue and not a single cloud in the sky.  Because all planes had been grounded, no airtrails cut through the skies.  And, everything was quiet. It was eerie - no birds were chirping, no cows were calling out, no dogs barking.  Except for the television playing in the house behind me, I was in complete silence.  I don't even remember any vehicles driving down our dirt road.

On September 11, 2001, our youngest, Emily, wasn't even anywhere in our lives yet - not even in the very earliest stages of creation and development yet. 

I remember watching the news the whole time.  Were there going to be other attacks? How many were killed?  Why were the hospitals still basically empty? Would anyone ever go show up there?  News of gasoline price gouging were rampant. People were flooding supermarkets and superstores.  Other people were already getting in their vehicles, heading to try and help in whatever way they could.  And, people were starting to put American flags on their flag poles, cars, shirts, caps, anywhere and everywhere.  Yes, even on the first day, video appeared on TV and online of the American spirit coming back into light.

So much has changed in ten years.  And, so much hasn't.  What will things look like at the 20th Commemoration of 9/11?  Will we still remember?  How long until we have mainstream video games about this day (like we have WWII, Vietnam, and anonymous terrorist-related games now)?  Will my grandchildren see 9/11 in the same "vague historical recollection" manner in which many people view Pearl Harbor today?  Will there be another attack on American soil before the next 10-year memorial?  Only time will show what is to come. 

In the meantime, we stand and we remember. We honor those who were taken from us, who went UP the stairs to find others to send down, who ran IN while others ran out, and who would not go down in a plane without a fight.  I am proud to be an American, always.


Monday, September 05, 2011

Learning some Photoshop Elements

I have a copy of Photoshop Elements 6.0 that I use to make my custom baseball cards, banners, and most recently a project for a fellow baseball blogger that wants a "Breaking News" header for their website.  I'll talk more about that project in another post, depending on how things go on that front.

In the meantime, I was checking out ways to create 3d boxes, text, etc, and came across a site with a tutorial on how to make a photograph that appears to be coming at you from within another photo.  It makes more sense to show you (site references at end of this post):


Now, the tutorial is for Adobe Photoshop or GIMP (a free knock-off that does just about everything PS can do).  But, I thought I would try it in Elements.  Most of the steps work with a minor tweak here or there.  But, the one step that does NOT exist in Elements is the "Layer Mask."  I tried to figure it out myself, but nothing I did worked.  So... I searched for a way to do Layer Masking in Elements, and sure enough, I found a tutorial on that!

I'll simply provide the link to the tutorial at the end of this article (no sense in re-inventing the wheel, right?).  It took a bit of figuring out, even with the tutorial, but eventually things started to click.  I will have to recreate my test project so I can nail down the steps, and then I will create a tutorial that covers the whole shebang, in case someone else out there has the limited Elements or has another program that gives "almost enough" features.  Granted, this technique is a bit advaned for the toned-down version of its big brother.

In any case, once I had the masking down, the rest was just the tedium of zooming in and out, flipping between layers, etc, trying to get things "right."  Well, the first thing I did WRONG was misjudge the photo frame, as you'll see.  I was too far into things to start over on the frame, masking, etc, but it is a lesson learned.  The second problem I had was figuring out perspective, skewing, and the like.  You can see in the picture above, the frame is canted away from the viewer with a cool shadow effect.  You'll see in mine below that I just have a flat frame againt the background.  Once I figure out how to make it 3D, I'll have that in my tutorial, too.

Well, after some time (an hour or so, maybe), I have my first test project.  Below is the original photo:


And the the "3D Frame Pop" (or whatever that's called):


See?  the car is too far to the right, so the framing looks a little weird.  Also, the folks at PhotoshopDisasters would have a field day with the ground reflections on the doors where the car has already come through the frame.  But, hey, this was for fun and learning.

I can see all kinds of applications for this: other vehicles, sports pics, people, animals, etc.

Sites I used:
http://www.instructables.com/id/Creating-a-3D-effect-with-image-editing--software-/?ALLSTEPS
http://www.alibony.com/pse/020708layer-mask.html

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Take some RESPONSIBILITY, Parents!

JCPenney recently pulled a T-Shirt from their shelves/online store/whatever because some idiotic parents screamed out about it.  What is the fuss?  It said, "I'm too pretty to do my homework, so my brother does it for me" (or close enough).  Frankly, I thought it was funny.

Seriously?  Are people that stiff-lipped that they can't enjoy some tongue-in-cheek humor anymore?  And, worse, JCPenney complied!  Umm, let's see, last I remember, this is AMERICA. If you don't want your kid wearing the shirt, DON'T LET THEM! DUH!

If you don't want your kid eating fries with their chicken nuggets, DON'T LET THEM! DUH!

If you don't want your kid eating a bunch of fast food/junk food, DON'T LET THEM! DUH!

If you don't want your kid watching a TV show about vampire babysitters, DON'T LET THEM! DUH!

If you don't want your kid listening to a certain kind of music, DON'T LET THEM! DUH!

If you don't want your kid to waste money on some kind of make-up or some particular video game, DON'T LET THEM! DUH!

It is WAY past the time for adults (yes, I'm talking to you people that are sitting around posting laments about some stupid T-Shirt on Facebook and Twitter instead of teaching your children your own values) to TAKE CHARGE of their own children's lives.  Come on, people.  Get off your butts and show your kids what it means to be a parent.  You are *NOT* your child's best friend. They have other kids for that.  You are the parent, the adult, the one who sets the rules and makes your children follow them.  YOU have to teach your children what's appropriate for them to wear or not and why YOU believe it to be that way.  You see, each parent (or guardian or 'person in charge of a youngin') has a job to do: Train up your child. 

Our children have to be raised to UNDERSTAND why something is a good choice or a bad choice.  They have to understand that some people use fast food in a pinch or as a treat instead of relying on it for every meal.  And, some people don't do it that way.  Neither way is wrong, in my opinion.  But, if one way is wrong for YOU, then YOU have every right to TRAIN your child in what is right and wrong.  You should NOT have the right to tell *ME* what is right and wrong for *MY* child. Period. In my opinion, that goes for everything: religion, food, games, tv, cigarettes, alcohol, clothing, how to use a restroom.  What I teach my child has nothing to do with what you teach yours.  If I want my kid to wear a shirt that says, "I'm too pretty to do homework" because I think it's funny (and then explain why it is funny and how it is NOT TRUE), then my child should be allowed to wear it.  Likewise, if you don't, then you are allowed to NOT buy it. 

As for companies, it is HIGH TIME to quit pandering to every cry-baby group of "adults" out there that threatens to quit buying your stuff.  Some people were offended, some people thought the shirt was funny.  So, what!?  You have got to STOP selling only what a limited group of closed-minded people who make a lot of noise tell you to sell (or not sell).  I believe we have this thing called "supply and demand."  Here's how it works: If people WANT an item and are willing to buy it a a certain price, you will sell a ton of that item.  If people DO NOT want an item, people won't buy it and you will have to find something else to sell.  Remember that one class your marketing people took in college? Yeah, the one that had something do with all this stuff?  You might want to open the textbook (or just Google It, as the kids say now) instead of cowering to panicky "masses."

This whole country has been on a long path to blandness, vanilla-itis, and status quo.  It's time to kick the "quo" out of the status.  For every person that raises a stink over a company's mascot or a certain piece of clothing or an item on a menu, there should be millions of others letting companies know that we have our own minds and we are teaching our children to exercise THEIR own minds: we are teaching our children about choices, right and wrong, and that we appreciate the opportunities to share these teachable moments with our children.  We may agree with a marketing decision or we may not, but ultimately WE decide (through our purchasing power) what goes and what stays.  WE decide what we want our children to eat, wear, or play based on our own set of values, not because a bunch of other people think it's wrong or right. 

Stand up for your right as a parent to be the one to teach your child how to make the right choices. Don't let other people remove the choice for you.