Sunday, December 24, 2006

Technology to Serve Up Virtual Family Dinners

...for Elderly Who Cannot Travel to Be With Family

CHICAGO (AP) -- Harvey Bumpus doesn't like to eat alone.

But his wife died more than a year ago and his family is scattered across the country. Most nights, he heats up a simple meal of oatmeal or hot dogs and eats alone.

"I don't have much choice," said the 82-year-old retired correctional officer who looks forward to Christmas as one of the few days each year when he gathers with his family.

But when the planes, trains and automobiles that brought everyone together take his family away -- he, like millions of other elderly people, will be alone again.

Now, the technology consulting company Accenture is developing a system called "The Virtual Family Dinner" that would allow families to get together -- virtually -- as often as they'd like.

The concept is simple. An elderly woman in, say, California, makes herself dinner. When she gets ready to sit down and eat, the system detects it and alerts her son in Chicago. The son then goes to his kitchen, where a small camera and microphone capture what he is doing. Speakers and a screen -- as big as a television or as small as a picture frame -- allow him to hear and see his mother, who has a similar setup.

"We are trying to really bring back the kind of family interactions we used to take for granted," said Dadong Wan, a senior researcher in Accenture Ltd.'s Chicago labs.

Experts say such interactions could address a growing problem: elderly people who eat alone often don't eat enough or eat the wrong kinds of food. It can trigger a host of physical and mental problems that eventually can become life-threatening.

"To physically eat with others, to be able to do that, there are not only social benefits, but health benefits," said Dr. Julie Locher, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, who specializes in eating issues among older people.

Locher, who suspects virtual meals could forestall hospitalization or placement in nursing homes, was so intrigued with Accenture's project she plans to study it.

When a prototype becomes available, possibly in about two years, it likely will cost $500 to $1,000 per household, Wan said.

Senior Accenture manager Peter Glaser said he hopes insurance companies and government agencies help pay for the system, much as they do for home health care workers, once they see its benefits.

But it must be easy to operate to attract people like Bumpus, who doesn't own a computer and may be intimidated by technology, Glaser said. Although video conferencing with a PC and webcam is widely used today, it requires technical know-how.

In Accenture's lab, projectors are mounted on the ceilings of two mock kitchens -- Wan is in one and Glaser is down the hall in the other. In each, activities taking place in the other room are projected onto a large window, allowing the men to watch each other; microphones allow them to carry on a conversation.

In homes, cameras and microphones could be placed on top of a counter or TV set or built into "smart picture frames that capture what is going on in one kitchen and display it in the other," Wan said. The screens can show just the person or the entire room, depending how the cameras are set up.

The system could incorporate computers, television sets and broadband already in many homes, so customers could have the system installed much the same as they do cable television, Glaser said.

Wan said the Virtual Family Dinner goes further than today's video conferencing.

For example, when an elderly person puts a meal on the table, the system's software automatically finds family members who are similarly wired and determines who might be available.

That could be done in any number of ways, including determining whether a networked family member is watching television. It could then send a message that would be displayed on the TV.

"It might tell you 'Mom is on channel 456,'" said Glaser. The relative could then click to that channel.

Other companies are conducting research into remote monitoring of the elderly, but no one is focusing on daily casual dining, Glaser said.

Such a window into the lives of elderly loved ones is an exciting prospect for Dr. Cai Glushak, a Chicago physician who is the caregiver for his parents in New York. Glushak is medical director for AXA Assistance, which has a program in which elderly patients are monitored by the company. What makes Accenture's work so compelling, he said, is that it extends to him as a son the same kind of access that AXA's program allows medical professionals.

"I feel very limited by only being able to talk on the phone most of the time," said Glushak, one of an estimated 34 million Americans caring for a person age 50 or older.

"To get a look at them would give you a whole new understanding of what is going on," he said, noting it would be helpful to know everything from how thin they look to whether they're combing their hair or wearing clean clothes.

"You could also see their surroundings, (whether) they're ordered or disheveled," he said.

But some people, like Lucia West-Jones, executive director of the Northeastern Illinois Area Agency on Aging, wonder whether the ability to gather such information would raise privacy concerns among the elderly.

Some seniors might steer clear of anything that allows others to gather information that could be used to take away independence.

"This would really have to be a tool older people felt complete control over and when they turn it off, it is off," West-Jones said.

Arthur Baker, a 62-year-old disabled veteran who lives in Chicago, had the same thought.

"If it's like Big Brother or something, that's always going to be a concern," he said.

Still, Baker said he'd welcome anything that would help him connect to his son and five grandchildren in Atlanta, whom he rarely sees.

So would Bumpus.

"To reach out and almost touch each other, that sounds really good to me," he said.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Rufus is the Man....

Rufus Wainwright performed this past week at Carnegie Hall for a Christmas performance with his family in their annual concert. Listen to him sing, "O Holy Night" in French.

95% of Americans have had ...

... premarital sex. According to a study just released, 38,000 men and women were interviewed from 1982, 1988, 1995, and 2002. Commenting on the study, researchers explain that even in past generations, men and women were having sex before marriage. The study's author, Lawrence Finer said,

"The data clearly show that the majority of older teens and adults have already had sex before marriage, which calls into question the federal government's funding of abstinence-only until-marriage programs for 12- to 29-year-olds."

Under the Bush administration, such programs have received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding. "It would be more effective," Finer said, "to provide young people with the skills and information they need to be safe once they become sexually active -- which nearly everyone eventually will."


You've read my rants about the ineffectiveness of abstinence-only education and funding especially as this relates to HIV/AIDS awareness. If kids are going to have sex, and we can certainly encourage them not to, if they are going to do it anyway, we need to pull our heads out of the sand and stop pretending that abstinence-only education is the only appropriate model to combat the spread of HIV and other STDs.

And now we know that even heterosexuals are having as much sex as they think gay people are having. Let's stop pretending already, offer two viable solutions, and hopefully such a measure will slow the spread of HIV before it kills off half the planet's population. To do otherwise (esp given the recent statistics that show people don't a) adhere to any faith-based abstinence program, b) adhere to non faith-based abstinence programs, or c) continue to have lots and lots and lots of premarital sex) is more than irresponsible, it borders on manslaughter.

Go here to read about the study.

Christmas Eve On A Sunday

For preachers everywhere, we have a unique opportunity this year. Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday. This means that we will have both a morning service and an evening candle light service. If you're from a faith tradition that normally has Sunday services in the morning and evening, then this day is a bit different (you may have one LESS service during Christmas week).

As we are all preparing our lessons for the morning service that is also Christmas Eve, I found a great resource over on the History Channel's website. If you need Christmas history fodder, go here. You will find histories, time lines, and even videos.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

New Life on a Witch Hunt

The church Ted Haggard used to pastor has asked its members to "blow the whistle" on others who have been guilty of sexual indiscretions and other misdeeds. Asking such a thing makes one wonder exactly which sins will outweigh the other ones.

I wonder if they'll go after the gossipers? Or those who lie on their income taxes? Or those who tell "white lies" to make others feel better?

Such a pursuit makes me think of the conversation Jesus had with the religious leaders who were about to stone a woman caught in adultery when Jesus said to them, "Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone." Everyone put down their rocks and walked away.

You'd think a church like New Life would know better. It is unfortunate that they do not.

Oh the mess they are going to create for themselves all in the name of purity and righteousness. You see, everyone who names someone will be thinking that their sins are not anywhere near as bad as the one they are ratting out. It's like what George Carlin says, "Everyone who goes faster than you do on the highway is crazy; and anyone who goes slower than you is an idiot."

The subjectivity of sin: now THERE is something to really preach about.

Go here to read the story.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

$1.65 Billion?!?!

Google has acquired for $1.65 Billion in stocks. That is an insane amount of money for a website that looks like the grandson of America's Funniest Home Videos. Sure, I love and love checking out episodes of The Venture Brothers with Brock Samson.

But that is a whooooooooooooooooooooole lot of money, right? I mean, is the Dot Com era beginning again?

On a side note, is offline. Some folks are thinking that since they were purchased by CondeNast last month, there downtime might be on purpose. These same folks are even thinking that needs to start getting nervous.

I wonder if Sen. John McCain has anything to do with this? (Okay, so I am just being sacrastic and semi-witty)

The Most Dangerous Toys of All Time

This blog post is funny- although a little scary too. It is actually rather shocking the kinds of "toys" we've unleashed on children-- some of them are so dangerous, one has to wonder "What the heck were we/they thinking?!"

Here is the introduction to the post:

Last month, Target recalled 10 of its Kool Toyz-brand play sets, citing hazards like "lead paint," "sharp points," and "puncture wound potential." The toys, which included plastic aircraft carriers, dinosaurs, and tanks, all appeared harmless enough. But according to the killjoys at the Consumer Product Safety Commission, children—at least those prone to eating plastic objects as big as their head—were at serious risk. A week later, Mattel recalled 4.4 million Polly Pocket dolls and accessories because kids were swallowing the toy's magnets. The Associated Press reported, "If more than one magnet is swallowed, they can attach to each other and cause intestinal perforation, infection or blockage." Three children required surgery.

In the last year alone, some eight million units of toys were recalled in the U.S., according to W.A.T.C.H., a toy-safety advocacy group. But Kool Toys and Polly Pockets are kids' stuff compared to the hazardous baubles of yesteryear. In the spirit of the holidays, Radar presents the most dangerous toys of all time, those treasured playthings that drew blood, chewed digits, took out eyes, and, in one case, actually irradiated. To keep things interesting, we excluded BB guns, slingshots, throwing stars, and anything else actually intended to inflict harm. Below, our toy box from hell.

1. Lawn Darts

Removable parts? Suffocation risk? Lead paint? Pussy hazards compared to the granddaddy of them all. Lawn Darts, or "Jarts," as they were marketed, would never fly in our current ultra-paranoid, safety-helmeted, Dr. Phil toy culture. Lawn darts were massive weighted spears. You threw them. They stuck where they landed. If they happened to land in your skull, well, then you should have moved. During their brief (and generally awesome) reign in 1980s suburbia, Jarts racked up 6,700 injuries and four deaths.

Read the rest of the list here.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Using Fear to Court Votes

I just read a post that Sen. John McCain is introducing legislation to control blogs and the commentors on each site. Saying that comments to some blogs may cause children to be victimized (although offering no proof that has ever happened), he is using fear to justify censorship.

You know, ever since I read in the news that McCain was courting the Religious Right through Jerry Falwell, I've lost some respect for the man. Especially when there was a time when McCain had 'no time' for them and called people like Falwell 'agents of intolerance'. But now that he's considered a presidential contender, he goes and kisses up to hardliners to earn their endorsement and hopefully the votes of their constituents.

How does limiting blogs continue my dislike for the man? By simply using the same techniques those on the Religious Right use to justify their intolerance--by employing the strategy of scapegoating. Blame the blogs and the hearer immediately thinks of or some internet porn site and suddenly everyone without a brain can say, "Yeah, if we get rid of blogs, we'll get rid of evil."

And yet, blogs have become quite something else entirely in the world of journalism, free speech, and accountability. Get rid of or limit their influence, and you can go back to the same control of information that existed before the blogging revolution. With all the major networks owned by a few big corporations or persons, I'll bet they may be lining McCain's pocket with campaign funds in order to push legislation like this through. Perhaps this is why he's been spending so much time reaching out to such big business.

Go here to read the post. There are links at the site that'll let you read further into the legislation.

You might be a redneck if...'d wear this shirt.

Simply Amazing!

I have discovered a dictionary entry on Wikipedia chronicling the Back to the Future movies' confusing timelines. In the post, it'll explain everything and how they relate to one another. You'll see graphs, read interesting A+B=C's and then, follow the timeline as if it were a story board back through the movies.

Be wary, it's a long read and it's an interesting one!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Blaming Soy

Just when you thought someone couldn't say something any crazier, along comes a post that'll do just that. According to WorldNetDaily, it has now been determined that soy and soy-related foods turn people into homosexuals. And given the rise in soy-related products given to babies, the author explains,

"Soy is feminizing, and commonly leads to a decrease in the size of the penis, sexual confusion and homosexuality. That's why most of the medical (not socio-spiritual) blame for today's rise in homosexuality must fall upon the rise in soy formula and other soy products. (Most babies are bottle-fed during some part of their infancy, and one-fourth of them are getting soy milk!) Homosexuals often argue that their homosexuality is inborn because "I can't remember a time when I wasn't homosexual." No, homosexuality is always deviant. But now many of them can truthfully say that they can't remember a time when excess estrogen wasn't influencing them."

I usually worry when someone uses the word 'research shows' without actually showing where the research is coming from. By not explaining where the research is from (and thereby opening it up to scrutiny) I am tempted to think this post is homophobia guised in "psychobabble" meant to scare people with the notion, "You might be responsible for turning your son or daughter gay."

I suppose stories like this are popular enough to get 'hit to your site' but they sure do make a lot of us gay folk feel like we're being targeted as the symptom of all the world's problems.

You can read the whole story here.

Light to Unite

Go here to help raise money for the fight against AIDS. Bristol-Myers is donating one dollar for every click. You simply click your mouse on the match that lights the candle. It's a great way to help researchers and agencies devoted to eradicating AIDS.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Very Interesting Podcast

In my previous post, I mentioned to you about a very unknown evangelical pastor, Rev. Paul Barnes, who was outed and had to resign his pastorate when his homosexuality became known.

In following some links about this situation, I came across a podcast in which he addresses Ted Haggard's situation last month, before his own sexual orientation was revealed. And what he says, is a very kind and honest thing as well as very foretelling of his own situation.

My heart goes out to this guy.

While everything he says isn't 100% spot on, it is, in the very least, extremely gracious. And you can hear him pouring out his heart. Go here to listen to this. You'll be glad you did.

[Update: It seems the podcast has been removed from his website; so you cannot listen to it anymore. But you can go here to a story by the Denver Post who did hear it and wrote an article about it.]

Another Colorado Minister Resigns

Another pastor of a megachurch in Colorado just resigned his position as senior pastor following an outing from an anonymous source.

I am copying and pasting this posting from

(Denver, Colorado) The senior pastor of a second Colorado megachurch has resigned following a phone call to the church outing him.

The Rev. Paul Barnes of Grace Chapel in South Denver announced in a video taped message to his congregation Sunday that he was stepping down.

"I have struggled with homosexuality since I was a 5-year-old boy," Barnes said in the video according to the Denver Post which was allowed to view the tape.

".. I can't tell you the number of nights I have cried myself to sleep, begging God to take this away."

In the video Barnes is seen sitting with his wife.

The church's associate pastor, Dave Palmer, told the Post that the church got an anonymous call last week from a person who said he had overheard a conversation in which someone mentioned "blowing the whistle" on evangelical preachers engaged in homosexuality, including Barnes.

Barnes founded Grace Chapel in his basement 28 years ago and saw it grow to be one of the biggest churches in the state.

His resignation comes a month after Colorado Springs pastor Ted Haggard was outed by a former male prostitute. (story)

Barnes preached that homosexuality is a sin, but unlike Haggard neither he nor his church took a stand on a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage that was approved by voters last month.

In the video Barnes said he became a Christian at age 17 and felt it would help him give up homosexuality, but the feelings never went away, he said.

Still, he said he cannot accept that a person is "born that way," adding that he believes sexuality is influenced by childhood experiences.

Barnes said in the video that he has been in counseling three times but never found anyone he could talk to.

His wife also appeared in the half-hour video the Post reported, saying that she didn't know about her husband's struggles until he confided in her last week. The couple has two daughters in their 20s.


You can also read a more detailed account of this story by going here, to an article published by the Denver Post.

Harry for the Holidays

I love Harry Connick, Jr. He is both funny (remember him of Will and Grace?) as well as a fun big band jazz singer. This year he has released an update to his 2003 cd Harry for the Holidays, a compilation of Christmas tunes sung with his jazzy interpretation. In this re-release, he has included a DVD with his cd.

I am listening to it now as I putter at work. It is one fun musical collection. If you would like to add a cd of fun Christmas music, let me recommend this to you. If you like jazz, you'll love it!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Now this is just plain stupid

Here is the title of the news article: "

Go here to be both amazed and ticked off at what some people will do just to make a point.

A 32 Inch LCD TV for $499?!

I tell you, sometimes a price comes along for a tv that just makes you shake. This LCD tv is just such a thing. I was in BestBuy the other day and found that their 32" LCDs start around $1200!

You know, sometimes you have to be careful with some of the online deals. Many that I have seen, when the LCD tv is so cheap is because they don't come with a tuner or their response time is soooo slow. And yet, this one seems to have it all.

Surely this deal is too good to be true. But have a looksee, maybe its a real deal.

Saturday, December 09, 2006


Someone actually did in real life what those Calvin and Hobbes did in the comic strip. Pretty funny, right? I found these pics here.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Smart Fish?

I remember as a kid always thinking that of all the animals or fish in the world, fish had to be the dumbest. I don't know if I thought this because it helped me justify my family's extensive fishing, catching, and ultimately eating or if I was pondering something significant.

As I grew older, I found myself thinking that since God put humans on the earth to eat the animals and fish--they mustn't be too bright or smart. Afterall, they are people food.

But as I've grown older, I find myself at odds with the thinking of my youth as I discover that animals and fish often surprise me in their brilliance. And, when a new discovery comes along such as the apes who use various tools or this story about different species of fish hunting together, the thought confronts my personal theology in a way that makes me rethink human domination. I mean, when I read about those fish that were caught of the Korean waters that looked like human faces, I found myself saying, "Dang, this is freaky!" What I find myself thinking more and more, is that we humans may not be here to just eat whatever we want, but rather it might be something more. And as a Christian, that something more seems to confront traditional thinking about the role of humans on this earth.

As a Christian, I also end up wondering about the sacredness of all life. Does this mean I should become a vegetarian? I dunno. I think on these things and find myself asking whether or not I am being responsible when it comes to dining on the creatures of the earth. If all life is sacred, then does eating that life affect its and my own sacredness? The native Americans honored the lives of the buffalo and other animals when they ate them or used their skins for clothing or shelter. If I am going to honor life, should I be more like the native Americans? Or, does it matter at all?

A while back I watched a YouTube video about a preacher explaining that all animals do not have souls--only humans do. Such a thinking then would surely justify our abuse of the animals we raise and consume. Afterall, if they did have a soul, would we be guilty of murder? Or, at least, in dishonoring the sacredness of the relationship of animal to human?

I don't have an answer--but at least writing about it, I feel less like a hypocrite. I mean, tonight I ate a casserole of shrimp and wild rice. Still, pondering my relationship with the wild is something I've put off for too long. I think I will start by spending some time learning how people of various tribes and nations have interpreted life and its holiness.

A Catchy Tune

My friend caught in the middle has a new feature on his blog called Evoca. The feature allows you to make podcasts over the phone that then get sent electronically and can be attached to blogs and whatnot for others to hear.

I am testing this feature on this blog to see how it works and looks. My test is a catchy tune from an old childhood song.

Please, no comments on my singing. While I enjoy myself, I have discovered many folks quietly ask me to blend in with others. And we all know what THAT means, right? Either I am too loud, too bad, or a little bit of both.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Animator vs. Animation

This is simply hilarious!

Adding Color to the early Century

Daily Kos has a wonderful post composed of color pictures in scenes we generally remember as black and white. Adding the color changes the images a bit and helps a person think that while some things have changed dramatically, many people have remained the same.

It is a wonderful walk of nostalgia for a time before our own. Have a looksee.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A Can of Silly String?

Remember this gooey stuff that you'd spray while imitating that it's coming out of your nose? I do and had a lot of laughs with it. Today, however, it is being used by soldiers in Iraq to help detect explosive trip wires. Soldiers spray them into a house as they go door to door sweeping neighborhoods. If the stuff falls to the ground, their are no trip wires. If it lands on something, it's too light to trip the wires and lets the soldiers know the place is booby-trapped.

A mother of a soldier is collecting cans of the stuff to send to other soldiers.

You can go read the whole story here.

10 Verses Never Preached On

I found this over at It is a list of verses that you probably haven't ever read either. It sure makes for an interesting conversation. What is also almost as good a read are the replies to this post. Some of the posters are atheists and others are disgruntled Christians (and probably young) both men and women.

I am thinking that their responses to these verses isn't so far out of whack--esp since those who adamantly proclaim the Bible as truth in every word and detail rather than a book of how men and women have interpreted their faith and tradition. The former needs answers to these odd verses, the latter understands that people do crazy things in the name of God and not all of it is good (or even godly).

Have a looksee and see how you might answer a 12th grader who is looking to you to explain the texts.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Communicating with the Un-raptured

I think this site may be satire because it's so funny. It might be sacrilegious depending on whether you believe in the rapture or not. In the event you believe in the rapture, there is a service that'll deliver messages to those "left behind" because those who operate the site are Atheists.

That's kind of funny, right?

Go here to see the site.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

An Easy Way to Save a Lot of Money

I live in a church parsonage which affords me two things: I don't have to pay rent or electric/heating bills. Still, I am careful how I use my electricity and am careful to keep the thermostat set at a reasonable temperature (as opposed to actually staying warm or cool). Still, I am comfortable and I think that's just groovy.

I ran across this article about easy ways average consumers can save a bundle off their electric bills. And, one of the ways is so easy that its scary. Simply replace your average light bulbs with compact fluorescents. These bulbs fit into standard light sockets but look a little funny. (See picture at left.) Ikea sells the bulbs, 3 to a pack and costs a little over $2. Each bulb is supposed to last 10,000 hours (compared to 1-2,000 hours for regular bulbs). And, installing a surge protector to stop energy leaks even when your appliances/computers are turned off is another help. Finally, caulking your home helps dramatically reduce the heat/cooling needed for any one house.

Go here to read the entire article. It is actually rather surprising.

Funny Satire

Gizmodo has a post about a new coffee table book for all those who end up spending more time than they like flying anywhere and get stuck reading the material provided by the airline. Sure, you read the instructions of what to do in an emergency but then, what's left? On many aircraft, you'll find a SkyMall catalogue filled with fancy gadgets and garden gnomes.

Amazon is featuring a book called SkyMaul that is a fake catalogue filled with hilarious looking gadgets and funny stuff.

[Update: Thanks to Jesse Thorn who sent me this link, you can go here to see more about the catalogue and watch some funny videos about it.]

Friday, December 01, 2006

Confronting Poison

An awful incidence occurred during rush hour on the Toronto subways. A reader tells of the gruesome event as well as responding to an irked subway rider complained about being late after a man committed suicide by jumping under a subway car. You can read about this event and how one man's lack of holiday cheer is so unChristmasy here.