December 24, 2006

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 10:01 pm

This post is a BizzyBlog Christmas Eve tradition.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas
by Clement Clarke Moore

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.
And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the roof there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
tore open the shutter, and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
gave the lustre of midday to objects below,
when, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles, his coursers they came,
and he whistled and shouted and called them by name:

“Now Dasher! Now Dancer!
Now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid!
On, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch!
To the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away!
Dash away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
when they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky
so up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
with the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
the prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head and was turning around,
down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
and his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
and he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes–how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
and the beard on his chin was as white as the snow.
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
and the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
that shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
and I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
and filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
and giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

Wesley Pruden’s Christmas Classic: The amazing grace on Christmas morn

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 4:01 pm

This post is a BizzyBlog Christmas Eve tradition.

The malls and the Main Streets will soon fall silent. The ringing cash registers, the happy cries of children, the hearty greetings of a thousand fraudulent Santas will soon be ghostly echoes in shuttered shops and across silent streets.

But the Christ born in a manger 2,000 years ago yet lives. The story of Christmas continues to quicken the hearts of sinners and transform the lives of the wicked, and nothing illustrates the redeeming power of the authentic message of Christmas with greater clarity than the story of a wastrel English slaver named John Newton.

Newton was born 300 years ago into a seafaring family in England. His mother was a godly woman whose faith gave her life meaning, and he recalled as the sweetest remembrance of childhood the soft and tender voice of his mother at prayer. She died when John was 7.

His father soon married again, and John left school four years later to go to sea with him. He easily adopted the vulgar life of common seamen, though the memory of his mother’s faith remained. “I saw the necessity of religion as a means of escaping hell,” he would recall many years later, “but I loved sin.”

On shore leave, he was kidnaped by a press gang and taken aboard HMS Harwich. Life grew coarser. He ran away, was captured and taken back to the Harwich and put in chains, stripped before the mast, and flogged. “The Lord had by all appearances given me up to judicial hardness,” he recalled. “I was capable of anything. I had not the least fear of God, nor the least sensibility of conscience.”

The captain of the Harwich traded him to the skipper of a slaving ship, bound for West Africa to take aboard wretched cargo. “At this period of my life,” he later reflected, “I was big with mischief and, like one afflicted with a pestilence, was capable of spreading a taint wherever I went.” John’s new captain favored him, however, and invited him to his island plantation off the African coast, where he had taken as his wife a beautiful but cruel African princess. She grew jealous of John, and was pleased when it was time for them to sail. But John fell ill and was left in the care of the captain’s wife.

The ship was hardly over the horizon when she ordered him from her house and thrown into a pigsty. She gave him a board for a bed and a log for a pillow. He was left in delirium to die. Miraculously, he did not die. He was blinded, kept in chains in a cage like an animal, and fed swill from her table. Word spread through the district that a black woman was keeping a white slave, and many came to taunt him. They threw limes and stones at him, mocking his misery. He would have starved if other slaves, waiting for a ship to take them to the Americas, had not shared their meager scraps of food. Five years passed, and the captain returned. When John told him how he had been treated, he branded John a thief and a liar. When they sailed again, John was treated ever more harshly.

“The voyage quite broke my constitution,” he would recall, “and the effects would always remain with me as a needful memento of the service of wages and sin.”

Like Job, he became a magnet for adversity. He was shipwrecked in a storm, and despaired that God had mercy left for him after his life of hostile indifference to the Gospel. “During the time I was engaged in the slave trade, I never had the least scruple to its lawfulness.” Yet the wanton sinner, the arrogant blasphemer, the mocker of the faith of others, was finally driven to his knees: “My prayer was like the cry of ravens, which yet the Lord does not disdain to hear.”

Rescued, he made his way back to England, to reflect on the mercies God had shown him in his awful life. He fell under the influence of George Whitefield and John Wesley, and was wondrously born again into a new life in Jesus Christ. He spent the rest of his life preaching of God’s mercies.

Two days short of Christmas 1807, he died at the age of 82, and left a dazzling testimony to the amazing grace of the Christmas story. “I commit my soul to my gracious God and Savior, who mercifully spared and preserved me, when I was an apostate, a blasphemer and an infidel, and delivered me from that state on the coast of Africa into which my obstinate wickedness had plunged me.” Set to music, his testimony became the most beloved hymn of Christendom.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me;
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see.

Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
and grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear,
the hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come.
‘Tis grace hat h brought me safe thus far
and grace will lead me home.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

Internet Explorer 7 Delivers 20 Million Lumps of Coal to US Small Businesses (Including One to Yours Truly)

This subscription-only Wall Street Journal article from Tuesday (HT Precursor Blog via Don Luskin) has a shocker for every unincorporated business in the USA:

IE7 has a security feature that will turn Web-address bars green and display owners’ identities when consumers visit secure sites from businesses verified as legitimate. The color change will be a boon for consumers, who have been barraged in recent years with “phishing” scams designed to lure them to fake versions of popular Web sites, like eBay or their bank, to filch their account numbers. The hope is that the program will help reduce fraud, lift trust and boost e-commerce.

….. sole proprietorships, general partnerships and individuals won’t be eligible for the new, stricter security certificates that Microsoft requires to display the color. There are about 20.6 million sole proprietorships and general partnerships in the U.S., according to 2003 and 2004 tax data from the Internal Revenue Service, though it isn’t clear how many are engaged in e-commerce.

….. Avivah Litan, an analyst at Gartner Inc. and an expert on online payments and fraud (says that) “All the business is going to go to the greens, it’s kind of obvious.”

….. Small businesses are largely unaware of the issue today, but that seems destined to change after Vista reaches the market. “This is a ticking time bomb that is going to explode,” says Champ Mitchell, chief executive of Network Solutions LLC, a Herndon, Va., Web-hosting company and certificate authority.

….. “The Internet has been great for American small business,” by giving them wide exposure at a low cost, he says. “Microsoft all by itself is getting ready to tilt that field again at an 80-degree angle toward large business.”

In a nutshell, here is what the color scheme for IE7′s address bar is supposed to mean:

  • Green — Verified as a “legitimate” (i.e., incorporated) business.
  • Yellow — “Suspicious,” but ONLY because it is not on Microsoft’s so-called “safe list.”
  • Red — Part of a phishing scam, based on information obtained from others and confirmed by “human analysts.”
  • White — Supposedly, when Microsoft has no information about a site, the address bar will be standard white.

Based on these descriptions, obtained from the WSJ article, I have no idea what will determine the difference between “yellow” and “white.” I don’t see any meaningful distinction in the definitions. I can’t even tell whether “yellow” or “white” will be the “non-green” default.

This move’s tone-deafness reminds me of the horrific “smart tags” feature that MS attempted to put into IE6 back in 2001. In that case, MS just assumed it had the right to alter/hijack a site owner’s web pages by inserting keyword-driven hyperlinks into site content linking users to MS-favored partners, advertisers, and affiliates. MS withdrew “smart tags” from IE6 after a firestorm of outrage from site owners (while keeping them in versions of Office, which was an annoying but at least defensible decision).

In this case, MS will in effect be telling users that anyone whose address bar is white or yellow is suspicious, or worse.

I don’t even understand the concern over the legitimacy of secure sites. I can tell you from getting CYMnow.com going as an unincorporated business that getting a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificate, and getting approved to process debit-card, credit-card, and Paypal transactions are not easy tasks — despite the fact that I have a Dun & Bradstreet number, an employer ID separate from my Social Security Number, and a physical non-residential business address. In fact, before I could get my SSL cert, I had to get an Ohio Sales Tax certificate, even though there was no way I was ever going to be collecting any Ohio Sales Tax! I also was visited by someone representing the card-processing firm to make sure that my business really is where I say it is.

And for that, people who visit my site using IE7 (i.e., eventually about 80% of the browser market) get to, by default, be unsure about and suspicious of me? What an outrage.

And who really believes that IE7′s color-code scheme will even put a dent in phishing? This link indicates that the average lifespan of a phishing site is one hour (down from one week just a couple of years ago). In fact, the new IE7 regime will actually help phishers avoid apprehension — the moment they know that their site has “gone red” in IE7, they’ll know to shut down and disappear!

Anyway, the vast majority of phishing scams I have seen direct users to unsecure pages (i.e., their web addresses start with “http://”; secure page addresses always start with “https://,” show a lock symbol somewhere in the browser, and often have a site certificate seal). I wonder if IE7 will even go yellow, let alone red, on unsecure pages without site seals until they’re somehow flagged by “human analysts.”

At a minimum, IE7′s address bar color coding should not be allowed to go live until unincorporated businesses can be screened, or until they have the opportunity to get “upgraded” certificates. If that is not acceptable to the folks in Redmond and the alleged security geniuses who cooked up this garbage, they should be forced to abandon the color coding entirely, which I think is the far better option.

I found a URL for contacting Microsoft, though I don’t know if it’s the best available for commenting on this particular matter (e-mail me if you have a better suggestion). Talk about irony — When I went there, I was greeted by this snorter before I got to the form (in two different Mac browsers):

MScertGreeting122406

So will IE7′s address bar be white, yellow, or red for this web page?

___________________________________

ALSO: Scott Cleland at the Precursor Blog has justifiably harsh words for Microsoft relating to the so-called “net neutrality” debate. This mini-excerpt only scratches the surface:

Microsoft’s new anti-phishing feature of its Internet Explorer 7 web browser blatantly discriminates against the 20.6 million sole proprietorships in the U.S. in favor of their net neutrality allies: Google, Amazon, eBay and Yahoo and IAC (Interactive Corp — Ed.).

….. Isn’t it ironic that online companies like Microsoft allege that broadband carriers have the potential to discriminate so they deserve preemptive regulation, but when companies like Microsoft, who have vastly more market power and market share than any broadband carrier, actually discriminate against tens of millions of innocent Americans, that is OK? What kind of “principle” is that?

___________________________________

UPDATE: Calling all small business advocates like NFIB, NASE, the Chambers of Commerce, and others — Where are you on this?

UPDATE 2: Here’s an interesting point from a Slashdot commenter

I think any comment about IE7′s anti-phishing system should note that it sends every website you visit to Microsoft. If you care even an iota about the privacy of your web browsing, you should choose “no” when IE7 asks you to enable its invasive anti-phishing system.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think you’ll be asked. The default will be to have the anti-phishing system on, and you have to be the one to turn it off — which of course the vast majority of users won’t do.

Positivity: Blogging Cardinal Expanding into Podcasting

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:30 am

Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s debut in the blogosphere (Cardinal Sean’s blog) was noted here back in October. Now he’s expanding his reach:

Already a blogger, Boston’s Cardinal O’Malley tries his hand at podcasting
Posted 12/21/2006 11:02 AM ET

BOSTON (AP) — Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley is going high-tech. He already has his own blog, now he plans to start podcasting to the masses, beginning with downloadable Christmas messages.
The video messages — in English, Spanish and Portuguese — are part of a broader effort by the Boston Archdiocese to embrace new technology as a way to spread the church’s message.

The archdiocese is overhauling its newspaper and television websites, including offering the downloadable podcasts. It has assigned e-mail addresses to all priests, a handful of whom have resisted using computers. It also has an intranet site that officials expect will replace the monthly mailings to clergy.

O’Malley, a Capuchin Franciscan friar who has taken a vow of poverty and is a frequent critic of consumer culture, is emerging as an unlikely technology pioneer.

His Web log, Cardinalseansblog.org, is already considered a hit by archdiocesan officials, who say they are getting positive feedback from around the world.

“The cardinal wants us to utilize the tremendous tools that we have at our disposal and to expand the reach of those tools, so that we can bring the message of the church and the good works of the church to the Catholic community,” said archdiocese spokesman Terry Donilon.

The cardinal’s first downloadable podcast messages will be available Christmas Eve at Boston Catholic Television’s revamped website. They will be followed by regular video messages from O’Malley starting in the new year, Donilon said.