Thursday, April 06, 2006

What Is In Your Village?

We don’t live in a vacuum. The ways we respond to the world are affected by where we were born, and where we reside today. Are you an outsider, different from most of the people around you? Have you chosen where you now live? Are you there from accident of birth? Or demands of employment?

I know that all sites occasionally have threads asking people to talk about themselves. This is different. Tell me about your community, your travels, and your exposure to the world. Even in the world’s largest cities, you live in a neighborhood. What kind of place is it? What kind of interaction do you have with your community? What places have you visited that influenced your perceptions? Where do you find off-line intellectual stimulation? What is in your village?

Although I am originally from the greater Chicago area, about eleven years ago I moved up here to one of my favorite vacation destinations. I live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I am in the southeast area, in the straits of Mackinac where Lakes Huron and Michigan meet. This Island is only accessible by boat or plane. For the past 150 years tourism has been the primary industry in the region. I enjoy the clean air and water and incredible beauty this area has to offer.

I’ve enjoyed traveling through the U. S. and Canada, especially the Western States. One of my favorite vacations was six weeks spent in Banff and Jasper Alberta, with some side trips to beautiful British Columbia. I moved North during my divorce and have never regretted the decision. However, decreased income has limited my travels. I haven’t been able to spend much time overseas. So far, my favorite vacation occurred a few years ago. I spent two weeks wandering Ireland with two friends.

For six months of the year hundreds of thousands of visitors come here to enjoy the natural beauty, historic sites, and novelty of a community that bans private motor vehicles. This prohibition has nothing to do with religious beliefs. It was originally initiated to protect the tour buggy drivers in the early twentieth century. Now that motor vehicles are so prevalent, the lack of them is also a tourist attraction.

Except for emergencies, every person, every object moves by foot, cart, bicycle or horse. (Emergency vehicles such as ambulance and fire truck are available.) The difficulty of attracting workers who are willing to relocate for six months of the year has been an ongoing problem. The current immigration debate is closely followed by employers here. I’m talking about legal immigrants of course.

From May through October the local community of about 550 year round residents expands as seasonal cottage and condominium dwellers increase the population by several thousand. Additionally, several thousand workers from North America and many other parts of the world move here to provide services in the shops, hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions.

Several million visitors arrive to enjoy the Island. Many of them also believe that we are part of Canada. As the crow flies, the border is less than twenty miles away so the confusion is somewhat understandable. Many businesses, the State Park, and government buildings fly large American flags. Yet every day a few people will ask, “Do you take American money here?”

The diversity allows for interesting discussions and opportunities for learning alternative social and political views. In any given summer, my co-workers will come from a wide variety of backgrounds and ethnicities. Imagine the lively debates when you combine folks from Michigan, Iowa, California, Montana, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Alabama, Florida, and Vermont with their counterparts from Bulgaria, Australia, Scotland, Russia, Japan, Jamaica, Canada, Austria, England, Mexico, India, and South Africa.

In the winter months, the year-round population averages about 550. Most locals are descended from original French and Native American fur traders, and they later inter-married with nineteenth century Irish immigrants. The ‘transplants’ moved here because they fell in love with the Island while working or visiting here. Most are vastly over-qualified and over-educated for the jobs they hold. The overall community is caring, creative, independent, and self-sufficient.

Alternative relationships are accepted with equanimity. The small school covers K-12, and the personalized attention allows them to boast a zero dropout rate. Almost every graduate for at least the past ten years has gone on to pursue additional education.

We love snow here. In the winter months the motor vehicle ban is relaxed enough to allow snowmobiles. The convenience of traveling more quickly is a welcome change. It also makes it easier to create social gatherings. Imagine walking or bicycling to visit a friend two miles away vs. snowmobiling there. Believe me, no matter how much you walk or bike up these hills, you never get used to them!

Although there are some fabulous Victorian mansions (cottages) here, most people live in the same types of housing you would find on the mainland. Small houses, apartments, condominiums, and duplexes are the norm. Since most of the Island is a Michigan State Park, land is at a premium. Every nail, washing machine, two by four and carton of milk must be shipped one extra step by boat or airplane. This adds to their cost. Few year round jobs are available, and all jobs pay less than their mainland counterparts. Not everyone would enjoy residing here. Those that do are willing to pay that price.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Sunday Salmagundi

The awesome variety of information available online can be overpowering. You can Google and Yahoo to find items, and then be overwhelmed by all the ads and sites to wade through.

I have found four websites that I think are useful for quickly obtaining information. These don’t blast you with ads and popups, animations, flashing banners, and other distractions.
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The sites are:

NEWS: Newsvine
GENERAL: Find Articles
HOW TO: eHow



News. It’s everywhere nowadays. On twenty-four hour TV channels. On internet home pages, in news aggregators, ipods, radios, and more online sites than you can imagine.

Newsvine is a relatively new site. It allows individuals to contribute (seed) stories from around the world. Any topic from politics to health might include a combination of contributions from the Associated Press, the BBC, New York Times, and a tiny newspaper in Asia.

Readers can rate the stories, add comments, and suggest additional links to either debunk or reinforce the article’s premise. Each poster (seeder of the vine) can also be monitored. That way their individual authority and veracity can be evaluated over time. Posted by Picasa

If you aren’t sure about a particular article’s truth, a quick click on the contributor’s name will allow you to see you all the other items that person has submitted, and how others have rated their quality.

Each article also has a ‘chat’ button. If there are others currently online discussing that particular topic, with a click of a button you can join the group.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to Newsvine:

Click on the link:
The home page offers the newest and most popular
stories in a variety of topics. You can click your way around those, or visit articles by topic. At the top of the page (below the green header) you will find a line of words:

Top News
Odd News
You can click any of those (not clickable through here) and find many articles on that topic.

When items are posted onto the site, they are given ‘Tags’. These are key words or ideas in the article. They are a way to help others who are searching for certain topics. An article about George Bush would probably have tags such as: President, United States, Political Leaders, and others more specific
to the substance of the article. You can search Newsvine through:
  1. Tag (as described above)
  2. Full Text (like a Google search)
  3. Contributor’s name (to find articles by a certain person)

You can treat Newsvine as a 'snack' site for news. Enjoy bits and pieces here and there when you have the time. Or you can spend hours clicking your way to all kinds of fascinating information or chatting with others about your main topic of interest.

The Newsvine staff also has a blog (web log) that offers glimpses and insights behind the scenes.



This site is like having an enormous library at your fingertips. Here are just a few random examples of things you can find, and how to locate the link. Encyclopedias, almanacs, dictionaries, wire services, newspapers, and weather data are the basis of any library. Sometimes it is difficult to find a specific piece of data in those vast systems. At RefDesk you can try a smaller page for an answer.

Is a celebrity or political leader alive or dead?
Scroll the home page, near the bottom of the page, in the column on the far left you will see a listing for “Who’s Alive, Who’s Dead.”
Click on that link. You can search alphabetically or by category. (Actors, Politics, Athletes, etc.) I discovered that Maureen O’Hara is still alive, and in her eighties. Didn’t know that. Posted by Picasa

Need to translate a few words from English to Italian?
Scroll the home page. In the center section, about ¾ of the way down the page you will see a section called “Facts Search Desk.”

The second group down offers “Translation Dictionaries”. In the “English to Italian” box, I typed:
“Fight the good fight” and learned that in Italian it would be: “battersi per una causa legittima”

Finally have time to look at

the 9/11 Commission Report?

Scroll the home page about half way down. In the far right column, under Misc. Resources” you can click the link.

Area code directories, ATM locaters, medical dictionaries, online calculators, currency converters, maps, and the names of world leaders are just a few more kinds of information you can find here.

Special tip:
Ready to begin a search but aren’t sure where to start?

I found it easier at first to access the “SiteMap”, and work from there.

Or you can click on: "First Things First” and/or "Quick Reference".
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Links are very well organized into categories and groups. They are accessed several different ways to make it easier to locate specific information.



If you are looking for a more focused search, articles on any topic can be accessed here. You can choose to look for ‘free articles only’ or pay to access their entire database. I have had plenty of success using the free articles.

I typed in “Mackinac Island Michigan” and searched for free articles in all magazines. Posted by Picasa

After scrolling past the advertisements, I could access a list of 224 results. The variety included articles from now defunct publications such as the “Saturday Evening Post”, a variety of articles in travel magazines and Midwestern newspapers, and publications I might not automatically have considered to search such as “Golf Digest”, “Shape”, and Better Homes and Gardens”.

If you need background information and want to avoid being overwhelmed with advertising and promotions, these can provide real value with less headache.

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We all have gaps in our knowledge base. This site offers clear instructions on how to do just about anything.

It contains a great variety of well-written and easy to read articles with additional links; as well as comments and suggestions from readers. It covers so many areas, from the more obvious of how to buy a car, to the more difficult to describe such as “How to know if you love him/her”.

Here are a few others I found while haphazardly clicking the site:

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How to check your dog's heart rate:

How to ask someone on a date Posted by Picasa

How to decide whether to keep or replace your car Posted by Picasa

How to stop a toilet from running Posted by Picasa

How to comfort a grieving person Posted by Picasa

How to grip a baseball bat:
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How to deal with a stuck wine cork Posted by Picasa

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You’ll be amazed at how much there is to know. And probably spend too much time there. I know that I have!