It has been a year since I donated some money to Wikipedia and I received a reminder email from them. With all the free and open out there - and I am a big proponent of it - it's easy to forget that free often takes capital.
Jimmy Wales reminds us that:
If all our past donors simply gave again today, we wouldn't have to worry about fundraising for the rest of the year. Please help us get back to improving Wikipedia.
We are the small non-profit that runs the #5 website in the world. We have only 175 staff but serve 500 million users, and have costs like any other top site: servers, power, programs, and people.
Wikipedia is something special. It is like a library or a public park. It is like a temple for the mind, a place we can all go to think and learn.
To protect our independence, we'll never run ads. We take no government funds. We survive on donations from our readers. Now is the time we ask.
If Wikipedia is useful to you, please take one minute to keep it online and ad-free another year.
I still believe in Santa. If you think there is no Santa - despite having watched Miracle on 34th Street - then further evidence comes from very serious organizations like NORAD and Google putting forward their technology to track him on his Christmas Eve. If there is no Santa, why would they go to all this trouble? And then, who are they tracking?
This year the Google Santa tracker allows us to look at Santa’s dashboard (the technology that powers his sleigh during his around-the-world journey) on Christmas Eve. Apparently, Google has been given access by one of Santa’s many developer elves, who are hard at work in the North Pole helping Santa prepare for his big day. Santa’s dashboard uses Google Maps technology (naturally) which will allow you to follow his progress around the world, and also learn a little about some of his stops along the way.
If you click into the site before he takes off, you can explore Santa’s village while Santa gets ready. There are probably some fun activities and some some interesting elves there now.
And if Google doesn't give Santa the stamp of authenticity, then certainly NORAD must. The fact that North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) uses its super-high-tech equipment to track Santa is further proof of his existence, and it also makes me feel better about Santa's safety while in the air. Santa's sleigh and reindeer show up quite clearly on their radar.
Every year our ability to go online and follow Santa gets more sophisticated. Web cams and videos, information about locations, precise timings that allow kids to know just when they need to be in bed and asleep so that Santa can come to their home.
If your kid is a math whiz and he's figuring that since the world’s population is growing as you read this, and Santa has to deliver more toys in the same amount of time, how is it possible? Well, that's where the magic of Santa comes in. NORAD actually made a calculation last year and said that Santa is somehow able to make stops at homes in about three ten-thousandths of a second. I think it involves quantum mechanics and time travel, but after all, he has been doing this for 16 centuries, so...
Do you adults out there think NORAD has better things to do? Well, they are doing those things too, but the Santa project started more than 50 years ago. NORAD and its predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) have been tracking the sleigh and reindeer since 1955 after a Colorado Springs-based Sears Roebuck & Co. advertisement misprinted the telephone number for children to call Santa. Instead of reaching Santa, the phone number put kids through to the CONAD Commander-in-Chief's operations "hotline." Yipes! The Director of Operations at the time, Colonel Harry Shoup, had his staff check the radar for indications of Santa making his way south from the North Pole. Children who called were given updates on his location, and a tradition was born.
Obviously, NORAD, Google, Santa and most of us are using social media too. You can follow Santa via NORAD on Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter too. But be sure to step away from the computer and smartphones and enjoy Christmas Eve. And don't forget the milk and cookies and a carrot for the reindeer.
I have read a few posts about Google's initiative this month to get schools to adopt Chromebooks by offering the chance to get them for a special, discounted price of $99 including hardware, management and support.
I am all for getting Chromebooks into classrooms at a price that means more computers for more students. But another important part of the story is Google working with DonorsChoose.org, an online charity that connects donors directly to public school classroom needs.
Public school teachers from every corner of America post classroom project requests on our site, and you can give any amount to the project that most inspires you. When a project reaches its funding goal, we ship the materials to the school. You'll get photos of the project taking place, a letter from the teacher, and insight into how every dollar was spent. Give over $50 and you'll also receive hand-written thank-yous from the students.
Chromebooks may not be the perfect computer for all school needs, but they are fast, easily sharable, and require almost no maintenance. Google reports that more than 1,000 schools have adopted Chromebooks in classrooms. For the holiday season, teachers can request in this initiative the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook.
The100 Top Global Thinkers 2012 list from Foreign Policy has caught some academia attention because amongst the usual suspects (Bill & Melinda Gates, Bill & Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama) is Sebastian Thrun. The name doesn't sound familiar? He is the founder of Udacity which pioneered the massive open online courses we now call MOOCs.
But MOOCs didn't get him on the list. It turns out that Thrun, a computer scientist from Palo Alto, made the list "for revving up the robot-car revolution. They say that his work to develop driverless vehiclesmight make him “the Henry Ford of a new era.” No mention of Udacity or MOOCs.
There are many "charities" that you might turn to during this holiday season. One I chose to write about this Thanksgiving Day has a strong web connection and an interesting approach to the idea of helping.
It's Kiva, a site that provides loans to the working poor. Kiva lets you connect with and loan money to unique small businesses in the developing world. Kiva is a Swahili word meaning "unity."
You can choose someone who is requesting a loan on Kiva.org and "sponsor a business" and help the world's working poor reach for economic independence.
The loans run about 6-12 months and you can receive email updates from the business you've sponsored. As loans are repaid, you get your loan money back.
I don't know if this is a good project for a class or school group to do, but it's an interesting economics and flat world model to at least explore with a class. It's "microfinance" and I know there are other examples online of providing financial services to the poor in developing countries. Your small, short-term "microloans" goes to poor entrepreneurs who don't otherwise have access to capital. Maybe a student council or student government association could enroll.
Kiva follows the principal that teaching a man to fish is better than simply giving him fish. Recipients "already know how to fish, they just need a loan so they can buy a net," says Fiona Ramsey, spokeswoman for microloan facilitator Kiva. Through Kiva, people can loan sums as small as $25 to individual entrepreneurs they select on kiva.org. Kiva works with local microfinance institutions that screen all applicants and it says the default rate has been only 0.2%. Interest goes to support those microfinance groups rather than to the lenders
Here's a sample from their site: Name: Santa Javier Doate, Location: Sabana Grande de Boya Community of Yamasa, Dominican Republic Primary Activity: Clothing Sales; Loan Requested: $300 Repayment Term: 6 months - repaid monthly Loan Use: Purchase of new clothing products in bulk Posted: Nov 21, 2007 "Santa is twenty-eight years old, and she and her husband have two young girls, ages five and seven. Santa has recently begun selling women's clothing and fashionable shoes to members of her community. Santa plans to use her loan to buy more clothing at bulk rates, improving her profit margin and limiting the number of trips she will have to make to purchase the clothing she sells outside of her community. Santa envisions her business becoming a "grand store with a large selection of chic attire." She explains that the income from her business will help support her studies at the local university and help her to safeguard her children's health."
You don't have to loan the entire $300 either. You can $25 dollars to the total. It's not "charity." In fact, loans made through Kiva are not tax-deductible because they aren't a charitable contribution. When a loan is repaid, the money can be either withdrawn or lent out again. You can even purchase "gift certificates" and let others select loans. They start at $25.
I know that this is the start of the season for giving and the season for people asking you to give. I sent out my donation last week to The Smile Train. It's a charity I feel confident in because I've done some reading about them and 100% of your donation goes towards programs that help children and 0% goes to overhead. My donation is enough to pay for a cleft surgery which is a modern-day medical miracle. It's a surgery that would probably cost at least ten times that here in the U.S. and most people I know (including me) wouldn't hesitate a second to pay for it if it was our child. I'm sure the child who ends up getting the surgery from my donation will get a new smile and possibly a new life.
Tim and I wish all of our readers a season of good things. I know that we have a pretty good number of visitors from outside the United States who don't celebrate our Thanksgiving holiday, but I'm sure you have some comparable day. We hope that you can spend it surrounded by family and loved ones.