Friday, December 29, 2006

The 50 2006 Films I saw.

I saw 50 2006 movies this year, almost all of them in the theatre but fewer than in previous years.

Some films haven't opened in my area, like Letters From Iwo Jima, The Good German and Pan's Labyrinth. I just plain missed a few that looked interesting, like A Scanner Darkly. I didn't make it out to see many independent films as I would have liked and missed 49 Up and Cache.

Overall, this wasn't a great year for new movies. Hollywood continued to overload films with special effects and really great stories were scarce. There were some films that seemed pointless, including Basic Instinct 2 and The Sentinel, which featured Keifer Sutherland playing a Jack Bauer-like role. The brilliantly directed The Departed surely has Martin Scorcese set to be nominated for a best director Oscar but winning that Oscar may not be a sure thing with that buzz that Clint Eastwood's companion to Flags of our Fathers, Letters From Iwo Jima, is receiving.

The film that packed the most emotional punch for me was United 93, directed by Paul Greengrass, who directed the Bourne Supremacy and who will direct the Bourne Ultimatum (due August 3, 2007.)

United 93

An Inconvenient Truth (documentary)
The Break-Up
Casino Royale
The Departed
The Good Shepherd
Miami Vice
Neil Young
Why We Fight (documentary)

Flags of our Fathers

Beowulf & Grendel
Kinky Boots
The Lake House
Little Miss Sunshine
Lucky Number Slevin
World Trade Centre

Blood Diamond
The Holiday
The Illusionist
King Kong
Kiss, Kiss Bang, Bang
Mission: Impossible 3
The Nativity Story
The Omen
A Prairie Home Companion
Superman Returns
Thank You For Smoking

The Prestige

Assault on Precinct 13
The Da Vinci Code
The Inside Man
The Sentinel
X-Men 3
Basic Instinct 2
V for Vendetta
You, Me and Dupree (99 cent rental)

Annapolis (99 cent rental)
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
Friends With Money (99 cent rental)
Last Holiday (99 cent rental)
The Matador
The Night Listener

The following films that I intend to see are supposed to open in 2007:
Pathfinder - April 27
Spiderman 3 - May 4
Shrek The Third - May 18
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End - May 25
Harry Potter And The Order of The Phoenix - July 13
The Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer - July 4
The Simpsons Movie - July 27
The Bourne Ultimatum - Aug. 3

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The detailed history of Iron Maiden


Iron Maiden is a heavy metal band from east London, England. The band was formed in 1975 by bassist Steve Harris, who was formerly a member of Gypsy's Kiss and Smiler. Iron Maiden is one of the most successful and influential bands in the heavy metal genre, having sold more than 70 million albums world-wide. The band won the Ivor Novello award for international achievement in 2002.[1]

The band has written many songs based on folklore, movies and books, such as "The Wickerman", "The Prisoner", "Where Eagles Dare", "To Tame a Land" and "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (based on Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem). Iron Maiden has headlined several major events in its career, notably Rock in Rio, Ozzfest alongside Black Sabbath, Donington's famous "Monsters of Rock", "Download" Festivals and the "Reading and Leeds Festivals."

Iron Maiden's mascot, Eddie, is a perennial fixture in the band's horror-influenced album cover art, as well as in live shows. Eddie was drawn by Derek Riggs until 1992, but has had various incarnations by numerous artists, the most notable being Melvyn Grant. Eddie is also featured in a first-person shooter video game and best-of album – Ed Hunter – as well as numerous books, graphic comics and band-related merchandise.

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Eddie, the iconic mascot of the band, has been featured on the artwork of almost every album and single. It also appears in various videos such as "Women In Uniform". He is also the mascot of Brazillian Football organized supporters group "Força Jovem Vasco".

The road from formation to the present started on Christmas Day 1975 shortly after bassist Steve Harris formed his own band after his bandmates in the group Smiler rejected many of his original songs. Harris attributes the band name to a movie adaptation of The Man in the Iron Mask he saw around that time, and so the group was christened after the medieval torture device.[2]

Steve Harris and guitarist Dave Murray remain the longest surviving members of Iron Maiden. The band had twelve different line-ups in the 1970s, paying their dues on the mostly punk club circuit in London's rough East End while struggling to form a stable lineup of band members. Although Iron Maiden was a metal band influenced by Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, UFO, Yes, Wishbone Ash, Apocalypse, Queen, the earlier music had undoubted punk overtones. Lacking "enough energy or charisma onstage",[3] original vocalist Paul Day became replaced by the outlandish Dennis Wilcock, a huge KISS fan who utilized fire, make-up and fake blood during live performances. Wilcock's friend, Murray, was invited to join, to the frustration of guitarists Dave Sullivan and Terry Rance.[4] This fuelled Harris to temporarily split the band in the Winter of 1976,[4] though the group reformed soon after with Murray as sole axeman.

Maiden recruited another guitarist in 1977, Bob Sawyer, who caused a rift between Murray and Wilcock, prompting Harris to sack both Murray and Sawyer.[5] A disastrous gig at the Bridgehouse in November 1977, with a makeshift line-up including Tony Moore on keyboards, Terry Wrapram on guitar, and drummer Barry Purkis (later rechristened 'Thunderstick') resulted in Harris sacking the entire band.[6] Dave Murray was reinstated and Doug Sampson was drafted in as drummer.

Star Studios in Bow, London played host to three rehearsals a week throughout the Summer and Autumn of 1978.[7] A chance meeting at the Red Lion pub in Leytonstone evolved into a successful audition for punky vocalist Paul Di'Anno. Steve Harris reflected; There's sort of a quality in Paul's voice, a raspiness in his voice, or whatever you want to call it, that just gave it this great edge.[8]"

Iron Maiden had been playing for three years, but had never recorded any of their music. On New Year's Eve of 1978, the band recorded one of the most famous demos in hard rock history,[9] The Soundhouse Tapes. Featuring only three songs, and a four-piece (all subsequent recordings featured a five-piece until 1999 when the band became a six-piece) the band sold all five thousand copies within weeks.[10] One track found upon the demo, "Prowler", went to number one on Neal Kay's Heavy Metal Soundhouse charts in Sounds magazine.[11] Their first appearance on an album was on the compilation Metal for Muthas (released on 15 February 1980) with two early versions of "Sanctuary" and "Wrathchild".

For most of 1977 and all of 1978, Murray was the sole six-stringer in the band. This changed with the arrival of Paul Cairns in 1979. Shortly before going into the studio, Cairns left the band and several other guitarists played alongside Murray until the band finally settled on Dennis Stratton. Initially, the band wanted to hire Dave Murray's childhood friend Adrian Smith, but Smith was busy singing and playing guitar for his own band, Urchin.[12] Drummer Doug Sampson was also replaced by Clive Burr (who was brought into the band by Stratton), and in December 1979, the band landed a major record deal by signing an EMI contract at the label's old building in London's Manchester Square.[13]

Initial success

The eponymous 1980 released Iron Maiden made number 4 on the UK charts in its first week of release,[14] and the group became one of the leading proponents of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.[15] The band went on to open for KISS on their 1980 Unmasked tour, as well as opening select dates for the legendary Judas Priest. After the KISS tour, Dennis Stratton was fired from the band as a result of creative and personal differences.[16] The timing was right for the arrival of guitarist Adrian Smith.

Smith brought a sharp, staccato sound to Iron Maiden. His tight, experimental style was the complete opposite of Murray's smooth, rapid take on blues. One of Iron Maiden's trademarks is the double "twin lead" harmonising guitar stylings of Murray and Smith, a style pioneered by Wishbone Ash and Thin Lizzy, and developed further by Judas Priest and Iron Maiden.[citation needed]

In 1981, Maiden released its second album, titled Killers. This new album contained many tracks that had been penned prior to the release of the debut album, but were considered surplus. With songs already shaped on the road well in advance, only three new tracks were written for the album; "Prodigal Son", "Murders in the Rue Morgue" and "Killers".[17]

The next level

Like many bands, Maiden consumed a large amount of alcohol in their early days.[18] However, most members dabbled very little in other drugs, with Steve Harris never taking them at all.[19] The exception was vocalist Paul Di'Anno, who demonstrated increasingly self-destructive behaviour, particularly through cocaine usage.[20] His performances began to suffer, just as the band was beginning to achieve large-scale success in America. At the end of 1981 the band replaced Di'Anno with former Samson vocalist Bruce Dickinson. Legendary DJ Tommy Vance had told Dickinson not to join the band – advice which was ignored. Dickinson's debut with Iron Maiden was 1982's The Number of the Beast, an album that claimed the band their first ever UK number 1 record[21] and additionally became a Top Ten hit in many other countries.[22] For the second time the band went on a world tour, visiting the United States, Canada, Japan and Australia. The tour's US leg was marred (or perhaps promoted) by controversy stemming from an American right-wing political pressure group that claimed Iron Maiden was a Satanic group because of the album's title track, [22] ostensibly concerning a nightmare Steve Harris suffered.[23] Iron Maiden members' attempts to deflect the criticism failed to dampen persistent accusations. A group of Christian activists destroyed the band's records (along with those of Ozzy Osbourne) by burning them in a large fire. However, these accusations of Satanism were largely based on misinterpretation of the song, or fear of the aggressive, energetic nature of the music. Iron Maiden's current drummer, Nicko McBrain, is a born-again Christian, and is happy to play the song, which he sees as a warning against Satanism.[23]

On the same tour, producer Martin Birch was involved in a car accident with a group of church-goers. Coincidentally, the bill for the repair came to £666, a figure which Birch refused to pay, instead opting for a higher amount.[24]

Actor Patrick McGoohan was accommodating when a request was made to allow the band to use a spoken intro from the cult TV series, The Prisoner, in which McGoohan was the lead actor, producer and series writer. McGoohan was a big name in 1982, and Iron Maiden manager Rod Smallwood was nervous about making the request. The conversation between McGoohan and Smallwood allegedly went:

McGoohan: "What did you say the name of the band was again?"
Smallwood: "Iron Maiden"
McGoohan: "A rock band, you it![25]"

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Before heading back into the studio in 1983, they replaced drummer Clive Burr with Nicko McBrain and went on to release four albums which went multi-platinum world-wide: the dark and ultra-heavy Piece of Mind, featuring "Flight of Icarus" and "The Trooper" (1983), Powerslave featuring "2 Minutes to Midnight", "Aces High", and "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (1984), the double-live album Live After Death (1985), and the experimental, Adrian Smith-led Somewhere in Time (1986) featuring "Wasted Years."

Satanic accusations persisted - there was a lot of controversy about occult messages in many bands' music at the time, normally discovered by playing the offending track backwards. On the Piece of Mind album, a backward message was placed at the start of the track "Still Life" as a kind of internal joke. Reverse this track, and you will hear drummer McBrain clearly saying "Hmm, Hmmm, what ho sed de t'ing wid de t'ree bonce. Don't meddle wid t'ings you don't understand",[26] followed by a belch. McBrain later admitted this to be his "famous" impression of Idi Amin Dada. It translates to the following: "'What ho,' said the monster with the three heads, 'don't meddle with things you don't understand.[26]'"

Also on the Piece of Mind album, renowned author Frank Herbert came into conflict with the band when they wanted to record a song named after the book Dune. Not only did Herbert refuse to allow the song to be called "Dune", he also refused to allow a spoken quotation from the book to appear as the track's intro. Bass player Steve Harris's request was met with a stern reply from the agent: "No. Because Frank Herbert doesn't like rock bands, particularly heavy rock bands, and especially rock bands like Iron Maiden".[27] This statement was backed up with a legal threat, and eventually the song was renamed "To Tame a Land" and released in 1983.


In 1986, the band tried a different approach for their sixth studio album, titled Somewhere in Time. This was not a concept album, though it was themed loosely around the idea of time travel. It featured for the first time in the band's history synthetics for the bass/strings and for the guitars to add textures and layers to the sound. Though considered different from the norm of Maiden sounds, it charted well across the world and is still regarded a part of Iron Maiden's 'golden era' (from The Number of the Beast through Seventh Son of a Seventh Son).

This experimentation lead to the more refined Seventh Son of a Seventh Son follow-up album. Adding to Maiden's experimentation, it was a concept album featuring a story about a mythical child who possessed clairvoyant powers based on the book Seventh Son by Orson Scott Card.[citation needed].

For the first time, the band used keyboards on a recording (as opposed to guitar synths on the previous release). In the opinion of some critics, this produced a more accessible release.[citation needed] The band also headlined the annual Monsters of Rock Festival for the first time this year. The 1990 edition of the Guinness Book of Records contains the following entry:

"Largest PA system: On Aug 20th 1988 at the Castle Donington "Monsters of Rock" Festival a total of 360 Turbosound cabinets offering a potential 523kW of programme power, formed the largest front-of-house PA. The average Sound Pressure Level at the mixing tower was 118dB, peaking at a maximum of 124 dB during Iron Maiden's set. It took five days to set up the system."[citation needed]

To close off their first ten years of releasing singles, Iron Maiden released The First Ten Years, a series of ten cds and double 12" vinyls. Between February 24 and April 28 1990, the individual parts were released one by one, and each contains two of Iron Maiden's singles, including the b-sides, along with a part of "Listen With Nicko!"


For the first time in seven years, the band had a line-up change with the departure of guitarist/backing vocalist Adrian Smith. Former Gillan guitarist Janick Gers was chosen to replace Smith, and in 1990 they released the raw sounding album No Prayer for the Dying. This album went back to the heavy style of the band. This album featured one last song co-penned by Adrian Smith with Bruce Dickinson, "Hooks in You", despite Smith's having not been involved in the band after Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. Vocalist Bruce Dickinson also began experimenting with a raspier style of singing that was a marked departure from his trademark operatic style. Nonetheless, the band obtained their first (and to date, only) number one hit single "Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter". It was released on December 24, 1990, and was one of the first records to be released on several different formats with different B-sides, thus encouraging fans to buy several copies. The single holds the record for being the fastest release straight in to number one and straight out of the charts again over the following couple of weeks. The song was originally penned and recorded by Bruce Dickinson for the soundtrack to A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child.[citation needed]

Before the release of No Prayer for the Dying, Bruce Dickinson officially launched a solo career alongside Iron Maiden, with Gers as guitarist. Dickinson performed a solo tour in 1991 before returning to the studio with Iron Maiden for the album Fear of the Dark. Released in 1992, the album had several songs which were popular amongst fans, such as the title track and "Afraid to Shoot Strangers".[citation needed]

In 1993 Bruce Dickinson left the band to further pursue his solo career.[citation needed] However, Bruce agreed to stay with the band for a farewell tour and two live albums[citation needed] (later re-released in one package). The first, A Real Live One, featured songs from 1986 to 1992, and was released in March 1993. The second, A Real Dead One, featured songs from 1975 to 1984, and was released after Bruce had left the band. He played his farewell show with Iron Maiden on August 28, 1993. The show was filmed, broadcast by the BBC, and released on video under the name Raising Hell. Magician Simon Drake performed grisly illusions on the performance, culminating in Dickinson's "death" in an Iron Maiden.

Winds of change

The band auditioned hundreds of vocalists, both unknown and famous (among them Doogie White of Rainbow[28]), James LaBrie of Dream Theater was one of the vocalists considered.[citation needed] They finally chose Blaze Bayley in 1994, formerly of Wolfsbane. Bayley had an altogether different style to his predecessor, which received a mixed reception amongst fans. After a three year hiatus, Maiden returned in 1995 with the 70+ minute-long album The X Factor. The album was generally seen as having dark, brooding songs that seemed more melancholy and introspective than usual.[citation needed] Chief songwriter Steve Harris was going through serious personal problems at the time with the break-up of his marriage and the loss of his father and many feel the album's sound is a reflection of this.[citation needed] The 11-minute epic "Sign of the Cross", opening the album, is perhaps the stand-out track, and even Bayley's detractors tend to recognise it as a classic.[citation needed] The first concert supporting the new album took place on September 28, 1995 in Jerusalem, Israel.

The band spent most of 1996 on the road before returning to the studio for Virtual XI (1998). The album contained few notable tracks, with only "The Clansman" and "Futureal" surviving on future tours, and chart positions were observably lower.[citation needed] One of the most criticized tracks was the single "The Angel and the Gambler", which was all that many people heard of the album before deciding not to buy it.[citation needed] Virtual XI failed to reach the one million mark in worldwide sales for the first time, and thus sounded Bayley's death knell.[citation needed]

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Bruce Dickinson left the band in 1993, before returning in 1999

In February 1999, Bayley left the band, apparently by mutual consent. The main reason for his departure was his inconsistent onstage performance - Blaze's voice was not up to the rigours of a full-on Maiden tour. At the same time, the band shocked their fans when they announced that both Bruce Dickinson and guitarist Adrian Smith were rejoining the band, which meant the classic 1980s lineup was back in place - plus Janick Gers, who would remain. Iron Maiden now had three guitarists for the first time since the early days of Maiden, and a successful reunion tour followed.

The new millennium

In 2000, a more progressive period began for the band, commencing with the release of the Brave New World album. The world tour that followed ended in January 2001 with a show at the famous Rock in Rio festival in Brazil, where Iron Maiden played to an impressive crowd of 250,000. 2003's Dance of Death followed, then in 2005, Iron Maiden announced a tour to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the release of their first album and the 30th anniversary of their formation. The "Number of the Beast" single was re-released, which went straight to number three in the UK charts, and the band hit the road to support the 2004 DVD entitled The Early Days, playing only older material.

2 Minutes to Midnight appeared in the 2002 videogame Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, playing on Rock station V-Rock.

Ozzfest incident
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Steve Harris on stage after being pelted with eggs at Ozzfest August 20, 2005

At Iron Maiden's last Ozzfest performance (August 20th 2005 at the Hyundai Pavilion at Glen Helen in San Bernardino, CA), the band's sound was turned off several times, eggs were thrown towards the stage, and chants of "Ozzy" were shouted through the PA system. This was the work of Sharon Osbourne, who took to the stage and proceeded to call Bruce Dickinson "a prick" after they performed their encore, followed by a large portion of the crowd booing her off the stage.[29] The band completed its summer tour by headlining the Reading and Leeds weekend festivals on the 26th[30] and 28th August 2005,[31] playing classics from the first four studio albums to a combined audience of approximately 120,000. The final gig took place in London at the famous Hammersmith Odeon (now Apollo) in early September 2005. For the second time, the band played a charity gig for former drummer Clive Burr.

A live album entitled Death on the Road was released on August 30 2005.

A Matter of Life and Death

Main article: A Matter of Life and Death (album)

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A Matter of Life and Death album cover

Iron Maiden's 14th studio album named A Matter of Life and Death was released worldwide on the 28 August 2006 (5 September for the US and 29th August for Canada). It was preceded by the "The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg" single on August 14. The album was once again produced by Kevin Shirley, and is the longest Iron Maiden album to date. The album is not a concept album, but six songs directly revolve around war and four around religion (some overlapping takes place) and these two themes shade every piece of the album; this is likely Maiden's most serious lyrical effort. The music is often described as a cross between Dance of Death, The X Factor, and Bruce Dickinson's late nineties solo material, and seven of the songs could qualify as epics by general metal standards.

Anticipating the release, the official website released two songs in streaming audio on August 10 and 11. The album topped the charts in ten countries, and entered the American charts in the Top 10 for the first time since album sales could be properly counted (i.e., 1991).

The album won the 'Classic Rock 2006 — Album of the Year Award', voted for by Classic Rock's fans.

During the A Matter of Life and Death tour, Bruce Dickinson hinted at additional performances in the near future, stating that there would be a 2007 tour including songs from the period following the band's first four studio albums.[citation needed] At multiple dates towards the end of the tour Dickinson hinted that Iron Maiden may be playing at Donington in 2007. On December 22, a message was posted on their official website confirming that they would be playing at the Dubai Desert Rock Festival on March 9, 2007, which will be the first time the band have ever played there. [32]

New company

In November 2006, Iron Maiden and manager Rod Smallwood announced that they were cutting off their 27 year old ties with Sanctuary Music and have started a new company named Phantom Music Management.

Rod Smallwood said, 'I formed Sanctuary in 1979 and named it after the Maiden song, so it's a bit of a wrench leaving after all these years. However in the latter stages of my career I want to be able to fully concentrate on and enjoy managing Maiden without being distracted by other areas of the business. As you all know we have an awful lot going on and we have many exciting plans for the future. The forthcoming European Tour will be incredible and l want to be at as many of the concerts as possible to enjoy the feeling l think you can only really get at a Maiden show! My new company is called Phantom and no prizes for guessing where that came from. Don't worry — it's Maiden business as usual!! 6.7 million albums in 2000 alone.' Upon release in the USA Singles chart, the single "Different World" debuted at number 8. It is due for release in Europe on 26 December 2006.

Studio Albums

* Iron Maiden (1980)
* Killers (1981)
* The Number of the Beast (1982)
* Piece of Mind (1983)
* Powerslave (1984)
* Somewhere in Time (1986)
* Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988)
* No Prayer for the Dying (1990)
* Fear of the Dark (1992)
* The X Factor (1995)
* Virtual XI (1998)
* Brave New World (2000)
* Dance of Death (2003)
* A Matter of Life and Death (2006)

Friday, December 22, 2006

film - The Good Shepherd


Definitely not an action-packed CIA thriller on par with what we've seen from Matt Damon in the Bourne films. A handful of kids walked out with ten minutes left, joking and swearing about how boring it was. That really pissed off the rest of us. Note to rude walk-outs: Be quiet as you leave and make all the noise you want after you're gone.

The film is essentially about one of the agents in the beginning stages of the OSS and then the follow up agency for non-wartime, the CIA.

Son of a high ranking Navy official, the Matt Damon character is recruited to join Skull & Bones in university. Shortly thereafter, he's approached to join an new government organization to go overseas and watch things, do some spying, as world tensions heat up. This is 1939. At a private island owned by Skull & Bones, replete with cottages, our hero is introduced to a fellow S&B member's gorgeous sister, "Clover" played by Angelina Jolie. She quickly takes a fancy to him and tries to seduce him, but even outright asks him if he has a problem with girls as he shows a lack of interest. Within moments, hormones take over and they get it on. There's no chemistry between them, however.

Meanwhile, he still has a girlfriend who he must either leave or stay with, upon finding out that his tryst with Clover has resulted in her pregnancy. Within a week of the marriage, he's off to Europe to work for the new wartime spy agency, but keeps his career a secret from Clover. His son grows up for 6 years without knowing his dad in person. Jr. grows up desperately trying to earn his dad's love while Clover finds herself in a loveless marriage.

There's a lot more to the film, including some very shifty Soviets, some of whom you have to be friends with rather than kill, for inside information.

They make very little attempt to age Matt Damon and Angelina the 21 years or so that pass in the film. Jr. grows up looking like a girly-man, which may have been a deliberate play on the stereotype that boys who grow up without fathers or strong male role models, tend to have effeminate predispositions, although we see whether or not this is likely true, as well.

Matt Damon's character also seems like a cork under pressure to explode but we never see it. The character could have been more exciting, but first time director Robert DeNiro clearly didn't want to go for an action hero type role in favour of something more brainy. He should have uncorked some of tension, however.

Definitely don't see this film unless you have patience for something that is overly long, that lacks a fast pace. It's more of a cerebral exercise and for that reason, should do quite poorly among the masses.

Monday, December 18, 2006

20 Greatest Inventions by Muslim Scientists

From coffee to cheques and the three-course meal, the Muslim world has given us many innovations that we take for granted in daily life. As a new exhibition opens, Paul Vallely nominates 20 of the most influential- and identifies the men of genius behind them Published: 11 March 2006

1) Coffee
The story goes that an Arab named Khalid was tending his goats in the Kaffa region of southern Ethiopia, when he noticed his animals became livelier after eating a certain berry. He boiled the berries to make the first coffee. Certainly the first record of the drink is of beans exported from Ethiopia to Yemen where Sufis drank it to stay awake all night to pray on special occasions. By the late 15th century it had arrived in Mecca and Turkey from where it made its way to Venice in 1645. It was brought to England in 1650 by a Turk named Pasqua Rosee who opened the first coffee house in Lombard Street in the City of London.

The Arabic qahwa became the Turkish kahve then the Italian caffé and then English coffee.

2) Pin-Hole Camera
The ancient Greeks thought our eyes emitted rays, like a laser, which enabled us to see. The first person to realise that light enters the eye, rather than leaving it, was the 10th-century Muslim mathematician, astronomer and physicist Ibn al-Haitham. He invented the first pin-hole camera after noticing the way light came through a hole in window shutters. The smaller the hole, the better the picture, he worked out, and set up the first Camera Obscura (from the Arab word qamara for a dark or private room). He is also credited with being the first man to shift physics from a philosophical activity to an experimental one.

3) Chess
A form of chess was played in ancient India but the game was developed into the form we know it today in Persia. From there it spread westward to Europe - where it was introduced by the Moors in Spain in the 10th century - and eastward as far as Japan. The word rook comes from the Persian rukh, which means chariot.

4) Parachute
A thousand years before the Wright brothers a Muslim poet, astronomer, musician and engineer named Abbas ibn Firnas made several attempts to construct a flying machine. In 852 he jumped from the minaret of the Grand Mosque in Cordoba using a loose cloak stiffened with wooden struts. He hoped to glide like a bird. He didn't. But the cloak slowed his fall, creating what is thought to be the first parachute, and leaving him with only minor injuries. In 875, aged 70, having perfected a machine of silk and eagles' feathers he tried again, jumping from a mountain. He flew to a significant height and stayed aloft for ten minutes but crashed on landing - concluding, correctly, that it was because he had not given his device a tail so it would stall on landing.

Baghdad international airport and a crater on the Moon are named after him.

5) Shampoo
Washing and bathing are religious requirements for Muslims, which is perhaps why they perfected the recipe for soap which we still use today. The ancient Egyptians had soap of a kind, as did the Romans who used it more as a pomade. But it was the Arabs who combined vegetable oils with sodium hydroxide and aromatics such as thyme oil. One of the Crusaders' most striking characteristics, to Arab nostrils, was that they did not wash. Shampoo was introduced to England by a Muslim who opened Mahomed's Indian Vapour Baths on Brighton seafront in 1759 and was appointed Shampooing Surgeon to Kings George IV and William IV.

6) Refinement
Distillation, the means of separating liquids through differences in their boiling points, was invented around the year 800 by Islam's foremost scientist, Jabir ibn Hayyan, who transformed alchemy into chemistry, inventing many of the basic processes and apparatus still in use today - liquefaction, crystallisation, distillation, purification, oxidisation, evaporation and filtration. As well as discovering sulphuric and nitric acid, he invented the alembic still, giving the world intense rosewater and other perfumes and alcoholic spirits (although drinking them is haram, or forbidden, in Islam). Ibn Hayyan emphasised systematic experimentation and was the founder of modern chemistry.

7) Shaft
The crank-shaft is a device which translates rotary into linear motion and is central to much of the machinery in the modern world, not least the internal combustion engine. One of the most important mechanical inventions in the history of humankind, it was created by an ingenious Muslim engineer called al-Jazari to raise water for irrigation. His 1206 Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices shows he also invented or refined the use of valves and pistons, devised some of the first mechanical clocks driven by water and weights, and was the father of robotics. Among his 50 other inventions was the combination lock.

8) Metal Armor
Quilting is a method of sewing or tying two layers of cloth with a layer of insulating material in between. It is not clear whether it was invented in the Muslim world or whether it was imported there from India or China. But it certainly came to the West via the Crusaders. They saw it used by Saracen warriors, who wore straw-filled quilted canvas shirts instead of armour. As well as a form of protection, it proved an effective guard against the chafing of the Crusaders' metal armour and was an effective form of insulation - so much so that it became a cottage industry back home in colder climates such as Britain and Holland.

9) Pointed Arch
The pointed arch so characteristic of Europe's Gothic cathedrals was an invention borrowed from Islamic architecture. It was much stronger than the rounded arch used by the Romans and Normans, thus allowing the building of bigger, higher, more complex and grander buildings. Other borrowings from Muslim genius included ribbed vaulting, rose windows and dome-building techniques. Europe's castles were also adapted to copy the Islamic world's - with arrow slits, battlements, a barbican and parapets. Square towers and keeps gave way to more easily defended round ones. Henry V's castle architect was a Muslim.

10) Surgery
Many modern surgical instruments are of exactly the same design as those devised in the 10th century by a Muslim surgeon called al-Zahrawi. His scalpels, bone saws, forceps, fine scissors for eye surgery and many of the 200 instruments he devised are recognisable to a modern surgeon. It was he who discovered that catgut used for internal stitches dissolves away naturally (a discovery he made when his monkey ate his lute strings) and that it can be also used to make medicine capsules. In the 13th century, another Muslim medic named Ibn Nafis described the circulation of the blood, 300 years before William Harvey discovered it. Muslims doctors also invented anaesthetics of opium and alcohol mixes and developed hollow needles to suck cataracts from eyes in a technique still used today.

11) Windmill
The windmill was invented in 634 for a Persian caliph and was used to grind corn and draw up water for irrigation. In the vast deserts of Arabia, when the seasonal streams ran dry, the only source of power was the wind which blew steadily from one direction for months. Mills had six or 12 sails covered in fabric or palm leaves. It was 500 years before the first windmill was seen in Europe.

12) Vaccination
The technique of inoculation was not invented by Jenner and Pasteur but was devised in the Muslim world and brought to Europe from Turkey by the wife of the English ambassador to Istanbul in 1724. Children in Turkey were vaccinated with cowpox to fight the deadly smallpox at least 50 years before the West discovered it.

13) Fountain Pen
The fountain pen was invented for the Sultan of Egypt in 953 after he demanded a pen which would not stain his hands or clothes. It held ink in a reservoir and, as with modern pens, fed ink to the nib by a combination of gravity and capillary action.

14) Numerical Numbering
The system of numbering in use all round the world is probably Indian in origin but the style of the numerals is Arabic and first appears in print in the work of the Muslim mathematicians al-Khwarizmi and al-Kindi around 825. Algebra was named after al-Khwarizmi's book, Al-Jabr wa-al-Muqabilah, much of whose contents are still in use. The work of Muslim maths scholars was imported into Europe 300 years later by the Italian mathematician Fibonacci. Algorithms and much of the theory of trigonometry came from the Muslim world. And Al-Kindi's discovery of frequency analysis rendered all the codes of the ancient world soluble and created the basis of modern cryptology.

15) Soup
Ali ibn Nafi, known by his nickname of Ziryab (Blackbird) came from Iraq to Cordoba in the 9th century and brought with him the concept of the three-course meal - soup, followed by fish or meat, then fruit and nuts. He also introduced crystal glasses (which had been invented after experiments with rock crystal by Abbas ibn Firnas - see No 4).

16) Carpets
Carpets were regarded as part of Paradise by medieval Muslims, thanks to their advanced weaving techniques, new tinctures from Islamic chemistry and highly developed sense of pattern and arabesque which were the basis of Islam's non-representational art. In contrast, Europe's floors were distinctly earthly, not to say earthy, until Arabian and Persian carpets were introduced. In England, as Erasmus recorded, floors were "covered in rushes, occasionally renewed, but so imperfectly that the bottom layer is left undisturbed, sometimes for 20 years, harbouring expectoration, vomiting, the leakage of dogs and men, ale droppings, scraps of fish, and other abominations not fit to be mentioned". Carpets, unsurprisingly, caught on quickly.

17) Pay Cheques
The modern cheque comes from the Arabic saqq, a written vow to pay for goods when they were delivered, to avoid money having to be transported across dangerous terrain. In the 9th century, a Muslim businessman could cash a cheque in China drawn on his bank in Baghdad.

18) Earth is in sphere shape?
By the 9th century, many Muslim scholars took it for granted that the Earth was a sphere. The proof, said astronomer Ibn Hazm, "is that the Sun is always vertical to a particular spot on Earth". It was 500 years before that realisation dawned on Galileo. The calculations of Muslim astronomers were so accurate that in the 9th century they reckoned the Earth's circumference to be 40, 253.4km - less than 200km out. The scholar al-Idrisi took a globe depicting the world to the court of King Roger of Sicily in 1139.

19) Rocket and Torpedo
Though the Chinese invented saltpetre gunpowder, and used it in their fireworks, it was the Arabs who worked out that it could be purified using potassium nitrate for military use. Muslim incendiary devices terrified the Crusaders. By the 15th century they had invented both a rocket, which they called a "self-moving and combusting egg", and a torpedo - a self-propelled pear-shaped bomb with a spear at the front which impaled itself in enemy ships and then blew up.

20) Gardens
Medieval Europe had kitchen and herb gardens, but it was the Arabs who developed the idea of the garden as a place of beauty and meditation. The first royal pleasure gardens in Europe were opened in 11th-century Muslim Spain. Flowers which originated in Muslim gardens include the carnation and the tulip.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

film - Apocalypto

Director Mel Gibson has another action-packed historical thriller on his hands with Apocalypto. You'll wonder, though, if he's heard of Lord of the Flies.

A small, quiet tribe is attacked at dawn. The survivors are tied together and trekked to the mythical Mayan stone city. The children are left behind. Along the way, the chance upon a diseased young girl amidst a field of bodies. She seeks help, but the warriors push her away. She then reveals a prophesey of how they will meet their downfall. The slaves are spooked but the warriors take little notice and march on. Upon arrival at the city, the men are painted blue and readied for sacrifice involving removing their hearts and then beheading. An act of nature signifies that the god has drunk enough blood and the men are spared. One of men, Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), manages to escape into the jungle and thus begins a non-stop run for survival, with the goal of reaching his pregnant wife and child who are hidden in a deep natural water well, which collects water as it rains.

The spectacular chase through the jungle between the good guy and the bad guys seems a little far fetched but is still highly watchable. You'd think that Jaguar Paw would be able to throw them off his trail after running through the jungle all night, but nooooo. Sure, these hunters are expert trackers, but the jungle is miles wide so you would think that he could easily elude them. Did you know that a man can outrun a ferocious, adult jaguar? Only in the movies... Some of the most arresting scenes in the chase involve a waterfall and the "rebirth" of the chased Jaguar Paw from the hunted into the hunter.

There was an interesting but seemingly far fetched scene in which the good guys, apparently free, are supposed to run down a corridor towards a corn field and then the jungle, to regain their freedom. While running away, they serve as targets for the warriors who chuck spears, javelins and let arrows fly and incredibly even the odds with their marksmanship.

There's a scene reminiscent of the scene in Behind Enemy Lines, when Owen Wilson's character crawls into a pit of decaying bodies. During the first half of the film, I guessed 100% the beach scene towards the end of the movie. Apache actor Raoul Trujillo is superb as the barrell-chested leader of the bad guy warriors, Zero Wolf. The entire cast was strong.

The dialogue is in the Yukatek Maya language with English subtitles and they even translate a word in the English F-word!

The film has been criticized for its inaccuracies, something that also happened after The Passion of Christ was released, but there's nothing that will prevent audiences from enjoying one of the best chase movies in a while. Mel Gibson has another solid winner on his hands.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Education 2.0: The next evolution of school software has arrived

Emergence of open technologies and open-source alternatives makes customizing school software a reality
By Corey Murray, Senior Editor, eSchool News

Aiming to customize their solutions to meet the individual needs of teachers and students, a growing number of school systems are ushering in a new breed of school software that relies on open technologies--whether it's open-source software on their servers and desktops, or so-called Web 2.0 services available free of charge online. Economics and advancements in technology are fueling this latest trend in school software, proponents of the movement say--but it's also about customization, and the desire to employ a variety of solutions as users see fit.

December 15, 2006—At the Plano Independent School District in Texas, Associate Superintendent for Technology and Academic Services Jim Hirsch is preparing for the future.

At a time when the internet, once strictly an informational resource, is being transformed into a virtual hub of web-based services and applications--giving users viable alternatives to expensive, proprietary school software applications--Hirsch has been traveling the country, talking to colleagues and painting a picture of what he sees as the next evolution in educational technology.

Within five years, Hirsch predicts, not a single desktop in this 52,000-student school system in metropolitan Dallas will carry the image of a proprietary school software program. Gone will be the familiar Microsoft applications and desktop icons that over the years have become synonymous with document creation. In their place will be a suite of lesser-known, but equally capable alternatives--or, what Hirsch likes to call "open technologies."

Though some might see his plans as ambitious, Hirsch is hardly alone in his dreams. Plano ISD is part of a fast-growing cadre of school districts across the country actively exploring the use of free web-based services and open-source school software alternatives.

Last summer, the state of Indiana announced a plan to deploy more than 24,000 computers with Linux operating systems in its schools. At the time, the project--called inAccess--represented the largest single distribution of Linux-based technology in U.S. K-12 schools (see story: Desktop Linux rolls into Indiana). Experts estimate the deployment could expand to more than 170,000 desktops across the state by the end of this year.

Educators also are awaiting the arrival of former MIT Media Lab Director Nicholas Negroponte's $100 laptop. Built on an open-source platform that is a scaled-down version of Linux, the machines are being touted as a low-cost, one-to-one computing solution for children in developing nations. Negroponte, who demonstrated the machines at the National Education Computing Conference in San Diego this past summer, already has inked deals to supply the machines to education ministries in several third-world countries, though he says U.S. schools will have to wait at least another year before they can expect to get their hands on the computers. (Watch the seven-minute news clip, "$100 laptop ... Billion-dollar idea")

Experts say the technologies, built on a platform that promotes collaboration among users and encourages schools to share and modify applications to meet students' needs, embody the spirit of innovation and sharing they say is essential to upgrading school computing for the next century.

Though industry watchers say it's unrealistic to think schools eventually will abandon proprietary software products in favor of open alternatives, the thinking among many district technology coordinators is that, as the market for open technologies in education expands, schools will enjoy the luxury of shopping for solutions aligned with students' and teachers' specific needs--regardless of platform.

An open mind

Not unlike many of his colleagues, Hirsch points to the internet as evidence that new options for teaching and learning are quickly becoming a reality for schools.

During the National School Boards Association's annual T+L Conference in Dallas in November, Hirsch spoke on the topic at a forum for school technology officers.

Sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), the event was created to promote CoSN's K-12 Open Technologies Initiative. The program and corresponding web intended to support the adoption and integration of open technologies and open-source applications in K-12 schools worldwide.

"The question that needs to be asked is, 'What makes the most sense for the environment that we're in?'" explained Hirsch in a recent interview with eSchool News.

Not long ago, Hirsch said, the consensus in many district IT shops was that proprietary software applications such as Microsoft's popular Office suite and others were the way to go. After all, it made sense. Despite the high cost of licensing fees and service contracts, the products, built and owned by leading software vendors, had been created to work seamlessly with the Windows operating system (OS)--still the preferred OS in more than 90 percent of U.S. school districts.

Economics and improvements in technology are changing that notion. But it's also more than that. As new requirements for reporting and learning were ushered in under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, and education advocates nationwide issued a call for more individualized instruction, a fresh perspective has emerged in schools. Rather than rely on proprietary software applications built for the masses, schools might do better to consider more customizable approaches created on an open platform, many believe.

Unlike proprietary software solutions that come shipped in boxes with complex license agreements attached, open technologies--the vast majority of which are downloadable over the internet at no cost--give schools the freedom to mix and match tools based on the needs of students and faculty, proponents of the movement say. What's more, many of them are available sans licensing agreement, which means schools can use them wherever and however they want, free of charge.

"This is where the power of personalization really comes to fruition," explained Hirsch. "It's difficult to have a strictly proprietary system that fits the needs of the individual customer."

In Plano, educators and technicians already are experimenting with the benefits of open technologies.

Like many school districts across the country, Plano uses open-source web servers on its back end. Where the front-end user experience in schools today remains dominated by familiar proprietary solutions, school technology directors have long been experimenting with open-source technologies powered by free operating systems such as Linux on the back end. Open technologies such as the Apache web server from the open-source Apache Software Foundation have been viewed as a viable and, in some cases, preferred alternative to proprietary, Windows-based servers.

School technicians who use open-source servers claim they are more versatile, easier to upgrade, cheaper, and just as secure as any proprietary solution on the market.

These benefits are part of the reason why school district CTOs convened in Dallas in November: If open technologies already are providing schools with these benefits on the back end, couldn't they do the same for teachers and students in the classroom, too?

Hirsch certainly thinks so. Currently, his district is working with a U.K.-based firm called Editure to create an educational portal that will feature a whole suite of customizable solutions for use by teachers and students. Using an open-source model, Hirsch said, the portal would query the district's different informational databases, automatically pulling up learning resources, grading information, and other school-related applications based on a set of personal preferences and restrictions assigned to the individual, whether it's a teacher, a student, or an administrator.

Because the applications themselves are all platform-neutral, he says, they make it possible for a wide variety of programs to pull information from the same data stream, automatically populating a range of resources with up-to-the-minute information culled from the district's data warehouse.

For example, a teacher could have access to his or her master schedule, created automatically with information from the district's central database. Likewise, students who access the portal would see only information relevant to their classes; administrators might have access to test scores; parents might pull up information pertaining to their children; and so on. Curriculum planners also would likely be digital.

By choosing tools that can run under any architecture, regardless of platform, Hirsch says schools are able to achieve another level of versatility that, prior to the evolution of open technologies in schools, would have been impossible.

"You can have these sort of free-flowing areas that talk to servers on their own," explained Hirsch. Such a benefit might allow schools to run applications that feature Spanish and English resources on a single page, for example. "To have that all on one screen, living together, would be quite a feat," acknowledged Hirsch.

"Blending is the key," he added. Many open technologies allow technicians to tinker with the source code, enabling them to integrate technologies faster and more efficiently, without waiting for the latest version or upgrade.

"The word that comes to mind in the discussion of open technologies is freedom," wrote Hirsch in a recent presentation he gave on the topic. "Freedom to use, modify, and redistribute with few licensing restrictions."

Version 2.0

Not all open technologies provide as much freedom as others, however. Some applications, explained Hirsch, although built on an open platform, technically are still proprietary.

For instance, Zoho Office, an alternative to Microsoft Office, is downloadable for free over the internet, but doesn't give users the ability to change or modify its source code. Google's new Docs and Spreadsheets tool is a similar technology currently used in schools.

Zoho Office and Google Docs and Spreadsheets are part of an emerging suite of options, more commonly called Web 2.0 technologies or web-based services. Driven by the same philosophy of sharing and collaboration that has fueled the expansion of open-source software in schools, these technologies stand to alter forever the role that software plays in education, their advocates say (see "A paradigm shift for school software?").

Rather than purchase expensive, proprietary software packages that must be loaded individually onto desktop and laptop machines, the thinking behind Web 2.0 technologies is that applications instead can be run directly over the internet.

Ted Lymer is CMO of Lumen Software, a Kansas City, Mo.-based firm that offers proprietary software applications based on an open architecture to K-12 schools.

Powered by a secure, web-based model, these applications offer everything from resources for managing special-education plans to online student information systems.

Lymer said the evolution from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 has changed the internet's role in society. Once a resource for locating information, the web now plays the role of contributor, providing services and other tools designed to help people do their jobs better, he said.

Like Hirsch, Lymer believes open technologies are the future of school computing.

"The problem that we've had up until this point was that everything had been isolated," explained Lymer in an interview with eSchool News. "Everything was part of its own stack ... its own silo." Now, with Web 2.0, he says, several applications can run together seamlessly, using information from a single data stream.

Though his company is enjoying success today, Lymer said there was a time when business didn't come so easy. When the firm started pitching the benefits of open technologies to schools several years ago, he said, most educators, and even many IT directors, were unreceptive.

"It was like hitting a brick wall," explained Lymer. Not enough clients were familiar with open technologies to understand their benefits. Even a lot of IT people still were unsure.

These days, he says, more schools are opening up to the idea.

Proponents of the movement say the advantage for schools is threefold: First, the web-based model enables schools to access several tools free of charge, over the internet; second, an open architecture, coupled with online connectivity, enables users to collaborate and share information more freely; and third, by placing the applications on the web, service providers can significantly reduce the processing burden on remote machines, effectively enabling schools to access the same high-quality content using lower-cost computers.

School technology leaders who spoke with eSchool News acknowledged that Web 2.0 technologies might significantly alter the future of proprietary software applications in education, but many stopped short of affirming Hirsch's prediction that these next-generation tools might eventually replace the need for stand-alone software programs in schools.

Where the array of applications and products accessible via the internet are attractive, educators say there is one potential drawback with Web 2.0 that cannot be ignored. Because web-based services are distributed over the internet, skeptics say issues such as poor bandwidth and any interruptions in internet service could prove catastrophic for schools where backup plans aren't in place.

"I know fully well that if a server goes down and you are relying on that server, then you're dead in the water," said Denny Delafield, director of technology for Pasco School District No. 1 in Pasco, Wash.

Delafield said his district, which currently uses a few open-source applications on the back end, remains open to the idea of open technologies, but isn't in a position yet to abandon its proprietary applications.

"Our saturation level right now is not that high," said Pasco network specialist Kevin Stiles. Though the district employs a few open technologies on its front end, too, including Moodle--a customizable, open-source course management system--Stiles said it likely would have to go through a lengthy review and approval process before making any drastic changes to its current interface.

"On the user side, our people understand what they have been exposed to in the past, and that is what they want," said Stiles.

Andy Hall, technology director for Mexico Public Schools #59 in Missouri, says pushback, especially in small school districts, is not uncommon.

Rather than replace established, proprietary technologies with fledgling, open technologies, Hall prefers to offer open applications as an alternative to proprietary tools. If a teacher or faculty member already is accustomed to Microsoft Office, for example, the district wouldn't necessarily mandate a transition to an alternative solution like WordPress, but it might encourage it, he said.

"We advocate it as an alternative," Hall said of open technologies in his district, adding, "We want to offer the best tools available that we can give to our users."

Getting comfortable

Professional development is another issue schools must contend with.

"You should never underestimate the importance of training--of getting your users comfortable," said Plano's Hirsch.

Whether it's training technicians who have spent their entire careers working in a Windows-based environment, convincing administrators that information stored on open systems can be secured, or acquainting teachers with new front-end tools, schools today have a variety of online and face-to-face training resources at their disposal--all of which are designed with a single goal in mind: Making the transition from proprietary to open technologies as painless as possible.

Peter Woodward is director of strategic partners for Centeris Corp. His company, headquartered in Bellevue, Wash., sells a product called Likewise that enables technology directors to run Linux-based servers in a traditional Windows environment.

Woodward says one of the company's goals "is to get rid of inhibitions around adopting Linux."

By creating a user interface that works with Linux, but mirrors a traditional Windows environment, Woodward said, technology coordinators with little knowledge of how back-end Linux applications work can begin to migrate servers and other functions to open-source alternatives.

"We are not taking the message to market that says you have to replace all your switches and servers," said Woodward. "What we're saying is, let us help you do your jobs better."

Despite the myriad of resources at their disposal, many technology coordinators question whether making the switch to open technologies would be more trouble than it's worth.

"We've been using Microsoft products for years, so people are familiar with them," said Steve Beatty, chief information officer for the Rockwood School District in Wildwood, Mo.

While the allure of low upfront costs makes open-source applications an attractive option, he said, the amount of time, money, and effort it would take to retrain staff on a new platform probably would end up costing more than most people realize.

Features and functions also are important, Beatty said. If schools are going to switch to open source, Beatty doesn't want educators to feel as if they're getting a scaled-down alternative to a better product. The applications have to be comparable.

Whatever path a district chooses, experts say, the decision should be based on the comfort level faculty and staff exhibit with the technology.

But will it save us money?

While it's true that several open-source applications are available free of charge and can be acquired without licensing fees, educators who spoke with eSchool News say the jury is still out on whether open technologies will translate into a substantial long-term cost savings for schools.

Take Web 2.0 technologies, for example. While many of the services are free to download and schools can use lower-cost machines to run certain applications, critics say this doesn't take into account the fact that districts opting to use web-based services in lieu of purchasing new equipment also have to contend with the challenges presented by aging machines.

"When you continue to extend the life of any piece of equipment, you inevitably make certain compromises," acknowledged Hirsch. For instance, if you're trying to download an image or a video, you're still dependent on the speed and processing power of the local machine.

Even if a school could save money up front by using older computers to run web-based applications, or possibly putting off refresh cycles for one--maybe two--years, technology directors might be forced to hire another technician to help keep old machines running longer--a job that would siphon both time and money away from other projects.

What's more, experts say, schools that don't have a Linux expert on staff still have to make allowances in their yearly budgets for service contracts and other maintenance-related issues.

In order to push more Linux-based operating systems into schools, Mexico's Hall said, many open-source service providers will offer tech support and other services free of charge as part of some kind of promotional deal. Unfortunately, he noted, that doesn't mean these same services will remain free in the future.

Still, Hall says, Mexico is proof that schools can save with open source. With the money he saves per year on licensing fees and other costs frequently associated with proprietary technologies, Hall estimates he has enough money left over in his budget to update or refresh an additional computer lab, or approximately 26 machines, across his district each school year.

Playing nice

As schools continue to weigh the potential benefits of open technologies, many of the nation's leading technology firms are updating their products to work with Linux-based applications.

Perhaps the most significant of these announcements came in November, when software giant Microsoft Corp. joined with Novell Inc. in a pledge to improve interoperability between its suite of proprietary Windows-based products and Novell's brand of SUSE Linux open-source offerings.

After years of bickering about the supposed benefits of proprietary operating systems when compared with open alternatives and vice versa, it appears the two companies have at last set aside their differences.

To hear Microsoft tell it, the world's largest proprietary software vendor has always been a friend to Linux.

In an interview with eSchool News, Anthony Salcito, general manager of U.S. education for Microsoft, said the company is an ardent supporter of cross-platform integration in schools.

"From our perspective, there is a very healthy trend going on in education," said Salcito. Where schools used to fret about connectivity and access, about having the right hardware in place to get faculty, students, and staff online, today the focus really is on learning--and how technology, when used effectively, can foster change.

Under the deal, the two companies will work together to boost interoperability of Microsoft and Linux applications in several areas, including software virtualization, document compatibility, and web server management. Microsoft also said it would certify Novell's version of Linux to ensure it doesn't infringe on existing industry patents and that it would recommend Novell to customers seeking to build cross-platform architectures, while continuing to support applications by other open-source providers as well.

Representatives from both companies agreed the future of educational computing lies in some blend of cross-platform integration and customization.

"A lot of schools are looking at what proprietary systems are costing them these days and saying, 'You know what, it's just too expensive,'" said David Brower, global education marketing manager for Novell. "Novell and Microsoft got together and said we want to make things work together."

Salcito called the collaboration Microsoft's "defining value proposition" and said that, while schools want the ability to run applications that are platform-independent, they also want applications to run on a back end that is robust, efficient, and--ultimately--secure.

You don't necessarily get that accountability from straight open-source products, he said.

"One of things that make [open source] viable and attractive to a lot of folks also is one of the things that makes it risky," he explained. "Customers want software that they can trust, that is accountable, but is interoperable as well."

By working to establish better interoperability between open-source and proprietary applications, he said, schools now can have the best of both worlds.

Microsoft and Novell aren't the only companies making headlines, however.

Earlier this year, Oracle Corp., the California-based software company that makes enterprise solutions for businesses and higher-education institutions, as well as some K-12 school districts, announced plans to work with the Sakai Foundation, maker of an open-source online learning and collaboration tool used by schools, to further develop the product's source code. Employed by universities, research institutions, and even some K-12 schools, Sakai provides an applications framework and suite of corresponding tools for teachers, students, and researchers. Schools reportedly use the product for a myriad of educational and administrative tasks. Among its many features, the program offers the ability to save and archive network eMail, send out announcements, hold online chats, manage assignments, build and maintain electronic grade books, create individual and class reports, and more.

By becoming a commercial affiliate with Sakai, Oracle will work with a team of university researchers and other Sakai Community members to build out the product and ensure that it integrates well with Oracle's own databases and enterprise solutions.

Said Curtiss Barnes, education industry lead for product strategy with Oracle: "When I speak with our customers about the Sakai project, it is increasingly clear that this community can bring about a sea change in the use of IT for academic and research enterprises."

Barnes said he hopes Oracle's work with Sakai "will help move the discussion from course delivery to pedagogy, from content to the management of learning outcomes, and from disparate systems to improved processes for managing curricula, research projects, and accreditation."

Oracle's partnership with Sakai came just a few months in advance of the company's launch of Unbreakable Linux, a support program for Linux users built to compete with RedHat Linux and other open-source service providers. At the OracleWorld conference in San Francisco this past fall, Oracle also said it would support Red Hat Linux for less money than Red Hat charges for the same service.

IBM is another company that is sinking considerable time and effort into the exploration of open technologies.

With an eye toward expanding the adoption and understanding of Linux-based applications, Big Blue has launched the IBM Academic Initiative Linux program, joining with colleges and universities to create partnerships and skill-building courses around the use of open technologies in schools. As part of the program, IBM sponsors the creation of Linux hubs on participating college campuses, then solicits proposals from members who want to further the use of virtual Linux at their respective institutions.

At the same time that IBM's foray into open source appears to be picking up steam, its high-profile lawsuit with the SCO Group, the Utah-based company that accused IBM of illegally contributing several lines of proprietary software code to developers of the Linux kernel, appears to be winding down.

Originally, SCO, which acquired the rights to the Unix operating system in 1969 from AT&T Bell Labs, accused IBM of leaking the code--which Big Blue used in the creation of its Unix-based AIX operating system--to the open-source community. SCO said portions of the proprietary code could be found in the Linux kernel and blamed IBM for sharing it, arguing its exposure would unfairly hasten the demise of Unix-based operating systems--a move that potentially might put SCO and companies like it out of business.

For its part, IBM fought the claims, arguing that it owned the source code to its AIX system outright. In late November, a federal judge threw out 187 of SCO's 294 claims against IBM when attorneys for SCO refused to provide IBM with proof of the lines of code in question. There are reportedly more than 5.7 million lines of code in the existing Linux kernel. Experts say the lawsuit, which originally asked IBM for damages of more than $5 billion, likely will drag on in the form of hearings for several months--but any fines levied against IBM would be nominal, they believe.

Chip maker Intel Corp., known for the processors it installs in computers, also reportedly is experimenting with the idea of web-based services.

At the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco in November, the company held a news conference in which it announced the release of SuiteTwo, a combination of Web 2.0 services that apparently will give corporations, small businesses, and other entities the ability to create common social-networking and web-publishing tools, including customized blogs and wikis, among other features.

In talks with eSchool News, school technology directors interested in pursuing Linux in their schools said the increase in interest and competition from the public sector is an encouraging development.

A perfect blend

Back in Plano, Hirsch says he's forever on the lookout for new technologies capable of meeting the needs of today's always-on, information society.

As a next step, Hirsch says he is looking into how open technologies can be used in conjunction with cell phones, PSPs, and other portable devices to connect with students on the go.

"You have to think about being adaptable," said Hirsch. "I don't just want to connect with these kids in schools, I want connect with them outside the local Starbuck's, or wherever they are."

Open technology options for schools

There are hundreds of open applications that schools can use for everything from productivity tools to course management; here are some of the most popular options ...

December 15, 2006—There are hundreds of open applications that schools can use for everything from productivity tools to course management; here are some of the most popular options:

The Apache Software Foundation--Best known for its suite of open-source web servers, Apache is described as an organization that provides support for the Apache community of open-source software projects. According to the foundation's web site, Apache projects are characterized by a collaborative, consensus-based development process, an open and pragmatic software license, and a desire to create high-quality software that leads the way in its field.

Creative Commons (CC)--An open consortium of artists that provides free tools for authors, scientists, artists, and educators "to easily mark their creative work with the freedoms they want it to carry." Like open technologies, Creative Commons promotes the sharing of art through collaboration and encourages authors and artists to use their own discretion in how their works are used on the internet, and elsewhere. "We're a nonprofit organization," states CC on its web site. "Everything we do--including the software we create--is free."

Curriki--A global online education and learning community, Curriki is an organization dedicated to improving education by empowering teachers, students, and parents with universal access to free and open curricula. The organization reportedly is building the first and only internet site for a complete, open course of instruction and assessment for K-12 schools. Founded by Sun Microsystems in 2004, Curriki now operates as an independent nonprofit.

Google Docs & Spreadsheets--A free, web-based word processing and spreadsheet program that keeps documents current and lets the people you choose update files from their own computers. You can, for example, coordinate your student group's homework assignments, access your family to-do list from work or home, or collaborate with remote colleagues on a new business plan, according to a description of the product on Google's web site. For more, visit and type in Google Docs.

Firefox--Built by the open-source Mozilla Foundation, Firefox is an alternative, open-source web browser meant to compete with Microsoft's popular Internet Explorer. The latest version, Firefox 2, is downloadable free of charge over the internet and contains features such a tabbed browsing and a new spell-check feature for use with blogs and web-based eMail programs.

Linux--A free Unix-type operating system originally created by Linus Torvalds with the assistance of developers around the world. Developed under the General Public License, or GNU, the source code for Linux is freely available to everyone.

Moodle--A free, open-source course management system (CMS). Developers say the software was designed "using sound pedagogical principles" to help educators create effective online learning communities. Users can download and use it on any computer. The resource reportedly is scalable from a single-teacher site to a 50,000-student university.

Nvu (pronounced N-view)--A complete web-authoring suite for Linux users built to rival leading Windows-based programs as FrontPage and Dreamweaver. Developers say the goal was to give users with absolutely no knowledge of HTML the ability to build a manage web pages using open source software. multiplatform and multilingual office suite and an open-source project. Compatible with all other major office suites, the product is free to download, use, and distribute, according to the web site.

GIMP, or GNU Image Manipulation Program--A freely distributed piece of software for such tasks as photo retouching, image composition, and image authoring. It works on many operating systems, in many languages, and is used in some schools as an alternative to proprietary programs like Adobe's Photoshop.

The Sakai Project--Produces an online collaboration and learning environment for schools. Many users of Sakai deploy it to support teaching and learning, ad-hoc group collaboration, support for portfolios, and research collaboration, developers say. Sakai is a free and open-source product that is built and maintained by the Sakai Community. Sakai's development model is called "Community Source," because many of the developers creating Sakai are drawn from the "community" of organizations that have adopted and are using Sakai, the web site says.

Tux Paint--A free, award-winning drawing program for children ages 3 to 12. It combines an easy-to-use interface, sound effects, and an encouraging cartoon mascot who guides children as they use the program, according to the web site.

WordPress--A state-of-the-art personal publishing platform with a focus on aesthetics, web standards, and usability. It reportedly is designed to help users work with blogging software.

Wikipedia--The largest encyclopedia on the internet is a free resource that allows users to post and edit factual entries on just about any topic imaginable. Users can create their own entries, add to existing topics, or simply browse the site for reference information. Developers like to refer to the site as a constant "work-in-progress."

Zoho Virtual Office--An alternative to Microsoft's Office suite. The product, downloadable for free over the internet, contains a range of productivity and publishing tools, including resources for document creation, web sharing, online calendaring, instant messages, tasks and reports, announcements, and more.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

film - Blood Diamond


A fisherman, Solomon Vandy, is captured as his village is massacred by the machette and machine gun-toting rebels in the coastal African nation of Sierra Leone. The boys who survive either gets their hands cut off or are taken away to become brainwashed as child soldiers.

While digging at a rebel-controlled diamond field, Vandy finds an egg-sized diamond and tries to hide it. The rebel boss catches him in the act but before the diamond can be seized, the government soldiers stage a surprise attack. In jail the fisherman is accused of hiding the giant diamond by the rebel boss and this catches the ear of diamond smuggler Danny Archer, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who was also recently jailed.

The goals of the men are different but are centered around the diamond. Archer wants to be the one to broker the sale on behalf of Vandy so that he can escape Africa for good. Vandy wants help from Leo and his contacts to get his wife and kids reunited with him. The two agree to go on a cross-country trek across the stunningly beautiful wilderness patrolled by the vicious rebels and their adolescent trigger-happy militia. Vandy's trek has a more important purpose, though. He's adamant that he will find his child-soldier son and whisk him away from the rebels... something easier said that done.

At times Blood Diamond lurches along from one machine gun massacre to another. The slow parts are a bit too slow. I can't recall seeing as many people mowed down by machine gun fire since Blackhawk Down. There's an overabundance of bloody violence in the film.

The film points out that conflict diamonds account for about 15% of the diamond trade and that it's the ordinary consumers who create the demand for these stones, without regard for how they were mined. Conflict diamond profits are used to buy arms that end up slaughtering many Africans each year.

A movie like this wouldn't be made unless there was some way of implicating the upper echelon of the diamond industry, the wealthy and influential companies who regulate the supply and price of diamonds. Jennifer Connelly portrays a journalist who is fed up with shallow stories and seeks a blockbuster expose with hard evidence showing that the diamond industry gladly embraces blood or conflict diamonds. She uses her media credentials to transport Archer and Vandy around to find most of Vandy's family.

Blood Diamond featuress some great acting by Djimon Hounsou as the fisherman. He also appeared in Gladiator and In America. DiCaprio appears to give it his best shot but there's something not entirely convincing about him being a former soldier turned diamond smuggler. He just doesn't look seasoned enough. Like Brad Pitt, he's one of Hollywood's choices to carry a film, but has yet to really earn such confidence with his acting skills.

At almost 2 hours and 20 minutes, the film is too long, and I couldn't help but notice people checking their watches.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Open source makes gain in Massachusetts

From USA Today, Posted 10/20/2003 4:49 PM

Open source makes gain in Massachusetts
By Justin Pope, The Associated Press
BOSTON — With more than $32 billion in sales last year, Microsoft doesn't usually worry about losing one customer. But this one may be different.

In a memo sent last month, Massachusetts Administration and Finance Secretary Eric Kriss instructed the state's chief technology officer to adopt a policy of "open standards, open source" for all future spending on information technology.

The directive likely wouldn't completely cut out Microsoft from the state's $80 million technology budget.

But it may have been the clearest example yet of a state government taking sides — against Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft — in the most important struggle in the software industry.

Microsoft's software generally uses "proprietary" code that the company closely guards. Its biggest threat is from "open source" operating systems led by Linux, whose core components are public, and which users are free to pass around and customize as they like.

Governments are a huge market, accounting for about 10% of global information technology spending, according to research firm IDC. Federal, state and local governments in the United States spent $34 billion last year on huge systems to track everything from tax collection to fishing licenses.

"I think they're correct to be concerned," said Ted Schadler, principal analyst at Forrester Research, adding that government switchovers could doubly hurt Microsoft by persuading big corporate customers that, if huge public bureaucracies can adopt platforms like Linux, so can large companies.

Governments have also been among the most aggressive early adapters of Linux. IBM, a major Linux backer, says it has installed or is installing Linux for 175 public sector customers.

"The momentum is unstoppable at this point," said Scott Handy, vice president of Linux strategy and market development at IBM. "The leading indicator as far as a customer set has been government."

Many believe open source will prove cheaper to deploy and operate, and that it may be more secure; because the codes are public, flaws may be discovered more quickly. And some foreign governments seem eager not to be dependent on an American company.

Federal agencies in France, China and Germany, as well as the city government of Munich, have opted for Linux. Britain, Brazil and Russia are also exploring it.

"You scratch any one of these initiatives and you can't escape that it's Microsoft they're trying to displace," Schadler said.

Microsoft's risk of losing the public sector market altogether is small, at least for now.

The company's products are just too essential, and many open source alternatives too ineffective for many of the kinds of big database jobs governments require. Kriss said the state would still use Microsoft products when cost-effective open-source alternatives aren't available.

Microsoft says it knows it won't win every contract, but it opposes any type of mandate preventing proprietary software from even being considered. It says that's bad for technology companies and bad for taxpayers, who may get stuck paying for inferior, more expensive products.

"We do treat this issue very seriously here," said David Kaeffer, Microsoft's director of technology policy.

Microsoft has fought open-source mandates with limited success. Proposals similar to Massachusetts', including ones in Oregon and Texas, have been shot down after complaints from Microsoft and other technology companies whose products could be shut out. Microsoft also aggressively lobbied the Defense Department to cut its use of open source software, according to a Washington Post report last year.

The company has plenty of reason to worry.

The Microsoft-led industry group Initiative for Software Choice has tracked 70 different open-source preference proposals in 24 countries. And despite Microsoft's lobbying, a Pentagon report concluded that open source was often cheaper and more secure, and that its use, if anything, should expand.

Gerry Wethington, Missouri's chief information officer and president of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, said many of his group's members are pushing hard to bring open standards to their states.

Microsoft countered with an initiative in July that steeply discounts software for government users. It also agreed to make its secret source code available to some governments in order to assuage security concerns.

Microsoft insists that it supports "open standards," which is often associated with "open source" but can also be a broader term meaning any way of making technology work together.

Although some analysts say open-source products may offer stronger security and greater reliability, the argument that they make it easier for systems to talk to each other falls apart if many of those systems are already Microsoft.

"Politically, there are only pros, but in terms of government employee productivity there are quite a few cons," said Schadler, the Forrester researcher.

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