YouTube: Grand Rapids, Michigan City

•June 15, 2011 • Leave a Comment
Chicago South Shore and South Bend Coach No. 4

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 A person could spend all their online time viewing nothing but YouTube videos. In fact, a writer (such as myself) could focus a column totally on YouTube video reviews without ever running out of new uploads to watch. I’ve tended to avoid talking about YouTube in this column. Now I am wondering why. Could be because my 7-year old laptop just doesn’t have the oomph to play a complete video without buffering at least six or seven times. And that is very annoying.

Somehow, I was patient enough to withstand the buffering when watching a few videos from YouTube recently. And that’s the subject of this week’s column, so let’s get to it right now.

Grand Rapids Lip Dub ( We might as well as “lip dubbing” to the dictionary, since it is a popular way to express creativity and to get a community of people together for some fun. As I write this, I have just watched the Meredith Viera sendoff from the Today show. Their lip dub was nowhere near as cool as this production from Grand Rapids. I found it via a tip from Bits & Pieces, a blog I often read. The Grand Rapids Lip Dub evolved from a comment in Newsweek that referred to the Michigan town as a “dying city.” Well, now. The citizens of that fair city northeast of us were offended. But rather wallow in hurt emotions, they made lemonade by producing a 9-minute movie that Roger Ebert has called “the greatest music video ever made.” It is, by all means, a top-notch production. Go view it. You’ll see what Roger Ebert means. It’s well worth being patient during buffering, if your computer is slow like mine.

Michigan City Blizzard of 1958 ( As long as I was feeling extraordinarily patient, I decided to search YouTube for some local fare. I had done so a little over two years ago, but had not been back. I am glad that I reconnected. Comcast’s local access channel 3 has been putting together old film footage of the city’s past. Last year they uploaded this video. What’s particularly fun is looking at the old ’58 Fords and Oldsmobiles (and others) with four feet of snow on their roofs, travelling the barely-passable streets in town. According to city folks who remember, the storm dumped four feet of snow upon the city and region, and the National Guard was called in to help clear it. Watching this old footage helps me realize (in moments of homesickness) why I moved to Arizona. I could drive up to Flagstaff and see the same thing in the winter, if I wanted to.

South Shore 1958 ( Another video from Comcast and the MAPH Foundation lets us look at Franklin Street at 11th Avenue, when the South Shore had not one, but two tracks running the length of the street. As a young child riding through the town during a family outing, those pair of tracks used to scare me. I could not figure out how cars could travel the road if a train was approaching. Apparently so did a lot of other people. The South Shore tore out the set of tracks and re-set just one pair of rails in October, 1958. You can watch that footage. And we can thank the person behind the movie camera who shot the footage for all of us to reminisce about.

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Hello, 2011. I’m back

•June 15, 2011 • Leave a Comment
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Because I have moved away from my native state and all things that had been familiar to me, I am experiencing first-hand how greatly the internet has impacted my life. Whenever I get homesick, I log on to my hometown websites to reconnect. That is, of course, in addition to keeping in touch with friends back home via email. And Skype, if I used it. Oprah made Skype famous on her television show. She interviewed dozens of celebrities thanks to webcams and video feeds. Both sender and receiver need to be signed up for Skype to use it. That is not the case with my Magic Jack, but then, it does not require a webcam and acts like a regular telephone.

So, before I get too far off track, I wanted to let you know that I have stayed “in touch” with happenings back in Michigan City by visiting local websites. I’ve noticed some changes since I last accessed them. And so, I’m commenting about that this week.

Michigan City Public Library ( I love the new home webpage, yes, indeed! It has been at least 3 years since I last visited. What used to be static and boring is now bright and lively. First thing you’ll see is a listing of the month’s events within the library and without. Once upon a time most library websites were no more than digital card catalogs, with links to other places of local interest. That’s not to say that the online catalogs are gone. It’s just that there appears to be more information on the site. It’s shiny, bright, and more inviting. Kudos to the Web designer. I want all Michigan Cityzens to take a look at the website. But I will give away one little slice of information I found at they list eight establishments, within the city, along with addresses, that offer wifi. That’s a new bit of information that libraries can offer the public. The times—they are a changin’ and our local library is right on top of things.


Westchester Public Library (Chesterton) ( Notice the web address? It is much more cumbersome than Michigan City’s. Somewhere within the state, a person decided that the public libraries could use “” as a recognizable part of their url. Listen: it’s difficult to remember, and not fun to type in. And let me be the first to tell you that I’ve been loyal and biased towards Chesterton’s library. Not only was I a patron, I worked there for a few years. But, I think Michigan City’s homepage has Westchester’s beat. Not that they are in a contest against each other. It’s just a visual, and an access issue. Their home page declares the theme of the summer reading program for kids. Nothing wrong with that. I guess I wanted to see a more inclusing community events listing link somewhere on the site. One bonus the Chesterton library can brag about it its downloadable books.

We Are MC ( When I registered at this website founded by long-time Cityzens, there were fewer than 1.000 people registered. Presently that number has jumped to 5.000. Isn’t that terrific? This is a place where grads from Rogers as well as Wolves’ alumni can reconnect, recount days gone by, mourn the loss of former classmates, relate interesting bits of history, announce upcoming reunions, and, well, just stay connected. Not being a graduate of a school in Michigan City, I did not belong there, but I was embraced anyway by the online community when I wrote a Beacher feature years ago about the sock hops downtown. If you want to read about that, log on to the Beacher.

The Beacher ( How many of you access online the greatest little paper around LaPorte County? I know, I know. I like the feel of the extra-thick and classy paper in my hands, too. But if you want to find articles from a decade ago, this is the website that will accommodate you. Don’t take it for granted. The Beacher is a great little paper, even if I am biased about saying that.

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Excellent Help for Writers

•January 24, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Back in November, thousands of writers entered the annual NaNoMo novel writing competition. I wrote about it in that month’s Beacher issue, as well as back when the contest was just getting started. I’m just reminding you of this because you may have set your sights on entering it and then gave up. Since we are just beginning a new year, this is a good time to resolve to take the plunge into the wonderful world of creative writing. I’ve sifted through a few websites that can help keep you on track. If you do decide to dabble in the art of writing, I, along with all of my fellow Beacher writers welcome you to the fold.

I hope you find at least one of these collaborative writing sites a perfect fit for you. Back in the day (something we geezers say a lot), there was no internet. There were advertisements in various magazines for “Creative Writers’ Institute” or some such name, and all you had to do was take a little quiz, or write a few lines to see if you qualified. Other ads, which may still be around, stated that they were looking for writers for children’s books. No matter what genre you feel attracted to, there is a website devoted to developing your skills.

One Million Monkeys Typing ( Count ’em—six zeroes. You may get tired of typing in that address, so bookmark it. This is a smallish group of about 2000 monkeys er—writers. You have the choice of collaborating on projects in fiction, nonfiction and/or poetry. From what I read, I found the quality of the contributions above average. The site encourages participants to creat 300-word snippets, or “seedlings.” Using the metaphor of a tree, the website is structured, and one either gets a thumbs up or if consistently bad, an extinction notice. The site calls itself “an evolutionary writing site where only the strongest stories survive.” And in my mind, that’s a very good thing. Because, if you are serious about developing your writing, then you don’t need to shuffle through sites that publish very poor material, poor grammar, poor spelling—you know what I mean. ( This is for fiction fans only. Read, vote, write, and/or edit and become part of an international collaborative group which takes its writing seriously.

Protagonize ( This site has approximately 14,000 registered users whose objective is to explore their hidden writing talent. What I like about Protagonize is that it actively encourages constructive feedback and critique. If you cannot make it to meetings of writers’ groups locally, this might be a good option for you. These online writers’ groups seriously want to offer help. There is a lot to explore on this site, and I recommend a look at it. ( This creative colony has been around for a decade, and it’s still going strong. I hesitate to recommend it as your only source of writing support, because you truly have to sort the wheat from the chaff here. (I will probably get lots of hate mail for that comment, but it’s just my opinion). As are the other previously mentioned sites, provides plenty of social networking.

Charley McKelvy’s Blog ( Hurray for Beacher colleague Charley, whose “Travels With Charley” have entertained and enriched us for many years. While the rest of us writers had immersed ourselves in the digital world years earlier, Charley was a little shy to join us, relying on his trusty typewriter to pound out his stories. When he finally got a computer, it took him a while before plugging into the World Wide Web. And now, as 2011 dawns, our man on the go has finally launched a blog! Be sure to check it out.

While you’re at WordPress, have a look at my unofficial blog, Fewer or Less.

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My long hiatus has ended

•January 24, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Hello again, faithful readers!

Although I stopped posting my weekly columns from the Beacher many months ago, I have continued to write them. You can find them in the archived editions on the Beacher’s website. The weekly editions are in pdf format, so it make take you awhile to find what you are looking for.

I’m posting a recent column about writer’s resources here for my friend, Tian. She is destined to become a great author but needs a kick in the pants to keep on truckin’

Before I say adieu, please take a look at my newest blog, titled Fewer or Less. I decided to start it as a way to process my thoughts about all manner of issues bugging me. Fewer or Less is not a column–just a bunch of comments about topical issues. Enjoy.

Well, hello! We’re back….

•November 13, 2010 • Leave a Comment
The blood of a two week-old infant is collecte...
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Hello again readers.

I have been on hiatus since early June. During that time, I have been rethinking what to do (or not) with this little blog. I still write the CyberScribbles column for the Beacher Weekly Newspaper, although not always weekly. I just have not posted them here in quite a while.

I am considering beginning a new blog based on the new events happening in my life. Another rare phenonmenon has crept into my life. Not enough that the family history includes PKU, Bell’s Palsy, Graves and TED and strabismus and now possibly Myasthenia gravis. You say what? That’s right–not everyone is lucky enough to hit the jackpot with all these medical issues.

I will let you know if I start a new blog. Meanwhile, check back occasionally to see if anything new is here.

Here is something to ruminate about: what does Abe Lincoln, Jean Paul Sartre, Forest Whitacre,and a younger Demi Moore have in common? I will answer that one later.

Later, alligator.

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Quit Facebook, Diaspora, TED

•June 9, 2010 • Leave a Comment
The Facebook Man. Facebook is celebrating its ...
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I have been searching for a good bookmarks manager for a long time, and mostly for keeping websites I eventually wanted to write about. I resorted to writing down web urls meant for CyberScribbles on the backs of envelopes, on scrap paper, or anything else I could find at the moment. Then, I would either promptly a) lose the scrap of paper, or b) be unable to decipher my scribbles. Well, I think I have found my answer to unruly bookmarks.

Not wanting to jump onto the social networking bandwagon for the past (how many?) years, I made it more difficult for myself to prepare these columns. Until now. I hope. I use a browser add-on named Diigo ( to help me keep track of things. Years ago I tried Stumbleupon when it was new upon the scene, but I did not like how it worked. Then I tried a few different “personalized” home pages that totally disappeared when I upgraded my browser(s). I did discover Netvibes a month ago, and while it could be my home page, I still use Yahoo. Did you know that the majority of people use Google for their home pages? Nothing wrong with that. But let’s get on with my week’s worth of web discoveries, shall we?

Quit Facebook Day ( Yes, it’s a real website and quitting day was set for May 31, Memorial Day. Some 34,000 former Facebook subscribers vowed to cancel their accounts. That is a meager number out of 450 million users, but at least some people care deeply about the issue of privacy. It’s good that people protest the use of their ‘data’ by commercial interests. I feel for them. I’ve been a Facebook holdout due to sheer stubborness. And I guess that makes me miss out on all the “good stuff” Facebook users share. If you are worried about the security of your information posted on your Facebook pages, then you can vow to quit. Log on to this site and make your vow public. Then head over to

Diaspora ( Since the troubling news about the inadequate security at Facebook, a quartet of young and very smart software programmers has unveiled their open-source social networking alternative to the behemoth of cyberland. Diaspora’s inner workings are built differently, so your data is stored in a “seed” that keeps things separate from how Facebook stores your data. In un-geeky terms, Diaspora makes that nasty data mining business hit a brick wall. Or, at least that is how I understand it. Now, how do you get the word out to 426 million Facebook users to make the switch?

TED ( I’ve mentioned TED here before, but in case you missed that column, I’m reminding those of you who are looking for more than cute kittens and puppies or scantily-clad models that TED offers to nudge your brain into full engagement. Give it a spin, because you will find at least a few (probably many) presentations that will expand your mind and present to you a new world view. I just caught part of a talk by Harvard law professor Jonathon Zittrain on the positve effects Twitter can have on us all. I also watched a 17-minute slide presentation by photographer Taryn Simon, who has captured pictures of places and things mostly off-limits to the rest of us. It was on TED that I learned that for a long time Playboy magazine put out a Braille edition (hear the laughter in the auditorium, from the men in the audience). Alas and alack and of course,men: just the text was converted to Braille!

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Peterman’s Eye, Barter Quest, Freecycle, Genealogy

•June 2, 2010 • Leave a Comment
Official usage of Rusyn, Croatian, and Czech l...
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Here is something I don’t understand about (I belong to the Chesterton group). More often than I want to see, someone posts a “wanted” notice for something very expensive. In this case, someone wanted a dehumidifier. When my own broke, I bought another one, never thinking about asking for it on I did not have the idea the free trade website was for charity. I am open to your input on this, because I am truly baffled. If you are unfamiliar with the site, it allows you to recycle unused stuff you have. The person who wants (or better, needs) your item is on the honor system not to sell, but to pass on to another that item when no longer needed. I would like to hear from users about their experiences. Write me at Now let’s get on with this week’s picks.

Peterman’s Eye ( If you area thinking of Elaine from Seinfeld, you are right on the money. This is a Peterman newsletter full of interesting stuff, and written well by the way. I used to receive the Peterman catalogs in the mail. I had lots of fun reading it and drooling over some of the women’s clothing, but I never placed an order. Of course the company eventually dropped me from its mailing list. I am making this story longer than need be, but I want to mention that I discovered Peterman’s Eye via the Free Stuff Times website. There is a sweepstakes presently going on that you need to enter. The grand prize is $5000 to spend on a vacation anywhere you want. Peterman has written a nice suggestion about visiting the south of France, and he includes his itinerary. Check it out.

Barter Quest ( As our economy continues to tank, the idea of bartering becomes more appealing. Barter Quest “supports the cashless exchange of goods, services and real estate.” What’s more, it verifies its users so that it can screen out potential scammers. The site launched in December, 2008, and has the potential to pick up many more users. One can browse without registering, which I would certainly recommend for any site you frequent.

Genealogy ( A new television program about tracing lost ancestors has set many on the road to researching their own families. The t.v. Program is partially sponsored by If you are looking to get into the hobby, know that is not a free resource. In fact, it can be quite pricey. At the genealogy site I recommend here you can access many free tutorials to get you started. More than ten years ago, I embarked on my own family research. My mother’s heritage is Rusyn, which historically is an ethnic group without a country of its own who lives in what is today, Slovakia. But they are not Czech, nor Slovak, nor Ukrainian, nor Hungarian. Try researching your family roots when country boundaries changed with the wars and the Rusyn language is its own unique Slavic dialect with a Cyrillic alphabet. And surnames often were misspelled at Ellis Island. Researching your British or French relatives would be a piece of cake to those of us who possess Rusyn or Lemko roots. (Lemko is the Polish-like equivalent of the Rusyn/Slovak/Ukrainian misidentification). Anyway, the Internet makes it easy for you to get started on the journey of uncovering your family background. Start with Google. But don’t start with Google if your surname search is Smith. Good luck with that one.

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