Personal reflections, comments about things I've been doing, etc.

Ok, Glass… Hack Portal … Geek Cred Restored, Good Work

Ok, Glass…

This box is 100% paper. So use it to write a letter to your Grandma. Or at least, please, recycle it. All of it.

That's what it says on the side of the box my Google Glass came in. Perhaps it says something about the demographic Google is targeting for their Explorer program.

Google Glass is a pair of glasses you can wear with a little screen above your line of site you can use to communicate online. It connects with your cellphone, with BlueTooth and Wifi. It has a camera you can take pictures with and a speaker you can listen to things with. It takes voice commands and you can send additional commands by touching the side of the Google Glass.

The Explorer program is for about 8,000 people that responded on social media; Twitter or Google+ about what they would do with Google Glass. Back in February, I tweeted,

#ifihadglass I'd look to improve #healthequity using augmented reality for Public Health and #fqhc

They liked the quote and invited me to join the Glass Explorer program. I told people at work and they were very excited. They kept asking me when I would get Google Glass. I waited and waited. Finally, on June 5th, I got a message from Google:

Your Glass is now ready! Please purchase within 14 days. Follow this link to pay and schedule your pickup:

Yesterday, I joined two of my coworkers in New York to pick up Google Glass.

Hack Portal
I caught the train from Milford, CT. Before I got on the train, I stopped to capture some enemy portals in the game, Ingress. Ingress is an augmented reality game for cellphones developed by a NianticLabs at Google. As you walk around an area, you see an overlay of game pieces on you cellphone. There are portals which are controlled by two different teams, the resistance, sometimes called Smurfs, since their color is blue, and the enlightened, sometimes called frogs since their color is green. If you destroy an enemy portal and capture it for your team, you gain points. Your level in the game is based on the number of points you've accumulated. I was about 90,000 points away from reaching Level 8, the highest level currently possible in the game. I gained about 30,000 points in Milford waiting for the train.

There are many Ingress portals in New York City, and everyone said I should easily be able to gain the remaining 60,000 points there. Yet I didn't have a lot of time. Along the way, I captured a few portals and then visited my brother, who was already Level 8. He gave me some items for the game that would help me reach Level 8.

I met with my co-workers and we discussed how we would use Google Glass in health care. This is a discussion just getting going. We sat down for my Google Glass fitting. My account was set up for Google Glass, connecting it with features on my cellphone. We tested out various features and details about Glass were explained. It was all very exciting.

To activate Google glass, you tap the side of the glass, or glance upwards. Then, to send a command, you start with, "Ok, Glass…" You then tell Glass the command you want. Take a picture. Record a video. You can also send messages, call people, look things up in Google, get directions, and join a Google Hangout. There was not an option to "Hack Portal".

On my way to the train station, I captured a few more portals. Down to 30,000 points needed to achieve Level 8. I could have easily reached level 8 if my battery hadn't died on my cellphone. It appears as if the battery also died on my Google Glass. On the train, I plugged both of the devices in to recharge and had a good discussion with people sitting next to me on the train about Google Glass.

With Glass partly charged, I tried to power it up, but I get a blank screen. I'll get back to that later.

I arrived in Milford and found that all the portals I had captured in the morning had been recaptured by the opposing team during the day. This was actually fortunate for me. My phone was now about half recharged, and there were plenty of portals to try and recapture. Using some of the items my brother gave me, I quickly gained the remaining 30,000 points and reached Level 8, even though members of the opposing team appears to be actively trying to stop me from capturing their portals.

Geek Cred Restored

The past year has been a challenge for me. I ran for State Representative. I often tell people that I didn't get elected, but I won. I won by talking with people about issues like education and health care, about the failures of test based education and about the inequities in our health care system. I did my fellowship in the Connecticut Health Foundation's Health Leadership Fellows Program. I mourned the death of my mother, and through all of it tried go be a good husband, father, and employee.

At the same time, I have been trying to spend more time writing, improving my craft. Yet with all of this, I've spent less time on more geeky pursuits. My old linux based Nokia N900 cellphone is on its last legs. I played a little bit with Raspberry Pi, but not a lot more.

When you capture a portal in Ingress, the game voice says, "Portal Captured, Good Work". Even though can't hack a portal with Glass, the combination of getting Google Glass and reaching Level 8 in Ingress, perhaps, restores a little geek cred.

"Good Work."
My mother was born in 1931. The youngest of seven children. Her mother was born in 1897, 116 years ago. I was the next to the youngest of my siblings, so my grandmother was 62 when I was born. My father's mother had died of cancer before I was born, so I never got to meet her.

My earliest memories of my grandmother are from when she and her husband lived in a small house in central Massachusetts. She would have been in her late sixties or early seventies. My grandfather would have been in the living room, watching a ball game on a small old black and white TV. He would offer us candies. My grandmother would be in the kitchen with her daughters, preparing the food for the family gathering. I would be running around with my siblings and cousins. With the exception of my younger sister, everyone would be older, perhaps much older.

My mother's mother died on flag day, June 14th, 1977. Yesterday was flag day, the thirty sixth anniversary of my grandmother's death. She died before cellphones, the internet or digital photography became ubiquitous. So, I won't be writing a letter to her on the box that my Google Glass came in. All of this is from a much different world. Yet what remains the same is the importance of being connected with one another, through pictures and videos shared via Google Glass, through getting together with people who have a shared interest in a game, whether it be golf, tennis, or Ingress.

The Juggler

The juggler stands in the big old empty circus tent surrounded by balls bouncing on the stage. Over the loudspeaker sounds the lyrics of Gordon Lightfoot's Carefree Highway:

Pickin' up the pieces of my sweet shattered dream
I wonder how the old folks are tonight…

Turnin' back the pages to the times I love best…
Searchin' through the fragments of my dream-shattered sleep...

Carefree highway, you seen better days
The mornin' after blues from my head down to my shoes
Carefree highway, let me slip away…

I look around the house. On my computer are too many unanswered emails and unwritten blog posts. Outside, the grass is high, higher than it should be.

There are signs around the house of the past month's other activities. On a shelf is a small replica of a lighthouse my mother had cherished. There are various special dishes from my mother's house being worked into the cupboards with our normal dishes.

I'm trying to integrate the good memories and mementos of my childhood into my adult life, now that my mother's house stands empty and owned by another family. At the same time, I am trying to process the painful memories; not forget them, but learn from them.

I eat my morning oatmeal. I'll include some frozen blueberries from Williamstown in my upcoming breakfasts. I'll finish this blog post, send a few emails, and head off to work where I'm also trying to pick back up too many balls to juggle at the same time.

RIP Alan Jobe

The other day, I saw a bunch of headlines about the death of Boris Berezovsky. I guess he was some important Russian who fled to England, and I mourn his death the way I mourn the death of any person. To quote John Donne,

Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.

I looked through the local obituaries to see if there was a recent death around here with which I could compare Berezovsky's death; the death of an important person to those close to him, to those involved in mankind, but stripped of all the intrigue of a Russian Oligarch. Each obituary seemed both too close and too distant at the same time.

There is enough going on in my life right now, so I didn't write anything. Then, I found out that my boss' wife's grandfather died on Saturday. It was not unexpected. He had been in hospice. The family had gathered around him during his final hours, unlike Berezovsky who appears to have died alone. The wake is today and the funeral tomorrow, but I couldn't juggle the schedule to be there.

So now, it is evening. Kim is off at an event. Fiona is working on homework, and I am checking in on my connections on social media.

On Alan Jobe's Facebook timeline, I see a message,

Alan passed away 3/25/13 of a stroke at 7:50 PST.
I know he told me a lot how he loved having so many friends on here.

Alan and I have been friends for a long time. We were friends on Facebook, Twitter, Empire Avenue, EntreCard, and I suspect several other places. We had a lot of friends in common, mostly people who explored EntreCard and Empire Avenue. Yet, I never met Alan face to face, just as I haven't met many of our mutual friends face to face.

On the 21st, Alan put up a blog post, Gay As Hell or Where’d My Audience Go?. He reflected on how he has had more interaction at other times, and how things like 'mission inflation on Empire Avenue' may have affected his traffic. Several people stopped to write saying they were still there, still reading, but not interacting as much for one reason or another. Others stopped to write about what was going on with Empire Avenue.

So, I pause to say yet another goodbye. I'm too late for him to have read my comments while he was still alive, but I hope these words will mean something to the members of my online community that were friends with Alan.

I continue to keep my connections with Alan on all the social media sites where we were connected. It is the right thing to do.

What's In It For ... ?

The movie Street Angel starts of with Angela's mother dying for lack of medicine. It is a stunning movie both visually and emotionally, though having lost my mother a few months ago, it was a bit much for me to watch. We've come a long way from the silent movies of close to a century ago to Facebook today. Now, the emotional shocks I receive are from real people.

When I posted about Ash Wednesday, a friend from college commented about how this Ash Wednesday was hard for her. Her husband also died recently. Then today, I found that a friend from when I first moved to New York City lost her father on Ash Wednesday and another friend from that time period lost her father yesterday.

It sets an interesting backdrop to a question I've been struggling with this week, especially in terms of health disparities. How do we move from a culture of "What's in it for me?" to a culture of "What's in it for us?". If I were callous, if I believed in some virtue of selfishness, I might be able to shrug off these recent deaths. But I live in a culture of us, in a world where we are all interconnected, in a world where "each man's death diminishes me".

So instead of writing a blog post about upcoming speaking events or how Marshall McLuhan relates to the MOOCs I'm currently participating in, I pause to offer a virtual hug, and virtual donuts to my friends Becky, Kate and Judy.

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Ash Wednesday

Yesterday, I received my mother's will in the mail. There was nothing unexpected about it and I already knew most of what it contained. Yet there was something difficult about it, like reading some of the final pages of a book you're not ready to finish.

I glanced at the news online. The lead story was about the culmination of a manhunt for an ex-LA police officer; more death and destruction; "for dust you are and to dust you will return."

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, a period of penitence, reflection and discipline. Some friends give up chocolate for Lent, with a special dispensation for St. Valentine's Day. Others give up beer, with a special dispensation for St. Patrick's Day. Several of my co-workers are doing yoga every day for Lent.

I set out for work early today, surrounded by large piles of snow, hoping to find a parking place in the snow-hobbled city. In many ways, my Lenten discipline is just to get by.

In the afternoon, I attended the Health Leader's Fellowship Program. It is a discipline, a commitment to show up, to stretch and practice new skills. We are half way through the program and it seems like many of us a stretched almost to breaking, but as another member of the program commented, "We are here."

Yes, we are here, in the season of Lent, remembering lost love ones, stretching as part of one discipline or another. In forty days we will enter Holy Week, the week of the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox, a time of rebirth and thinking about resurrection, a time in which, God willing, we will say again, perhaps in a different tone, "We are here."

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