Archive - Jan 2013

January 31st

One Word After Another.

It's been a day of things not working. I was supposed to help some people use Twitter this morning and was getting repeated Twitter service errors. In the afternoon, I found that Fiona's school was without electricity and she was sent home early. This was as a result of a wind storm that took down trees in Woodbridge.

The wind storm also kept me up last night, so I'm more tired than normal. I keep yawning and trying to grab a theme to write about. A quick bite to eat and I have more energy, but still not much.

Storms, things not working, lack of energy, it makes the writing more difficult. There are days that I focus on intent, on impact, on creativity, and other days, simply on just writing, putting one word after another.

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January 30th

Understanding Social Media

It's been about half a century since Marshall McLuhan published Understanding Media and a lot has changed since then. The need to understand media, and especially social media, has grown considerably since then.

As the Social Media Manager for a non-profit health care organization, I often speak at conferences about social media. Besides my role in non-profits, I also talk about social media from the perspective of a politician and a citizen journalist.

Recently, I spoke about how I like to use social media when I'm at conferences. Typically, I try to take notes at the conference using Twitter. I need to refine the thought down to less than 140 characters. Sometimes, this can be a challenge. Sometimes, people might not get what I'm tweeting, without the context of the surrounding tweets. People need to learn more about context, especially for tweets, where additional context can often be found in the hashtags used in the tweets.

When I mentioned this at one event I was at, people said they felt uncomfortable doing that because others might think they were busy doing things online and not paying attention. As a social media manager, I don't often run into that problem, but it is a common misconception.

Just because a person is writing something on their computer, perhaps via Facebook or Twitter, doesn't mean they aren't paying attention. If they are using social media as a means of taking and sharing notes, they may be paying much more attention than others who are just sitting casually at the meeting.

Another aspect of social media note taking is that it is conversational. It is like being able to take notes and see other people's notes at the same time. It can produce brief interchanges that further enhance the understanding of the topic being discussed. I recently ran into this as I was taking notes via social media of the hearings in Hartford about Newtown.

State Senator Beth Bye posted about a nuanced statement from DMHAS Commissioner Patricia Rehmer about outpatient commitment and forced medication. A few different people commented on different aspects of this and I believe everyone came out better informed as a result.

Yet this style of note taking and communications may be unfamiliar to some. Some people may have a mistaken impression that Facebook is just for games or talking about parties. What is worse, some people may try to capitalize on this misimpression to cast aspersions on others. This is perhaps most likely by those who do not want a serious discussion about the issues our country faces and simply want to force their opinions on others.

Such people may, in fact, use social media to distort, and to try to get traditional media sources to spread the distortion.

This appears to be the case of opponents of gun control legislation that Sen. Bye has introduced. Perhaps it backfired on them because the broadcast that NBC had showed a gun control opponent who was not at the hearing criticizing Sen. Bye for being at the hearing and using Facebook to communicate with constituents about the hearing. It helped paint the gun control opponents as uninformed. Fortunately for those opposing gun control, NBC ended their segment with a gun control opponent who was at the hearing and who lauded Sen. Bye for her efforts to keep people informed.

Over the coming years, I expect to see more and more legislators using social media to communicate with the constituents, especially during hearings. Sen. Bye and several other Connecticut legislators provide a good example of how this can be done to improve civil discourse. Of course, during this time, there are bound to be more issues like this one and we all need to spend more time understanding social media.

January 29th

Cultural Climate Change

Was it a Facebook post or something else that got me thinking about The Hudson River School? I'm not sure. Yet these old images of the American wilderness have been dancing in my mind. I wander around online and read about manifest destiny and think about rugged American individualism. Pushing west until the Pacific Ocean, and then what? My mind stops briefly at Emerson and then de Tocqueville.

Today, I went to a United Way event. They have a 'Tocqueville Society Philanthropy Award'. These seem to me to be the heirs of manifest destiny and The Hudson School. What was the cultural climate of the early eighteen hundreds?

My mind fast forwards a century to Sinclair Lewis' Babbitt. I often think of Babbitt when I go to a United Way event of Chamber of Commerce breakfast.There is something comforting in it, like the bourgeois geraniums that Hemann Hesse's characters paused to admire before setting out on their own.

Yet somewhere, The Hudson School gives way to socialist realism and over to beat poets. All, accessible with a few clicks. The sounds of domesticity disrupts my writing, so I find an audio clip of the surf to listen to. WIth my headphones on, I'm at Big Sur with Richard Brautigan, at a salt water farm with E.B. White, or perhaps wandering Cape Cod with Henry David Thoreau. It is soothing like the little water fountain at my office, or perhaps like Snow Crash.

Here, in the twenty-first century, we can mash it all up into some online multimedia experience, perhaps even with a Naim June Paik video cello playing The Piano Guys' Cello Wars.

But what does it all mean, nestled between Sandy Hook, and Hartford, where care givers and those who have fought mental illness testify before the legislature?

Space was supposed to be the final frontier. Is that still the case in this globally warmed internet age? Are we on the age of another great awakening, a cultural climate change, or is it all vanity?

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January 28th

Gun Control Bingo

Today, I watched parts of the "Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety Public Hearing at the Legislative Office Building about Gun Control".

While I haven't seen any talking points sent out by people supporting or opposing gun control, but it sure sounded like a lot people were reading off of one script or another.

Guns don't kill people, people kill people. The only thing that stops a bad person with a gun is a good person with a gun. Cars, alcohol, airplanes, etc., kill people, why don't we ban them? We need our guns to protect us from tyrants, terrorists, and home invasions.

However, a lot of what people say is contradictory, just plain false, or even nuts.

For example, people say that limiting high capacity magazines wouldn't have slowed down the shooter. However, banning high capacity magazines would make it difficult for law abiding citizens to defend their homes.

People opposed to gun control talk about 9/11 and how that didn't cause any new legislation to be quickly passed. However, the Patriot Act was passed 45 days after 9/11. Anyone who thinks that 9/11 didn't change things, hasn't flown in an airplane over the past decade. It is notable that other people opposed to gun control cite the Patriot Act as a reason they need to keep their guns.

Those who talk about cars, alcohol and airplanes would most likely be abhorred if guns were as regulated as cars, alcohol and airplanes, and we do require car owners to have insurance.

One of the great talking points is the issue of mental health, and I think that is an important point. When I listen to people saying things like "We're already close to civil war because of a certain man in the White House" and "I call about all gun owners to nullify any law" which limits gun ownership, "I don't trust the government anymore", and "the AMA has drugged our youth", I think mental health is a big issue, and I do hope that Secret Service is paying attention to some of the testimony.

I also have to wonder how many of the people who are calling for more spending on mental health are some of the same people who are calling for lower taxes and less government spending.

Then, there is the argument that no law will prevent criminals from getting guns. No law prevents criminals from doing many different things, but that doesn't mean we should have no laws. However, it seems like the common thread is that we should be making it more difficult for people who should not have guns to get guns.

This is not to say that the hearings have been without content. A spokesperson for the Police Chiefs' Association had what sounded like well thought out suggestions on how to combat gun violence. Likewise, the spokespeople for the Connecticut Council of Municipalities talked about about what efforts were most likely to have a real effect on gun violence in our state.

Perhaps the most interesting was the spokesperson for the National Shooting Sports Foundation who exercised some sophistry to try and dance around comments from Sen. Williams. Sen. Williams called him out on it, but it struck me as if the NSSF has about as little credibility the NRA. On the other hand, the spokesperson for Sturm and Ruger actually spoke persuasively about trying to improve gun safety and wanting to work with the legislature.

I wish more people would speak like the Police Chiefs, the Connecticut Council of Municipalities and work together to find ways to make our country truly safer.

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January 27th

We All Live in a Science Fiction Novel

I am writing this on a laptop computer. Here, in the twenty first century, this seems pretty normal, but I thought, how would I have described a laptop computer to my grandfather, who never lived to see one. It would sound like science fiction.

It is like a small metallic briefcase, except when I open it up, it is not empty except for the papers, books, and maybe a slide rule inside. The top part of the inside of the brief case is like a large piece of glass, lit up from behind. On this glass are words and images. With the right commands, I can make pictures I've taken appear on the piece of glass. I can make movies play. There is a small black dot above the glass. It is a camera lens, and I can take a picture as well, which can then be displayed on the glass.

On the lower half of the metallic briefcase, there are two very small gratings. Behind these are speaks,so I can hear the sound of the movies. I can also listen to music or other recordings with the sound coming out of these speakers. On the left side is a small hole where I can insert a small metal plug, with wires than lead up to headphones. These are not like the headphones that bomber pilots used in World War II. They are very small fitting into each ear, instead of encompassing the ear. That way, I can listen to the sounds without disturbing people near me.

Between the two speakers in the lower half of the metal brief case are the keys of a typewriter. Yet unlike the typical arrangement in cascading rows, the keys are all flat, next to one another. The normal letters and numbers are on the keys, but there are special keys with just symbols on them or with abbreviations like 'esc', 'fn', and 'alt'. These keys, together with the normal letters and numbers can be used for writing, the way I am doing now, or for entering the commands that control what is displayed on the piece of glass, or sounds out of the speakers.

Below the keys is a small piece of metal. By moving my fingers around the piece of metal, I can also control the computer. There is a symbol that displays on the glass. As I move my fingers on the piece of metal, the symbol moves around the glass until it is positioned over the section of glass I desire.

Then, there are other things, hidden in this metallic briefcase. There is a battery so it works even when it isn't plugged in. There is a radio. This radio is different from the one you listen to music or the ballgame on. It is used for the briefcase to communicate with others computers around the world. Not only does it receive information, it sends it out as well. Other computers listen for this information, and then send back appropriate information as a response. In face, the pictures, movies or sounds are often information send back over this radio.

It would be more than my grandfather could take in, and the discussion might change to other topics. He might notice a strange small green light flashing from the dog's collar. Inside of the small black box on the dog's collar would be another radio. This one would only receive very simple information. With a different device, I could send messages to the dog's collar making the collar make beeping sounds to call or warn the dog, and if the dog didn't respond, I could send a message that would cause the dog to experience a small amount of pain, an electrical shock. Yes, a device to remotely control the dog.

It is all like science fiction. He might wonder where people ever got such ideas. That, I would say, is a great question. I might point out to him that even his life would seem like science fiction to those a generation or two earlier. Messages sent through the air, like smoke signals that people couldn't see. The ability to capture the reflection on a lake or mirror, and make it permanent in a photograph. Carriages that could be moved around without a horse pulling them.

Last night, my dreams were filled with three dimensional printers. Printing has come a long way from the strike of a key on a ribbon full of ink to make the typed word. It has come along way from the strange smelling mimeographs that my kids have no memory of. It has come a long way from the typesetters craft.

Now, a nozzle sprays rapidly drying ink on a piece of paper, or puts some black dust on the paper that gets stuck to it by a charge from a laser. We take laser printers for granted in our offices and sometimes in our homes. What if, instead of printing on paper, we could print one piece of plastic on top of another to make a three dimensional object? What if we could this with clays, metals, or even wood product? How about with food or living cells? It isn't really all that far away.

And so, if we can pull ourselves away from the gladiators, the bread and circuses, and the entertainments of today, what can we imagine?

Yes, we all live in science fiction novels. Are we up to the task of hero or heroine in these novels? How are we adapting our lives to the constant sources of information and entertainment, to being able to easily get in touch with many people from around the world in an instant? How is all of this changing us? Perhaps most importantly, how is this helping us bring about the next science fiction novels?