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The Blocked Drainage Pipe

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit. Another restless rainy night passes. It is foggy this morning, and I’m thinking about putting together a medley on Spotify of songs about wind and rain. Yet it was a busy day and I headed off to the long list of tasks in front of me. In the afternoon, the rain broke and it turned warm and sunny, feeling almost like summer.

Like many months, I’m starting off this one with the childhood invocation for good luck. April started off pretty sparse, but I’ve been managing to post more frequently recently. May is looking like a very busy month, with political conventions and various activities related to health advocacy. We’ll see if I can keep up my blogging. I’ll certainly have plenty to blog about.

When I got home this evening, I found the runoff from the rain washing out parts of the yard. I poked around and found the entrance to a drainage pipe that had been clogged by leaves. After clearing this, the water started draining much more nicely and the backed up water began to subside.

There’s probably a metaphor there, but I’m too tired to look for it.

Daddy's Girl

The clock radio awakened me from a disturbed sleep, and I stumbled towards the kitchen to make my daily oatmeal. I glanced in on my youngest daughter. She was fast asleep, sprawled out on her bed next to piles of stuffed animals beneath the posters of Dr. Who and puppy dogs.

They had predicted heavy rain, and the storm may have added to my restlessness, but it had never gotten severe, and we had gotten was very far from the devastating storms in the south.

With my bowl of warm oatmeal, I sat down to see what was going on in my friends’ lives. The first post hit me square between the eyes. “Daddy is gone.”

A story I had been following closely for two months had another big development. I had met Aliza several years earlier in Second Life and we stayed in touch on various social media sites. At one point, over the past few weeks, she asked for prayers for her father, and when people asked for his name, she said it was Myron.

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone else with the name Myron, but it jumped out at me, because it is my middle name. Now, Aliza’s dad, Myron, is gone. I read back through her journey of the past few months. I looked at the Throwback Thursday pictures of her and her father that she had posted, the view from her father’s hospital room. Aliza’s most recent post says, “I love you so much, Daddy. You always were and always will be my hero.” Bette Midler singing, “Wind Beneath My Wings” plays in my mind.

My family was never all that close. After my mother died, it has been my sister who has worked hardest to keep us all connected. A few months ago, my father turned 84 and right below Aliza’s post was my sister’s post about the independent senior living community she had found for my father. Perhaps 84 is the new 64.

This evening, as I write this blog post, my youngest daughter is taking a shower and I hear her singing along to one of her favorite songs. I glance at an end table with pictures of my two older daughters. One is now in Japan and the other is in Boston.

It’s still raining outside. Soon, I’ll go to bed, and tomorrow, the clock radio will awaken me to another bowl of oatmeal.

The Social Constructed Digital Native

One of the sessions at Podcamp Western Mass a few weeks ago was about social media and education. It was an open discussion hitting a lot of different points, and I found myself approaching it from a contrarian viewpoint that ultimately led me to start considering the idea of the socially constructed digital native.

One of the first people to speak was a college student, who was studying social media, and was frustrated that the courses focused on technical basics of using one social media platform or another, without getting into more important topics like search engine optimization. There was a discussion about how much social media is changing and how some of the social media tools that were discussed may not last more than a couple more years.

Personally, while I recognize some value of search engine optimization, I tend to view much of it as snake oil. I suggested that what is really needed is focusing on skills like understanding the audience and storytelling, because these skills matter, no matter what media is being used.

Others talked about cyber safety issues for kids or social skills like making eye contact, or giving someone your undivided attention. I trotted out Marc Prensky’s idea of the digital native and the digital immigrant and pushed the concept a little further. How much of the ideas that people were talking about were ideas from digital immigrants and how digital natives should live in a digital world?

Are kids without access to social media today viewed the way kids without television were viewed and treated forty years ago? Do we, or should we, value continuous partial attention? How much are these expectations socially constructed? And to the extent that they are socially constructed, how much are digital immigrants trying to maintain old world, analog ways of interacting in a digital world? How much are digital immigrants trying to get their digital native kids to behave as if they still live in the old analog world?

This is not to say that there isn’t value in certain old ways of interacting. The value of understanding your audience remains, whether it is a digital native audience, a digital immigrant audience, or some mixture.

Yet, perhaps, as we talk with people about how to behave digitally, we should take the opportunity to question which actions are really beneficial, as opposed to which actions are done, because that is the way things were always done in the old analog world. Perhaps, instead of prescribing behavior, we should be teaching students how to understand social constructs, and generate new, more pertinent social constructs that can evolve with our evolving technology.

Teaching Elementary School Children 3D Printing

A few months ago, CHC purchased a 3D printer. Since then, I’ve been learning how to create objects using various programs. Initially, I used Blender, which is a very powerful, yet complicated 3D rendering program. I figured it was probably too difficult to teach to elementary school kids. Later, I tried SketchUp which is much easier, and there is also a free version of this. I was thinking of teaching this to the kids, when someone suggested I try TinkerCAD.

TinkerCAD is a free web based 3D design program. It is very easy. However, you need to set up an account to use it and the terms of service said you needed to be thirteen to set up an account. I didn’t want to go through issues of trying to get the parents to set up accounts, nor did I want to set up a half dozen student accounts to manage.

Fortunately, it turns out, you can have many people logged into the same account at the same time, so I set up six computers running TinkerCAD and logged all of them into my account. I prepared a lesson plan based on the TinkerCAD quests going through how to move, copy and replicate objects, how to change your views, how to change the size and location of objects and how to use the opposite of an object, a hole, to create interesting designs.

The students came in, sat down at the computers, and started working. Many of them had played Minecraft in the past, and were used to moving around cubes to create 3D designs, although they may not have thought of it that way. They all quickly started creating objects and reshaping things. There went my lesson plan.

So, I watched the students as they played at 3D design and I pointed out things they didn’t pick up automatically. A few had problems finding objects other than the basic geometric objects and I got them to scroll up and down the objects on the left. Many had probably moving objects up and down along the Z axis, and I showed them about using the little black arrows above and below the objects.

We also, fortunately, had more students than computers, and some students arrived a little bit late. This meant that the students needed to share computers, but more importantly, it gave them an opportunity to teach one another what they were learning.

I spent a little time talking about how long it takes to print objects. The basic cube takes about twenty minutes. Two cubes together, only takes a few minutes longer. The complexity of the object seems to contribute more to the time it takes to print an object than the size of it.

I show them how I could take their designs, save them as STL files, open those files in the Makerbot program, and then print the object. Seeing their objects printed, while understanding how long it took to create objects really inspired them, and by the end of the hour, every student had an object they wanted printed. They helped change the filament of the printer to the color they wanted and excited watched their objects appear.

I only had enough time to print the first two smallest object and I figure I’ve got a full day of printing objects from these students ahead of me. They will swing by later to print up their objects and perhaps share some of their own designs.

I pointed out to their parents how they could set up accounts, and share objects they created publicly. I expect I’ll be getting some emails about other objects they create.

The key take away in teaching kids 3D printing with TinkerCAD: Set up the environment, let them start playing with the program, give them hints on places where they might get stuck, encourage them by printing a few objects, and get out of the way. The students picked up TinkerCAD much more easily and quickly than even I had expected.

This is Blood

At work, I mentor young adults interested in health care and social media and I often talk about understanding your audience. Often, the people I work with have fairly narrow views of life and the people around them. So, I find different videos to help them gain a little perspective. One of my favorites is This is Water from a commencement speech by David Foster Wallace. He starts off with

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"

He goes on to talk about the banal tedium of daily life and suggests the following:

I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket's checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do.

It is up to us, what we do with life around us.

I had shown this video to some coworkers one Thursday, before heading out to a dinner at church.

It was a Thursday evening and I stopped in the basement of Grace and St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Hamden, CT. The basement is like many church basements. The ceiling is covered with square foot sized tiles with lots of little holes in them; the kind I remember from my childhood, and probably even older. I can’t say that I remember the walls, but it seems like they are cinderblocks painted with some bland industrial color, perhaps from the 50s.

This is the room where Alcoholics Anonymous have meetings many evenings. There are hand written instructions near the giant coffee percolators and trash cans. On Friday nights, there is Dinner for a Dollar. It is an inexpensive home cooked meal where people contribute what they can, typically a dollar; sometimes more, sometimes nothing at all. People of all walks of life gather, chat and have a nourishing meal.

But Thursday night was Maundy Thursday. I had just gotten through rehearsing with a small pickup choir that would be doing Tallis’ Lamentation of Jeremiah on Good Friday. My youngest daughter was with me, talking blithely with those around her.

I sat quietly, considering the walks, the ceiling, the lives of people who have passed through this space. I thought of people who perhaps first started worship at Grace and St. Peter’s after attending an AA meeting in the basement, or having a nice home cooked meal when they were down on their luck and between jobs.

As we shared the supper and listened to the story of Maundy Thursday, it struck me. David Foster Wallace had told students about finding meaning in the tedium of daily modern existence. “This is water”.

The words of consecration, “this is my blood”. I thought of people struggling with addiction, struggling to make ends meet after losing a job. I thought of people that we pray for, week after week, fighting some illness. I thought of those close to me struggling with one calamity or another. I thought of monks I had met at monasteries, who had taken vows of silence, eating their simple meals. I thought of my own failings.

David Foster Wallace’s words mixed with Jesus’: “This is blood.” This is going beyond just “considering that everyone else in the supermarket's checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am”. It is recognizing that when you get right down to it, we are all the same, we are all connected, and that the Blood of Christ helps us transcend the tedium and empowers us to not only consider those around us, but to connect with and help them.

Around the state, I figured that friends of mine would be at similar dinners. They would have different ways of remembering, of celebrating, of talking about being ‘washed in the blood’, and that too, reflected our connection.

David Foster Wallace ends off his commencement speech with

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

"This is water."

To which, I add, and “This is blood”