From Punch Cards to Cat Videos

“Do Not Fold, Bend, Mutilate or Spindle” The old phrase about computer punch cards in the sixties came to my mind Thursday as I attended OMMA Video as part of Internet Week in New York City. As experts talked about buying online video advertisements, based on increasingly sophisticated demographic information and programmatic buying, I had to wonder if the concern about being reduced to a number had far surpassed the greatest fears of those fifty years ago who protested the depersonalization that computers with their punch cards had brought.

Now, I understand the argument that improved targeting doesn’t depersonalize advertising, instead it makes it more specific, more personalized, but my mind drifts to the work of Martin Buber’s “I and Thou”. Increasingly, our interactions have become transactional. They are losing the personal touch, the “I and thou”, the chance for transformation.

Perhaps that is because everything is becoming more and more about the numbers. We focus on ROIs, KPIs and how all of this ultimately relates to our “net worth”. At one point, I tweeted, “The talk about data, measurement and automation makes me think of Wittgenstein: Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”

In contrast to all of this, the keynote speakers touched on something else, creativity. The first speaker, Mike Monello, CCO of Campfire, referenced Spreadable Media, Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture, by Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green. It sounds like I book I need to get.

Monello spoke about the reason people share content, to elevate their status, to define their community, and to strengthen bonds. It seems like this returns us closer to Buber. He spoke about putting the audience in the middle of the story, breaking down the fourth wall between the advertiser and the consumer and noted that people look for experiences, not content.

All of this comes to mind as I think about my campaign for State Representative. People are tired of politics, of the strategists that carefully run the numbers and craft messages to appeal to the largest demographic. I’ve been getting into discussions about this on Facebook recently.

For example, Whitney Hoffman, whom I met through Podcamp years ago, is running for State Representative. Recently, she wrote,

there seems to be a big gap between what politicians think folks need to know and what's effective, and how voters feel about it. For example, direct mail is a staple of politics, and data typically shows direct mail has a 1% conversion rate in retail, but very few people I talk to pay much attention to the glossy information that comes in the mail, and often toss it right away.

I had a great discussion with Whitney about this. It does seem like things like yard signs, bumper stickers, campaign websites, and direct mail, have little impact, other than showing that you’re a credible candidate. It is the same old politics by the numbers. But what we really need is politics that people will want to share, to define our communities and strengthen our bonds.

When people talk about content that gets shared online, they typically talk about cat videos. Cat videos make us feel good. Jane McGonigal talks about looking at pictures of cute animals in terms of building emotional resilience. It seems like there is an ever increasing need for emotional resilience, especially if you are at all politically active. So, the question that I asked of Whitney, and that I ask here is, how do we build emotional resilience into political discourse? Instead of sending out glossy direct mail, how can candidates reach out with messages that makes us emotionally stronger and builds our communities? What are the cat videos of your campaign?

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.

#TEDxVille - Prologue

Still reeling from the death of Bridget and the news that another friend is in the hospital, I got behind the wheel of my rusting 1997 Black Nissan Altima and started my drive up to Somerville to hear my middle daughter, Miranda, speak at TEDxSomerville.

The drive is only a couple hours, much shorter than the trips I used to take when Miranda was in College in Virginia, but to add to my blues was the rain. It seems like every time I drive up to a big event Miranda is involved in, it is raining, sort of like the negative space in a painting.

I’m going through one of those really busy phases at work, and my free time is also at a premium right now. I missed two other important events to go up and hear Miranda. I thought about Bridget. I thought about my friend in the hospital. What is life all about, anyway? I go through the motions every day. I do my tasks at work, hoping to make life better for those around me. On good days, I get a chance to write.

“What I need”, I thought to myself, “is a transcendent moment, a transformational moment, a spark of inspiration.” I go to so many conferences. I gather information. I write about the parts that grab me. This too, has become yet another task, yet another chore, something I do by rote.

I arrived in Somerville, parked in a lot and headed over to the TEDxSomerville venue, Brooklyn Boulders.

Brooklyn Boulders is a climbing community in an old factory. The walls are covered with foothold, handholds and art. It is a great space, but not the sort of space you’d expect to find a TEDx conference. People were climbing as volunteers set out folding chairs and giant beanbag chairs.

I headed towards the Assembly Row blogger lounge. I sat around and talked with other writers, had some amazing champagne raspberry Jello shots, recharged my batteries and got ready for the event.

#pcwm G33k Speak Recap

Like PodCamp WesternMass #4, perhaps the session that I got the most out of was one of the least attended sessions. This year, it was "G33k Speak". Perhaps there were only three of us that self identified as "G33k"s. Perhaps there were too many other good sessions going on at the same time.

So, three of us sat around and talked about technology we were really excited about. I spoke a little bit about Google Glass and Raspberry Pi. Tom Galanis talked about software. He currently teaches high school technology and wanted to get people's views on different languages. Which do you like more, Java, Javascript, C++, C#, Python, Ruby, Perl, or something else? How do you get people excited about programming.

I talked about how I've always told my children they were free to play any computer game that they could write. They started off with Logo and Scratch. In many ways, I think of Scratch as drag and drop logo. Of course I mentioned Scratch on Raspbery Pi.

Tom mentioned a site that is on my list to explore, Snap! Build Your Own Blocks 4.0. Essentially, it hosted scratch. I've played with this a little bit and may be recommending it to more people as a good way to get started with Scratch.

Another site that Tom mentioned as Construct 2.

Construct 2 is a powerful ground breaking HTML5 game creator designed specifically for 2D games. It allows anyone to build games — no coding required!

I started programming computers over forty years ago, and I like coding. I try to get others to like programming. I like working at the command line and writing my programs with a text editor. I'm not a big fan of integrated development environments or IDEs. At a later point in the discussion, we talked about the lack of good IDEs for HTML5, but as best as I can tell from first glance, that is exactly what Construct 2 is.

One review talked about Construct 2 nicely connecting with kongregate. I prefer to write games than to play games, but kongregate appears to be a good place for sharing games. I'll continue to keep an eye on how HTML5 and development environments for it evolve.

We talked briefly about databases. Generally, I use MySQL. Tom, or the other person in the session (I forget who it was), mentioned MariaDB. I've started reading about MariaDB and I will try to find some time to experiment with it. Some day. When I'm not as swamped with everything else in my life. As an aside, I started looking at installing MariaDB on Raspberry Pi, but I'll save that for another day.

There was also a brief discussion about Mir as a replacement for XWindows. Again, interesting to think about in terms of Raspberry Pi, but I'll save that for another day.

#pcwm Notes on Bitcoin

At PodCamp WesternMass, one of the sessions I attended was led by Joe Cascio about Bitcoin. "Bitcoin is a digital currency, a protocol, and a software…"

I've kicked around Bitcoin in the past, but never really jumped in. This time, I figured it was a good time to explore it in more detail. At least as I understand it from Joe, Bitcoins are an alternative digital currency. It is shared over an encrypted peer to peer network, and the coins are stored in a wallet, as opposed to an account somewhere.

There are pros and cons to this. If you lose your wallet, you lose whatever was in it. On the other hand, if it were an account somewhere online, and the server that had the account goes away, you'd lose your money that way. Joe talked about the Cyprus banks as an example of the second type of risk. You can store your Bitcoin wallet somewhere so that it acts more like an account if that's what you're interested in.

I installed Bitcoin on my Android phone. If anyone wants to put some money in that wallet, an address is bitcoin:1PNepVfV6wmnpUDAz3oLMQmCuJ7cP44fiQ. I also installed Bitcoin on my Mac. An address for that wallet is bitcoin:1ACM16Gntx4ekgwB2LvL3NokT2wKvaT5fB.

Joe did go into a little bit of detail about Bitcoin mining, or how new Bitcoins get added into the economy. However, that didn't have a lot of practical value, at least to me. I doubt I'll ever have the computation power to mine Bitcoins.

So, the other way of getting Bitcoins is to buy or earn them. Joe recommended a site, Coinbase. I set up an account there. They are particularly focused on buying and selling Bitcoins, particularly based on bank transfers. Joe noted that in setting things up, they can transfer and and from whatever account you've linked, so he recommends being cautious, such as linking it to a small account that you don't use for much of anything else. I set up an account there, but I haven't linked a bank account to it. So, essentially, right now it is a hosted wallet with a bitcoin address bitcoin:1MKhWL7xPiMZgLTC6zaQzC6MhPq72WK6gu

I was particularly interested in connecting bitcoins to other virtual currencies. Virwox, or Virtual World Exchange, allows you to trade between Second Life, Open Metaverse currency, and Avination, which appears to be another Second Life like virtual world. You can also deposit money from various bank accounts in different currencies.

The downside is that primary currency seems to be the Linden Dollar, and you have to pay exchange rates to get in and out of Linden dollars. So, if you want Bitcoins from US Dollars, you deposit US dollars, use them to buy Linden Dollars, and then use the Linden Dollars to buy Bitcoins; two sets of commission charges.

When you set it up for Bitcoins, it also becomes a hosted wallet. My Virwox hosted wallet has this address, bitcoin:13wtvg7P97voZTcjFn8sKs62E5P3NhZQKQ. They charge a transaction fee of .01BTC to transfer bitcoins out of Virwox to other accounts. My sense is that they are probably good if you are making money in Second Life and want to transfer it to Bitcoins, but even with that, their transaction fees seem a bit much.

Currently, 1 Bitcoin is worth about $92. However, you can do things at small fractions of a Bitcoin. Often transactions are in milliBitcoins or microBitcoins. A milliBitcoin is currently worth about nine cents, and a microBitcoin is currently worth nine thousandths of a cent.

With this microcurrency aspects there are lots of other things that can be done. People are offering milli or microBitcoins for people to visit sites online, and perhaps take some action on the site. is a site that links to other sites where people can earn small amounts of Bitcoins this way.

For example, there is an affiliate site that if people click on, I'll get a microBitcoin for each link, up to 100 per day. That works out to unto nine tenths of a cent a day. Probably not enough to bother with, but, every little bit can help.

I'm kicking around other ideas that I hope to do with Bitcoins, but right now, I'm waiting for my wallets to synchronize so I can start experimenting moving cash around.

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