Friday, March 17, 2006

Bruce Sterling @ SXSW

In his keynote speech at South by Southwest conference, Bruce Sterling talks about the future we're building and what we ought to do about it - what we inevitably will do about it. The entire talk is worth the listen, but the final fifteen minutes packs the bigger punches. Here are a number of the highlights for me:
  • It's not enough to verbally theorize about these issues. If we're going to get anywhere, we're going to have to become the change we want to see ... BECOME the change we want to see. And if I've learned something from hanging out with the European dissident crowd, it is make no decision out of fear. Make no decision out of fear. (applause)
  • The cure for the stampede is an historical perspective.
  • The great "American" novel is over - the next great novel will be regional; the region of earth.
  • When you can comprehend poetry, it means your heart is not broken.
  • And from Carl Sandburg's "The People, Yes":
    • "...it takes time, I wish I had time..."
    • "The old anvil laughs at many hammers."

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Highlights from Harper's Index

Points of interest gathered from the February 2006 Harper's Index:
  • Margin by which total votes for Democrats in the last three Senate elections exceeded those for Republicans: 2,900,000
  • Number of seats won by Democrats and Republicans, respectively: 46, 56
  • Number of people whom Coalition forces have imprisoned in Iraq at some point since March 2003: 48,526
  • Percentage of these who have been convicted of a crime: 1.5
  • Number of workplace arrests made by U.S. immigration authorities in 1997: 17,554
  • Number in 2003: 445
  • Percentage change since 1999 in federal prosecutions of white-collar crime: ‒25
  • Estimated amount the U.S. would save each year on paperwork if it adopted single-payer health care: $161,000,000,000
  • Percentage change since 2000 in the average amount U.S. workers spend on out-of-pocket medical expenses: +93
  • Number of centenarians that the U.S. census counted in 2000: 50,740
  • Projected number it will count in 2050: 1,149,500

Success: Boiling It Down to One Thing

Michael Hyatt, President and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, blogs intermittently at "Working Smart." Though his postings can be infrequent, Hyatt rarely fails to refresh and further inform my resolve and capacity for accomplishment. I appreciate his succinct and savvy insight. This post of February 27 responds to the question Hyatt reports most frequently asked of him, "What's the secret to success?"

Hyatt acknowledges the reduction of "life" in any answer to that question and cautions readers to factor for oversimplification, but he goes on to say, "If I really, really had to boil it down to one thing, I would say this: responsiveness." Hyatt goes on to say how often people fail to answer their phone calls, respond to email, or complete their assignments on time, promising to do something on time and never following through. He situates his answer against the demands of an "instant world" and the certain report of work performance accumulating among peers and co-workers. We write our reputations with every interaction. "You can't afford to be unresponsive," says Hyatt. "It is a career-killer. The basic rule is this: respond immediately unless there is a good reason to wait." Even then, the limit for delay is twenty-four hours. "The great thing about being responsive," Hyatt concludes, "is that it will quickly differentiate you from your peers. People love doing business with responsive people. Nothing will advance your career faster than this."

Ann Marsh, writing for Fast Company, discusses new applications of
Csikszentmihalyi's 1990 book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (Harper Row). Marsh highlights the work being done today among management teams finding ways to invest Csikszentmihalyi's ideas in such a ways as to return higher yields in productivity. For my read, finding "flow" works in harmony with the "responsiveness" about which Hyatt talks. Perhaps an increased capacity for responsiveness is another product of emerging from this state of heightened human experience. Marsh notes a number of characteristics identified by Csikszentmihalyi as indicative of "flow":

  • engaging so completely as to lose track of time
  • hours pass in
    minutes
  • all sense of self recedes
  • a tendency to push beyond one's limits and develop new abilities
  • the body or mind is stretched to
    capacity
  • emerging from each flow experience more complex
  • becoming more self-confident, capable, and
    sensitive
  • finding the experience to be "autotelic," the
    activity is its own reward

I appreciate Hyatt's observation and council, and I've ordered Csikszentmihalyi's book. There is something familiar to me in the notes of highlight Marsh provides, and I want to know more. The list of those recommending the book is long and impressive. I'll take that for my lead and get back in the future with my own review.

$9 Trillion National Debt Limit Approved

I'm piggy-backing a post from Ken at "The View From the Left" in passing along this news. Ken currently works as a legislative assistant to a Washington State Senator, and I often find his report of current events insightful and timely - bits I might otherwise miss. This news falls into that category... the cap for our nation's debt set at $30,000 for every man, woman, and child! As Ken writes, "I don't have $30,000 to give my government." - this after I've paid my taxes again this year. Fiscal management is a priority for me. I have never been comfortable putting tomorrow at risk for the sake of a better today. The bill to approve a debt-limit raise passed by a vote of 52-48. I applaud the 48 Americans who voted for living within our means.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

IVR: Interactive Voice Recognition

"gethuman" ... Get Human provides information to facilitate direct contact with a "real" customer service representative. The "why do we do this" page opened my eyes to some of the more pressing needs for human interaction on the other end of a service call, not the least of which included stories highlighting the challenge facing ageing parents and the frustrations they can experience trying to make themselves understood by a machine. Differently-abled individuals expressing from various points of view will find their own particular difficulties; mine have most often to do with time and the confusion of "getting lost" in the system.

The "Get Human" database provides company-specific information for reaching a real human being when you have a problem or need for customer service with a particular company. There are several hundred companies listed. For my money, "gethuman" is a great site to highlight with a place on your Firefox bookmark toolbar. And don't miss the video when you're checking around the site.


Minnesota Snow and Sunshine












... on the top step - westside entrance.




















... trying to stand on top of the snow.


















... falling through


















...one last picture.















... seeing blue.

Feeling Home

I have been home for four days now, and I have rested, played a game or two of Scrabble with James, and made my way to "town" for a cup of coffee, a look around, and a sampling of the good feeling that comes with familiarity and sameness. Things are "where I left them" for the most part ... for the most part, but not entirely. I stopped at a "new" local coffee shop and had to show picture I.D. when I used a credit card for payment. I asked "Why?" and the clerk explained that it was for my own protection. I asked against whom she believed herself to be protecting me, and she said "all those folks who want to steal your identity." She went on to say that she didn't like the idea much herself, but she was willing to put up with the intrusion if it meant a safer place to live. Her co-worker offered that the practice was recently mandated by city ordinance; no "bogus" charges could be prosecuted if a picture I.D. had not been requested of the user. In support she added, "at least we know if you're American," and I wondered how the combination of my Visa card and Purdue student I.D. gave her that information. I left the coffee and headed over to my usual hangout ... better service, better java, but the day wasn't over. I stopped by the Social Security office to replace a lost card. No problem, I thought ... in and out, one of four free cards in a lifetime, and there might be a friendly face I haven't seen in a while. I was greeted, instead, by an armed guard. At the Social Security office? I didn't understand, and my questions of "why?" were met with silence. Silence, really. I didn't understand, and it didn't feel good.

A line from the quirky 2001 movie, Ghost World, wanted to come to mind ... "It's America, Dude. Learn the rules," but the rules had changed, even here, at home, where things had always before remained "in place." Whatever this America was, it didn't seem to be the one I almost remembered ... not quite, not today, but...

This was only one day, right? There would be others. Right?

UPDATE: Call it serendipity, but just after posting this writing I stopped by onegoodmove and caught a video snippet from Norm that followed this writing perfectly for me. Norm suggests it might be on the "melodramatic" side, but Alan Stone, the Boston Legal attorney (Spader), captures a bit of sentiment I needed to hear today. Click here to listen/watch.

#2 UPDATE: And now this from CBS News ... "
For the first time since 1817, U.S. Coast Guard vessels on the Great Lakes are being outfitted with weapons - machine-guns capable of firing 600 bullets a minute." We need machines guns on the the Great Lakes? Make the madness stop!

Old and New: Homer's "The Illiad"

I spent some time today reading The Illiad from another point of view. At "Under Odyesseus," the blogger/author takes the part of Eurylochus and blogs the daily experience of life alongside his commander, Odysseus. It's not the "classic" version, but if you enjoyed Homer, you'll find a turn or two of interest in this creative (re)visioning of the story. It is equally fascinating to me that the medium (blogging) allows for interactivity with the Greek officer, so don't miss the comments if you stop by. They can be as interesting as the daily entry. Enjoy.


Saturday, March 11, 2006

A Touch of Home


A collection of deadlines has kept me busy for a week or so, and I now find myself working through email that's been waiting my attention - the last of final preparations before taking my spring break at home in northern Minnesota.

I'm sharing one gem from among the emails I received: this from a friend celebrating the Bemidji curling team and the bronze metal they brought home from the 2006 Olympics in Torino. Click here to take a look at a few of the views that are home to me in "buh-MID-jee." Enjoy.


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Sunday, March 05, 2006

Just Imagine...

So, it isn't easy to catch my attention away from the papers due and the stack of books that want to be read, but Junebugg stopped by yesterday to remind me that I hadn't really had much of "myself" in my writing lately. She's right. The stories I don't want to forget or those that seem to connect with my thinking in one way or another have dominated the time I have available for writing. I wondered in response to Junebugg what I might offer with a bit more of my personal voice invested.

Now it happens that capturing my attention for a meme is a difficult thing to do, but, quite coincidentally, it is Junebugg who has caught my attention on that count, too. I have passed a fun-filled hour playing along. I encourage you to do the same. Here's the game as I found it from her this morning:

If you read this, if your eyes are passing over this right now, (even if we don't speak often or don't really know each other) please post a comment and tell the story of a COMPLETELY MADE UP AND FICTIONAL memory connecting you and me . It can be anything you want - good or bad ("good" is better for me, however) - BUT IT HAS TO BE FICTION. When you're finished, post this little paragraph on your blog and be surprised (or mortified) about what people DON'T ACTUALLY remember about you!


There it is, and I've had such a great today "remembering" a time in New Orleans with Junebugg and a day in San Diego with Wil - though Wil and I have never met before today, not even on the blogosphere.

I invite you to join in, to pass along the meme, to "remember" a story or two here or there just for the fun of it. You can look for my comments at Junebugg's or Wil's if you wander in their directions. The rule is to play and to enjoy a moment of imagination.


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Saturday, March 04, 2006

New Money

800 million colorful new $10 bills shipped out on Thursday and should start showing up around the country soon. Shades of orange, yellow, and red enliven the update. Alexander Hamilton, the nation's first Treasury secretary, is still featured, and the Treasury building remains central on the flip side of the bill, but now "the State of Liberty's torch" and the words "We the People" are added as well. The $20 bill came out in color in 2003; the $50 bill was colorized in 2004. Plans are in the works to launch a colorized $100 bill in 2007. There are no plans to colorize the $1 or $5 bills.

Washington Post, March 3, 2006 "Just In Time For Spring"

Friday, March 03, 2006

Keeping Access Open

NYTimes, March 2, 2006
"Senate Bill to Address Fears of Blocked Access to Net"

Senator Ron Wyden introduced new legislation on Friday that would prohibit Internet network operators from charging companies for faster delivery of content to some consumers or favoring one content provider over another.

The bill addresses growing concern over the possibility that Bell phone carries or cable operators could create tiers of service for delivering content - think about this along the same lines that the U.S. Postal service charges differently for various levels of delivering mail.

The "Internet Non-Discrimination Act of 2006" seeks to keep the playing field level for all participants, to keep the community open, accessible, and free from discrimination. Applause for Senator Wyden.

Americans Approve

Attending the Teaching and Learning with Technology Conference at Purdue University was a great experience for me, both as participant at various sessions and as a presenter at my own. I enjoyed the theoretical as well as practical applications of how-to learning available there, and I was completely taken in by the magic of hardware now on the market to support a more effectively delivery of my work as a teacher. I kept hearing myself whisper aloud, "I want one of those."

Of course, money makes the difference.

One part of the work I do at Purdue is to supervise student teachers of English during their semester of practicum. During a visit last week I had the pleasure of sitting in on an eigth grade English class in a school where special grant money had been won to fund laptop learning for all its students; every student worked with their own laptop computer in all classes. The project is now in its fifth and final year of funded support. Though I am only one point of observation, I will say of myself that I have been in a lot of classroom and known many students, and by my measure, these students were doing more and better writing than could have been inspired in most other learning situations. Before a single hour had passed, not one among them that had failed to write at least two paragraphs of invested text. It is worth mentioning that this class is a high-needs group of kids, and the work did would have competed with the outcome from other, far less challenged students. I am sure of it. Of course, credit goes as well to the teachers on board.

I say all this against the backdrop of the recent Gallup poll addressing the cost of the war, recent budget requests, and approval ratings from the American people. I can only wonder in amazement about what could be informing the "approval." Here are a few of the highpoints:

What's Being Spent to Defend America, and Is It Worth the Price?
  • $24,000,000,000 (billion) increase requested for defense spending in 2007
  • a total requested budget of $423,000,000,000 (billion) in defense spending that does not include "emergency funding" for financing wars
  • an additional $115,000,000,000 emergency funding for financing wars
I'll do the math for you: it's a LOT! ... $562,000,000,000 (billion) for the 2007 budget alone.

The total Homeland Security budget by contrast (and, oh, by the way, in addition) is $31,000,000,000 (billion).

And what do Americans say about defense spending? 65% of Americans polled say we're spending just the right amount or too little. Count me with the remaining 35% of the people who were either too flabergasted to comment or voiced the decided belief that we are spending too much.

In the meantime, the national treasure we once held in dreams, inspiration, and justification for being a better person tomorrow continues to languish in neglect under the weight of diminished funding and diverted attentions. When challenged at a press conference recently by a question about the $12,700,000,000 (billion) cut enacted against the higher education budget, our President seemed barely able to understand the question let alone the urgency of such critical need (see video here). With Jon Stewart, a continue to be amazed at the patience of the American people. (video of the Larry King interview at onegoodmove)

Wisdom is fluid; it must be justified and guided in action taken today not only by the reality of our pasts but by the hope for and accountability to the future toward which we believe ourselves moving. Now might be a good time to check our bearings.

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