Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What if They Crowdfunded a War and Nobody Gave?

Way back when I was a child, there was a popular poster that said, "It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber." (Posters were a crude pre-Facebook era meme communications device.)

Well, it seems that the great day is finally here!

Well, at least, if you live in Ukraine. And if you update "bake sale" to "crowdfunding campaign." (And ignore that bit about funding schools.)

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry has turned to social media and crowdfunding to get their troops combat ready. Ukrainian activists claim the campaign has raised nearly $2 million so far. (Right now, only 6,000 Ukrainian troops are considered combat ready, according to the BBC.)

And would it be a crowdfunding campaign without a video up on YouTube? That would be a big, "Nyet!" And here it is:

By the way, did you take a close look at the thumbnail icon before you played that video? Just in case you missed it, here's it is again:

Yeah, that's right. In Ukraine, people still use Blackberries.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Post Title Goes Here

I am not perfect. Obviously. Often these dispatches are typed quickly, read over once, and the publish button is clicked without too much afterthought. I don't have anybody else proofread these things either. So, yes, I often find embarrassing typos here after I've posted, and others often find such typos and take great pride in pointing them out to me.

Not to justify my sloppiness (or laziness), but I also often find obvious mistakes in the various blogs, magazines, and books of others. These things happen. Oh well. But sometimes you come across an error that just makes you scratch your head and wonder WTF?...

... Last month we visited the Mission at San Juan Bautista (Vertigo location, for all you Hitchcock fans). There are many historical displays throughout the museum/mission. In this one room, there's a bit about the native plants and crops that the original Californians used for foods and medicines.

The posters above the display say "Indigenous Food Plants." Arranged around that are examples with pictures and plant names and the words "basic information about this plant, uses, habitat." Yes, each one has "basic information." Not actual information, just the words "basic information." Oops, did somebody forget to put in the basic information that was supposed to go here? I'm pretty sure "spanish common name" is a placeholder as well...

But that's not the biggest error. Under the heading of "Indigenous Food Plants" are a couple of paragraphs of text. Not in English. No, not Spanish. Is that Latin? Let's see... "Lorem ipsum..."

For those unfamiliar with the words "Lorem Ipsum," it is standard placeholder text used by graphic designers when they are creating the art for a printed piece and the actual, final copy has not been written (or delivered) yet.

On this poster, the block of Lorem Ipsum is repeated; first in standard typeface, then in italics (probably where the Spanish translation is supposed to go).

And it's not just one such poster: there are two of these. And, judging by how faded the paper is, they've been hanging there for several years.

I shared these images with my designer friend, Bill, last month. Yesterday he sent me the link to a blog post called What happens when placeholder text doesn't get replaced. If you are amused my mission example above, you'll love the examples on that link.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Mac and Me

If you've been anywhere near any tech media the last week or so, you are quite aware that it is the 30th anniversary of the introduction of the Macintosh computer. You may or may not know that I'm a "Mac guy." Pretty much all my websites, blogs, videos, songs, etc., that I've posted over the last couple of decades have been created on Macs.

My earliest computer experiences were actually on a Commodore 64 that belonged to my friend (and for a time, roommate) Dave. It was fun, easy to use, and we even managed to do some very basic programming without having to learn much (I remember creating a rudimentary Madlibs-type game). But it wasn't a machine that anybody would use for any serious work.

My first desktop computer experience in a work setting was probably about 1987, when I was working at an ad agency in Hollywood. We had a couple of Compaq Deskpros in the office (looking pretty much like these photos), and if memory serves, the software I mostly used was WordStar (writing) and Lotus123 (spreadsheet).

There was no graphical user interface, only text line commands, and a tiny, fuzzy screen that sucked the ability to see the color green right out of your eyes. But it was still considered pretty cool, and you could easily update documents and print them out so you could put them on the fax machine and magically share them with people outside the office.

Then I changed jobs and went to a music video production company down the street, and we had one of those funny looking all-in-one box thingies I'd heard people talking about, called "Macintosh" (it was about 1988, and it may have been the Mac SE, but I can't be sure).

The monitor was still pretty small, and black and white - but so much easier on the eyes than that horrid green glow of the Deskpro. And when you typed a document, it looked pretty much the same as it would when you printed it. It was still pretty basic, but light years ahead of what I'd just been using.

Then I returned to school (1989), and I needed to bring better technology with me than just a basic typewriter. But a Mac was still too costly for me, so I bought a Smith Corona "Personal Word Processor" (pretty much like this photo).

It had a screen that displayed about 12 lines of text, and a slot for a disk that could store about 25 pages of text. No images or fancy formatting (the print wheel was still just a basic typewriter), but I could write my papers, correct them, print them, and get through UC Santa Cruz for my BA in Politics.

When I went on to grad school at CSU Sacramento in 1991 (Master of Public Policy & Administration), the Smith Corona was just not cutting it anymore. It was time (finally) for my own real computer. The Macintosh LC III filled that bill with an 80 Mb hard drive, which - at the time - seemed like I would never be able to fill.

That machine got me through grad school, and also opened up entire new worlds. It was on the LC III that I first connected to the internet, first through Delphi, then AmericaOnline, then finally a local ISP called Quiknet. It was through Quiknet (1994) that I had my own webspace and started to learn html.

After the LC III I owned one other desktop Mac, a Power Mac (I think the 7300?), then I switched to laptops, first an iBook, then a MacBook, and now a MacBook Pro, for a total of five Macintosh machines over 22 or 23 years.

The upgrades were never because of hardware failures, but mostly to have access to faster/better software that wasn't supported on the older platforms. I've never had a loss of data that wasn't my own darn fault, and the only repairs I've ever needed were handled quickly, easily, and free at my local Apple stores.

I've also owned two PCs in that time.

First I got a Dell laptop as a premium gift with credit card points. Even as a "free" computer, it was over-priced. The Dell never worked well (or at all, really), was frustrating as hell, and did nothing to break my Mac loyalty.

Later, I purchased an HP Mini, to have something smaller and lighter than the MacBook when traveling (and something I wouldn't be too upset over losing). This was actually much better than the Dell, and I got some good use out of it. Until the day certain letters on the keyboard stopped working. Including letters that I needed for my password to log-in. End of HP story.

And, of course, I've used a variety of PCs in various office settings over the years, and never found one that I enjoyed using nearly as much as any of my Macs.

My other Apple devices over the years:
* First generation iPod Shuffle
* iPod Touch (1st or 2nd generation)
* iPhone 3GS
* iPhone 4S

No iPad yet, but if (or when) I decide to get another lightweight machine for travel (to replace the HP Mini), it will probably be an iPad.

I try not to be too much of an ass about my affinity for Apple products, but I've been accused of "being rude to PC fans." To me, Macs just work better. They're more intuitive (to the way my brain works), they don't crash/freeze/die with nearly the same frequency (in my experience). Yes, they cost more initially, but I have found them to be worth the price differential in the long run.

If you disagree, that's swell, enjoy your PC. But, for me, I salute the Mac on its 30th anniversary, and I look forward to the next 30.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Let Them Ride Ferries!

As the legend goes, at a time when France was in the midst of a famine, Queen Marie Antoinette continued to spend lavishly on her extravagant lifestyle. When somebody pointed out that she was doing this while the peasants had no bread, she deadpanned, "No bread? Let them eat cake!" ("Qu'ils mangent de la brioche!")

While Old Marie A likely never really said those words, the phrase has come to represent pompous, pampered, out-of-touch aristocracy, who have no concern for the poor, not so much out of evil, but out of willful ignorance. An aristocracy that is so isolated from the problems of the average person that they imagine what they'd do if they ran out of plain bread; simply switch to brioche.

Let's jump forward a couple hundred years and change the location to the San Francisco Bay Area. Specifically, Highway 101 between San Francisco and Mountain View, where a little kingdom called "Google" has its headquarters.

For years now, Google, along with other tech giants like Apple, etc., have provided their employees (or "Googlers," yes, really) with luxury coach buses that pick them up from various locations and bring them to work without having to deal with traffic, etc.

Quite a nice perk, and one that could be said to be an environmentally sound policy of getting private cars off the road (without making their employees use, iiiiccck!, public transportation). I'm fine with that. Personally, I prefer to be cut off by one or two massive gray buses than have to deal with fifty separate Tesla's darting in and out of traffic.

The problem that many of us have had is not with the buses themselves, but what they have come to represent.

That the Valley of Heart's Delight has been re-christened Silicon Valley brought many advantages and great wealth to this region. But it has not been all-inclusive, and those left-behind have fallen further below the economic divide. We have a greater division of wealth here than in most other regions, and are divided into the privileged tech few, and the invisible poor who serve them.

And it's the invisibility of the poor that the buses represent.

The tech crew moves from their home enclaves to private buses where their commute is protected from sharing a seat with "ordinary" people. The buses deposit them at massive campuses where their meals are provided in wonderfully equipped and staffed cafes. Then they are brought home again in the private buses.

Meanwhile, poverty in Silicon Valley is very real, and very hidden.

It's not all Google's fault! Really. I like Google. I use gmail. I use YouTube. This blog is hosted by Google's Blogspot But over-all, the major tech companies have been unable to successfully address whether or not they have any responsibility as corporate citizens to do anything about the poverty their employees get to ignore.

In the last few weeks, however, the media has finally taken notice of this. Not because the media finally cares about the homeless sleeping along the banks of the Guadalupe River in San Jose. No. Because middle-class, non-tech yuppies in San Francisco got tired of rising rents and decided to protest.

The SF group noticed that the tech buses were picking up their passengers at public bus stops, where if anybody else were to stop, they'd get a ticket. This became the focus of the protests. Long-story-short, the city reached a deal with the companies to pay for their use of public bus stops.

This "solution" is supposed to result in a truce. It doesn't do anything about gentrification in San Francisco, or homelessness all along the Peninsula, or income disparity, or anything else really, but it brings in some civic revenue, so everybody's happy. Right? ... Right?

And now, Google has done one better. Completely missing the original point of the recent SF protests, or the years of resentment building around their Mountain View Googleplex, Google has announced they will provide free ferry service to their employees, saying in a statement to the press, "We certainly don't want to cause any inconvenience to SF residents and we're trying alternative ways to get Googlers to work."

For years advocates for the poor have talked about the buses being a symbol for the isolation and divide between the tech community and the rest of the Valley around them. So now, they are further removing and isolating their "Googlers" by letting them commute on the Bay, where they don't even have to notice an older model Chevrolet breaking down by the side of the road.

In Silicon Valley, Google was told that the peasants have no bread. And Google's answer was to move the brioche onto a ferry.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Why Common Core Will Fail

You've likely heard or read about Common Core by now. The latest in educational "fixes," promoted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the National Governors Association, and the Obama administration, the Common Core initiative was developed "to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare our children for college and the workforce." And it will fail to improve our failing schools, wasting time, resources, and money in the process.

There are lots of critics around who can explain the problems with Common Core and how the standards were developed. But I have a different issue with Common Core: it attacks the wrong problem.

I've been thinking about this for a while, but it was brought to the fore for me last week when I attended Social Innovation Summit 2013 at Stanford University. Among two days of presentations, ranging from a panel on "Unleashing Green Chemistry," to a speech from Robert Swan, OBE, Arctic Explorer, there were several that touched on innovation in education with examples that work.

Beth Schmidt was a new 10th grade English teacher who was frustrated when only 5% of her inner-city students turned in their writing assignment. The problem, she soon realized, was that the research assignment she gave them had no relevance to their lives. When she tied the assignment to their desires and interests - to their passions - 85% turned it in.

The problem wasn't that she or her students didn't have access to uniform, national curriculum standards. The problem was that the "achievement gap" between her school and successful ones in her region was a direct result the hope and opportunity gap that low-income kids face when thinking about their future.

Today, Ms. Schmidt is the founder of Wishbone, a crowdfunding site that helps low-income high school students to pursue their passions through attending extra-curricular camps and other programs, redefining their future, and opening up new opportunities.

At Roosevelt High School, in Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, Grammy winning recording artist's foundation has partnered with College Track to give kids not only the tools to go to college, but to finish college. After-school programs combine the students' passions with practical advice and strategies to pay for school and stick with it.

According to Enrique Legaspi, Chief of Staff of the Foundation, Roosevelt has 2,600 kids, a 50% dropout rate, and only one college counselor. Contrast that to Taft High School in Woodland Hills, where I graduated from many years ago. Taft currently has 2,700 kids and a 12% dropout rate. Both schools are within the LA Unified School District. Both are in California, which already had high standards before the Common Core.

The difference was that, at least when I attended Taft, there was an expectation that we all could and would graduate, and that most of us would go on to college and have reasonably successful careers. The middle-class was the lowest rung we were expected to shoot for. Not so in Boyle Heights.

Ask the kids dropping out from either school if the lack of unified national curriculum standards was at fault. I doubt that's the reason they'll give. Lack of relevancy or hope for opportunity is far more likely. Kids in failing schools need more than a new textbook; they need someone to show them a realistic path to a good life. As said to us (via satellite), "Athletics shouldn't be the only thing that gets kids out of the ghetto."

Microsoft's TEALS program (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools) puts engineer volunteers (not just from Microsoft, but other tech companies as well) into classrooms in districts that could not otherwise afford technology programs. Sometimes this is in person, but frequently they teach virtually, and so can reach places mostly forgotten by the rest of America.

At the Social Innovation Summit we saw a short video focusing on the effect the program is having in a small, rural community in Kentucky, where the TEALS volunteers are giving hope where there was none before, showing the children of coal miners the possibility of a rewarding career that does not carry the risk of black lung disease, and giving them a reason to pursue a college education. (Computer programing is not part of the Common Core, in case you were wondering.)

The examples above are from a single two-day conference. One came from a frustrated teacher starting a nonprofit organization, another from an entertainer/philanthropist giving back to his old neighborhood, and the third from a corporation concerned about training their next generation workforce.

Each very different players, with different approaches and resources, but all focusing on the individual passions of the children and creating opportunities for them to succeed. Each takes local circumstances into consideration. None of them are top-down, one-size-fits-all approaches. These are just a few of the hundreds of examples of successful programs out there.

For schools that are already succeeding in sending kids on to higher education and professional careers, Common Core is an annoyance at best, and at worst a distraction that will keep them from giving needed attention to the few students who are failing. For them, transitioning from one set of curriculum standards to another is just so much fixing what ain't broke to begin with.

For schools that have high dropout rates and low hopes for their students, Common Core may provide a temporary lift, as new grants, materials, and teacher training become available. But in the long run, this too will peter out, as it will do nothing to address the lack of economic opportunity available to low-income kids, and nothing to change either their expectations, or the expectations of those around them.

You say you want to close the achievement gap in education? Then work to close the opportunity gap in the economy. Hope requires more personal attention than just a modified curriculum.

(Note: this is cross-posted on both, my personal and work blogs, as it is relevant to the general voting public as well as nonprofit professionals.)

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Break the Window?

Just before 8 PM last night, my wife and I were returning to our car after dinner. We were parked in a lower-level, covered parking area, and I thought I heard something odd. "Do you hear something, like either a dog whimpering or maybe a baby crying?" I asked. She'd heard it too.

We waited a moment, then heard it again. We decided to walk around the parking garage to see if we could spot the origin of the odd, muffled howling.

It only took a minute or two before we came across the source: a beautiful pup in the back of a car with the windows completely sealed up. Other than the occasional howling, she didn't bark at all. Her breathing seemed okay at the time, although she had some spittle on her chin that showed she'd been panting.

What to do? Do I just smash the windows right then and there and rescue the pup? Or do I "do the right thing" and call the authorities? Which would you have done?

Seeing the memes on Facebook all summer long warning about the dangers of leaving dogs in parked cars, even for a few minutes, I would have thought I'd just smash the window. But, when real life faces you with these questions, you give the authorities a chance to do right first.

I called 911 at 8:01 PM. Seven minutes later an officer arrived. Not an actual police officer, but a community service officer in a car labeled "Volunteers in Policing." A very nice man, and concerned about the dog, he first checked all the doors to see if any would open. Shining his flashlight in the car we looked for a bowl of water or anything to identify the owner. He then radioed in the license number of the car. We learned what town he was from, and that his record was clean, but still had no way of contacting him.

He radioed in again, asking for assistance and guidance. At what point are we legally allowed, or even obligated to break in? No "real" police were available at the moment, as there was a burglary alarm going on a few blocks away, there were reports of gun shots (probably fireworks from a nearby fundraiser), and a group of teens had taken over a vacant mansion and were tweeting out about the party of the century in the next suburban enclave two miles away.

Around 8:20, my wife got animal control from the nearby major city on the line. They had somebody in the area for another call, and would be at our location as soon as possible.

While waiting I see that the pup's breathing is getting more strained and that she's drooling a little more. I informed the officer that if she faints or closes her eyes, I'll be breaking into the car. I say, "You can arrest me if you need to, but please let me save the dog first." He nods.

I think about going out to the street to look for a rock, then realize that the handle from my car jack will do nicely. I can use my t-shirt from my gym bag to wrap my hand and forearm to protect myself from broken glass. Forget waiting for the dog to pass out, I give myself a deadline of 9 PM.

Animal Control arrived at about 8:35. He has a thermometer that measures the temperature in the car at 89 degrees. He says that's "not that bad." He had an incident earlier that day where it was 115. I'm not convinced that 89 is "not that bad."

The pup has moved closer to the window, so he's now able to get the owners phone number off of her tags. He radios in to his dispatcher who places the call. We get notified a minute or two later that he's on his way.

8:56, the owner and his (girlfriend? wife?) finally arrive. He stands like an idiot for another minute while the Animal Control officer lectures him before finally opening the door. The puppy is happy to see him, but is looking to see where we've gone off to.

As the Animal Control lecture continues ("I could write you a ticket for $250...") we quietly thank the first Community Service officer and go back to our car, not to get a jack handle to break windows, but to drive home and try to rest.

I'm glad the dog will be okay, but don't trust that this idiot will not lock her up in the car without air or water again. I'm glad I didn't end the night in jail, tweeting out "Who's got bail money?" but frustrated that it took an hour to get a suffering pup rescued.

What will I do if this happens again? Will I break the window next time?

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Proposal

Enjoying the coolness of a misty day at Seascape, walking out to get the ocean breeze, I shot this photo not realizing what I'd captured till later.

In the lower right, follow the path I'm on to the little view area overlooking the beach. Sitting on the low stone wall is a beautiful young woman. In front of her, on one knee is her boyfriend. It is a moment that neither will ever forget.

I have no idea who they are. I am embarrassed that I accidentally intruded on this private moment. And yet, the beauty of it compels me to share.

She said yes. There were tears. There were kisses and hugs. He called over his friend who came running up with a camera to get the official shots.

But this photo wasn't posed. It just happened that way.

(cross-posted to cowbird)

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