Personal ponderings from a natural night-owl!

Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Back to the Future

There are times in your life when you look back proudly at how far you’ve come. And in those moments, you know that you will NEVER be that old self again because you are now (you think smugly) a better version of yourself: more wise, more secure, more YOU. Then you go to a high school reunion and in an instant you are once more that insecure version of yourself all over again.

In the 1985 film “Back to the Future,” the main character travels back in time, makes a few inadvertent changes, and returns to a present that is altered from the one he left.  This week, I have done the opposite: traveled ahead to the past and returned to a present that is somehow changed.

Just 9 days ago, a Facebook page was created called, “I Grew Up in Hudson, Ohio.” This page quickly became a repository of shared memories for  people who attended school in Hudson. The snippets posted there – and the discussions that arose as a result – are addicting to read. Over the last week, I’ve found myself spending hours each night lost in a sea of memories.  I’m not alone – in 9 days the group has amassed over 1600 members!

At first, the online space was like a giant class reunion that erased the artificial barrier of graduation date. People from many graduation years – and even decades – were posting memories and those of us who shared them chimed in. Of course, as more people contributed, more familiar names from the past popped up and more memories were rekindled. Once we all got past some of the surface reminiscing, the “where are you now” and “what do you do” started, similar to what happens in a face to face reunion.  But at a face-to-face reunion, that’s about as far as you ever get before the hour gets late, the alcohol is cut off, the kids need attending, and everyone drifts back to their lives.

But in our online space, something more started happening than ever happens at face-to-face reunions. Something…well…magical.

The people we are today started talking about how the people we were then had felt. (Yes, that’s a confusing sentence, but important. Go read it again!)

Popular kids confessed their insecurities and how unpopular they felt. Apologies were made to kids who were bullied decades before. Gratitude was expressed for little things that carried meaning far beyond what could have been imagined. Crushes that had been secret for decades were confessed – and some people discovered that they had been reciprocal! It sounds trite and mundane, but the stereotypes and boxes we were in then disintegrated and we discovered that we were more alike – and less alone – than we ever imagined, if only we’d realized it all those years ago.

Some of us started chatting more deeply through post replies. One thread had a discussion that went on for HOURS in real-time, through consecutive text replies. Then the questions posted got more introspective, like “what were your biggest regrets in high school?” And the answers weren’t flip or sarcastic – not one. They were serious and poignent…and real. After 20 plus years, most of us have “grown comfortable in our own skin” as one person put it. We were now discovering that these people we thought we’d known, with whom we shared our formative years, had been strangers to us all along, much as we’d been strangers to ourselves as we struggled to find our place in the world.

Then another deviation from a standard reunion: teachers joined the group. Long retired most of them are, and struggling to connect new and old names with new and older faces. (“I am reading this and picturing all of you as I knew you at 13!” someone said.) But their students – still addressing their teachers as “Mr.” or “Mrs.” started posting heartfelt thanks for what was taught.

Here’s what one former teacher, who must be in her 70’s by now, posted : “Dear ex-students, I am STILL growing up, near Hudson, and you now know our secret: all of us adults weren’t really all that adult. !!!!!!!!”

And some of the replies she got:

“I became an English teacher because of YOU, (and against my family’s influence.). Through your quarter course in creative writing senior year, I found my voice. Thank YOU.”

“I have taught my kids how to diagram sentences and a few of their teachers have commented on that method. I remember learning so much from your class. You made a great impact in my life. I enjoyed the speeches. It has helped me with my career since that is what I do everyday, getting up in front of people and speaking. Thank you!”

“I still have my first Yamaha guitar and the folk book that started my love affair with music that continues to this day. Thank you for your patience, inspiration and guidance when I needed it most.” [Yes – same teacher, who taught ENGLISH, but evidently inspired someone in music!]

“The impact you had on our brains is hard to put into words, but thank you so much for making me think and care and stop just going through the motions. You recommended I read “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” outside the novels required in class, and the experience changed me tremendously.”

It moved me to tears.

But then something even more amazing happened, at least, to me.

My facebook profile has my married name, with my maiden name in the “my info” space. Someone put two and two together, figured out who I had been, and was genuinely delighted to see me! She said she’d thought of me over the years and wondered how I was, and how my mom was. Me? You wondered about ME? And my mom?! I honestly didn’t think I was that memorable to much of anyone.

And then the conversation turned to my sister, who was killed when I was 12. Someone who had been her good friend posted. People started chiming in about how horrible it was when she’d died, how bad they’d felt, how they still remembered that, and how it impacted their lives to this day. THEIR lives – now. My 8 year old sister who died 29 years ago.  Mind = blown. I got more than one personal message of people recounting their memories of that time in their lives. I am still processing what those messages mean to me, but it is profound.

I frequently hear people talking about how impersonal technology is, how sad it is that our kids spend so much solitary time online, how we as a society can’t possibly connect like we used to “back in the day.”  I’ve never believed it, and now I’ve added one more personal example of the profound ways technology can connect us in deeper ways than we ever imagined.

So forget “Back to the Future.” I’m going to keep going ahead to the past, rewriting the old story to incorporate the new perspectives I’ve gleaned.

Octopus’s Garden

“I’d like to be under the sea 
In an octopus’ garden in the shade 
He’d let us in, knows where we’ve been 
In his octopus’ garden in the shade.”

I was at my in-laws’ house tonight when my phone rang. Usually I don’t answer unknown numbers, but I was curious to find out who was calling me at 8:43 on a Friday night.

Turns out it was an automated call from my grocery store. Apparently the cucumbers I bought at the end of last week have been recalled due to salmonella contamination. The store was calling to warn me not to eat them and to let me know that I can get my money back.

Stop and think about that. You can even go back up and re-read what I wrote. The GROCERY STORE CALLED ME to let me know about a problem with the CUCUMBERS I bought LAST WEEK!

I hear a lot of people complaining about the erosion of privacy in this internet age. Data is ubiquitous and the amount of information out there about each one of us is far reaching and multi-faceted, kind of like an octopus with many arms. There’s info scattered here and there – and this info has ALWAYS existed. But never before has it been so easy to gather these diverse bits and baubles about an individual in a useful and meaningful way.

When I first got the grocery store call, I was horrified since Megan’s already eaten one of the two cucumbers. Then I was a little freaked out that the store knew EXACTLY what I’d bought and when, even though I willingly swipe my little keychain card in order to get loyalty discounts on food and gas. But ultimately, I sure am willing to share the knowledge of what I buy in exchange for discounts on food and gas. And I like the fact that technology and market tracking empowered my grocery store to call me – and that they cared enough to do so. I’m well aware that they care about the bottom line and maximizing shareholder profit more than my personal heath and well-being. But I have always believed that taking care of customers translates to a healthier bottom line. And I’m pretty happy that there is at least one company out there using the myriad pieces of info they are collecting about me to actually BENEFIT me in such a concrete way.

That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be

I understand now how people “get behind the times” or “out of date.” It’s how we were taught.

In the ongoing educational debate over the so-called “21 century skills,” I’ve argued that we need to change how we learn without enough cogent, eloquent thoughts addressing WHY we needed to make that change.  But earlier this week, Kate at Sweet|Salty tweeted a link to this article on typography that rocked my world and really brought together in a personal way my thoughts on this subject. The article states – unequivocally – that putting two spaces after a period while typing is outdated, unnecessary, and just plain WRONG. There are few things I hate more than being wrong, let alone wrong AND outdated, so I applied my skepticism and my 21 century skills and set out to prove that I, who ALWAYS puts two spaces after a period, was NOT a dinosaur. To my shock and horror, I discovered that my name should be changed to Sue.

When I first read the article, I was so shocked by this revelation, and so sure it was wrong, that I only read the first 6 paragraphs. But then I started wondering why I use two spaces after a period? My eager-to-please, perfectionist, school-girl self immediately wondered if I’d *gasp* LEARNED IT WRONG?! But then I read the article in its entirety and realized that no – I’d learned it right, but the definition of “right” has changed. [The practice actually goes back even further than the typewriter, as explained in this article, for those of you REALLY interested!] The bottom line is this: what I learned had become outdated and because I’d never learned WHY two spaces were “right,” I didn’t know when it was time to change.

With a startling burst of insight, I realized that this problem – knowing what but not why – permeates our society (and our educational system) right to the core. I started thinking of other examples of things we do here and now because we were taught that way. Then I solicited examples from others and the floodgates opened.

My friend Rhi (say REE like “Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup”) on Plurk shared my favorite hilarious anecdote: “My mom was over at a friend’s house once, while her friend was preparing a whole turkey for roasting. Before she put the turkey in the pan, she cut off both legs and threw them out. My mom was surprised and asked her why she did that. The friend’s response: ‘Well, that’s how you’re *supposed* to do it. My mom always did it that way.’ So my mom told her that *nobody* else did it that way, and had the friend call her mom to find out why. Turns out, the friend’s mom never had a pan big enough to hold an entire turkey. For decades, the rest of the family had been throwing out the turkey legs just because they thought they were supposed to!”

So let us all be reminded that change is constant, youthful inquisitiveness imperative, and single spaces after full stops the new standard – for now!

[Note: typing this blog post with only one space after each period was insanely hard. Sometimes re-education is painful!]

BMG – OMG!

A few weeks ago, I was selected to be a member of Playhouse Square’s REVIEW CREW – 8 regular folks who have the oh-so-hard job of watching every show in the 2010-2011 KeyBank Broadway Series on opening night and sharing our opinions on video!  Oh, and did I mention that we all got tee-shirts & goody bags and that the tickets for our seats and one guest are FREE?!  I will be blogging about all the shows from now until June.  Tonight was the kick-off to the season with Blue Man Group – and what a spectacular and high-energy kick-off it was!

I’d done my homework by reviewing the trailers on the Playhouse Square website, checking out Wikipedia, and talking to friends on Facebook, Twitter, and Plurk who have seen one of the BMG shows over the last 25 years.  But I was still unprepared for the absolutely seamless blend of technology and humanity, the simple but profound social commentary, and the exuberance and silly fun of the show!

It is impossible, really, to adequately describe the sensory EXPERIENCE of the Blue Man Group show. It absolutely must be witnessed LIVE in the same way that performance art must be experienced.  It definitely evokes facets of Cirque de Soleil in its theatricality, diverse use of lighting, and bold, wild colors.  Its use of technology is striking and as non-traditional and game changing as The Lion King’s use of puppets.  Traditional theatrical techniques and props such as scrims, screens, and creative lighting folded into more contemporary ones such as gigantic SmartPhones, interactive video, performance art, neon, and audience participation!

The show started simply, with a huge projected slide stating how different cultures can meet and grow to understand each other by creating art together, sharing experiences together.  That message was subtly but profoundly woven throughout the entire performance.  It was not at all hard to suspend disbelief and become mesmerized by the child-like innocence, curiosity, and wonder evoked by the silent gestures and movements of all the Blue Men.  Their facial reactions, hairless blue heads, stoic expressions, and carefully choreographed body movements all created – without any words at all – an impression of non-threatening foreignness and unpredictability that had the entire audience on the edge of its seat wondering just what was going to happen next.

The show is an hour and 40 minutes long with no intermission.  However, the time flies and you won’t notice the lack (unless you have a small bladder).  Honestly, the only part of the show I disliked was the interminable string of colloquialisms for one’s “posterior.”   The vast array of works and phrases – and I do mean vast! – was shown on the screen and read aloud when the audience was encouraged to get off said body part and “shake it” to simulate the world’s largest dance party.  It was completely funny the FIRST time the words spewed forth, but got less amusing as it went on and on ad nauseum.

But in general, the air of joie de vivre and downright goofiness that permeates the entire show leaves you feeling energized and cleansed.  I strongly suggest arriving early, for example, because if you arrive late, the entire show STOPS and a spotlight is turned on you as you walk down the aisle to your seat!  (And confess it now, don’t you sometimes want to do that yourself to people who are very late for a performance?!).  But nothing tops the sheer ebullience of the grand finale. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but there are 4 or 5 things happening at once and like a child who is overwhelmed by the glory of it, you barely know where to look and you sure don’t want it to end.

Blue Man Group performances run until October 17, 2010 at the Palace Theatre at Playhouse Square in Cleveland.  Call the Playhouse Square Box Office at 216-241-6000 or order online to get your tickets NOW before this spectacular sensory adventure leaves town!

The next show in the series is “Billy Elliot, The Musical” which opens on Sunday, November 21, 2010.

All’s Well That Doesn’t End

Part of my most recent blogging hiatus can be blamed on Plurk, a social microblogging site I discovered in December of 2008.  Though I haven’t stayed up ’til all hours  – or even all night – chatting like I did when I discovered my first online community in college in 1990, I have met many neat people from literally around the world.

Two of my Plurk friends – one from Vancouver, Canada and one from York, England – are poised to meet face-to-face next week, and they are both a bit nervous about it.  This post about one of my earliest face-to-face encounters with an online friend is largely for their benefit.

How I viewed the VAX in those days!

Back in the old days of the internet (1989-1990), this whole online chatting-connecting-texting phenomenon was in its infancy.  I came home from Europe, fell out of a three-year romantic relationship I’d had since high school, and found respite in a strange new digital world, albeit one basically restricted to the campus on which I was attending college.  I fell in love with VMS Phone, a comparatively primitive messaging system through which you could actually talk by typing in real time to people who were simultaneously online on campus.  Radical!  It was neat to watch each letter appear as the other person typed (there was no “instant” in instant messaging in those days!).

I spent hours glued to either my own computer or to a computer in one of the campus labs, unless it was time for class, studying, or a broomball game (my favorite sport, but that’s for another post).  I even joined MCUG (Miami Computer Users Group) so I could meet face to face the people I was “meeting” online.

In addition to VMS Phone, our school network had installed CoSy, a bulletin board system.  With this software, anyone on campus could create a profile, basically an info page about themselves.  If there was no one online with whom to chat on VMS Phone, I’d sometimes go browse the profiles on CoSy.  Mostly, I just read the profiles, but every so often, I’d find someone who looked interesting and I’d email them a message.

On March 27th, 1990 (or so I’m told), I sent one such message to someone who I thought, from his profile, might have gone to school with some girls who transferred into my high school.  He didn’t know them, but we got to talking about lots of other things via email.  Frequently. Long-windedly.

Eventually, there was a MCUG meeting coming up and I invited him to come so we could meet face-to-face.  He begged off, saying he had too much Calc II homework.  I went anyway and did what people always did at MCUG meetings: plopped down at a computer, logged on, and chatted with people all over the room via computer.  Pretty soon, I saw that HE was online.  I promptly chastised him for saying he had too much work when he clearly had time to be online.  He asked how I knew he WASN’T there.

Well, THAT got my attention!  So I ripped my eyes away from the screen and looked around the room, only to find a guilty looking, grinning guy sitting DIRECTLY BEHIND me.  He had been there the whole time!  Apparently, the plan was to scope me out and make sure I wasn’t hideous before he admitted to being in the room.  This was easy to do, since I was one of only two women in MCUG at the time.

To make a long story short(er), our 15 year wedding anniversary comes up October 22, 2009!

So I don’t worry about meeting online friends face to face.  It’s always turned out ok for me.

Email Etiquette

Email is NOT new. Email as we know it has been around for at least 25 years. If email were a person, (s)he would be well past drinking age and probably married with kids by now.

I apologize if you’re the choir and I’m preaching, but I need to get this out of my system.  (In my defense, I lasted almost a year and a half longer than John at Taste of Tech before blogging this.  He has particular problems with #7 and #9 ).

DEBBIE’S TOP 10 EMAIL DO’S AND DON’TS

1.  DON’T forward ANY email that says, “Forward this to all your friends.”  Ever. Period.  You know the old question, “If you friends all jumped off a bridge…”  Expect a terse email back if you send these types of emails regularly to me.

2.  DON’T forward every “funny” email you receive, and especially don’t forward them to me.  I’ve probably already seen them.  MAYBE send me the occasional REALLY GOOD ONE if you truly think I’d enjoy it.  Only my dad can get away with sending every dumb email “joke” email he gets – and even HE is going to get reprimanded one of these days!

3.  DO use the “bcc” – blind carbon copy – line and not the “to” line if you insist on forwarding the types of emails listed in #1 and #2.  If you don’t use BCC, you have just potentially sent my email address to thousands of people without my permission.  That makes me grumpy.

4.  DO check SNOPES.COM before sending me a “warning” you received via email.  I know you are well-intentioned, but the thing against which you are warning me is most likely bogus, wrong, or outdated.

5.  DON’T send an email that says only, “Thanks.”  And especially don’t “reply all” with a “thanks” email!

6.  DON’T TYPE EVERYTHING IN CAPITAL LETTERS.  IT MAKES YOU SEEM LIKE YOU ARE SHOUTING AND IT IS RUDE!

7.  DO use “Reply All” if you answer via email a question I emailed you with other people copied in.  Otherwise, I just have to forward your message to the other people, which wastes my time.

8.  DON’T click on any links in email.  Copy the link location and paste it into your browser.  Just because your friend sent the email to you doesn’t mean your friend checked it for viruses OR didn’t pick up a virus from another “friend.”

9.  DON’T send an email with a blank subject line.  It only takes a few seconds to title your email.  If it’s important enough to send, it’s important enough to title.  I know people who won’t answer or even acknowledge emails with blank subject lines.

10. DO keep all emails you send for at least a year, if not longer, and DO create a folder filing system for your incoming emails.  It’s simple, it’s fast, and it saves me from having to re-send something you should already have.

So there you go.  I feel so much better!

Before I posted this, I did an informal survey of my Plurk friends.  Their most annoying pet peeves were #1, #2, and #9.  It’s nice to know I am not alone!

So do me a favor and email the link to this blog post to anyone you know who is still email illiterate.  And if a friend sent you to this blog post, don’t be mad, be grateful!  For every one friend who tells you that you are annoying, there are probably 10 who are thinking it and letting you stay that way.

Over My Minutes

Here’s a conveniient website I found recently for folks who want to keep some money in their pockets by eliminating cell phone overage charges. “Over My Minutes” tracks your cell phone usage and sends you customized alerts. You can choose to receive alerts daily via email or text message. You can also receive alerts at two different levels of minutes remaining, as set by you.

After having tracked our phone data monthly for over 5 years now (yes, I am *that* detail oriented!), I have a pretty good handle on our usage. That made the move of our home number from a land line to a cell an easy one to justify based on cost when we made that switch almost 3 years ago.

But I can see lots of uses for this website. For example, when our girls become old enough to get phones, I’ll be able to keep close tabs on their usage so we don’t have any unpleasant surprises at the end of the month. And my mom is forever trying to keep tabs on her minutes, too, to stay within her allotted plan minutes. Now she won’t need to log into her carrier’s website to do it.

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