- Being in the Cast of Listen To Your Mother
- Helping your Child Walk or Bike to School
- Cycling Success Stories Mainly About Women
- Introducing the Durable Human Manifesto
- Meet the DC Cast of Listen To Your Mother
- Replant Native Trees that Turbocharge Nature
- A Prospective Author’s Perspective 2013
- How Free Content Can Boost Book Sales
- Tips for Effective Email Marketing
- Give Some Guidance with that Gadget
Connect With Me on Twitter
If you’re tired of trying to do it all in this busy digital world and feel distant from what you used to hold dear, this little book helps you to be closer to your loved ones and more in control of your time.
Although The Durable Human Manifesto does contain the word “revolution” (thanks to Foo Fighter Dave Grohl), it comes in peace as a declaration of human awesomeness and sensory celebration of our supremely unique selves.
In today’s Washington Post I paint a picture of how an edge city near Washington, D.C. can be wired with a system connecting smart phones with self-driving cars, buses and trucks. We hear from robotics expert Robert Finkelstein and consultant Richard Bishop who say we’ll gain productive time if we aren’t driving or caught in traffic. We’ll be safer, too. Smart vehicles have onboard sensors which are being shown to dramatically reduce crashes. Plus they never get tired or distracted. more »
For their children to be durable, it isn’t enough anymore for parents to merely teach them crucial stuff like manners and how to hammer a nail. Add to the list everything to do with Technology. Yet, many view the vast Internet Ocean with fear and trepidation–especially if their kids have already jumped in. This concerns digital instigators such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft who want everyone to feel comfortable and safe in the water. And that’s why they’ve teamed up with the Family Online Safety Institute to teach swimming lessons on a new website called A Platform for Good. more »
Just as they do face to face, kids love to socialize online. Four out of five online teens hang out on social networks. Some of them may like to tweet or dabble in MySpace, but practically all have a profile on Facebook. “No one had any idea how quickly and or how widely this would spread,” says Stephen Balkam, director of the Family Online Safety Institute which sponsored the new report by the Pew Research Center. more »
According to a new Pew Internet and American Life Project report, local TV news is still the go-to source for weather, traffic and breaking news. But people are looking elsewhere for other information, often using their phones.
How the Internet has revolutionized the way messages are delivered was the focus of this year’s Activism + Media + Policy, or “AMP” Summit held last month in Washington, D.C.
Andy Eller is the Director of Business Development at place-sharing site, Gowalla. In a panel presentation, he told AMP attendees he gets all his news from Twitter because it’s unfiltered and current. Twitter’s own Adam Sharp then took the opportunity to mention that tweets about an earthquake hit New York before the actual tremors did.
In his AMP remarks, CBS White House reporter Mark Knoller says he likes writing news on Twitter “because it doesn’t have to go through a copy editor.” Twitter, he continued, is like “having my own personal wire service” – on which he has churned out 40,000 tweets in two years.
Yet, despite the growing popularity of micro-blogs, people today rely on many information platforms, some of which aren’t so new. For instance, the Pew report shows that young adults often get their news by word of mouth. Kelly Wallace is Chief Correspondent for iVillage, the largest content-driven community for women on the web. She says iVillagers prefer message boards so they can anonymously share personal information.
Veteran print journalist Howard Fineman gave the AMP sendoff message. A year ago, Fineman leaped from Newsweek to become Editorial Director of Huffington Post Media Group. Although his former and new office buildings are located so close he didn’t have to change Starbucks, Fineman says he did change ”his entire outlook on everything.”
Fineman calls HuffPost “a combination of news site and social networking site,” which he’s convinced is where news is going. These are his reasons why:
- We live in a news community that is omni-directional. Unlike the days of Walter Cronkite, when viewers hung on his every word, communications are no longer one-way. Now anyone can join – and sometimes direct – the news conversation.
- News is no longer a mass discussion. News sources can now speak discretely to individuals. At present, Huffington Post has 30 different vertical content sections. The Politics page often draws more traffic than the site’s front page.
- News today is constant and immediate, not periodic and episodic. There used to be two news cycles. Now there is only one – and it happens 24/7.
- The distinction between global and local has disappeared. The Arab Spring was experienced by people worldwide in present tense. As Fineman says, “We were all there in Tahrir Square.”
- Old-style, long narratives are gone. Shorter and live are what work today, preferably mixed with video and pictures.
- There’s no more pyramid of authority. The days of the hard-bitten, all-controlling executive editor have passed. With little or no editorial oversight, many writers now monitor and judge the content of their own messages.
- The media is more openly ideological. News curators unabashedly admit the biases they bring to the table. Transparency is the new objectivity.
So, it makes sense that the online society is seeking out a variety of news platforms. Many of us likely share Fineman’s final thought: “you shouldn’t assume any one source of authority is the only one to look at.”
Could it be that it’s easier to forget your child in the car than realize your cellphone is missing? A tragic number is telling.
At last count, 513 American kids have died inside hot, closed cars since record-keeping began in 1998. About half were forgotten by a parent or caregiver.
Because the death toll continues to climb, authorities met in Washington, D.C. this week to propose immediate action. “It’s so urgent that we find effective sets of countermeasures that we all can take right now,” said David Strickland of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as quoted in the Washington Post.
And what do experts suggest as a top countermeasure? Put your cellphone in the back seat with your child.
The advocacy group Kids and Cars.org has a there-but-for-the-grace-of-God perspective. Says founder Janette Fennel: “People think these people must be terrible parents, they must be monsters, because if we think that, we can’t relate to them. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
The truth is that any of us can fall prey to a single act of absent-mindedness which could have horrific results. To avoid that, parents and caregivers must be mindful and informed.
Some life-saving advice from KidsandCars:
- Your child gets hot faster than you do – up to five times faster.
- A closed car can reach a broiling 125 degrees in only minutes.
- Cracking the windows does not slow the heating.
Practice safe habits:
- Don’t leave your child alone in a car, even for a minute.
- Look before you lock. Open the back door and check inside before you walk away.
- Instruct your babysitter or childcare center to call you if your child doesn’t show up when he or she is expected.
And, yes – lest you forget: when you buckle up your child, put your go-to things in the back seat, too – which will surely include a cellphone.
On Capitol Hill today, phone lines and websites are buckling under the pressure of so many Americans trying to make their feelings known about the debt ceiling. They’re answering President Obama’s call in a speech last night: “If you want a balanced approach to reducing the deficit, let your member of Congress know. If you believe we can solve this problem through compromise, send that message.”
Mr. Obama wasn’t specific about how to do that, but most people apparently went the traditional route. Thankfully, though, there were other ways to make their voices heard.
According to a new survey – ironically released today – Congress has rushed to embrace social media. And none too soon.
The Congressional Management Foundation, a non-profit group dedicated to improving communications with Congress, found that most members have a Facebook page and are also on Twitter. The 260 House and Senate staffers who took the survey are generally pleased to have the new tools. “By a ten to one margin, they are reaching people they’ve never been able to reach before,” says Brad Fitch, CMF president and chief executive.
But now that there are so many ways to communicate, which method has the most bang for the buck? According to Fitch, “Sending an individual e-mail is 20 points more influential than social media.” In other words, the time you take composing an e-mail has more cred than a 140-character tweet.
And how can your message have maximum impact? Fitch shared two simple rules in a fact-filled interview on Facebook DC Live.
Timing is everything. For heaven’s sake, make sure and get in your dibs before your Congress members make a decision. Check the status of your issue so you don’t waste your time or theirs.
Don’t be wishy washy. “Have a firm ask,” advises Fitch. Determine exactly what you want your Congress member to do, then state it simply and clearly. Start by writing your message in short form on the Subject line.
What if you do all the right things, but your carefully crafted call or note hits a technical roadblock? You may have no choice but to go social. Says Fitch: “The best ways to get through are Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.”
I’ve been skeptical about reports that body contact with cell phones can cause problems, but a strange sensation and a new book have changed my attitude.
I first noticed the whooshing sound in my right ear after I spent a few days in October visiting my parents. I’d talked a half hour or so each night with my husband, the phone nestled between my ear and a pillow. I took a decongestant to see if it was a sinus problem, but the strange sound has continued since I’ve been home: when it’s quiet, I can hear the blood pulsing on the right side of my head.
Then, a few weeks ago, I came across a review in the Washington Post. A new book claims there is definitive proof that radiation from cell phones, cordless phones and even blue tooth devices can be harmful over time. In Disconnect, author and epidemiologist Devra Davis reviews four decades of research, explaining complicated technical concepts in clear and simple language. She concludes there are enough disturbing findings and unanswered questions that we should actually pay attention to the warnings manufacturers stuff into the box with their wireless products – not to press them directly onto the body.
Davis cites compelling evidence that microwaves created when phones send and receive signals can painlessly interfere with the brain’s natural defense mechanisms. Other studies indicate it’s not a good idea to hold a phone in the front pants pocket – as most males do. Children apparently are at special risk. In some European countries, cell phone use is banned for children younger than 16.
My son’s time studying at Rochester Institute of Technology has taught me that a group of motivated designers can solve almost any problem. So I’m fully confident cell phones in the future will be much safer. But for now, people may not be getting enough protection.
Thus, I have depleted the stock in two Radio Shacks of the PointMobl Stereo Earbud Headset with Mic. The relatively low-tech device lets you talk on the phone where it’s supposed to be – away from your head. I like the design because the wires don’t tangle, it has a universal phone plug and an adapter for an iPod – plus the writing on the packaging is very clever. I passed along Davis’s advice to my boy relatives not to carry a phone in the front pocket – but if they do, to face the keyboard inward because the antenna is embedded in the back.
This explains why holiday gifts this year to my loved ones are merely practical. But I must say that whooshing noise has gotten quieter since I’ve been texting more and using a wire or speakerphone to talk.
Technology can come to the rescue at D.C. events such as the October 30 Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert Sanity rally – where huge crowds fueled by social media come together in a real place.
That’s according to Curt Westerphal of Digital Design & Imaging Service Inc., also known as AirPhotosLIVE.com. The Falls Church, Virginia firm was hired by CBS News to count heads at both the Comedy Central and Glenn Beck rallies. Curt got in touch after reading my Sanity rally followup in the Washington Post.
From a balloon tethered high above the Air and Space Museum, AirPhotosLIVE took pictures with an array of high-resolution cameras, combining the images with photos taken from atop the Washington Monument and a GeoEye satellite. In the same way a person looks down on a busy ant hill, these sophisticated eyes in the sky watch how people swarm and surge. Stunning photography and 3-D views of the Sanity rally can be seen on the Photosynth website.
“We are looking at patterns of movement and demand,” Curt wrote. “The crowd movement patterns we see from the air are valuable since they help transportation, security, first-responders and even Porta-Potty planners locate and track the flow of the crowd.” For instance, if the National Park Service used AirPhotosLIVE imaging, officials could see in nearly real time which subway stations were being overrun and let Metro know where to direct riders to less-crowded stations.
Soon, information could go directly to the crowd via their smart phones. We’re one inch away from having everyone there see the info,” Curt told me. “We already have a wireless downlink to our trailer. The issue is getting it out to social media. We could post it to a website right now. The limitations are really less technical and more political.”
That would be great if the cell phones actually worked, which they didn’t inside the Sanity rally. But, with enough planning, that problem can be solved, too. That is, if COWs roam the Mall. Cells On Wheels are mobile cell phone towers which temporarily stretch available bandwidth allowing phones to keep working. COWs were used successfully at the Obama inauguration.
Curt’s balloon also serves as a relay for walkie-talkie and 911 communications between emergency responders, even if they are on different frequencies. “The aerostat at 800 feet could allow a person at a distant station, say Greenbelt Metro, to talk to someone at the Reston Metro.”
But what happens if weather or something else grounds the amazing inflatable? “I joke about ‘one if by land, two if by sea’,” Westergard said in an email. “But two simple flag colors can tell a lot. Think hurricane warning flags or smoke signals. A flag at 500 feet can be seen from Tysons with binoculars. This city unfortunately may need that level of mass communication one day.”
Chalk it up to Reddit, Facebook and Fark for packing them in at the Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert Rally on October 30. That so many people heeded the digital drumbeat so quickly is a loud wakeup call for D.C. event planners, as I pointed out in The Washington Post.
It paid that day to be a local. Heading out two hours before the rally, my cousin and I planned to take the subway, but when we saw the line, kept driving - to a parking space at her office eight blocks from the Mall. Our luck held when, walking toward the entrance, we spied people stepping through a break in the fence and slipped in behind them.
We were one jumbotron back from the stage. The crowd was blissful, but standing up and packed in like sardines. It was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life, but looking around, I couldn’t help but worry: what if something spooked the crowd? The city was not prepared.
When Comedy Central filed for a permit September 8, the network estimated 25,000 people would attend. “It had to do with actual space they [the National Park Service] were prepared to allot to the event,” network spokesman Tony Fox told The Durable Human. “We had no idea how many people were going to show up.”
After seven weeks of negotiations - which included the network’s decision not to pay for extra Metro service - 60,000 was the number approved in the final permit just three days before the event.
But even before the network’s eleventh-hour decision to commit, the electronic outreach started. “Reddit[.com] did a donation push to encourage us to do the rally,” Stephen Colbert acknowledged at the post-event press conference. (Fark.com was ticked off he didn’t give social media enough credit for making the rally happen).
Two weeks into the permit process, 100,000 people had RSVPd on Facebook. Then, on October 20, Andres Glusman of Meetup.com told the Christian Science Monitor, “This is growing faster than any online Meetup we’ve seen.” According to Yahoo News, self-organized satellite gatherings were being planned in 801 cities in 67 nations.
All the while, the coolest guys on TV invited viewers across the flat world to a free party in America’s capital.
Comedy Central kept an eye on the online numbers and made some adjustments. On October 25, the Wall Street Journal said the network ordered extra port-a-potties “suggesting organizers expect a crowd of 150,000 people.”
Metro put some extra trains and personnel on standby, but D.C. authorities were reluctant to go much further. “We did see that there was a large number of people RSVPing on Facebook,” said Park Service spokesman Bill Line. “But we have also found that for prior events, that’s not always an accurate gauge either. People will say they are coming and then don’t.”
In the end, precise aerial images paid for by CBS News showed that 215,000 people attended the rally. That’s not counting the thousands who tried but failed to ride the overloaded public transportation system to get downtown. “It’s kind of fascinating to us,” said the Comedy Central spokesman, “Facebook on the Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert web sites came out to be 300,000.”
Looking back, it’s clear that DC event planners must re-think the way they do business. Besides reacting more quickly to Internet input, they need to better leverage the permit approval process to compel event sponsors to help pay for support services of all kinds – from extra Metro trains to bike valets.
For their part, private sponsors should get a better handle on attendance, perhaps by asking rally-goers to register in advance and charging a nominal entry fee to cover externalities.
Another problem to reckon with is that during big events on The Mall – like the rally and President Obama’s inaugural festivities - cell phone service is overwhelmed so no one can make or receive calls and texts.
To be able to do its job properly, the National Park Service must be fully informed. Congress banned the agency from making crowd estimates following a political dustup after the Million Man March in 1995. But in the new millennium, computer-analyzed imaging eliminates the shades of grey which might have prompted politically-motivated lawsuits.
The Washington Post Ombudsman suggested that a media consortium should share the cost of using such technology to make estimates. But since federal authorities already rely on the same imaging techniques for other purposes, Congress should end the ban and allow the Park Service to again be the crowd-estimating agency of record. (See Comment about capabilities of aerial imaging from AirphotosLIVE.com below)
With enough time and publicity, an event called by a charismatic worldwide figure could end up larger than any one country’s presidential swearing-in.
But Washington certainly isn’t the only place which must cope with increasingly massive crowds. Last summer, Shanghai was hobbled (shanghaied?) by sheer numbers at its World Expo. Waits at exhibits spanned up to nine hours.
Because of the burgeoning world population, designers and engineers from Rochester, Massachusetts and any other Institute of Technology must work to find better ways to fit lots of people into defined spaces. Maybe by going to a modular design, an exhibit could have multiple entrances and a five-hour wait could be cut to one.
Like it or not, the headaches of managing huge communities which come together in real-life spaces are here to stay.
The humble flip phone may revolutionize the way we experience theme parks. It’s all happening at Disney World’s Epcot, courtesy of a girl named Kim.
“The Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure simply gives guests something that they want. People want to be active, physically and mentally,” Jonathan Ackley – who directs Walt Disney Imagineering’s Interactive Division – told The Durable Human.
My 8-year-old cousin, Tess – like many girls of a certain age – loves Kim Possible. Kim stars in her own Disney Channel animated series as a high school cheerleader who turns secret agent. On our recent trip to Disney World, Tess heard on the bus from the airport that there was Something Kim at Epcot and I knew I wouldn’t hear the end of it until we found her.
With a little effort we tracked down one of the low-profile Kim Possible Recruitment Centers scattered throughout the park. Pressing a button on the self-serve display, out popped a ticket with our Adventure appointment. A half hour later, we reported to a kiosk outside the Norway Pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase. A smartly-uniformed Kim Team member asked Tess if she was ready for the mission. After a deep and serious nod, Tess was handed a “Kimmunicator”—the retooled ‘06-era cell phone which would serve as our guide.
When Tess pressed the OK button, Kim’s brainy cartoon side-kick, Wade, appeared on the phone’s tiny screen and instructed us to go straight to Mexico. Inside that pavilion, Tess again activated the Kimmunicator and we were startled to see our first clue: an Aztec blaze briefly appeared on the back wall of a nearby artifact display case. We continued to range through the building, solving puzzles and discovering clues for our eyes only. Here, a pinata near the ceiling momentarily flashed a code number. There, a guitar strummed out a clue. I don’t wish to disclose all the details, but suffice it to say that by the time we were done we managed to save the world.
Our exploits were exhilarating. We actually felt like secret agents, sliding unnoticed through the crowds, surrounded by people totally unaware of our stealthy business.
Ackley, former Lego designer and creator of the Kim experience, says people love the free-range approach. “Visitors have really been enjoying the attraction, some playing for hours on end. That’s high praise considering all the other fantastic things at Disney World. Kids love being secret agents, triggering high-tech gadgets and uncovering mysteries. Parents love the humor, and most importantly the time spent playing with their families.”
But kids aren’t the only takers, says Ackley. “I’ve also seen retired couples enjoying the attraction without any children in tow. And I’ve seen teens and twenty/thirty/forty-somethings enjoying the experience as well.”
Although Ackley says the Kim Adventure incorporates play patterns “as old as human history,” Tess and I felt like cutting edge, active controllers of our own amusement, which he says is by design.
“Today, people can play fantastic video games sitting at home in front of their TV sets. But when they come to the park, they get immersed in ways they can’t at home. You can play a super-hero at home. But at Disney, you really are a super hero, and super-heroes have to do some leg-work now and then.”
Could free-range adventures ever replace typical theme park fare? “I don’t believe that this kind of attraction will replace dark rides or roller coasters,” claims Ackley. “But it’s a new color on the palette.”
There is one other similar adventure elsewhere in the world – at Tokyo’s DisneySea park. As in Kim Possible, guests are the main characters of the story, but in “Leonardo Challenge”, a magic map leads them through an enchanted Renaissance fortress to unravel clues left by Leonardo Da Vinci.
If you’re looking for something to do for the Earth Day season, it’s amazing what can be captured at a neighborhood creek cleanup. Maybe a weight bench, a bucket of concrete, or—if you’re lucky—the hearts and minds of a rowdy troop of girl scouts.
With so much hand-wringing about how to connect kids with nature, this way was easy and free. Asking the kids why they were there on a chilly Saturday morning for this year’s Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup, helping the planet was secondary. Their first words were always, “It’s fun!”
The Northern Virginia scouts were part of an army of 7,000 rivershed dwellers who trolled the tributaries on April 10. All told, they hauled out 19,000 bags of junk and 994 tires, eight of which from our location.
Nina and her husband, Bob, organized the site – one of 214 across Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.
According to Nina, the key to getting a good catch is to follow behind the first wave of volunteers who grab obvious things like radiators and roof shingles. She likens her technique to the way her kids scan the pages of ‘Eye Spy’ books for small objects hidden in cluttered background scenes. “If you just stop and look, things just emerge.”
As we did our bit for Mother Earth, she gifted us in return. I pulled out my phone to take a picture of astonishing, perfect footprints of a great blue heron. Another shallow creekbend swirled with tadpoles.
Stretching for some styrofoam shards, I finally stepped in over my boots. Turning tentatively to Nina—who happens to be a marine biologist—I asked about snakes. “That’s why it’s good to do this now. They’re not awake yet.”
December 19, 2009
The snow just keeps on coming. In front of my house, a lone pair of tire tracks fades with each falling inch. Yet, under the drifts at the end of the driveway, is a plastic bag with today’s Washington Post. It’s as if it’s 1999, when everyone got the paper and the day couldn’t start unless you devoured those words along with your toast and coffee. But the bag is skinny now and fewer subscribers are on the street, yet someone still managed to bring my paper in the worst December storm on record.
The front page tells of another endangered habit. People complain about empty mailboxes and no festive cards to make their day. But others are glad to be done with the tradition. They love using Facebook because they can send quick, paperless greetings and a steady supply of family snapshots all year long.
I, too, am toying with discarding the card idea. In the few days our grown-up kids were together this summer, no one thought to take a perfect picture. But we’ll hang in for another year and send a generic photo. Whatever goes in the mail, I know I can depend on a slew of hard-working humans to get it where it needs to go.
Amazon depends on humans, too. I never thought much about that until I stumbled on a link to their holiday help-wanted ad. Amazon hires walk 10 to 15 miles a day and “repetitively lift, bend, stoop and squat”. I suddenly realized, when I order on Amazon, a great effort will be made on my behalf – not by robots or machines – but by living, breathing people.
I had an ache of thanks just then, for all those durable humans—striding miles to schlep my selections; driving through the snowy dawn; hoping they’ll be there next year to haul my self-styled greetings.
So, for the holidays still before us, let’s remember the unsung heroes of the Internet age. And, when we finally have a few precious moments with the people we know and love, let’s stand down our digital devices so we don’t end up like this Facebook message:
“Pre-Thanksgiving dinner w/the Martins at a Mexican restaurant: sister on Blackberry with friends. Brother on Blackberry with Asian office. Sister in law on Blackberry with Washington D.C. Me on Blackberry checking emails and texts. Niece reading Vampire book. Meanwhile, Dad is eating chips and salsa, wondering what happened to his dinner companions…”
The simple act of taking the bus can make a big difference. Last year, because Americans took 10.7 million trips on public transit, 4 billion gallons of gasoline were not used. Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas pollution in this country – and cars are the biggest contributor. But somehow, as much as we hate traffic, we tend to forget the mighty job a bus can do to get cars off the road. We also overlook that, to a kid, a bus can be a ticket to personal freedom. Knowing how to take transit teaches children to be durable humans.
For Blog Action Day, 2009, I offer the story of how my fifteen year old son and his friend learned the transit lesson. I won’t reprint the whole story which appears in the Washington Post, but suffice it to say the kids and their moms got an education—thanks to technology—on how to research and ride the bus. The families saved both time and money. But for the kids, there was more. As I wrote, “For one thing, they got exercise. Walking that mile to and from the bus happens to be the daily dose of activity recommended for teens by the American Heart Association. Plus, getting outside in the fresh air is an antidote for what author Richard Louv terms “nature deficit disorder.” Louv, in his book “Last Child in the Woods”, also argues that the leash we have on our kids is way too tight. When we allow them to be more self-reliant and self-propelled, they gain pride and satisfaction.”
I am proud there are two more people on the planet who know a viable way to get around without a car.
So, next time you don’t think you can stand another minute behind the wheel, think about whether you—or someone you have to drive—could possibly take the bus.