Posts tagged ‘Internet’

Things are tough all over.  Any day of the week one can pick up any newspaper or turn on any local or national news program and it won’t take very long to find a story that focuses on the economy.  Often one can find several stories.  Regardless of the source, every town, borough, hamlet, village, city and burg is doing its utmost to provide services to the population in a (hopefully) fiscally responsible manner.  Many time hard choices must be made, and not all of them are popular.  A friend alerted me to one such situation in a small town in England.

Stony Stratford is what we would call a suburb.  It is part of the larger city of Milton Keynes, in Buckinghamshire, similar to how Oak Park is “in” Chicago, but is still its own town.  The Milton Keynes city council has been trying to figure out ways to cut the budget and save millions of British Pounds over the next several years.  In December, a proposal was put forth that included shuttering the local library in Stony Stratford.  Now, as Stony is part of the larger local community, residents would certainly be able to visit other libraries in the vicinity, but that was not good enough for the town.  In the span of just over a week, residents swarmed the library and checked out every single book.  Over 16,000 of them.  The citizens wanted to show the council how vital libraries are to the community, so in a planned protest, the citizenry methodically checked out over 300 books per hour until the shelves were empty.  People checked out as many books as they were allowed, and continued to spread the message: “Go to the library and take out the maximum of books on your card (15).”  Postings appeared on the local government website and a “Save Stony Stratford Library” Facebook page has been stood up, with (as of this writing) over 700 people “liking” the page.

Now library closures are nothing new.  Do a Google news search on “library closures budget cuts” and you will get results dating back over 15 years and beyond.  Stories appear from all over the United States about local municipalities and state governments slashing monies allocated for libraries.  Libraries are often considered “non-essential” or “non-mandated” services.  It’s not like a town could close the fire department or the police department, but a library . . ..  During portions of my childhood, my mom was a single parent, struggling to make ends meet.  While there was always money to put food on the table and keep the roof over our heads, there was almost never money for extras like books, but we never went without.  At least once a week, Mom would pack us into the car and take us to the library.  We would spend an hour or two looking for books and reading books.  We would always come home with a stack of new titles that we would devour through the week.  By the time I was in grade school, I am sure I had read almost every children’s book in our local library.  As I got a little older, I was allowed to ride my bike to the library and would do so often.  When I was in college, I spent time in the library not only for research and study, but also just as a place to go for some quiet personal time.

The point is, lots of different people use libraries for lots of different reasons at different times during their lives.  Children can learn to read and hone their reading skills without bankrupting their parents, given the cost of children’s literature.  Students can do research and find titles for reading assignments.  Current and past newspapers and magazines are available in print or in a digitized version.  People who have no means to do so at home can use public computers to access the internet, apply for jobs, and find information to help put them in a position to better themselves or their situations.  Some local libraries loan DVDs, CDs, and even e-books.  Libraries are not only integral to the community, one could argue that they are essential – maybe not important in the same way as the police or fire departments, but just as important in their contribution to the community.

The people of Stony Stratford have voiced their opposition to the elimination of their library.  Make sure the same thing does not happen to you.  When tax increase referendums come up on the ballot to give more money to your local library, vote YES.  Find out what volunteer opportunities are available, then go and make yourself available.  Take someone with no transportation to the library.  Spend quality time with your child during the Story Hour.  Make so much use of your local libraries that the politicians who want to close them in order to save money will not have any way to support their positions.  And when you hear of libraries being threatened with shuttering for budget reasons, get angry and get active.  Our libraries are much too integral to be pushed aside.

We have a movie theater in our town that screens only classic films – ones that you are sure would have been amazing to watch on the large screen when they were new, but (at least in my case) they were new before you were born.  This weekend they were screening It’s A Wonderful Life.  Now, I have seen this movie so many times, I could probably recite the lines along with the movie, Rocky Horror style, but it is still the quintessential holiday film.  There are others, of course – A Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th St., and just about any version of A Christmas Carol – but Wonderful Life seems to epitomize that simpler time that we all seem to long for.  The question remains, if given the opportunity, would we really enjoy returning to that kind of existence?  Or can we somehow find a compromise?

I think about all of the technological advances that have come, in a wide variety of fields, and I know that there are many I would be loathe to live without.  At the top of my list would be some of the medical advances that have happened in the past 30 years, particularly in the area of breast cancer research.  When I was 12, my paternal grandmother died of the disease.  At that time, there was no such thing as yearly mammograms, ultrasound to inspect suspected lumps, or even any training on any front for women to self-examine.  My grandmother did not even know she had cancer until it had spread so far into her body that there was not much anyone could do other than to make her comfortable until the end.  Fast forward 25 years.  One day, my mother found a lump.  Within the span of two weeks, she had been examined by her doctor, had mammograms, a sonogram, a needle biopsy and a diagnosis.  Within a week of that she had started treatment.  Last month she met with her oncologist for the last time.  After all, since she has been cancer-free for the last 10 years, he really doesn’t see the need for her ever to come back.

Similarly, the progress that has been made in the area of HIV-AIDS is amazing.  When I was in high school, the worst thing that could happen to you if you had unprotected sex was a disease that required a visit to a doctor’s office and a rather embarrassing discussion that ended with a shot of penicillin.  When I was in college, the worst was a viral disease that you would have for the rest of your life, with some rather unpleasant sores, but there were drugs that would control it.  Toward the end of my college career was the first time I had heard of a sexually transmitted disease that could kill you, but even so, I figured I was immune, as I was never going to be having sex with a gay man.  Today, there are over 30 million people living with HIV.  Part of that statistic is the rampant spread of the disease in sub-Saharan Africa, but the other part is that today, due to medical advances that have occurred in the last 30 years, people are no longer dying of AIDS like they were in the 80’s.  As a matter of fact, with proper treatment and maintenance, an person with HIV can expect to live a normal lifespan, into their 80’s or 90’s, with relatively few HIV-related problems.

I also think about communications.  In Frank Capra’s world, the local police officer had to drive up and down the city streets, looking for George to let him know he was needed at home.  Running out of gas on a lonely stretch of road used to mean hiking for miles or accepting a ride from a stranger.  Clark Kent changed into Superman by ducking into the nearest telephone booth.  Enter the cell phone, and suddenly theses scenarios are obsolete.  And speaking of Superman, no where has there been a better harbinger of things to come than the scene in Superman: The Movie of Christopher Reeve desperately searching for a phone booth, only to discover an open-style pay phone with no enclosure or door.  When cell phones first came into existence, they were big, bulky bricks that were unwieldy tools used only by certain business people.  Today, if you are 12 and your parents haven’t gotten you a phone that allows you to text, surf the net, check your email, play games, take pictures and stream movies (not to mention make calls), you are considered a total dweeb by your peers.  The ability to communicate with almost anyone on the planet at a moments notice is second nature to us now.  I know I have felt lost on those rare occasions that I walk out the door without my phone.  How can I call home to check in?  What if I feel a sudden urge to call my aunt in Seattle while I am waiting in line at the grocery store?  What if there’s an EMERGENCY?  If only cell phone usage was limited to emergency situations . . .

Communication advances have also improved the dissemination of information.  The advent of the 24-hour news channel and the internet makes us all aware of world news any time of the day or night.  I was having a conversation with my husband just the other night about how Nancy Grace’s HLN show anymore seems to be nothing but trying to find the latest missing child.  Now don’t get me wrong, I believe that a missing child, in any situation, is a horrendous tragedy that I would not ever wish on anyone.  But 10 years ago, if a child went missing, it was local news.  They didn’t broadcast it on any national networks, and there certainly wasn’t the attention given to missing children today.  If a child goes missing today, the ability to let the entire country or world know about the situation, post pictures and descriptions, issue Amber Alerts, and get everyone looking for the child greatly improves the probability that that child will be returned home, safe and sound.

The information age has also sounded the death knell for the old door-to-door encyclopedia salesman.  After all, who needs an encyclopedia when one has Google or Wikipedia?  Despite that, when a neighbor held a garage sale several years ago, and had a World Book set from 1987 available for $10, I snatched it up.  It’s not like there is suddenly going to be new information on folks like Beethoven, George Washington, or Elvis Presley.  There is valuable information to be had in an encyclopedia, and even “outdated” ones can be useful.  As a matter of fact, we now have two sets of encyclopedias in our home.  The other set is Encyclopædia Brittanica from the 1880’s.  It belonged to my great-grandparents.  I figure if I am still around in 2080, I will buy another set.  One every 100 years should keep me up to date.  Seriously, having the world at my fingertips is an advance I would not want to give up.  Being able to learn about situations around the world help me to appreciate what I have at home or, conversely, prompt me to try and improve myself and my situation.

In the working world, technology has improved the safety of the work environment, expanded job opportunities to entirely new classes of people, and improved the qualities of the products we buy.  Labor unions gave workers the ability to unite forces and demand better working environments.  Henry Ford’s assembly line revolutionized manufacturing.  The US involvement in World War II introduced women to the manufacturing fields, and equal pay laws helped to level the playing field.  At the same time, child labor laws forced children out of the factory and back into the schools, where, by improving their education, they are able to improve their prospects for employment opportunities in the future.  And in “Research and Design”, the goal of trying to make the latest widget smaller, faster, stronger, cheaper, longer-lasting and more environmentally friendly seems to be never ending.  Computer aided design makes reaching for that goal even easier.  Engineers can “test” virtual models in a simulated environment without the cost of actually making a prototype.  The end result being better products for the consumer at prices that seem to plummet the longer the product is on the market.  Priced a GPS unit or big-screen TV lately?

All of this technology has admittedly improved our lives, but at what price?  I am lucky if I can get my family to unite at the dinner table four nights a week.  Even so, breakfast and lunch are usually in front of the TV, watching something or playing the XBox.  I don’t know most of my kids’ friends because, rather than going to each others’ house’s to play, they party on their gaming systems and text each other late into the night.  If they want to see each other, they wait until they are at school.  Gone are the days of the entire gang descending upon one child’s house to raid the refrigerator and disappear to study or play a game or just “hang out.”  Being able to talk to anyone at the drop of a hat doesn’t mean I am any more connected with those people who are most important in my life.  On the contrary, I think to a certain extent  I take for granted that I can talk to someone at any time, and therefore I don’t talk to them unless there is a pressing need.

For this holiday season, I propose that we all try and take a moment, and make our lives Wonderful.  Take a look at the people around you and really appreciate them for who they are and how they contribute to your happiness.  Look at the value of the quality of your life, not just the quantity of what you have.  Turn off the cell phone and the TV and gather the family for some Christmas caroling in the neighborhood. Invite your friends to join you for Christmas Eve services at church, and repeat the following mantra:

“Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.”

Merry Christmas.

* Based on a true story.

Once upon a time, somewhere in Middle America, lived a woman named Mary.  Mary was a wife and mother, with a loving husband and three intelligent and polite children.  She loved to do special things for her family, especially on holidays.  Every year, she would try to get those one-of-a-kind special presents that she knew her family would love.  As the variety of things available on the internet began to grow, she would occasionally look on different web sites to compare prices or see what choices were out there, but for the most part she would do her shopping locally.  She liked to be able to see the thing she was purchasing, feel it, and make a decision based upon all the lovely intangibles that come with shopping in person.  Every once in a while she would buy something online, but usually it was only when she had already seen the thing in a store and could be assured of what she was buying.  The deciding factor always seemed to be cost – if it was significantly cheaper online, then she would get it there.

Last year at Christmas time, she made what she thought was a simple purchase.  She went to a well-known, popular online retailer called “Nile”.  Everyone shopped at because they carried just about everything, from books to toys to movies to clothing – anything a person could want could be had at Nile.  She figured it was safe making a purchase at Nile, since they were so well-respected and were known for their exceptional customer service.  She didn’t even mind submitting the personal information requested, like her email address.  She knew they would need a certain amount of information in order to ship her purchases.

Mary was looking for a very specific item – a book – based upon a TV series her husband liked to watch.  The show was on one of the cable channels and was all about a former spy who had been fired from his job.  Each week the spy would help a hapless victim get deserved justice, using only his amazing spy skills and the help of two friends – his on-again-off-again pyromaniac girlfriend and a retired spy friend who used to work for a competitor spy agency.  Mary’s husband, John, really liked this show and watched every episode.  John had even bought the first two seasons of the show on DVD so that he could watch it again with cast commentaries and behind-the-scenes features.  Well, when Mary discovered that someone had written a short novel based upon show detailing yet another case of unofficial justice, she knew that John would enjoy reading the book (and she was right).

Several months passed, and Mary did not give any thought to having purchased the book from Nile until the day she opened her email and found a new message from  The message read as follows (this text taken verbatim from Mary’s email):

As someone who has purchased or rated Burn Notice: The Fix by Tod Goldberg, you might like to know that Curious George A Winter’s Nap (CGTV Reader) (Curious George Early Readers) will be released on August 9, 2010.  You can pre-order yours by following the link below.

Now Mary was a smart woman, but no matter how hard she tried, she could not figure out what these two books could possibly have in common, other than the fact that they were books.  It’s not like her toddler son had read the novel or her husband would enjoy reading Curious George as much as he had the novel.  In the end, she came to the conclusion that’s targeted marketing program had just gone haywire.  She shared her observations with John.  Once John quit laughing, he suggested she write about it.

So she did.

The moral to the story is “If you shop online, remember – personal service really isn’t personal.”

I read with interest a story in today’s local paper.  It was all about the latest computer technology advance out of India.  International demand for the Apple iPad has hardly slowed since its initial introduction, despite its hefty price tag.  Unfortunately, the Apple price point is simply out of reach for the vast majority of the Indian population, so the demand for less expensive computers is incredibly high.  When the under-$300 PC was introduced, it was a solid hit, but the Indian tech gurus may have knocked it out the ballpark this time.

If you have read any of my previous blog entries, you know that I am often referring to the TED conferences and the innovations that stem from them.  In 2005, Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the MIT Media Lab, proposed a $100 laptop that would be distributed in developing countries like China and India.  The laptops would be distributed in schools to students as a way to aid the learning process and give them more connectivity to the rest of the world.  He called the program One Laptop Per Child.  Ironically, India rejected OLPC as being “too expensive” and set out to create their own computers that would be even cheaper.

Which brings us to the $35 tablet PC unveiled earlier this week.  Of course, $35 is the high end of the price range.  The development team is hoping that they can get the cost down to $10 per unit once they go into full-steam production next year.  It will have connectivity similar to that of the iPad, but it runs the Linux system and operates with a USB-type storage device instead of an installed hard drive.  All of these factors help with the price reduction, but the developers have also shopped the globe looking for companies willing to produce a portion of the system for a low cost.  By farming out the components and using open-source software, India seems to have done the impossible.  And if that were not enough, the Indian government has also said that they will be willing to help subsidize the cost of the tablet computers for students, so they will run around $20 each.  Functionality might be limited on these machines, but if there was a device that could surf the web, bounce out to YouTube, check email and do basic word processing for 20 bucks, wouldn’t you jump on it?

People in the United States used to joke when India first started “stealing” phone support jobs, but with the advent of a variety of modern technologies being produced at a much lower cost that the rest of the world, India is a player to watch.  I know I could swing $20 for a new computer.  I just have to come up with the money to move to India . . .

To view the entire Associated Press article, click here.

I decided last week I was going to take the weekend off for Mother’s Day.  I was not going to worry about writing, just going to enjoy the weekend.  That was all well and good until Friday morning.  I was in the shower, getting ready for work, and I started thinking (always a dangerous prospect with me) and I began composing in my head.  And I remember thinking it was a really good idea for a writing topic.  It then segued into two topics that were somewhat related, with the closing of the first to be sort of an introduction for the second.  So, I decided, right there in the shower, that instead of taking the weekend off, as I had planned, I would write both topics after I got home from work.

So far, so good, except that on Saturday afternoon, we were hosting a family party for Mother’s Day.  Both sides of the family were coming to our house.  By the time I got home from work, the remainder of Friday afternoon went to straightening up the house and doing what I could to get ready for Saturday.  Still OK.  Put the toddler down for a nap, and I was ready to write.  I came in to my desk, sat down, and fired up my browser.  My home page links to my Gmail, and I saw that I had several new messages.  I went to Gmail, and found a couple of other online things I needed to take care of before I could write.  Still OK.  Should only take a few minutes.  Half-way through my short list of tasks, I started having trouble.  I called to my husband (who was at his own workstation, doing HIS thing) and asked him if he had done something to our WiFi that would interfere with my ability to access the internet.  It was about then that we realized that we had no outside phone, either (no internet, no internet phone).  Grabbed my cell phone and called our ISP.  We were part of a “known outage” that should be resolved in an hour or two.  Still OK.  I started going through my coupons, making my shopping list for the store.  By the time I got done food shopping, everything would be resolved and I could sit down and write.

The toddler woke from his nap and we headed out to the store.  When we finished our shopping, I called my husband to have the older boys ready to come out and unload the car.  He answered our house phone.  Great!  The outage had been resolved and I would hop on the web and write to my heart’s content as soon as the groceries were put away.  Still OK.  My topics were still floating around in my brain.  Maybe not as fully formed as they were in the shower that morning, but enough that I was going to have no trouble reconstructing them.  By the time I got home (five minutes later), our internet was out again.  I put the groceries away, fixed dinner, and fed the heathens.  Finished up the last of the dishes, got everything squared away for Saturday.  Still no internet.  On the phone again with the ISP.

This time I was not as nice as I had been.  I told “Cedric” (like that’s his real name) that we had been told six hours prior that we were part of a “known outage” and that the problem was supposed to be resolved five hours ago, but we still didn’t have internet.  “Cedric” said that the outage was resolved and we needed to reset our modem.  Done, but still no internet.  “Cedric” offered to have someone come out on Saturday.  I told him that was fine, as long as they could come and go before noon, as we were having our party at 1:00.  “Cedric” told me he could do this, but he had to have a phone number for the tech to call before his arrival.  I assured him someone would be home, although I would be at work.  I told “Cedric” the only phone number for the people who would be home on Saturday is our home phone, which wasn’t working BECAUSE WE HAD NO INTERNET.  The service tech could call my cell phone, but I would not answer because I would be at work.  “Cedric” said if the tech called and didn’t  get an answer, he would assume that no one is home and would cancel the service call.  Clearly, we were not getting anywhere.  My husband told me to hang up, and I told “Cedric” I would have to call him back.  The toddler and I went in and started getting ready for bed.  Still OK.  I had been reminding myself of my wonderful topics and I would be fully ready to get up in the morning and, at the very least, jot down some notes before I go to work.  I set my alarm for extra early, so that I had time to write.

Saturday morning and my alarm clock is going crazy.  I hit the snooze and went back to sleep.  Crazy buzzing again.  Time to haul my butt out of bed.  Jumped in the shower, reviewed what I was going to write about.  Got all ready for work, and, surprise, surprise, NO INTERNET.  Sigh.  Still OK.  I made a couple of notes on some scratch paper in the kitchen, and headed to work.  Once there, my boss and I had a short conversation about me leaving early to go home and get ready for the party.  That should be fine, she said, and that was the plan right up until the part where we did 1/3 of our expected business for a “normal” Saturday in an hour.  So much for leaving early.  I finally got home and set to the food preparations for lunch.  Everyone came, we ate too much, and then sat around and visited.  Still OK.  I figured I could write once everyone left.

The party was over, everything was cleaned up and I was too tired to think.  I sat down and watched some TV and veg for bit.  When I finally was ready to sit down to write, I began looking for the paper with my notes on it.  Still OK.  As long as I could find the paper, I would be able to write about whatever it was I had been thinking about in the shower on Friday morning . . . . except that I couldn’t find the paper.  I searched through all the piles on my desk.  No notes.  I kept looking, all the while racking my brains trying to figure out what it was that I had thought of in the shower.  I finally concluded that the scratch paper must have found its way into the garbage in the last-minute clean up for the party.  The most I was able to resurrect was the closing line of the first topic – the one that is the introduction to the second topic.  At this point, I will still be able to write the second one, but somehow, I feel that it will be diminished because of the missing lead in.  I had it at one point, but now it’s gone.  I am losing it.  Check that.  I have lost it.  And I will probably never get it back.