Achtung!  Defeat Device Software in Your VW

Now I know I wrote about too much tech in your car on Friday and how that is becoming an aggravation for many new car buyers, but today I am writing about some software that might help car owners pass those bothersome emission inspections in countries around the globe.  Thus the term “defeat device” for this handy mechanism that will reduce your anxiety whenever  your car might be subjected to some form of tailpipe exhaust testing.  Unfortunately, having  this software in your car may cause you more headaches than when you simply failed car inspection in the past.  It might be more analogous to having passed an examination in school and then being caught for cheating.

What to do?   I am not sure anybody really knows what the resolution of this corporate deception will be.  I can remember a much simpler time when I drove a 1968 Volkswagen Beetle with the engine in the rear, and a sunroof on the top.  A real deluxe model for the time with an AM radio, and turn signals that flashed in whatever direction you wanted to go (earlier 60s models had semaphores that would warn other motorists and pedestrians of which direction you would be turning, Google if you like).

And I think we were not so worried about car emissions back then.  Gas was ridiculously cheap (I’ll let you Google that too).  I may be getting a little nostalgic here, but I am not really interested in going back in time.  It was fun while it lasted, but I think saving Mother Earth is a priority now, over half a century later.

Ray Myers

Too Much Tech in Your Car?

So I am not really alone in struggling with mastering all of the “technology options” in my relatively older 2013 BMW.  It seems that the more technology options are added to your car driving experience, the more technology “problems” appear.  Please allow me to present the official analysis of this situation as described by the lead analyst for the Kelley Blue Book (U.S. “Bible” for estimating used car value). “Technology keeps moving and adding more capability, which keeps the manufacturers running to integrate these new things to be competitive.  But then they are redoing the interface so that all those new things can be added, versus having an interface that’s fairly stable for a few years in a row.”  Well I’m glad that we have finally cleared this all up?

Now for all you technology aficionados out there, you will be interested in knowing that the newer vehicle you drive will have a 100 million lines of computer code, 10 times more than that of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.  You may actually have to learn  more about operating your car than an airline pilot, just kidding, but you will still might get that “cockpit feeling.”  Of course, many drivers may actually be seeking a “Star Trek” experience as they glide over America’s highways and byways.

I still really do like to look at the road (sometimes defensively) when I am driving and enjoy the scenery as the seasons change, even on familiar routes that I travel many times a year.  Now if I had a more elaborate “instrument cluster” on my dashboard, maybe I would become more interested in watching that and become a better driver?

Ray Myers

A Digital Divide That Keeps Widening?

Technology has certainly created many more opportunities for many more students to learn more about the world around them. So why does the digital divide keep getting wider in many parts of the U.S.?  I think this is more of an economic issue than a question of public policy or good legislation, intention.  We now have federal initiatives and programs supporting educational technology and Internet connectivity in our classrooms as prerequisites for learning in the 21st Century.  These programs began in the 1990s during the Clinton administration, and it seems that the students who may need them the most still have not benefitted to the degree intended.

The Federal Communications Commission’s eRate and Lifeline programs are often touted as two of the most enabling federal programs leveling the playing field for all American students wherever they may live, transcending zip codes and economic status.  Unfortunately, in spite of all the good intentions and rhetoric, this now appears to be a case of the rich getting richer, and the poor poorer.  Connectivity still seems to be a major issue contributing to this disparity, but it goes beyond the classroom. Students living in poorer districts do not have access to all the technological assets that their counterparts have in richer communities across the country.  So the digital divide may have moved more dramatically to the home environment where poorer students will always be more disadvantaged than their more affluent peers.

This was not intended to be part of the plan created at the end of the last century.  Where is Al Gore when we need him?  Perhaps the real issue is the structure of our public school financing and its dependence on property taxes as its base.  “New wine in old wineskins.”

Ray Myers

Read the Classics on Your Cell Phone

Twenty minutes at a time on a daily basis will be your limit however.  All you need to do is download this handy app on your cell phone (free on iOS devices). There is a small selection of these classics (e.g. “Moby Dick”) right now but the library is expanding daily.  It’s called Serial Reader, and I’m thinking this will be taking reading the classics to a whole new level that maybe some of us may not want?

You will not have to buy a book to treasure and read at your leisure.  You will only have to check your phone daily to read the latest installment.  No skipping ahead here.  You will become, what I will call, a programmed reader, unencumbered by hardbound or paperback copies of any classic you might want to read.  Lighten your load.  All you need is internet connectivity to make it so. No need to browse those bookstores and libraries any more.  It can all be in the palm of your hand. 

But let’s not forget that we do not all have to be Serial Readers.  It’s still your choice, and the reading of books now seems to come in a variety of ways.  According to a New York Times survey of subscribers  in July and August of last year: 38% only read physical books; 4% only read books on electronic devices; and 58% only read physical books and books on electronic devices. Read on, Macduff!

Ray Myers

Screen Test for College?

Well I really don’t know if this would have helped me in the college application process those many years ago.   I was one of the fortunate few who were accepted sight unseen, and also benefitted from some geographical diversity.  Now if I had applied by submitting a two-minute video, who knows what would have happened?  I guess I was just born too late, and maybe the video wouldn’t have really helped me that much.  But we did have “home movies.”

My father used to make “home movies” (8mm) as we called them back then, and I could have submitted many scenes of me participating in family gatherings around holiday times throughout the year.  As a matter of fact, they could have seen the whole family, including many “happy” aunts and uncles who were just dying to get in front of the camera and demonstrate their newfound screen personas.  I am not sure that the few glimpses of me dancing with cousins or roughhousing with my brothers could have been that persuasive.

I wonder what that my college Admissions Office would have learned from watching how all my relatives (and me) behaved at these family get-togethers.  Maybe a little too much “cinema verite” than is needed to gauge chances of potential collegiate academic success.  At the same time they may have learned much more about my family than they may had ever really wanted to know.

Ray Myers

E-Commerce and Cardboard

An alternative title for this post could be “Instant Gratification.”  So what does all this have to do with technology?  Well it’s all about shopping online, and receiving lots of purchases at your front door courtesy of UPS, FedEx etc.  Therefore, you will have lots of cardboard boxes and assorted packaging materials to dispose of after opening your conveniently delivered purchases.  And waiting times seem to be shortening as a simple click on the desired item on your computer screen or smartphone will result in almost instant delivery (gratification!)

Remember the days of conspicuous consumption?  Now it seems that the most conspicuous aspect of our online consumption is the amount of cardboard that is accumulating in people’s trash.  How about 100 tons a day in San Francisco alone where this E-Commerce boom was generated by the rise of technology entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley, creating a business model that was soon replicated around the world.  This is the “cyber retail business” world we now live in, and it looks like there is no turning back.

Ironically, some leaders in the cardboard recycling business are having a hard time keeping up and offer this advice: “Slow down consumption, slow down.”

Ray Myers

Computer Has Voice, Personality, and Political Potential

I guess it’s just not enough to give your computer a voice like IBM’s Watson; he/she also needs a personality.  In other words, here is the latest update on this voice-enhancing endeavor.  “Machines are listening, understanding, and speaking, and not just computers and smartphones.  Voices have been added to a wide range of everyday objects like cars and toys, as well a household information “appliances” like the home-companion robots Pepper and Jobo, and Alexa, the voice of the Amazon Echo speaker device.”

Now here comes the scary part.  One software firm in Israel is now considering developing a “conversational character,” an avatar that could be deployed on a social media platform during a political campaign.  For example, a plausible-sounding Ted Cruz or Donald Trump could articulate the candidate’s positions on any possible subject.  What a concept!  Just prerecord your responses to any burning issues on the campaign trail and let your avatar do the rest.  No more flip-flopping, or nuancing on issues as the campaign develops.  Unfortunately, I think that would be the part I would miss the most.

The developers of this software claim that this social media platform will enable the audience to have an interactive conversation with the candidate.  A real virtual interactive conversation?  Is that what we really want in terms of understanding the political positions of our candidates?  Maybe that is what is actually happening already.

Ray Myers

Tweet Like It’s 2007 or Not?

Unfortunately for all you Twitter fans, I don’t think you will be able to go back to the good old days (monthly growth is stalling).  I know we all had fun learning how to tweet with all our hashtags, acronyms, retweets, etc., but somehow we may be astonished to learn that people seem to prefer more explicit expressions of their own or other’s thoughts, comments, and ideas.  Blogging seems to be on the rise as one of the more expansive methods of online expression.   And of course there is always Instagram, FaceTime, YouTube and other apps that enable us to hear and see whatever the “message” may be.  Anybody remember Marshall McLuhan?  (You may want to look him up).

Twitter will never die, and I am confident that Jack Dorsey and company will figure out a way to stay competitive in the   crowded world of online messaging.  I think that the good news for all of us is that traditional language structure and expression has carved out a niche in our electronic age.  At least, let’s hope so.  Many friends and acquaintances, however, who are still teaching in both traditional and online settings, are concerned with students’ deteriorating writing skills.  And who will be the future English (or any language) teachers/writers of tomorrow?

I think they are out there, and we will all know them when we see (read) them.  So maybe Twitter’s waning popularity is not bad news.  It was certainly something that I learned to do at an advanced age (?).  It was fun and still is, but let’s remember that communication with one another is more than just sending out 140 character electronic messages.

Ray Myers

Online Degrees and Virtual College Connections

Going to college has certainly taken on many different connotations these days.  Back in the last century, I had the good fortune of being able to attend a small Jesuit college in Kansas City, Missouri, because I was geographically diverse, having attended a regional Catholic high school in southern New Jersey.  I was not the highest achieving student in my class, but was offered scholarship assistance and a welcoming atmosphere from supportive classmates living away from home for the first time as well.  Most of them were from the Midwest and I owe much to their generosity and friendship.  They were very intrigued to be meeting someone from New Jersey for the first time!  And vice versa for me.

Now you can “go to college” in a many different variety of ways.  Online is certainly a more convenient and assuredly a less expensive way for many.  MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are available to anyone in the world with an Internet connection.  But what kind of degree or certification of mastery do you receive at the completion of the online course requirements alone?  Some universities offer a “Statement of Accomplishment,” or other documentation of course/program completion online.  The “treasured” diploma still seems reserved for those who pay tuition (receive scholarships, take out loans, etc.), and attend four years on a college campus.

There may be many other variations on this theme of higher education now being made available to many more students through online learning.  Because of our technological connectivity, we are obviously expanding opportunities for many more learners of all ages anywhere they may be.  This is a new day, presenting many more educational opportunities for citizens of the twenty-first century.  They will not have to take a Greyhound bus half-way across the country and learn to live in a new place and make new “connections.”  I was lucky.

Ray Myers

Health Data – Key to Future Cures

Actually my optometrist was the most annoyed health practitioner I have recently visited about having to provide all my prescription information to the U.S. Electronic Health Record (E.H.R.) System.  I am not so sure it was about having to do it, but having to do it himself (typing on his laptop) while he completed my eye exam.  Maybe someone else could have done that at an additional cost.  Not my problem I guess, until I get a bill and see how I have to pay for it, or hope that someone else will (Obamacare?).  But most people seem to be more worried about whether their privacy will be protected?  

Never really thought about it too much.  Why would anyone really want to know anout my health history, but maybe that’s the point.  Technology has helped make all this information potentially available to a wide variety of people who want to make us live healthier lives, but similarly there maybe others who would like to use it against us in some way?  Or there may be others who just want more control over their personal information regardless of what benefits may be promised.  I remember hearing the phrase “you know too much,” being uttered during casual conversations.  Maybe this fear of personal information being “exposed” clouds our appreciation of how the sharing of personal health data can improve our general health care.

“Medical research is making progress every day, but the next step depends less on scientists and doctors than it does on the public.  Each of us has the potential to be part of tomorrow’s cures.”

Ray Myers

Look, Up in the Sky – It’s a Pigeon with LED Lights!

Unfortunately, you will not be able to see this sight unless you live in the New York City area, particularly Brooklyn, where you will be able to see these flocks of pigeons on weekend nights this spring.  This vernal event is entitled “Fly by Night.”  We can also call it “pigeon performance art.”  The LED lights are wrapped around the pigeons’ legs like the bands that are used to carry messages.  The show is free although spaces in the Brooklyn Navy Yard must be reserved.

A century ago, one of the United States military’s largest pigeon coops was at Cob Dock, an island that was part of the Navy Yard.  From there, homing pigeons were loaded onto Navy vessels from which they were sent out to relay military communications.  Most Americans are not aware of the important role that these pigeons played in U.S. wartime history.

Meredith Johnson, the curator for this “performance art” event wants to bring these pigeons out of the shadows and make visible this history that people don’t think of when they see a pigeon in the park.  And those LED lights will show you where they are in the New York night time ask this spring.

Ray Myers

Let’s Dance, Wherever You Are

Thanks, Skype.  Dancers at the Tisch School of Arts at New York University can now connect with dance studios in South America, Europe or Japan.  NOW is the name of this internet-based innovation that allows dancers to perform duets, as well as ensemble pieces, with partners from around the world.

In setting the “stage” for a duet, a student technician makes the Skype call – a bit of logistical suspense with every ring – before the dancers gave their names, locations and local time.  NYU choreographer Pat Catterson wants her dancers to take their material phrases that sometimes wander into whimsy – and make them their own, a process that Skype facilitates and subtly alters.  Occasionally, the physical virtual pairs moved in unison, their synchronization loosened by technological glitches as well as by idiosyncratic timing.

NOW “performances” (75-minute installations) have been described as one of those the-way-we-live-now kind of works, both homespun and high tech, with elements familiar and unsettlingly novel.  Whatever it may be or eventually become, NOW is certainly an innovative example of how technology can support artistic collaboration on a global scale.

Ray Myers

Facebook in India – Poor Internet for Poor People?

Some may remember that I wrote about Facebook’s efforts in India at the end of December, and was not overly optimistic about their chances of success since the Indian government was just then instituting a “review” of Facebook’s practices.  Please belief me that I am not posting this follow-up blog with any sense of joy or vindictiveness.  India is a country with 1.2 billion inhabitants in a country approximately a third the size of the U.S.  While it may have 130 million Facebook users, second only to the U.S., telecommunications experts there note that more than ten percent of the country does not have mobile phone coverage, and that India’s progress in extending fiber-optic cable to village centers is proceeding at a glacial pace.

The current Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi has set a goal of linking 250,000 village centers with fiber-optic cable and extending mobile coverage under his “Digital India” plan by 2016.  Well 2016 has arrived, and reaching that goal by the end of this year, appears to be an impossibility.  According to a recent Indian government report, only 25,000 village centers have cable so far, and it is ready for use in only 3,200.  But maybe Facebook (Zuckerberg) is actually being used as a scapegoat for the failure of the Indian government to provide the basic technological infrastructure that is sorely needed.  Government broadband access often sputters, wages are low, and hours are long.  Girls and women have disproportionately been excluded from the educational and employment opportunities that technology offers.

Facebook has certainly captured the imagination of younger generations around the world.  It clearly provides students with individual access and connectivity on a global scale whenever they want and wherever they are.  As one young Indian villager noted: the first thing he would do when the Internet finally arrived is to sign up for Facebook.

Ray Myers