Live Free or Die – Internet Freedom in Vietnam!

Well the slogan comes from New Hamshire, U.S.A., but we could just as well be talking about Vietnam, and their pursuit of Internet connectivity that would exceed their Asian neighbors.  Let’s just say they are trying to set the record straight after there were some “unkind” reports around Obama’s recent visit by several foreign news outlets that Vietnam “restricted” access to the widely-popular Facebook social network during the visit.  To make matters worse, the Vietnam News reports that “Some reactionaries and dissidents .   .  . posted this ill-intentioned information on their personal blogs.”  Not a good idea!

Now here is what the News reports:  “Compared to 2000, the number of Internet users in Vietnam has soared 200-fold.”  They now have 45.5 million Internet-users or 48 per cent of the population, ranking sixth in Asia, behind China (674 million), India (354 million), Japan (114.9 million), Indonesia (73 million) and the Philippines (47.1 million).  They    proudly add that they are “also among the top countries in terms of Facebook user growth, not to mention other information channels.”  Furthermore, Vietnam’s growth in this area “prove the Vietnamese Party and State’s consistent viewpoint of ensuring press and Internet freedom.”

So there you have it.  Vietnam is open for business and social networking on the Internet, and they’re proud of it.  Just don’t believe all of those “unkind” reports by some foreign news outlets.

Ray Myers

Hanoi

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Teaching Methodology for the 21st Century in Vietnam

For technology to have an impact in Vietnamese classrooms, the path of least resistance appears to be in the vocational education classrooms around the country.  Vocational training courses are on the rise, and vocational schools had an eighteen percent increase in attendance from 2011-15.  The Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training is perhaps the biggest booster of change of educational focus.  Ministry leaders are convinced that schools should take the initiative and work with enterprises in developing new training models and renewing curricula.  Let’s just say that in this part of the world these words are more than simply “suggestions.”

So when the Ministry says that new teaching methods are needed I think they are also taking aim at the teacher training colleges that already appeared to have graduated an overwhelming surplus of teachers who can not find jobs (70,000 estimated).  To teach in Vietnam, you may just simply have to learn a new set of skills.   That is not just the case in Vietnam as we all know well.  Here is what the Deputy Minister of Education and Training had to say about all this.

“Global integration and the movement of Vietnamese labourers to other countries and foreigners to Vietnam because of the Association of Southest Asian Nations (ASEAN) Economic Community and international trade agreements, requires schools to renew curricula and methodology for a new age.”  Now that sounds better!

Ray Myers

Hanoi

Obama and Tech in Vietnam

Somehow I never thought of Vietnam as embracing that old American entrepreneurial spirit, but I have been wrong before.  President Obama says that it is now a happening place for venture capitalists.  Now I really don’t know many of those people in the venture capital world, but I’ll take his word for it.  I think what I like most about how he sees technology being a growth area is his conviction that people are still the most important part of this enterprise.
And there are a lot of people here that traditional approaches in education and training have failed.  If they are lucky enough to connect with a start-up like Dreamplex in Ho Chi Minh City they might find newer opportunities of their own making, or in collaboration with others.  Mr. Obama told young entrepreneurs at Dreamplex yesterday that next month he would welcome eight Vietnamese entrepreneurs to Silicon Valley so that they can learn from the best entrepreneurs and venture capitalists in the world.
So it’s a new kind of foreign aid, I guess you could call it.  With the hope that these American-trained entrepreneurs will return home and work to expand opportunities for others in the place of their birth.

Ray Myers 

Hanoi



Da Nang’s People’s Committee Got Facebook

I think this is big news in this part of the world, but I could be wrong, so I’ll give you the Party “line.”  “Da Nang’s authorities have taken a viral approach to tackling environmental problems and other issues in the city: a Facebook page.  It has proven to be a popular avenue for citizens to report their concerns.”  “We can hear opinions from local people on any public construction project or plan .  .  . ”  Now I haven’t been to Da Nang’s, so I will just have to take their word for it.

Maybe the difference is that Da Nang’s is a tourist destination located on Vietnam’s central coast and is very eager to benefit from the social networking and advertising that Facebook creates in a viral way.  All you need is the connectivity that comes with your mobile device.  And that seems to be the “coin of the realm” these days.  It’s all in the palm of your hand.

I am not sure that this is all about citizen empowerment as much as commercial benefit for businesses in Da Nang.  But either way, it sounds a little like social and political (?) change.

Ray Myers

French Connection

Yesterday was a very interesting day here in Hanoi. I had the opportunity to practice my French and recall some history lessons that take me back to infancy when my father was drafted to serve in Germany, and later, when an uncle also served in the German occupation.  When I was born my father was a foot soldier in the Army, part of the American forces that landed at Normandy during the D-Day invasion in World War II. The presentation I attended here in Vietnam was by a representative of the Ecole de Management de Normandie.   Basically it was a presentation on the use of SMART school management software to Vietnamese staff working at the national Ministry of Education and Training.

I was able to join the discussion and engage in conversation with the presenter, using my limited French conversational abilities.  Most of the staff here were quite surprised. The presentation was translated into Vietnamese for the general audience. As a college history major, and someone who is just that old, it was a vivid reminder that the U.S. presence in this part of the world is still primarily remembered as a military one.   Even before Vietnam, we lead the allies in wars with Japan, the Philippines and Korea.  

The French army left Indochina (Vietnam) in 1954.   So now Flench tech entrepreneurs sell software to the citizens of one of their former colonies/enemies.  C’est bon, n’est pas?

Ray Myers

Vietnam, May 18, 2016

Just wanted to keep you posted on the daily celebrations here in Vietnam.  This is all new to me as well, but I would like to share with you a little bit about what I am learning.  Let’s start off with the national holidays which you probably didn’t know about before.  Today is Ho Chi Minh’s 126th birthday.  Well, he is not really around to celebrate with us, as you know, but there are special exhibits and performances throughout Vietnam especially in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).   If you are so inclined,  you can refer to him as “Uncle Ho.” 

Yesterday was Buddha’s birthday.  Like Ho Chi Minh, he is not around to celebrate with us either, having died 2,560 years ago.  Buddhists are still very much a minority in Vietnam, but they are being encouraged by their Supreme Patriarch here to make more contributions to national construction and defense, environmental protection and climate change efforts.  I am not really sure how you can improve your contributions in these areas.  I am just reporting on what I read in the papers here FYI.

Now for some technology news.  May 18th is also Vietnam’s Science and Technology Day.  I don’t think there are any planned national celebrations related to the implementation of educational technology in the schools, but if I hear of anything else, I will pass that information along as well.  If you have any questions or comments, please let me know.

Ray Myers


Good Morning Vietnam

I think I’m still a little groggy from my air travel starting in D.C. through China and down to Hanoi.  I arrived here nearly two days ago and managed to meet with some of the senior staff of the company sponsoring my trip here.  Fortunately I did not have to make any formal presentations at this time, but starting tomorrow I will be meeting with Ministry officials who oversee various national educational programs including educational technology.  I have prepared some more formal presentations for several meetings over the next two days.  But I think you might be interested in learning how this all came to pass, I hope.  I have now been retired from government service for nearly two years.

I received this travel invitation via email less than two weeks ago.   During the time I was working in the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Departmen of Education I was fortunate enough to become the international liaison person.  This was pretty much by default since I may have been the only person who was that interested in doing it, so I eagerly assumed this role.  Consequently, I had the opportunity to meet with numerous international visitors and more formal foreign delegations who were interested in learning more about the implementation of educational technology programs in American schools.  One of these visitors was Mr. Kim with the Ministry of Education and Training in Vietnam.  So nearly five years later, he is in a position to extend an invitation to me to visit and advise he and his staff on their work in educational technology across different educational levels.  I gladly accepted his kind in invitation.

In flying over here, I also experienced some of the “politics” of international access to the Internet.  As I already mentioned, I did have some lay-over time at an airport in China.  I was looking forward to catching up on my emails while we were on the ground.  In China, however, as you may have read in one of my recent posts, Google’s gmail and other features are currently inaccessible.  I have read that Google and the Chinese authorities are currently “negotiating” how this situation can be resolved.  I’ll soon find out when I fly home in three weeks.

Ray Myers


The Dalai Lama’s Online Atlas of Emotions

And let’s keep religion out of it!  That’s what the Dalai Lama said, so that’s okay with me.  But I think that will be the hard part. According to a survey of some eminent neuroscientists and psychologists we can basically distill all of these emotions into five broader categories: anger, fear, disgust, sadness and enjoyment.  These categories can be further refined and catalogued into a veritable Atlas of Emotions.  So now when you really want to know how you feel, just go look it up online.  The Dalai Lama has his own printed version that was custom made for him, and there is nothing wrong with that.  After all, he is the Dalai Lama!

The Dalai Lama’s goal in all of this is to create a tool for cultivating good in the world by defeating the bad within us.  He truly believes that “In the past, compassion was something of a sign of weakness, or anger a sign of power, a sign of strength. Basic human nature is more compassionate. That’s the real basis of our hope.”  He wants to create more interest in our inner values, and he obviously believes that the World Wide Web (when was the last time you heard that?) can helps us reach them.

So the World Wide Web may actually help us all reach a higher spiritual plane built on more compassion for others.  But understanding the world of emotions within all of us is perhaps the most important lesson that the Dalai Lama is trying to share.  And he also added that in his next life, he may get the online version.

Ray Myers

P.S.

I will be working in Vietnam for the remainder of May and into the middle of June.  I will not be posting a blog on Friday this week while I am traveling, but will be back online Monday.  Thanks for following.

In Your Face, Book – Internet Addiction Disorder?

The average American social media user spends about 50 minutes a day using popular communication platforms.  These include not only Facebook, but two other sites in their media family, Instagram and Messenger.  Most of these users are in the 18 – 34 age range prized by most media advertisers.  The measurement of time spent on any particular site has become the holy grail of digital media.  And finding ways to keep people on the site has become the most prized strategy or asset that potential advertiser can develop and employ. 

At the same time, some behavioral scientists are concerned that many people are developing Internet Addiction Disorder.  Although this “syndrome” is not an official medical designation of a behavioral disorder, it does seem to interfere with many other social interactions, and it does impact upon other media activities such as watching TV programs while sitting at home with family and friends.  Now you can do that by yourself with your handy mobile device wherever you maybe.  Those other people can be very distracting at times anyway.

FaceTime is great, and you really have control of when and where you use it.  It is a convenience that we would really find hard to live without, but it does depend on our technologically connectivity.  There are still also many other ways to keep up our human social connectivity.

Ray Myers






Doing It All Virtually

Now we all know that Siri is a very smart piece of artificial intelligence (AI), but have you heard about Viv?  She (I think that’s the voice gender, or maybe you can choose) is even smarter.  Her creators like to call her a virtual assistant more than simple piece of AI.  For the past four years the same people who brought you Siri have been working on creating Viv.  She who will do more than just give you requested information.  Using simple voice commands, she will actually do things for you, like ordering a pizza delivered to your doorstep.  Please don’t ask me why ordering a pizza is the most critical task in assessing the performance of a virtual assistant.  I guess you just get hungry putting all those pieces of code together?

In all fairness, Viv has moved on from ordering pizza.  She can order a car, flowers, turn lights off and on in your home, and is talking with other potential partners to unite many businesses into a single, unbroken conversation: television companies, car companies, media companies, and makers of smart refrigerators, etc.  Forget all those apps, unless you really like living in an earlier technological era.

It’s the latest and easily the biggest time-saver in our busy and more connected world.  So what are you going to do with all that free time?  Looks like you will have more time to do things in the real world.

Ray Myers

Bring Back the Arab Spring

It’s only been five years, or five springs ago, but the flowering of a more democratic society in that part of the world has apparently “died on the vine.”  Perhaps the most obvious example of the return of autocratic governmental control is in the largest of these countries, Egypt.  Press coverage of the government’s repressive actions has resulted in increased censorship and scrutiny of the media’s activities.  The current Interior Minister is now providing “guidance” that a stronger hand needs to be used to stop political protests from growing.  Of course this stronger hand also includes the monitoring of social media and anti-governmental postings on websites.

The Interior Ministry has taken the position that the Egyptian police should seek to undermine the credibility of the journalists’ union by deploying retired police generals to the country’s influential, and mostly pro-government television programs to explain the Ministry’s point of view.  And if that doesn’t work, why not raid the reporters’ offices and hold some of them for questioning.  This has already happened with the reporters being accused of illegal possession of weapons, and being held for questioning for fifteen days.

Spring seems to be rapidly moving into winter in a part of the world where there appeared to be such a promise of new freedoms and opportunities for a younger generation.  Let’s hope that springtime can come again.

Ray Myers



Driverless Cars and Safer Streers

Maybe this is really the answer: just take the steering well away from the human driver and our roads will be safer.  Now you will be free to text your heart away on any mobile device and not worry about your safety or the safety of others in their cars or walking the streets – you won’t be driving the car!  Google has formed a coalition with Ford in trying to make this all technologically and legally possible.  Volvo has also joined this group as well as ride-sharing firms Lyft and Uber.  They call themselves th Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets.  But I am not quite sure how Lyft and Uber fit into this self-driving initiative.  Do they just send out driverless cars when you call them for a ride?

I still think I will miss seeing a “flesh and blood” person sitting behind the steering wheel when I ask Uber to send a car to help me get somewhere.  But maybe I am overreacting.  You’ve got to trust the technology after all.  Right!  Experts have already testified before the U.S. Congress stating that ninety percent of vehicle accidents every year (32,625 deaths in 2014) were the result of decisions made by drivers at the wheel – and self-driving technology has the potential to prevent “at least” some of those accidents. 

So I am grateful that self-driving cars can be instrumental in reducing the number of fatalities on American roads.  But I guess I still have to keep an eye open for those with human beings behind the wheels!

Ray Myers