Technology to Help Make Schools and Teachers Great Again!

My apologies, but I couldn’t resist paraphrasing this “Donald Trumpism.”  It’s just that now is that time of year when education publishers, and now tech companies, start to  unveil the latest and most exciting “products” for the next school term beginning in September.  So, I think the big news here is the dramatic change in the traditional textbook sales business.  Here is a more professional analysis from the Software and Information Industry Association: “Schools in the United States spend more than $8.3 billion annually on software and digital content . . . That spending could grow significantly as school districts that now buy physical textbooks, assessment tests, professional development resources for teachers and administrative materials shift to digital systems.”  Goodbye, Mr. Chips!

This trend has certainly not gone unnoticed in the digital publishing world.  Publishing giants such as Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and in online higher education, edX, have easily recognized the business value of making their products and services more available digitally.  The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) is now holding its annual 2016 convention in Denver this year, and if you attend the proceedings there with 16,000 other teachers and school officials, or follow them remotely,  you will be introduced to these new digital ventures in a more formal way.  Remember the days when you had to go to the Bookstore each semester?

Please believe me that I am not really trying to be nostalgic, well maybe a little.   During my college summers I packed and shipped textbooks to university campuses in the U.S. for the Collier-Macmillan Publishing Company.  Now technology can do all that for you personally.   I often wonder if I have actually been replaced by a robot?

Ray Myers

Facebook Envy Drives Migration to Europe

“Just follow me on Facebook, and you will see what a great life I will be leading in Europe once I cross the Mediterranean.”  These may not be the exact words of aspiring (illegal) immigrants to Europe who are desperate to find a new life there.  It still remains a very treacherous and dangerous proposition dependent on shady transporters and promises of a new life on another continent.  But this is the age of Facebook.   “Just take a look at my Facebook page and you will see all the glories of my new found freedom, or at least my best ‘face’ on how how I am living now.” The Italian government seemed to be the most generous in this respect, providing schooling and temporary papers for foreign minors.  And once they reach the age of 18, they can apply for permanent residency.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that simply all the time.  Despatate to start repaying their parents’ loans, many immigrants seek to start working immediately when they arrive, which hurts their chances of getting schooling or official papers.  At the same time, their Facebook persona will very often portray a different life style on foreign soil, when they may actually be working for pitiful wages in restaurants or fruit markets, at best.  You won’t be seeing these images on Facebook.  You can indeed create an alternative reality from the one you are actually living.

So what’s the problem with that?  Maybe thes young immigrants are just being creative in using all the powerful tools available on social media.  But just as old Polonius (remember him?) said to young Hamlet: “To thine own self, be true.”  It just might be getting harder for everyone to do that in the age of Facebook, whatever your circumstances may be.

Ray Myers

Too Many Things for Men to Wear – Fashion or Image?

Believe me, I am no fashion critic, and I doubt that I am even “fashionable,” but enough about me.  It seems like the world of fashion is in turmoil these days thanks to the power and pervasiveness of social media in tracking the latest in fashion attire.  It apparently has the greatest impact on what men might choose to wear.  In the words of one esteemed fashion critic: “The present, at the moment, is in certain ways a pretty ugly place.”  Many of these “ways” we’re on full display in Milan at the recent 2017 Men’ Wear Spring-Summer Fashion Show.  

Many are pointing fingers at social media as being the culprit in this confusion about appropriate male attire.  I think you can simply go to sites like Google Images, Instagram or Pinterest to get an idea of the current cacophony of what men should wear.  Perhaps this commentary on the show by one reviewer will help describe it best: “he (one designer) has capitalized creatively on how people consume culture in the Internet era, rummaging for imagery and information, either ignorant or agnostic about the sources of signs and symbols, references and ideas.”  To be honest, I never really worried that much about my image over the years, other than that of being a bureaucrat which simply meant that I wore a tie with a suit or sportcoat every work day.  Such an “dress code” no longer seems to apply.

Maybe it’s all a good thing.  We are no longer slaves to convention or fashion.  Or are we still?

Ray Myers

Faster Supercomputers, but no Google?

Well I guess you can’t have everything, especially if you live in China.  I really didn’t know this myself (a little hyperbole), but when I was traveling back and forth to Vietnam over the past two months and stopped in Guangzhou, compliments of Southern China Airlines, I eagerly took my iPad to the airport lounge hoping to connect with family, friends, and colleagues to update them on the status of my travels.  After a few unsuccessful tries on my own, I went to the “reception” area and learned the sad news: no Google in China!

Maybe I am not being completely fair since I only had a very small sample of government censorship in this part of the world.  I’m sure that there are some clever Chinese who have found a “work around” to this internet service blockade, but I really did not spend enough time there to find out,  and what if I did?   Oh yeah,  China is also building supercomputers, and they are the biggest and fastest in the world.  They can now claim global superiority in this area after being fourth in the world only ten years ago.  The United States had been the world leader for all the years before.

Now when you go to China, skip the Great Wall!  I’m sure that you will be equally satisfied with seeing one of these modern wonders in action, supercomputing like nobody else can.

Ray Myers 


Open Source Textbooks in Higher Ed

An idea whose time has come?  Well, maybe it’s not quite that dramatic, but any initiative to reduce the costs of higher education must be welcome news for families and students struggling to gain more educational opportunity in the most economical way.  One organization in particular, Achieving the American Dream, is leading this effort to accomplish two things that are crucial to increase higher education completion rates for first-generation, low-income and students of color.  These “roadblocks” are basically the inordinately high textbook costs themselves, and the absence of a “new vehicle for using technology and course materials in dynamic and engaging ways.”

Although a number of community colleges have partnered with philanthropic organizations to reduce textbook costs, four-year institutions have been the primary beneficiaries of open-source innovations.  Research suggests that the use of free open-access materials can significantly reduce costs and contribute to better grades, higher course completion and faster degree completion.

So now I know why I had all the difficulty in getting good grades in college.  If only I had access to open-source materials back then, I would have gotten better grades, completed all my courses, graduated sooner, and saved some money.  From a 21st Century parents’ perspective those must all be good things!

Ray Myers





A Joint Venture – Microsoft and Pot

I hope you like the title of this blog, and I am not even smoking anything while my fingers dance over the keyboard.  I stopped doing that years ago, but I still enjoy a couple cups of coffee every morning, so that is the extent of my “high” on this early Friday morning.  This story was actually front page news on the New York Times this morning, in the midst of all the tragic world news and mass shootings that dominate our online and print reporting.  So I think the news here is that one of our technology giants wants to make us feel a little happier?

Or maybe they are just helping an enterprising business venture come up with a better technological “solution” to a marketing strategy.  Perhaps it is just a matter of everything going to “pot” since Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer left Microsoft (sorry, I couldn’t resist).  I think Microsoft actually wants to stay as far away as possible from being a “facilitator” for marijuana sales but they obviously see a business opportunity here.  The entrepreneur who is the driving force behind this partnership with Microsoft has now begun dispensing marijuana through vending machines in some of the states where marijuana sales are allowed.  Far out!

I guess it was just all inevitable.  We do live in the land of the free and the brave.  So if we can buy pot in a vending machine, what’s next?  Beer?  I think you still have to “drive-through” for that.  Bummer!

Ray Myers




Net Neutrality Backed by U.S. Court

Web users in the U.S. can now breathe a little easier because of a recent circuit court ruling which prohibits broadband companies from blocking or slowing the delivery of internet content to consumers.  The key word in all of there deliberations and previous court rulings is the definition/declaration of internet broadband service as a “utility,” not a luxury for the American consumer.  This should be good news for anyone who shops, or just looks online, for comparisons of quality and/or price across different retailers.

The challenge for retailers, of course, is to remain competitive in the online marketplace which is rapidly replacing the “bricks and mortar” stores and shopping malls.  So the consumer remains “king” in shaping marketing strategies in the twenty-first century.  And business must now use those strategies that will be most convenient for the consumer to access information about their products and prices in the easiest way.

With net neutrality, this information will now continue to reach the broadest possible audience in a very personalized way, much to the delight of Internet giants like Google and Netflix.  In effect,  the court now interprets the internet as an essential platform for consumers!  For our youngest consumers, I’m sure they wonder how you could shop without it!

Ray Myers






Vietnam – Open for Business!

The 2016 Vietnam International Retail and Franchise Show opened earlier this week in Ho Chi Minh City (Obama missed this one).  It is the eighth edition of this event which features 317 booths with all kinds of retail and training information.  Yes, the latest technologies to meet the demands of the modern retail industry are included in the Show.  Young entrepreneurs may find unexpected opportunities here that were nonexistent in Vietnam’s recent past.

I will be leaving here tomorrow, and am very grateful for having had the opportunity to visit here.  Go East, young man may not be for everyone, but it is more than a geography lesson to travel here.  Of course, there are still many challenges  that at one time may have seen insurmountable, but it is a young country that is not living in the past. They are ready to grow, and raise their children in a more modern Asia, that hopefully will be more peaceful and prosperous than in the past.  And I think they are more likely to see America as a partner in that journey.

It may have been a hard and tragic lesson for both sides to learn.  Older Americans (like me) and Vietnamese may remember it all too well, but perhaps the new world of mutual economic benefit aided by smarter business technologies will save us all?

Ray Myers

Vietnam (en route to U.S. the next few days, back to blogging next Wednesday)

What’s in Your Wallet (or on your Screen), Vietnam?

The headline reads: “E-payments booming in Vietnam.”  Welcome to the new Vietnam!  I never knew that electronic payments could have that much of an economic impact.  So how would I know?  I still carry around a little cash in my pockets, unless I am going through airport security lines (what a pain!).  I’ll have to get one of those TSA pre-screened status life-time membership cards, but even those lines seem to be getting longer.  Sorry for the digression, but I do feel a little better.  Now back to Vietnam and the E-payment boom.

Increased use of electronic payment products added US$880 million to Vietnam’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from 2011 to 2015 (now that’s a lot of dong, look it up!).  The use of electronic payment systems including credit, debit and prepaid cards helped create an average increase of 75,000 jobs annually during this five year period.  Vietnam experienced the second highest rate of GDP growth due to increased use of electronic payments.  Singapore was third and Thailand first.  Whoever thought that using credit cards could help a country’s economy?  Most people just get deeper in debt.

Here’s another side of the story.  “Electronic payments help minimize what is commonly referred to as the grey economy – economic activity that is often cash-based and goes unreported.”  So I guess if you really want to help your country’s economy keep using all your electronic payment options.  You too, can become too big to fail?

Ray Myers


Forty-one Years After the Vietnam War – Facebook Time

Maybe if you are old enough to remember “The Ugly American” (novel and a movie with Marlon Brando, set somewhere in Southeast Asia) you will also recall that the “face” of America at that time was feared and met with disgust in that faraway corner of the world.  Brando played the American ambassador who had little concern for strengthening diplomatic ties as much as protecting U.S. commercial and military  interests there (my interpretation).  Now, at least in Vietnam, there seems to be a new perception of mutual benefit in stronger bilateral ties.  One American who has lived in Ho Chi Minh City for a few years, now says “You know, they still look at us here the way we want to be looks at.  America equals opportunity, entrepreneurship and success.  That’s not true in so many places anymore.”

As I mentioned in a post last week, about one-third of the Vietnamese are on Facebook.  Arguably they are mostly the “younger” Vietnamese who are now able to connect with the rest of the world.  Unfortunately, their peers in China  can not, and although there is some connectivity in India, the Internet is not as easily accessible as in Vietnam.  China and India are not signatories to President Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership.  Facebook, of course, may not be the most educational or “broadening” experience for the rest of the world to learn more about America, but to the extent that younger Americans might see the “international” value, we should all be enriched.  It may all be about “social networking” with peers at first, but at least the opportunity will be there for a larger world view.

And maybe the political systems we live under will be more open to contrasting governmental and economic differences.  One size doesn’t really fit all.

Ray Myers


Windows Into Vietnamese Culture

How does someone get to know a culture?  I am only here in the Hanoi area for about a month.  Hardly enough time to say that I understand how life goes on in this changing corner of Southeast Asia.  My time and impressions here may be better described as looking through a window literally and figuratively.  I was just reading an article about some foreigners’ impressions of Vietnam based on the nature of their visits here.  Two are of the more traditional variety, tourism and language studies, and the other more technologically-based in wanting to combine a checklist of interests  with social media expression (possibly a broader way to share a cultural experience?)

Technology has certainly expanded our options for the sharing of experience with whomever, from wherever we are.  What a wonderful opportunity we all now have to do the same, but we should also not diminish the insights that we gain from taking the time to learn a language or physically touring and observing another culture with only the use of our sensory abilities.  Just take some time to learn more about what we may see and hear before we began to fill out our checklists or share impressions on social media.

I will leave Vietnam with a very minimal understanding or appreciation of the history here.  It will be a beginning, and one that I am happy to share and reflect on as I write this blog.  I am still just looking through a window, and hopefully will be able to open it wider and learn more.

Ray Myers


Viva Vietnam!

So everybody knows that Obama was here last week, and it seems like the Cubans are now very interested in forging some deeper science-technology ties with their comrades here in Vietnam.  Maybe technology can really help the world become smaller, reaching across oceans and continents that share some common economic goals.  Obama actually helped us reconnect with Cuba, and now both these Communist countries see technology as a tool that will help them establish new commercial partnerships.  Or as the Vietnamese Prime Minister said: “enhance comprehensive ties with the Caribbean country.”  “Comprehensive” will do.

Similarly, the Cuban Minister of Science, Technology and Enviroment said “her visit aimed to consolidate the co-operation in science-technology and natural resources between the two countries.”  I don’t think that Obama actually intended to bring these two countries closer economically as part of opening the diplomatic and commercial doors with the U.S., but it could have played a role?  Call it an unintended consequence if you will, but increasing and consolidating trade cooperation can be a mutual benefit to all trading partners on a bi-lateral or multi-lateral basis.

It doesn’t always have to be about political ideology, but that could be a beginning to expand economies on a more global basis.  And technology may be the unintended tool that creates such an environment.

Ray Myers