Tech-free Friday – Breaking the Vatican’s Glass Ceiling

No, I am not talking about the Sistine Chapel here.  It’s all about announcing the appointment of the first female Director for the Vatican Museums in Rome. Pope Francis has chosen Barbara Jatta as the first woman to direct the Museums.  Dr. Jatta, 54, will take over on January 1, becoming the highest ranking female administrator in the Vatican. Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year, Dr. Jatta.  

She is no stranger to the Vatican bureaucracy. Dr. Jatta has been at the Vatican since 1996 as the curator of graphics in the prints department and head of the Cabinet of Prints in the Apostolic Library.  I don’t know that if, in her new role as Director of the Museums, she is planning to digitize all these documents.   Maybe that is why they put a woman in charge.  Someone with a fresh set of “eyes” and a twenty-first century outlook?

Congratulations again, Dr. Jatta. You have just joined a very exclusive men’s club.

Ray Myers

P.S.

Happy Holidays, everyone. I will be celebrating the holidays over the next week with friends and family.  The TechtoExpress blog will resume on Monday, January 2

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Audio-enhanced Print – Talking Books Around the World

“I cannot give you any idea of what these Talking Books mean to those of us who cannot read ordinary print.”  This unsolicited testimonial was sent to the American Federation for the Blind after one of its members began to first listen to recordings of printed book editions.  It was then a new technologocal innovation in the 1930s, but technological advances over the last century, and into the twenty-first, have now made almost any printed document accessible to individuals with print disabilities.  These technological advances have also made these printed materials available in  a multitude of languages that give it a global outreach.

The United States Department of Education (ED) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have been in the forefront of these efforts.  Bookshare.org is funded by the Office of Special Education in ED, and has been a leader in this area for many years, and is now increasing its outreach around the world.  AllChildrenReading.org is funded by USAID and is now supporting projects that include enhanced programs for children with print disabilities.  Both of these programs utilize technologies that are most readily available in the areas where the children live.  Mobile  technologies play an increasingly important part in these efforts, particularly in the more remote corners of the globe.

Please visit the websites for these programs identified above.  I had the opportunity to be involved in a small way in the development and growth of these projects during my years of federal service.

Ray Myers

Trump is the Darling of the Heartland – Changing the Media Landscape

Trump knew where his message would have the most appeal, Heartland, U.S.A.  And please don’t try to sell subscriptions to the “New York Times” or “Washington Post” of you are traveling there.  No one is buying anyway.  Now these media mainstay publications, along with others, have been looking for an Internet age strategy, but “nobody has found it.”  Why browse through a newspaper when you can just “order up” the news you want to read online and forget about the rest.  That seems to be what most of middle America has been doing this election year.  Just get on the Internet and find something you like (it takes so long to read those old print news articles anyway).

I guess the proof is in the fact that he won the Presidential election with the overwhelming support of midwestern Americans.  They elected a man who has rarely traveled west of the Hudson River his entire life (well, okay, New Jersey and Philadelphia to broaden his world view :).  One adventuresome online news service based in New York City, ProPublica, is now trying to establish some Midwest roots.  It is expanding into Illinois with a 10-person editorial team – laudable to be sure, but it can’t begin to make up for vibrant local papers with dozens of beat reporters, statehouse bureaus and investigative teams.  Even with a move to the Midwest, “many in the news media believe that news organizations must rebuild relationships of trust with citizens, even Trump supporters.”  Now if only I am able to figure out how that trust was lost?  Is that really what happened?

So the suggested strategy is for the Democratic Party to change the media landscape (good luck with that).  I think in most cases, people will read what reinforces or confirms their perspectives on the world in general.  To learn more about your world takes more than just reading your favorite newspapers or listening to your favorite newscasts.

Ray Myers

Tech-free Friday – Secret Santas, Living in Pennsylvania, U.S.A.

Two different Secret Santas have been paying off tens of thousands of dollars of layaway accounts at discount stores in Pennsylvania.  A man who goes by the name ‘Santa B’ has been paying off layaways at central Pennsylvania Walmarts for at least three years. This year, he paid off 239 accounts worth a total of $166,000 at stores in Harrisburg, Everett and Lebanon.   A different anonymous Santa paid off some accounts at Kmart’s Holmes store, near Philadelphia. Employees say he’s done that every Christmas for several years and specifically asks to pay off those with toys and other Christmas presents. 

It’s unclear how much the Secret Santa paid off at the Kmart, but a British paper, the Dailymail.co.uk, has reached out to the company to get the total figure. This has been the last week at many discount stores for customers to pay away their layaway balances on their Christmas items.  Many discount stores offer the option to put items on layaway and pay off the balance in increments. If a customer cannot pay the total, the items are returned to store shelves. 

Monday was the last day for Walmart customers to pay off their layaway accounts, so many of the stores were busy this weekend with customers settling their accounts.  Ryan Kennedy, the manager of the Everett store, said he received a call last Wednesday from a man wanting to pay off all 194 remaining layaway accounts at the store.

The following day, a woman came in and delivered a check on his behalf for more than $46,000 dollars.   ‘It was complete disbelief,’ Kennedy told CNN.  ‘It was definitely a great gesture. I was completely shocked.’  Kennedy says that some customers were moved to tears when they learned that their bills had been paid by the Secret Santa.  The same Secret Santa paid off $46,000 worth of layaway accounts at the Lebanon location and $74,000 at the Harrisburg location. 

One Walmart shopper, Sandy Terry, told CNBC that the ‘Santa B’ paid off the $75 she still owed for an Xbox she bought her grandson. She said she was exceptionally grateful to the Secret Santa because she’s been forced out of her job due to health issues this year, and wasn’t sure how she was going to cover the cost of the present.  A Walmart spokesman said that the good deed is commended by the company. 

‘When customers quietly pay off others’ layaway items, we’re reminded how good people can be,’ Leslee Wright, Walmart’s senior manager for communications, said in a statement. ‘The joy that comes from these transactions extends well beyond dollars and cents. We’re honored to be a small part of these random acts of kindness.’  The Secret Santa who paid of the Kmart store’s layaway accounts also wishes to remain anonymous. 

Local woman Vanessa Dimento says she went into the store recently to pay off her $300 dollar balance and found that it had been paid off by the Secret Santa.  ‘I just never thought anybody would do something like this for me, a total stranger that doesn’t even know me,’ Dimento told WPVI.  Dimento said she passed a woman on the way into the store who had her $1,000 layaway bill paid off.  

And I always thought that Santa lived at the North Pole.  Pennsylvania?

Ray Myers





No Time for TV – Learn to Speed View

Now many of you may already be speed readers, but have you ever tried speed viewing?  I guess it’s all about how many hours you have in a given day to take some time to just read a book or watch something of interest on TV.  You can even try speed listening – taking in a broadcasts or podcasts at accelerated speeds, sometimes two times as fast as normal.  Thanks to technological advances, TV viewers now have the option to watch their favorite shows in real time, or choose to speed view, i.e., high speed playback of recorded programs.  Some critics of this practice worry that such viewers are only getting “diluted creative elements” of their TV watching.  And many warn that “gorging” on TV programming at accelerated speeds is like overeating.

“It is like eating twice as many meals as normal to avoid missing any culinary treats.   Sure, you might actually be consuming more, but you’re probably having a worse, more grotesque experience.  And you’re certainly not doing it in a way that the chef intended.  Lost are the elements of dramatic or comedic timing and intentional silences.  It becomes a fundamentally different experince that disregards what the creator intended,” when viewed at accelerated speed (Chen, SlashFilm.com).

So timing may be everything after all.  Only in this case, the consumer of the content controls the timing of what he is watching or listening to, regardless of what its creator intended.  I wonder what Shakespeare would do if he were here today?

Ray Myers

YouTube and Youth

You too can have your life recorded on YouTube.  This is apparently the rage among Genertion Z, the latest term for the earliest adopters of online video postings of daily activities, or whatever else seems to be their latest preoccupations.  Now when we are talking about “young people,” we really mean young, starting as early as three years of age.  Who needs to read or write anymore?   Well surely there is enough time in the day for people of all ages to multi-task and pursue as many “enrichment” activities as they want.  Or is there really?

The online reality of today seems to be that the posting of these videos and their production are just facts of life for growing up in the twenty-first century.  “Videos of kids simply acting as kids attract millions of viewers, sometimes billions.   Every moment of childhood – getting new roys, tagging along to the grocery store, making up games in their backyards – is material that can be recorded and uploaded.  So is it any wonder that the children who watch these videos begin to act as if their entire lives are being recorded, too?  For the youngest members of the Generation Z, the distinction between the online world and real life is fading.”

But why should I worry?  Let the kids express themselves in whatever medium they choose.  It’s not about how well they are able to do this, but the number of followers (millions?) they can attract.

Ray Myers

Tech-Free Friday – Some Advice for the Donald

As a public service for the President-elect, and maybe for the rest of us as well, I would like to offer the following for our collective consideration.  This is excerpted from the United States Office of Government Ethics’ website and presents some information on how executive branch employees must avoid conflicts of interest in the execution of their governmental duties, so as not to be disqualified from working on such matters.

Financial Conflicts of Interest
The public may lose confidence in the integrity of Government if it perceives that an employee’s Government work is influenced by personal interests or by payments from an outside source.  An executive branch employee’s Government work may have the potential to benefit the employee personally, affect the financial interests of the employee’s family, or involve individuals or organizations with which the employee has some past, present, or future connection away from the employee’s Government job.  Separately, an employee might be offered a payment from a non-Federal source, such as a former employer, either before or after entering Government.  Accordingly:

An employee may be disqualified from working on a particular Government matter.

An employee may be prohibited from holding specified property.

An employee may be prohibited from accepting a payment from a non-Federal source.

Employees Entering Government

Individuals who join the executive branch may be required to take actions, either before becoming an employee or shortly thereafter, in order to comply with ethics laws and regulations concerning conflicting financial interests and impartiality. 

Current Government Employees

Executive branch employees have a continuing obligation to take the actions necessary to comply with ethics laws and regulations concerning conflicting financial interests and impartiality.

I know that the Donald will probably seek out and receive more profe$$ional advice on how to deal with this matter, but I offer this information freely.

Ray Myers

Terrorist Propaganda and the Open Internet

Is it really all about the message, or the role of the messenger?  I was always told to not believe everything I read in the newspaper or saw or heard on TV and radio (I am not sure why – and of course this was all before the dawn of the Internet).  So what has happened to dull our senses to be able to discern what is obviously false and what is true.  Maybe it’s so much easier now to choose what you want to believe and ignore that which might make you change your mind?  There are just so many information “sources”to choose from.   And I guess we have the luxury and liberty to select whatever we want to believe.  You may even like your news completely fabricated and prefer that to “real reporting.”  See my blog of 11/23: “All the News, All Fake, All the Time!”

Now we have some of our top technology companies volunteering to do some censoring for us.  They have formed a coalition to try and save us from terrorist propaganda and recruitment.  Facebook, Google, Twitter and Microsoft announced earlier this week that they have teamed up to fight the spread of terrorist content over the web by sharing technology and information to reduce the flow of terrorist propaganda across their services.  And they are also welcoming any other tech company to join them in this endeavor.  But not everyone is so keen on sharing their secret encryption “sauce.”  Tim Cook, CEO of Apple among them.  Remember his refusal to a FBI request after the San Bernadino attacks in 2015.  The FBI then hired some hackers to access the iPhone used by one of the attackers.

I am afraid that this fight over open access to the Internet and freedom of speech is going to get more sinister.  We in the U.S. have been relatively immune to governmental interference at any level, but some of our newly elected political leaders may feel less constrained.

Ray Myers

Let’s All Meditate – There’s an App for That!

Maybe I just didn’t try hard enough, but when I did try to meditate during my Peace Corps training days (headed to India, of course) I feel asleep.  Is that a form of meditation?  It was near dawn, lying in an open field in the hills of Vermont, when I began to relax (meditate?) so much that my body succumbed to a deep inner peace of sleep.  But now I know that you really don’t need those bucolic surroundings when all you need is the ability to download one of those handy apps on your mobile phone.  No more need to sync with the workings of the universe as the sun rises and sets around the world. 

You can find inner peace in the palm of your hand.  Okay, if you are really interested, here is one company’s (Headspace) sales pitch:  “By instructing people to focus their breathing and letting go of thoughts and emotions, users will be coaxed back to fuller engagement with the present moment.  In modern parlance, it is mindfulness – a quick, seculuarized adaptation of Buddhist teachings that have been distilled for a modern, Western audience.  A 10-day course on the app is free.  Annual subscriptions cost about $100.”

Please know that I am not promoting or advertising this app for “mindfulness.”  But let’s be honest.  You can find most almost anything you want on the web today.  Even inner peace?

Ray Myers

Tech-Free Friday – in the Holiday Spirit!

So let’s try something different for the holiday season (at least for the Fridays in December).   Just found this story about a beaver who broke into a local Dollar Store, and started trashing artificial Christmas trees and other seasonal displays.  I really don’t think he is an anti-Christmas curmudgeon like Scrooge, but I will let you be the judge.

The local Sheriff’s office was called and their report states that the “suspect attempted to flee the area,” but was apprehended by animal control and released to an animal rehabilitator – not just to be released into the wild, but also, it is hoped, to be taught basic shopping etiquette.  In a related tweet, the beaver was reported to have been rescued by animal control and released to wildlife rehabilitation.  What is wildlife rehabilitation?

Whatever it is, I hope that the beaver’s rehabilitation goes well, and that he/she can once again became a productive member of his local beaver community.

Ray Myers