Technology and the shrinking of community

I just read Frank Somerville’s recent post (July 3) on Facebook. For the record, he’s the nightly news anchor on KTVU in Oakland, CA. I don’t live anywhere near the West Coast, so I don’t get to watch him, but Somerville keeps a page on Facebook that I read daily for its keen insights, sensitivity, and passion for social justice. Thank goodness he’s out there and how I wish there were more people like him, concerned about doing the right thing.

I say this because, quite frankly, I’m damned tired of running into people on a daily basis who, just the opposite, are full of themselves in their thoughtlessness towards others, and making matters worse, frequently mean and calculatingly offensive. Unfortunately, the downside of technology can be the marginalization of community, despite a plethora of social media.

10351899_743347829061880_8323386999323754107_nSomerville laments how many people use the Internet to get back at others. Case in point, a waitress posting the $69 dining bill of former Oakland Raider Warren Sapp, who hadn’t left her a tip. Clearly, she sought to embarrass and humiliate Sapp, who later said that he didn’t like the service and her calling him and his friends boys. I know that I’ve done the same thing as Sapp on rare occasions. Tipping is a way of saying thank you and, likewise, an incentive to serve the public well. In Europe, you don’t generally tip, since a service charge is included, and, believe me, the service can get pretty lousy.

Meanness, unfortunately, runs amuck on the Internet due to the anonymity it provides for angry types low on self-image seeking compensation. I remember Edgar Allen Poe writing in his goose-bumpy short story, “The Cask of Amontillado,” of that most perfect kind of vengeance that allows its perpetrator impunity, or escape from accountability.

I often see Poe’s maxim raise its ugly head in reader comments, especially in discussion forums, and of course, par excellence, Twitter and Facebook. I find myself aghast, not only at the repugnant foreclosure of other viewpoints, but the sheer cowardice it masks, latent with resentment and a need to enhance self by controlling others or turning them into punching bags. Sadly, there have been instances where such verbal pugilism has taken on fatal consequences.

More often, I see the pervasive fallout of anonymity virtually daily when, like Somerville (more below), I’m driving, motorists who think rules are for other people–deliberately running traffic lights, stop signs, or not yielding right of way, or pulling out in front of you, or not signaling, or slowing traffic to a snail’s pace while on their cell phone or texting in public mastabatory self-indulgence.

My wife came home the other day, telling me of a woman who turned in front of her at a three way stop. She gave her the horn, getting the one finger salute in return. I’ve counseled her to not let such ilk spoil her day. You also just don’t know who you’re up against. Stats tell us an estimated 1500 die in road rage incidents every year. Anyway, I sometimes think there really is a bit of karma going around and that the chickens ultimately come home to roost.

Somerville ends his blog with his account of a guy with a mounted camera on his dash who comes up behind him “for no apparent reason” as he is on his way to work. Turns out, he can’t get rid of him. Pulling over, the guy draws along side of him, and Somerville, not wanting the incident to escalate, calmly asks, “What are you doing?, only to have the guy grin and keep videotaping him. Speeding off, Somerville finally loses him.

Hey, so creepy! You just never know what kind of oddball that anonymity may confront you with next.



Will tablets replace your TV? The new frontier of online video


Just came across an interesting piece in the Economist  (November 9, 2013) on the growing popularity of online video in China that threatens TV.  In fact, a recent Chinese government reports says that only 30% of Beijing households watched TV in 2012.  Online video is big bucks in China with some 450 million viewers, or 80% of the connected population.    

We haven’t seen this drift in the West where TV sets are on 5 hours a day in the average American home.  That doesn’t mean China’s online video craze won’t happen here.  Who could have predicted the rapid downturn in PC demand that followed the rise of tablets three years ago?   Computers once priced in the $1000 range can be had now for $300 or less.  What’s more, tablet users are increasingly prone to downloading Amazon or iTune TV and movie offerings to their tablets.  Cable and satellite networks like DirecTV are catching on, and so you’re not confined to your TV anymore for personal viewing.  There they are, with all the convenience of portability, right on your tablet!  Hey, let’s not leave out Netflix.

And then there’s always been the ubiquitous YouTube, more popular than ever. tells us that in 2012 one hour of YouTube video was uploaded every second.  In short, video making, like self-publishing, has become the province of the everyday Joe.   According to Brent Weinstein, Head of Digital Media at United Talent Agency, “Online video today is what TV was a couple of years after it came on to the scene” (

YouTube, in fact, has been a honing ground for developing sophisticated expertise, spilling over into start up multi-channel networks (MCNs) such as Ted, TubeFilter and Kaltura-Connect coms with their dedicate devotees.

The big ops can read the tea leaves.  Just the other day I saw this catchy Hulu ad.  Get your first week free, then enjoy your favorite TV shows on your tablet for just $7.95 monthly.  With prices like that, cable and satellite TV had better watch out.

Of course we’re still talking about original TV programming, even if rechanneled; nevertheless, it isn’t hard to figure out where the math is taking us.  The bottom-line is that a revolutionary change in how we get our information and entertainment is underway.

According to the Economist, Chinese online video entrepreneurs started competing directly with TV programming five years ago, coming up with their own programming.  In the U. S,  you can see this same trend reflected in  Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu making their own programs to sidestep licensing costs and gain access to a potentially huge market.  Very soon, we’ll be talking about mobile networks.

For families who like to do their viewing together, no problem.  Internet TV is on its way and of course with Apple TV, no problem transferring your tablet videos, music and photos to a larger screen right now.

Usually the scenario is that when America sneezes, the world catches a cold.  With China, what’s happening marks a seismic shift.  Better, anyway, than its usual export of Asian flu!


New York’s icon of courage: the Brooklyn Bridge


When I think of New York City landmarks, flashes of the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the legendary Yankee Stadium, alas, now gone, leap to my mind. But there’s an underdog landmark I like best: the Brooklyn Bridge, stubborn and stunning in its granite towers and glistening, criss-crossing steel cables. An inspiring story lies behind its construction against formidable odds involving three members of a remarkable family.

Opened on May 24, 1883, after 14-years of construction that would cost the lives of 27 workers, including its designer, it was the wonder of its era as America’s first steel cable suspension bridge. Celebrating its 130th birthday as of next May, it continues as a principal artery spanning the East River between Manhattan and Brooklyn with 150,000 users daily.

It originated as the idea of a German immigrant, John Augustus Roebling, in 1863. He had built earlier bridges; for example, the bridge spanning the Ohio River between Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, and another across the Niagara Gorge. When it came to the East River, many said it couldn’t be done.

For a time, it seemed the critics had it right. Shortly before construction began in 1869, Roebling’s toes on one foot were crushed in a freak accident when a ferry boat slammed into the dock on which Roebling was standing while taking compass readings across the East River. Following amputation of his toes, he succumbed to tetanus 3-weeks later.

His son, Washington, now took charge of the project. Tragedy, however, knocked on the Roebling family door again, when Washington came down with the bends, or decompression sickness from underwater labor, resulting in lifelong confinement to a wheelchair. Forced to watch the construction from a telescope, he conveyed his instructions to his wife, Emily.

Her feat is remarkable in its own right, since she had no previous knowledge of bridge dynamics. Over the next 11-years, mastering the intricacies of her husband’s calling including mathematics, catenary curve calculations and material substances, she would accurately convey his instructions to the workers.

Appropriately, in the ceremonies featuring President Chester A. Arthur, Emily was the first to ride across the bridge, a rooster in her lap as a symbol of victory.

A super icon of a super city, the bridge was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1964.

One of the best times to view the bridge is at night, when the Gothic charms of its pointed arches are bathed in light.

The noted historian David McCoullough details the bridge’s construction in The Great Bridge (1978) and Ken Burns followed with his first documentary in 1981.

San Francisco has its romantic Golden Gate, just maybe one of the most eye-pleasing bridges in the world. But for me, my first love remains the Brooklyn Bridge, in no small measure because my romanticism clings to the story of a family’s perseverance in the face of tragedy and thus lends hope to all of us.

New Yorkers know this especially well, whether its October 1929, or 9/11, or hurricane Sandy’s more recent devastation.

On the violence that ails us: reflections on low self-esteem

selfesteemThe news headlines thunder the shocking mayhem of school children gunned down at Sandy Hook and of four firemen ambushed in upper New York, leaving even the professionals pondering the mindset behind such horror.

Sadly, the truth may be that a good many people don’t like themselves and act out their self-loathing on others. Its origin can be subtle.

Perhaps it began as a youngster in an overly restrictive home heavy on reprimand, short on love.

Or in unabated sibling rivalry for the mother’s milk, as it were.

Perhaps from a short-fused teacher, scolding a child in view of other children, maximizing his humiliation.

Perhaps because other children excluded or bullied.

I’ve known for years the high impacting of poor reading skills on youngsters, usually boys. I had been a social worker for several years at a residential treatment center for boys 8-17, replete with its own school. Of my hundred boys or more, 90% were remedial readers with substantial low esteem and often a history of acting out in the classroom.

The origins are myriad; the result the same, and always damaging.

Nearly always a person falls into hating himself not because he’s intrinsically inadequate, but because others keep telling him so. Rejection messages accumulate their toxins like excessive radiation, fostering demise instead of intended healing.

Fairly often you can see such psychological fallout in the overachiever who flagellates himself with extraordinary effort to win approval, and hence self-validation.

Those suffering envy, and many do, languish because they’re at war with themselves. When people like themselves they don’t require what someone else seemingly has in the way of goods, talent, and reputation. They have no need to project limitations on to others and sully them through gossip, innuendo or criticism. Another’s success doesn’t hint at reprimand or reminder of personal shortcomings. Those liking themselves know their own worth and it’s quite enough.

Ironically, self-loathing may turn-up in the guise of narcissism, or conceit, a kind of whistling in the dark to keep the wolves at bay. Confident people rely upon results, not boasts.

Lacking self-esteem, every conversation, work, class or play endeavor musters into a contest for mastery in a quest for validation for those who suffer.

In the worst scenarios, self-hatred in its twisted logic leads to rage and inflicting pain on self and others. What begins as temper, may end in verbal and domestic abuse, eating disorders, drug addiction, delinquency, or even worse as our headlines testify.

Somewhere, always, its source lies in a wound that festers. It lashes out at innocents, ironically often the very sources that offer love, but can never suffice to close the gap. Fed by a flotilla of ghosts, the self-loather purees his fantasies into a malt of maiming. Filled with rage, he seeks to even the score.

As the Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, put it so succinctly: “A man’s life is what he thinks about all day long.”

My iPad as game-changer

iPadBuying the first generation iPad in July, 2010, has been a game changer for me like nothing else in town.  Let me tell you the how-so:

Reading: I thought I read a lot before, but it pales to what I do now; often I’m into several ebooks at a time and have to hold myself in check from downloading still more. In the last year alone I’ve read at least 20 books, maybe more. It helps that I’m increasingly exposed to new titles and book reviews, having access to applications like iBooks, Kindle, and Nook along with Publishers Weekly. Since my iPad makes me more alert for new reads, I’m easy prey for best sellers lists and new offerings. I’ve even found applications that give me access to free books, many of them classics like Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night. Currently I’m into Arthur Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes creation, A Study in Scarlet.

News: I’ve always been a news aficionado, something I picked up from my father, but now it’s nearly a vice, as I’ve largely stopped watching the local and network newscasts. There’s this plethora of news media, domestic and foreign, I simply can’t resist on the iPad. This doesn’t include journal and magazines. I’m surprised so much of it still remains free, though the scene is in flux.

Games: I know people who are into games around the clock. That’s not where I’m at, but when I do, it’s nearly always a game of mental dexterity such as Sudoku, Better Brain, Wordladder, and Blosics. They say they’re good dementia preventatives, which spurs me into wanting to play one daily round at the very least to keep the Beast outside the door.

Productivity: I scarcely use my laptop now, since most of what I do like blogging I can do on my iPad, and this includes printing from any room in the house. I’ve become fond of Pages for its ease and facility to handle most of my needs. In fact, I do all my blogs on iPad, save using my laptop for publishing.

Music: Though access to iTunes comes standard, I like fetching my music from sites like Pandora or NPR. I especially like to listen when I first hit the sack. There’s an advantage to such sites as well since they’ll frequently introduce me to new music, which I then can download from iTunes for my personal collection. I have this one nifty app that gives the lyrics of nearly any song I list.

Reference: As a writer, or just being plain curious, I’ve several apps grouped together that access databases yielding myriads of offerings not normally accessible to a google search. If I need stats, this is where I go. If I have questions on a health issue, here I can tap into the leading med files that physicians and pharmacists use.

Social: I’m big with this, especially Twitter. And I don’t need my laptop for this either.

Sports: Couldn’t get by without access to ESPN or CBS Sports, especially in baseball season when I can find scores, player stats, standings, the latest happenings.

Travel: I can make travel arrangements on my iPad, with access to travel guides for cities and countries. I can even see the flight arrival and departure monitors at virtually any selected airport via Flightboard. Can’t beat that!

Hobbies: I’m into languages, another one of those mind game things I suppose. Maybe I’m overboard, but I’ve got around 50 apps applying to all aspects of Spanish, for example. Nothing has done more for language learning than the iPad. Then there’s gardening. Not as many, but quite a few apps, right down to identifying weeds.

Miscellaneous: I’m using this category for all those subtle apps I rely upon frequently. For cooking, I often research recipes for nutrition facts about specific foods, whether carbs, fiber, proteins, etc., or even glycemic index. I have one app that takes your pulse! Another, Ambient Science 300, that provides bio-feedback to help you relax, promote better sleep or lower blood pressure. My special favorite is StumbleUpon, which introduces you to web and blog sites by interest that you’re likely to miss. You get the picture. By the way, at last count, Apple now features around 700,000 apps, many of them available on iPad. This just blows my mind.

Back to where I started, I use my iPad virtually for every need; my laptop solely for say banking and paying bills. Computer desktop sales have dropped off precipitously with three quarters of Apple computer purchases going for laptops. Increasingly, you’re seeing the iPad invading the professional world. Have you looked at what your doctors have in their hands? In our public schools, iPads are gaining ground, replacing textbooks.

I currently use my laptop as my default device. With the mini, I see the iPad becoming the default option, and the mini with its unbelievable lightness and retina screen becoming my mainstay for daily use. Like the desktop, laptops will largely go the way of the dinosaur.

One thing I know: I’m using my laptop less and my iPad more while relishing moving up to the next iPad generation. Or maybe to the mini!

Time for a new toy

I’ve just learned Target and Walmart have locked out the Kindle, including Amazon’s most recent and innovative offering, the Kindle Fire HD. Some speculate these chains are clearing inventory to make way for both the hot selling iPhone 5 and the much anticipated mini iPad, though Apple remains mum on the latter.

Probably what’s really happening has to deal with profit margins. With Amazon promoting its Kindles via low profit margins, there’s little left over to entice the box stores. No evidence yet, however, that BestBuy and Radio Shack will follow suit.

As for a mini, rumored to be released in time for Christmas sales, it’s not improbable. I wonder, though, if it would mean the demise of the larger screen version, which I prefer. One thing I have to admire is Apple’s uncommon ability to keep a secret. Seems our government could learn a thing or two.

In the meantime, I’ve finally thrown in the towel and am upgrading to the iPhone 5 with its wondrously fast camera, enlarged screen, retina sharpness (18% more pixels to play with), vastly improved saturation, 4G LTE access, and alluring svelte slimness. I hear the improved Siri will even open up your applications. Hey, how good is that!

No, I will not give-up my computer!

I smile every time I read something about simplifying our lives, conveyed online, usually on a blog, harping on Zen or the like, yet dependent on high tech. That’s not to say I don’t admire writer Wendell Berry, who eschews TV and computers, writes everything out, since he practices a consistency I admire, though choose not to practice. I may admire Thoreau, but I’m not for building a cabin in the woods or begging the Amish to show me in. I will not give up my computer.

Can you imagine a world without the computer? Actually, I can’t do it, as it’s become a staple of my daily life with its untold benefits. I think it’s probably the same for you. This holiday season, for example, we’ve been able to Skype with our children on the West Coast, and for free. I don’t know about you, but we did our Christmas shopping all online. Smiles come to our faces every time we drive past our biggest mall with its jammed parking.

If we want quick info, there’s Google or Wikipedia.

Want to find a good movie, starting times, prices, you’ve got it.

Want to stick around the house instead, then you can stream that movie right into your computer, iPad, or television.

Get a reserved seat for a concert or sports event? No problem.

Like a good book or music album? At your finger tips.

Like to travel and at the best fares? Good lodging? Car rentals? Try Orbitz, Expedia and the like, or go direct to the airlines themselves.

Me, I’m a news buff and draw on my iPad for my daily fix.

Computers are also changing the way we learn, and present in virtually every school. Computers are making college accessible for millions, especially working adults. As a retired educator, I know this area first hand, having taught several courses online.

When it comes to having a bit of fun, it’s exciting to play scrabble, chess or bridge with others across the globe; or in your privacy, play mind games such as Sudoku, WhirlyWords, and Ladder; do crossword puzzles, or for just sheer fun, have a go at Angry Birds. No need for guilt here about wasted time. Medicine increasingly tells us that playing these games keeps our minds young, our reflexes nimble, and may even ward off dementia.

Some say computers are lessening our social contact. Unfounded in my book, what with Facebook and Twitter, along with countless chat sites offering a wide range of interests. I ride an MP3 500 Piaggio scooter. Sure enough, there’s a forum dedicated to my scooter. Believe me, I couldn’t ride without it.

Time Magazine has just selected “The Protestor” as its annual person of the year for 2011, a year that began with the Arab Spring and the subsequent collapse of entrenched tyrannies in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya; incipient revolts in Syria and in Russia; and in our own country, the groundswell of the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon. All of these dynamic, history shaping movements have been, and are, energized by the Internet’s capacity to publicize and coordinate universally in mega seconds. Isolating us? I think not.

I like languages and I’m crazy about Spanish. With a computer, I can now listen, read, and share one of the world’s most spoken languages.

And let me not forget my being able to blog with you guys out there across the globe, a number of you responding via Twitter. By the way, my largest number of readers next to Americans, happens to be those of you in Russia, followed by Germany. The Internet makes this togetherness possible, and I rejoice in my new brothers and sisters.

If you asked me what I thought was the greatest of tech break-throughs, I’d be hard-pressed. They all build on each other: Gutenberg’s movable press, widening reader access; the steam engine, ushering in the Industrial Revolution and leading to railroads and, eventually, to cars and trucks; the typewriter, electric light, radio, telephone, TV. Don’t forget the airplane. How about the miracle of movies, today’s primary art form? The list goes on. I can’t really say which has been the most ground-breaking, but I do know computers, enhanced by the World Wide Web and its HTML linkage, has made all of us players in the modern landscape.

Gotta go now. Got emails to send out!


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