Racial Profiling and the FBI


NPR ran a story this morning concerning policy changes within federal law enforcement agencies pertaining to racial profiling. These new policies stipulate no federal law enforcement agency may use race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation in order to justify suspicion or open a case.

http://www.npr.org/v2/?i=369276296&m=369276297&t=audioOne of the comments caught my attention this morning. The statement dealt with complaints by the Muslim community against the FBI for “demographic mapping.” Not much detail was provided but I could make an educated guess about their concern. I lecture, teach, mentor, and provide oversight on projects dealing with demographic mapping. I, myself, perform demographic mapping frequently for a variety of topics and themes. Some of themes of interest to me include secondary and higher education, household income, poverty, employment, unemployment, and underemployment. I often consult with both public and private entities regarding the use of Census data and other demographic type data, as well as other data accumulated and processed by state and federal agencies. And, I have a hard time believing this but I’ve been doing demographic mapping in various forms for a little over 20 years. I state this only to help set the stage for proceeding comments, not to pat my own back.

Demographic mapping is not inherently evil. Mapping societal traits and characteristics is an important part of a functioning society seeking to address issues and concerns of citizens. School districts, voting districts, political districts, law enforcement districts, fire and emergency response districts are all developed from demographic data.

Demographic mapping is fundamental to site location for business and industry. Yes, we may have heard stories of Bob Evans, or Applebees, or Target using mapping to decide where to locate a new store location. However, demographic mapping is critical to economic development. Manufacturing and industry need critical information about a region’s educational attainment, age and gender characteristics, plus employment and job skill data. These are crucial inputs into the decision-making process all companies engage in when seeking to expand facilities, grow, or relocate. I have worked on numerous projects for both private, non-profit, and public utilities where demographic data was needed to enhance, expand, or to simply gain knowledge about a service region.

Several years ago, I was brought in to help in the analysis of broadband penetration throughout Kentucky. I worked extensively with both public and private internet service providers to identify Kentucky regions with broadband and without, and to classify the type of broadband, as well as consider some of the demographic characteristics of Kentucky’s broadband and potential broadband market. That work drove considerable research and investment in broadband in Kentucky, Tennessee, and help foster broadband growth in the Southeast U.S. I know my maps went to the Kentucky legislature and as far as our U.S. Congress.

Demographic mapping is a tool, nothing more. But, like I tell my students, a hammer is a tool. How many roofs are replaced each year using hammers? How many hammers are used in home construction? Bunches, I am sure. Yet, in a fit of anger a hammer makes an excellent weapon. Now, was maiming or killing someone the original intent of a hammer? Hmmm. Knowing humans, the answer is probably yes; then we decided War Hammers could also be used to build things and make reasonably sturdy homes. And, then technology developed better swords, and then arrows and longbows sort of made hammers ineffectual in battle.

But, you see my point, hopefully. Tools depend on how they are used.

Redlining in Chicago

Redlining in Chicago. Notice “best,” “desirable,” and “hazardous.”

Clearly, demographics and mapping can be grossly misused. Perhaps the most egregious use of demographic mapping is called “redlining.” Redlining is the use of demographic data to ban or restrict some service based on racial profiling. For example, before, during, and after racial segregation, redlining was used to prevent home sales to Blacks in neighborhoods across the United States. Redlining is illegal, yet still crops up as some real estate agents will steer some racial groups towards some neighborhoods and away from others. Real estate agents may not admit this, but I firmly believe this behavior still is in practice today. To be clear, I am not saying all real estate agents are racists, only some, so relax.

Another grossly negligent use of demographics comes in the form of gerrymandering. My definition of gerrymandering is “the cowardly practice of politically-motivated individuals and parties to create homogenous districts, minimizing variance and diversity, in order to achieve some sort of racial and political purity in order to stay in office in perpetuity, or to ensure one’s chosen party maintains a superior position in spite of weak socioeconomic ideas and platforms.” If you don’t like that definition, I suppose you can use the one from Wikipedia.

That the FBI uses demographic mapping is not inherently good or bad. How the FBI uses demographic mapping is more important. What services are they providing to the communities being mapped? I guarantee the Arab-Muslim community is not the only community being mapped. How do I know this? Follow major international crime. The Russian community is mapped, no doubt, because the Russian mafia is both powerful and scary. Hispanic neighborhoods are mapped due gangs, especially MS-13 and Los Zetas, again, both powerful and scary. (“25 Notoriously Dangerous Gangs“)  You don’t have to believe me when I say the FBI needs to be doing as much mapping as they can afford. Just read about the three organizations I’ve named above. If doing your own research and discovering the evidence yourself doesn’t convince you the FBI needs mapping, nothing I can say will convince you.

To be clear, I am not advocating we should say, “OK, whatever the FBI wants, the FBI gets.” Anyone who knows me or follows this blog or follows me on Twitter knows I am not in any way in favor of building the United Police States of America. The reality is, if the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 passes, well, then, we have just committed to legislation whereby all of our rights have just been subordinated by national security concerns. Law enforcement, the ATF, FBI, Secret Service, NSA, et al., will now have the right to have many legal hurdles waived simply by claiming “national security prerogative.” Maybe that is a post for another day. But, the link I provided above goes right to the legislation. The bill is in English and readable by anyone with an 8th grade education, and should be read by everyone with an 8th grade education or greater. Very ominous bit of legislation, courtesy of Congressional Warmongers.

See, the problem is not demographics nor mapping. The lack of understanding and the public misuse of data is the problem. The lack of education on behalf of the public is the problem, not the collection or mapping of the data. Think of what would happen if Congress simply decided to abolish the CIA, the NSA, and our Department of State. How would the United States know about anything, really? Not just terrorism, not just about the insanely ignorant, misogynistic, religiously radical groups who find solace in blowing themselves to bits, but how would we know anything about global economics, changing geopolitics, and concerns facing our globe? The reality is, we would become fairly blind due to our self-imposed information black-out, the proverbial “burying our head in the sand, up to our waist.”

Not a good idea, really. The world is not as evolved as Lawrence Krauss or Richard Dawkins would like to think. We have to push the world to be a better place, and not allow mayhem and chaos to prevail.

To prevent anarchy and the potential for chaos to increase, we have to organize and collect data.

Members of the GOP would really like to eliminate the U.S. Bureau of the Census and all of the data the Bureau gathers. To me, this is essentially the analog of never going to see the doctor. Never. The only health data you would collect on yourself is that which you could obtain in your bathroom, namely height and weight and if you can still see your sex organs, your gender. And that’s it! That is all conservative members of the GOP and intellectually-stunted members Tea Party want to collect. I don’t like being too disparaging but their are political leaders, platforms, and ideology which if they were to take root, and some are, are truly insidiously destructive (like the anti-intellectual movement among GOP).

I hate to use this analogy but it sort of works. The GOP essentially want to blind the America public to, well, the American public. The GOP doesn’t want American to know about America, who we are, where we live, how we get to work, how we earn money, how educated we are; the list goes on. All of this data is necessary for driving economic development, and for assessing how we are doing, in general, and for assessing what regions are doing well, thriving, and what regions need help.

In 2012, the GOP tried to kill collection of demographic data and economic data for the U.S. (BusinessWeek, NYT)

In 2013, the GOP tried to kill the collection of economic data. (WashPost)

For a political party which prides itself on being a friend to business this is a terrible idea which works against business, and pretty much everyone else, for that matter. Most businesses hate the movement within the GOP to abolish the U.S. Census, and see this movement as essentially anti-business and anti-economic development.

In closing, demographic data is a valuable tool providing significant insight into places where questions and concerns arise. Demographic data should not be used to single out in particular racial, religious, political group, or any group based on sexual orientation or gender for the express purpose of harassment under the guise of “national security prerogative.” Demographic data should be used to educate, inform, and to ensure parity or services and opportunities,

PAX

Book Review: Critical Mass, by Sara Paretsky


Critical Mass, by Sara Paretsky. Signet Select Fiction; Penguin Publishing. Paperback. 2013. $10.

I recently wrote an essay about using Twitter for professional development. I suppose Facebook, if used with due assiduity, might allow a person some degree of learning and education. With Twitter, you get to choose who to follow, and following accounts is fluid. Follow for a few minutes, or follow for years, it doesn’t matter. No one gets upsets (or should) if followers go away. You choose who you follow and for how long. Then, you simply “unfollow.” Facebook, on the other hand, allows for too much intimacy, people hold grudges if “unfriended,” and even strangers feel dismissed if you don’t “friend” them on Facebook.

What does this have to do with a book review? I enter the following graphic into evidence:

Twitter interaction with author Sara Paretsky

Twitter interaction with author Sara Paretsky

I really enjoyed Critical Mass, by Sara Paretsky. I enjoyed the book so much I tweeted Ms. Paretsky my appreciation for her literary effort. And, I got a reply! Short, sweet, to the point – but that is brilliant! In my opinion simply author-audience interactions go a long way towards building and keeping an audience. That simple tweet will encourage me to invest in all of her V.I. Warshawski novels, now.

I picked up the paperback while shopping at CVS. I had noted the book on previous visits but didn’t really know anything about the author. One of the accounts I follow on Twitter had posted a list of the Top 50 Crime Authors. I read through the list and noted a few authors I was already familiar with. I found another list of crime authors, and another, and Sara Paretsky’s name kept showing. She was recognized by the readers of crime fiction; that was a plus in her favor.

The other plus which pushed me into buying Critical Mass was her heroine, V.I. Warshawski, is featured in 17 novels.Critical Mass is only the most recent novel. I’m not a fan of one-shot crime novels. I want to buy into a character. I grew up in the Age of Columbo, the Era of Magnum, P.I. and the Epoch of Spencer for Hire. I want to have a relationship with the character; a one-shot mystery is over-and-done and something about the finality of coming to the end of a story knowing nothing comes after doesn’t sit well with me. Never has. Hardy Boy Mysteries, Nancy Drew, Jupiter Jones and the Three Investigators; heck, even Henry and Rigsby had multiple adventures.

Critical Mass begins in pre-World War Two Vienna, Austria. Women were working on physics research associated with uranium and splitting the atom. Yes, Vienna was a research hub for Germany in working towards a working atomic bomb. Ms. Paretsky uses literary license to fictionalize some locations throughout the book. Many of the fictional places have real world analog, though. Obviously, Vienna, Austria is a real place. The research described in the book takes place at Technische Hochschule für Mädchen which is a literary stand-in for the Institut für Radiumforschung (IRF), which does exist.

CriticalMass-Stefan-Meyer-Institute

InstitutfürRadiumforschung (IRF) Vienna, Austria

In the early days of Germany’s march across Europe, women scientists took part in considerable amounts of research. Few were ever recognized for their efforts, with men receiving the vast majority of recognition of the research and winning the vast majority of Nobel Prizes. This comment can be easily verified by doing some simple research.

During World War Two and immediately thereafter the Allies were afraid of German, Austrian, and Hungarian scientists from continuing work with the Germans, or later, falling into Communist Soviet hands. In order to combat smart people falling under Axis or Communist influence, the United States implemented Operation:Paperclip.

Operation: Paperclip brought many German scientists, some of the best minds in the world at the time, to the United States. Men like Wernher von Braun and Werner Heisenberg, men responsible for the United States atomic bomb program, and later, the space program responsible for landing men on the moon. With less fanfare, some women were also brought to the United States within the same program.

Some of these people lived quiet, normal lives in and around Chicago. The University of Chicago was a hot-bed of atomic research before, during, and after World War Two.

The University of Chicago; Chicago, Illinois.

The University of Chicago; Chicago, Illinois.

Many of these people knew each other from Germany, and were not friends. Before the war, Jews mixed with relative ease in both German and Austrian society. But with Hitler and his anti-Semitic beliefs, Jews were removed from authority and leadership positions and replaced with Germans. This often meant a lab tech might then become the superior of the scientist. As is often the case, this new power dynamic sets into motion resentment, envy, and a recipe of murder.

Critical Mass is a great crime mystery spanning decades, from growing antisemitism in pre-war German and Austria, to the birth of computers and nuclear power in the United States. Ms. Paretsky really did some heavy research for this novel; very commendable. Furthermore, she visited sites in Vienna, Austria to get a sense of place for the novel. Her writing truly evokes a brilliant grasp of geography and history, perhaps the best reason to read Critical Mass.

All of these events are tied together by a death, a murder, an attempted murder and the disappearance of a teenage boy in today’s Chicago. Another positive for me, as many of readers of my book reviews are aware, is the use of real places in crime fiction. Private Investigator Warshawski calls Chicago home. Conveniently enough, Chicago has its fair share of crime, and it helps to have the University of Chicago nearby, as well as the University of Illinois-College Circle. Readers who know the geography of Chicago, or those who want to know the geography of Chicago better, would be served well to hit Google or Bing Maps. Ms. Paretsky gives us enough details to get familiar with Ms. Warshawski’s neighborhood.

V.I. Warshawski's neighborhood; Chicago, Illinois.

V.I. Warshawski’s neighborhood; Chicago, Illinois.

Warshawski must travel outside of Chicago tracking down leads. The geography becomes fictionalized during these trips. I’ve been wondering about the legal aspects of using real places in novels. Generally speaking, using real places is OK as long as nothing but good things are said, or interactions are nothing but positive, or at least neutral. Otherwise, get a good lawyer.

If a place is going to be the scene of a crime or some sort of horrible event, the budding author should shy away from naming names, and fictionalize a place. I suspect those reasons were responsible for the towns of Palfry, Illinois, and Tinney, Illinois. I couldn’t find them on a map. I’m wondering if Palfry might be better known as Rantoul; Tinney better known as Peru, Illinois. But, I’m guessing.

Paretsky weaves an intricate and compelling story, but not needlessly so. As I stated in the tweet above, readers really need to bring their brain to this book. In reading reviews about Sara Paretsky’s other books I think most of her books lean towards the cerebral. The story moves back-and-forth in time as bits and pieces of evidence are revealed. We see a glimpse of life of women in science research in Austria. We are brought forward in time as many of the advances of atomic and nuclear research become part of our society and research today, especially in the form of private industry and the power of intellectual property.

CriticalMass-Vienna-AustriaIn the end, without giving much away, V.I. Warshawski must clear up a loose end by visiting Vienna, Austria. Jewish ghettos, the physics research universities, and the German trains to concentration camps can all be found in uncomfortable proximity. In the book’s “Historical Notes” Sara recounts her trip to Vienna to visit the places appearing in her book. She mentions the people interviewed, academics who helped provide some of the important background information on the historical workings of the Austrian universities. When I finished the novel I sort of felt as if I had been subtly educated on the life of a Jewish female involved in research in Nazi Austria. Anyone who has read historical accounts of the Manhattan Project, or Bletchley Park, or the history of the American space program may find portions of the novel familiar.

Critical Mass is not your typical fare for crime novels. The writing is spot-on, the action well-paced, and V.I. for those unfamiliar with her is a great character. V.I. is witty, yet weary of dealing with societies low-lifers. She carries a gun and can take and deal-out punches. Yet, in spite of some of the typical plot devices, Sara Paretsky’s depth of writing, research, and elaborate plotting is well worth the read and sets her stories apart. Make sure to add Critical Mass to your “To-Read” stack.

PAX

Review: My Samsung Galaxy S5


# December 6th update after the break #

A little background. I always like to start with a little background; helps set the stage for my commentary.

As of 2011 I was using a Motorola Razr flip-phone. Yes, I know; I can hear the stuttered question: “How can you work in technology and be using such a dated phone and not an iPhone or at least a Droid??” I have a fairly solid rationale, mostly dealing with financial issues associated with divorce. But, that is a post for a different decade.

The summer of 2011 a good friend of mine got married in New Orleans. Both he and the Best Man were using good phones. Roger had a Motorola Droid of some flavor; the Best Man Mike was using a new iPhone 4. The benefit of those phones were immediately visible. The wedding party could break up; “Men, we will go this way. Ladies, you go that way. Family, stay out of trouble.” As we broke up, we could sort of keep tabs on each other using apps like FourSquare. We could see the location of other groups on the phone’s app maps. The ladies could take care of themselves. The concern was the older crowd, the aunts, uncles, and grandparents, and making sure they got to appointed lunch and dinner venues. Roger could use an app to figure out where grandma was located and then help direct that group to the wedding lunch, etc. Brilliant!

Mike had just recently upgraded to his iPhone 4, leaving his iPhone 3GS at home in Colorado. “Hey, I’m not using it any more. I’ll just boxed it up and ship it to you. It’s pretty beat up but it still works.”

Awesome! Mike sent me his used iPhone 3GS and I immediately put it to use. Yes, it was beat up. The outer case was scratched and scarred and rough. Mike is an avid mountain biker and motorcyclist and all-around outdoor enthusiast and the iPhone 3GS had all the wear-and-tear of being a constant companion. Yet, the screen was unmarred and the iPhone was the 32GB version. Lots of space to load podcasts, and, most of all, take pictures and video.

Until the summer of 2014 I used that old iPhone 3GS. I bought a yellow Otterbox case to protect it, bunches of cables to use in the office, at home, and in my truck. I took 1000s of pics and 100s of hours of video. Like the majority of smartphone users, the device became fairly indispensable.

But, as the case with much technology, I ran up against the terminal problem of support. I got stuck behind the Apple OS upgrade wall and as a result apps began to lose support. Also, I became vulnerable to tech envy as I saw people using the newer iPhone 5, 6, and some interesting Android-based phones. Sitting beside my friend, Kathie, at basketball games I could see how slow my iPhone 3 was compared to her iPhone 4. And, I work in technology.

Time to upgrade.

I really debated upgrading. My iPhone 3GS was free, handed down by my friend, Mike. I never exceeded my data plan as I really was not a huge user of data. Though I sent text and MMS messages, I never stressed my 2GB AT&T data plan. I like the iPhone 3 much better than I ever thought I would. I thought I would never adapt to the virtual keyboard, thinking the tactile button-board of the Blackberry or Motorola was superior, yet I did. Even today, in my post upgrade days, I continue to use the iPhone 3, but as a high-end iPod. I don’t have it active as a cellphone, but it serves as a great extra bit of technology for road trips.

I debated briefly about getting an iPhone 5. I am the first to tell people, “Get out of your comfort zone.” In this case, I told myself I had to practice my preaching and leave Apple behind and try the Android world. A few people around me I noticed had Samsung phones, the owner of the coffee shop I frequent, and his dad, and most of his employees; a few students in my department I could see holding these somewhat large phones. Not being particularly shy about getting people to talk about something they like, I would ask, “So, do you like your Samsung? What kind is it?”

Invariably, the response was 100%, “I love this phone!” Sometimes, I would get, “This phone is awesome!” or, “This phone is so cool!” Most of the users were former Apple iPhone users. I would ask, “So, would you go back to your iPhone?” and in every case the answer was typically, “Uh, no; no way,” to “Hell, no.”

I also asked some friends of mine who recently upgraded their older model iPhones to iPhone 5 or iPhone 6. “Do you like your new iPhone?” And, invariably, the replies were pretty much along the lines of, “Oh, yes! I love this phone!”

So, when the personal reviews of technology were seemingly in balance, at least in my circles, what to do?

I would ask, “So, would you go back to your iPhone?” and in every case the answer was typically, “Uh, no; no way,” to “Hell, no.”

A couple of contributing factors. My mother recently upgraded her suitcase-style cellphone to a Samsung Galaxy and was having a miserable time of it. But, she literally upgraded from a phone the size of a human shoe with a screen unable to show the length of a single 7-digit phone number. That’s like pulling someone from a horse and giving them the keys to a new Honda Civic and expecting them to get on down the road. My sister’s family was a mixed-group. My brother-in-law is a CEO of some tech company and uses a Motorola Droid-type phone. My niece and nephew have an iPhone and Android phone, respectively. The final push I needed was the upgrade options available from AT&T.

In my region of the U.S., only two true contenders for cellular service make sense, AT&T and Verizon. AT&T offered me a free upgrade; I have been a life-long AT&T customer and I had been sitting on an upgrade for about 2 years. A switch to Verizon would be slightly more of a headache than I wanted. I opted to stick with my AT&T plan since I could get my service plan grandfathered and use my upgrade to get a free Samsung Galaxy S5 in white.

As of my writing, I have been an extremely satisfied user of the Samsung Galaxy S5, for a variety of reasons. So, without further ado, here we go.

What did I get?

  • Samsung Galaxy S5 (white)
  • 2.5GHz Quad-Core Snapdragon processor
  • 16GB of on-board storage. I added a 32GB microSD card a week or so later.
  • 16MP rear-facing (main) camera
  • 2MP front-facing (sub) camera
  • See Samsung Galaxy 5 page for more details

After allowing my new phone to charge, I connected my personal Gmail account to Google Play. I realized the phone was immediately installing apps I had installed on my Nexus 7 tablet. Whoa; that’s kind of cool, I thought. And, why not? After all both devices use precisely the same Android OS and I use precisely the same Google account to manage both.

Browsing the internet was amazingly fast and responsive. Now, considering I was moving from the slower iPhone 3GS to a 4G-empowered Samsung Galaxy I should not be too impressed, really. Still, watching pages load fast and rendered correctly was still pretty captivating.

Camera: Pros

I really like the 16MP camera. I take pictures pretty much every day (mostly of my girls, my dogs.) I also shoot video frequently. I don’t use the front-facing camera often. I don’t engage in video chats, or take selfies, and simply haven’t had the need to use the 2MP camera. I have used pretty much every camera function; the panoramic shots are amazing and crisp. The Virtual Tour function is very cool. I can see a real estate agent, or anyone wanting to create a tour of place using their Samsung Galaxy to create a tour and post to YouTube. Simply a great shooting mode.

IMG_3207

I have used the camera for capturing lots of video. The phone is capable of 480p, 720p, 1040p, and ultraHD. The videos I show people without a Samsung are really taken aback by the quality. “You shot that with your phone? What sort of alien tech are you in possession of? Does the FBI know?”

Camera: Cons

The phone is a little sensitive to jostling. If you don’t like a shot and jiggle the phone, you’re likely to get a shot, anyway. The phone will take the picture whether you like it or not. Not a big deal; just delete it later. But, it’s sort of irritating. The camera tends to have some color balance issues. Inside shots tend to be yellowish. I am not a professional photographer, and I think this has more to do with my inside lighting than the camera itself, fluorescent lights behind faded and aged plastic.

The video suffers from the same jostling issue as the pictures. Hold the phone absolutely still and you probably won’t have any annoying pauses in video. If you jostle the phone even slightly,like to get out-of-the-way of a charging dog who takes playing soccer far too seriously, your video might get a little herky-jerky. Again, sort of annoying. Also, when shooting video, making sure no other apps are open seems to make a difference in smoothness of video capture. However, I have used my Samsung to capture video of myself in the classroom. Using a tripod, even a cheap $10 Walgreen tripod, really helps. Students are somewhat surprised when they see faculty using their phone in a classroom. When used appropriately smartphones in the classroom are a definite positive.

Apps: Pros

I have a way to go in terms of evaluating apps. Of course, I use the Google apps, Maps, Gmail, Drive, Chrome, YouTube, and Hangouts. No particular issues with any of these. I use the Android Facebook app on occasion, to post to the university-related Facebook pages. I use the official Twitter app for Android and I also use HootSuite for Android. Honestly, I use the Twitter app on my phone more so than the HootSuite app. I use the HootSuite app on my desktop more so than the Twitter desktop app.

I like the S Health app. I walk to-and-from work everyday and always wondered how I was doing with my walking. I live about a 7 minute walk from my office and make the roundtrip a few times a day. The S Health app reports I walk about 5 miles a day. I think the distance is over-estimated but not sure by how much. I think the phone detects more walking than I actually do, due to the motion sensor. I walk a lot in my building as the areas I am responsible for exist on two adjacent floors.

Everyone with a smart phone needs a good weather app. I like WeatherUndergound; they give as much weather data as possible. WU incorporates local weather stations a la “citizen science.” Some weather stations allow people to connect the station to the Internet. WU grabs this local supplementary data and publishes it along with other weather info from local National Weather Service (NOAA/NWS) offices.

The Galaxy S5 comes with an IrLED. Why is that cool? Your television remote uses an IrLED to manifest your watching choices. That’s correct; you can control your HDTV, cable box, and many other devices using the “Ir blaster” on the phone. The Smart Remote app is easy to set up and you can jump from show to show, or program a show to watch later from your phone.

Apps: Cons

My recent Thanksgiving trip to Kansas City illuminated a few of the phones weaknesses. I learned about micro USB 3.0 immediately before and during the trip. To contrast, my truck stereo has a typical USB 2.0 jack. Previously, I simply plugged my Apple charging/data cable into the USB port, set my stereo to iPod, and off I went, listening to EconTalk or StarTalkRadio podcasts.

I plugged my charging cable into the USB port on my stereo, connected the mini-USB to my Galaxy, and nothing happened. Well, not entirely true. My stereo declared it was “reading” but evidently it was reading silently to itself. While I appreciate the consideration, stereos are designed to share content. I grabbed another cable and the same thing happened. In fact, I further realized the phone was not charging from the USB, either. My iPhone would charge; why not my Galaxy?

I then grabbed the actual charging/data cable and consider the ends. The mini-USB cables should charge the Galaxy, to be clear. I think I just had a bad cable. But, the Galaxy needs a true micro-USB 3.0 cable to be serviceable. Those are not cheap. Even with a true micro-USB 3.0 cable connecting my Galaxy to my truck stereo I could not get any podcast to come through. Today, I am blaming my stereo and not the Galaxy. The stereo is clearly marked to support iPods and iPhones and not Android. Yesterday, I dug out an old 1/8″ audio cable and connected the Galaxy using the headphone jack to the stereo’s auxiliary input jack. I finally got my podcasts to air through the stereo though I had to increase the output volume on both the phone and stereo in order to hear sound. I arrived at a solution, not one I like, but a solution nonetheless.

Perhaps this is simply a mismatch in generations of technology. The stereo pre-dates Android popularity but not iOS popularity. The Galaxy would not charge via the USB port so I grabbed a 12-volt USB power adapter and used that to charge the phone while the audio cable provided sound. I felt like I was hacking the Millennium Falcon for about 20 minutes, or trying to get Serenity off the ground, with cables and cords strung around the trucks cabin.

Conclusion

Despite a few quirks, I do like the Samsung Galaxy S5. The door protecting the data/charging port seems flimsy, but what can you do if you want some resistance to water? I expect the door to fall off one day.

puregeargalaxys5dualtek3The phone is just large enough to be unable for me to text using one hand. Granted, I have a nice DualTek case protecting the phone which adds to the Galaxy’s overall size. But, still, I’ve held the iPhone 5 in a Otterbox case and I can still compose a text message with one hand.

I don’t have a problem with the size, though. My eyes don’t work as well as I would like and the Galaxy’s EMOLED screens is big and bright. I get a little frustrated with the keyboard at times. The registration of the keys seems to be off from where my fingers think the letters and numbers should be. I had the same issue with my iPhone 3, but the issue seems slightly more pronounced on my Galaxy.

I bought an after-market clipcase to pack the phone around. While I could shove my iPhone 3GS in a pocket I am reluctant to do this with my Galaxy. I have, but I’m a smaller framed fellow, and a giant phone in my hip or back pocket just doesn’t work for me. I clip the nylon case at my waist tuck in my phone, and I’m off. I see some fellows who are working on remodeling some buildings near my office using their Galaxy phones. They do carry their phones in front or back pockets. I worry about cracking my phone, so I choose not to carry mine in pockets.

I also have not used the thumbprint scanner. I have read other reviews seeming to indicate the scanner is sort of wonky to set up and use. By “wonky” I mean the scanner doesn’t recognize thumbprints or prints well, in general.

During my recent road trip I used Google Maps and the on-board GPS extensively. I opted for a less direct route to Kansas City, cutting diagonally across the state and taking the back roads and “blue highways.” The GPS and Google Maps positioned me remarkably well. So well, in fact, I wonder how useful inexpensive handheld GPS units really are. I’m sure my reported position was augmented by cellular tower connections and not restricted to mere GPS signals. If I was out in the Boonies the GPS accuracy would drop off, I suspect.

In October, I used my Galaxy for a mapping workshop at Louisville Community and Technical College – Southwest. Using ESRI’s Collector for ArcGIS I used only the GPS on my Galaxy and ArcGIS Online to create a polygon around a bit of landscaping. While land surveyors might be shocked and appalled at building a campus map around GPS, Collector, and ArcGIS Online, the accuracy of the polygon I created around the flowered landscaping had to be within 6″ or so. Very cool. And a great way to get kids and adults thinking about their world, collecting data, thinking about data collection and usability.

I’m happy with the Samsung Galaxy S5. I would make the choice again, for sure. I read blogs and reviews which sound dismissive of the Galaxy brand, or are unimpressed. Look, people, like Louis CK has admonished, get over yourselves. This technology barely existed 5 years ago. A decade ago this was nearly science fiction. And 70 years ago, in the Dick Tracy-era, this was only technology one say in comic books. I think we need to appreciate our technology a little more and be less arrogant about our impressions of technology.

Because of how closely aligned the Samsung products are, I would imagine the Galaxy Note 3 and Note 4 are just a brilliant as the Galaxy S5. I have a friend who treats his Galaxy Note 3 like his office away from the office. That is pretty much my approach to my Galaxy S5, an office away from the office. If you have worries about doing something different from an Apple iPhone, I would not be that concerned about change. All of your media can be transferred to the Android device, stored in the cloud via Drive, or on microSD cards (which Apple refuses to allow.)

So, don’t be too afraid to change. We need to get out of our comfort zone occasionally.

PAX

****** Update // December 6th, 2014 *****

I collected a few different cables to mix and match and try to resolve by connection problems to my truck stereo.

My 12-volt USB charger adapter I used for my Thanksgiving road trip was a piece of garbage. The indicator light beamed confidently, yet the USB charger was not truly competent. It was a piece of conference swag, and I tossed it in the garbage. I used a different USB charger, one that both glowed and did its job. I discovered another USB charger which arrived with an after-market accessory pack I bought when I bought my Galaxy S5. I now had two for testing. 

I bought two new USB 2.0 to mini-USB 3.0 cables. One Samsung-labeled cable I bought from an Amazon cellular accessory online store. The second cable I bought from Radio Shack.

Two new cables, two new USB 12-volt adapter chargers.

Today, I ran some tests using my Galaxy S5 and the Nerdist podcast featuring Carol Leifer. Great podcast, by the way. 

I got cables connected, one to the audio port on the truck stereo, the other to my headphone jack on the Galaxy. Got the sound setting adjusted and heard a nice podcast through my stereo. Great!

I then connected the USB charging cable to the 12-volt adapter. Loud, squelchy noise blasted over the top of the audio podcast. I switched cables. I tried the other USB charger. I tried every permutation; the noise never abated. I don’t have the issue with my used iPhone 3GS. I have this annoying squelchy noise when my Samsung Galaxy S5 is connected.

The noise varies with the truck’s acceleration. I’m guessing some bad electromagnetic shielding is responsible somewhere. Perhaps the stereo is not grounded well.

However, I’m struggling with the difference between the way the signals are handled between the iPhones and the Samsung devices. Why should there be such a difference?

I’m not finished testing to figure out where the weakness is located. In the near future I’ll borrow a friend’s car. I’ll use the USB and audio ports to connect the Galaxy S5, see if I can replicate the problems.

I’ll report back when I have some results.

Atheists and Agnostics Need to Consider Downstream Consequences


I have spent a great deal of time, the vast majority, in fact, participating in organized religion. I was raised in the Methodist church, a church in Kansas City, Missouri. I did not sing in the choir and did not participate in our youth group. For health reasons – I had very severe allergies and asthma throughout my childhood – I did not venture to travel on any mission trip. I did perform in most church plays, holiday festivals, and when I was in my mid-teens I led a few sermons. I played the coveted role of Jesus for a performance. My sister and I would run our own church service for a set of grandparents when they became too old to attend their First Christian Church regularly. We would use old hymnals and create our own program. We did not create our own sermon; my grandmother was quite partial to Billy Graham, Jim Bakker, Oral Roberts, Jerry Falwell, and Jimmy Swaggart so we would be the warm-up until one of shows Grandma liked came on to take over for us.

My family would attend a Presbyterian church when we visited my mother’s family. I had friends who were Catholic and would attend a Mass once in while. Later in life, I taught a few Sunday school classes, worked many of the dinner events, assisted with fund-raisers, and tithed regularly.

I vividly remember forgetting my lines and having to ad-lib based on memory of the scene. In our play, we were re-enacting the event of Jesus being called among the Pharisees. The Pharisees were engaged in one of their numerous attempts to get Jesus to betray himself and say something against Herod or, even worse, something against Caesar. We can read about this interaction in Matthew 22:15-22, where Jesus is noted for stating, “then give back to Caesar what is his, and give to God what belongs to him.” The church was standing-room only, sanctuary was warm from all the people and I became a little distracted by the size of the audience. In the biblical version, Jesus takes a coin presented to him by a Pharisee and studies the image pressed into the metal. I did this, too, channeling my inner Jesus. Except I was trying to remember my lines and decided I couldn’t remember them well enough. I could not just stand on stage and gape at the audience. The pressure of needing to continue pushed sweat from my pores and the lighting was not helping. I could remember the scene in my mind, though, having read this particular passage numerous times. As the actor, then, I have to decide what my character would do and act accordingly.

“Whose face is on this coin?” I, as Jesus, asked.

“Why, you know it is Caesar’s face!” a Pharisee uttered.

“Then, give back to Caesar what his; and give to God what he is owed,” was my reply.

The precise wording of the lines are not really that important. So many versions of the Bible exist one of them is bound to have something close to what I spoke. Afterwards, people told me I would be either “a minister or a lawyer” due to my delivery. Making eye contact with the audience was important, I knew. During my ad-lib I paced, and when I finally had my shit together, I spoke to the audience. Looking back on it, I’m sure they were simply being nice. But, I did end up in the classroom, talking to strangers on a regular basis; a sort of “performance art.”

And yet, I consider myself an Atheist. I always had doubts about Christianity, beginning in my pre-teens. The stories seemed too fabulous to a child who read copiously, both fiction and non-fiction. I simply saw most of the Bible not as a historical account but more as a collection of stories, events representing a mélange of both real circumstances and geography, and fiction. But, when young and naive, being a rebel about religion is not advisable. When everyone around you seems comfortable and devout, more or less, you sort of keep doing that thing until you can find the opportunity to break from the pack.

After my divorce – my father-in-law was a Baptist preacher – I dove head-long into science reading. I have an extensive reading list I may post to those interested in reading some good cosmology and physics books for laypeople. I’ve had a life-long interest in science so my recent reading does not reflect a new-found appreciation for science, simply a continuation of the pursuit of knowledge. I thought I would be an engineer, an aerospace engineer, after high school. I had plans to attend The School of Mines in Rolla, Missouri (now: Missouri University of Science and Technology) but gave up pursuing the degree; I never found the balance between working to pay for school and thermodynamics.

I eventually reached a stage where I decided God needed a universe to exist to justify his existence far more than the universe needed a god to justify its existence. In other words, the universe does not care whether a god exists or not – the universe just is. Now, why it is we do not know, but that simply means we have not discovered the solution, yet. Humankind is not as advanced as we think we are. We may not have even graduated the Universe-equivalent of 1st Grade compared to other civilizations. God, however, needs a universe to exist, as well as beings (“minions”) to sustain the god’s ego. But, that is my own philosophy, adopted from reading numerous books, listening to and watching numerous podcasts and lectures.

I don’t hang around other Atheists. I don’t go to “Freethinkers” club meetings nor do I attend most of their events. I do follow several on Twitter, Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins, Neil Tyson (though he claims to be Agnostic) to drop a few names. I believe the entire panel of Skeptics Guide to the Universe are Atheistic or Agnostic. A great podcast, by the way.

Another nice podcast is supported by Wired magazine. Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (GGG) features today’s preeminent thinkers, writers, and do-ers. This is a long-form interview podcast featuring guests ranging from Neil Tyson, Michael Chabon, Paul Krugman, to Simon Pegg and Ursula K. Le Guin. Over the Thanksgiving 2014 holiday break I downloaded a few to try on my 8-hr drive to visit family. I elected to listen to an interview with Lawrence Krauss, a fairly famous physicist whose visage often graces many popular science shows, such as “The Universe” and “How the Universe Works.” He is also an ardent Atheist, and along with Richard Dawkins, they sometimes work as a pair discussing science and religion at venues around the world.

Dr. Krauss’ podcast interview on GGG was fairly mundane, all told. He has a documentary, “The Unbelievers” he was publicizing, footage of he and Dr. Dawkins discussing science and religion at various places around the world. Lawrence does make several interesting comments about science versus religion. I do not take offense to his philosophy, his system of beliefs, but I can see how both he and Richard Dawkins get labeled as “strident.” I, too, might have come across as strident in arguing science versus religion. A thought occurred to me a few months ago which has forced me to temper my attitude.

“I said, “You know what? You have to listen to me but I don’t have to listen to you.” What I meant by that is that to be a — I don’t know if this phrase is an oxymoron — but to be a sensible theologian or at least one who has pretense of being scholarly, you at least have to have some vague idea of what’s going on in science. How old the universe is, etc., etc. But to do science, you don’t have to know anything about theology, anything that theologians and to some extent philosophers do. Scientists don’t read theology, they don’t read philosophy. It doesn’t make any difference to what they’re doing. It may not be a value judgment, but it’s true.”

[Lawrence Krauss, via Wired GGG. Transcript]

Upon hearing his comments, I thought, Wow, Lawrence is going to get a bunch of freaking hate-mail (from Christians, oddly enough) and perhaps even some death threats (again, by both Christians and Muslims, oddly.)

To me, though, this is where Atheists and Agnostic miss the point. Much of the argument, debate, whatever terms suits you, is directed by Atheists at the pious, critical for holding a system of beliefs for which no proof of a higher plane or higher order spiritual entity exists. That is not the true debate, not the true question, and perhaps not the tact Atheist should consider.

Debates typically have two sides, a “For/Pro” side and “Against/Con” side. What we often fail to consider not the “not doing” of some action, but rather what effect the complete absence might have on a given event or circumstance.

One day, I was thinking along these lines. I may have had a recent conversation with someone to spur my contemplation of the universe and religion. Maybe something along the lines of, “How can people be so silly as to think the Earth is a mere 6,400 years old when Science clearly has proven this age is impossible?” And, then I carried this forward to what I thought was a reasonable conclusion: “Religion should simply not exist. It should just go away. Too many people have too many divergent views, many views are not compatible, and incompatibility leads to strife, warfare, and death. Better if people simply did away with religion.”

And then I thought: “What if religion did simply go away? What if we awoke one day and for one reason or another everyone realized the Torah, the Bible, the Qur’an were essentially works of fiction? What would happen to people, to society, to the global social order?”

The realization dawned on me some people, perhaps millions of people, no doubt, need religion. I mean, they need religion; they need the notion of an Almighty God / Allah, they require the notion of Sin, of Good and Evil, they must have access to Heaven and must fear a Hell. These elements of religion are essential to millions of people. They need this framework in order to build their lives just like a wasp needs some mud to build a nest. Without religion, I have the idea our current social order would simply collapse, and dissolve into anarchy and chaos.

Millions of people derive their sense of Right and Wrong from religion, either direct or indirect exposure to religion. I’m not simply speaking of Americans, but Middle Easterners and inhabitants of South Asia, from Pakistan to Bangladesh. While secularism exists in almost all regions and realms, the ability to lead a secular life varies depending on local tolerance and local religiosity. Parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, pass down their cultural traits to the next generation. Part of this transmission is values and morals, values and morals stemming from religious teachings and religious indoctrination. Remove all of these supports and I have the uncomfortable sensation the world would rush towards a human tragedy of Biblical proportions not seen since the Great Flood.

I am not a neuroscientist, to be clear. Many research articles detail the neuroscience of the human brain’s reaction to various forms of stimuli. One of the forms of stimuli is spiritual beliefs and religion. Science still has a long way to go to investigate why the brain as an organ behaves the way it does, the roots of consciousness, and the physiologic responses to thoughts, dreams, and beliefs. We do know the brain releases chemicals in response to stimuli, the brain builds pathways and neural networks, strengthening some, weakening others. We also know not every brain reacts in precisely identical ways. However, science is pretty confident some brains lean towards spirituality, some brains lean towards fear, some brains favor conservative perspectives while some brains tend to align more towards liberal viewpoints. (Wikipedia)

I’m not sure humans, in general, at least right now at our current state of evolution, are quite ready for abolition of religion. I think many people require the structure and mental support, i.e. crutch, religion provides. People feel good, feel safe, and feel assured even if something bad were to happen to them, to a family member, or simply succumb to the fate of death we all must face there is a place beyond this existence where all things are better. Our souls go to Heaven and we live happily ever after forever and always.

Furthermore, I suspect more than a few people need the moral compass religion provides. I firmly believe an Atheist can be moral and ethical, contrary to what some Conservative Christians might contend. The fallacy of their argument is they base their contention, usually, on Presuppositional Apologetics (PA). The basic premise of PA is all debate must first be based on the acceptance of the truth of the Bible. If two people cannot accept the basic premise the Bible is the Truth, then no substantive debate can occur. The underlying fallacy here is the arrogance of the PA premise ignores all non-Christian faiths which predate Christianity, such as Hinduism, and completely ignores the morality and ethics of Confucianism. Confucianism is a true philosophy, not a religion, which arose in China about 500 years before Jesus. Confucianism provides a very substantive basis for the argument people can be moral and ethical without adherence to a system of beliefs based on a supernatural Prime Mover and its ad hoc reward / punishment system.

I think Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins in their exuberance to argue religion is a fanciful and pointless pursuit fail to recognize millions of people literally need religion simply to bring meaning and hope to their lives. For these people, knowing they are “star stuff” is not enough. Being “star stuff” is not a personal experience. As Lawrence Krauss states in a 2009 lecture, “a star died so you can be here today,” [16:50-17:23] is not enough for most people.

I have listened to a few of Richard Dawkins lectures online, follow his Twitter feed, and have read some of his essays. Definitely, he is strident, an unapologetic Atheist. Krauss may be less strident, but he comes off as aloof and haughty which is essentially his confidence in his own beliefs and the lack of confidence he has in the pious. This is called, “hubris.” I cannot fault either Dawkins or Krauss for their beliefs; to do so undermines an essential quality of our society. I do find some fault in their somewhat callous and arrogant attitude towards the pious and the bulk of humanity for whom religion plays a vital role, be it good or bad. I think if either Krauss or Dawkins were to really think their argument through they would have to reach the same conclusion as I, that the world and its inhabitants are not ready to divest themselves of religious beliefs. Humankind is not ready, not mature enough, not developed enough to walk on our own without support. Not yet. A few people are, mainly the Chinese, some people in Europe, and a few people in the United States might be comfortable enough to handle life without religion.

I’ve come to the conclusion that while I don’t need religion in my life to be fulfilled, I’m not in favor of telling my friends or family they are being ridiculous for holding religious or spiritual beliefs. If people need religion to be self-actualized people, so be it. My only request is keep your religion out of our public schools and out of our local, state, and federal politics. The United States is not a theocracy.

Whether you agree with me or not, I still thank you for reading my posts. There are pages of brilliant content on the Internet and I thank you for reading mine.

PAX

You Might Be Using Twitter Wrong


You might be using Twitter wrong.

On the other hand, you might be using Twitter appropriately.

Perhaps “wrong” is too incendiary of a term to use regarding Twitter use; people seem to be really easily offended these days. I use the term mostly to gain attention. I may re-post this same article under a new title, “How To Get The Most From Twitter” and then compare the difference in readership.

People in my circle know I am a daily Twitter user and I often promote Twitter over Facebook and other media streams. I understand today many teenagers seem to be moving away from Facebook and using other social media forms, like Vine and SnapChat. While those are fine for communicating with friends, acquaintances, and literal strangers, they do not provide the benefit of Twitter, and honestly, Facebook.

I have been an avid Twitter user for almost 4 years and elected to use Twitter for a very specific reason – to stay connected with the technology of social media. During my first (and only) marriage, I was essentially forbidden from using Facebook. Thus, for 5 years I was really out of the loop. After my divorce – not caused by Facebook, by the way – I elected to establish a Facebook account. I proceeded to use Facebook just like everyone else. I found high school friends. I found college friends and old fraternity brothers. I connected with current friends, family, and acquaintances. I then branched out into groups; I had two greyhounds at the time so I joined some greyhound groups.

As my collection of so-called “friends” grew, I became astonished and then dismayed and then angry at the collective ignorance of people, some of whom were friends. And, because of the way Facebook works, perhaps the friends of friends, even to the extent of “everyone.” In the summer of 2011, in the run-up to the 2012 Presidential Election, the political atmosphere was increasingly toxic. Rick Santorum, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, plus political pundits Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Michael Savage were spewing their nonsense – and most of my collection of contacts on Facebook I found to be in their choir, so to speak. I found Facebook posts to be increasingly racist in nature, fundamentalist Christian, and bigoted against People of Color. I will always remember the stupendously racist and bigoted rhetoric directed at a Muslim friend of mine by someone who claimed to be a member not only of the local clergy but also the pastor of a local church who challenged my Muslim friend essentially to a gunfight. I wish I was making this up. This pastor claimed to have served in Korea and Vietnam, was a Green Beret, and didn’t fight for this country to be taken over by Muslim killers. I posted he was an embarrassment to people who fight in armed services, and an embarrassment to Christians, and for him to say he fought for freedom implies he supports a form of Fascism, whereby freedom is granted to those who support a certain ideology, namely his. Then he challenged us both to a fight, and further suggested should we meet him in a public place things might go bad for us, as he always carries a Colt .45.

I declared Facebook bankruptcy almost immediately after this moron’s asinine threats. I’m not a person who reacts very well to taunts and threats and have made many a stupid mistake by reacting first and not thinking about consequences. I realized I could make things worse for myself, and my mental health, by continuing to engage in the Grand Central Narcissism of Facebook. I state “almost” based on some consideration of the impact my sudden disappearance would have on my Facebook friends. Because, since when a person leaves Facebook it sort of indicates “oh, so, you don’t want to be friends with me anymore, asshole? Ok, screw you, too. We aren’t friends in REAL LIFE any more, either!” mentality which has become an unfortunate side-effect of Facebook I had to consider briefly what impact my disappearance might have. And then I disappeared from Facebook with much of the anticipated repercussions of my choice coming to fruition in RL. Some of my real life friends reserved judgment on my disappearance. Others, not so much. Which may demonstrate at least anecdotally how vain some people are; more than one might think.

But, then, this is what Facebook tolerates, and the platform Facebook has become, for better or worse. Facebook is a platform for people to promulgate any and all forms of messages, aka bullshit. Even worse, to “unfriend” a person in Facebook translates into breaking that friendship in Real Life (RL).  As if things cannot get any worse, Facebook has also been complicit in online harassment, stalking, suicides, and murder. And, divorce.

A social media platform should advance the conversation. Ideally. This is my euphemism for saying, “Let’s talk about this, hash out some details, and arrive at some mutually acceptable conclusion whereby we have helped advance some noun (person, place, thing, or idea).” I mean, why use brilliant 21st century technology to promote 18th or 19th century parochial mentalities? While Facebook may have democratized content to some extent, Facebook allows too many trolls, aberrant personalities, and nonsense to persist effectively dragging all content into a digital cesspool in my opinion.

But I work in technology. I am an IT manager. Even though I do GIS, part of my job and expertise is in the “IS” part of GIS, the “information systems” aspect. I could just simply walk away from all social media – but that doesn’t seem rational or reasonable to me. I cannot simply abandon information technology simply because I personally find a good portion of it repugnant. I still need to remain relevant, think ahead, plan, maybe dream or aspire. What might I miss? What information, trend, alert or danger, or advice might I miss? My work environment is peculiar; I am the IT staff for two areas. Yes, I work at a university, and am part of a larger IT group, but for the two areas I am responsible for, I am the IT manager. I need to do what I can to stay informed and in touch with technologies so I can provide some service to the people I work both for and with. As a result of my efforts faculty, staff, and students from across campus seek out my advice and recommendations pertaining to technology.

GIS, geographic information systems, have become infused in may of today’s popular technologies. We all want maps for driving directions; we want satellite imagery so we can see what a place looks like before we arrive; we want answers to questions about our environment. GIS and its brother, geographic information science, work to address these questions. GIS technology is rapidly changing; business and industry is rapidly evolving to avail themselves to GPS-enabled phones and tablets, governments collect copious amounts of data, from cellphone records, to water and air quality information, to demographic and lifestyle data, and nearly every commercial drone collects GPS information. I have to try to stay on top of a very dynamic technology and the best means of doing so via social media. Thus, I cannot simply walk away from what has become a professional development environment for me.

And, now we have arrived at the crux of my essay.

If you are not using Twitter for professional development, you might be using Twitter wrong.

People I come in contact with make one or both of the following statements:

“Ehh, I don’t like Twitter. It’s just like Facebook.”

“I looked into Twitter but I don’t know how to use it.”

To the first statement, I answer the person thus:

“If you use Twitter like Facebook, then, yes, Twitter is just like Facebook. And, when you say it’s just like Facebook tells me you aren’t using Twitter properly.”

My reply to the second statement goes like this:

“Twitter is a little odd to figure out how to get started. But once you get started, you will see its value almost immediately. Let me give you some advice.”

Yes, Twitter can become just like Facebook if you choose to use Twitter to follow your family, your friends, and accounts of users and groups which utilize social media for the promotion of nonsense. Then, the question must really become,

“What can I do differently so I can improve my online experience and get better information from my social media?”

Good question!

There are many things you can do to improve your online social media experience, learn, grow, and perhaps become a more well-rounded and well-read citizen of the world. Here is some advice.

  1. Do not use Twitter to follow family or friends.
  2. Do not even entertain the thought of engaging family or friends on Twitter. No close family.
  3. See #1. Then, see #2. Rinse, lather, repeat as many times as necessary. Then, advance to the next section.

Now, do this. Think about where you are in your life.

  • Are you a student?
  • Are you a professional or someone engaged in a career?
  • Do you have a cause, a non-profit, or a hobby you value?
  • What are you really interested in?

If you know these off the top of your head, that’s great. Or, make a short list.

I’m going to use myself as an example, to illustrate what I think is a good use of Twitter. I have a number of interests, both personal and professional.

  • Geography
  • GIS
  • Cartography and map-making
  • Science, in general, and specifically,
    • Cosmology
    • CERN (the European particle accelerator)
    • Astronomy
    • Political implications
  • Comic books
    • Comic art, writing, illustrating, and the industry itself
  • Dogs and pets
  • Writing
    • Writing, in general
    • Science writing
    • Science fiction
    • Fantasy
    • Crime fiction
  • Robotics and engineering
    • MAKE
    • Drones

I decided at the onset of using Twitter I would not follow any account I did not think I could learn from, either an individual or organization account. Being new to Twitter I had to figure out how to find such accounts. Finding great accounts to follow is really easy.

First, take one of your topics I had you think about above. Now, think of a person or an organization who represents that particular topic well. Using myself as an example, I like to read and write. One of the authors I enjoy is Neil Gaiman. I searched Twitter for Mr. Gaiman, found he had a Twitter account (Twitter: @neilhimself). Mr Gaiman also happens to be active with his fans on Twitter so his account is very interesting. He often shares insights, sketches, and news of his travels.

I had one account to “follow.” How to find more? Well, I thought, who does Neil Gaiman follow? Those people must be fairly interesting if Neil is following them.

Twitter-sample-Gaiman

Mr. Gaiman tweets a lot, over 76,200 tweets. He has over 2,100,000 followers, yet follows only 927 people and group accounts. I’m interested in these select 927 accounts. These must be fascinating people, right? Realistically, people are people and I’m not going to find all 927 of these accounts to my liking. But, not a bad place to start.

Clicking on “Following” will reveal in most cases the accounts a given account follows. The accounts appear in a format which reminds me of Monopoly properties, cards arranged in a matrix detailed with the Twitter account name and the bio of the account.

Twitter-sample-Gaiman-follows

I’m not familiar with Elisabeth Evans, but we will revisit her in a moment. If you enjoy music, Tori Amos might be a good account to follow. She might chat with fans, talk about writing music, her cats, what food she likes; some personalities will reveal details which will remind us they are flesh and blood people just like us normals.

Anyone who knows science fiction will recognize Harlan Ellison’s name. Controversial, to say the least, but a genius in the science fiction genre, he has written numerous books, stories, and screenplays for movies and television, including Star Trek: The Original Series. The most popular Star Trek episode, “The City on the Edge of Forever,” is his story. IDW Comics has recently published a comic book adaptation of this story, as well.

Anthony Stewart Head is an actor most people will recognize from his years on “Buffy, The Vampire Slayer” television series.

Then, we see Neil follows updates from the founder of Audible.com, Donald Katz. A person interested in streaming media might want to follow his account, and discover who Mr. Katz deems acceptable to follow. Michael Green leaves us in the dark with his nebulous bio. A Twitter Bio should be written to help people decide if your content is worthwhile. Because Neil follows Mr. Green I might be tempted to figure out why but not when I can see Elisabeth Evans seems more interesting.

People who write interesting bios can be worth following. Some celebrities won’t chat with their Twitter fans, or don’t update very often. I have a few guilty pleasure accounts I follow: William Shatner, George Takei, Steve Martin, and Louis CK. William Shatner and George Takei update constantly and will chat online with fans. So amazing to see them talk to people. They are awesome accounts who love connecting with their fans. I chatted briefly on some topic with Mr. Shatner one night. Very cool. I’ve been a fan of George Takei since being on an elevator with him in Kansas City during one Star Trek convention. My dad finally relented and took a friend and I when I was in the 4th grade. We just happened to get on an elevator with Mr. Takei and he was very nice to us. During the Star Trek convention I got his autograph that my friend later stole. On the other side of the spectrum, Steve Martin rarely seems to engage his fans and mostly passes on mild witticisms. Louis CK is not a frequent tweeter.

Elisabeth Evans provides some details about herself. By examining her bio we can decide if she might be a worthy account to learn from. I would then go to her Twitter page and see what sort of content she is posting. Is she mostly chatting with friends? If so, about what? Her job, work, or projects? That can be interesting. But, if she isn’t providing good content, advice, links to good websites, or engaging people with information I might pass on her.

I tell people, “Use Twitter as professional development. Engage accounts who are informative, provide good information, who engage their audience, and either pass along good content or even create their own content.”

The graphics embedded above were captured using a Google Chrome extension made by the good people at TechSmith. TechSmith also makes Camtasia. I use Camtasia for making educational videos I post to YouTube. I tweeted them one afternoon a link to a video. They then contacted me about my use of Camtasia and interviewed me for about 40 minutes. They then retweet my content every so often. They do this because they are good people and have a good product, not because I asked them to or because of any Memorandum of Agreement we have. I know they are responsible for increasing my viewership to my YouTube channel, the blog, and my Twitter account, though. Good public relations!

Reading got me into more trouble in childhood than anything else, with the exception of flipping people off constantly. I was the kid who would fake-sleep until his parents went to bed. Then, I would awake, grab a book – usually a Hardy Boys Mystery or Encyclopedia Brown or Jupiter Jones and the Three Investigators, and some source of light, and read under the covers until the wee hours of the morning. I was then excruciatingly difficult to get out of bed. I follow many, many authors, editors, agents, and publishers on Twitter. From these people I have learned a bunch. You may even get lucky and you yourself may get followed by a famous author. At one time author James Rollins was following me on Twitter. His books are an example of compelling story-telling, infusing current events and tomorrow’s science to create fantastic fiction. If you like Michael Crichton, you should give James Rollins my “two book chance.” He has chatted with me on Twitter, as has Patricia Cornwell, Kathy Reichs, and recently Sara Paretsky thanked me for some kind words I passed along regarding her novel “Critical Mass.”

I listen to several podcasts. Two of my favorites are StarTalkRadio, featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson, and The Nerdist, featuring Chris Hardwick. Dr. Tyson has a Twitter account (@neiltyson), as does Chris Hardwick (@nerdist). Now, someone might be tempted to ask, “What can I learn from Chris Hardwick? I can see learning from Neil Tyson, but Hardwick?” In the early 90s, Chris was all over MTV, and I found him annoying, to be honest. But, as I’ve listened to his The Nerdist podcast I’ve learned he has paid some dues. Furthermore, his podcast is a long-form interview with people of all types. He has interviewed John Cleese, Stan Lee, Morgan Freeman, and many other really fascinating people. He is a great interviewer, probably better than Larry King. Chris allows his guests to feel comfortable, no limits on what they can talk about, and they simply chat. If you want some really honest conversations, or conversations which sound really honest, do yourself a favor and download some Nerdist podcasts.

The additional benefit from engaging with Twitter in positive ways provides you with good content to pass along. When I pass along good content, I tend to get good content back, or at least good feedback, either from positive comments from other Twitter users, or additional followers. Good content tends to result in more good content, and we know the Internet needs better content, as do our real-world lives, to some extent.

How do I manage my content? I have tried a few social media management dashboards and I keep returning to HootSuite. HootSuite works with most popular social media platforms, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn.

Twitter-Hootsuite-sample

Here is a screen capture of my HootSuite dashboard. The dashboard tabs I have highlighted are custom tabs. HootSuite allows a user to create custom tabs based on content produced by other accounts and #hashtags.

Hashtags, e.g. #edchat, allow users to follow a conversation associated with a particular topic or theme. The #edchat hashtag is common for users who are involved in education, usually K-12. People will often ask me how to keep track of information. I recommend two strategies.

The first strategy is to use Twitter Lists. Create a new list. Then, as you find worthy accounts, place them in an appropriate list. Then, you can simply choose a list to see all of the recent updates for pertaining to the list.

The second strategy is to use a Twitter hashtag. Search for a hashtag, like #edchat, then save the search as new tab using your preferred social media dashboard. On the image above I have highlighted a few custom tabs associated with hashtags. By clicking a tab I can see all tweets using that hashtag. As you can see, the use of hashtags can be sort of helpful.

I’m not getting paid to promote Twitter. I’m receiving no compensation for anything I have written. I merely offer some advice on how to have a more positive experience using social media when the world seems so enthusiastic about promoting all sorts of negative messages and hurtful imagery.

PAX

Is GIS Splitting?


Is GIS splitting? And if it is, should we care?

Early in November 2014 I ran across a tweet asking “Is GIS Splitting?” Several thoughts collided in my brain when I saw this question, even more added to the crashing of light-bulbs in my head when I read the post. I had literally just left a meeting where a peer – though I’m sure he would not deign to label himself my peer – suggested no one even refers to “GIS” any longer. And, he seemed staggered and then very dismissive of my rebuttal. “You should google it. You’ll see I’m right,” he recommended. I had just spent the last three weeks doing just this so I knew he was incorrect.

Sidenote: People should not make nonsense comments easily disproven by a google search, especially when one has a Ph.D in a field one is stating no longer purports to use an acronym it has carried for 40+ years. Furthermore, one should not make nonsense comments easily disproven by a google search during a meeting of your peers.

But, making nonsense comments is not the basis of this post, neither is taking a peer to task about their supposed knowledge of the chosen field of everyone in the room. If you detect a peeved tone, you would be correct. While his comment was directed at me, my peeved-ness is not directly related to the comment being directed at me. No, I’m irritated because rather than my peer acknowledging “GIS” is still pertinent, and will be for a while, he elected to paint himself further in corner and made the choice to turn our committee discussion into a personal challenge on his authority and experience, which further encouraged us to question his entire rationale. In other words, I left the meeting with one immediate thought: “Why can he not see we are not provoking him, we are simply seeking a solution to a mundane concern? Why turn this into a question of authority when you aren’t even the committee chair, or the department chair?’

I did not lose sleep over this question. Nothing I could remedy, really, more of psychological question about why people choose to react the way they do, and in ways that work against their own professional demeanor, damage their image and create a perception they are uncooperative and have problems working to consensus. In academia this can be a career-killer. Few administrators will appoint those personalities to leadership positions, locking them into a professorships with little future of advancement. Once in a while these personalities slip through, typically resulting in horrible consequences for faculty, staff, resulting in impacts on student education and administration. Everything, at some point, will trickle down to affect students.

The larger question, of using “geospatial” rather than “GIS” acknowledges the topic in the recent “Is GIS Splitting” post. The timeliness of these events made an impression on me in the broader sense because of the conflict arising during our meeting.

My peer was trying to make a point no organization refers to “GIS” any longer. The term is done, we are beyond GIS. His point was the both the field and discipline are moving towards the use of “Geospatial,” and “GIS” has been relegated to the history books. In all fairness, he does have a point. GIS as a term is facing some competition from other terms and acronyms. In all fairness, though, the point is incomplete. The Death of GIS has not arrived, and neither has “GIScience” nor “geospatial” supplanted “GIS” in the literature, in the software, in any field, or any discipline.

I may need to define “GIS” for my non-GIS readers. GIS is an acronym which can be defined in a few ways, and therein lies grounds for controversy. GIS can stand for “geographic information systems.” Before I move on to the other two definitions, let me break this down further. “Geographic” means geography, and I tell my students geography is “nouns – people, places, things, and ideas and their spatial distribution.” Doesn’t matter where it is, could be Kentucky, could be your brain, could be the Universe. Everything has a place, a position, and reason for being there.

I’m not being funny about saying geography is a “brain” or “the Universe.” Neurologists often talk about the geography of the brain when undertaking studies to map where certain brain functions occur. A person with a brain tumor might have their brain mapped in 3-D in order to get a dose of radiation to a specific place in the brain.

Being a fan of cosmology, cosmologists have been actively mapping our Universe in 3-dimensional space.

Geography tries to answer two fundamental questions: 1. Where is it? and 2. Why is it there? Sometimes, you will see this defined as “site” (the where) and “situation” (the why.) Typically, “where” is a much easier question to answer; “why” is much more fun to work on and far more challenging to address.

“Information” means data, perhaps knowledge. In absolute terms, geographers refer to information as “attributes.” Attributes are things like size, shape, color, distance, area, volume, temperature, elevation, number of cellphone users, number of people aged 15 to 19, marital status, ethnic group. The list is quite extensive.

“Systems” refers to the complex environment related to handing geographic information. Systems include the computers, hard drives, graphic cards, memory; includes the mapping or image processing software; includes the network backbone; includes any database system used to for storing and retrieving information. Additionally, systems include the people, the GIS Technicians, the Census workers, the biologists collecting field data, the GIS Analysts, the database managers. The systems-side of GIS can be as simple as one person sitting in an office running ESRI‘s ArcGIS Desktop, or MapInfo, or GRASS on a decent desktop computer. The systems-side of GIS can be as complex Google Maps and Google Earth, whereby large numbers of staff are busying writing computer code to stitch satellite imagery together so everything looks nice in Google Maps or Google Earth. But, don’t forget, some staff are keeping the servers running, the databases functioning, the network from collapsing. These are Enterprise GIS environments, big, complex mapping and analysis installations. Just so you know, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the U.S. Department of State, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture all have their own big, enterprise-grade geographic information systems environments.

Increasingly, many academic departments, government agencies, and government contractors may replace “systems” with “science,” making geographic information sciences. Sciences connotes the technology behind the systems. Sciences may involve programming languages, like Python. Sciences entail the techniques and methodologies used by common software packages. Techniques include such things as how to find a “hot spot,” a location of some importance, maybe high crime, maybe high sales, maybe high-test scores. The science may involve considerable math, such as finding the shortest route, or fastest route. Math is necessary for measuring sizes, distances, or running statistical treatments against the data to find significance, means, medians, and standard deviations. Science is involved in the technology of managing file sizes, of efficiently storing data in a database, and performing quick retrievels.

Geographic Information Systems can tolerate a variety of users with different skill levels. GISystems can involve an unsophisticated user simply using convenient data to make some variables using a web browser. Training might take an hour or two. On the other end of the spectrum, GISystems can involve very sophisticated users who run large databases, manage web servers, handle dozens to hundreds of users, manage a complex network, and may have several custom applications to address the needs of both intranet clients and extranet clients.

GIScience is more about improving the technology. By improving, I mean figuring out ways to solve problems or using disparate bits of technology in new ways. For instance, a few civilian drones are capable of collecting LiDAR data. Now, scientists have a means of performing surface analysis unheard of as few as five years ago. Mankind has new and better ways of analyzing surface features to improve floodplain mapping, to discover archaeological sites, for managing timber, or for search-and-rescue. New embedded GPS technologies allow companies to provide services unavailable a few years ago. But, we aren’t limited to only the technology but also advances in made in programming languages, the integration of mathematics and statistics for digging deep into data, and the use of multicore processors to augment the number crunching necessary for making highly functional map applications. One doesn’t have to look too hard into GIS software to find the science. Performing cost analysis, calculating sun angle, slope, aspect, or regression analysis are common functions hiding just below the menu bar.

A third term commonly seen is “geospatial.” At first blush, “geospatial” sounds cool, like a really important word. Maybe because the word begins with the Latin “geo.” I don’t know; throw a Latin prefix onto the beginning of any word and that word instantly becomes better. But, geospatial is sort of redundant if you ask me. “Spatial” essentially means “having space” or “having to do with space.” When “geo-” is added, we are merely limiting our examination of space to the Earth, and how a peculiar phenomena is spread-out on Earth. We might think of geospatial as a subset of spatial, then. We could make comments about the geospatial distribution of uranium; we could not make comments about the geospatial distribution of black holes. We could, however, make comments about the spatial distribution of black holes. And, in fact, watch the show “Strip the Cosmos” and precisely that topic is covered.

I have an ESRI Storymap featuring Women Nobel Laureates [link].

Ok – we have a working knowledge of GIS, GIScience, and geospatial. A bit of hyperbole, maybe, but not really for the uninitiated. Now, back to the premise of the post: Is GIS Splitting?

The short answer is, Yes, GIS is splitting. I don’t really like “splitting.” GIS is certainly evolving, and has evolved faster in the last 5 years than perhaps in the 10 years previous. Why would I say this?

The biggest change in GIS arrived when desktop computing became common in the mid-1990s. When GIS moved from UNIX-based systems to PC/Intel-based desktop computers, an enormous transition took place. Software once accessible to a mere few due to the complexity of UNIX could now be placed upon a desktop and made accessible to 10x’s as many people. From about 1995 – 2007 desktop advances keep GIS moving forward. So, what changed?

In 2007, Apple released the first generation of iPhone. I might argue this signature event heralded the beginning of a new age in GIS. With the apps available on the iPhone, such as Google Earth ported to iOS. Later, Apple would develop and embed its own map application with the iPhone iOS. As smartphones grew in popularity, competitors to Apple, Samsung, Motorola, and Nokia would hack out improvements to Android OS. Improvements to Android OS would allow smart phone makers to take advantages of complementary advances in technologies embedded in smartphones, like GPS, barometers, gyroscopes, and high megapixel cameras.

With GPS technology built-in to almost every computing device sold today, and Android OS essentially free, the play field for creation, innovation, and entrepreneurship has expanded more than many prognosticators might have predicted. Kids sitting at home can create a smart phone app. High schools have coding weekends to teach basic coding skills and help those with programming skills to enhanced those skills. Several of these coding events build upon the use of the embedded GPS coupled with online mapping applications. Apps like Yelp can help you find a nearby restaurant. Apps like Tinder or Grindr help people “hook up” with people in their vicinity. FindMyiPhone is an app helping people find their lost iPhones.

Some consumers of mobile device technologies are technicians and scientists. Engineers need GPS-enabled mapping devices to manage construction projects. New roadways, interstates, interchanges are designed and built using mapping technology. Farmers use mapping to increase agricultural efficiency. Companies like Georgia-Pacific manage timber stands with GIS and GPS. UPS, FedEX, and Yellow Freight use GIS to manage the routing of their drivers and packages. Restaurants like Applebees and Bob Evans use GIS to determine what towns and neighborhoods to choose for locations. Anyone who has watched “Bar Rescue” will see Jon Taffer roll-out a large map showing the location of the current bar tragedy, locations of competing bars, and in some cases will showcase local demographics, like the age of people in nearby neighborhoods.

Is GIS Splitting? Yes, if you consider mitosis as splitting, and it is. And, like mitosis, GIS is splitting because it is growing and maturing. Google Earth has made elementary GIS accessible to anyone with a computer. Microsoft Bing! maps offers some basic GIS tools. ESRI offers a couple lightweight GIS apps. ArcGIS Online allows anyone to create an account and begin building online mapping apps. Publish those maps using a template from a collection of pre-made templates and you have a “storymap.” Google Earth has a *beta version of Tour Builder available. Tour Builder allows anyone to build a collection of related places and include videos, pictures, or related websites.

Check out a simply Google Earth tour I created using TourBuilder *beta

King and Maxwell map, based on David Baldacci’s novel

Yes, GIS is splitting, splitting like an amoeba into two amoebas, then four, then eight, then 16, and so on. As a matter of fact, I think it is even bigger than I’ve let on. Every cell phone made in the last two years has a GPS chip which gives the phone’s position in space, i.e. it is “spatially-enabled.” Tablets are spatially enabled, e.g. iPads and Android tablets. Maybe even your car, if you have dashboard mapping system, or if you have Onstar you probably have a GPS chip on-board your vehicle.

GIS, and by reasonable extension, geography, is enmeshed in our lives. Geography is infused in our lives, in our environment. GIS is the technological embodiment of our geography. So, while we might debate about how information should be managed, the Bell of GIS cannot be “unrung;” the technological manifestation of geography is now in the hands of anyone desirous of learning one of the most important skills of the 21st century.

PAX

Book Review: King & Maxwell, by David Baldacci


King and Maxwell, by David Baldacci. Grand Central Publishing; Hachette Book Group. 2013. p523. $10

I’m probably guilty of generalizing too often, though in this case my generalization may actually be safe. I may be one of a mere handful of people who had never read a David Baldacci book. He even visited one of the community colleges I’m employed by and I neglected to go listen to him speak. Well, frankly, that was stupid. Stupid, and not really characteristic of me. I usually go in for a reading by an author. Any author, too. I go simply as I might learn one thing, or if I’m lucky, two things. I’ve invited a few authors to visit my university. Neither the authors nor their agents have replied to my emails. I might not have the necessary credentials after my name, like “Student Government President.”

King and Maxwell, an eponym for the book’s characters, Sean King and Michelle Maxwell. You may have heard of them; TNT had a one-season series named for the crime-fighting investigative duo. Rebecca Romijn (Maxwell) and Jon Tenney (King) starred as former Secret Service agents-turned-private investigators. The nice deviation from the norm was Maxwell played the “heavy,” the “muscle,” the “punch-first, shoot-if-necessary, then choke-the-information-from” part of the team. King was the more leveled-headed of the two. Both were equally trained and intelligent; each had their own specialties. Maxwell was trained in hand-to-hand combat and weapons. King’s specialty lies in psychological training; reading body language, asking questions, paying attention to behavior. I enjoyed the show. The characters in the novel were accurately portrayed on the TNT series.

King and Maxwell was a great read, one of the best, most fun novels I’ve read since perhaps “A Walk Among the Tombstones,” by Lawrence Block. Baldacci clearly knows how to draw characters, build elaborate plots, and pace action. If you are a writer looking for a good example of these three characteristics of a good crime novel or suspense fiction, my recommendation is to buy this book and read. I pick on James Patterson frequently. He says his books are “unputdownable.” King and Maxwell was certainly unputdownable. I find Patterson’s books “unbuyable,” in comparison. If you like Patterson’s books and you have yet to read a King and Maxwell adventure, then stop reading Patterson and do yourself a favor and read #6 in the King and Maxwell series.

Yes, thankfully, there are five other King and Maxwell novels to read. Thus, once you finish King and Maxwell five more books await. I bought Simple Genius today (#3 in the series.) It was the only K-M book on the shelf at my sort-of local bookstore. My local bookstore is about 50 miles away. I also bought another Baldacci book, The Collectors. The Collecters is #2 in a 5-book series featuring a group calling themselves The Camel Club. Why “Camel Club” I have no idea; my local bookstore had books #2-5 on the shelf, so I bought #2. And, I don’t want to use Wikipedia to sort out the details. I figure I’ll read #2 and the characters will explain in some fashion how the name evolved. The first book in the series is actually entitled, “The Camel Club.” I suspect the answer might lie within.

I’m not going to go into much plot for King and Maxwell. I want to explain more about what I found so enthralling about this particular book, but I need to give some background. The story begins with a fellow driving a truck through rural Afghanistan to an appointed destination to deliver some heavy stuff. The fellow doesn’t really know what he is transporting and he doesn’t really care, except that if things go sour he is expected to blow himself up. Circumstances do go sour really fast but he elects not to blow himself up. However, now he finds himself stuck in northern Afghanistan, his contacts have closed ranks on him, and he is an American with as many options as one might find in the gap between a rock and a hard place. He does have a cell phone, though, and manages to send a text message to the a person in the United States.

The email ends up in the inbox of the fellows teenage son. Now, one might be tempted to think the son would be happy to hear from his dad. The problem is the Army had visited the son the day before to let the boy and his stepmom know his father had been “killed in action” and his body was not recoverable. Was the email really from his dad, or from someone else? Was his dad really dead? And, if his dad was really alive, then what is going on?

Enter King and Maxwell. The son, Tyler, hires King and Maxwell to sort out the convoluted stories provided by the military, the strange behavior of his stepmom, and figure out, if this person is his father, how to get him safely home. Yeah, not a trip to the grocery store at all.

Authors that do their homework I really appreciate. There are some things I look forward to, like the use of geography – people, places, things, and ideas and their location. Baldacci had me locked-in after the first chapter. The novel begins in Afghanistan, we aren’t told specifically where, but that is fine. We also learn the father, Sam, speaks a little Pashto and Dari. Pashto is the official language of Afghanistan, and is a pretty useful language throughout southern Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, some locations in Iran, and some in India. After Sam’s delivery goes awry he mulls getting out of country. We can piece together his location by the evidence he provides us.

“To the north were three of the stan countries [Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan], to the west was Iran, and to the east and south was Pakistan.” (31)

A little later we learn he arrives in Kabul after a few hours of travel. Travel in Afghanistan is not great; a few hours of travel might get one 150 miles or so. Few roads are more than gravel tracks.

afghanistan_admin_2008

Map of the Administrative Districts of Afghanistan, 2008. Courtesy of the Map Library, UTexas.

Using the map above we can roughly figure out Sam is probably east of Herat and travels east several miles to eventually reach Kabul. We might also guess he may have started in either Ghor or Bamyan province. The first time I had heard of the Taliban was when they destroyed the UNESCO World Heritage site in Bamyan. Bamyan is home, er..was home to the Bamyan Buddhas, 160ft tall buddhas carved into a sandstone escarpment about 500 A.D. In 2001 the Taliban blew up the statues. I felt like the world was in trouble about that point because these fanatics were going around blowing up non-Islamic religious sites, shutting down movies theaters, destroying books and music, and attacking women in the streets for not being covered. The warning signs were there, if anyone was paying attention. Really.

Baldacci set the proverbial hook for me within the first 24 pages. The circumstances of the action coupled with the geography captivated me like the aroma of one of my apple pies right before it’s exit from a hot oven. Not only do the events force you to turn the pages, but the changing geography forces the reader to follow along; “where is Sam going? Where is he going now? How is he going to get there?” These leading questions, rapidly changing events, and changing geographies literally pull the reader from page to page to page, and from chapter to chapter, and before long you’re 100 pages in and its 90 minutes past your bedtime. King and Maxwell is definitely one of those sinister books begging the reader to “read another page. Come on…just one more page. Let’s do another chapter. Just one more chapter. It’s only a few pages. Then, you can go to sleep.”

Google and Google Earth recently developed an app allowing users to build a virtual Google Earth tour. Tour Builder allows anyone to map a set of points related to a topic, and turn those points into a tour, a path, in Google Earth. For instance, I charted Sam Tyler’s escape from Afghanistan into India using Tour Builder. If you’d like to see it, here is the link: King & Maxwell tour. I don’t see a way to embed the tour into a website but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before that capability is made available.

Authors who use their novels to provide some accurate history and geography do all readers a service. As an educator of students from high school to adults back in college I can say unequivocally U.S. citizens have horrible geography skills. I have read a few authors, though, who clearly have no sense of geography, or use geography poorly in their novels. With the presence of the internet today, and apps like Google Earth, Google Maps, and online map collections such as the Perry-Castaneda Map Library at the University of Texas, or the Library of Congress Map Collection, few excuses for bad geography exist today.

“Wingo had read Rudyard Kipling, who had described the Khyber Pass as a “sword cut through the mountains”.” (149)

Even older literature delves into geography, and Sam Wingo exposes some of his education by drawing on his knowledge of Kipling. Sam Wingo also has some experience in Afghanistan, and has traveled to the Wagah Border Center before.

“Wingo had been to this border before. The crossing was right down the middle of the village of Wagah. It had been split in half when demarcation took place in 1947, creating the country of Pakistan from land that had formerly been part of India.” (151)

Baldacci hints at a turbulent world circa 1947. The British Empire was collapsing, a process accelerated by the end of World War Two. India, under British rule, included territory from which Pakistan and Bangladesh would later be created. But, it is also helpful to remember some countries of the Middle East were created around 1947. Israel, for example, was created in 1948; Lebanon was created in 1943. But, I digress.

Later in the book, geography becomes more centered in and around Washington, D.C., Fairfax, Virginia, and Rappahannock County, Virgina.


Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and the software technology inherent in many news cars and trucks today looms large in this story. While the details might seem a little far-fetched, one doesn’t need a fantastic imagination to consider one day these events might possible play out. If you really want to read some books detailing a ‘worst-case’ scenario which could happen in the near future, read Daniel Suarez‘s Daemon and sequel, Freedom. After reading those, you’ll want to hole up in Appalachians or Cascades and never touch technology again.

That won’t work for long. Technology will always find you. After all, smart-drones are on the horizon.

PAX.

 

 

Book Review: Basket Case, by Carl Hiaasen


Basket Case, by Carl Hiaasen; Grand Central Publishing; Hachette Group; 2002.

Despite Carl Hiaasen being a New York Times bestselling author, he is a new author for me. I don’t put much credence in New York Times accolades. These have become meaningless, more or less. James Patterson is a New York Times bestselling author, and I find his books are insipid. Better to measure an author’s worth is to see if they have won some sort of niche award or recognition, like a Newberry, or a Golden Dagger. I have a Two-book rule: I give an author two books to sell me on their writing. Books are too expensive these days to invest in a bad book. But, every author has a bad book, at least one. I gave Patterson three books since his books are outsold only by the Christian Bible itself. Awful, each one of them. I knew after the first the odds were stacked against James.

Carl will get another book. I feel like I got my money’s worth. His writing is clear, dialogue is sharp and mostly witty, like real people talking to each other. Carl writes his characters to act and react as real people. And, not just act and react like real people but people with a smart-assed attitudes. As I read Basket Case, I kept thinking I had read a similar author. And, I had. If you’ve read Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels. Evanovich also has a gift for dialogue, scene-building, writing action, and humor.

Carl Hiaasen is the literary love-child of Janet Evanovich and Patricia Cornwell, in a sense. Basket Case represents well-defined geography, the business world of newspaper journalism, humor and action. Hiaasen writes denser novels than Evanovich, dense in the substance of investigative reporting, and dense in character development, similar to Cornwell, but includes the humor and witty banter and sometimes crazy circumstances, a staple of Stephanie Plum’s adventures. While Hiaasen’s protagonist, Jack Tagger seems to get himself into odd, delicate, or dangerous situations, he seems to accept them with various degrees of humor.

I don’t do spoilers; you’ll just have to read the book. I am interested in the geography in these novels, the real-life places, bars, cities, streets, parks, natural areas which bring novels to life, that give substance to novels, making them seem even more plausible and real. The best author I read doing such is James Lee Burke; he is a master story-teller, showcasing the bayous, bars, and banditry of southern Louisiana.

Basket Case finds Jack Tagger, a brash investigative reporter who has been demoted to the Obituary Desk, writing the obit for one of his favorite musicians, Jimmy Stoma, lead singer for the band Slut Puppies. Jimmy died while scuba diving in the Bahamas. The problem Jack runs up against while getting statements from family members is the decedent’s wife doesn’t really seem too broken-up about Jimmy’s death, and appears to have swiftly moved on to a new boyfriend. In spite of being assigned the Obit Desk, Jack’s instincts as an investigative reporter compel him to question why Cleo, Jimmy’s widow, is able to move on in such a quick and intimate manner. Jimmy Stoma may have been helped along to an early demise.

Jimmy Stoma died while diving on an old aircraft crash site near the Berry Islands, Bahamas. His obituary gave Silver Beach, Florida, as his last place of residence. (7) Fortunately, for the purpose of my posts and my desire to explore the real geography in literature, both of these places truly exist.

Jack Tagger relates some anecdotes about his experience at the Obit Desk. For example, his editor, Emma, had botched an obit in an early writing assignment, a precursor to her being promoted to editor and Jack finding himself writing the obit columns. That she is an editor sort of exemplifies the Peter Principle; she cannot write well or tell a story, yet gets advanced to editor so she doesn’t need to write. She needs only to spell-check and give her seal of approval to incoming articles before printing. Her botched obit concerned a man killed when he crashed his car into a palm tree on Perdido Boulevard. Jack is thinking about Emma’s sloppy obit as he cruises across the Pelican Causeway. From what I could determine, neither of these places exist. Hiaasen appears to have re-imagined South Florida geography, perhaps renaming causeways, towns, and suburbs to avoid any legal hassles.

Lee Child does this as well in his Jack Reacher series. The geography in the Reacher novels is just as fictional as the action. Why authors do this I have no explanation for. I recently read A Walk Among the Tombstones by Lawrence Block. Block depicts real places; real streets, real towns and cities, real cross-streets and addresses of public places, like the New York City Library. James Lee Burke also uses considerable true geography in his Dave Robicheaux series. An avid fan of Burke can drive the same routes and visit the same towns, and eat beignets at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans, just like Dave and his best friend, Cletus Purcell. Judging by the lack of success I’m having in tracking down real places in Basket Case, I’m not sure avid readers of Jack Tagger will be able to follow his literary footsteps in the real world in any detailed way.

Readers will be able to visit Nassua, the Bahamas, of course. Jack and Jimmy Stoma’s sister fly to Nassau to visit police headquarters. In the process of confirming Jimmy’s identity at the morgue, Janet Thrush, Jimmy’s surviving sister notices an odd detail about her brother. What they don’t see precipitates a flight to check the original police report and to have a chat with the fellow who performed the original autopsy. In checking the geography of their flight, about the only thing I can confirm geographically is that the Bahamas exist, Nassau exists, and that Nassau does have, in fact, a police headquarters.

The Nassau police headquarters is pretty much where the novelist describes. “Police headquarters is downtown, across the big toll bridge.” I have to take Carl at his word the bridge is a toll bridge; I cannot discern this detail from imagery but according to a few websites the toll is about $1.00. Permanent resident can use a window decal, or a Smart card to expedite their passage. At one time, pedestrians and bicycles were charged a fee to cross the causeway. The fees for vehicles was increased a few decades ago and the toll for people and their bikes was eliminated.

Several communities are referenced in Basket Case. The town of Beckerville is mentioned numerous times. Beckerville had the misfortune of having a corrupt mayor for about 14 years. I couldn’t find an actual place in Florida named “Beckerville;” doesn’t mean one doesn’t exist, simply I could not find it. The Perdido Causeway I could not find, either.

“Perdido” does seem to be a popular toponym near Pensacola, Florida. 

The county of Gadsden is mentioned early in the novel. Gadsden County, Florida is located in the panhandle of Florida, and is home of Tallahassee. Perdido is a common geographical name in the area. Silver Beach, the location given as Jimmy Stoma’s place of residence, is located due west of Tallahassee, near Destin, Florida. I found myself unable to rectify the confusing geographies presented in Basket Case, as Stoma seemed to be a pleasant inhabitant of South Florida, enjoying Florida Keys, and the Bahamas. Also, Carl Hiaasen is touted as a novelist featuring South Florida prominently in his books. I believe this to be the case. I think he has deliberately conflated real places in Florida with other real places in Florida, with liberal use of local geographic toponyms to fill in the gaps.

I did find a “Silver Beach” but the toponym was tied to a condomium tower near Destin, not South Florida.

Sometimes, an author will pull from the pages of real events, and I expect Carl, being a newspaper journalist, has done this extensively in his novels. I thought maybe I could piece together the puzzle of the book’s broken geography by investigating some of the anecdotal details Jack Tagger provides. Tagger provides some details about a corrupt Beckerville mayor who passed away from cancer. Former major Cheatworth was forced from office by a sex-and-corruption scandal. He was in league with a Miami massage parlor owner, Victor Rubella (what a name, “Rubella”), in a vote-for-happy-ending scandal to encourage zoning board members to vote in his favor. I did some googling to see if I could come up with a similar scandal in South Florida and came up empty. Again, there might have been a real case; I simply didn’t run across one. Carl probably has access to archival data I can’t access without paying for a newspaper subscription.

I’m always curious why authors go to the extra effort of masking true geographies. Several authors I’ve read, James Lee Burke, Lawrence Block, Michael Connelly, F. Paul Wilson, Janet Evanovich, Patricia Cornwell use true geographies in their novels. I have not provided any exhibits from Wilson or Evanovich (at least I don’t remember having done so in any previous post), but both of their primary characters focus primarily within the city of New York and Newark, New Jersey (Wilson) and Trenton, New Jersey (Evanovich). I’m not sure what is gained, or protected, by creating pseudonyms for real places, but I’m pretty sure I know what is lost. What is lost is the connection the reader makes the novel, in general. Sure, a good story can hold a reader spellbound, especially when the novel is a tale of the supernatural, but what if in process of weaving the spell, the author adds elements of true geography to strengthen that bond?

As I investigated the geography of Carl’s novel, I found myself enjoying the book less. However, I’m not sure using geography as the sole criteria to enjoy a book is totally appropriate, though having true geography does enhance my appreciation of an author’s effort. Like I stated previously, I’m going to give Carl at least one more book, probably more. The characters are interesting and captivating, the plot interesting, the dialogue well-draw, thoughtfully constructed and humorous. Carl’s writing is recommended for adults; he deals with body parts and sexual situations and the nuances of adult relationships. So, no kids allowed.

Book Review: When China Rules The World


When China Rules The World; The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order. Martin Jacques. Penguin Paperback. 2012. $20.

The U.S. public needs frequent reminders other places outside of the Middle East exist. Maybe I should not generalize. Perhaps I should say, “The U.S. media and news outlets need constant reminders places outside of the Middle East exist, AND will impact our lives far more than any terrorist group du jour may affect our lives.”  See, the U.S. government is too easily distracted by people and organizations who state as their goal to bring chaos and disorder to the United States. In making these comments, they actually bring chaos and disorder to the United States without really doing anything other than stringing together words which we interpret as threatening. Our politicians then dance like puppets. Jacques makes this point, sort of, very late into his 600+ page tome. While ISIS or some other organization may threaten the United States, and yes, someone might get hurt or killed, ISIS itself does not represent an “existential” threat to the United States, as Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. might want everyone to believe.

Martin Jacques brings to bear a ponderous amount evidence, insight, and a good amount of speculation to address the most important issue people are not talking about, nor is the U.S. government paying much attention to. China.

I’m not talking about the China we hear about occasionally on the news, the China which has a small navy in the South China Sea, or the China which argues with Japan or Taiwan occasionally. Not even the China the U.S. government calls sporadically to figure out what is going on in North Korea.

The China to which I refer is the civilization-state of China, the China with 5,000 years of epic history steeped in the guiding principles of Kong Fuzi (Confucius), viewed by East Asian countries as the Grand Parent, the progenitor of all Asian races. In my belief, a belief I have based on 17 years of classroom teaching of adults, most Americans have very little appreciation of China. While our U.S. government continues to be mired in skirmishes, wars, and general conflict in the Middle East, China is slowly though surely, growing as the blade of grass in your yard, unnoticed, and moving as inexorably as a glacier.

To state another belief, based on my classroom contact with adults, most people do not understand Socialism is a much-nuanced class of political theory. Communism is simply one off-shoot of Socialism, perhaps the most extreme off-shoot. Most countries, like the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, etc. exist inside what political theorists call “Democratic Socialism.” People elect representatives who then set about managing public monies, some monies which are used to support either entirely or in part, services like Medicare, Medicaid, transportation, public libraries, public schools, and so on.

Making this distinction is important for a couple of reasons. First, to understand ourselves we have to understand and be honest with our own system of government. Second, we need to understand “socialism” is a broad term encompassing a spectrum of political systems and beliefs. Third, we need to understand to label a country’s government as “socialist” or “communist” has little meaning due to the variety of nuances managing that particular country. Last, Communist China is nothing like Communist Russia (USSR) or Communist North Korea. And this is an important point Martin Jacques emphasizes throughout his treatise for a critical reason.

The “West,” defined roughly as Europe plus the United States and Canada, have developed a peculiar perspective for viewing the world which will impair their ability to adapt and change.

“…the West because the latter has become accustomed to thinking of its own values as the norm and regarding itself as justified in imposing these on other countries and insisting that they be accepted by the international community.”

I hate to say anything is self-evident, but this appears to me to be self-evident. We need only look at how the United States attempts to impose all sorts of restrictions on foreign aid, investment throughout Africa and Latin America. We need only look at our hubris in trying to establish Western-style democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan. I use examples in my world geography courses of corporate hubris, corporations so wrapped up in believing “the world loves America so anything we make will be loved and appreciated.” While American styles might enjoy popularity, most countries in fact do not want their culture replaced with Western culture. Companies like Nike have made errors in marketing and promotion within Asian countries. Nike messed up shoe design a few years ago, mistakenly believing Chinese feet and design tastes were  identical to those found in the U.S. They aren’t. Even fast food restaurants like McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and Subway have all adjusted their menus to accommodate local flavors and ingredients.

But, these are minor disruptions, changes in marketing strategies that only hint at a greater difference hidden behind the facade of consumerism. Jacques continually makes the point Chinese history and culture is 20x’s greater and more extensive than U.S. history, more extensive than European history in many cases, even if one includes the Romans and Greeks. The Chinese, while not precisely being a homogenous culture, see themselves as a single long-running civilization. Technically, China has a minority population about equal in size to the entire U.S. work force, about 155 million people, or about 10% of the population. If we were to examine the economies of several Chinese provinces, the GDP of these provinces would equal the GDP of countries. If we were to simply look at the GDP of some cities, like Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Shanghai, or Beijing, these cities have higher GDPs than many countries.

Martin doesn’t get around to setting up his thesis until well into this dense read. That is OK, though; if you can hang around long enough you will see his general argument has some merit. Martin identifies eight themes which identify why China is the country to watch (not Syria, not Iraq, not Afghanistan, not Russian) from now until the end of the century. And probably beyond that, too; but, by then you’ll have to keep an eye on India and maybe Brazil, too.

I’ll give a brief run-down of these themes.

1.     China is not a nation-state.

China is what Jacques has coined a “civilization-state.” China is simply too big and too old and too populated to fit the traditional definition of “nation-state.” And, the notion of nation-state is also a Western term used to define European countries, based on the Westphalian nation-state theory. Thus, many of us, and by “us” I mean Westerners, are wrongly forcing a Western idea upon an Eastern culture.

2.     China is influenced more by the tributary-state system.

The Asian tributary-state system describes a complex collection of relationships between China and countries bordering or near China. For a couple thousand years, China was viewed as the superior culture by its neighbors. After all, China was the cultural hearth of Korea, Japan, and Southeast Asia, providing language, arts, and philosophy. In return, these regions provided raw materials, ores and metals, grain, and such.

3.     China sees itself as a single cultural monolith.

While China does have minority groups, Han Chinese comprise the largest cultural group. About 90% of China is Han Chinese. But … the people of Han themselves represent a variety of ethnicities fused together over space and time. Jacques states that “there is a powerful body of opinion in China that believes in polygenism.” Polygenism is a hypothesis the human race had different origins for different ethnic groups, rather than springing from a common ancestor (monogenism). Thus, when China exerts influence in Asia, China is simply exerting influence over people who are really Chinese – in the Chinese mind.

4.     China is huge.

Russia is the world’s largest country, by size, followed by Canada, the United States, and China. However, China is the largest country, by population. China, then, is the world’s most populous country and 4th in size by land area. Can we really consider China the same way as we regard Germany? Or, France? Or, Israel? Can the United States – or any other country for that matter – apply a “one size fits all foreign policy” to Italy, for example, and then the same policy to China? Jacques would argue, “No, that is ridiculous.” I would 2nd that. I preach in my geography courses I do not like when people hold up the United States against other countries, say Poland, or Denmark. We cannot even hold up the United State to China, really. The United States has about 4-5% of the world’s population; China has about 20% of the world’s population. In other words, given 100 people, 4 of those would be U.S. citizens and 20 of those people would be Chinese.

5.     China has a government which does not share power.

India, the United States, Canada, Germany, Japan, merely to name a few examples, have branches of government which share power with other branches. Political parties exist, special interest groups, political action groups, and grassroots organizations exist. China’s government does not share power with any particular branch or group. No NRA to lobby Congresspeople, no religious sector to satisfy. The Principles of Confucianism infuse Chinese society with an elaborate set of societal rules and structure people have followed since before the dawn of Christianity. The Chinese people have experienced very little sovereignty and have relied on dynasty upon dynasty to make good leadership choices.

6.      China is transforming rapidly.

China is very large, both in size and population, this is true. And one might be tempted to believe China’s size would hinder economic growth. Refer to the previous points as evidence why this belief is misguided. The vast majority of Chinese trust their government. The vast majority of Chinese see themselves as a single people. These same Chinese also, generally speaking, conform to Confucianism. What this means is Chinese society is generally on the same page when it comes to adopting new policies, accepting new ideas, new technologies, and changing behaviors. What this level of social conformity translates to is the ability to move millions of people quickly to new directions. Now, before I get too carried away we need to remind ourselves China is a very complex society, as well. Enormous disparities and inequalities exist, city-to-city, province-to-province, rural-to-urban. Jacques does not suggest, either, that changes to political or social system are impossible to change, only the change will be measured and patient.

7.     China is managed by a Communist regime but not a regime similar to the USSR, nor North Korea.

I tend to think most Americans do not have very savvy knowledge of political theories, especially where Communism is concerned. My perception is a typical U.S. citizen could not discrimination between Socialism and Communism, and media outlets tend to conflate Socialism to Communism. Martin recommends “Communism must be viewed in a more pluralistic manner than was previously the case: the fact is that the Chinese Communist Party is very different from its Soviet counterpart.” U.S. foreign policy seems to place all forms of Communism into one category: bad. A proposal by Senator John McCain sought to create a “league of democracies” and was designed to exclude China (and Russia). [559]

8.     China is both developing and developed.

The coastal region of China is quite modern and advanced. Coastal cities rival any city a Westerner might bring to mind, New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, or Rome. However, if one were to travel into the interior of China, one would see rural communities not particularly advanced, perhaps quaint. Not unlike rural America, perhaps; even more so. Farmers still use crude implements. Millions are illiterate, and have limited access to improved roads, and may lack access to local markets or economic opportunities. To China’s credit, the Communist government has helped 300 million people out of poverty and improved literacy. China is so large, though, even helping a number of people equal to the population of the United States out of poverty means China still has a long way to go.

These eight themes are enumerated late in Jacques’s book but are consistently applied from the introduction to be clear. Martin spends a great deal of effort over 100s of well-researched pages providing copious examples for each of the above points. I feel like he could have made his argument in about 300 pages or so. Much of his discourse was very repetitious.

I agreed with Martin on his points above, maybe not the content but certainly the context. Regardless of how one may feel about China, I think Martin makes a few good criticisms. First,

“the United States thus remained largely blind to what the future might hold, still basking in the glory of its past and its present, and preferring to believe that it would continue in the future.” [558]

The United States has problems thinking and acting long-term, constantly being distracted by terrorism, by societal distractions of marriage equality and ebola, and unable to breakout of its historical Cold War mentality. Second, the West measures China by a flawed “yardstick.” Jacques argues:

“[the West] expresses a relatively innocent narrow-mindedness; at worst it reflects an overweening Western hubris, a belief that the Western experience is universal in all matters of importance.” [563]

Later, Jacques alludes to comments made by Chinese history expert Paul A Cohen, professor emeritus at Wellesley College.

“the Western mentality – nurtured and shaped by its long-term ascendancy – far from being imbued with a cosmopolitan outlook as one might expect, as in fact highly parochial, believing in its own universalism; or, to put it another way, its own rectitude and eternal relevance. If we already have the answers, and these are universally applicable, then there is little or nothing to learn from anyone else.”

Jacques warns “by seeing China in terms of the West, it refuses to recognize or acknowledge China’s own originality and furthermore, how China’s difference might change the nature of the world in which we live.”

The Chinese currency referred to as both the yuan and the renminbi, has the potential to become the toughest competition for the U.S. dollar the world has ever seen. China is flush with money, likes to make investments, and provides attractive loans without the moral or political conditions often imposed by the United States, the World Bank, or the International Monetary Fund. So many countries have taken advantage of China’s largess, China is considering developing its own international loan system in competition to with the World Bank.

Judging by huge U.S. gaps in intelligence over the last 15 years in the Middle East and Central Asia, I find Jacques comments nothing other than stating the obvious. Government leaders in the West seem to fall victim to the adage, “A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.” In other words, our policy makers are too susceptible to their own belief systems. On NPR this morning, during the radio show, “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” one of the panelists stated, “I just conducted a study in my own brain and found that people who take selfies with bears should succumb to Darwinism.” I think our politicians tend to conduct studies in their own brains, reach conclusions based on little more than bias and feelings, without much in the way of facts or substantive evidence, and without due consideration of experts. Much like our politicians who have zero experience in STEM who prefer to consider their own knowledge about climate change rather than physicists and chemists.

Martin does take several liberties with the landscape of American history. The following statement was made that almost made me throw the book down:

“The fact that the United States started as a blank piece of paper enabled it to write its own rules and design its own institutions: from the outset, steeped in Protestant doctrine, Americans were attracted to the idea of abstract principles, which was to find expression in the Constitution and, subsequently, in a strong sense of a universalizing and ultimately global mission.” [51]

Maybe I might be guilty of over-reacting, but this comment seems blind to the years of harsh discourse among all parties leading up to the creation of the Constitution, and for years thereafter. No doubt, Christian principles and associated racism and bigotry played important roles in the early evolution of the United States. Our cultural “homogeneity” was hardly that. True, Protestants comprised early settlers, but so did Catholics, as well as some who probably did not believe anything. Americans act as if atheism is a recent invention. In any case, Jacques seems to whitewash a hundred or so years of atrocities committed against the native Americans.

The West does need to pay attention to China, to Japan, and Korea, and Southeast Asia. China, in particular, is already aligning itself with many African countries. Tens of thousands of Chinese have already relocated to several African countries. There, they are already beginning to influence local politics and the local economies. China is engaging in important trade negotiations in Latin America, specifically Chile, Argentina, and Brazil. Chinese corporations are buying farmland to raise crops for export back to China. While our U.S. government is manipulated by the Israelis, or the NRA, sidetracked by problems in Iran and Iraq and Syria – places where the United States has no real interest other than oil – China will continue to grow, evolve, and continue to infuse itself in the economic affairs of its neighbors while building relationships in Latin America and across Africa. Russia will come face-to-face with China as Chinese migrate across the porous Russian-Chinese border and begin to assert themselves in the Russian Far East.

Martin spends too much time referring to the “Fall of the West” or the “Decline of the United States.” Of course, I might simply be expressing the hubris he accuses the West of practicing. I don’t see the United States as declining, nor like Charles Krauthammer is quoted as saying do I see the decline of the United States as a “choice.” I dispute this point entirely. China, as has been established, is big, in terms of people and size. When China ramps up its population to the point where 90+% of Chinese are literate, when more Chinese rise from poverty, and as more Chinese become both producers and consumers, China’s rise must surpassed the United States. The United States will not fade away or decline; it may appear so but only because China’s emergence will accelerate past us. Like two cars driving down the interstate our Ford Escape will eventually be approached, met even, and passed by a Volvo or MG. Then, we will see them pull away into the distance. At least, that is the idea.

I am sure I missed some subtle points and themes within When China Rules the World. In teaching world geography I look for broad themes and anecdotes to support the themes. I also like to see maps, charts, and tables. Martin Jacques does a nice job of providing all of these elements. I especially appreciate when he enumerates his points, reasons, or evidence for clarity. All of these assist me in an educator role when I want to encourage critical thinking.

“Ok, get out your laptops, tablets, or phones. Let’s look up some of this data. Can we arrive at the same conclusion as the author? Can we find data which disputes the author’s point?”

Then, once we have found, examined, and interpreted pertinent data, then students can make their own inferences. Books like When China Rules the World make a good place to start and engage students in thinking about geopolitics and global economics.

Thanks for reading my words :-)

PAX

 

The Not-So-Nimble Case of Higher Education


Several of my past essays grouse about higher education not being particularly nimble places despite administrators who implore faculty to be more so while they themselves are anything but nimble. My own workplace is warming to the idea the institution is not as nimble as we would like. My hopes are some administrators are awakening the realization the true hindrance to our lack of dexterity lies both within themselves and their peers. While an individual faculty person can “flip a classroom” or engage students with real problem-oriented assignments a university must itself inspire a complete culture of creative thinking and innovation, not simply using sole faculty in specific departments as examples of “See, look what Professor X is doing! Isn’t that spectacular?”

Colleges and universities across the United States were seen both as sources of innovative thought and sites of infectious social liberalization. Examples are easy to find, from UC-Berkeley on the West Coast, Kent State in the Midwest, to Columbia University in New York, university and colleges across the United States were loathed by many as disruptive to U.S. culture, promulgating ideas of free love, Socialism, peace (or anti-war), Civil Rights, and other ideas which some people felt threatened the very fabric of the U.S.

UCB Bear-smCurrently, I would argue universities and colleges are not the liberating influencers they once were. I feel comfortable saying this in part because U.S. society has become more liberal, has become more accepting of people, more nuanced in their approaches to societal concerns. U.S. society has become more tolerate of the LGBTQ community, has over-come some aspects of racism, such as interracial dating and marriage.

No doubt the U.S. has more changes to make, but we have come a long way. We haven’t seen 100 years yet since women were allowed to vote. Many Conservatives would like to prevent even more people from voting. But, to be Conservative, by definition, means “resistant to change.” So, those of us who would prefer Humanity to stop judging people should not be surprised by those people among us unable to tolerate change. Some human brains are simply not wired to adopt change.

People who hold conservative viewpoints can be found anywhere and higher education is no different. Administrators who once stood in front students and goaded them into adopting new ways of thinking, and being open and receptive to new ideas, and to think about different approaches to problem-solving, go through some type of Kafka-esque transformation, construct a bureaucratic trench, and then impose the same myopic perspective their proselytize to their students to eliminate from their own lives.

I don’t get it. I have an allergy to logical inconsistencies.

OK, enough soap-boxing.

In this post, I am releasing into the “wild” a proposal for an internal internship program. I think all universities need an internal internship program. The changing demographics of the United States mandate changing some of our mindsets and protocols to meet the needs of students. For instance, adult unmarried students with children may desire an internship yet don’t have the required support system to leave their children behind for 8-, 10-, or 12-weeks to engage in distant internship. Why should these students be denied the opportunity to gain experience simply because of their life circumstance? Why should working for a university office be any different from working for some distant employer?

Granted, I do see the benefit of relocating for an internship. I also see the benefit of doing Study Abroad. However, an adult back in school may have already work experience and/or life experience which satisfies part of the rationale behind internships. Secondly, the experience gained in working for a university IT department, research center, Student Affairs, Publications, or some other office on a college campus is potentially no different if we simply reframe our vision of other offices on campus as “clients.”

My generic draft proposal: DraftProposal_Generic_Internships2014-2015_v2 (Word document)

I have found some universities already support internal internship programs. Morehead State University (KY) is one example. Western Kentucky University is another. I’m sure these programs exist at many different colleges and universities. Not at mine; not yet.

I’m trying to get administrators to support this program. I’ve met heavy resistance, actually, from administrators. Mostly because I didn’t follow the chain of bureaucracy. I didn’t want the proposal to get trashed which has happened to other ideas of mine. I made sure the people who read my proposal drafts were also those who were able to get the proposal read by the president’s office.

In addition to the internship program universities should support, I have a few other ideas which I have written posts about.

Higher Education is Anything But Nimble Basically, some thoughts about thinking which does not work to the advantage of faculty, staff, or students, thinking which impairs or detracts from student engagement.

Building Consensus for an Idea Lab I’m a firm believer all universities need a forum and a makerspace to encourage students from all disciplines to work together on projects. No one can honestly say where new ideas will come from. I’ve run across too many presumptive administrators in higher education who state, “Our students will never …” or “Our students will always …” and that person automatically loses credibility in my eyes.

Promote Innovation in Higher Education Using a StudentStore I cannot take credit for this idea. Wallace Patterson, Education Account Manager for Makerbot, and I were riffing back and forth on the phone one day and we hit on this idea. Look, why should art students or horticultural students or whatever organization get a “One Day Only Sale to Support Our Organization?” Why can’t something like this exist for both individual students and for organizations? And, why can’t a university support a student-run retail store / gift shop showcasing student work? Would not parents of current students, current students, potential students, and alumni like to see how their education investment is paying-off? When a student ambassador can walk parents, and students and donors and alumni through a space and say, “This place is managed, staff, and stocked with items produced here on campus by our students. They gain management and business experience, plus have a place in which to sell the fruits of their ideas. We want to inspire innovation and entrepreneurship, and this store is only one component of making sure our graduates leave our school ready to hit the ground running.”

Using Social Media to Promote Your Department, College, and University I don’t have this essay posted. I thought I did. Evidently, the draft exists only in my brain. In essence, the idea is this: all departments, colleges, and campus offices need to have some sort of social media presence. I frequently visit the Social Media page at the University of Victoria (Canada). In my opinion, they have “best practices” for higher education social media presence. Their home page has a nice social media widget at the bottom 1/3rd of the page. They have reorganized their page some but from the bottom of the front page one can access all social media at UVic. Now, if you are following along to this point, thanks, but notice how UVic has their campus social media organized. This is brilliant. Easy-to-access, easy to locate pertinent social media sites for each office and department. The person managing social media for UVic knows what they are doing. Now, in case you say, “Big deal,” it is a big deal. Parents, grandparents, legal guardian, current students, alumni, and potential students all use social media. Social media are no longer a luxury, an interesting side-bar activity one does when a break from the routine. Social media are expected, is anticipated, by everyone. Social media is proactive; social media managers “push out” information and actively try to engage people. A webpage or website is not proactive; if anything it is a passive response requiring someone to visit your webpage or website. Social media, i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, Pinterest pushes out content (in some cases, special configuration is necessary, but still.) Returning to a previous comment, we cannot presume to know the minds of people. We can make some really ignorant choices presuming knowledge. Social media basically is like a broadcast tower, “Whoever can here me, here is what I have to say.” Then, interested parties either tune-in or tune-out. But, the receiver gets to make that choice. The dangerous presumption is one shutting down communication because of a particular bias someone has no interest in your message. Or, equally worse, the presumption someone will seek to find your passive message hiding within the maelstrom of all of the active messages being broadcast. My hypothesis is: always broadcast, always be active about broadcasting and leave the decision to listen or not to the audience. While the immediate audience may not have an interest, they may know of others who do, and again by the power of social media the reach of your message extends beyond the range of the initial message. It just makes sense to me, yet I have failed consistently this year to get my point across to administrators who simply refuse to acknowledge the potential of managing positive messages conveyed through social media. Ta da!

Ok – to all who read my admittedly rambling discourse, and my occasional hyperbole, I really appreciate you taking the time to consider my posts, especially when so many good sites exist.

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PAX

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