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Blogging, technology and self-fulfillment

December 29th, 2013 No comments

ascii me

I like to think I’m bi-lingual. If you’re reading this, one language is obvious, and the other is not. The one that’s not is HTML.

Like most people in 1990, I was using Unix commands to dig around on wide open gopher servers of the few universities that were online. I would “finger” active users and saw profiles that used ASCII text to create an image.

ASCII graphics weren’t new, but for a while it was as close as computers could get to delivering an image. At 1200 bps, ASCII was all you were going to get. What was new to me was live interaction with remote users through a computer hooked up to the telephone line.

If we could interact live behind ones and zeros online, it was a matter of time before it was something more real like audio and video. When it comes down to it, pretty much everything is data. That epiphany might sound like a no-brainer now, but to this day this idea leaves wide open many possibilities of how we can share things or experiences in the near future. The only things limiting our vision of the future back then was the size and power of computers.

This new space resonated with a part of me that yearned to share, explore, connect, document, learn, and grow. I felt a real calling. Here was another way to have an impact, a chance to connect with others, and most importantly a way to share my own story in a space where fear and judgement was less of a match for the power of truth and reason in a new public space.

head deskI went to college and then totally failed at computer science. I changed my major and then took time off school hitchhiking 1,500 miles across Canada and Alaska. I needed to figure some things out.

It turned out, some computer science professors didn’t share my vision of what was coming and thought it was important I learn Pascal which I’m guessing is the Latin of computer programming these days. “Computers do machine things. It’s not some party phone line of yapping teenagers figuring themselves out,” said 1992.

I had met what would become a common road block over the next 20 years, but I eventually returned to school more determined to change the world. That’s when Netscape happened. I quickly taught myself HTML, stuck a message in a bottle and got invited to work changing the world in Washington, D.C.

When I started my blog 14 years ago today, there were only 9.5 million websites in existence. We were quite literally at the beginning of a new world. There are almost 2 billion today. Sites like Facebook now capitalize on that very early yearning I experienced. The empowerment the web has given many people like myself has changed the politics of our country. Most of my life opportunities have flowed through the language of HTML, including meeting my husband.

websites
The past 14 years have taught me that self knowledge plus new technologies equals revolution. Maybe one day we’ll learn the language of reality and write trees, air and mountains, remotely molecularize elements, program germination, or reimage the output of a dreaming brain. But without a strong sense of self, revolution can go very wrong in that world to come. One lesson I’ve learned is there is another language one should master in preparation for any revolution. It’s the language of being the fullest, most actualized human you can be. You’ll never know what is really possible without that.

When brands promote a culture of bigotry

December 24th, 2013 No comments

cracker barrel

Recent comments by reality TV star Phil Robertson have provided yet another opportunity for Americans to learn what is and isn’t protected by the First Amendment, among other things. Here’s what he said:

On vagina and anal sex:
“It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”

On “blacks” of pre-civil-rights-era Louisiana:
They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”
[What The Duck? - GQ Magazine - Jan. 2014]

Duck Dynasty’s host A&E promptly suspended Robertson who has made far worse comments. Whether you share his beliefs or not, most people reading this post understand the Constitution protects our choice of speech from government actions, not the consequences from private citizens. That fact hasn’t stopped a contrary perception from being the perennially memetic teaching moment it has become.

Yes America, if it is not obvious, you have the right to be a moron. What is new is how some corporate brands have been willing to embrace and promote bad messages out of a belief they are standing up for the United States Constitution or large groups of customers. The latest example is Tennessee-based Cracker Barrel.

“You told us we made a mistake. And, you weren’t shy about it. You wrote, you called and you took to social media to express your thoughts and feelings. You flat out told us we were wrong. We listened. Today, we are putting all our Duck Dynasty products back in our stores. And, we apologize for offending you.”

By pledging to keep Duck Dynasty products on their shelves, Cracker Barrel has chosen to use their brand to amplify a culture of bigotry. By further issuing an apology to angry customers who support Robertson’s comments, Cracker Barrel’s actions invested their entire brand into the content of Robertson’s character.

BRAND PROBLEM: The temptation brands have to resist in deciding whether to take sides on the social issues of customers nowadays is assuming the loudness of one message or another is somehow a measure of its morality or the justness of its cause. Another temptation brands have to resist is thinking customers are a monolithic “you” who share beliefs instead of sharing values.

BRAND SOLUTION: Most every successful American brand has a mission statement and expressed values that nearly always reflects the ideas of the kind of America we all want to see. No one would fault a company for choosing to echo their more established values over the angry noise of America working out what it believes along the way.

It’s too bad some brands find themselves with a calibre of leadership that doesn’t simply adhere to the wisdom and values of their own carefully crafted mission statements, but now that corporations are starting to act more like people it’s getting easier to discover just what kind of people they want us to know they are.

A&E TV with shit on itUPDATE 12-27-13: Well, that suspension lasted all of zero episodes. Phil Robertson is back on A&E resonating with ad dollars and America’s heart. Here’s A&E explaining why they changed their minds.

“But Duck Dynasty is not a show about one man’s views. It resonates with a large audience because it is a show about family … a family that America has come to love.”
[A&E Welcomes Phil Robertson Back to 'Duck Dynasty' - The Hollywood Reporter - 12-27-13]

A lesson in Freedom of Speech at Middle Tennessee State University

October 9th, 2013 8 comments

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is a simple sentence and reads as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

That amendment and great document affords Americans like me and members of Middle Tennessee State University’s Lambda Association the right to celebrate the group’s 25 years of service to the University’s vision to create “a vibrant hub for educating accomplished students who are civically engaged and globally responsible citizens.” The group created the display pictured above that you can now see at MTSU’s Library.

I was honored and deeply touched recently when MT Lambda President Joshua Rigsby reached out to me as an alum and asked me to be a part of this powerful display. I provided a wealth of personal papers highlighting our work in the 1990s to ensure fairness and equality on campus that is now part of the display as well as a part of campus policy.

But a former Navy Information Operations Command Officer Olimpia Herlo wasn’t about to let that happen and fired off a disgraceful letter encouraging the campus to violate the United States Constitution. She simply didn’t like the use of the American rainbow flag.

“We ‘keep the watch’ so that our fellow Americans may enjoy liberty and the freedoms guaranteed by the United States Constitution. We sacrifice birthdays, anniversaries, being able to be with our loved ones in times of tragedy and times of joy. We stand duty when most of America is sleeping. We believe in the honorable presentation of the United States flag to families of those we lose while keeping the watch. Please remove this public disgrace from your institution at once!. Please (issue) a public apology for your blatant disrespect and lawlessness!”

Herlo has a right to chose how to use her First Amendment right, but Herlo demands a state run school violate the same Constitution she swore an oath to uphold in her service to our country. Her choice says a lot about her, and indicates she will never have the courage to come to MTSU and take the flag down herself. She is nothing like the great men and women I know currently serving our country.

One person who did go that far is MTSU student and Sigma Pi Vice President Jacob Lisemby who was charged with theft for stealing a flag from the display. Unfortunately, Lisemby chose to commit a crime instead of using his voice, violating his fraternal creed and embarrassing a great number of upstanding members of Sigma Pi and Sigma Pi International in the process. Never mind the embarrassment he has surely caused his self described “Rock-ribbed conservative” missionary family for showing not only anti-American values, but anti-Christian values (“Thou shall not steal?”).

In a passage from Christian Ministries To Israel Director Reginald Lisemby (Jacob’s father) titled “Is God For The USA?,” Lisemby concludes that “God is not on our side” despite “flags flying everywhere.” Lisemby specifically blames “homosexuals”, “free speech” and thieving leaders who “get caught and yet dismissed because of power” among other things.

These people are certainly entitled to their opinions.

While we’re on the lesson of Freedom of Speech, I got a phone call from MTSU Sigma Pi President Buddy Renner upset about me sharing this story on Twitter. He could have been upset at all the news agencies for reporting Lisemby’s crime, or even at Lisemby himself. Instead, he chose to exercise his freedom to call me and diminish the nature of his “brother’s” poor choice.

In Russia, there’s a law that puts people in prison for simply displaying in public the very rainbow flag that was stolen from our display. This ain’t Russia, and I am forever grateful for the opportunities the First Amendment provides us to compare and contrast those who like America like it is and those who want it to be just like Russia.

UPDATE 10-10-13 Responses: Some of Jacob’s fraternal brothers and sorority friends aren’t happy with this post at all and took to Twitter last night encouraging others to harass me. Kelci Biggs tweeted threats that she was calling the police for “harassment” but has since deleted the comment when she realized just how stupid she made her sorority look. Some encouraged arson. Others cheered on Jacob. Here are some of the ways people have chosen to use their freedom of speech:

  • Kelly Oberg (@kohhhberg) – Alpha Chi Omega: I support Jacob 100% and I have his back no matter what. (5:48pm Oct. 9)
  • Kelci Biggs (@kelcibiggs) – Alpha Delta Pi: I completely stand behind @kohhhberg and Jacob in this. (5:06pm Oct 9)
  • Weslea Miniat (@wesleasnipes) – Alpha Chi Omega: Love you Jacob! Eff those haters! These colors don’t run! (4:07pm Oct. 9)
  • Mikie Adams (@FRATAMS) – that’s cute. I hope that flag gets burned asap. (5:53pm Oct 9)
  • Luke Hayes (@LukeHayes_ATH) – former MTSU Football bench warmer: Jacob is a hero in my book. (4:31pm Oct 9)
  • Brooklyn Chunn ‏(@BrooklynChunn) – Alpha Chi Omega: All I know is that flag in the library should be taken down (1:59pm Oct. 9)

Farm hour: becoming a USDA Certified Organic farm

January 9th, 2013 No comments

soil tests
soil samples from four sections of the farm

It’s Winter. There isn’t enough light in the day when we get home from work to do much on the farm, so we’re taking a 15 hour online course from the Rodale Institute to apply to become a USDA Certified Organic Farm. Every night’s a school night until the days get longer.

We’re learning a lot. Even if you don’t plan to become certified the program is a wealth of information to suppliment and reinforce your interest in sustainable farm practices. One of the most important things I’m learning about is building soil fertility and conservation. It’s also required by the federal government for certified producers to have plans in place to achieve that, such as amending the soil with composts and both animal and green manures as well as using cover and rotational crops.

Hour by hour – we’re hoping to have a decent Organic System Plan hammered out this month for our farm’s application. One of the first steps was to get a baseline measurement of our soil, so I took samples from four sections of field (each section with a few sample points) and sent it off for testing through the local Farmer’s CO-OP. I can’t say for sure, but the soil looks amazing. We’ll see what the test says.