Sunday, October 23, 2011

Tous les jours à tous points de vue . . .

Tous les jours à tous points de vue je vais de mieux en mieux. -- Émile Coué

Coué's mantra, "Every day, in every way, I'm getting better and better," could be -- in fact, should be -- the catchphrase for Google. It really does seem that each day brings a new announcement about or change to one or more Google products. The Google management listens to and responds to comments from end-users; Google staff uses ingenuity and innovation to put that into practice.

Google has also been very wise in the way that they involve non-employees in the early stages of product development. I know about this from my own experience as a CR-48 Pilot. What an extraordinary program! It's almost a year since that gorgeous Chromebook turned up at my house, and it is still my go-to computer when I leave the house, or even when I move from room to room. I have convinced some family members to "go Chromebook," and I've even got acquaintances to consider buying Chromebooks. My love for the Chromebook is infectious!

And then came the day in June when Google+ was opened for Beta testing. Of course, I was there right away. Since that day, I have met some wonderful people through posts and Hangouts, and I have received help with all kinds of things, from research to coding to . . .  well, lots of things. And I have tried to help people, too. Google+ is already a wonderful community, in my experience. And every day I meet someone new, or I am introduced to someone new, and I learn something new.

I think that the ways that Google has enabled people to share ideas and connect with like-minded people is incredible. I never felt that any other social networking site did this; sure, the other sites were social, but the extra little je ne sais quoi that Google+ has lifts this to a whole new level.

And it makes me feel empowered. I would say to those who worry that Google is taking over the world and reducing people to followers: not a bit of it! The more tools Google gives us to connect, the more we can take those tools and run with them. It's a really exciting time; my only question is, What's Next?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Matter Of Life And Death

"Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that." -- Bill Shankly

I am not going to pretend that I am a huge basketball fan. My first love (as a spectator) is soccer (the real football), followed by baseball. A long time ago, I was a fan of American football, but a few things conspired to end that: one, the short-lived World Football League; two, I moved to England and couldn't watch the games on TV any more; and, three, when I did move back to the United States it was obvious that games were played to fit in with television and advertising, and it was just too stop-and-start for me (and I didn't like the fact that the refs had mics and announced the penalties).

A lot of the discussion about the NBA dispute and cancelled start of season over the past few days has centered on the level of salaries paid to NBA players, and comparing this dispute to the NFL one. Mike Pesca was interviewed on NPR on 11 October, and he had this to say:

"I think that NBA players should be very careful about saying, well, the NFL did almost a similar labor dispute to what we did and they survived and they were fine. I think public sympathy was much more on the side of the NFL players because NFL players put their bodies on the line. They have very short careers, three years on average. And their average salary is just over a million dollars. Whereas NBA players' average salary is between five and six million and it's not as physically grueling. So if they think it's going to be exactly the same situation as the NFL, the NBA players may be in for a surprise."

But I would argue that the real difference between these sports has to do with supply and demand. What I mean by this is that in a regular basketball season, teams play something like 82 games. (This does not include the playoffs and finals.) Every team gets several chances to beat every other team, and although of course it is better to win than lose, no team wins every one of their games -- even teams that lose some games can end up in the playoffs.

In a regular American football season, there are only something like 16 games. And every single one counts. There are no do-overs, no real second chances. Basically, unless you get off to a pretty good start, it's close to impossible to rise to the top by the end of the season. But a basketball team can start badly, slowly, whatever, and have a great turn-around at some point in the season to get into the playoffs.

So of course football fans are going to want to tune in every week, because every single game counts. Basketball fans can miss the occasional (or even not-so-occasional) televised game; it's just not so life-and-death.

I'm sure that basketball players would never want to consider playing fewer games, but maybe that's really what's needed to shake up the whole sports industry. (Baseball could do with a shake-up as well.) It's great to have to wait for a week to watch either type of football, NFL or Premier League (or even the American soccer teams). Even though I love to watch baseball, some nights it's just too much. I need a break; I bet some other fans do, too.

There have been major changes in sports over the years; as it now appears that the NBA season could be cancelled completely this year, maybe the owners and players should really consider what they could do to attract a whole new generation of fans.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Life Will Never Be The Same, But That's A Good Thing!

"My life has changed
Where do I start
Since Aladdin came in
And conquered my heart."
--the Chinese princess in Chichester Theological College's panto Aladdin, 1985

In 1985, I played the part of the Chinese princess, and the lines above were the beginning of my first speech. I delivered them in a Southern (U.S.) accent. Don't ask.

But I was thinking today that my life, particularly since last December, has been changed incredibly because of Google. And where do I start?

Of course, before last December, like so many people, I Googled daily. I can't even remember the last time I used a different search engine. Google was it for me pretty much from the time it launched.

I loved stuff like -- I really annoyed people with that, actually, but we won't go into that here.

I downloaded and used the Chrome browser pretty much from the first day it was available. I used Rockmelt for a while, too, as it incorporated lots of great Chrome features along with other sites.

I worked in Google Docs -- several clients were happy to work that way, and I found that it made things easier most of the time. I was still tied to hard drives and Windows, but I was committed to investigating what working in the cloud could mean for me.

Then, one day last December, I was tootling around on Facebook and saw a post from . . . well, I can't remember exactly what it was. But I took a survey and was promised some Chrome stickers. So what the hey, I thought, I can do this.

I was shocked, and I mean shocked, to find a Cr-48 on my doorstep a few days later. This was before people had started posting about this, so I had no idea what was going on. And the minute I started up the Cr-48, I was in love.

And then Google launched Google+. And I have finally found people on the Internet who are asking questions, involved in meaningful discussions, interesting to interact with, and I am loving it!

And now Google+ has enabled Circle sharing. The possibilities are infinite. I've already seen people from my Circles connect with each other, and they might not have found each other if I hadn't been able to share.

I can hardly wait to see what's next.

Friday, September 9, 2011

It's A Fine Line Between Killing Off And Dying

"I wish more people would consider culture like sports: that it is really there to keep you more physically fit than you actually need to be to drive to the supermarket, and to give you an image that there is another type of fitness possible." -- Peter Sellars, 17 March 2009, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

I am constantly hearing how classical music is dying; how it no longer has any relevance; how it is not important to continue to teach children to play instruments in elementary school because it will not play any part in their lives as adults.

It's easy for something to die when it has been systematically threatened, tortured, strangled, and killed off in every way possible. What is more surprising -- heart-warming, even -- is how classical music refuses to die. But that doesn't mean that it won't, eventually, and this should be of much more concern than it is.

Even the most intellectually challenged politician understands that it is much easier to teach something to the young than the old. But that doesn't mean that they recognize the impact of shutting down music education in elementary schools. Whoever decided that all that mattered in schools was the three "Rs" (a problem in itself, as it's really an R, a W, and an A!) sounded the death knell for the arts in general, and music education in particular. The Kennedy administration tried to incorporate physical education into the three "Rs" curriculum, but arts education was not invited to the party even then (I'm not sure who was meant to provide the entertainment . . .).

The ancient Greeks got it right: they had the arts as well as the Olympics because, as Peter Sellars put it in the lecture quoted at the beginning of this post, they "were raising the level every year for the whole society and creating a future." Even the ancient Romans seem to have understood that music was important; otherwise, how could Nero have fiddled while Rome burned?

Seriously, though, if we want to explain why our society is so sick, we need look no further than the cuts in arts education in the past few decades. What is so confusing to me is that we continue to fund the football team but we don't want to fund the marching band to play at the games. And we don't expect the quarterback to just walk on the field one day without daily training; why would we expect the clarinetist to play without daily training, either?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Thoughts On An Upcoming Anniversary

"In 1961 a copywriter named Shirley Polykoff was working for the Foote, Cone & Belding advertising agency on the Clairol hair-dye account when she came up with the line: 'If I’ve only one life, let me live it as a blonde!' In a single slogan she had summed up what might be described as the secular side of the Me Decade. 'If I’ve only one life, let me live it as a—!' (You have only to fill in the blank.)" --Tom Wolfe, "The 'Me' Decade and the Third Great Awakening," New York magazine, August 1976

When was it that people stopped caring about anyone other than themselves? Was it in the so-called Me Decade, the 1970s, as Tom Wolfe thought? Or was it something that slowly gained momentum throughout the postwar years, during the years of affluence and (relative) peace (the Vietnam War notwithstanding), and just reached a peak in the 1970s before the oil crisis and recession halted its progress?

There certainly was a resurgence of "me first" in the 1980s and 1990s. A lot of people got very rich by looking out for themselves first. "Wealth hoarders" grew in numbers; there were some of us who wondered why they needed so much money. Just how many houses, cars, wives, husbands, . . . did they need? But they were all looking out for number one, and who cared if other people were falling way behind?

And now we are all being told by the media to reflect on the 10 years since 9/11. All I can see is that what was a life-changing event for many people, one that should have ended "me first" once and for all, has been pushed to the margins, and we've become even more selfish and "me"-thinking than we were in the few days, maybe weeks, following 9/11.

We are a nasty, vitriolic, selfish nation -- and we're not the only one on the planet. Globalization, which was meant to bring people all over the world together in a spirit of cooperation, has just made everyone more inward-looking and concerned with themselves.

And the ones who are hurt most by this are the children, the youngest generation. We have systematically destroyed their education, most particularly their cultural and creative education, and given them nothing to look forward to or hope for. The oldest generation thinks, "Why should I support education? I did that for years when my kids were growing up, and I'm done with that." The middle generation thinks, "Why should I care about anyone but myself? I'm struggling to survive!"

If we did care about each other, maybe the struggle for survival would be lessened -- or at least we'd have some company in the struggle! And if the oldest helped to look out for the youngest, there would be all sorts of benefits for both.

Every day I come up against people who are blatantly looking out for themselves, and to them I say (viz. Howard Beale [Network]): "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" I will continue to fight to make people wake up and think about other people; I am putting you all on notice.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Takin' It To The Streets

You don't know me
but I'm your brother
I was raised here in
this living hell
You don't know my kind
in your world
Fairly soon the
time will tell

You, telling me the things
you're gonna do for me
I ain't blind and I don't
like what I think I see

(Takin' it to the streets)
Takin' it to the streets
(Takin' it to the streets)
Takin' it to the streets

-- Doobie Brothers, "Takin' It To The Streets"

So, finally, the underclass in Britain has had enough. The surprise is not that these riots have happened now; it's that it hasn't happened since the mid-1980s.

I lived on the outskirts of Brixton in 1981, and even in those pre-BlackBerry, pre-Twitter days, it was not difficult for a mob of angry people to get going and create havoc in no time at all. I can remember streets being closed off, helicopters flying overhead, and the smell of smoke in the air for weeks afterwards. I knew people in Lewisham, Peckham, and other places where the rioting in 1981 spread, and everyone was frightened then.

But what has been done since the 1980s to address even some of the problems that led to those riots? From where I'm sitting, it looks like absolutely nothing has been done. The distance between the rich and the poor has grown even wider, and it's no secret that there are entire council estates populated by people who have never had a job, never had a chance to get a proper education, and have in many respects become more and more invisible.

And here's a news flash: the same conditions exist in the United States. And what will happen when the underclass in the United States rises up?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

This You Must Learn To Do

"This you must learn to do. To live without." -- spoken by Dr Anna Klaus, in The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott

Over the past weeks, pretty much all we've heard about is the debt ceiling and the problems that the United States would face if Standard & Poor's downgraded the U.S. rating. Well, that's happened now. Everyone has their own ideas about how this happened, how we got here, and who is to blame for it. But it has happened, and instead of pointing fingers we should now be addressing the real problem.

The real problem is that everyone wants everything and they want it now. No matter if we haven't got the money to pay for it; that's what borrowing is all about, isn't it? And if the bill comes due, we can just borrow from somewhere else to pay that off, yes?

The U.S. attitude has always been -- particularly since the 1980s -- a pretty careless one where money is concerned. The number of applications for credit that appear in snail mail and e-mail boxes is obscene. The exhortations to pay off this card with another one mount up constantly. And the notion of refinancing seems to have become another unalienable right.

And the U.S. government is not immune to this way of thinking. Officials at all levels respond to offers to extend credit in the same way as ordinary citizens.

So, now everyone is distressed because things are going to get tougher. And this is another failing of all political parties, and all politicians. None of them seem to get it: We are going to have to stop this never-ending cycle of borrowing and living off someone else's dime. Things are going to have to get tougher, and that should mean for everyone.

If the government -- all of the departments and officials -- really gets it and devises a way to live within its means, then just maybe there is a possibility that the citizens will learn to do this as well. But if they continue to allow the rich to escape the consequences of this downgrading, people lower down the financial food chain will never learn, either.

"Live within your means, never be in debt, and by husbanding your money you can always lay it out well. But when you get in debt you become a slave. Therefore I say to you never involve yourself in debt, and become no man's surety. If your friend is in distress, aid him if you have the means to spare. If he fails to be able to return it, it is only so much lost." -- Andrew Jackson (1767–1845), U.S. president.