Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

He talks!

October 27th, 2013

I have a little less excuse to hide inside my moderate introversion. Yes, I do host a weekly podcast, a.k.a. an internet radio show. Yes, my yellow glasses say, “Look at me.” Yet, public speaking has never been my love or forte. I remain nervous and avoid it.

Somehow while attending my fourth or fifth BarCamp Boston, I did it yesterday. I went ahead and populated a Post-it with a topic I thought I could wing. I also figured maybe a few folk would attend.

For the gregarious and Toastmaster sorts, that is nothing. For us publicly shy types, it’s a big deal. When I went back to school to add a management degree, I found how stunted I was here. While I went to J-school, worked newspapers and magazines for decades, interviewed big shots and small, and represented my department in group meetings, there were safeguards. I had a notepad or PowerPoint to hide behind, to distract. Also, I was not the focus of attention.

bcbtest

The way these self-suggested sessions work is the crowd mills around those stuck in the WOULD YOU ATTEND? grid. Those that get four or more checkmarks are OK. The suggester is supposed to move it to an open block on the schedule board for a room and time.

Most presenters planned their sessions well in advance. Many created laptop presentations and provided lots of visuals and in some cases audio.

I think of Steve Garfield (pic below). He presented on Storify.

His session was brilliant, professional and accessible. He’d taken a few snaps with his smartphone that morning, posted some tweets and Instagrams and was ready to teach. He plugged his laptop into the overhead connection and created a Storify post in real time. He searched for and pulled in his elements, text, pix, Vine vids and such from various social-media sites. He saved to Storify and embedded it in several of his other sites.

It was a great show and I was one of those who had vaguely thought about using that site. I shall now. That what BarCamp should do.

storifysg

In a pale contrast, I was now thinking after Steve’s presentation that I should go back to the WOULD YOU ATTEND? block and remove my Post-it. When I arrived, I had five checks and felt committed. Scary stuff for an introvert.

I sat at lunch and was not sociable much to the rest of the folk. I sketched my session ideas on four index cards. I wanted to speak to such things as:

  • recap of my background, why I am at all qualified
  • traits of bad online manuals and help systems
  • two kinds of tech writers (the majority being literal sorts incapable of thinking like naive users)
  • elements of good docs
  • down-and-dirty usabilty

I fretted and even thought of removing my Post-it from the block where I’d stuck it — Mattapan Room, 155 at 2:40 pm. By then though, I figured I’d goof up, no one would show, people who drift out during, or just maybe it would be OK even without visuals and prep.

It was the latter. About 20 folk came in and nearly all stayed. I had the good fortune to have three who were interactive, commenting and questioning.

At the end, They applauded. I confessed my introversion. One of the active participants said if I hadn’t told them, they wouldn’t have known.

I’ll never be as smooth as Steve. Yet, I think I might do this again. I have to year to come up with a topic and then produce a show. Even a shy guy should be able to do that.

Mensa Muffins

October 27th, 2013

bcbskedsYesterday at BarCamp Boston, geeks abounded and were super pleasant. For those who haven’t worked in high tech, that is remarkable. Many programmers and others sheltered under the very wide engineer umbrella show off and show each other up.

When I went from tech writer and doc manager to overseeing development and QA engineers,  I experienced that in its spark and spit. Very smart young men and women in software development had to be best. “His code is crap. Mine is much better.” “Her malloc clogs the stack.” “I can write that in 121 fewer lines and mine will run much faster.”

I didn’t see that competitiveness or criticism yesterday. That is except for the brief you’re-doing-in-wrong-and-inefficiently moments. As such, they were left-brain amusing.

Take the sked board. It’s a running BarCamp joke that this is a manual operation, much like the beloved whiteboards in daily use. Each of the two days’ sessions gets a Post-it stuck to its time/location spot in the grid. In deference to modern life, the grid also goes online and nearly every attendant had and used one or more wireless devices.

Several hundred folk waited for those who wanted to give sessions to put their topic on a Post-It, get enough checkmarks showing interest to justify moving it to the sked grid. Their minds clearly were spinning, because as a couple of volunteers climbed on tables to draw precise chalk lines for the grid, the suggestions started.

First, the main woman using a cardboard template to guide the chalk was, as you’d expect, precise…a.k.a. slow. Her lines had to be this level and just so. People standing around waiting to see what they wanted to go to at 11am whispered suggestions for how to create the grid more efficiently. Then they called out their ideas.

stevemuffins

Meanwhile, more self-perceived wisdom occurred at the breakfast tables. Videoblog overlord, Steve Garfield got his version and I saw a truly efficient geek handle the coffee when it arrived.

Steve wasn’t a volunteer, at least when he arrived. He did see the many shrink-wrapped trays of muffins, croissants and such. He went to take the plastic off only to hear the guy sort of watching them announce that he couldn’t. The claim was the no one could have muffins until the vats of coffee arrived. To the sentry, pastries require pastry and that’s that.

Steve asked who was in charge and headed for them. They told him sure, get the muffins ready. Steve had figured all along that not everyone had to have coffee with their pastry.

He used his low-tech tool, his car key, to cut the plastic. Meanwhile, his mother saw a pic of the muffins and wisely informed Steve the muffins were too big, that he should halve them. So he got a plastic knife and did that. There were a lot of muffins.

The coffee arrived, three gigantic vats with spigots, and a bunch of boxes with pour spouts. Almost immediately, a long, single line formed and moved very slowly.

The engineering mind of a few geeks next to me went to work. The first observation was that the gate was at the milk. The half or so of those getting coffee really wanted hot ice cream and fixed their coffee with both milk and sugar, a slow process.

Then one 20-something acted. He could have rearranged the add-ins beyond the vats and sped up the process. Instead, he handled it much better by grabbing a box of coffee and a stack of paper cups. Calling out, “Who wants black coffee?” he went down the line. About half of those did, got a quick pour and the long line became a very short one in about two minutes.

At least two smart guys worked for the common good.

Man, Woman, Life, Death, Infinity

October 9th, 2013

caseyA real plus for watching House was the deadly disorder or disease of the week. In a simpler time, half a century ago, medical TV shows were far less sophisticated and demanding.zorba

Specifically for one example, Ben Casey seemed to have a single diagnosis — subdural hematoma. We’d just get to identify or sympathize with the suffering patient, when the internal head blood clot diagnosis accounted for all the dreadful symptoms. After all, the doc was a surgeon and like a cabinet maker or auto mechanic, he had a shot at seeing and fixing the problem that way.

Viewers had to be pretty dull not to notice that week after week, for 153 shows, the somatic villain was almost inevitably the same.

I had a flashback reading yesterday’s paper about Argentina President Cristina Fernandez’ Ben Casey moment. She has, ta da, a subdural hematoma. Unlike the best case in which the body resorbs (dissolves and eats up) the clot, her clot has come with pressure, headaches and lately upper-arm numbness. Those did not improve and her docs decided it was time to go in.

The US is still way down the list in longevity and medicine has not in the main made us that much healthier with drugs. Yet fortunately, in a few areas, like surgery, advances have been solid. In Ben Casey, popping the lid to remove a subdural hematoma was a big deal and might well have meant death on the table.

Here’s for President Fernandez’  unremarkable operation and cure…and thanks for the memories.

 

Thumb-thing Silly

October 7th, 2013

What this neat pop-science Boston Globe article does not address is why so many of us believe, no, know, that we are splendid multitaskers. If we were anywhere as bright and observant as we pretend, we’d see frightening reflections galore that suggest otherwise.walking thumb

Adults, teens, even wee ones stumble and career into shelves, each other, closed doors and worse while punching into a (insert irony symbol, traditionally ironymark) smartphone. More poignantly than the clown bumps and pratfalls, one aspect of device-distracted humans is texting while driving, too often, killing while doing so.

The article does deal extensively with another key aspect, how iPhones and their like are great programming tools. That is, they program their ostensible owners. In fact, they are the owner in the relationship.

I’ve dealt with and even obsessed on the whole mess here numerous times. Samples are in links to posts using multitask.

A current cliché is how smart the millennials and young folk are. Aren’t they masters of technology?

That would be a resounding, “No!” for them as a group. In fact knowing how to use the icons, menus and keys on a cellphone, being comfortable with numerous social-media and their keywords, do not translate into broader intelligence or even technology skills. Instead, as many of us note, we as a populace are being dumbed down, just as we are increasingly under the control of our devices.

By cracky, Mable, it isn’t just the kids either. In a supermarket, on the street and well, everywhere, the seemingly ubiquitous Androids, iPhones and such make humans hop. 60-year-olds as well as middle-schoolers largely cannot control themselves when their device tones or jiggles. They, the nominal owners, are dancing to the notes.

A few years ago, Boomer and older folk lamented the rudeness of folk putting their phones on the restaurant table, constantly scanning them, and unhesitatingly answering them should they command so. Of course that’s ill mannered and speaks poorly of whoever raised them. And, an alter kaker like I am tells people not to bring their phone out. I, perhaps self-righteously, tell them that in my house, if we’re having a family dinner when a cell or other phone rings, that call just goes to voice. We’re busy and in the moment.

Still, for all those people who believe they are smart enough to multitask, I wish awareness. When they respond like birds or other lower animals conditioned to push a button for food or perform some other stupid pet trick, will they please see that? Will they get a grip and realize they are in thrall to their $500 gadget?

My hope would be if a 17-year-old gains that level of awareness, it would be a teachable moment. Each enlightened lad or lass would show peers how to be in charge of the device, instead of the other way around.

That smarter lifestyle might even spread to their parents and grandparents. Honestly, humans can decide what’s really urgent.

 

Globe: Subscribe? Play our game!

August 12th, 2013

 

globA half hour plus with two subscription pros at the Boston Globe today brought home what a niggling, nettling surprise awaits new owner John Henry.

He’s a rich guy, principal owner of the Red Sox, builder of a grotesque, gauche, turreted mansion in Brookline, and bargain hunter. He’ll plunk down $70 million in cash for the paper, it’s online goodies and such.  In 1993, the New York Times paid $1.1 billion for the package.

He says he wants to keep newspapers vibrant in Boston. Here’s hoping he cleans house on customer service and subscriber interfaces. That’s something a rich guy’s minions should be able to do.

Simple made hard

I’ve been a technical communicator for decades, helped design user interfaces, and done usability testing for software, PDF files, websites and help systems. The Globe‘s subscription interfaces — human as well as digital — flunk.

A recap of recent interactions includes:

  • We were out of state for a couple of weeks and apparently I missed a previous bill.
  • Right before we left, I got a bill a couple of days after the home delivery stopped.
  • We got a bill right before we left. While it wasn’t at all easy to find the subscription options and current prices on the twisted website, I did notice that there was a senior rate. I had just entered that group and thought, “Swell, I’ll re-up at a lower rate.”
  • Not so fast. After going all over the site, I saw that this required copying a birth certificate or license and mailing it with a stamp.
  • When we returned, a subscription minion called to say they had gotten my senior paperwork, but would hold it until it cleared the check I told them I’d sent at the same time for delivery through 7/21.
  • We headed off for a week at the Cape with friends. The jolly sub lady said we’d talk again when I returned about starting again at the lower rate. I asked if I could return to paying annually as I had before. She said sure and there’d be a discount for doing so. She noted that while the NY Times continued to suck money from a credit card, her paper had stopped doing so because a card had expired, but they didn’t contact me for the new expiration date. Huh? Doesn’t everyone from ISPs to papers do that when there’s an expiry issue? Apparently not this one boner paper.
  • While we were gone, delivery restarted regardless of what jolly sub lady said.
  • In the mail pile when we returned was a Globe bill. It was for a full month in advance, at the regular, not senior, price, plus and inexplicable $29.64 for service “from 08/05/2013 to 8/04/2013″ which makes my head hurt to wonder how even an accounting program could generate that.
  • So today, I called. Sigh.
  • The first rep had a (not her fault of course) heavy subcontinent accent and was fairly unintelligible. More important, she couldn’t answer my queries or fix the problems.  Those would include, why did delivery restart when I had an agreement with subscriptions to wait until I returned; what the devil was $29.64 for an irrational billing period when we got no papers, retroactively or forward; if I’d been approved for the discounted rate, why was the bill for the standard; if I pay for a whole year, do I get a discount on top of my discount.
  • Instead, she tried to shut me up with a 12-week, new-subscriber rate. Nah.
  • Eventually, she switched me to another hold queue, this time for a subscriber advocate.
  • At this higher level, Walter was at first overwhelmed by the complexity of what his company had wrought. To his credit he persevered and nibbled away at each problem until he squashed them…all but my mentions of the utter lameness of the subscription site, both for potential subscribers and existing ones.
  • The short of it is that 1) he took off the absurd $29.64. 2) dropped the regular sub to the senior (not all that much of a discount, at $10.99 a week from $13.99 a week), 3) found there is no compounding of discounts, that it’s either senior, educational, or annual payment, 4) calculated a few ways to find that paying monthly by senior is cheaper than anything else, even annual, and 5) explained that when the Globe stops a sub on its end, it automatically restarts delivery immediately on payment and at the former rate, regardless of any commitment from even the sub folk.

Do you really want readers?

I’ll watch to see whether Henry wants subscribers. If so, he should sit on the site and try sub folk by phone. Bonk.

After my tedious but still relatively pleasant time with Walter, I checked the Globe site sub area again. Yep. It’s terrible.

Being fairly anal retentive as most tech communicators are, I also went to the NY Times, Boston Herald and Worcester Telegram versions. Each is a little sneaky. The Globe obfuscates to the point of fraud; it shows the least and demands the most to get even to the point of knowing what the cost and options are.

All of them follow the pattern of asking for your Zip Code to see whether they deliver in your area and to present an offer. That’s reasonable, but the marketing scams that accompany the following pages are sneaky and the worst among them for the Globe.

One might think that regs, particularly in a commonwealth with a strong attorney general, would mean pricing for a contract purchase would have to obvious, clear and understandable. Instead, the deal is, in this paper’s case, not to state on the signup page or in the FAQ, what the weekly, monthly or yearly rates are, nor any options, nor any discount programs, nor what the regular rates are after the teaser offer.

Instead, the Globe site presents three radio buttons, one each for:

  • 7-day delivery for only $6.99/week for the first 12 weeks
  • Thursday through Sunday for only $4.00/week for the first 12 weeks
  • Sunday delivery for only $1.99/week for the first 12 weeks

You can’t proceed until you fill in your vitals and commit to one of those three, and either asked to be billed or entered credit card info for immediate payment. Up in the right corner is a discreet button reading, INTRO OFFER 50% OFF. You can extrapolate that after your 12 weeks, the price doubles, but absolutely nowhere does it say that. Nor does it read whether that doubled price is ongoing or subject to change.

I’m sure all this is totally illegal.

The other papers’ sites are better. They tend to offer discounts for delivery for specified times, but they are clear about what the ongoing cost will be.

Henry’s challenge

Taking Henry at his word, that he wants the paper to survive and flourish as a newspaper, let’s assume he wants readers and subscribers. If so, his folk have a plain usability challenge or rather set of challenges. Specifically:

  • Put subscriptions prominently on all the site pages
  • Create both a FAQ and sub overview that lists the sub options and prices
  • ID potential customer issues and train sub support on them
  • Sweeten discounts and other incentives to get and retain long-term, recurring subscribers
  • Enable communicate across all areas that make subscription commitments and billing

None of those is hard. I’ve managed all those areas. Yet, the first and most important aspects are, first a commitment to customers, and second having employees who can think like customers. The second requires greater intelligence and sensitivity than most executives have. They can learn.

 

Let the Feeble Wait!

June 20th, 2013

I visited the Charlie Card Store in  downtown Boston for the first time yesterday. The well-lit, clean room is at once a marvel of efficiency and a bureaucratic torture chamber.

The MBTA has consolidated its special services — things you can’t get or do online or by phone. Those include transferring stored value among cards, replacing damaged cards, and reduced fare cards for seniors and the disabled including blind riders. There is a little joke there. To get your T services, including reduced fare, you really need to take the T to get to the location, paying full fare on the way. Nearly no one lives near downtown crossing.

The room is rather like an attractive, sit-down-while-you-wait deli counter. The receptionist and clerks at each of six stations are pleasant and efficient…within T policy. When you arrive, you explain what you are there to do. The receptionist performs triage and produces a deli-style ticket with your number, like E917.

As it turns out, your fate was determined at that moment.

fairmountstopThe office hours are 8 AM to 5:30 PM, Monday through Friday. Right away that means that both white-collar and blue-collar workers take off work time. As with most bureaucracy, the citizens serve at the pleasure of the overlords. That’s typical and not really unusual or punitive.

However, as I watched, waited and then listened, the nefarious aspect revealed itself. Many of the elderly and disabled squirmed and some complained as they saw others get their numbered chits, get served and leave. They sat and heard and saw the number-being served at which station announced and shown.

An unctuous worker eventually walked through the room past the seats of gumblers. He explained in a monotone. This clearly was not his first time giving the little speech. It seems some services take longer than others. Those troublesome ones would include the likes of senior and disable cards. Those require taking a photo.

That process is highly automated. a wee camera at each station captures an image of the rider and a fancy printer behind the clerks spits out the ID in well under a minute. The only time-consuming part seemed to be typing the name and address off the license or other ID.

At first I didn’t quite believe I heard right. Yet, there is no FIFO here. First-come means squat. If you can’t see well, can’t walk agiilely, or are just old, you are at the back of the line. The fitter take precedence. You wait.

I guess for the old or disabled, the attitude is this is good practice for the larger world. You wait as the younger and able-bodied pass you by.

I hadn’t expected philosophy to be built into the system.

Tricksy Managers

December 21st, 2012

ESpen

On discovering a couple of what could kindly be termed collectors items, I ran though some of the corporate gifts I’ve gotten over decades. Yesterday’s finds were impressive looking ballpoint pens. The pen body was in the same wood as the substantial box. Both had etched ELRON SOFTWARE into them.

Its Israeli parent, Elron Electronic Industries, is still fat and thriving in various medical and defense businesses there. The mistimed decision to jointly develop software there, here and with some help in Russia was solid, but unfortunately foundered in the industry collapse of 2000-2001 and an IPO that was about three months too late.

Along the way in the good times, management gave us these tchotchkes, along with fleece pullovers, polo shirts and seemingly anything you could weave or brand with the company name or its product names. I have bright yellow INTERNET MANAGER and blue WEB INSPECTOR apparel.

Likewise, various previous companies handed out backpacks to our children on bring-your-kid-to-work day, as well as t-shirts, note pads and on and on. I still like wearing Microcom gear, because I was proud of those products. That company sold itself to Compaq, shortly before that one bought DEC and a NIC manufacturer, with the idea that all together we’d put Compaq instantly into the networking business. That best-of-breed amalgam took more smarts than Compaq’s management and marketing and their new owner HP had. The network-card, DEC networking and Microcom teams were all tossed in the street.

Truth be told, many of us at various companies were amused by such gifts. They cost the companies very little, all of which was tax deductible anyway. The company got diverse use by giving the same stuff to customers and vendors.

The cynical aspect though was what I heard directly from the shots at American Management Associations a long time before. That AMA made its consistent profits by holding seminars for execs. Some of those meetings were at the New York City HQ and others at more luxurious locales like the horse farm at Saranac Lake.

They told us in the publishing division that companies’ managements understood the tchotchke nature of these expensive trips for their underlings. Sure there was the airfare and the hotel and meals costs, some away-from-office time and incidental penalties. The pretense (dubious, I say, having attended numerous of these sessions) was that the managers given these wonderful AMA privileges was that the brass at home expected them to be even better at their jobs after attending.

In reality, AMA told the big shots that these were a great way to make the recipients feel special, and maybe increase the productive competitiveness internally. The best part was that the one or five thousand spent did not add to the salary base. That is why companies so love bonuses over raises. The rewards immediately expire and do not compound.

I don’t even get tired of kindly correcting people who ask about my ENRON jacket. After all, Elron had bad timing with its software efforts, but they weren’t a bunch of crooks.

 

Wrist-Wrenching Phones

March 27th, 2012

Calling Sonny and Tubbs!

Nearly 30 years ago, the Miami Vice pretty boys were skimming in  cigarette boats and confronting drug lords. Along the way, they were très chic…in clothes, slang, and technology of the time. That included Sonny living on a boat with his guard alligator Elivs and hot communication, a remote phone.

I claim fair use for the cropped and contrast-improved image of Don Johnson as Sonny with his big honking phone. It worked off a land-line base and an antenna the size of a shishkabob skewer.

Now when we see pix of him holding this sizable household appliance, covering half his skull, we are amused. Yet, our technology is galloping back there.

Look around offices, on the street, in churches and on restaurant tables. Current versions of big honking phones abound. Common smart phones come with 5-inch screens and are leading larger. That doesn’t include trim and the rest of the body. They are swelling and swelling.

Of course the limits are different. Back in the MV days, components were much larger and transmission needed some serious amplification to work at all. Nowadays, consumer vanity in advanced features leads many to in turn drive cell makers. The bigger screens let fat fingers type (sort of) and hold the absurd number of lame and seldom used app icons.

Phones are getting bigger and bigger. Many no longer fit in shirt or suit pockets. The trend points to bigger yet.

I’m fond of saying that my phone works for me and not the other way around. I have to stifle snorts and giggles when I see the common conditioned responses of cell slaves. The phone beeps and they react — yes, master — regardless of driving, walking or conversing with tangible humans.

Here, we’re also not beholden to the pseudo-land line that comes with the cable bundle. If we are home at dinner or with guests in the room or even if we don’t feel like answering, we let a call go to voice. Our phones work for us.

I’m casually thinking of my next phone upgrade. It’s likely to be a smart for maybe more accurately smartass phone with more capability than my current one. You can be damned sure that it won’t be as big a my open hand.

Antique Bike, Antique Muscles

March 18th, 2012

Is there an equivalent cliché along the line of  a day without orange juice is like a day without sunshine, one for a week without cycling?

I grieved the past seven days with an inoperable road bike. I’ve been waiting for crucial parts to arrive. Today, I lugged out the old, very heavy mountain bike from over 20 years ago, just to get back in the saddle. Wow, it was a lot of work.

I think of my mother complaining when she drove the family car that I had taken off her hands and had out of state for several years in college. When I returned for a visit, she drove it instead of her company-issued new sedan. She returned puzzled and a little angry, asking, “What did you do to the steering?” She said it was so hard that she could barely turn, much less park.

We quickly figured out that it wasn’t the steering, rather it was the contrast with the new one, with power steering. The old one was light and to me easy to handle, but it had manual. Likewise, when I see a manual typewriter set up, I use it if I can, just to recall the feeling of having to use some muscle (particularly with the little fingers) to press keys that move levers.

Today, I was on a bike that weighs over twice my usual, well over 40 pounds. It has a steel frame, no suspension, and very inefficient gears. The Sierra was Schwinn’s first try at a mountain bike. It did what it did well, mostly being tough enough to rumble down hills strewn with boulders, to crash without bending, and to have a crank with low enough gears to hump up steep roads and paths.

After taking a hilly road route that I hum along with my road bike, I find my quads burning. That’s definitely good and should serve to remind me that tech and related advances can be enemies of fitness.

Intellectually, I knew that the road bike has by far the most efficient gears and is lighter than any other bike I’ve owned. However, experiencing that knowledge for over 20 miles is far, far more meaningful. My body as well as mind knows that a much heavier bike with clunky gears is one devil of a lot more work.

The good aspect of that is that many of us cyclists claim to want to bike in part for the exercise. A set of wheels that is too easy deludes us into thinking the same 20 or 30 or 50 miles traveled is real work, with real benefits.

I promise to make trips around the Boston area, including the huge humping hills around this part on the old Schwinn at least once a week. It can only be good for me physically and remind me, as manual typewriters do, of how easy we often make things for ourselves.

32 Volume Collector’s Item

March 14th, 2012

“Look it up,” may have been the most common reply to me growing up. When I was very young, my knowledgeable mother would provide answers to my ceaseless questions. In early elementary school though, she used that phrase…and that’s what I did.

She was not being selfish with her smarts nor unreasonable in that demand. She had multiple reference books, which she used often. Those included atlases half my height, a massive, 2-volume unabridged dictionary, three full sets of encyclopedia (American, Compton’s and Britannica, with update volumes), the annual almanac/book of facts (in hardcover because she and I really worked that one), and on and on.

Today I saw that Britannica is going the expedient way and announcing its final print edition. It sells through DVDs and online access in several versions. The library format is passé.

For many years, I have been amused by and come to expect incredulous queries from cosseted Ivy Leaguers who remark on my general and specific knowledge. I worked with one at Inc. Magazine a long time ago who showed that at its worst. Several times, he’d come out with the likes of, “Ball, you went to a shitty school. How come you know so much?”

The answer in many ways goes back to my mother’s look-it-up chant. The other parts include that I did look it up, that I had a better brain than my coworker, that I enjoyed school and thus paid attention in class, that I took good courses, and that I read for pleasure. Neither his Harvard nor Columbia degree made up for his insufficiencies in those many areas.

Now though there’s a different chant — “Google it.”

Sure enough, there is much more information, both fact and opinion available on the net. Is that the same? Likewise, willstudents go to the school or public library for detailed information?

Speaking to teens, 20-somethings and many older folk, I doubt it. Finding something to cut and paste, something that provides the sketch is better than being totally ignorant. Yet, so many people seem stunted by this kind of learning.

When I had either of two adult encyclopedia (having outgrown Compton’s) open, I read far beyond the catalytic topic. I’d find more just begging me to learn about it. Then, again, I’d browse the unabridged dictionary recreationally….

I’m a huge internet-for-reference user. We also have the types of tools I grew up with, including both Britannica hard cover and DVD versions and the OED.

My sons were not as eager to look it up as I was or am. I do admit that I’m a bit odd that way. They still have benefited mightily from the references we have. They’re even wont to get out our field guides to fungi or birds for identification issue. I’m pretty sure most non-paper researchers don’t bother.

That, after all was the point in my upbringing. If you are curious and you know the answer is in one of the numerous family bookcases, you may very well look it up.