Archive for October, 2013

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.

Squeeze Your Honker, Somerville

October 13th, 2013

OK, kiddies, the annual, multi-day Honk! fest in Somerville MA is pretty damned good. It’s not the Lowell Folk Festival, but it’s intense, different and just as fun. Plus, we can go by bike or subway from Boston.

We did the biggest, longest day, Saturday this year. Even with intermittent mist, we didn’t regret it. In fact, the dampness led us to two visits to Five Horses, where I’d been numerous times, but Cindy never. Our youngest works in the South End, Boston, version.

We can be as provincial as New Yorkers, but really, really Boston, this free fest is mandatory. Also is chipping in $5 or more into the donation buckets. Get real. Get grateful.

Some of What We Saw

Pix clix: Click a thumbnail for a larger view. If it opens in the same window, use your browser’s back button or command to return.

License note: All pix are Creative Commons-Attribution. Do what you want with them. Just give Mike Ball credit once.

Band links: The Honk! list routes to all the bands.

Minor Mishap(Austin) all flashed my favorite color.

mishapblow


balaansinger Drummer/vocalist from Brass Balagan (Burlington, VT).
Big heads from Bread & Puppet Circus Band (Glover VT) await skulls and shoulders. breadpuppet
allseeingtuba Tuba bulb from Gora Gora Orkestar (Boulder) sees all, shows all.
Gora Gora was rife with horns. goeralips
forwardblades I see your pathetic glockenspiel and the Forward! Marching Band (Madison) raises you saw blades.
Minor Mishap had lots of brass. minorhorns
goradance Introversion was not the order of the day and many, most women danced to any and every band.
Many kids saw adults at their freest and joined in. balagansway
dja DJA-Rara (Brooklyn) did amazing things with modified found objects.
The amazing drummer for Brass Balagan had everyone hopping, stomping and clapping.  balagansticks
 chesterbubbles  An extra was gigantic bubbles seemingly in time to the music.
Balagan’s flag lady worked harder than the musicians.  balaganflag
 2ndbone A bone player for the Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society (local)
The nomadic belly dancer did her thing with several bands and seemed to befuddle kids.  howtoenvy
 minordrum The longer Minor Mishap played, the more enthusiastic they got.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fall Sneaking at Tree Park

October 13th, 2013

Unreasonable expectations marked my journey to and through Boston’s Arnold Arboretum today.  I’ve been seeing the pictures of the fall-foliage color riots everywhere and figured that much of that joint would be screaming, “Autumn!”

Not so, there were a few smaller maples and a couple varieties of oaks in orange and red, but very few. Instead it was subtle again.

The trick before the garish displays is look down, not up. Every path has wee delights.

Pix clix: Click a thumbnail for a larger view. If it opens in the same window, use your browser’s back button or command to return.

License note: All pix are Creative Commons-Attribution. Do what you want with them. Just give Mike Ball credit once.

The purple beautyberries are petite drama queens. Head up Bussey Hill and look right next to the path to the Explorer’s Garden. purplebeautyberries
chinaberries The Chinaberries are in prolific clusters on Valley Road. There are deceptively similar berries on the red dogwood bushes in the Leventritt Gardens.
A one-off on Willow Path was a basketball-sized bees’ nest. It’s only a few feet off the trail. You can’t miss it because of several warning ACTIVE HIVE signs. The dwarf tree it’s in (long-thorned hawthorn) has it all decked out for the holidays. arnoldhive
euonymus Midway on the path up Bussey Hill on the opposite side from the beautyberries is a set of euonymus, with flower-like berry coverings.
In the Leventritt Gardens, the delicate looking winterberries are like holly’s sophisticated sibling. winterberries
milkweed Make sure to follow the Blackwell Footpath. It’s the former home of an urban wild and still has occasional foxes, hawks and turkeys. This is also the season to marvel at the down of milkweed.

 

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.