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November 2007

October 2007

Active Words, Hyperactive Reading and Hyperconnectivity: Buzz and Scoble at NRC Palo Alto

Buzz Bruggeman and Robert Scoble visited NRC Palo Alto yesterday and presented at our Thursday Lunch Forum. Buzz demonstrated ActiveWords, a Windows utility for customizable keyboard macros that can launch applications and/or insert text in an application. One of his examples was using a few keystrokes to launch Outlook and create an entire email message ... that looked exactly like the one he'd sent me when he proposed some things that he and Robert might talk about. On the one hand, I was very impressed with the potential productivity / efficiency gains offered by this tool ... on the other hand, I have to admit somehow feeling a little less "special" having been on the receiving end of such an easily constructed email.

Buzzatnrcpa In addition to specific demonstrations, Buzz raised some more general issues, e.g., articulating the question "why can't computers understand us?" as one of his motivations behind inventing ActiveWords, noting the challenges of being both CEO and inventor (a CEO's primary job description should be Cash Enhancement Officer, not inventor), and describing an "aha" moment with respect to the power of social media when a 4-star review of ActiveWords in USA Today (2M readers) resulted in 38 downloads, but a brief mention in a blog post by Scoble resulted in 4000 downloads.

Scobleatnrcpa Scoblesocialmediaspace Robert drew a diagram of the social media space on a whiteboard, introduced us to a number of social media services (well, several of them were new to me), and demonstrated his phenomenal pace of reading, processing, and posting material on some of these services - he has the highest number of feed subscriptions in Google Reader (900), from which he reads approximately 42,000 per month; by the time he'd arrived for our lunchtime forum at the lab, he reckoned he'd already read 1600 items that day.

He also demonstrated using his Nokia N95 - a device about which he has had both positive things and negative things to say - to record and post a short video of an impromptu interview of his host at Nokia on Kyte.tv (in which Nokia is an investor), which was then instantly propagated (syndicated?) to dozens of channel portals he has throughout the web.

[I was actually a bit flustered when he interviewed me, which is glaringly obvious to me when I watch it, but I've been increasingly aware of how full of my self I've been lately, and so am posting it here to practice more humility. [Update: my wife said my fluster was not obvious but confirmed that I have been rather full of myself lately, so I've removed the embedded link.]]

Toward the end of the visit, Buzz - to whom we had given an N95 at Pop!Tech - emphasized the market opportunity for mobile multimedia devices like the N95 to reach the fastest growing segment of computer users, with the largest amount of discretionary time and generational transfer of wealth: aging baby boomers. He ended with a petition, highlighting some of our usability challenges: make the N95 easier to use for people who want to videotape their grandchildren.

Speaking of Pop!Tech (which I've been doing alot lately), I first encountered Buzz - offline - at Pop!Tech, where he described himself as the "hall monitor" for our session on mobile empowerment. For the remainder of the conference, every time I saw Buzz, he introduced me to yet another interesting attendee or speaker. As someone who prides himself on being a connector, and who once even assigned himself the title "Connector-in-Chief" (when I founded the now defunct Interrelativity, Inc.), I felt very much outclassed by the hyperconnectivity that seems to come so naturally to Buzz. When Buzz sent me a note saying that he'd be in town this Thursday, and maybe he and Scoble could stop by to visit our lab, I eagerly accepted the invitation to make another connection.

The note also helped me remember where I'd first encountered Buzz online - Scoble and Shel Israel had referred to him as "The Connection King" in their book Naked Conversations (I'll note that I'm practicing what I preached in the title of my blog post about the book: Blog Early, Blog Often: Naked Conversations in the Morning). I can say, without reservation, that this is a well-deserved title.

[Update, 2007-Nov-5: I see that Robert has posted a somewhat more polished rendition of his social media starfish (created by Darren Barefoot) on his blog; including a copy below.]


Altered States, Alienated Majesty, the Vigor of Wild Virtue and the Magnetic Attraction of Awakened People

I awoke yesterday morning, still feeling in a somewhat altered state, ruminating on Andrew Zolli's observation of the magnetic attraction of awakened people that permeates Pop!Tech. When I logged in, I found an email notifying me of a comment posted on a blog entry I wrote years ago, on Self-Reliance vs. Interdependence: Inherence, Adherence and Coherence. The comment offered me an opportunity to re-read, reflect on and reaffirm some of the particularly appealing concepts and terms I'd gleaned from Ralph Waldo Emerson's inspirational book:

  • alienated majesty (hearing others speak truths we ourselves had earlier discovered, but rejected),
  • the vigor of wild virtue (uncivilized, spontaneous, instinctual aboriginal strength)
  • the corpse of memory (our concern with being consistent, lest we violate expectations and disappoint others)

All of these resonate all the more strongly with me during this post-Pop!Tech period. Many of the conversations at Pop!Tech helped me better recognize the alienated majesty within me (a developing self struggling with self-development), as well as the alienated majesty of the invisible and voiceless people who are struggling in many developing regions of the world. The wild virtue exposed and expressed through many of the presentations and performances (Vanessa German comes foremost to mind) was, well, invigorating. And as for the corpse of memory, well, I find myself increasingly fearful that Pop!Tech has permanently altered my state, that I won't be able to snap back to "normal", and that if I proceed much further along the path that seems to be silently - or, perhaps, not so silently - drawing me, I may well violate expectations and disappoint others.

There's a part of me that wants to go back to sleep ... reminding me of a Rumi poem:

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don't go back to sleep.

You must ask for what you really want.
Don't go back to sleep.

People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.

The door is round and open.
Don't go back to sleep.

I was also reminded of Oriah Mountain Dreamer's observations in her audiotape, Your Heart's Prayer - which I'd earlier projected onto the practice of unfolding through blogging - about people who come into contact with spiritually enlightened individuals, such as Mahatma Ghandi or Mother Teresa, likening the experience to what happens when two tuning forks coming into proximity of each other: the strong vibration of the spiritually enlightened person transmits energy to any other person that comes near.

I felt like I was walking in a sea of vibrating tuning forks at Pop!Tech - so maybe, in addition to my earlier observation of combined high IQ and high EQ among people at Pop!Tech (Pop!Techies?), I should add high SQ (spiritual intelligence) to the mix. It seemed like everyone was in a highly awakened state ... and I wonder whether that represents an alteration of normality for others, or whether it is their normal state ... or perhaps [only] their normal state at Pop!Tech ... or simply another example of my seeing what I want to see.

I'm not sure what "normal" is anymore - for me ... reminding me of earlier periods when I identified strongly with the character of Phaedrus in Robert Pirsig's book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance ... which I suppose is apt, given that I'm increasingly inquiring into values.


Pop!Tech 2007: An Expanded Vocabulary (and Perspective)

Poptechlogo_94px_3 OK, in my last entry on Pop!Tech, I wrote that I would only be posting one more “highlights” entry … but I just had to include one more … in part because I am afraid that however much I might condense my 47 pages of notes (in a Word document), no one will ever have the stamina to read my “detailed” posts – I’m not even sure I’ll have the stamina to compost* them [*compost = compose & post] – especially given the amazing wealth of information and insights offered in the stream of blog posts Ethan Zuckerman wrote during the conference itself (how does he do that?!)  … and also, in part, because I bought a spare battery for my MacBook – a device used by what I estimate to be 75% of the Pop!Tech population – before the trip, so I have some more laptop time on this flight, and I’m so pumped – activated, perhaps – after the conference, I just can’t bring myself to relax and watch the Harry Potter movie.

So, anyway, I’m going to expend a little more battery power and spend one more post with just a quick list of some of the new terms and concepts that jumped out at me throughout the event (modeled loosely on Amazon.com's Statistically Improbable Phrase feature). Note that these are not intended as a summary of the talks, just some semi-random sparks of surprise intermingled with some terms and concepts that stick out for me.

[Update: in case I never get around to fully composting my own notes, I've decided to add a few more notes to some of the items below - making for quite the rambling rumination - and simply link to Ethan Zuckerman's posts about each of the presenters.]

  • Consumerism at scale (Chris Jordan, artist)
  • Cities as consensual hallucinations (Christian Nold, University College London)
  • The powerful motivating force of a full body experience in seeing an inspiring presentation (which she, perhaps unwittingly, was passing on to me, and perhaps others); "Who am I? A middle-class white girl from Pittsburgh. What can I do?" (Jessica Flannery, co-founder of Kiva.org)
  • Affordability is not an economic problem, it’s an engineering and design problem; three key features of the design revolution: affordability, divisibility, expandability; with business as usual, the UN Millennium Goals on hunger and poverty will never be reached, e.g., progress on reducing the number of people in sub-Saharan Africa living on less than $1/day over ten years: 44.6% → 44%
    (Paul Polak, International Development Enterprises & D-rev)
  • Making manufacturing like agriculture (Adrian Bowyer, RepRap)
  • When relationships are ambiguous, divergent understanding can be costly; hence indirect speech acts, e.g., “If you could pass the guacamole, that would be awesome”; any maitre 'd can be bribed (Steven Pinker, author of The Stuff of Thought)
  • The double tsunami of estrogen & progesterone each month creates 25% fluctuations in brain symapses in teen girl brains; depression is twice as likely in girls as boys after after onset of puberty; the brain area associated with sexual pursuit is 2 - 2.5 times larger in human males then females, even at 8 weeks in the womb (Louann Brizendine, author of The Female Brain)
  • Right brain aspects are a more fundamental part of what makes us human; democratization of self-realization; three key aspects of modern economies are abundance, Asia and automation; a good speech always has 3 key elements: brevity, levity and repetition; a picture is worth a thousand words, but a metaphor is worth a thousand pictures (Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind)
  • Any life form – human or robotic – must feel and convey emotions, become aware of itself and its environment, and learn and develop over time (Caleb Chung, creator of Pleo)
  • Harvesting power from ambient radio frequency signals (John Shearer, “creative instigator” behind Powercast)
  • What can we do right now with what we already have? create a portable light source that is simple, reliable, durable, lightweight, adaptable, self-sufficient, self-contained and shippable; Challenge: can a project like portable light allow us to look at the cellphone in an entirely new way (Sheila Kennedy, Portable Light)
  • Four features of a potential threat required for our brain to detect them: Personal, Abrupt, Immoral & Now (PAIN); global warming is a threat because it fails to raise the brain’s alarms (Dan Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness)
  • I’m on speaking terms with my inner tortoise; speed yoga, drive-thru funeral; 1-minute bedtime stories (Carl Honore, author of In Praise of Slowness)
  • Contextual storytelling platforms; most audacious (& participatory) experiment at Pop!Tech: show photos and captions, evoke stories from audience (Jonathan Harris, artist & designer)
  • A young girl in South Africa is more likely to be raped than she is likely to learn to read; “There is no evidence HIV is the cause of AIDS” President Thabo Mbeki (2000); literacy & training guidelines don’t connect to reality; prevention messages have no cultural relevance; well-intentioned donors often provide solutions no one wants; 40% of HIV+ patients stop taking antiretroviral (ARV) drugs within 2 years (Zinhle Thabethe & Krista Dong, iTEACH Program) [side note: I find it ironic that Zinhle's talk at last year's Pop!Tech was entitled "We are not the same", given that the dissimilarities in perspectives and approaches expressed in Zinhle and Krista's presentation and those expressed in the following presentation in the session, by Jeff and Paul, were striking]
    [Wow! Katrin Verclas has posted a video interview - taken with a Nokia N95 - on Mobileactive.org, wherein Zinhle and Krista describe the challenges they face ... and how mobile phones might offer innovative and effective solutions. I'll include a syndicated copy at the bottom. Thanks, Katrin!]
  • How can we understand why people are behaving in ways that will lead to their death? Information-Motivation-Behavioral Skills Model of Health Behavior; [side note: Louann Brezidine asked a question about why power was not a part of the equation]; using interactive technology to promote HIV treatment adherence (Jeff Fisher & Paul Shuber, University of Connecticut Center for Health, Intervention and Prevention)
  • There are 120,000 kinds of rice, but only 400 breeds of dog; climate change and food security:
    2-3 C degree increase is predicted for 2070-2100 vs. 1900-2000 (Cary Fowler, Global Crop Diversity Trust)
  • One out of 5 Africans is Nigerian; Nigerian satellites will provide tele-everything, e.g., tele-medicine, tele-education, etc. (Robert Boroffice, Nigerian Space Agency)
  • 45% of global oil has already been consumed; 90% of oil is consumed for transportation; how long can mobility = freedom? China’s one-child policy will leave 40M men with no potential wives by 2050 (Chris Luebkeman, Drivers Of Change)
  • Oceans comprise 99% of the earth, from a 3D perspective; "we've declared war on the fish, and we've won"; sharks have declined 95% in 10 years in Northeast Atlantic and will become extinct in our lifetime; bottom trawling removes 98% of the coral on the ocean floor; "Fatality is the sum of our dismissals" (Claire Nouvian, BLOOM Association)
  • The sea has an inverted food pyramid compared to land animals (Eric Sala, UCSD)
  • There are no more groundfish – or ground fishermen – between Camden and Canada (Ted Ames, Local Fisheries Knowledge project)
  • The skin is a human sensory homunculus; nurturing (touch and warmth) is more important than nourishment (milk) to baby monkeys; humans are self-decorating apes who have been highlighting features, especially those that are sexually attractive, for over 5000 years; stripped of our skin, we really are all alike (Nina Jablonski, author of Skin: A Natural History)
  • Anyone can fly - it all depends on how you define the temporality; being lost is really where it’s at; anthropology of the stunt; de-familiarization; trying to bring the turbulence of the world inside (Elizabeth Streb, Extreme Action Activist)
  • Living a skater ethos with a representational disability, representation of projected narrative, disability-based utilitarianism, counter-transference, peripheral fluctuation, inverse peripheral fluctuation; underlying sociology of public space (Bill Shannon, extreme laid-back skater, choreographer and dancer)
  • Founded first not-for-profit pharmaceutical company in the US; developing drugs for invisible, voiceless people; created a drug to treat Kala-azur, which kills 1M invisible, voiceless people a year, that costs $10 vs. $300; a proof of concept that we can use the world’s most advanced technologies to benefit humanity; how you work is just as important as what you do; the how will determine the magnitude of your impact; we can only break silos by putting yourself in places you’re so uncomfortable you can barely stand it; If you know more can be done, how can you not do it? You have to begin with very human actions, if you want to end with a very human impact (Victoria Hale, Institute for OneWorld Health)
  • Synthetic biology, open-source biology, radical affordability, radical social change; 1-3M people die every year of Malaria; 90% are children; 300-500M are currently infected; malaria reduces GDP of afflicted countries by up 50% (Jay Keasling, Keasling Laboratory / Amyris Biotechnologies)
  • If you want to find and follow your passions, you have to take some risks at some point (John Legend, musician, Show Me Campaign)
  • Islam hasn’t changed; what has changed is that it has become visible in the west (John Esposito, Georgetown University) [side note: Ethan posted a single entry about the moderator and the following three speakers in this session]
  • In the Arab world, you can say anything you want about the Arab world, just not about your own country; Google Earth is banned in Bahrain, after it showed that 60-70% of the land in Bahrain is controlled by the King; it is also banned in Tunisia, after it revealed the locations of secret prisons  (Daoud Kuttab, Arab Media Internet Network)
  • I’ve spent half my life as a non-Muslim, half my life as a Muslim: I’m part of the “we” for both halves; things done in the name of democracy – not in my name; things done in the name of Islam – not in my name (Sarah Joseph, Emel magazine)
  • On July 11, 1995, 80,000 Muslims were killed in one day; we understand better than anyone in the world what it means to be under attack by terrorists; you have a surplus in technology products, we have a surplus in spiritual products, so we should do an exchange; biggest problem is Max Weber’s concept of charisma - "a certain quality of an individual personality, by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities"; let us fight for the Holy Peace, not the Holy War (Mustafa Ceric, Grand Mufti of Bosnia)
  • The key to confronting terrorism is to prevent failed states, by increasing health care, reducing poverty and instituting the rule of law (Charles Swift, former USN Lt. Cmdr who sued his commander-in-chief and won the acquittal of Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's driver)
  • Women are bellwethers for the health of society; war has two sides, the front line, dominated by men, guns, tanks, etc., and the backline, the purview of women trying to keep life going in the midst of war; the Iraq war is like waking someone up after a coma after 35 years, and asking them what kind of democracy do you want to have (vs. what do you want to eat)? in 1994, 500,000 women were raped in 100 days in Rwanda, which now has a legislature with 49% women (Zainab Salbi, Women for Women International)
  • Green jobs, not jails; green-collared jobs; fight poverty and pollution at the same time; Is this new green wave going to lift all boats, or are we going to have eco-apartheid? Is there a way to connect the work that most needs doing with the people who most need work? (Van Jones, Green For All)
  • What sets Americans apart from the rest of the world is their frequent use of “sorry” and “thank you” (Mustafa Ceric, over lunch)
  • Thank you. I’m sorry for what we’re doing in Iraq (what I wish I’d said, over lunch)

Throughout the conference, I was repeatedly reminded of two books I’ve read – and blogged about – Blessed Unrest and Stumbling on Happiness. Many aspects of Paul Hawken’s insights into the problems of environmental, social, economic and political justice – and the mostly small, local solutions to them – were broadened and/or deepened by several of the speakers. Many of the insights offered by Dan Gilbert - who was at the conference - into how and why we remember the past and project it into the future help illuminate the challenges we face – individually and collectively – in achieving positive human impact. Both of these books, along with The End of Poverty, by Jeffrey Sachs, would provide very helpful background material for anyone wanting to better understand issues raised throughout the conference.

[Addendum]

I'm going to [re-]close this post with a Rumi poem shared by Zainab Salbi:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase "each other" doesn't make any sense.

One more thing: here's the syndicated copy of Katrin Verclas' video interview of Zinhle Thabethe and Krista Dong (from blip.tv) I mentioned above:


Pop!Tech 2007: Continuous Partial Conversations: No Ordinary Moments … Or People

Poptechlogo_94px_2 In my last post on Pop!Tech, I expressed the personal human impact the conference had on me – an extended and expansive whole body experience. Before delving into my more detailed notes of the event, I want to spend one more blog post – and more of my laptop battery power – on some [more] of the highlights.

I’d noted the high EQ (and IQ) of all the speakers and other participants at the conference. I think this was largely responsible for the fact that I did not have any ordinary conversations throughout the entire event … and I had lots of conversations. Whether sitting down for a meal, getting a drink, or even waiting in line for a bathroom, every conversation went deep almost immediately. I overheard occasional references to topics I typically consider rather superficial – e.g., sports (we were, of course, in Maine, which is Red Sox country, at a time the team is in the championships) and the weather (it did rain pretty hard for a period of time) – but nearly every conversation turned to matters of [more] significant import and impact at or near their very outset.

Andrew Zolli referred to Pop!Tech as a conversation, and the event was structured to allow some time for questions and comments from the audience after nearly every group of presentations. Several of the Q&A sessions had a very conversational feel to them … but all of them were, of course, constrained by time, and thus often seemed like partial conversations. When I combine these partial conversations with the partial conversations I had with people (offstage) at different times and places, what emerges for me is a notion of continuous partial conversation … perhaps akin to the continuous partial attention I heard – and wrote about – at Foo Camp.

I was reminded, repeatedly, of the notion of “no ordinary moments” articulated by Dan Millman in his book The Way of the Peaceful Warrior. There were, indeed, no ordinary moments, just as there were no ordinary conversations … and no ordinary conversation participants (otherwise known as people). In reflecting on this, I recognize that there really are no ordinary people – at Pop!Tech or elsewhere – however ordinary some people may seem at some times and places. In most times and places, I’m not willing to take the time to see past the superficial ordinariness I project onto most people. There was something special about the culture cultivated at Pop!Tech (I now see why Andrew refers to himself as the Pop!Tech curator rather than chairperson or organizer) that helped me – and perhaps others – take more time to appreciate the other people at the event. The people at Pop!Tech were, of course, special – and in many cases, especially those on stage, it was easier for me (and, I imagine, others) – to see that specialness, but I do believe everyone is special.

Ironically, or perhaps synchronistically, I was a bit slow to respond to Pop!Tech’s initial request for a bio to use on their speakers page (and my hastily taken and sent digital photo is not one of the better shots of me), so they composed one for me that I’d like to think is mostly on-target … and includes the following sentence:

Joe McCarthy thinks we all could take advantage of more opportunities to share valuable insights and experiences with each other.

Ahem … so once again, I find myself preaching what I want to practice. I just hope I can carry this perspective back with me … and apply it more often … and in more places … to extend the deep, continuous partial conversations … and a deeper appreciation for the people I encounter … in every moment.

Namaste.

[And, unlike several of the speakers, who emphasized their pragmatism and downplayed or denied their idealism, I herewith acknowledge that I am a card-carrying idealist … in case that’s not obvious.]


Pop!Tech 2007: A Whole Body Experience

Poptechlogo_94px Wow. I don’t know where to begin … or where it will end. I’m writing this on a flight back from the most amazing conference I’ve ever experienced (and I’ve experienced lots of conferences). I estimate the average combined IQ and EQ level among the people at Pop!Tech 2007 as perhaps the highest I’ve ever encountered at any event I’ve ever attended. The only conferences that come close are my recent experiences at Foo Camp and at ETech 2007.

Andrew Zolli, the curator of Pop!Tech, talked about the “intellectual crack cocaine of thought leadership” that permeates the event, and I certainly felt that. However, when Jessica Flannery described having a “full body experience” during a talk she attended by Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank and co-recipient (with the Bank) of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize – which catalyzed her resolve to make a difference, and led to her co-creation of the Internet micro-lending web site kiva.org – I felt that she had articulated a more apt characterization of [my experience of] Pop!Tech (though I prefer to substitute “whole” for “full” in my description).

I’d mentioned “goosebump moments” in my earlier post on Blessed Unrest. I experienced higher GMPH (Goosebump Moments Per Hour) than at any other conference I’ve attended. I was thoroughly intellectually stimulated throughout the 3 ½ days, but the key differentiator for me was wave after wave of emotional stimulation, as speaker after speaker shared their stories of overcoming personal, professional and societal obstacles to achieve significant positive human impact. In some cases the impact is primarily a raising of awareness about important issues facing humanity, in others, the impact was actions taken on the ground to design, develop and deliver solutions to very human problems.

Some of these awareness-raising and solution-delivery examples involved some kind of technology (the “tech” in Pop!Tech), but I came away with a new answer to one of the questions posed to all attendees at the conference as part of "The Nokia Interview" I mentioned in my earlier post on our pre-conference Pop!Tech session on empowerment.

Q: “What is the most powerful but underappreciated tool for changing the future?”

Now, given that I work for Nokia, and gave a presentation at our pre-conference session entitled “Empowering People through Mobile Technologies in Developing Regions”, which highlighted some of the ways that Nokia is facilitating the empowerment mentioned in the title, I had been reading, thinking, writing and talking a lot about how mobile phones – and their supporting infrastructure(s) – are tools for changing the future. However, I think that they are a tool that is fairly well appreciated, at least among the people attending Pop!Tech (… er, and hopefully a little more appreciated by some, after my presentation ☺). However, by the end of conference, having been exposed to so many examples of the importance of people being willing to attend to the very human problems in person, I believe the most underappreciated tool for changing the future is physical presence.

A: “Our physical presence, attention and actions – our whole selves”

I believe technologies – and especially mobile technologies – can serve to empower people in significant ways, but they can only be of service if they are connecting the people who are on the ground confronting the problems to the resources (digital and/or physical) that can help them in their endeavors. Sure, we can use electronic mail, electronic voting, electronic petitions, SMS, smart mobs and other forms of digital activism, and these can have some positive effect, but to really achieve significant human impact, we need more physical activism – people showing up, getting involved, dealing with the messiness otherwise known as the human condition in its diverse manifestations throughout the physical world.

So, having had a spiritual, intellectual and emotional awakening as a result this and other steps (e.g., the Africa sessions at Foo Camp and the Communities & Technologies 2007 conference), what am I going to do about it? I am not able – or, at least, not willing – to answer that (yet). The courage of the people sharing their stories – many of who had [similar?] fears, uncertainties and doubts about what they should, could, or would do – helps stoke my courage, helps me recognize my fears, uncertainties and doubts, and helps me think (and write) more clearly – or, at least, more elaborately – about what I can or will do.

For the short term, I made a number of contacts with people who are on the ground, up close and personally involved in delivering solutions in developing regions. I will be seeking to extend the kind of facilitation of empowerment I talked about in my session to some of these people and their projects. I will also seek a way to visit one or more of these places, so I can at least better appreciate the problems and opportunities for solutions. Oh, and I’ll also post some of my notes from the conference – probably strung out over a few separate entries, and over a period of time.

Over the longer term, well, I just don’t know yet … or at least I’m not willing to recognize or acknowledge it yet.


Universal, Empowerment, Partnership (Pop!Tech 2007 pre-conference session)

Poptechlogo_94px Michele Bowman, the host for our Pop!Tech pre-conference Wednesday afternoon session on "The Future of Mobility", started off the session by inviting each of the 40 attendees - and the three panelists -  to introduce themselves by stating their names followed by up to three words (a "three word introduction" of sorts). It was a nice balance of inviting a small amount of initial participation from a large number of people right at the outset, and the words people chose were illuminating (and often rather humorous: I remember "jetlagged" as being among the most frequently used terms). Anyhow, my three words were "universal, empowerment, partnership" ... primarily because they seemed to be the themes that were most prevalent in [my conception of] the short talk I was giving there on "Empowering People through Mobile Technologies in Developing Regions".

Katrin Verclas, of MobileActive.org, was the first speaker, and she provided a broad overview of the ways that mobile technologies are being used by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to empower people in developing regions to achieve greater political, social, economic and/or environmental justice - a sort of mobile window into some of the types of activities that Paul Hawken champions in his book Blessed Unrest (and catalogs at WiserEarth.org). Nathan Eagle, a Research Scientist from MIT who has visiting appointments at a number of African universities, talked about his Entrepreneurial Programming and Research On Mobiles (EPROM) initiative, in which he is teaching computer science students in Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia how to program mobile phones - the only computing platform many of them (and their friends and families) are likely to have access to, emphasizing the indigenous entrepreneurial (vs. non-profit) prospects for mobile technologies for empowering people in developing regions.

I attempted to bridge the gap between the NGO and entrepreneurial / academic approaches represented by Katrin and Nathan, presenting a whirlwind overview of some of the ways that Nokia has been facilitating empowerment - through partnerships and provisioning of assistance in the form of Nokia devices (e.g., phones and networking equipment) and the involvement Nokia people with ethnography, design, engineering and other sociotechnical skills - in developing regions around the world. A recurring theme in all of our work is partnership - with NGOs, governmental organizations, multinational companies, local entrepreneurs, and, of course, professors (such as Nathan) and students from a variety of academic institutions.

[Katrin, Nathan and I have posted our slides on Slideshare (tag: poptech2007), and I hope Nathan will upload his there once he's done with his current round of travels. Katrin has also posted an entry on the session at MobileActive.org. I'll embed mine below.]

As I'd noted in my blog post on Blessed Unrest, I was excited about the opportunity to present - especially at a venue like Pop!Tech, and along with speakers like Katrin and Nathan who have done so much in this area - and yet I was feeling a bit self-conscious that I haven't [yet] done much more than talk and/or write about the challenges faced by people in developing regions, and the other people who are rising to help meet those challenges (fortunately, including a number of other people at Nokia, for whom I was simply serving as a spokesperson). I'm hoping that by continuing to follow this relatively new personal opening to opportunities for empowering people in developing regions (catalyzed by a number of sessions on Africa at Foo Camp this summer), I'll eventually be in a position to do more than talk and write about these opportunities.

Yesterday, the first full day of Pop!Tech, was filled with inspiring speakers and stories of people who are empowering people in the developing world (about which I'll post more in a separate entry). It was so inspiring, in fact, that I decided to cancel my plans to leave early and attend another conference, which is more relevant to my current focus of research (similar to the gravity pull toward a session on Africa I felt at the Communities and Technologies 2007 conference). Today promises more inspiring talks as well ... it may take me a while to properly (or even improperly) digest them, but I'll post more in the near future.

[Full disclosure: Nokia (my employer) was a sponsor of the conference, providing financial support for the conference, giving away N95 mobile phones to conference speakers and attendees of this session, making another set of N95s available as “loaners”, offering a special channel on our recently released MOSH mobile content sharing web service for the conference, and encouraging people to use the N95s to conduct "The Nokia Interview" – videotaping another participant answering one of a set of suggested suggestions, or discussing any other topic of interest or relevance to the Pop!Tech community.]


Three month update on my elbow Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) treatment

On Monday, I had a followup visit with Dr. Mishra to evaluate and discuss progress and prospects for the restored health of my right elbow, three months after my treatment with Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP). One week after treatment, things had gotten worse (though, as Dr. Mishra had warned, this is often the case shortly after treatment). At the one-month mark, my elbow was feeling pretty much like it had just before the treatment. At this point, I'm happy to report that my elbow feels better than it did before the treatment, though still not as well as it felt before the initial injury.

Among the daily activities that I have resumed doing with reduced pain are

On Sunday, I was moving our four 20-pound Lafuma recliner chairs from the deck to the garage (one at a time), requiring a relatively significant amount of elbow strength and agility (given the rather cramped state of our garage). Although my elbow was sore afterward for a few days, I was surprised I was able to pick the chairs up at all - and, as with some of the activities I mentioned in my last update, I probably should not have pushed (or pulled) that hard.

During the visit on Monday, I was able to exert 120 pounds of grip strength with my right hand with a subjective pain level - at the limit - of about 4, and was able to resist Dr. Mishra's attempt to pull down my upturned hand with a pain level of 3. During my first visit, I was only able to exert 65 pounds before I hit the wall (of pain) at level 9, and my resistance was lower and pain higher for the upturned hand exercise.

I was feeling pretty awful at the one-week mark, and was [still] rather disheartened at the one-month mark (though the email and comments on that post helped cheer me considerably). I have to say that I'm feeling much better at this stage - physically and emotionally - about my present condition and my future prospects for continued healing. I think Dr. Mishra is also encouraged at the progress in the last two months.

So, the current plan is to continue doing the stretching and theratube resistance exercises, hold off on resumption of more comprehensive strength training (for the right arm at least) and repetitive exercises (e.g., elliptical trainer with moving arms) and very gradually [continue to] extend my activities to accommodate more loading of the elbow.

I'll be going back for another followup at the six-month mark (second week in January), by which point I should have achieved about as much progress as I can expect from the treatment. I'm a little more optimistic about full - or nearly full - recovery, but there is still a chance I'll ultimately need surgery.

I've been in communication with a number of people who are considering or undergoing PRP treatments for their ailments. I wish you all the very best progress in your consideration and/or healing processes, and will do my best to honestly share my experience, strength and hope through exchanges of comments on this blog or via email.

[Note: I prefer communicating via blog comments, as many of the emails also contain gems of wisdom - and inspiring experience, strength and hope - that I'd like to share more broadly, i.e., through this blog, but I understand that some (many?) people are not comfortable posting public comments on blogs - er, perhaps particularly on this blog, given my recent tirades on spampliments - and so anyone who prefers email can also use the "Email me" link below my "thinking spot" photo at the top left.]

[Additional note (2007-10-11): NPR ran a story on Morning Edition today on how and why Patients Turn to the Internet for Health Information, based primarily on the recent Pew Internet study on E-patients With a Disability or Chronic Disease and a University of Wisconsin 17-year study called Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support System (CHESS) ... one of the programs in the similarly acronymed Center for Health Enhancement Systems Studies.

Here's an abstract from the Pew study:

About a fifth of American adults say that a disability, handicap, or chronic disease keeps them from participating fully in work, school, housework, or other activities. Half of those living with a disability or chronic disease go online, compared to 74% of those who report no chronic conditions. Fully 86% of internet users living with disability or chronic illness have looked online for information about at least one of 17 health topics, compared with 79% of internet users with no chronic conditions.

Those with chronic conditions are more likely than other e-patients to report that their online searches affected treatment decisions, their interactions with their doctors, their ability to cope with their condition, and their dieting and fitness regimen.

My decision to seek PRP treatment for my elbow was due to chronic tendonitis / tendinosis. I didn't do all that much research on the Internet (compared to other things I research), but since Dr. Mishra offers an alternative treatment (to surgery), is located very close to where I work, and is a blogger himself (!), I decided to visit him. I did get second (and third) opinions, from the doctor I'd seen for earlier episodes of elbow "flare ups", and from one of my cousins, who is an orthopod, and both agreed that non-surgical intervention was generally preferable over surgical intervention, and PRP seems to offer a reasonable cost/benefit ratio (based on how little we know yet on its long-term efficacy from larger-scale trials).

The people who have contacted me through email and comments on my blog posts have clearly done far more online research - and in many cases, suffered more and longer from chronic conditions - than I have ... and, of course, I'm not quite sure how much online research has been conducted by other readers of my PRP-related posts. In any case, I think we offer, collectively, a number of data points to corroborate the Pew findings.

I can't find the CHESS study referenced in the NPR story, but I did find another one that is interesting and somewhat relevant (and also related to my recent rant on fundamentalism in a post on Blessed Unrest), Effects of prayer and religious expression within computer support groups on women with breast cancer (press release), where they found:

As hypothesized, writing a higher percentage of religion words was associated with lower levels of negative emotions and higher levels of health self-efficacy and functional well-being, after controlling for patients' levels of religious beliefs. Given the proposed mechanisms for how these benefits occurred and a review of the support group transcripts, it appeared that several different religious coping methods were used such as putting trust in God about the course of their illness, believing in an afterlife and therefore being less afraid of death, finding blessings in their lives and appraising their cancer experience in a more constructive religious light.

I do not know the religious beliefs of the scientists who conducted the study (or other studies purporting to find a link between prayer and health), but as scientists, we have to be extra careful to not fall into the very human trap of seeing what we want to see (particularly when trying to study others' behavior that I believe amounts to seeing what they want to see). The New York Times ran an article on "Long-Awaited Medical Study Questions the Power of Prayer" last March reporting an American Heart Journal study - "Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) in cardiac bypass patients: A multicenter randomized trial of uncertainty and certainty of receiving intercessory prayer" - that reports intercessionary prayer - praying for someone else's health (without their knowing about it) - has no measurable impact on the recipient of that prayer. What's interesting in the CHESS study (to me) is that it looks at the impact of prayer on the sender vs. receiver (or subject vs. object) of prayer - the person who is praying ... and although I don't know of any scientific justification for this, I do believe in  the power of positive thinking (and speaking (and writing)) ... which is why I so often find myself preaching what I want to practice, if not praying about it.]

[Yet another update (2007-10-12): Another study verifies the power of positive thinking:

Research is showing the power of expectations, that they have physical -- not just psychological -- effects on your health. Scientists can measure the resulting changes in the brain, from the release of natural painkilling chemicals to alterations in how neurons fire.

Among the most provocative findings: New research suggests that once Alzheimer's disease robs someone of the ability to expect that a proven painkiller will help them, it doesn't work nearly as well.

It's a new spin on the so-called placebo effect -- and it begs the question of how to harness this power and thus enhance treatment benefits for patients.

"Your expectations can have profound impacts on your brain and your health,'' says Columbia University neuroscientist Tor Wager.

The report referenced above contains yet another link to a study reporting that optimists live longer, but I think I've done [more than?] enough lateral drifting for one post.]


Celebrating the Future Within ... Everyone?

Jubilee_logo Amy and I attended the Jubilee Women's Center's 10th Annual Benefit Breakfast on Wednesday, which had the inspiring title "Celebrating the Future Within" ... and a correspondingly inspiring program that included several women recounting their challenges, and now the Jubilee Women's Center helped them rise to meet those challenges. Our good friend, Mary, is on the Board of Directors for the organization, which is why we were there.

Jubilee is a transitional housing facility that offers homeless single women from ages 21 thru 60 a safe place in which to live and renew themselves. Women pay $250 / month for rent - the rest of which is subsidized through donations (such as those that are made during the annual breakfast) - and are offered a variety of training classes to help them become more self-reliant, both personally and professionally ... as Meeghan Black, of KING 5 TV, the MC for the event noted: these training classes sound like something everyone could use.

Deacon Steve Wodzanowski from St. Joseph Parish led the invocation, which was - synchronistically (for me) - based largely on a poem, The Journey, from Mary Oliver, a portion of which I'd referenced in my last post (on Blessed Unrest (which was based largely on Paul Hawken's book of the same name)), though he recited the full version, which I'm going to include here:

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice -
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles. "Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do -
determined to save
the only life you could save.

This, in turn, reminded of some of my earlier ruminations on Ralph Waldo Emerson's writings, which brought into focus my conflicting views on self-reliance vs. interdependence, inherence, adherence and coherence - essentially, the self vs. society. There does seem to be a conflict, or at least tension, between teaching self-reliance (independence) and yet preparing women to re-enter society (which is, by definition, highly interdependent). One of Emerson's observations closely aligns with Mary Oliver's poem (and the overall theme of the event):

Trust thyself: every heart every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events.

Getting back to the event, it turns out that the average age of the women residents of Jubilee is 45. That fact, together with the unexpected events along their unanticipated path toward homelessness - for which I kept thinking "there, but for the grace of God the flying spaghetti monster, go I" (leaving aside, for the moment, the gender issue) - got me thinking about Dante, and his observation at the outset of The Divine Comedy:

In the middle of the road of my life I awoke in the dark wood where the true way was wholly lost.

Susan Fox, the Executive Director of the organization, noted the stigma often associated with women who are victims of domestic violence and/or homelessness, and stressed the importance of the positivism that pervades all aspects of Jubilee's programs. She encouraged us - and everyone - to look for (and celebrate?) the essential goodness within each of these women, a perspective I try to adhere to ... and, yet (as with so many things), often feel conflicted about.

I suspect that Susan would extend this suspension of negative judgment and appreciation of essential goodness to all women, not just those whose paths happen to lead to / through Jubilee. Returning to the gender thread I suspended earlier, this got me to thinking about whether we draw the line at women, or whether we ought to suspend negative judgments and appreciate the goodness in all people, men and women alike.

Pushing further along this edge, I wondered whether / how we can offer the same graciousness to the men who perpetrated violence on the women residents of Jubilee (not that I mean tot imply that all residents there are victims of domestic violence). Can we - ought we to - celebrate the future within every person (not just every woman)?

I find this to be an immensely challenging proposition. Philosophically, I cannot justify the drawing of lines of demarcation - this person is essentially good, that person is essentially evil. However, in practice, I do this all the time (I've noted several times before my personal challenges with seeing the essential goodness in George W. Bush, who, in my judgment, is one of the biggest perpetrators of violence - scaling back social programs, reducing protections for our environment, supporting capital punishment, war and [other forms of] torture - on the face of the planet). Who knows, maybe more obvious expressions of goodness lie in his future ...

As usual, I don't have any good answers ... just good questions ... or, at least, questions about goodness.