Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Digging for Digital Gold

A few hours ago, my grandson and I were sitting on the floor examining the contents of my Rube Goldberg box.  It's literally a collection of junk that I've collected over the years.  I figured he was at the age where he could have some fun with it.

As it turns out we BOTH did.  I came across an old 4.0 megapixel camera.  We threw some batteries in it and found that worked. Unfortunately, it had a strange USB connection for which I didn't have a cable.  I told him there was no way to get the pictures off.

I got up to answer a text that had just come in and while I was texting, he was exploring the camera.  The next thing I heard was, "What's this, Pop-pop?" I turned around to see him holding an SD card that I had overlooked.

I put it in my computer and found digital gold.  There were pictures still on it from 2005!  Some were of projects from students at Southern Regional Middle School and some were pictures from students at the MLK Elementary School in Atlantic City.

The pictures brought back a flood of memories of projects, which back then were ground breaking. The ones from Southern Regional were part of a cross curricular unit in which the entire school participated.  The theme that year was Egypt.  Teachers throughout the school designed and shared lesson plans around that theme.  The energy in school was electric and the unit culminated in the school stage being turned into an Egyptian museum complete with about two tons of sand.

These are a few of about two dozen pyramids made by students as part of one of the math lessons during the project.

The Atlantic City pictures were even more exciting and what's more amazing is that I was talking about this project with my grandson three days before he found them on the camera!

In 2005, I was mentoring 3rd grade teachers to help them integrate technology into the curriculum. During the summer of 2005, Andy Carvin had given us a three day workshop on film making. As part of that July workshop we created what we believe was one of, if not THE first elementary school video blogs, called Atlantic City Rough Cuts.

In September, I introduced them to a digital story telling software called Kartouche. By November  Janine Riggins and her third graders were using Andy's lessons and Kartouche to create products shown in the video below.


Digital gold!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Teaching with FLASH!

As a kid, growing up on the farm, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and The Flash, and other DC comic heroes were my companions. Along with my father and mother, they were role models who reinforced the values he instilled in us.

Comics and the life lessons within them were literally and figuratively in the classroom with me  throughout forty years of teaching and professional development until I retired in 2012, but In 2017, little has changed. I still enjoy comics in the form of movies and TV shows, and the lessons continue.

Today, during while watching the latest episode of Flash, in a single paragraph, the he put into words, something the every good teacher understands either intuitively, or as a result of great examples.  It's been something I've been trying to do through 25 years in the classroom and 15 years of professional development.  If said it in many different ways, but today, the Flash summed it up in a single, elegant paragraph that cuts to the heart of teaching and learning.

Flash and his protege, Kid Flash, were trying to work through problems in Kid Flash's training. Kid Flash had recently failed at an attempt to save someone, and lamented, "You're telling me everything that I need to learn. I'm just not getting it! I..."
Flash interrupted with, "No, that's not it.  I've been letting you coast by on your own raw talent, which you have a lot of, but teaching is a lot more than just doing something and expecting you to follow.  It's about inspiring you and empowering you to use your gifts to succeed on your own.  That's what I need to do.  That's what I'm going to do from now on, so that next time you are out there on your own, you will win."

What more needs to be said?

Saturday, February 4, 2017

A Beloved Cat and Lawn Ornamentation

Much has been said about the movement to standardize ornamentation here at Sherwood Glen. As a member of the committee charged with examining the rules for ambiguity, I've given it a great deal of thought lately.

Enforcing clear rules should not be a problem.  I think the board was well meaning in their intent to scale back some infractions of the rules, but I see a number of reasons their effort has seen such a back lash.  They include the sudden cultural change demanded by the Board's action, the scope of the issues being address, the decision making process, and the method in which it was implemented.

I would like to address just the last item in this blog.  It reminds me of a joke about two brothers, Joe and Bill.  Joe had the opportunity to go on a trip to France, but he didn't want to leave his beloved cat in a kennel. He had raised him from a kitten. The two were inseparable and truth be told, the cat was as much of his family as his brother.

Bill offered to watch the cat.  While Joe was grateful, but knew Bill had never taken care of a cat.  He gave Bill a stack of papers that detailed everything in the cat's life. It was everything Joe needed to take care of Whiskers.  He left food, his favorite toys, blankets, and the phone number of the vet, just in case he needed advice or Whiskers got sick.

He headed to the airport, but the cat was on his mind.  He boarded the plane and worries filled his head. He loved that cat!  During the entire flight to France, he found himself consumed by thoughts of the cat, and the moment he landed he called Bill and said, "How's Whiskers?"

Bill replied, "The cat is dead."

First there was stunned silence and disbelief.  Then Joe dropped to his kneed and began to wail uncontrollably.  Finally, he began to scream and curse at his brother.  How could you do this? How could you let it happen?  Joe continued for many minutes, before he was calm enough to talk to Bill rationally.

Eventually they talked as brothers and Bill said he was really sorry about the cat and asked how he could have handled the call better.

"You could have broken it to me gently.  When I called the first time, you could have said the cat got out and she's on the roof.  The next time I called you could have said, you're going to have to call someone to help get her down.  The next time I called, you could have said the fire department was one the way, and eventually you could have given me the news.  In short, you could have broken it to me gently!"

Bill realized he was wrong and again apologized for his insensitivity. The apology was accepted and they talked about the trip and Joe's plans for the coming week. As Joe was getting ready to hang up, he asked, "Oh by the way, how's Mom doing."

Joe replied, "She's on the roof."

The letter many of us found on our door, citing perceived violations, came out of the blue. It had the same impact as, "The cat is dead." It could have been done differently.

The board might want to check Whisker's history or called the vet for advice.  The minutes from the meetings of May 7, May 20, and June 5, 2014 detail the process an earlier board took when there were complaints about clearing of land and ornamentation around the pond. The issue was handled in a series of three meetings which included consultation with the Rockingham County Conservation District, a presentation, and public discussion.

The result was a set of guideline for the handling of the area around the pond.  They were developed and enforced through community consensus. A good start for the current Board's efforts would have been to revisit those guidelines, formalize them into the rules (something that probably should have been done in 2014), and to begin the process of getting the cat down off the roof, by addressing a this issue, and returning that area to the July 2014 state.

The old adage of slow and steady wins the race, also comes to mind.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Squeezing Two Quarts of Jelly Into a One Quart Jar

A little more than a week ago, Kevin Woods and I filmed a 40 minute video tour of the Raymond Police Department.  The tour highlights the overcrowded, unsafe conditions that exist and make it difficult for the men and women of the RPD to do their jobs safely and efficiently.

After editing the video for RCTV, as a citizen of Raymond, I see this as not only an inconvenience, but as a real threat to public safety.  I feel it is important for me to take positive steps to help remedy the situation. To that end I am planning a series of shorter videos to highlight some of the issues.

This first video puts the focus on clutter. After viewing this video, it should become apparent that this clutter goes beyond inconvenience and presents a real problem.

The next video will focus on a single deficiency that I feel presents even more of an unacceptable risk to public safety.  The third film will take a look at all the safety issues and deficiencies which face officers and are of concern to the general public. The final video will spotlight the building and bond issue to remedy the situation.

The video below in on my newly created YouTube Raymond Historical Society channel. It currently houses more than two dozen events such as the town fair, dinners, memorial services, parades, and many other community events that took place in Raymond over the past three years.

If you subscribe to the channel, you will receive notification anytime a new video is posted. You can subscribe by visiting the channel here and clicking the SUBSCRIBE button.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Electoral College - Abolish, Keep, or Reform?

Recently, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the Electoral College.  I hear some people saying abolish it.  I hear some say keep it the way the founding fathers intended.  The problem is that neither of these opinions show an understanding of the intent or the history.

The Continental Congress was concerned that the states with the largest population centers would dominate the selection process and the uninformed voters would make unwise choices.  The system they set up was not the electoral college and was entirely different from what exists today. It has been changed a number of times in the past and it is in need of changing again.

In the original system, there were no parties and no primaries to select nominees.  The population had no say in the matter. A select few educated men from each state recommended candidates for PresidentThe candidate selection was based on a count of the nominations by a combined meeting of the House and the Senate.  If one candidate was the overwhelming choice, he would become President. If there was no clear choice the deciding vote was made by the House of Representatives who would select from the five top nominees.
I doubt most people would be happy with that.
If we were to abolish the Electoral College, the 21 population centers around the country which comprise 50% of the nation’s population would have a disproportionate say in who is elected. Rural voters would be disenfranchised. 

The problem with today’s system is this. If a state like California is decided by a single vote, the winning candidate gets 55 electoral votes. That means 50% of the voters will be unhappy and feel their votes counted for nothing and heaven help anyone who says they didn't vote.  Friendships could be lost or worse.

If we abolished the system and just go with an overall popular vote. It would just be a different 50% who are upset.  Any way you look at those solutions, there will be many people who feel their vote was wasted. That has negative impact on voter turn out

There has to be a way to create a system that takes into account the popular vote and allows every voter to feel their vote is important. It must take into account the concept of majority rules, while at the same time accounting for population density.

Consider this. The winner take all system is flawed, because it can disenfranchise up to 50% of the voters in each state. Mind you, I haven’t thought this through carefully or run simulations, but I feel it is a good starting point. If it is actually workable, without question, it will need tweaking. 

  1. Get rid of electors. We are in a technological age. Award electoral votes according to the suggestions below.  The decision should be made on the bases of the votes cast.
  2. Evaluate the current allocation of electoral votes based on today’s population and make adjustments if necessary.
  3. Get rid of winner take all and allow for one of the electoral votes to be split in half based on rounding up (no other fraction).  Using California as an example. If the popular vote is 50-50, each candidate would be awarded 27.5 electoral votes.
  4. Give each state one additional electoral vote. Call is a super vote or whatever. It will be cast for the candidate who wins the popular vote. Staying with California, if the state is decided by one vote, that vote would be given to the winning candidate. Thus the candidate winning by a single vote would get 27.5 votes and the losing candidate would get 26.5. (More about this below)
A system like this takes into account population centers, gives more weight to the popular vote, and provides incentive to get out to vote because in a close election, because a single vote does count!
In terms of feeling that each vote counts, let’s stay with California.  At this point in time 9,922,340 people voted in 2016. Let’s just say that the impossible happened and each candidate got 4,961,170 votes. Then each candidate would get 27 electoral votes, but a single vote would change that to 27.5 for one candidate and 26.5.

Of course a dead heat is nearly impossible.  However, winning by only 49,613 votes is definitely  much more possible.  In that case, the result is exactly the same.  One candidate gets 27.5 and the other 26.5 and the one vote could flip those numbers. That puts tremendous importance on every single vote.

So there it is. Just my two cents. What do you think?

Monday, October 3, 2016

Ghosts, Spirits, Paranoprmal and Beyond

A little over a year ago, I began directing, filming and editing a TV show for our local cable access channel, RCTV.  Paranormal investigator, Bob McDermott and NH medium, Debbie Raymond, came to us with an idea for an interview show they had named Paranormal and Beyond. The idea would be to interview people on topics dealing with the paranormal.

I don't wear and tin foil hat. I was a biology major in college and the scientific method is how I evaluate the world around me.  On the other hand, having been on this earth for 72 years and have seen and experienced my share of things that just can't be explained by science or as coincidence. So I agreed to do the series.  I'll be talking about some of them in future blog entries.

During the first year, Bob and Debbie interviewed an astrologer, a psychic, UFO investigators, a Bigfoot investigator, paranormal investigation teams, a frequency healer, and someone who studies ancient artifacts and rock structures, as well as an investigation of our local historical society building.

As I filmed and evaluated what I was seeing I was saw a variety of approaches that were somewhat scientific in nature, but not always rigorous in the true sense of the word. On the other hand, there was no doubting that everyone we interviewed was 100% sincere and I have nothing but respect for each one of them.  They believe in what they are doing and are more dedicated in their pursuits than many people I know in mainstream occupations.

I consider myself skeptically open-minded. There were things I saw and heard that I interpreted differently that those we were filming, but there were things that left me scratching my head.

If you are interested in finding out more, you can visit our YouTube channel, or follow Paranormal and Beyond on Facebook.

My next blog will be about some interesting things that happened last year during the investigation of our historical society building which is a railroad depot that has been around since the 1800's and this week's investigation of the Exeter Parks and Recreation building that was a schoolhouse during the 1800's.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Condominium Ornamentation and Rules Enforcement

To my fellow residents and the Board of Directors of Sherwood Glen:

By now I'm sure you've seen the notice recently posted on the bulletin boards, asking residents to inspect their property and determine if it is in compliance with the rules and regulations. The notice also has check boxes dealing with modifications that might have been made without proper forms or permission.

There was one item checked on my form, but I don’t want this to be just about me. For now I want to talk to you about lawn ornamentation in general.

Oh, hell no! Actually, I don’t want to talk to you about ornamentation. In fact, I can probably think of about 100 other problems facing society today, that we could discuss or a 100 things I would rather do than write this letter. The idea that I even have to write this saddens me. However, for whatever reason, lawn ornamentation is front and center right now here at Sherwood Glen.

So where do I start? Should I talk from my experience as a board member and past president? Should I start from the perspective of a long time (relative term) resident of Locksley Lane? Should I start from the perspective of someone totally outside the community? I guess it will be a mix, but for now, I think the logical place to start is with the rules. Please take a moment and read this section.

Outdoor Ornamentation:

1. Outdoor ornamentation within the grass areas is prohibited.
2. Ornamentation must blend with landscaping and the buildings, and may not contain spinners, propellers, or other moving parts.
3. The Board requires the removal of all ornamentation from all areas by November 15.
4. The Board reserves the right to review and request the removal of ornamentation it deems inappropriate.
Now that you have read the four sentences, let’s interpret the sentences one at a time. Some of the rules can be interpreted simply and others are subject to a high degree of subjectivity.
1) SIMPLE… NO ornamentation within the grass areas.
2) SUBJECTIVE… Defining what blends with landscaping could be argued all day.
SIMPLE… If the ornament is wind driven, it is not allowed.
3) SIMPLE… What goes out in the spring, must be removed by November 15.
4) SUBJECTIVE… The board can deem an ornament inappropriate.

I would strongly encourage the board to vigorously enforce items 1 and 3. That leaves us with items 2 and 4, which are not as clear cut.

With respect to items 2 and 4, parts are crystal clear, and I would encourage the board to vigorously enforce a prohibition on wind driven ornamentation. On the other hand, defining and acting on whether an ornament blends in, is an entirely different situation.

In order to deal with what is and what isn’t appropriate, let’s start with something that is not specifically stated, but is perfectly clear. You CAN have ornamentation in the berms.

Ask yourself, why would motivate anyone put anything in the berms? To me that answer is two-fold. I think people do it to increase the beauty of the area and to put a little bit of individuality on display. That is certainly our motivation.

Some people may say that some folks have gone overboard. That’s would be the case of items that are clearly prohibited by the rules. However, in terms of the subjective determination of what should or should not be on display. Who is to say how much is too much?

I’ve heard people talking about ornamentation as if driving through Sherwood Glen looked like this.

I think we could all agree that this lawn ornamentation would clearly be out of sync with the community landscaping and deemed inappropriate, but as I walk our development, I see no clutter, no pink flamingos, no wind driven washer women, no six-foot inflatable characters, and nothing that remotely resembles this.

Personally, I see no problem with ornamentation that exists here at Sherwood Glen. I understand that people have a different opinion and I respect that. All I will do is express my view and ask you to consider it as you form your own opinion. It is not for me to say that my ornamentation is right and yours is wrong. Nor is it your job to tell me mine is wrong.

As I walk the development, I see absolutely nothing in the berms that offends me or that I feel is inappropriate. Then again, people will have issue with my tolerance of personal expression. The things I see are placed there to enhance the area and as a personal expression of those within that unit. It’s one of the things that drew me to Sherwood Glen and that I have enjoyed since moving in.
I get that there are people who want total uniformity and rules enforced to the max, but I don’t think that is a commonly held value here in Sherwood Glen. I also know our state motto is NOT, Live free and conform!

I ask you to drive through this development as I did on May 22, 2015, and look at it through the eyes of someone who has never been here

What do you think will stick with them? Will it be the beauty of the landscaping or will it be inappropriate lawn ornamentation? I bet you a thousand dollars, if a hundred people drove through here and were asked to comment on what they saw, there would be precious few who point to lawn ornamentation as a problem.

I think it is pretty clear the board wants to reign in some of the ornamentation that is clearly prohibited, and act to prevent people from being run over by a stampede of plastic flamingos. On the other hand, I hope they aren’t trying to turn the community into the visuals for a Judy Collins music video of Boxes, Little Boxes.

A balance must be struck. In my humble opinion, if the rules CLEARLY prohibit something, the board should deal with it and address that issue according to the rules. There is a clear process in place. Use it.

We have always had and ENCOURAGED, tasteful ornamentation. Therein lies part of the problem. As they say, there’s to accounting for taste, and beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. When it comes to ornamentation that is not excessive and specifically prohibited NO ONE INDIVIDUAL OR SMALL GROUP OF INDIVIDUALS, should dictate who I am or how I express my individuality.
To the board, I say, thank you for acting to maintain order. Please enforce those rules that are clearly being violated and avoid acting on the words of a vocal few. Your challenge is to come up with a criteria by which residents can determines what defines inappropriate. If I have an ornament I want to put out on the berm, I should be able to look at the rules and determine if the ornament is a violation. 

Yes, there have been rules that have been stretched, but clearly there are violations that can identified by clear language in the rules. The board must implement a fair and equitable solution to the issues at hand, and to strike a balance that conforms to community standards.