A computer for Nan

I got a Facebook message last night from one of my great aunts wishing me a happy birthday. It was a fairly typical annual note – happy birthday, looking forward to seeing you, have a great day, etc – but there was something extra at the end. She was talking to my Nan earlier in the day and, not owning a computer of her own, Nan asked that she send a message on her behalf too.

—Put a message on Facebook for Terry, she likely said.

There’s a whole pile of reasons why Nan and Pop don’t own a computer – the cost, having another monthly bill for internet access, finding somewhere to setup a desk, and most importantly, finding someone to teach her how to use it. Several times I’ve heard Nan dismiss the idea of getting a computer outright.

—Too much trouble

In a Perfect World
In an absolutely perfect scenario, Nan would get up in the morning, make coffee and browse the latest posts on Facebook. Pop would have the news and weather read to him, and look up a few troublesome answers on his crossword. After lunch Nan could Skype with her grandkids, look up recipes, see all the new pictures on Facebook, and send birthday wishes. She might also play Scrabble with my mom, read forwarded jokes from me, and even see in real-time the great-granddaughter that she’s never seen before in real-life. All these things are so mundane and easy to do now technologically, that they seem silly to even talk about. But yet, as technically yawn-ish as they are, there’s no way Nan and Pop would be able to get from where they are now to there.

The interface is the message
As the US and Canada debate and legislate the right of all people to have broadband internet access, I really hope the conversation does at least a brief diversion to issues of interface. I’m not just talking about the Facebook interface, or the Hotmail interface; when I talk about interface with respect to Nan and Pop, I’m talking about the whole experience.

I’m talking about them having something that’s easy to setup and use, easy to manage, easy to type into and speak into, easy to look at, easy to listen to. I’m talking about something that makes their lives better, not more complicated. Sadly, the modern ‘computer’ that we know today isn’t it. Our modern computer has to be setup, has to be upgraded, has to have virus scanners and anti-phishing(?) software. It has to come with huge technical overhead; it has to be learned.

What’s sadder still is that until we have something better and easier to use, Nan will continue to send me birthday wishes via my aunt, and will continue to miss out on this huge opportunity to make her daily-life in a small, quiet, sleepy rural town a little bit richer.

The false hope of creativity

The very best of your plans, intentions and ideas are absolutely worthless. At the end of the day, when someone says “Show me,” and you can’t, you’ve already failed.

Creativity isn’t a product, it’s merely another tool.

Is all my stuff gone?

Excerpt from a brief conversation with a co-worker today:

HER: Hi Terry
ME: Hi
HER: You gotta help me. My daughter started our computer this morning and we got an error message, loud beeping, and a blue screen. What does that mean?
ME: Nothing good.
HER: Really?
ME: Sorry, afraid so.

[just seconds later]

HER: Is all of my stuff gone?
ME: No [Yes]
HER: What should I do?
ME: Grieve the loss of all of your stuff, (literally) throw your computer out of an open window, several metres above the ground, and buy a Mac.

Josh Ritter

Five or six years ago, Sarah Harmer came to St. John’s. She was touring with a brand new cd and played a pile of dates across Canada before ending here in town. This was delightful news until I realized that the concert date was just 2 days after I was to leave for Canada’s North.

I was disappointed to have missed an opportunity to see Sarah Harmer, but even more dismayed months later, when I realized that her opening act was then unknown Josh Ritter. Just on spec, I decided to give him a listen, figuring if he was good enough for Sarah, he was good enough for me. It turned out that Ritter’s Hello Starling and Golden Age of Radio became the soundtrack for an incredible trip, and a largely formative period in my life.

The process of becoming the person that you are happens only once. It feels really nice to have a collection of songs to remind you of all the little steps in the middle.

Even listening to Josh’s new record, though it wasn’t with me at the time, takes me back to the same place.

Face tomorrow together

When Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin in 1928, many declared the war against infections and harmful microorganisms to be over. No longer, they thought, would people needlessly die from curable infections now that they had a secret weapon at their sides. But of course it was not to be so. Researchers discovered the first penicillin resistant organisms just a little more than a decade later, and within two decades, resistance to penicillin was widespread. In the five or more decades leading up to today, every single antibiotic that has been produced and consumed by humans has had described cases of resistance. Even the brand new ones; even the really ‘strong’ ones.

Over at infectionNet we wanted to help do something about this, so we’ve been working hard on a contribution of our own. Yesterday we launched a global inventory of projects that promote proper use of antimicrobials. Our goal over the next few months is to highlight the work of people around the world, give them a voice for their ideas, and applaud them for their efforts in combating a global problem.

Sure, the web is a huge place, and this is just one small corner of it. But that’s where you need to start: small. All of the world’s big ideas started the exact same way.