et. al.: Meerkat crucial tool for terrorism & disaster response

Posted on 22nd March 2015 in et. al.

This is outside the normal scope of this blog, but so important I thought I needed to mention it.

Those with a long memory may remember that, in a prior incarnation, I pioneered using a combination of social media and mobile devices for terrorism and disaster response: releasing the Terrorism Survival Kit 12 years ago this week (!) (for “Palm OS and Microsoft PocketPC 2002 — LOL!) and in July 2006 I was user #265 for a new app called “Twitter” (see my very dated 2007 YouTube video about this app, which I said was “primarily used by kids!”).

I recognized instantly that the combination of 1) real-time and 2) location-based information could make Twitter an absolutely go-to a

Meerkat real-time video app

pp for spreading information about a terrorism attack or natural disaster. Countless disasters and terror attacks later, my prediction is now accepted fact.

I later rhapsodized about Twitvid and other apps that allowed you to also share video clips, for the same reason. However, the drawback with them was that you could only share  videos you’d prerecorded.

So, I was blown away to learn about this year’s SXSW phenom, Meerkat, which now allows you to stream live videos over Twitter.

When I talk about the role of individuals and social media in disasters I always like to talk about how actor James Woods might have prevented 9/11 if there’d only been 21st century reporting technologies (he flew with several of the bad guys in an apparent rehearsal, thought something was up because of their strange behavior, and reported them to the flight crew, but officials didn’t follow up). Think what might happen if you or I happened to be the person who saw something suspicious and used our camera to record and report it — as it happened?

A video of a disaster with the #SMEM (Social Media in Emergency Management) hashtag could be a critical tool in alerting both the public and officials.  I’ll always remember the District of Columbia’s assistant fire chief, at a Monterey conference where I spoke on this issue saying that, despite the incredible sophistication of the DC region’s emergency communications network, he’d first heard about the Holocaust Museum shootings from his daughter, who saw a Tweet about it. That incident made him a believer!

There is a major problem: taking a page from Snapchat, “the video is ephemeral, meaning it cannot be watched back and disappears once recording stops. A copy is stored on the recording phone which in theory could be uploaded elsewhere, but it won’t be seen on Meerkat again.”

Of course there’s also the critical question of whether the video was fabricated, and whether crowdsourcing might also run amok in this case, as they did in the improper identification of the Marathon bombers.  I’m definitely not saying that Meerkat videos should be THE way to document breaking news, but I do think that it bears consideration as one of many tools we need to have available in fast-paced and volatile situations.

What do you think?

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et. al.: Grandmother Stephenson’s To-Die-For Ginger Cookies

Posted on 22nd December 2014 in et. al.

Ok, enough of the doom and gloom!

Unfortunately the Nobel Peace Prize can’t be awarded posthumously, or I’d nominate either my grandmother Stephenson or my great-grandmother Meyer (the authorship is a little sketchy..) for her Ginger Cookie recipe.  I’m pretty certain that if Obama, Putin, Kim Jong-un and anyone else you want to name sat down around a plate of these tasty morsels, they’d see the light and we could work it all out.

Incidentally, I’ve checked with eminent nutritionists, who told me something startling and counter-intuitive about the recipe. It turns out that if consumed with a smile and a loving heart, the saturated Crisco and refined sugar are actually calorie-free and even good for your soul and heart! Strange but true.

There’s also a secret ingredient that I’m going to try out for the first time this year when three adorable grand-children arrive on Tuesday: making them with tiny, tiny hands and spilling lotsa flour on the floor (maybe even throwing small amounts at each other!).

Here goes:

Grandmother Stephenson’s Ginger Cookies

1 cup of Crisco
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of dark molasses (need I say it? Grandma’s brand recommended!)
4 tsp. of baking soda
2 tsp. of ginger
2 tsp. of cinnamon
1/2 tsp. of ground cloves
1/4 tsp. of nutmeg
1 tsp. of salt
6 cups of flour (I’d suggest Powdermilk if you can get it, because of its beneficial effects on shy persons…)
1 cup of sour milk (add 1 Tbsp. of white vinegar to the milk)

Cream Crisco and sugar. Add molasses. Sift 2 cups of flour and the other dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients alternating with the sour milk. Sift and add rest of flour — and enough extra flour, if needed, to make a soft dough. Chill overnight. Roll cookies and bake 5-8 minutes at 375-400.

PS: It’s still unclear to me whether this is best done totally by hand or if you can use a Kitchenaid.  I suspect that the extra love added by hands-on approach is preferable (WARNING: avoid any tears falling in dough).



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The 2013 World Series Champs: Boston Strong!

Posted on 31st October 2013 in et. al., Uncategorized


Three basic facts to remember:

  1. All literary men are Red Sox fans.” — John Cheever
  2. The Boston Red Sox are the World’s Champions.
  3. The Hub of the Universe is the best city in the world. Boston Strong!

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming!

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et. al.: Head Start cuts due to sequester

Posted on 16th July 2013 in et. al., government

When I relaunched this blog, I promised that it would occasionally touch on non-Internet of Things, non-big data issues. So here goes.

Instead of going into the Army, I started my career as a Conscientious Objector (something of which I’m immensely proud — as proud as I am of my son the Army Lt. Colonel!), working for several years as a Head Start day care teacher. That was terribly satisfying: I really felt I made a difference in the young lives of poor kids, getting them off to a good start in the education system. I hope it made a difference in their adult lives.

That’s why I was terribly disappointed to see that among the real effects of the sequester — yes, it is affecting real programs that serve real people — is forced cutbacks in Head Start programs across the U.S. More than 70,000 kids will be denied Head Start slots unless the cuts are restored.

This result of the disgusting (I’m not going to mince words) partisan gridlock in Washington is simply unacceptable! As a country, our children are our future, and, make no mistake about it, we will all pay, one way or the other: either for good Head Start programs now, or later, for low-productivity, poverty, and crime. Call your representative now, and demand that the cuts be restored.

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