Archive for the ‘News and Research’ Category

  • Creativity: Inspiration May Come Like a Bolt Out of the Blue But Execution May Take A Lifetime

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    Today’s artistic forensics – new digital imaging techniques, laser scanning, ultraviolet illumination and state-of-the-art computer software – are delivering fantastic insights about the creative process and how the artist works.

    Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society, New York

    High-Tech Matisse, the recent NY Times article by Carol Vogel, for example, describes how technology has revealed that Henri Matisse’s “Bathers by a River” went through a eight-year (1909-1917) evolutionary process as the artist revised the painting time and time again.

    Vogel notes, “Although art historians could always track the changes of that period by studying his [Matisse’s] paintings in progression, one by one, until recently they had no clear idea of exactly how those changes were developed: how much hands-on experimenting went into the new work and what formal processes of study, revision and rejection were involved. Now those mysteries have been largely solved, thanks to an extraordinary array of technologies deployed in putting together “Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1917,” an exhibition that opens next week [July 18, 2010] at the Museum of Modern Art. The show offers a rare opportunity to look beneath the surface of Matisse’s work to see a creative evolution that until now only his eyes had witnessed.”

    Matisse was already an international star when he returned to Paris from Morocco in the spring of 1913. At this time, “he began creating paintings that were simpler and more layered than the boldly colorful, sun-filled canvases that had been his signature. At the same time he started dipping his toe into Cubism, which was in full flower with younger artists like Juan Gris, Georges Braque and, of course, Pablo Picasso, whom Matisse began to see a lot during those years.”

    “While he admired Cubism for its inventiveness, the more instinctive Matisse was also suspicious of its intellectual emphasis. At the same time he also admired the work of Paul Cézanne — in particular his carefully constructed compositions — as Matisse began to reconsider his own working methods and fundamental ideas about making art.”

    By 1917, Matisse abandoned the Cubist approach and adopted a style closer to Impressionism. “He felt he’d done what he set out to do and thought it was crucial to keep changing,” said John Elderfield, chief curator emeritus at the Museum of Modern Art. “He didn’t want to become a prisoner of that style.”

    Matisse said, “Bathers by a River” was one of the most pivotal works in his career, and now we can see why. This visual eight-year timeline delineates the evolution of Matisse’s creative inspiration and execution in extraordinary ways.

  • Squirrels: What Senior Job Seekers Can Learn from the Furry Critter’s “Phenomenal Elasticity of Body, Brain and Behavior.”

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    Courtesy of Multiverse.org

    The more I discovered about the much maligned squirrel in this fascinating article, Nut, What Nut? by Natalie Angier, the more I realized the creature’s feisty spirit and resilient demeanor are the very attributes intrepid job seekers need.

    Did you realize:

    “Squirrels can leap a span 10 times the length of their body, roughly double what the best human long jumper can manage?”

    “They can rotate their ankles 180 degrees, and so keep a grip while climbing no matter which way they’re facing?”

    “Squirrels can learn by watching others — cross-phyletically, if need be. In their book Squirrels: The Animal Answer Guide, Richard W. Thorington Jr. and Katie Ferrell of the Smithsonian Institution described the safe-pedestrian approach of a gray squirrel eager to traverse a busy avenue near the White House. ‘The squirrel waited on the grass near a crosswalk until people began to cross the street,’ said the authors, ‘and then it crossed the street behind them.’”

    “’Its primary visual cortex is huge,’ said Jon H. Kaas, a comparative neuroscientist at Vanderbilt University, ‘A squirrel’s peripheral vision is as sharp as its focal eyesight, which means it can see what’s above and beside it without moving its head.'”

    “A squirrel has the benefit of natural sunglasses, pale yellow lenses that cut down on glare….’Gray squirrels use their sharp, shaded vision to keep an eye on each other,’ reports Michael A. Steele of Wilkes University in Pennsylvania. Steele’s research team observed that, ‘when squirrels are certain that they are being watched, they will actively seek to deceive the would-be thieves. They’ll dig a hole, pretend to push an acorn in, and then cover it over, all the while keeping the prized seed hidden in their mouth.'”

    Amazing as these traits are, they amount to peanuts compared to this extraordinary eye-witness account of Squirrel daring do captured by Angier:

    “I was walking through the neighborhood one afternoon when, on turning a corner, I nearly tripped over a gray squirrel that was sitting in the middle of the sidewalk, eating a nut. Startled by my sudden appearance, the squirrel dashed out to the road — right in front of an oncoming car. Before I had time to scream, the squirrel had gotten caught in the car’s front hubcap, had spun around once like a cartoon character in a clothes dryer, and was spat back off. When the car drove away, the squirrel picked itself up, wobbled for a moment or two, and then resolutely hopped across the street.”

    That’s resilience! Just the kind needed to launch oneself into the job-seeking orbit and survive!

  • Happy Independence Day!

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    Holiday greetings from Maine…

    Georgetown, Maine, photo by Elizabeth

    It is sometimes forgotten that Maine was part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony during the American War for Independence. Our illustrious history – including a “sugar party,” pre-dating the more famous Boston Tea Party, which also fueled the fires of rebellion – can be found in this timeline from the Maine Historical Society.

    Five Islands, Maine, Lobster Pound, photo by Elizabeth

    We are renown for much more than our fabulous lobsters. Still, nothing can compare with grilling a fresh lobster and some corn on the cob for a holiday dinner to be topped off with a scoop of homemade ice cream crowned with strawberries picked that morning, and fireworks in the evening.

    We watch the fireworks sitting atop an old stonewall – remains of a fort which guarded the entrance to Casco Bay Harbor during the Revolutionary War. We also overlook the yard where hundreds of Liberty Ships were built and launched during World War II. Ironically those ships were modeled on a British vessel. Clearly, once we had achieved our independence from England and from Massachusetts, we began to share in a truly sportsmanlike manner, and – speaking of sports – that includes our love for the Massachusetts’ based, New England Patriots, Super Bowl Champions!


  • To Be or Not To Be? Hamlet’s Blackberry

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    William Powers’ new book, Hamlet’s BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age is part fun, philosophical musings and part how to “disconnect ourselves from digital overload.”

    Unfortunately, Powers spends way too much time on the how to disconnect and not nearly enough on the philosophical musings. We all know how addicted too many of us our to our digital gadgets. If anything, it’s more difficult to get away from the dire warnings about how technology is ruining our lives, our relationships, our brains and turning everything but our thumbs tubby from lack of physical exercise. We do not need another treatise on that, but clearly we can use more of Powers’ witty, historical musings. Every review I’ve read notes how the reader picked up the book because he or she was intrigued by the title. Let’s be clear, the part of the title that appeals is to the left of the colon – “Hamlet’s Blackberry.” I have not read one review or spoken to one person who snatched up the book because it had such a gripping subtitle!

    Yes, it is good to assess whether we might have reached a point where the technology that was supposed to give us greater control is actually controlling us. And to his credit, Powers is not pooh poohing all technology or saying that we should disconnect from everything. The best parts of this book are those where Powers demonstrates – through seven ancient and modern philosophers – how new technologies have provoked similar fears throughout history. Plato, Seneca, Shakespeare and Gutenberg, for example, struggled with new-found gadgets. Even Ben Franklin, that wizard of invention, we learn had his moments of doubt!

    The “Hamlet’s Blackberry” (of the title) is what was called a writing table or table book and consisted of some plaster-covered pages bound in a pocket-sized book. A metal stylus came with it and was used to write down notes or lists. Shakespeare could sponge off the pages like a slate and use them over and over again.

    Ahhh, but where for art thou, quill pen? Would the end have been as tragic if Romeo and Juliet had had cell phones? Worst of all, how many of Shakespeare’s masterpieces might we have lost, if the Bard could have erased them from his Elizabethan Blackberry?

    This, I believe, is Powers’ message (overworked though it might be): there is a time to connect and a time to disconnect , and a reasonable person should know the difference.

  • How the Economy and Virtual Volunteers Are Rapidly Making Traditional Nonprofit Boards Obsolete

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    The days of somnambulant boards – “experienced” power elites – sitting around magnificent mahogany tables, resembling small flight decks, are becoming even more rare than the mahogany in the finely turned table or the Aubusson carpet on the floor. Nonprofits as charitable institutions, solely supported by generous benefactors dedicated to serving the poor are a thing of the past.

    Today, successful nonprofits cannot afford the luxury of patiently waiting for beneficence to fall in their laps. The economy has nipped benevolent dollars in the bud, and even those benefactors with a few blooming roses left have come to expect more of the nonprofits they support. They seek ways to optimize the dollars they invest: to increase the impact, as well as the fiduciary and operational functionality of the organizations they support.

    Donors expect to see the nonprofit run as effectively as any other for-profit business in which they have a stake.

    This means that boards have to stop posing as governing bodies and become governing bodies. They have to take a professional interest in the operation – and not just an “interest.” They must apply the same operating principles: fiscal, marketing, R&D and ROI that they would to run a for-profit venture. Yes, they are looking for a SROI (social return on investment) but that, too, is driven by capital and not just good intentions.

    The transition from inert to proactive board needs to be a transformative process, but time is of the essence. Fortunately there are three options available to inject new life into the nonprofit board: one is real, face-to-face time and the other two are virtual.

    Encore.org has successfully launched a fellows program which provides high caliber, experienced talent to San Francisco Bay Area nonprofits: “Designed as paid, temporary, high-level assignments, Encore Fellowships provide immediate communications, research, business development, program development, and human resources support to nonprofits, while providing the fellows themselves with a bridge to a new stage of midlife work known as the encore career… The first program launched in 2009 inspired a provision in the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, passed last year, which calls for 10 new encore fellows in each state.”

    The two virtual volunteer programs are Catchafire.org and Extraordinaries.org.

    Catchafire connects professionals who want to volunteer their skills with nonprofits that need them. The organization helps nonprofits express their needs as short-term, discrete, and individual-based projects and packages those projects to create innovative solutions for basic nonprofit needs and to make it easy for actively employed professionals to find time to volunteer.

    Catchafire charges nonprofits a fee, but the services of the Extraordinaries is totally free. They, too, connect (via the web) professional volunteers with nonprofit organizations but their program is built on the concept of “micro-volunteering.”

    The Extraordinaries delivers micro-volunteer opportunities to mobile phones that can be done on-demand and on-the-spot. So instead of making a lengthy time-commitment to a single organization on a single day per year, you can volunteer for many organizations many times throughout the week.

    We do not mean to suggest that nonprofit boards can be completely replaced with encore or virtual volunteers, but we do mean that it is time for the old tried and true boards to gear up and take advantage of the resources available to put them in a proactive and productive mode. Mahogany and Aubusson rugs are endangered specimens – nonprofits play too important a role to let them fall into neglect or even become extinct.

  • “Science is reshaping what we know about getting older. (The news is better than you think.)”

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    Illustration by Sarah Cline for Newsweek

    Jim Emerman, Executive Vice President, Civic Ventures, highlighted this fascinating Newsweek article, This Is Your Brain: Aging, on his recent web posting.

    I found these first words – “Science is reshaping what we know about getting older. (The news is better than you think.)” by Sharon Begley, science writer for Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal, very encouraging. The rest of her article, I might add, is just as upbeat. That being said, I was predisposed to like it because I am a visual learner and I love the article’s accompanying art, which pictures six interconnected cog wheels chugging away in a spiffy looking brain.

    Begley points out how researcher, Timothy Salthouse, Director of the Salthouse Cognitive Aging Lab at the University of Virginia, was troubled by a paradox he identified in a graph he had created:

    “The graph shows two roller-coastering lines. One represents the proportion of people of each age who are in the top 25 percent on a standard lab test of reasoning ability—thinking. The other shows the proportion of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies of each age. Reasoning ability peaks at about age 28 and then plummets, tracing that well-known plunge that makes those older than 30 (OK, fine, 40) cringe: only 6 percent of top scorers are in their 50s, and only 4 percent are in their 60s. But the age distribution of CEOs is an almost perfect mirror image: it peaks just before age 60. About half are older than 55. And the number under 40 is about zero.”

    His deductions are: “First, in real life, rather than in psych labs, people rely on mental abilities that stand up very well to age and discover work-arounds for the mental skills that do fade. The second is that some mental abilities actually improve with age, and one of them may be the inchoate thing called wisdom, which is not a bad thing to have when running a company.”

    Begley says such insights: “are producing a dramatic, and hopeful, rethinking of what happens to the mind and brain as we age. Some of the earlier bad-news findings are being questioned as scientists discover that the differences between today’s 20-year-old brains and 80-year-old brains reflect something other than simple age, and instead have to do with how people live their lives. And a deeper understanding of normal cognitive aging is producing interventions that, because they target the cell-level brain changes that accompany aging, promise to be more effective than memory exercises and crossword puzzles.”

    Read the article in its entirety to learn more about recent brain research and about some of the successful “interventions” available to foster healthy aging. Begley includes free ones such as walking which is just as valuable for your brain as it is for your heart, lungs and waist line, and others, which she notes contain little or no value other than the revenues they will generate for those folks rushing in to take advantage of the anti-aging intervention market.

    Estrid Geersten, tandem parachute jumping at age 100. Courtesy, Guinness World Records

    Speaking of paradoxes, the article also contains a subset – a slide show by Tara Lewis of “Super Seniors,” achievers doing everything from skydiving to climbing Mt Everest.

    The paradox for me is that, other than Nola Ochs who graduated from college at age 95, are these “Super Seniors” really optimizing their cognitive reasoning skills in these wild escapades???

    Nola Ochs, Courtesy Charlie Riedel, AP

  • Rabbits, Privet Hedges and a Planters Peanut Bar: How John Updike Brought What Is Peculiar to the Moment to Glory

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    Many times we have tried to describe the importance of details – in your writing, your work and your self-marketing – in this blog.

    This morning, when I read Sam Tanenhaus’ article, John Updike’s Archive: A Great Writer at Work, I was struck by a remark he quoted from Adam Begley, a critic and literary journalist now at work on a biography of Updike. Begley said, “Updike’s archive may be the last great paper trail. Anyone interested in how a great writer works will find here as full an explanation as we’re likely to get.”

    Tanenhaus says, “In addition to literary ore, the archive offers a picture of an all-purpose, do-it-yourself man of letters who typed his own manuscripts, designed his own book jackets, chose type faces and binding cloth and kept careful lists of corrections (down to errant accent marks) for new editions of his work.”

    “Updike was also leaving a trail of clues to his works and days: an enormous archive fashioned as meticulously as one of his lathe-turned sentences. ‘The archive was vitally important to him,’ Mrs. Updike said in a telephone interview, especially in his last days. ‘He saw it not just as a collection of his working materials, but as also a record of the time he lived in.’ Today the material crowds an aisle and a half of metal shelving in the basement of Houghton Library, Harvard University’s rare book and manuscript repository.”

    “There is even a wrapper from a Planters Peanut Bar, as lovingly preserved as a pressed autumn leaf, evidently used by Updike to describe the moment when Rabbit, addicted to high-cholesterol junk food, greedily devours the candy and then, still unsatisfied, ‘dumps the sweet crumbs out of the wrapper into his palm and with his tongue licks them all up like an anteater’ — an early warning that he’s headed for a heart attack.”

    Be sure to listen to Updike’s remarks in the video interview included in this article.  Updike says, “I do not think of myself as writing stylishly but rather precisely.”

    He remembers details such as the time he described the way in which “a man who’s about to leave his wife runs his fingers over the top of a privet hedge.”

    Updike says, “This age needs men like Shakespeare, or Milton, or Pope; men who are filled with the strength of their cultures and do not transcend the limits of their age, but, working within the times, bring what is peculiar to the moment to glory. We need great artists who are willing to accept restrictions, and who love their environments with such vitality that they can produce an epic out of the Protestant ethic… Whatever the many failings of my work,” he concluded, “let it stand as a manifesto of my love for the time in which I was born.”

    We cannot all write like John Updike, but we can try to capture details “Peculiar to [our] moment.”  These are the details that will illuminate our lives, our experience and our passions – be it for the work we hope to continue or the manifesto we wish to leave behind.

  • Is Watson, the Machine that I.B.M. Hails as Its Latest and Greatest Super Computer, Truly “Smarter Than You Think”?

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    What Is I.B.M.’s Watson? by Clive Thompson is the first in a new NY Times Magazine series called “Smarter Than You Think.” The articles are designed to examine the recent advances in artificial intelligence and robotics and their potential impact on society.

    My first quibble is just who does the NY Times “You” represent? Many of us are aware of the advances – and lack thereof – in AI (Artificial Intelligence), so I do not accept the “you” sui generis but we should not waste valuable blog time on semantics. Of course, we could argue that “Watson” is all about semantics, but we won’ let that impede our discussion here.

    First, we should make clear that Watson is not a super computer. Watson is actually a super program housed in a computer named Watson.  And, lest you think I.B.M. has crossed into the realm of clever fiction to name this computer after Sherlock Holme’s able assistant, Watson, as in, “It’s elementary my dear Watson!” I.B.M. has not. Watson is the last name of father and son Thomas Sr. and Jr., who led I.B.M. for more than 50 years.

    Thompson writes that, “For the last three years, I.B.M. scientists have been developing what they expect will be the world’s most advanced “question answering” machine, able to understand a question posed in everyday human elocution — “natural language,” as computer scientists call it — and respond with a precise, factual answer. In other words, it must do more than what search engines like Google and Bing do, which is merely point to a document where you might find the answer. It has to pluck out the correct answer itself. Technologists have long regarded this sort of artificial intelligence as a holy grail, because it would allow machines to converse more naturally with people, letting us ask questions instead of typing keywords. Software firms and university scientists have produced question-answering systems for years, but these have mostly been limited to simply phrased questions. Nobody ever tackled “Jeopardy!” because experts assumed that even for the latest artificial intelligence, the game was simply too hard: the clues are too puzzling and allusive, and the breadth of trivia is too wide.”

    Ahhh, clearly I have missed a beat here. I never realized that “Jeopardy!” was the sine qua non of intelligence.

    Thompson reports, David Ferrucci’s, I.B.M.’s senior manager for its Semantic Analysis and Integration department, and head of the Watson project, main breakthrough [my note: in creating a program aka super computer which could compete on “Jeopardy!”] “was not the design of any single, brilliant new technique for analyzing language. Indeed, many of the statistical techniques Watson employs were already well known by computer scientists. One important thing that makes Watson so different is its enormous speed and memory. Taking advantage of I.B.M.’s supercomputing heft, Ferrucci’s team input millions of documents into Watson to build up its knowledge base — including, he says, “books, reference material, any sort of dictionary, thesauri, folksonomies, taxonomies, encyclopedias, any kind of reference material you can imagine getting your hands on or licensing. Novels, bibles, plays.”

    Watson’s speed allows it to try thousands of ways of simultaneously tackling a “Jeopardy!” clue. Most question-answering systems rely on a handful of algorithms, but Ferrucci decided this was why those systems do not work very well: no single algorithm can simulate the human ability to parse language and facts. Instead, Watson uses more than a hundred algorithms at the same time to analyze a question in different ways, generating hundreds of possible solutions. Another set of algorithms ranks these answers according to plausibility; for example, if dozens of algorithms working in different directions all arrive at the same answer, it’s more likely to be the right one. In essence, Watson thinks in probabilities. It produces not one single “right” answer, but an enormous number of possibilities, then ranks them by assessing how likely each one is to answer the question.”

    Read the article in its entirety for it is fascinating in unexpected ways. And you, too, can pit your mettle against Watson’s in your own personal game of “Jeopardy!”: Watson Trivia Challenge. Above all, do not miss the readers’ rich, intelligent and reasoned comments on this article. I have included a few (anonymously) below:

    Comment # 4.  “…But it’s been a long time since we’ve been toying with this idea of a computer competing with a human for intelligent answers to questions. Take a look at the 1957 movie “Desk Set” with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.”

    Comment # 6. “While I am certainly impressed by it, Watson is not truly artificial intelligence or the holy grail that represents. AI requires abstraction, creativity, situational awareness and so forth. This is a speech recognition to keyword database search to speech synthesis machine on steroids. Impressive gimmick, but no HAL9000.”

    Comment #14. (Speaking of purchasing stocks) “Predicting the illogical or ‘gut’ feelings of a given investor is not possible since the investor has no idea what they will do until they do it. It would be difficult to write an algorithm that can predict the random behavior involved with such choices.”

    Comment # 36. “Watson reminds me of the computer in the old I.B.M. building on 57th and Madison that had a computer and printer/typewriter in the window. You could ask it questions and it would come up with answers. So what’s new? It’s still all about the programming, and still all about how much information can be crammed into Watson’s very limited — compared to a human being’s — memory.”

    One of my particular favorites is # 32. “The real question is whether Watson, not being human, can ever ‘learn’ from its mistakes?”

  • Neuroplasticity: Brain Boosting Lessons from Two Scientists and a London Taxi Driver!

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    Neuroplasticity has fascinated me for a long time, and two posts I found recently at SharpBrains.com provide not just fodder but hope for our and, of course, Hercule’s “little gray cells.”

    The first post, Brain Plasticity: How Learning Changes Your Brain by Dr. Pascale Michelon defines neuroplasticity for the unititiated:

    “Neuroplasticity or brain plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to CHANGE throughout life. The brain has the amazing ability to reorganize itself by forming new connections between brain cells (neurons).”

    “Neuroplasticity,” she elaborates, “occurs in the brain: 1. At the beginning of life: when the immature brain organizes itself; 2. In case of brain injury: to compensate for lost functions or maximize remaining functions; and 3. Through adulthood: whenever something new is learned and memorized”

    The good news is that as, Dr Michelon notes,  For a long time it was believed that as we aged, the connections in the brain became fixed. Research has shown that in fact the brain never stops changing through learning. Plasticity IS the capacity of the brain to change with learning. Changes associated with learning occur mostly at the level of the connections between neurons. New connections can form and the internal structure of the existing synapses can change.”

    And, here’s where the London cabbie comes in…

    Dr.Michelon says, “when you become an expert in a specific domain, the areas in your brain that deal with this type of skill grow. For example, London taxi drivers have a larger hippocampus (in the posterior region) than London bus drivers (Maguire, Woollett, & Spiers, 2006)…. Why is that? It is because this region of the hippocampus is specialized in acquiring and using complex spatial information in order to navigate efficiently. Taxi drivers have to navigate around London whereas bus drivers follow a limited set of routes.”

    In the second, SharpBrains.com post, The Ten Habits of Highly Effective Brains, Alvaro Fernandez gives us 10 specific strategies for boosting brainpower.

    1. Learn what is the “It” in “Use It or Lose It”. A basic understanding will serve you well to appreciate your brain’s beauty as a living and constantly-developing dense forest with billions of neurons and synapses.
    2. Take care of your nutrition. Did you know that the brain only weighs 2% of body mass but consumes over 20% of the oxygen and nutrients we intake? As a general rule, you don’t need expensive ultra-sophisticated nutritional supplements, just make sure you don’t stuff yourself with the “bad stuff”.
    3. Remember that the brain is part of the body. Things that exercise your body can also help sharpen your brain: physical exercise enhances neurogenesis.
    4. Practice positive, future-oriented thoughts until they become your default mindset and you look forward to every new day in a constructive way. Stress and anxiety, no matter whether induced by external events or by your own thoughts, actually kills neurons and prevent the creation of new ones. You can think of chronic stress as the opposite of exercise: it prevents the creation of new neurons.
    5. Thrive on Learning and Mental Challenges. The point of having a brain is precisely to learn and to adapt to challenging new environments. Once new neurons appear in your brain, where they stay in your brain and how long they survive depends on how you use them. “Use It or Lose It” does not mean “do crossword puzzle number 1,234,567″. It means, “challenge your brain often with fundamentally new activities”.
    6. We are (as far as we know) the only self-directed organisms in this planet. Aim high. Once you graduate from college, keep learning. The brain keeps developing, no matter your age, and it reflects what you do with it.
    7. Explore, travel. Adapting to new locations forces you to pay more attention to your environment. Make new decisions, use your brain.
    8. Don’t Outsource Your Brain. Not to media personalities, not to politicians, not to your smart neighbour… Make your own decisions, and mistakes. And learn from them. That way, you are training your brain, not your neighbour’s.
    9. Develop and maintain stimulating friendships. We are “social animals”, and need social interaction. Which, by the way, is why ‘Baby Einstein’ has been shown not to be the panacea for children development.
    10. Laugh. Often. Especially to cognitively complex humor, full of twists and surprises.

    Illustration, Courtesy of Medi Belortaja

    You do not have to implement all ten strategies at once. You can begin with just one or two at a time and boost slowly. Speed does not always count; remember – slow and steady wins the race!

  • How Technology – Like This Recently Unearthed 5,500 Year-Old Pampootie – Can Be Tailored To Fit Seniors’ Needs

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    I love this NY Times article by Pam Belluck about the discovery of a 5,500 year-old shoe buried in a cave in Armenia.

    Boris Gasparian/Institute of Archaeology and Enthography

    It reveals that not all Armenians were as hungry as my grandmother thought. As a child, when I failed to eat every morsel on my plate, my grandmother’s most guilt-inducing admonition was, “How could you be so wasteful? Think of all the starving Armenians!” I never did understand the source of her compassion. We were not Armenians, we did not have any long lost relatives or even friends in Armenia and altruism was generally not one of her strengths.

    Then, I saw this ancient Armenian shoe and everything fell into place. My grandmother adored fanciful hats, gorgeous leather handbags and soft suede gloves. But – above all – she loved shoes and, like this Armenian’s, hers were hand made. The Devil might wear Prada, but my grandmother wore everything else.

    Though not much to look at (no doubt being buried in sheep dung for 5,500 years takes away some of the original luster), Belluck notes “the shoe, made of cowhide and tanned with oil from a plant or vegetable, is old, older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids… ”

    “While the shoe more closely resembles an L. L.Bean-type soft-soled walking shoe than anything by Jimmy Choo, ‘these were probably quite expensive shoes, made of leather, very high quality,’ said one of the lead scientists, Gregory Areshian, of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at the University of California, Los Angeles.”

    Another scientist, Ron Pinhasi, an archaeologist at University College Cork in Ireland, said the shoe “resembled old Irish pampooties, or rawhide slippers.”

    The tremendous importance of this discovery, Belluck adds, “is that the shoe, discovered by scientists excavating in a huge cave in Armenia, is part of a treasure trove of artifacts found that experts say provide unprecedented information about an important and sparsely documented era: the Chalcolithic period or Copper Age, when humans are believed to have invented the wheel, domesticated horses and produced other innovations.”

    Ahh, “innovations!” Finally we get to the technology I mentioned earlier.

    Philip Moeller’s US News article, 5 Ways to Join the Personal Technology Party, reveals the depressing statistic that: “Fewer than 40 percent of people aged 65 and older used the Internet last year. Adoption rates for more sophisticated communications tools are correspondingly smaller.”

    To address this need, “The Center for Technology and Aging, with funding from the SCAN Foundation, recently brought together a panel of technology experts. They discussed ways in which social media and other emerging communications tools might be used by seniors themselves to make sure their voices are heard on key public policy issues affecting them.”

    The challenge, Moeller notes, is to educate seniors about both the value of technology and how to use it.

    Moeller, then, describes “five things that communications providers and senior-service advocates should consider [tailor] to help older consumers take fuller advantage of powerful communications tools and devices.”

    1) KISS — Keep It Simple Stupid! To many younger technology users, there is no such thing as “too complicated” when it comes to the latest hand-held mobile device. Not so with older consumers, especially people who have never used online and wireless gadgets. It is daunting to confront something new when you don’t understand what it can do or why you might benefit from using its capabilities. Oh, and you don’t have a clue how to turn it on and use it. The iPad was cited in the panel’s report as an example of the kind of intuitive, easy-to-use tool that can be a real technology icebreaker for older consumers.

    2) Make It Personal. The “I get it” light bulb that seems embedded in younger technology users needs cultivating in people who like their clocks with hands and not read-outs. Bringing communications technology down to the personal level is essential to engage older consumers. All too often, that step is bypassed or covered up by the cloud of coolness that surrounds new technologies. Also, making it personal also needs to include product features designed with older users, older fingers, and older eyes in mind.

    3) Make It Relevant.
    Creating very practical pathways between a gizmo and a genuine benefit is a key to success. Technology is rarely an end in itself for older users but a means to achieving a desired goal. Explaining these linkages can spur more seniors to adopt new technologies.

    4) Enhance Independence and Control. The field of telemedicine is exploding. This includes health-monitoring devices that can literally be lifesavers. However, they need to be explained and marketed to seniors as tools to extend their independence and control over their surroundings. Too often, it can appear that monitoring devices are digital tethers that track movements and behaviors, and are designed more to help caregivers than the older consumer.

    5) Build a Team of Helpers.
    Caregivers, family members, social-service agencies, and other champions are needed to explain, reassure, and help older consumers.

    Certainly all of these ideas can help to bring more seniors to the “technology party” and my grandmother and her dancing shoes did love parties!

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