Archive for the ‘technology’ category

A digital camera, a little know-how and a lot of luck

July 5, 2010

I recently returned from a once-in-a-lifetime Mediterranean cruise with stops in Spain, France, Monaco and Italy. It was a photo-hobbyist’s dream, and I took all the obligatory vacation photos, including the one where my wife appears to be pushing the Leaning Tower of Pisa back up where it should be. Of course, the photos are great – especially the ones from the towering hills overlooking Monaco – but you probably wouldn’t expect any of them to win a photography award.

But then again maybe, just maybe, I am wrong about that. After all, if you were to combine location, opportunity, composition, timing and a very smart digital camera, you might get that exceptional photograph that actually stands a chance at winning an award. In fact, I believe that is exactly what happened to me.

I wanted to make sure I had a high-quality, reliable, easy-to-carry camera for our trip so before we left I did a little research and ended up buying a Sony Lumix DMC-ZS6. I consider myself a semi-professional photographer, having been the chief staff photographer by my organization for the last 20-plus years, although that admittedly entails only a part of my job and I have very little professional photography training. Anyway, I picked this camera because it got great reviews for travel photography.

On the third day of our cruise, we stopped at Naples and my wife and I signed up for an excursion that included the beautiful cliffside city of Sorrento overlooking the Mediterranean. My wife loves shopping, so we ended up in a tourist-oriented shopping district in the center of town. While she was examining the leather purses, wallets and belts, I wandered a little on my own. I quickly spotted a beautiful historic-looking church-like building, with inviting open doors and decided to explore.

I took about three steps into the Sedil Dominova, which houses the Societa Operaia du Mutuo Soccorso – the Worker’s Mutual Aid Society – and immediately held up my camera and snapped a picture. One shot. That’s all I took. Here I had a digital camera with hundreds of free shots available, and I took one single shot. Automatic settings. I was in the building for probably less than a minute. I liked what I saw and I knew this had the potential to be a special picture, but for some reason I only snapped one picture. I walked back onto the busy shopping promenade and went back to taking standard tourist shots.

Later than night, back on the ship, I downloaded the day’s photos to my Mac. When I got to the Sedil Dominova picture, I was taken aback. The photo I shot in this storied community building was like a piece of fine art. Seven middle-aged Italian men sitting around tables engaged in conversation and a card game. The room was piece of art in itself – slightly faded but stunning 18th century frescoes – wall paintings – of pillars, mantles and even babies with wings reflecting the character of this historic and artistically rich country. Set amid that backdrop – with perfectly even lighting – the men in the foreground almost appear to timelessly meld into history. A well-prepared professional photographer with the best equipment and lighting could have spent hours in this room trying to capture this moment and never have achieved it. All I had was a small – but very advanced – digital camera and a little luck.

Yes, I give myself some credit for looking beyond the surface for a better picture, for spotting the photograph in front of me, and quickly identifying a unique angle. But this is a picture that owes a lot to the incredible technology of digital photography. The camera made all the tough technical decisions for me, allowing me to act quickly and capture the moment.

The composition, the light, the background, the colors, and even the gestures and expressions on the men’s faces capture a moment that simply could not be planned or artificially created.

One moment in time. A real moment. A genuine reflection of a place and a group of people who represent a generation, a history and a culture.

I don’t know whether I will ever actually enter this photograph in a contest. But to me, it is an award-winner because – more than any of the 300-plus photos I took on this trip – it provides a genuine, deep insight into this fascinating country that I was so fortunate to visit.


How big is the Gulf oil spill?

June 13, 2010

Thanks to a very easy-to-use website by Andy Lintner, anyone can relate to the size of the horrible Gulf oil spill. Just go to and you will see just how large the spill is as it is superimposed over your home town. I live near Madison, Wisconsin, and the spill – as you can see below – runs from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to north of Green Bay. And I can tell you it has increased significantly just in the last couple of days.

This is a great example of how web technology can be used to both inform and depress.

Funnel clouds rip through old media

June 6, 2010

Where the old media failed residents of Sun Prairie Wisconsin on Saturday, the new media took over.

At about 2 p.m., funnel clouds started dipping down from the clouds above Sun Prairie. Everyone who wasn’t looking skyward was surprised when local authorities, responding to reports from citizens and law enforcement officials, sounded the tornado warning sirens. Yes, it was raining, but neither the National Weather Service nor any of our Super Storm Radar, Weather Tracking, Doppler fanatics at the local TV stations had predicted any severe storms. There were no warnings or watches whatsoever.

Not knowing why the tornado sirens were going off, I quickly clicked on the TV and shot through all the local channels looking for any sign of a weather update. Nothing.

Then, the text messages, photos and videos started coming into my wife’s cell phone. One of her friends was pumping gas when she looked up and saw a funnel cloud. She immediately snapped a picture, shot a little video and sent it out to her friends.

Yes, thanks to personal mobile technology, we knew about – and saw video of – the funnel clouds before TV ever acknowledged that they existed. That was quite surprising considering all the times our TV screen has been cluttered with storm maps and warnings of tornadoes that never materialize.

Fortunately, Saturday’s funnel clouds did no damage on the ground. But they did do a lot of damage to the reliability and reputation of the National Weather Service and the old media local TV weather stars who are constantly portraying themselves as our weather warning saviors.

Well, at least we saw some good coverage of the funnel clouds – but, again, not from the reporting professionals wielding their fancy equipment and expertise, but from our local citizen journalists wielding nothing but their smart phones.

Telling teachers how much they are appreciated

May 4, 2010

Before Dwayne’s daughter met Wisconsin Rapids teacher Stefanie Tryba, she was struggling.

She is deaf and has MD. She was in a wheelchair, and Dwayne says he feared she was heading down a path that would lead to “a lonely life devoid of friends, and peers.”

Then Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln High School teacher Stefanie Tryba came into her life. I could not tell the rest of the story any better than Dwayne did this week on

“Since her time with Stefanie, she has abandoned her wheelchair, and while difficult, walks everywhere she can. My daughter has also developed friendships with other students, and can now not only express her needs, but can communicate her thoughts. She has also, with Stefanie’s help, completed courses at Mid State tech, with the goal of obtaining her day care license. She recently won an academic award due to Stefanie’s care. We had once figured our daughter would be wheelchair bound by the age 21, due to her health issues. We figured she would lead a lonely life devoid of friends, and peers. Everything we had once thought, or ‘had figured out’ about her, was thrown out the window by Stefanie. We, and our daughter, are eternally grateful.”

When we make the observation, as we frequently do, that teachers make a difference in people’s lives, there is no exaggeration or hyperbole. Stefanie Tryba is a great example, and there are countless more out there. The people who have honored their favorite teachers on prove that. This special website was set up to help celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week, May 2-8, and the response has been phenomenal!

Here are just a few other samples of comments:

  • “Just because of my teachers at Marinette Middle School, I love to wake up in the morning and actually be excited to go to school.”
  • “Mrs. Marx pushes us to new, higher levels only because she believes we can reach them.”
  • “Mrs. Ebersold is kind and wonderful to the children and supportive of the parents. We are so fortunate to have an educator like her!”
  • “Mrs. Mayer is the best teacher because she is loving, caring, and really takes the time to get to know her students and their parents.”
  • “I am an OB/Gyn physician and am on clinical faculty at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health here in Madison. I still keep in touch with friends from my high school in Door County and we all agree that TONY KISZONAS is the best teacher ever! “
  • “Mr. Jennerjohn speaks to his classes in a way that makes you wish his period was three hours long.”

There is still plenty of time to honor your favorite teacher during Teacher Appreciation Week by telling us about your favorite teacher or education support professional on And we will keep the website up and running even after the week is done, because any week is a great week to say thank you to someone who has made a real difference in your life or the life of someone you love.

Install software on your computer? Soooo 90s!

April 25, 2010

Remember the days when you used to load software on your computer? Pretty much everything you wanted to do on the computer required you to purchase software, either online or at a store, and then install it: email, photo editing, writing, designing, page layout, spreadsheets, creating forms or website development? Boy, have things changed!

I thought about this last week as I created a form for our website. It never even occurred to me to purchase software. I simply went to an online provider of forms (this is not an ad or necessarily a recommendation but the one I used is called and whipped the form together. It was actually very cool and very easy. I could simply drag and drop text fields onto a page and then write whatever question or statements I wanted. I embedded the code on my website, and now the application gathers all the information and creates reports that can be organized and reported in many different ways, even displayed back on my website using an embed code. No software, no installation, no registration key, no worry about using up disk space, no long-term investment or obligation.

Of course, this is just one example of a change that has been revolutionizing computing – what is often referred to as cloud computing. Instead of loading software onto your computer, you use software and servers accessed across the internet. Often, the provider will allow you to use a limited version of its application for free, with embedded advertising. You can pay to get rid of the ads and to access a higher level of service.

Instead of installing Outlook on their computer, people just use gmail or yahoo mail or any of dozens of other email services. Instead of installing Photoshop, they can use online photo editing software provided by many companies, including Walgreen’s and Kodak. Instead of installing Dreamweaver, they can use Wix or WordPress or Blogger to create websites or blogs.

Lately I have been using Ning and Groupsite to create social networking sites without loading any software. For my personal computing, I used to use Quicken to manage my checking account; now I just use my bank’s online services. Even TurboTax is now available online with no need for software.

A fully functional high-end computer without software? I’m not quite there yet, but I am very close. Premiere, InDesign, Outlook, Word, PowerPoint and Photoshop may be my last big hold-outs, but I really believe their forecast – at least as software products individually installed on personal computers – is cloudy with a good chance of extinction.

Blending art, activism and social media

April 19, 2010

We all know that activism and social media produce a powerful combination, whether it involves politics, the environment or any of a thousand other issues. And we know we can find many forms of art throughout the social media sphere, from photography to videos to poetry. But it is when art, activism and social media are all skillfully molded into a single force that social media reaches its pinnacle, not only educating and motivating an audience, but inspiring it as well.

Milwaukee poet and educator Ryan Hurley proves this point with a moving new YouTube video that not only displays his varied artistic talents – including poetry, photography and video production – but serves as a rallying call on behalf of the arts themselves.

Using art to promote art is the power behind this video. Moved by the dedication of Milwaukee students who are weary of seeing art fade from their schools’ curriculum, he and colleague Eric Mire document how these students take to the streets – both as artists and as activists – to fight to keep the arts alive.


(In the interest of disclosure, Ryan Hurley is my very talented son.)

Where are the flying cars?

April 10, 2010

For all the incredibly fast changes in technology in our lives, some things just don’t change at all.

Take the toilet, for example. Still pretty much exactly as it was 50 years ago.

Cars are starting to change, with hybrids and such, and the engines are more efficient and reliable but the basic gas-reliant technology is pretty much the same as it has always been for the vast majority of car owners. I think about that every time I pull up to the gas pump. And what ever happened to the Jetsons’ flying car?

The TV has changed a lot, with color in the 50s and 60s and now HD and DVRs and cable channels and flat screens, etc., but AM radio hasn’t changed a bit. You can still get faraway stations at night if the climate conditions are just right, and if you drive under power lines you still lose your signal. And our local public radio station, which broadcasts only 15 miles from my house, gets all crackly as soon as the sun goes down. Can’t they fix that?

Anyway, with all the focus we always put on our changing technology, I thought it might be fun to think about the technology in our lives that doesn’t seem to change much at all. What else can you think of?