Posted tagged ‘technology’

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.

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.

So much technology, so little time

April 5, 2010

On the day that Apple released its iPad, I was not standing in line to get it.

On the day that Apple released its iPad, our family was celebrating my daughter’s 22nd birthday. We were sitting around the living room as she opened up her present: a new Motorola Droid, an incredible phone that rivals if not surpasses the iPhone in the Wow Factor. When we bought it for her we knew it had some amazing features, but we didn’t know it has a voice recognition browser. Tell the phone what you want, it automatically Googles it for you. It has a built-in GPS and, of course, an MP3 player that syncs with Windows Media, which syncs with iTunes.

We sat around the living room. I had my MacBook Pro and was looking up directions for tethering her new phone to her PC. My 26-year-old son was working on a YouTube video he is creating on his MacBook. My wife had her Mac and, just for fun, was Googling my 90-year-old mother’s name as my mother sat next to her to see what would come up. My sister had her iTouch out and was hooking it up to the Wi-Fi in the house. We all had cell phones with us, including my mother.

So, here we were, six of us of all ages sitting in our living room. Among the six of us, three of us were on our computers, all of us had cell or smart phones (including one iPhone, one Blackberry and one Droid), and we had one iTouch and an iPod in the room, although our background music was coming from the cable box hooked into the stereo system.

It was the day before Easter, and we had rented a movie to play on our Blu-Ray player but we never got around to playing it. We have two HD TVs but never got around to watching them. And the Wii we got a month or so ago was not even turned on, despite the fact we had a cool new Resort game we wanted to play.

On this day that the iPad was released, we clearly already had far more technology to use – and play with – than we had time for. And that’s not to mention the time we spent just talking among ourselves over Easter brunch and playing a highly non-tech bean bag toss game in the backyard.

Sure, the iPad is very cool, and I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point I will purchase one, mainly for newspaper and magazine subscriptions, and maybe even some books. But on the day the iPad was released, my only thought was – how on Google Earth will I find time to work another tech toy into my life?

Newspaper Nostalgia vs. Social Media Mania

March 14, 2010

In his book, Late Edition: A Love Story, famed Chicago journalist Bob Greene laments the decline of newspapers and the outright death of so many of them. As a longtime reporter and editor for several newspapers, including the now defunct Milwaukee Sentinel, I directly relate to his tales of quirky newsroom characters at the old Columbus Citizen-Journal, and how he developed a deep affection for the days of “extra, extra” and newsprint-stained hands.

Greene has a touching way of reliving the days when reporters would yell “copyboy” to him as a newspaper intern when they needed him to take their hard copy (typed on paper) to the linotype operators or walk a couple blocks to get them coffee and a sandwich. When he mentioned that the guys who operated the presses would fold newspapers into hats, I couldn’t help thinking, “Really? They did that at the Citizen-Journal too!?”

And he – like me – was in absolute awe at the mere idea that he would walk into a newsroom for a day’s work knowing that the next edition of the paper was a clean slate and that the work he and colleagues did that day in the newsroom would become the next morning’s newspaper that would start the day for thousands of people in his city. As you read his book, you can just feel his genuine love of newspapers; Greene has newsprint coursing through his blood.

To Greene, the guys at the Citizen-Journal, where he began his newspaper career, like mid-size newspaper reporters and editors throughout the country, were just regular people doing a days’ work and loving it. And he deeply respected them for their expertise, hard work and dedication.

One of my favorite parts of the book is when he projects what these grizzled journalists would have thought if someone told them that someday any old Joe could write a story, or a column of rambling thoughts, and send it out directly and immediately to potentially millions of people using something called a blog. “I think reporters, hearing that, would have deemed the proposition so loony, they would have done pirouettes – they would have placed their fingertips on the tops of their heads and twirled around on their toes like ballerinas. It just would have struck them as deranged – to think that a reporter (not to mention anyone else who owned a computer) would have the ability to reach the world, and without having to wait for an editor’s approval, or for the presses to roll.”

There absolutely is a sadness to watching this bedrock of American democracy and society – the newspaper industry – wither away like a crumbling sheet of newsprint that’s been exposed to the searing sun for days on end. And the thought that we have fewer and fewer highly trained, experienced reporters and editors covering, and uncovering, the news and sorting fact from fiction and putting news in proper perspective is disturbing and worrisome.

But, frankly, it’s not all doom and gloom. It’s a new era. It’s a new world. The newspaper industry has had a great run. But today we have so much more. As fascinating as the concept of a daily newspaper once was, it pales in comparison to the depth, the speed and the reach of the Internet. We have millions of Web sites and blogs and social networking sites. News – from a war breaking out to grandma getting her hair done – has never spread faster, and we have far more choices than anyone could ever have imagined. As someone who – like Bob Greene – has always been in awe of newspapers, I am a thousand times more fascinated by new media. It’s more convenient, more extensive, more useful, more interesting, and more exciting.

Yes, we have to be more careful about what we believe and don’t believe when we get our news from sometimes dubious online “reporters.” We have to take the source of our news into account. But having to be on our guard is a small price to pay for what we get in return.

When I started at the Milwaukee Sentinel in the late 1970s, I remember when bells would ring on the AP wire machine as important news came streaming into the newsroom. I would always walk over to see what the big, breaking news was. I loved knowing I was one of the very few people in the country at that moment to know about this news. Most people would have to wait for the next morning when the paper would arrive on their doorstep.

Now, I get an automatic text alert when breaking news occurs. I’m no longer one of just a few who get the news first. I am one of millions, but that’s OK. Even though I no longer work in a newspaper newsroom, I have never had more access to the news than I do today. And I love it.

Poetry in motion

February 19, 2010

I really ought to do this more often.

Recently, I spent a couple hours with Sarah Rose Thomas and her students at Coleman (Wisconsin) High School, about 40 miles north of Green Bay, and it was one of those afternoons that reminds me so much why I love working with educators and students.

Sarah’s classroom was filled with students who want to learn and a teacher uniquely skilled to teach them the subject matter that she so loves: poetry. At one point, preparing to read a poem to her students, she confessed that she cried the last time she read it. It’s personal, and it’s powerful.

The students, too, talked about how poems – those they read as well as those they write – sometime deeply affect them, including a student who turned to poetry after her grandfather passed away.

I was so glad I brought along my handheld digital video camera, as Sarah and her students were more than willing to talk about a subject that means so much to them: their love of poetry. And I am so glad that today we are able to readily tell these stories in online video that can be watched by people anywhere any time.

Videos such as this provide a visual glimpse into what happens thousands of times over in public school classrooms throughout our state, and does it in a way that people can see … and feel … and experience.

Incredible teachers like Sarah are connecting with students and making huge impacts on their lives. Students are giving back to the teacher and to each other, as these classrooms become communities of learning, sharing and growing. See for yourself:

Google’s Buzz: The future of social networking?

February 11, 2010

If you have a Gmail account, you undoubtedly now know about Buzz. Google snuck up on its Gmail users Wednesday and introduced its new Facebook-like application folded right into Gmail. Amazingly, there was little or no talk about Buzz before its launch (Google kept it under wraps), but social media is going crazy with talk about it today!

It will take a while to figure out whether this is the next greatest thing in social networking, but with Google behind it, that’s a good bet. Google is becoming synonymous with the Internet and social networking. Consider Gmail, YouTube, Picasa, Blogger, iGoogle, Google Reader, Google Calendar, Blogger, Feedburner, Google Earth, Google Maps, Android and, of course, the massive Google Search engine and its hugely profitable AdWords.

What are we to think of Google? Has it become the all-powerful Big Brother – constantly spidering through our profiles, emails and Internet usage habits while robbing us of all our privacy for the sake of targeted advertising and the enormous profits it generates – or an incredibly efficient, inexpensive and effective way for us as consumers to organize and use the Internet?

The products Google offers are almost irresistable. Now with Buzz, we can create new social networks incorporated with our email, photo web albums (Picasa), calendar, blogs, videos and more.

We are going to keep a close eye on Buzz and will be exploring its value over the next several weeks. Don’t be surprised to see it appear sometime this year in some way as piece of WEAC’s growing arsenal of social networking tools. In the meantime, take a look at this video, and let me know what you think of Buzz.