Digital Citizenship and an Online World

As many of the regular readers of my blog know, I have been interested in digital citizenship since I started podcasting back in 2005.  Anyone who chooses to can participate online these days, with the costs and technical barriers to entry for blogging, podcasting, or participating in social media dropping lower every day.  I see young kids playing on smartphones and tablets, and interacting with friends through basic age appropriate online games.  Teens play games through Xbox live with friends from across the County, Country and World, without ever being in the same room.  Adults reveal all sorts of things about themselves on Facebook- sometimes even things you might not say to your close friends if you were face to face.

When I was in school, we used to hear things like “Be Careful- if you do something wrong, it will end up on your permanent record.”  Google is now our permanent record, and like the Miranda Rights, anything you say you can expect can and will be used against you at some point in the future in the Court of Public Opinion.

This can be stressful for some folks.  When I was considering running for office, I had to decide whether or not everything I had ever put online (which is a lot) would be a benefit or burden.  I had to decide whether I was willing to stand behind anything or everything I have ever said.  Google is my permanent record.

Everything I write here on my blog is heartfelt.  You may not agree with everything I say, and I would love to hear your opinions and exchange ideas, but know that what I write is what I feel, and as a result, I am willing to stand behind it all- now and in the future.  I also maintain the belief that we can change our minds when we learn new things, and evolve over time- new data and information makes us more informed, not less.  I’m also ok with being wrong.  That’s being human.

From Edutopia

Our school district recently issued an alert about a new social networking app that is allowing anonymous messages passed around to others through near-field communications- and that it has led to incidents of cyberbullying.  I worry that we have to start teaching our kids at ever younger ages about the harm of bullying, but I think the more important lesson to impart is one of kindness.  We need to keep instilling the values posted here, taken from a Facebook image shared by Edutopia- we need to ask ourselves, and ask our kids to think- True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, Kind.  So much of what we see these days may not measure up to these standards, and I’m willing to admit I make mistakes as well.  But I really do try to start with kind, even when I make a critique.

Our reputations are our most valuable asset, and it’s really difficult to help young kids understand that concept, when the future and adulthood seem to be forever away.  Heck, waiting for their favorite show to come on seems like a lifetime away, let alone college or becoming an adult.  That’s why teaching values about kindness, at home and at school are so important.  It’s why building communities is so important.  If we treat each other with kindness (and hopefully respect), a good portion of the work is already done.  The tone is less aggressive and more cooperative and that’s a great way to start any project or attempt to resolve a problem.

There’s nothing like running for office to emphasize how important reputation is, with everything you have done, and everything you choose to do.  Stepping up in front of my community shines a light on my actions, and I need to make sure I conduct myself in a way I can be proud of both during the competitive phase of running for office and afterwards.   While this is not the path that everyone chooses during the campaign season, and plenty of folks urge candidates to take harder shots at the opponent, or make the campaign a little more “dirty”, I hope I’m blending raising real issues, holding my opponent accountable, and being civil in our disagreements.

And if I’m not, I hope you will hold me accountable as well.  After all, it’s now all part of my permanent record.

 

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Dealing with Tough Problems

Yesterday, I attended a local hearing held on a State House Bill, HB 2427, that would allow emergency service providers to bill individuals for those services, up to $1,000 per incident.  The purpose of the bill, to make sure our local volunteer fire departments have additional sources of revenue and have to spend less time running fundraisers to support the needs of the community, is incredibly important.

To put this in perspective, I overheard a story about one fire department who had a hazardous materials call that required them to use around $14,000 worth of materials to clean up the spill.  This puts a huge dent in the budget of anyone, let alone a very necessary public service.  Since many Department’s fundraisers only raise a few hundred dollars at a shot, you can begin to see how one unusual emergency could easily sap a budget and lead fire departments into a constant fundraising mode.  This clearly takes away from their main mission of community service, and has lead many folks to quit, saying they got into volunteering to serve the community, not become professional fundraisers.

The bill as written has many problems, that were brought out from the State Fire Commissioner, Local Departments, and even someone from the organization that represents township supervisors.  Currently, as written, if you pay taxes in a municipality with a fire tax, or contribute to your local volunteer department, you would not be billed for emergency services provided by that Department.  That sounds fair, but we all know emergencies don’t always happen at home or within your township.  I live on the border between two townships and two counties- which fire companies should I make donations to?  Does one donation cover my whole family, or do we need a donation for every person in the house?  How much of a donation counts?  If a $25 donation per year covers me for what costs the Fire Department thousands in the event of a serious emergency, is that even reasonable or fair?

We have to find a better way to make sure we have adequate emergency services.  We probably need to pay an additional tax to make sure we all share the benefit and burden of emergency protection.  Leaving our fire companies to try to scrounge endlessly for additional pennies is unacceptable, but so is enacting a piecemeal system so that if I have an accident in another township, I need to worry about a big bill based on the fact I never anticipated having an accident in that area.  Then there are the inherent problems in figuring out what each type of emergency might cost, what fair and reasonable costs are, enacting rate sheets, dealing with whether they should be revised and how often, etc.  I certainly don’t want to get into a situation where my emergency responders worry about scanning bar codes attached to emergency equipment before using it, to ensure adequate billing later on.

Additioanlly, there is the problem caused by complicated emergencies.  Two years ago, on Election night, Stephen’s Greenhouse, across from where I live in Kennett Township, had a large fire and several gas tanks exploded, sending sparks and embers down on the homes in our neighborhood and requiring 9 fire companies to respond.   In such a situation, who would get to bill or be billed?  Would Stephen’s, a small business, need to pay at least $1,000 to each of the fire companies involved?  Who that bankrupt them if their insurance company decided not to pay, putting them out of business forever?  What about the homeowners in the surrounding area who benefitted from property protection?  Who gets to bill each of them, and how much?  Likewise, when a woman from Delaware had an accident after having a seizure and drove her vehicle into our yard, what is her responsibility? Do we bear any responsibility because we made the emergency phone call and the accident happened in our yard, because she is a resident of another State?

These are examples of emergencies that have happened to us within the past few years.  It’s also the reason why we always make a donation to our local fire company, and why I will probably extend that support to other fire companies in the area.  I have personally benefitted from the expertise and protection of our local services, but so have we all.  Apparently, only about 30% of the people asked make yearly donations to local fire companies, which also gives you a sense of how many people take our emergency services for granted.

The question becomes how do we ensure that our local volunteer, combination and even career fire companies are adequately funded and don’t have to do so many fundraisers, yet stay a central part of our community.  I look forward to the chicken BBQ and Bingo nights.  I want to make sure our fire halls don’t HAVE to do these events to fund public safety,but I also know I would miss them if they were gone as well.  We need some of these events to help celebrate our local volunteers and to honor them more than in a parade once a year.

What’s the answer to the problem?  There may not be one answer, but it will definitely require wider participation and/or taxation to fund emergency preparedness.  Perhaps a line item flat tax, like the one enacted for any sales tax you may not have paid in any one year from purchases out of state, on the State or Local tax forms would work, providing “insurance” for any emergency you might have within the State, regardless of locality.  Maybe not- I am sure there are other proposals that will be considered, including enacting a law that would require insurance companies to pay for emergency services provided by volunteer companies, which is not currently required by law.  What we do know is that the piecemeal, volunteer donation based system is inadequate, and needs to be addressed.

While I applaud the motivation behind this bill, it is also clear that it needs a lot of work.  We need to make sure the public doesn’t become worried about generating bills for themselves or their neighbors, so emergencies go under-reported.  What happens if folks who currently give their name and number when calling in an emergency are suddenly worried they will be on the hook for a bill if no actual service is needed?  That is the sort of chilling effect we want to avoid when looking at ways to ensure our emergency responders have the funds they need to do their jobs.

I would also like to thank to all the legislators and officials that came to the hearing yesterday in Kennett Square, and the information they shared with the community.  It’s about time we all stepped up a little more to help our local fire companies, and these events are necessary to make sure we all take notice.

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Podcasting for Beginners

This past week, I met a fantastic gentleman, Emmanuel Jenkins.  Emmanuel uses a motorized wheelchair, and we spoke about how people often don’t treat people with disabilities with the same courtesy and respect, and often times, they are really not aware of how much more difficult things can be for people who have mobility impairments.  Emmanuel is thinking about starting a podcast for people with disabilities, and we spoke about how helpful this would also be for families, to help lend a voice to people who are, at times, reluctant to speak for themselves.  These were the exact reasons I started the LD Podcast back in 2005.  So very many kids and families feel isolated, like they are the only ones dealing with specific challenges.  Well-meaning parents often struggle with their own conflicting emotions as they try to understand their children, deal with their own emotional issues of loss or regret, and try to help their children gain the skills they need to make their way through this world.

So for Emmanuel and other folks thinking of podcasting- whether it’s about your passions, your business, or as a way to reach out to your community, here is a list of resources and guides to help make the process a little easier.

General Advice

-Understand your audience (or Potential Audience)

Who do you want to listen to your podcast?  Where are they going to listen?  For how long?  Do you need to show them tools, tips or tricks that would require visuals?  Are they going to be listening through headphones, streamed on a mobile device, or streamed to a larger screen or TV?  By understanding the Who, where, when, and how questions, (at least from your point of view as the producer), you’ll be able to design your show to meet those metrics right up front.

-Know what your goals are up front.

Are you doing this as a hobby?  Is it a business project?  How much are you willing to invest in terms of time and money in setting up a “studio” of sorts?  By knowing your goals, and even writing them down up front will give you a better way to measure your success later on.

-Podcasting can also means Blogging- Finding Audio and Video on the web.

Do know that because search engines look for keywords and do not, as of yet, do a good job indexing or searching audio, you will need to have a website/blog and make sure you post your “show notes” along with appropriate tags and keywords to help your podcast (audio or video) find an audience online.

-Understand the difference between audio and video.  

Audio podcasts are more like radio shows, but because they are online, you aren’t limited, necessarily, to any particular length.  However, keep in mind most commutes in this Country are 20 to 30 minutes in length.  (This is probably true for the average length of time on a treadmill, etc.)  If you think your podcast is the kind of content people will listen to while working out, or getting from place to place, lining up your content with their attention span is a pretty good idea.  That said, I know several successful podcasts that are far longer than 30 minutes, but they are also often broken up into segments to allow them to be digested in more than one listen.

Video takes a lot longer to produce, and requires additional attention span and focus.  Most YouTube videos are three to five minutes long, and require both audio and visuals to keep people’s attention.

If you are thinking about doing an interview show, you might want to consider an audio podcast, because it is easier to produce and edit, and you don’t have to worry about issues like lighting, or having both parties in the same place at the same time. You may want people to focus on what folks are saying, and if there’s not a lot of “eye candy”  to keep people focused, ie. demonstrations, visuals, etc. audio could be a better choice.

That said, the exception to this is Google+ Hangouts On Air.  You can now do video conference calls and record them directly to YouTube, and stream them on your website at the same time.  While you lose the ability to edit before broadcast, I think this is an excellent way to do virtual  office hours, meetings, meetups and more, and should be something you think about using in your “podcast tool box.”

-How Frequently should I Podcast?

This is a question that has plagued content producers forever.  Once a week is a good rule of thumb, but that does require a lot of time, and you may find every two weeks or every month an easier production schedule to keep.    I know many podcasters, including myself, who have burned out trying to podcast once a week, and eventually give up all together.

It’s easier to build an audience if you are putting out shows on a regular schedule, just like professional broadcasters.  However, I think you can also take a “Netflix” approach and produce a ton of shows in a short period of time, and then either release it all at once and encourage “binge consumption”, or release it weekly over time, to make the production cycle easier.  Also, give yourself permission to have series or seasons, and give yourself a break after each one, to keep you  fresh, and your audience looking forward to the start of the next season, scheduled for a specific date and time.

-Production Values

Anyone with a smartphone can record video these days, and frequently audio as well.  However, the quality can vary greatly.  For example, while I can take video at my kid’s school concert through Google Glass, the audio is horrible.  While this might be borderline acceptable to show grandparents, it won’t be acceptable to showcase any talents any farther than that.  Having video gear that also captures good to excellent audio would be much better, but that involves additional expense of course, and is not as easy as point and shoot video from a phone.  Likewise, video shot on most mobile devices can be shaky, and if shot in low light situations, downright unwatchable.   Spending a little money for things like tripods to stabilize cameras, and lighting kits can make your production seem infinitely better for a small investment.  (Lighting kits for photography and video, including green screen can be had for under $200 on Ebay.)

Similarly for audio, you can record audio on a mobile device, but you will get much, MUCH better quality if you use an external microphone, or a special digital audio recorder that is meant for capturing clear audio.  (I love my Zoom digital recorders, and I have gotten some great deals through B & H Photo and Video).

-Background noise from fans, air conditioning, computer fans and hard drives, and simple movement can be a distraction to listeners and difficult to remove in the editing process.  It’s much better, if you can, to get the best source audio possible rather than thinking you will be able to clean up any mistakes later on during editing.

You can do interviews by recording audio through conversations through Skype, Google Hangouts, or phone conversations.  There are several different software tools available to do this, including Audio HiJack Pro, as well as ways to route audio to external recorders (which often preserves the highest quality).    The books recommended can give you all the details on those systems at greater length than we have for this intro.

One more great tool to mention- The Levelator.  This is one of the easiest and most important little software tools around, that will adjust the levels of two people speaking, to make them sound at the same volume, while preserving sound quality.  It’s essential if you are doing an interview show, and is one of my all time favorite podcasting tools.

Books for help sorting out Podcasting Gear and Needs

Tricks of the Podcasting Masters- Rob Walch and Mur Lafferty

Podcast Solutions- A complete guide to Podcasting- Michael Geoghegan and Dan Klass

Podcasting Hacks- Tips and Tools for Blogging Out Loud – Jack Herrington

Podcasting Bible- Steve Mack & Mitch Ratcliffe

Editing

If you are editing video, the Mac does a great job with iMovie, of for those wanting to go the extra mile, Final Cut.   Adobe Premiere works across both PC’s and Macs. (Many TV outfits use Final Cut or Adobe Premiere for editing, so they are “prosumer” level products, letting you play with green screens and more.) For audio, Audacity is a free program that works on Macs or PC’s and is my audio editor of choice.  While there is a learning curve, once you are familiar with it, you can get a ton of editing done on a short amount of time.  Many people also love Garageband on the Mac, but I find it a little more cumbersome when I’m making a lot of edits, so I often will edit source files in Audacity and then transport them over to Garageband to put together the final Podcast, for easy upload to iTunes or the web.

This is just a starter’s list for podcasting, and is, of course, far from complete.  I hope it is helpful to you, and to folks like Emmanuel, who have a great vision, but need to know the tools they need up front before starting.  Of course, please feel free to ask questions below, or email me at LDpodcast@gmail.com with any questions, and I will be happy to help!

 

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Emergency Communication

There’s nothing like running for office to bring up issues of emergency communication, and how it can be improved.

I live in an area that’s adjacent to Philadelphia and Wilmington, DE, but as a result, it’s also largely overlooked by major media markets.  We have a patchwork of local newspapers and websites, but there’s no single “newspaper of record”  or single TV or Radio station for this area to rely on for the best information.  As a result, many times the best and most up to date information is being shared by email and Facebook.

Kennett Township has done a great job in recent emergencies, including one from this past weekend involving a water main break, of sending out information and updates via their email newsletter system.  The Borough of Kennett Square has not done as good a job in making sure residents were updated with information regarding the problem, and residents are still asking on Facebook whether the boiling of water restrictions are still in place.  Even though schools and businesses were allowed to reopen on time on Monday, there hasn’t been an “all clear” or an update on any ongoing water testing, and folks are getting nervous.

The State of Delaware has done a great job in embracing social media- through Facebook and Twitter especially, in letting folks know about road closures, emergencies, and providing timely updates so folks aren’t left with questions.

We need to do something similar here in Pennsylvania, especially for more rural/suburban areas like those out in Chester and Lancaster counties.  While electronic phone trees can be helpful, many people have opted out of traditional land lines, and this would make a text/cellular phone alert system a better alternative and compliment to social media alerts.  Individuals could opt in or out, but would receive a simple text message about local emergencies, updates and all clear messages as needed.  These systems are not hugely expensive, but could do a much better job than current communication options, especially for the upcoming winter, when we might again face weather related emergencies.

Now that we have a more fractured media environment, getting the attention of the public in emergencies is harder than ever.  However, with a little planning, it’s possible to get more direct messages to people, when they need it, and increase their satisfaction with their government at the same time.  It’s not a perfect system- you will miss some folks without cell phones.  However, the Pew Research Foundation reports that 91% of American adults now have a cell phone and use it for more than just making calls, giving local townships the potential to notify at least 91% of the population through this channel- much more effective than the local newspaper readership, I’m afraid.

It’s time to start leveraging the digital technology available to us to make governmental communications more timely, and to reduce the door to door approach that is otherwise required.  if we can use this technology to deliver ads for discounts at Starbuck’s, surely it’s time to start looking into these systems to provide important updates to our communities in emergencies.  I wish I knew what we were waiting for.

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Infrastructure

Infrastructure in an interesting word and concept.  It is the bones, or framework around which we build everything from ideas to a house, to our larger communities, and our Country as a whole.  Without a solid foundation, we can’t build a larger structure on top that will withstand the test of time.

My son developed idiopathic scoliosis, and needed to have surgery this summer to straighten his spine, to prevent a whole host of serious problems that could occur if his “infrastructure” was not corrected.  In a mere month, he ended growing almost 2 inches taller due to the straightening, and was able to get back to school full time, on time.  There was a period of pain and, of course, worry, about outcomes, and how he would recover, but the pain ended up being temporary, and the end results phenomenal.

When we talk about our State’s infrastructure, we also need to go through temporary pain to get it corrected, and every time we put off the work, the project gets bigger and more expensive.  For example, PennDOT has been working to fix the problems locally on Rt. 322 for years, and my opponent even held a whole series of hearing on its repair and expansion in the early 2000’s.  Now it’s 2014.  My opponent keeps voting against the Transportation bill, but he’s certain that PennDOT will keep the project as a priority and on track.  The evidence shows that the project was originally slated to begin around 2008, and is now scheduled to start, at the earliest, 2016 or 2017.  Yet the development in our local townships continues, which will only make the congestion and traffic worse in the meantime, slowing the overall growth of the area.

I also believe that our largest and most important infrastructure spending is our investment in our public schools.  While some people like to look at education as a business, it is not a perfectly competitive marketplace, the same way hospitals and health care are not perfectly competitive.   We have a service that is tied to our community and serves everyone, regardless of ability to pay, and regardless of ability or disability.  Where private schools set admissions standards, and can pick or choose their students, our public schools have made a promise to our whole community that our children will receive an education that will prepare them either to start a career or continue on and further their education.

When we talk about vouchers and charter schools, we are abdicating our responsibility to all of our children, and deciding just to slice off a piece of the pie, and treat that part separately, often trying to make a profit from it as well.  It’s not unlike UPS taking package delivery business away from the Post Office.  There probably is room for some enhanced service, and you pay extra for that, but the main service needs to remain to meet the needs of the whole community, regardless of the health or lack thereof of a private business.  If UPS or a charter school goes out of business, there is still a safety net there – the infrastructure we all pay for and benefit from, even if you, personally, only use it as an insurance policy.

Digital Infrastructure

Digital Infrastructure

And then there is our digital infrastructure. Google has been working with several cities to provide “gigabit” (read: very, very fast) fiber service, up to 100 times faster than current internet speeds.  We also have ongoing conversations nationally about municipal wifi and whether connection to the internet is rapidly becoming an infrastructure and social justice issue, as access to many governmental services moves online and out of the world of paper forms (much to the relief of many).

 

I have run “geek” conferences, where we may have as many as three hundred people all trying to get on and use a wifi hot point at the same time.  This causes access to the internet to slow dramatically, if not crash entirely.  People get frustrated and angry, because we are starting to expect not only access to the internet, but quick and easy access, almost everywhere we go.  In public, people often have apps to search for open wifi connections they can use for free, even if security concerns might exist with these open networks.  This picture of wifi and battery charging becoming the new base of Maslow’s hierarchy is not far off.  More people got upset and frustrated during recent electrical outages because their connection to the outside world depended almost solely on the battery life of their internet connected devices- not on whether or not the lights were working.

When we talk about letting kids bring their own devices to school, or providing computers or tablets to all students, we have to understand that there’s an infrastructure cost associated with this expansion.  We will need added wifi capacity (bandwidth) as well as reliable and quick connection speeds, to make sure more class time is spent productively, rather than waiting for a webpage to load.  This will require additional expenditures and investments, and they will need to be upgraded as technology develops.  But I feel very confident in saying we have safely passed the time where we can wait for better technology to come around.  We need to make sure our children, and our schools, at bare minimum, have access to the digital infrastructure they need in order to ensure we are graduating students ready for the demands of the 21st Century.  We also need to think about whether provding community broadband is becoming the equivalent of having good roads- especially as more and more people work from a place other than the office.

Keeping our infrastructure in good repair- whether it’s roads, bridges, schools, or digital infrastructure- is a governmental responsibility and one we need to do a much better job of taking seriously.  That’s why I am running for office this year, and why I would love your support.

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