Just another version of Shawn Dobbs

Archive for the category “General”

Time for the classroom to catch up with technology

image courtesy Google images

In today’s high tech world it can be intimidating stepping out into the job market.  Employers regularly use social media and online resources to find qualified candidates to fill positions, and applicants need to be increasingly tech-savvy.  It is the job of educators to prepare our students for this environment, and our job to hold them accountable.


Our public schools largely missed the boat when it came to computers.  Computers were pushed to the back burner in high schools and used as a database and a word processor rather than the multi-media learning tool that they had the potential to become.  We are at risk of doing the same thing with tablets.


The smartphone market has exploded, and phones have transformed from communication devices into portable personal assistants.  They do everything for us, from tracking calories to managing schedules to sending emails.  Many can’t imagine life before smart phones.  Now tablets are ready to revolutionize the market once again, and it is important that our classrooms move at the same speed as the real world.


The time is long past due for tablets in the classroom.  Imagine the opportunities for an immersive learning experience.  Instead of reading “I Have a Dream” students could watch the speech.  Rather than learning about Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats, students could listen to one.  Students learning music could read sheet music and listen to the song being played simultaneously.  Students would have a textbook, dictionary, and thesaurus with them at all times.  In gym class students would be able to track calories burned and have video instruction for weightlifting and exercises. The cost of textbooks and materials would be drastically reduced.


Students in India are given the Aakash tablet for a mere $40.  Although the Aakash is certainly no iPad, it is very functional, and the concept is one that should be applied in the US.  The United States has already begun lagging behind other industrialized countries in terms of education, and the fault partly rests with our insistence on going into the 21st century with a 19th century teaching model.


Some classrooms have embraced the “flipped” classroom approach, in which students watch tutorials and learn concepts at home and then come to school to practice and hone their skills.  The students log into an education program that gives them sample problems to work through and allows the teacher to track their progress and identify which students are having problems in which areas.  This allows for the teacher to then work with those students individually while the rest of the class continues to learn.  This approach gives struggling students the individual attention they need, and does not hold back students who work at a faster pace.  These programs provide much needed flexibility and individual specialization.  One such program, Khan Academy (a very interesting overview found here), has a free version optimized for the iPad.


The possibilities for enhanced learning techniques on tablets are endless, and it is the responsibility of our citizenry to engage in a competitive approach to learning that utilizes the best methods.

New iPad a Letdown

ImageWednesday was Apple’s first product launch since Steve Jobs’ passing, so there was understandably a lot riding on it.  Unfortunately for Apple fans, and the for the company, the new iPad (don’t-call-me-3) was quite a disappointment.

Aside from boasting a new screen resolution 2048×1536 (basically the same resolution as the ASUS Transformer 700 series and a few other high-end Android tabs) and an improved GPU, there’s not much to talk about.  It’s using an updated version of the same old dual-core processor, which has yet to show any performance advantages to Android’s Tegra 3 quad-core chip, or even the Snapdragon S4 dual core chip, despite Apple’s claims.

Apple has finally brought a couple of features to the table that really should have been on the iPad 2 already, so at least they are catching up to the present.  They’ve added 4G connectivity and an updated camera, although the camera is still just a 5mp shooter.

So is it worth another $600 for an iPad 2 with a better display?  Maybe to loyal fanboys, but not to the average consumer.  To be realistic, the iPad 2 already sports 720p video recording and 1080p playback.  This is more than enough for the average user.  The only real advantage to the new iPad is the 4G connectivity which, as usual, does not require a new 2 year contract.  That’s a very nice feature.  The rest, however, leaves quite a bit to be desired.  If Apple can’t deliver on a stellar new product every year, then maybe they shouldn’t release a new product every year.  Or at least don’t price it like it’s a new product when it’s just the same old thing with a couple tweaks.

Restore Omaha

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On Saturday I was lucky enough to attend the Restore Omaha conference as a volunteer and cover the events and speakers.  Restore Omaha is an annual conference centered on restoring older and historical homes, promoting green energy alternatives, and implementing energy efficient renovations to existing homes.

It was an educational experience, to say the least.  The opening address was given by Arnie Breslow, who recently restored the Cornish residence on 10th and William Street in Omaha.  He detailed how, over the last 13 years, he dedicated his weekends and holidays to restoring the French Second Empire-style house, built in 1886.  The Cornish house is just one of several houses that Breslow has restored in the Omaha area.

After the first session was a lunch break followed by the keynote address from Patricia Gay, Executive Director of the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans.  Gay highlighted several similarities, as well as a few differences, between New Orleans and Omaha and their respective preservation and restoration efforts.  She spend a great deal of time focused on federal and state legislation that can aid restoration projects, and how restoration projects can help stem problems of urban blight and actually be a financial boon to a city.

Before and after the keynote address were dozens of mini “breakout sessions,” dealing with a more specific topic related to classic homes and homeownership.  I attended classes on electric safety given by a local contractor, Tom Taylor.  I saw a history of the “modernist” movement in architecture, given by Paula Mohr of the Iowa State Preservation Office, and ended the day with a sneak peak of the newly improved reEnergize program, a collaborative effort between Omaha and Lincoln to improve energy efficiency in old homes.

In between there were plenty of opportunities to meet local merchants and enthusiasts, and lots of networking opportunities.  I happened to meet the son of a UNO alumni who ran the UNO Gateway for many years, and a number of other interesting people.

I spent over seven hours at the convention and it flew by.  I look forward to it next year, and encourage anyone who plans on owning a home or currently owns a home to attend as well.

“I Inherited this Mess”

When attempting to make a case for why the public should even consider reelecting a man who has failed to keep nearly every promise he made prior to swindling- I mean, winning- office ( there is one fallback that the President would most certainly not use this time around, although it would actually be the truth.

“We inherited this economic mess.”  (Or one of a million versions of that statement oft repeated)

We’ve heard this line before, of course.  It has been used by Team Obama for four years to explain why his administration can’t seem to do anything with the economy (or anything else).  In fact, this line has been repeated so often the mainstream media has taken it as fact, and seems to have completely forgotten about that pesky little housing bubble that was the catalyst for it all.  No, now it was all George Bush and the GOP that caused the recession.  Never mind that subprime mortgage practices were introduced and encouraged by President Carter’s “Community Reinvestment Act” over 30 years ago (

The Clinton administration and Andrew Cuomo (Director of FHA at the time) only exacerbated this problem (  Weak attempts were made during the Bush administration to reform lending standards as well as Fannie and Freddy, but these were half-hearted attempts at best.

But to rely on actual facts would mean that nothing was inherited from the previous administration, and someone in this administration would have to assume responsibility.  Perhaps the President?  Not a chance. Ms. Clinton?  Not likely.  Maybe the first lady?  It would seem not.  Eric Holder?  Nope.  Nancy Pelosi?  Harry Reid?  Any Democrat in Congress?  No, no, and no.

Lucky for Obama, come November this year, the previous administration will be his own, and then he can accurately blame “the previous administration” all he wants.  It might just be the first time I would take this President at his word.

Warren Buffett Should Not Be a Role Model

Warren Buffett Should Not Be a Role Model


“The soul…can’t be ruled.  It must be broken.  Drive a wedge in, get your fingers on it- and the man is yours.  You won’t need a whip-he’ll bring it to you and ask to be whipped.  Set him in reverse- and his own mechanism will do your work for you.

Make man feel small.  Make him feel guilty.  Kill his aspiration and his integrity…Kill integrity by internal corruption.  Use it against itself.  Direct it toward a goal destructive of all integrity.  Preach selflessness.  Tell man that he must live for others.  Tell men that altruism is the ideal.  Not a single one of them has ever achieved it and not a single one ever will.  His every living instinct screams against it…Man realizes that he’s incapable of what he’s accepted as the noblest virtue- and it gives him a sense of guilt, of sin, of his own basic unworthiness.  Since the supreme ideal is beyond his grasp, he gives up eventually all ideals, all aspiration, all sense of his personal value.”

-Ayn Rand; The Fountainhead

For a perfect example of this principle in action, you don’t have to look far.  Well, you probably don’t even have to look outside of the room you’re in or the street you’re on; most people have come to accept some version of this attitude and live by it.  But for an obvious, screaming, can’t-be-ignored living example of this, look no further than 3555 Harney Street, at the offices of Warren E. Buffett.

Warren Buffett has experienced tremendous success through his ability to foresee outcomes and recognize greatness and integrity in others.  Some say Buffett got rich through luck, or through no work of his own, but that’s simply untrue.  While Buffett does maintain a team of investors today that do the majority of his work for him, he accumulated his first millions through long hours of dedicated labor.

Anyone with a sense of self-worth and personal integrity would be proud of these achievements.  The man of self-worth would show through example how to achieve success, and attempt to inspire others to reach the same heights as he.  Instead, Buffett preaches the injustice of his success, viewing it as a damnable offense to society.

“While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks.”

“[The wealthy] have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress.  It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.”

Besides showing an ignorance of and disdain for our armed forces, typical of liberal plutocrats, these statements reveal Buffett’s “sense of guilt, of sin, of his own basic unworthiness.”  Only those who believe in the unworthiness of all of us “get serious about shared sacrifice.”  Those of us who believe in the principled spirit of mankind, the spirit that gave us the power to fly, the power to walk on water, the power to create the wonders of the world, the towers, the symphonies, the sculptures; the power to be prophets and shapers of our own destinies and futures, those of us who understand that THIS is the essence of mankind, would never preach the value of “shared sacrifice.”  We would preach the value of shared success, of our human ability to elevate ourselves out of a pitiable position and into one of honor and fulfillment, such as Mr. Buffett.  A man with integrity would be proud of an achievement such as Mr. Buffett has achieved.

Rather than pitying those who are “below” him, Buffett should encourage and teach.  Rather than giving away his integrity (his money-the tangibility of his ethic and success) to various charities and others he pities and berating Mitch McConnell for not doing the same, Buffett should seek to use his wealth to give the foundation and structure of his success to others who are capable yet have not the opportunity.  Rather than pity, a man of integrity should feel exalted and optimistic that if he can achieve this kind of success, so can others.  Pity is the most disrespectful feeling one man can have for another.

“…pity- this complete awareness of a man without worth or hope, this sense of finality, of the not to be redeemed.  There was shame in this feeling- his own shame that he should have to pronounce such judgment upon a man, that he should know an emotion which contained no shred of respect.

This is pity, he thought, and he lifted his head in wonder.  He thought that there must be something terribly wrong with a world in which this monstrous feeling is called a virtue.”

-Ayn Rand; The Fountainhead


“The economics of Jesus.”

Words that would be public suicide for any of today’s politicians, but this is how Mary Barrett, founder of the Omaha chapter of Habitat for Humanity, describes the Habitat philosophy.

“It’s a biblical business model.”

“We don’t work for the poor.  We work with the poor.  We don’t want to lose that focus.”

This is how Jesus would have run a business in today’s world.  That’s not to say that Mary sees herself as Christ-like; far from it.  Mary is one of the most honest, sincere, humble women I have ever met.

So how exactly would Jesus run a business in the modern economy?  If it were a housing business, he would first house the poor, the homeless, and the helpless.  He would have those who he helped repay him by doing the same kindness for another, and building more homes for the homeless.  By paying it forward, he would soon have amassed a volunteer base that could build not just one house, but a whole neighborhood, and much much more.  Instead of sheltering profits, he would shelter people.  And he would call it Habitat for Humanity.

This idea of people helping people at the most basic level, with no interest in profit, is what motivated Mary to found Habitat for Humanity in Omaha.  On a visit to Georgia in 1984, the same year that Jimmy Carter discovered Habitat for Humanity, Mary saw the Habitat organization and what they were doing, and how it got to the root of the problem.  She had worked with her church and other organizations at homeless shelters and charitable foundations before, and had seen the revolving door of the same faces coming in time after time with the same problems, stuck in the same rut.  Habitat for Humanity was a different sort of project, one that aimed to empower people and give them a foundation on which to build their own futures.

Mary came back to Omaha with the idea to help the communities in her hometown that needed the help most.  After receiving little initial support, she invested $1,000 of her own money into the project, and when that ran out, she invested another $1,000.  Her initial investment fed the organization hand-to-mouth until enough support was garnered to interest donors and grants.  Once the project was underway, it became completely self-sustaining; the money gained by mortgaging the houses is directly channeled into building more houses, with no profit to the organization.  The homes are mortgaged at 0% interest.

Now, 25 years later, Mary is still involved heavily with Habitat in Omaha.  Though not officially a staff or board member any longer, she often visits Habitat sites and continues to lend a helping hand.

For more information on the Omaha chapter of Habitat for Humanity and the organization in general, visit

Why Androids Eat Apples for Breakfast

Often, I am asked by my friends to come with them to help pick out their new cell phones.  It’s usually been almost two years since their last phone, and a lot has changed in two years.  Partly because I am mobile-technology savvy and partly because I’m just a big nerd who takes great pains to stay up to date in that department, I can usually be of service.  The first thing I tell anyone who asks (because it is always the first thing I am asked) is NOT to get an iPhone.  I’ve been asked so many times and had to explain so many times that it seems more prudent to just write it down for all to see.

Before the criticism begins, allow me to give credit where credit is due.  The iPhone is a good product.  In terms of functionality, user-friendliness, vision, and implementation, the iPhone (especially the iPhone 4S) is ideal for many people.  But, as Samsung has recently tried to point out through their Galaxy ad campaign, it is by no means the only thing out there.  In fact, the biggest reason that Apple is such a powerhouse today is only because they were first out of the gate, releasing the first iPhone in July 2007, over a year before the first Android device (HTC’s G1) was released.  Since the G1 it’s been an ugly battle, with both companies viciously competing for market share and driving the technology in the field to dizzying new heights.

Despite Apple’s significant lead (a year is a lifetime in the smartphone industry), Android has taken massive strides to catch up and surpass Apple in almost every respect.  So before you run out the door to buy your new iPhone, consider a few things first.


As mobile technology advances more quickly than any other industry and Apple had such a huge head start, how is it that in just over three years Android has been able to overtake Apple in such a significant way?  Within the answer lies what is the most crucial difference between Android and Apple, and also why the iPhone will eventually cease to be a viable product.  That reason is “open source.”

Put simply, anyone can do anything with their Android phone.  In contrast, the user can’t even take the battery out of the iPhone.  This represents a stark contrast in company philosophy.  Android is an open source code.  The developer codes for Android software are available for free to anyone who cares to mess with it.  You can “unlock” your Android phone and rewrite the very code that it runs on to make it do what you want it to.  This is far more advanced than the average user is capable of, but there are plenty of people out there who love doing exactly this, and they make the results of their work available for free to the rest of us on the Android platform.  Apple, on the other hand, charges $99/year for access to their code, and developers can do only one thing with it: create apps for the Apple AppStore.  Any attempt to rewrite the iPhone code would be immediately rejected, and those caught modifying and distributing modified codes would be prosecuted.  In the long run, it is this philosophy that will be the death knell for iPhone.  There is an active community of thousands of Android enthusiasts working tirelessly to make the platform the very best that it can be.  The open source nature of Android encourages this.  Apple retains such tight control over every aspect of its product that it simply cannot utilize the resources of the developer community in the same way that Android can.  This point is perfectly represented by the graph below, comparing the number of iPhones shipped to the number of Android phones shipped.


Now that the techy part is over, it’s time to discuss what everyone with a smartphone really cares about- apps!

While true that the Apple AppStore still contains more apps than the Android Marketplace (459,000 to 319,000 as of October 2011) there are three things to keep in mind here.

(1) Apple has a 16-month head start on Android.  Considering that in just the last three months of 2011 there were over 100,000 apps added to each platform, 16 months is a tremendous lead, and for Android to close the gap this quickly is an impressive feat.

(2) Android is catching up fast.  October’s numbers were the latest exact figures available, but Android boasts on its website that the Marketplace now contains over 400,000 apps, and Apple claims to have over 500,000.  Regardless of claims and speculations, one thing is clear- Android is catching up.  Also keep in mind that because of the open source nature of Android, apps can be downloaded from other sources as well, including the Amazon AppStore, the AppBrain market, AppPlanet, and countless others.  Including these third party sources, Android far surpasses Apple in sheer numbers of apps.

(3) Android offers far more free apps than Apple.  In fact, 70% of Android apps are free, compared with a mere 35% of Apple apps.  From a developer standpoint, this could be a disappointment, but for the end user it is extremely satisfying to know that you got the same app for free that your iPhone carrying friends coughed up anywhere from $3-$5 or even more.


There is one final, crucial aspect to consider when purchasing your new phone, and that is the hardware and software it is running.  In this area, Apple at least gets kudos for keeping things simple and reliable.  There is only one iPhone every year, and it comes straight from Apple.  Every new iPhone is guaranteed to feature significant improvements over the previous generation of iPhone.  Not so with Android.

Android manufacturers have recently stated that beginning this year they will focus on quality rather than quantity and most all agree this is a welcome trend.  For the last two years Android handsets have been flooding the market faster than anyone could keep up with them.  The high-end and some mid-range Android phones have always been superior to iPhone (and any other phone on the market), but the low-end and certain other mid-range phones have tarnished the platform and left many consumers feeling that deciding which Android phone to get is just too much trouble.  Many simply believe all Android devices are the same.

In order to give an accurate comparison, we will focus only on the high-end phones (generally called “flagship devices”) of the various carriers, which represent the best of Android, and compare them to the iPhone 4S, the best of Apple.

Motorola uses the slogan “Droid Does” in their marketing campaigns.  This accurately sums up the difference between Android and Apple devices.  Android does, and Apple does not.  What does Apple not do?  Several things, including but not limited to- NFC chips (Near Field Communication, used for such services as mobile banking), AM/FM radio; widgets (extensions of apps that update automatically on the phone’s home screen), 4G network speeds (that’s right- the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S are NOT 4G phones), and memory cards/SD cards/SIM cards.

Despite lacking several software features found in nearly every Android phone, the iPhone 4S falls short in the hardware department too.  Without getting overly technical, the biggest problem with the iPhone’s hardware is that it is outdated and overpriced.  The just-released iPhone 4S is powered by a 1Ghz dual-core processor, the Apple A5.  The Apple A5 chip is based on Cortex 9 technology, which is almost three years old.  Samsung has been able to use Cortex 9 technology to produce 1.5Ghz processors, so the question remains why Apple chose not to utilize the technology to its full capability.  Even the upcoming iPhone 5 with an updated Apple A6 processor is based on Cortex 9 and expected to run at only around 1.2Ghz, while Samsung’s highly anticipated Galaxy S3 is expected to be running on Cortex 15 technology, boosting performance to 2Ghz and providing up to 75% more speed and power than Cortex 9-based chips.  Even with inferior hardware, the iPhone 4S retails at $400, and that is WITH a 2 year contract.  In contrast, flagship devices from LG, Motorola, Samsung, and HTC (the major Android manufacturers) have never topped $299, and most go for $199.

The other major disappointment is that the iPhone 5 will not be a quad-core device, meaning Apple users will have to wait at least another full year before they can hope to see a quad-core iPhone.  For those who don’t know, dual core devices were introduced for the first time last year (making their debut on Android, incidentally) and provided twice the speed, computing, and processing power of any handset released prior.  Dual core has now become the industry standard.  Quad core devices take it still further, promising a 5x performance improvement over dual core, essentially making mobile devices capable of running at speeds equal to or faster than a desktop PC with high-speed internet access.  Quad core technology is already in use in some Android tablets, and at the Mobile World Congress at the end of February, quad core phones will be premiered for the first time, yet again exclusively on Android.

In the last three years, Android has come from being the dark horse of the mobile arena to the fore runner.  In the coming years Android’s expertise and superiority will only become more pronounced as they continue to deliver cutting edge technology with the best hardware and software at the best prices on the market.  Unfortunately for Apple, their reign of smartphone dominance is already on the decline, and they will continue to be outpaced and outdone as Android delivers what consumers expect out of their products.

Leave campaigning to the Republicans

This is from an article published in the UNO Gateway student newspaper, 01-18-12.  The newspaper article was titled “Obama’s strategy in 2012: Anyone but Obama!”

The Gallup daily tracking poll has been tracking the political leanings of U.S. citizens since the 2008 election, and has come up with some interesting results.  Since 2008, the percentage of people who call themselves conservative has increased by 2% while people who call themselves liberal has decreased by 1%.

Within the GOP, voters have reflected this trend almost exactly.  Registered Republicans who consider themselves conservative has grown 3% since 2008, while registered Republicans who call themselves moderate has decreased 3%.  The final totals stand thusly- Republicans who consider themselves conservative make up 68% of the party, while moderates make up only 26% of the party.

On the other hand, Democrats are becoming increasingly out of touch with the values of the general public.  Registered Democrats who call themselves conservative (by democratic standards) have dropped 3%, while those who call themselves liberal has increased by 2%.

This should be the first thing Republican strategists look at in 2012.  Given the state of the economy, fiscal conservatism has become a prerequisite for gaining the nomination, while social conservatism has been placed on the back burner.

This puts Santorum, Huntsman and Perry squarely out of the running, as reflected by their dismal performances in Iowa and New Hampshire.  Of these three, only Huntsman has been able to face reality, finally throwing in the towel Monday morning.  Santorum and Perry are still trudging along under the delusion that they are bringing something new to the table. When in reality they are both merely watered-down versions of Gingrich, the only candidate besides Romney with a full understanding of the multitude and importance of the issues facing the nation today.

They have been trumped by the more fiscally conservative positions of Romney, Gingrich, and Paul.  Of these, Romney remains the most moderate.  So why is it that a moderate like Romney (Moderomney, if you will) is gaining momentum with every passing day?  It’s as if he has channeled the spirit of Secretariat in the GOP race.  The answer is fragmentation.

The base of the GOP is more conservative than Romney, so they vote for more conservative candidates.  Many flock to Newt Gingrich.  Many flock to Ron Paul.  Hardline social conservatives flock to Rick Santorum.  Pigeons flock to the empty lot that, until just a few days ago, housed Huntsman 2012 HQ.  What this means is the base of the GOP has divided its votes amongst the true conservatives, paving the way for Moderomney to win with ease.

Looking ahead to Nov., these numbers indicate for conservatives to pull off a victory, they must nominate someone who espouses the conservative values of the base, or this election cycle will go down in history as “2012: 2008 Part Two.”  In an atmosphere this politically charged, Conservatives have a unique opportunity to present to the American public someone who represents their values, someone who is as conservative as the majority of Americans claim to be.  The current President is as far left as any President has been, and the Democrat party is continuing to move in that direction.  For the GOP to pull out a victory, they must highlight this important difference.  The GOP’s values are shifting in tandem with the public, while Democrats are becoming more radically disengaged from the public.

To avoid living 2008 all over again, Conservatives have to unite behind a Conservative.  Without a true conservative candidate in the race in Nov., the voting block giving the GOP its fire right now will become disillusioned, and the party’s chances of gaining the White House will fizzle.

Republican voters are split, and the current situation benefits only one candidate- President Obama.  The President’s strategy for the rest of the year has already been determined by his contenders- he can just sit back and watch.  “Anyone but Obama” is the most assured way to receive only Obama.

Cat and Mouse

Published in the UNO Gateway student newspaper, 01-30-12, Literary column.



It had started as a game, or rather a distraction.  Maybe both.  I really should have been studying, but then again the cat needs attention.  How could I call myself a responsible owner if I didn’t at least play with the thing once in a while?  If the times that we played happened to coincide with the times when I should have been working, then so much the better.  At least it took my mind off of things.

Being a student, I naturally had no money for exquisite toys or tasteful cat nips, but I did have one advantage, and that was an unbounded imagination.  I recalled that my grandmother, who knew a great deal about animals of all sorts from her experiences working at the zoo, had mentioned that cats love us because they think we are cats.  They are unable to differentiate species.  If this was true, and my cat couldn’t tell a person from a cat, then certainly she couldn’t tell a mouse from a drawing of a mouse.  In no time, I had crumpled up a scrap of notebook paper, attached a string to one end, and glued two pieces of felt for ears and a button that made for a bulbous, oversized nose.  We had a mouse.

It was a rather ragged looking mouse, a pauper when compared to the fine princely toys of the aristocratic feline breeds, but it was the best my meager budget could afford.  It had been an old weathered notebook, so the mouse had a wrinkled, sickly hue, not so much white as it was grey, with splotches of urine-yellow dotted about.  I had bunched the paper into little knobs at the bottom for paws, so it looked like a peg-leg old sailor mouse, aged and worn.  In truth, it was something of a stretch of the imagination to even call it a  mouse, but a mouse nonetheless it was.

What fun we had with that mouse!  I’d pull it along by its string tail, and Annie cat would chase it round and round, never once questioning why the mouse was always running backwards.  The mouse would stop and quiver, hoping against hope that the monstrous carnivore would just stalk past, on to bigger game.  But invariably Annie would always pounce unexpected, and dash that mouse’s brains against the floor!  She even tore an ear off and taunted the mouse with it, dangling it just out of reach.  The mouse watched, helpless but unafraid, letting out not one squeak of fright or fury.  He was stoic, brave- the Vincent van Gogh of the rodent Impressionist movement.   He was revered in the house as an altruistic, honest mouse, who had lost his ear in noble service to a great cause.  But Annie never let up.  Not impressed by the mouse’s honorable sacrifice, she continued to prey.

We both knew it would happen.  Cat-and-mouse can remains a game only so long as both players view it as such.  After Annie devoured the altruistic mouse in his entirety, button nose and all, I shed a brief tear for his ennobled spirit, and quickly began work on the next playmate, a twerpy, uncouth canary.  The canary would take me a few days, though, since I wanted it to at least minimally resemble the actual bird, and I had to wait until payday to get the feathers from the craft store.  Until then the partly-hatched canary sat in a corner, naked and ashamed, longing for wings and tawdry ornamentation.

In the meantime, Annie had become distinctly uncomfortable.  Since ingesting the mouse she had eaten nothing, and often gave long, low groans of a ghoulish tenor.  I was afraid she was sick.  She would sometimes hack and cough as if she had been the Marlboro Man’s feline companion.  She grew irritable and discontent, and edgy.  She eyed me with a curious intensity as I shaped my canary out of cloth and paper.

After a few days Annie seemed back to her usual self.  She had had quite a fit during the previous night, so awful that I feared she would choke and I would be left alone, just me and the skeleton of my canary.  But after one last awful “houghchauhf!” she laid peacefully at the foot of the bed, and awoke spry as a kitten in the morning, begging for her food.

I had yet to obtain the feathers for my canary.  Annie, though no longer sick, seemed to have lost interest in me as a companion for the time being, so if she wasn’t going to rush me, I wasn’t going to be rushed.  I could often hear her tumbling around in other rooms of the house, quite viciously at times, so she had obviously found other means of amusement.

Finally, during one her fits of excitement, Annie went too far.  I heard the paddapaddapadda of her paws across the floor, then the frantic skittering of her claws on the hardwood trying to bring herself to an abrupt stop (she apparently had not studied Newtonian physics), and the final FWUMP! of inertia being halted in its tracks, followed by a thunderous crash and a torrential downpour of shattered glass.  I rounded the corner furiously, ready to leverage punishment and retribution on the creature who dared bring this storm breaking the silence of my peaceful paradise.

I paused, however, as I glared down and noticed that there were actually two creatures to be held responsible.  Annie sat, proudly cornering a quivering, wretched-looking mouse, frozen in terror.  He had heard his death-knell and was too terrified to even make a feeble attempt at escape.  Looking at it, I felt a mixture of pity and, surprisingly, of fear.  It really was quite a wretched mouse; it looked as though had Annie not got it, it wouldn’t even have made it the rest of the day.

He had only one ear- the other had obviously been violently torn off some time ago.  He was old and frail.  I could see his bones underneath his stretched, wrinkled skin as he cowered there.  His bulbous blotch of a nose was so large it threated to pull his head into the dirt whenever he peered out from behind it.  His skin was thin and dry as cracked leather, and his fur looked as if that leather had been stretched far too thinly over an old work boot.  It was beyond dirty.  The original color was indeterminable, and what was left was a monotonous undetermined color.  If he had been a crayon he would simply have been labeled “filth.”  Patches of what looked like stale urine dotted this hideous coat, and I felt a growing sense of dread as I looked closer and saw that instead of paws, he had for gnarled stumps for feet, like a peg-leg old sailor mouse, aged and worn.

There was no doubt then.  I knew this mouse.  Without a second’s hesitation I tore from the room to where my half constructed canary sat.  I had once been proud of this second creature of mine, feeling God-like as I had eagerly awaited the day I could feather him and present him to Annie.  Who was I to think that I could imitate a deity, granting life where I so chose?  The things I had considered monuments of my heavenly intellect were now demons of haunting idolatry, mocking me in my imperfect imitation.  I tore the canary from its perch and set it ablaze, hoping the flames would burn hot enough to purge this monster of everything it stood for.  Annie sat and watched, calm and patient as Chronos himself, merely observing the frenzy and the beauty of my creation’s destruction.

More on Social Media

This is from an article I wrote for the UNO Gateway student newspaper (published 02-01-12), posted here for your viewing pleasure!  The article in the newspaper was titled “A realistic approach to social media, please!”

Many classes embrace social media as the new norm.  To be taken seriously, a company must have both a physical presence and an online presence.  Any business nowadays knows this.  No start-up would think of opening its doors without a website or at least a Facebook page to accompany it.  Social media has become integrated as a large part of our culture; it is an extension of our selves, a means of building and maintaining relationships, both professional and personal.

Sure, most teachers don’t allow texting, Facebooking, or Tweeting during class (although there are exceptions), but it’s been recognized that social media contributes to the learning environment in new, exciting and unique ways.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I came across a textbook with an introduction that not only advocated the rejection of social media, but actually encouraged readers to phase out their online presence via Facebook, Myspace, Linkedin, etc.  In fact, heralded it as a “ray of hope” that some would do so.  This got me thinking…

We all know someone who *gasp* doesn’t have a Facebook.  Usually it’s our great grandparents or our great aunt twice removed.  We expect some people to be resistant to change.  For some, new technology is just a hassle.  Our parents and grandparents have lived for decades with only the telephone as the quickest means of communication.  Obviously the world didn’t stop turning then, so what’s the big deal?  Is it just a passing fad?  The aforementioned textbook goes on to say that we, as a society, have reached a “saturation point” with social media.  We simply won’t tolerate it any more.  Everyone’s had his or her fun with it. It has outlived its usefulness, on to the next.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Sure, we all get tired of hearing about how well your best friend’s crops are growing in Farmville, or who got 250 million points at Bejeweled, or who was able to use the word “zygote” in WordsWithFriends.  But just because millions of us waste our time on trivial mind-numbing games doesn’t mean the idea has gone the way of the Furby.  Far from it.  What we are seeing is not a saturation point but rather a turning point.  Social media has been pushed to its fullest capacity as far as entertainment value is concerned.  We have reached the point where social media has been transformed into something entirely different from its original conception.  It is now a powerful tool to be utilized and molded to suit our needs as sentient beings in the information age.  We are just starting to make this turn- we have not yet fully passed the turning point of putting social media to productive use.  We are still so flooded with messages from Farmville and beyond that it is hard to keep focused on the bigger picture.

The bigger picture is that social media is a useful tool in building healthy relationships, both professional and personal.  If you feel like all of your friends on Facebook are superficial acquaintances, it’s probably because they are.  Many of us haven’t been taught how to effectively promote social relationships or interact on a personal level at all, which makes it impossible to utilize social media effectively.  Being neighbors in MagicLand or CityVille does not make you neighbors in real life.  Giving your neighbor in ZooWorld a new panda for their zoo does not give you grounds to be offended that you were not invited to your ZooWorld friend’s real-life bachelor party.

Having a Facebook page does not mean you have become an excellent communicator.  An excellent communicator is able to use a Facebook page to effectively maintain solid, lasting relationships with other people.  That’s what Facebook is about.  Effective communicators understand that our online personas are an extension of our actual personas.  Effective communicators understand how to build relationships and how to enhance relationships, both in person and online.  The two are not mutually exclusive.  They work together in a way that allows us to maintain a relationship regardless of distance, and that is the beauty of social networking. It is the responsibility of the individual, family, and community to promote healthy, respectful, and ethical social skills. We are social creatures, and social media allows us to create, define, and enhance those relationships we care about.

To avoid the problem of impending social media ‘saturation,’ these lessons need to be understood at an early age, and these values emphasized in our culture.  We need to fight back against the jaded view that all users of social media are simply wasting time and that this is a passing annoyance that will fade in time.  This attitude only serves to further our lack of social competence and leaves no room for the possibilities that social media presents.

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