Posted by Sam Gliksman
Newsweek recently ran an article describing President Obama as our nation’s first “Blackberry President”. The article relates how we have all become dependant on communications technology and confirms what most of us already knew – this flood of new technology is having a huge impact on the way people think and interact. From texting and instant messaging to email alerts and telephone ring tones, a constant barrage of technology based “interruptions” is eroding our ability to concentrate.
As a result, our performance on tasks that require steady focus and attention deteriorates. In its most severe form, interruption generated errors have been thought to be a major cause of several plane and train accidents. On a more everyday level, our children and students find it increasingly difficult to read their required chapter for homework or complete that five paragraph essay they were assigned this morning. They can often stay on task only by interacting with their friends via computer video chat, instant messaging or the newest fad, Blackberry Based Messaging (BBM). Instant communication with your community requires just a few simple clicks. Silent, uninterrupted contemplation is fast becoming a lost art.
Interruptions have become so commonplace that we also don’t think twice about interrupting each other either. One study stated that the average worker only spends around 11 minutes on any given project before being interrupted. We’ve even become conditioned to welcoming the interruptions. What’s the first thing most people do when they get a new cell phone? They customize their seductive call to action – the ring tone. When we’re not being interrupted we’re still so conditioned to thinking in short bursts that it’s difficult to maintain concentration for any length of time. How many of us check for messages and email every few minutes even when there isn’t any indication that one has arrived?
What can we do and what can we suggest for our children and students? Some simple recommendations include:
1. Know when to turn off your ring tone. If you have a meeting or need to read something that requires attention, start by turning off the ring tone on your phone. If your child has homework, suggest that they either turn off their cell phone altogether or at least place it somewhere where they won’t be tempted to use it.
2. Turn off automatic audible alerts and pop ups for emails and instant messages. Check them when it’s convenient for you rather than allowing them to constantly divert your attention.
3. Establish a pattern of using your technology at “coarse breakpoints”. These are defined as natural breaks in concentration – the completion of a task, the end of a paragraph etc. Interruptions that fall right in the middle of a thought or task make it difficult to return and continue that process. Research shows that it’s far easier to return to your task if your interruption falls in a more natural breakpoint.
Asking kids to just “turn everything off” may yield results … if it can be accomplished. Speaking as someone that uses technology at every turn, going “cold turkey” certainly can make you feel like Odysseus tied to the mast. A solid recommendation is simply to take control. Manage your use of technology. Use it at times that are convenient for you and don’t allow the technology to constantly redirect your attention. Turn off alerts and decide when you will check your messages. Technology will make us more productive and improve our quality of life if only it is used appropriately.
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April 3, 2009 | 4:02 pm
Posted by Sam Gliksman
It has happened to all of us. You compose an email and click the Send key ... only to instantly realize that you sent it to the wrong person. Your next step is to frantically scramble for your email Outbox to try and stop the transmission. You open the Outbox just in time to see the email disappear from your pending list, spread wings and fly out into the cyber universe.
Did you just get sweaty palms reading that? If you’re lucky your gaffe was an innocuous little message inadvertently sent to the wrong friend. No harm, no foul. If you’re unlucky it was an email that will end up insulting someone or damaging a business relationship. However if you’re really, really unlucky, you mistakenly sent the email to an entire list of the wrong people. Maybe 28,000 people?? Yes, that’s what some unfortunate fellow at UC San Diego did earlier this week. In what has been an exceptionally difficult college admission year in California, 28,000 applicants to UC San Diego received an acceptance email earlier this week. The e-mail began, “We’re thrilled that you’ve been admitted to UC San Diego”. Their jubilation quickly turned sour however when they later received a second email stating that a mistake had occured. They had actually not been accepted. According to UCSD admissions director Mae Brown the email was sent to the entire list of 46,000 applicants instead of only the 18,000 who had been accepted.
Oops ... sorry.
We live in an age of instant communications. Email has already replaced “snail mail”. That debate has long been officially concluded. Unfortunately the tortoise had no real fighting chance against the hare. In fact, email itself is now being scorned for being too slow and is being superceded by texting and instant messaging. People want and expect to receive information immediately. Not so long ago we had to wait days or weeks to receive information sent by mail. Today, critical data regularly traverses the globe in seconds.
Part of my working life is spent in the IT world. Rarely does a week pass without someone asking if they can retrieve an email that was sent in error. There are systems aplenty to recover deleted files. As a general rule however, you cannot recover an email once it has been sent. Speeding on the information super-highway can be a little dangerous at times. I know of at least one administrator at UC San Diego that is longing for the good old days of the tortoise.
The full LA Times story is at http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-ucsd-reject1-2009apr01,0,7943711.story
April 3, 2009 | 2:22 pm
Posted by Sam Gliksman
Having lived in Israel for many years you become accustomed to checking for stray bags and suspicious people. Life in the US however has traditionally been safer and simpler. All that changed dramatically on the morning of 9/11. We’re on heightened security alert - from government all the way down to private citizens. And recently a new threat has started to emerge. The threat of a cyberattack. This is not the simple virus that attacks your personal computer and destroys your data. The nation’s economy and infrastructure are dependant upon computers. A cyberattack would potentially threaten our electricity grid, banking system, water supply, air traffic and more. It could quickly cripple our economy and cause sweeping chaos.
The Pentagon and National Security Agency have been protecting government and military networks from intrusion by hackers for a number of years. In recognition however that our national security demands far reaching security measures, several lawmakers are proposing new legislation that will empower government to create cybersecurity standards that extend to private industry for the very first time. The proposed Senate legislation, co-sponsored by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), promises to dramatically escalate U.S. defenses against cyberattacks.
“People say this is a military or intelligence concern, but it’s a lot more than that,” Rockefeller said. “It suddenly gets into the realm of traffic lights and rail networks and water and electricity.” Acknowledging that defense against cyberattacks would require an ongoing effort, Rockefeller said that the proposal would call for an ongoing, quadrennial review of the nation’s cyberdefenses. “It’s not a problem that will ever be completely solved,” he said.
The legislation calls for the appointment of a White House cybersecurity “czar” who would have unprecedented authority to shut down private computer networks that were under cyberattack. The Office of the “National Cybersecurity Adviser”, reports directly to the president. It would require establishment of “measurable and auditable cybersecurity standards” that applies to private companies as well as government.
For the full article, please refer to the Washington Post.
April 1, 2009 | 8:57 pm
Posted by Adam Wills
A new device under development in Israel would take some of hassle out of determining if fruit trees or grape vines are getting enough water. The monitor, tapped into a stem, would measure the plant’s electric conductivity, a parameter of water stress. If the stress gets to be too much, the device can send a text message or e-mail to the farmer. And if the plant continues to bake in the sun without water, the device can also turn on the water itself.
The product – created by Israeli researchers Eran Raveh and Arieh Nadler at the Volcani Institute of Agriculture—is still about three or four years from store shelves, reports Karin Kloosterman at Green Prophet/Israel21c.
“We have a water crisis here in Israel and need a way to irrigate more accurately,” says Raveh.
The device, still without a name, will save farmers up to 30 to 40 percent in water use, he calculates. “The idea is that we were trying to find a way to give water more accurately to the trees. Usually [devices today] measure soil water content.”
Measuring tree water content this way, says the plant and soil specialist, is “complicated and takes a lot of time until you get a ‘true’ measurement, because there are many varying parameters involved.”
Cheap, simple, accurate
To get a true estimate of the moisture level in a plant or tree, a farmer must make a grueling check of 26 points in the ground around the plant.
“We’ve found a different way for measuring a tree’s water status: by sticking probes—three simple nails—into the main stem of the tree, we measure electric conductivity of the stem, and analyze the data to tell people if the tree is under good water conditions. It’s important to be able to do this in a simple and cheap way,” says Raveh, who came about the idea by accident: “Our solution is cheap, it can be automated and is very accurate.
“We were doing some other work, and realized that the data that came out of it reflects tree water status,” he says.
This data is the intellectual property that the future company will revolve around. Whether the information collected will be transmitted by SMS, e-mail message, fax, or sent to switch on an automated tap, is a matter of simple programming.
For tomatoes and potatoes too
For now, the team will continue refining the first product, shaped like a small hammer — for trees — and will continue fine-tuning it to apply it in farm produce as well. Raveh envisions the cost will be very affordable for most farmers, about $250 per orchard: only one probe will be needed to reflect the water content in about every 500 trees.
“It can work on every stem and doesn’t matter what kind of plant material,” he says. “Olives, palm, banana — at the moment we are working with big trees, but it’s a matter of calibrating [the device] to move it to younger and smaller plants.”
Orchard farmers everywhere, and the planet, will be saying thank you. “In big orchards, water use is a problem,” says Raveh, who estimates that an orchard with thousands of trees could cut its water use by almost half. It could also spare trees and plants from being over-watered.
He doesn’t expect the device will be that useful for the homeowner with a few trees on a lot, because in this case it’s not difficult to see if a tree is water stressed. A “smart” tree that can send text messages, however, could be used a novelty item to entertain and teach the kids about water, plants and the environment.