“Susan”

susan-curios-on-window-sillKids these days. They have it pretty easy, don’t they? The Internet is everywhere, there’s no shortage of cable channels to choose from, and videogames are so embedded into daily life we barely even notice them. A trip to Grandma’s involves an hour or two of backseat gaming, a few more hours of television, a hasty meal and a bored visit to the garden, followed by tantrums over the WiFi password and an angry drive home because the iPad is dead.

In my day… oh, here we go, “In my day!” Really. I hate to say it, but it’s true. There were no microwaves, no cable channels, no smartphones, and no wireless Internet. A visit to Grandma’s usually meant watching trees zip by, a black-and-white television that was never turned on, a ponderously slow dinner, and a tour of the garden that was actually a highlight.

Then, for real entertainment, there were the trinkets on the windowsill. I think every grandmother had them. These little glass baubles were found in every window in the house, and they came in every shape and color. Little red cups, blue vases, pink ballerinas, butterscotch birds, and they weren’t just on the sills. Grandma had placed them on top of every sash, and there were extras on shelves throughout the house. The sun beamed through them, throwing beads of color across the floor and walls. When the colors rose just so far up the back wall of the dining room, we knew it was time to hit the road.

Those days eventually end, as they must for everyone, and the houses are sold, boxes are packed, and the trinkets are forever lost, to remain only in memory. Once in a while a cellar is cleared, and boxes of these glass curios are discovered, wrapped in old newsprint: a local sports team wins a trophy in 1954; Jackie Kennedy’s recipe for a noodle casserole; Comics lampooning Nixon. And inside, glass junk, fads from a bygone era, suitable only for a dumpster.

And that brings me to the Wakefield house.

———-
The house was a flip. I’d say it was a failed one, though most of the work was top notch. The failure was in the previous owner’s timing. Bought at the peak of the market, and unsuccessfuly sold at the bottom. They’d had the place for a year or so, and the bank had it for three. My wife Lisa and I bought it in a dusty, neglected condition, but with good ‘bones’, new walls and ceilings and updated heating and electrical. A steal, with only some cleaning to do.

‘Only’ can be a loaded word. The basement of this house was still packed with boxes and old furniture. We found stuff in the attic, too. The houseflippers gave all this stuff up, or maybe it was there before. Of course we determined that this was the end of the line for most of it.

While clearing out the junk, it was apparent that this house had been lived in for a long time by someone. What we could glean from the collection was that an older couple had accumulated clothes, books, old board games, tools, toys from every era. We figured out how to give a lot of it away.

For the old furniture and anything we couldn’t donate, dumpsters were hauled in, and out. Two twenty-yarders. I tried to keep anything worthwhile. Tools! A model railroad set (that has yet to be built). And there was one box of these glass trinkets that so closely matched the ones I remember, I couldn’t quite toss it. It stayed.

The house was interesting. It had a quirky sideways floor plan with a huge living room, an open kitchen with a dining area, a weird little den in between, and a short corridor that formed a loop. The main bedroom was double the size of a normal one, with its own full bathroom. Most, if not all, of the walls were new.

———–
Before long, Lisa started complaining about a feeling she was getting about the place. She was always into this kind of hocus-pocus, paranormal bullcrap, so when she said she felt a presence in the house, I treated it like so much nonsense. Her sister would visit, and, completely independently, mentioned a weirdness about the place. I was sure they were collaborating on some kind of practical joke.

The gist of it was that there was something going on at the bottom of the stairs. A chill, or a tingling, which they felt every time they walked past the spot. We rearranged the living room furniture so we were never sitting back-to the stairway. Before long, even I became a little anxious looking down the stairs after dark.

My dubiousness about the situation began to unravel after a number of strange incidents. One involved a friend who was having trouble with his family, and needed a place to stay. We were quick to offer up the couch, since we had two extra bedrooms but no beds. We left him stretched out on the couch with a sleeping bag, but the next morning, he emerged from an empty bedroom. As he told it, something down there spooked him. He wound up running right through it to get upstairs, and felt a cold spot.

Any concerns we had about taking in a new resident went out the window, but we gained a name for the phenomenon: the cold spot.

It was our first Thanksgiving in the house, when my mom, sitting at the table, looked toward the living room and asked us what was up in there. She’d felt something. A presence. I gave my wife and her sister a glance and dug back into my turkey and stuffing.

———-
Finally, on a severely cold evening less than a week before Christmas, there was a knock on the door. A woman about our age stood on the steps. Her name was Ashley, and she was visiting from Pennsylvania. Apparently she’d grown up in the area, and visited her grandmother in this house. She just wondered if she could see what’s become of the old place.

I don’t know if it was wise. I wouldn’t advise anyone do this, but we let her in. We believed her, and I think we were thinking the same thing: that maybe, just maybe, she held an answer to our shared question.

Lisa started a pot of coffee. While it brewed, Ashley gave us a tour of the house. My hunch about the upstairs was true; the master suite used to be two bedrooms. Downstairs, the renovators had made a ton of changes. The fireplace wasn’t always surrounded by ornate woodwork, the kitchen was originally closed off from the dining area, and the living room was now larger.

As we sat in the living room with our coffee, Ashley told us how there used to be a corridor leading to the stairs, where a rank of shelves opened to the living room. On these shelves, her grandmother kept a bunch of colorful little glass trinkets, and she’d often stand at the bottom of the stairs, contentedly arranging them.

Lisa and I shared a look. “Guess what?” I said. “We have something for you.”

I bounded down the cellar stairs and returned with the box. I placed it on the coffee table and opened it. Ashley saw exactly what was in there, and if it can be said that I’ve ever seen someone positively beam, it was then.

She pulled out several of the curios. She had a little story about them, and where they came from. Most of them, as far as she knew, her grandmother had always had on the shelves, but there were some that were bought at a county fair, a few at local yard sales. A blue seahorse that was given as a gift. A green teacup that she bought in Maine.

“You should have these,” I told her. “They belong to you. They’re your family’s.”

Ashley looked at me like I’d just told a hideous joke.

“Oh, no. No,” she said. “These could never leave here. They belong in this house.”

I will swear that I felt the presence then, standing just over Ashley’s shoulder. I’m sure my wife felt it. If Ashley did, too, she never let on. After a few more minutes talking about the house and her grandmother, we bid Ashley goodbye, and she left to brave the freezing night.

———-
I closed the door, and instantly knew what she meant about where the trinkets belonged. They couldn’t just be in a box. They stayed on the table another day or two, until I dug out a spice rack we kept in the basement (having never found a place for it). I installed the spice rack on the wall near the bottom of the stairs, and we arranged the colorful little glass things on it.

It was a nice addition to the Christmas junk we’d hung all over the house. Maybe it was a little tacky, but if it served a purpose, then so be it. For the rest of the holidays, we didn’t feel a presence, but it was likely because the house was in a state of constant noise as parties were held and family and friends were entertained. People asked about the trinkets on the shelves, and we said we’d found them in a box and put them up. Nobody ever mentioned feeling anything near the stairway.

Sometime in January, I noticed something about the glassware; they had been rearranged. Lisa swore she never touched them, and I believed her.

You see, we didn’t know how to arrange them. Should it be by color, by size, by type? This arrangement was seemingly random, but also had a kind of feel to it that was incomprehensible. An artistic intuition had been applied that neither of us had. We’d never heard any of them move, and certainly hadn’t seen it happen, but it was undeniable; they had been.

As time went on, we didn’t feel the presence any more, or at least I didn’t. Maybe I was imagining it, but occasionally, I could swear one of the trinkets would move.

We only lived there another year. When it came time to sell the place, I made sure to tell the new owners they’d be better off leaving the shelves of curios exactly as is. I’m pretty sure they weren’t about to do so.

I do know this: on the last night we spent in the house, we’d sat on the couch with a pizza, and Lisa went upstairs to pack the last few boxes of clothes. I poked at the embers in the fireplace, and suddenly felt the glare of eyes behind me. I turned to the stairs. No, I did not see anything, but I felt the old woman standing at the shelves looking at me. She wasn’t angry, wasn’t sad. It wasn’t happiness either, but I felt, almost imperceptibly, that she gave me a little nod.

I nodded back, and the presence was gone.

———-
Some time later that year I looked into the history of the house. The people who owned it, before the people who tried to flip it, had lived there sixty years. Adam and Susan Drexler. They were married for fifty-two of those years. Susan had outlived her husband by eight more.

We never heard from Ashley again, but I was able to find her grandmother’s obituary. She was found by her middle-aged son sitting peacefully, eyes closed, at the bottom of the stairs. She hadn’t fallen there, but it seemed she had been standing in the hallway, felt something, and simply sat down to rest.

May she rest well.

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A New History of NFL Rule Changes Caused by Patriots’ Cheating

A New History of NFL Rule Changes Caused by Patriots' Cheating By TOM BISHOP

Instigative Reporter | 03.25.2048 | 7:17 AM

BOSTON, PREFECTURE 18 – The oft-beseiged-by-scandal New England Patriots are at it again, if you take the latest report from the MSESPNBCNN Sports Network at face value. The first day of the Inter-National Football League’s annual meeting has opened with a torrent of acrimony and vitriol from the league’s 63 team owners not named Kraft. This time, the owners have forwarded a proposal to prohibit the use of cryogenic reanimation of past coaches, which the Patriots have now gotten away with for three seasons.

The twenty-two-time World Super Bowl Champions most recently took home the Belichick Trophy in Tokyo, allegedly with the help of the eponymous coach himself, despite his ‘official’ passing four years ago. This latest outrage comes in the wake of last year’s scandal involving anti-gravity skeletal insertions used by several players. Though it wasn’t technically outlawed, the INFL ruled out the insertions after the Patriots went 24-0 and took home their twenty-first INFL Championship in Amsterdam.

Like white-hat cyber-hackers, the Patriots have been the INFL’s “Rule Viability Testers” for several decades. Because of this, the pall of derision and ire against the team has spread around the world. In Moscow, they’ve popularized chess pawns with shoulder pads, helmet and a carved #12. Fans of the Paris “Escargot Thunder” spit into napkins bearing the Flying Elvis. In the Middle East, they burn Patriots flags instead of the Stars & Stripes. Fans of other legendary sports rivalries have turned their mutual hatred toward the Pats instead.

Let’s look at the litany of INFL rule changes made in the wake of the Patriots’ rule-bending strategies since the days of the sideline videocamera:

  • 2046/47 INFL Season: Float-Gate. Anti-Gravity Skeletal Insertions specifically prohibited by any player after the Pats allegedly covered the helio-silica surgical implants, originally designed for use in aeronautics, for 17 players over the previous five years.
  • 2044/45: Invisi-Gate. Invisibility cloaking apparel and apparatus outlawed by the league after the Patriots won three games using up to six invisible players, mostly on defense, to disrupt or assist the visible players.
  • 2038/39: Tase-Gate. Electrically-charged uniforms no longer allowed after the Patriots won seven straight victories without any of their players being tackled.
  • 2030/31: Psycho-Gate. Use of sideline psychics to read opposing coaches’ minds was considered for prohibition after the Pats were caught using them for the previous four seasons, but ultimately revised to allow each team one certified psychic registered with IMPART, NAMI, or the AFCPM (but not IAPLT – that one’s bullshit).
  • 2028/29 NFL Season: Glove-Gate. The NFL bans the use of adhesive pads in gloves worn by quarterbacks. It is alleged that QBs for at least 22 teams used these Stanford-engineered enhancements, and not even Tom Brady, though by this time he and the Pats are considered the embodiment of this sort of contrivance.
  • 2020/21: “Compression-Gate” results in rule changes for extreme compression gear worn by Patriots players to reduce their body composition profile, decreasing their wind resistance and making them more difficult to tackle. The new rules limit the tensile strength and flexibility of synthetic fabrics for NFL teams, and other sports leagues make similar changes, causing Under Armour to lose 67% of its stock value.
  • 2021/22: Gate-Gate. Because you know there had to be one. The Pats secretly test subliminal message delivery to fans during the security wand procedure at the stadium gate. Originally meant to spike concession revenues, the league has to specify metal detection equipment for every team after the Pats use RFID wands to influence fan loyalty.
  • 2018/19: Tweet-Gate causes the NFL to ban cell phones from the press box and sidelines after the Patriots are caught “crowd-sourcing” game strategy from observant fans sending Tweets and texts to team coaches during the game.
  • 2014/15: Deflate-Gate. Patriots and Tom Brady punished after equipment staff were caught tampering with game balls, because they knew their nephews playing in Pop Warner and PeeWee leagues preferred the balls to be slightly deflated. Or they had read about it in a science book, or something. It had nothing to do with any request from Tom Brady, of course.
  • 2014/15: The NFL changed the rules on receiver eligibility declarations after the Patriots skirted the spirit of lineman eligibility rules in at least two games.
  • 2012/13: After eleven years, the NFL finally changes the “Tuck Rule” that started Tom Brady and the Patriots even being a thing.
  • 2007/08: NFL charges largest fine ever after Pats caught videotaping opposing coaches from the sidelines in a scandal called “Spy-Gate”. The issue narrowly avoids becoming a US Senate Hearing.

At this year’s meeting, the INFL is also said to be considering banning Tom Brady from continuing to play and earn the highest QB ratings in the league at age 70, by outlawing “whatever the hell he’s doing” according to league commissioner Maxwell Gauthier.

Tom Bishop can be reached on Twitter at @myleftone

Make The Connection: Enable Sales With Online Presentations

Show Your Face: Enable Sales With Online Presentations | KnowledgeVision Fresh Ideas BlogSales is about making connections. When you reach out to people with a solution, whether it’s analytics software, a carpet-cleaning service, or a new brand of vegetable juice, it’s the connection that matters first.

And that connection is made with a smile, a “hello”, and a handshake. Something you can’t do when making connections online.

Until now. Online presentations are a tool that puts your face right in front of people. Stephanie Grant uses online presentations to help Abel-Womack’s sales executives make connections with people, ultimately to increase sales.

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Learning in a Global Business: How Waters Corporation Uses Online Presentations

Learning in a Global Business: How Waters Corporation Uses Online PresentationsRemember science class? That’s where, as kids, we got to mix chemicals, dissect frogs, and burn stuff. What fun!

Yes, we also had to memorize the periodic table and calculate equations, and yes, we’d sometimes wonder when we were ever going to use these scientific concepts.

Waters Corporation has been putting science to good use for more than fifty years. They’re a leading maker of analytical instruments for measuring fluids and substances used in healthcare delivery, environmental management, food safety, and water quality.

So it’s a good thing the people at Waters paid attention in science class. If you eat food, fuel your car, or use medicine, equipment from Waters probably had a role in ensuring the safety and effectiveness of the products you use.

Would you guess that their internal learning programs are a little, shall we say, involved?

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What’s Next For Content Creation? Four Technologies To Watch

What's Next For Content Creation? Four Technologies To Watch | KnowledgeVision Fresh Ideas BlogCall me crazy. I’m always thinking of a solution to problems.

I’m not sure this even qualifies as a problem. Maybe it’s a “First-world problem”, but here it is: How can we create great content without sitting at a computer?

What kind of innovations exist out there to help us multi-task? Can we use voice-to-text, mobile tablets, or specialized headgear to develop content that people will love?

Turning Thoughts Into Words

Here are some of the technologies that, believe it or not, we’ll all be using in the near future to create content:

stock-blog-text-driverVoice to Text Apps: You’ve heard of voice notes, where you make a recording of your random thoughts when you’re not in a position to type, like when you’re out on a morning jog. The idea is that those thoughts are going to be worthwhile enough to transcribe later (provided these aren’t thoughts recorded at two in the morning while watching the Cartoon Network).

And of course, why transcribe? Isn’t word-recognition technology able to record directly to text? For phones and tablets, there are numerous voice-to-text applications. Maybe that guy in the car next to you isn’t ranting at the radio or muttering conspiracy theories, but writing a post for his sports blog. You can even have Apple’s Siri Eyes Free installed in your car.

One major glitch: Voice to Text apps don’t make driving any safer, according to a recent study by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University. It turns out that looking away from the road isn’t the only distraction; it’s thinking.

stock-blog-virtual-realityVR-Style Headgear: Remember when Virtual Reality was the coolest thing ever? The problem was that these funky headworn devices only played back content. They could not create it. Something like Google Glass will let you record your voice and snapshot everything you see with no effort. Even Robert Scoble is now a believer in Google Glass.

But Glass and devices like it (like Vuzix) still have some obstacles to overcome, such as pricing and concerns over privacy. Store and restaurant owners are already deciding whether to allow the headworn futuristic things into their establishments, and there’s no doubt some litigation and legislation to follow. I believe that, like tablets and smartphones, they’ll attract a limited stratum of superuser. Then once someone discovers the killer application, we’ll all wonder how we survived without them.

stock-blog-tablet-heldMobile Tablets: Naturally, the iPad, Android, Kindle (oh, and Microsoft Surface) tablets have changed the way people view content. First, they’re now more likely to browse while watching television, as well as carry the things into restaurants to amuse their fidgety children (guilty!). But there’s no reason they can’t be considered tremendous content-creation tools as well.

Tablets are fine for writing, but because of the tablet’s touchscreen, they lend themselves readily to graphics production and editing. Specialized tablet apps like Adobe’s Photoshop Touch, and something like Sketchbook Express let you edit photos and create graphics. And of course there’s a phalanx of apps that let you share them on the web pretty easily, even from a phone.

stock-blog-power-gloveDon’t Leave Without Your Gloves: By now you’ve seen Minority Report, and while, like me, you probably can’t remember the story, I’ll bet you remember Tom Cruise’s computerized gloves. They were simply the interface for a gee-whiz transparent display, but they captured the imagination of tech geeks everywhere.

Shouldn’t it be possible, someday, to use gloves like this to interface with a computer or other type of screen, to create all kinds of content? You could type away at thin air and see the results directly on your Google Glass display while sitting on a beach.

People who create content are always looking for that spark, an inspiration, and that often happens to us while sitting at the ballgame, hiking a mountain peak, or using a playground slide. These technological marvels will let us continue to search for inspiration, and take advantage of it immediately.

It’s The Thought That Counts

So these devices may make it easier to multitask and create on the fly. But if thinking is the problem, as the Texas A&M study reveals, can you create great content while using a treadmill? Anyone can ingest news and other content on the overhead televisions at the gym, and many people read books on Kindles and (gasp) paper while working out, riding the train, walking the dog, and doing all sorts of other activities.

Can it work the other way around? Can you create compelling content while crushing calories? Or is mental focus as critical to creativity as it is to driving? Arguably, most people will probably create higher-quality content when they are sitting quietly and undisturbed.

But what about those brain flashes that hit you while you’re inspecting avocados in the produce aisle? For instance, I’ve written entire blog posts while strolling through a mall. That doesn’t change the essential rules about identifying an audience, using research, and calling for action. For that, whatever futuristic device I’m using better be connected to the internet.

But no matter how easy it is to create content on these awesome tools, let’s just keep them out of the car.

Originally published on The KnowledgeVision Fresh Ideas Blog.

E-Learning Innovation: Ground Rules for What Comes Next

E-Learning Innovation: Ground Rules for What Comes Next | KnowledgeVision Fresh Ideas BlogDistance Learning has been a buzzword for awhile. But I’m not talking about an educational method that goes back to 1996, or 1982.

In fact, distance education dates to 1728, when a Boston when a local educator began offering distance correspondence courses (by post or mail). The first correspondence degree was offered by the University of London in 1858.

So the innovators go back aways. They aren’t just the people we read about today, like Daphne Koller, Richard Saul Wurman, or Salman Khan, who are certainly innovators in their own right. But they are standing on the shoulders of people who long ago realized that students didn’t have to be present to learn.

And someday, somebody will stand on theirs. But what kind of learning innovations will they dream up?

What’s Next In Online Learning?

Let’s parse out some critical components of distance education on which the next ideas will be built on.

  1. It will be flexible. If the fact that distance education began in the 18th century tells us anything, it’s that technology has little to do with it. The printing press, the postal system, the phone and fax machine, the internet, the social sites, mobile devices and virtual environments and devices like Google Glass shouldn’t matter. Any learning system should probably be built so that the next big thing doesn’t mean throwing the whole learning model out.

    This means there should be a focus on the lightest footprint possible for a course, whether it means crowdsourced data, cloud storage and delivery, or use of a peer-to-peer network. The course should be available on many platforms without too much modification.

  1. It will be enduring. Every item out there on the web is available to view and learn from. Many articles we find when gathering information may be several years old. That doesn’t mean they’re outdated. Despite advancements in healthcare, software, robotics, and other areas, many core principles remain stable. This could mean that the fundamentals of any curriculum area are easily translated to online learning, even years after the course was created.

    So there is no need for an innovative course platform to emphasize a finite duration overall, only for the individual learners. As long as teachers are available, numerous courses can run for long periods of time and educate thousands of users in an asynchronous manner.

  1. It will be measurable. Communication is critical in any kind of learning system, and a distance education makes it even more important. Besides having numerous ways to coordinate efforts between teachers, students, and other parties that have an interest in their education, an innovative course platform should include ways for the trainer or teacher to review feedback from students as well as monitor their progress. It should also give the students ways to see how they are doing over time, as well as see up-to-date responses from the teacher.

    Some online learning tools emphasize one type of measurement system over another, largely based on which kind of technology is their bread and butter. Content-based platforms focus on viewership stats, while tools that are communications platforms at heart focus on statistics related to discussion. True learning tools will include that, while focusing on feedback and outcomes as a snapshot and over a time period.

  1. It will be accessible. This word means many things. The learning tool should be easy enough to use that it doesn’t hinder the learning process, and it should be readily used by people who are disabled. It also means an innovative tool should not rely on one kind of device. If people are able to use technology they already own to take part in the course, that’s the best approach.

    The accessibility of a learning tool puts a great emphasis on the design of the course platform. Even more than the user-experience design practices favored by website and e-commerce designers, a learning platform needs to make clear what students are supposed to do throughout the process, as well as allow teachers to create and modify their courses easily.

  1. It will be visual. Whether that means users share a presence in video, animation, images, or graphics, making it easy for them to create ideas in a visual format will be paramount. Visible concepts are more readily grasped, and are more widely shared. Yet, most graphic design tools are still seen as the domain of professionals who specialize in their art. Infographic-building tools are on the rise, as well as visually-focused sharing platforms, and it’s no stretch to imagine that learning can take some pages from the social media and content marketing realms.

    A learning tool should include a way to gather data and details and display it in an immediately-publishable visual image. Barring that, the tool should integrate with other graphics-development platforms that emphasize ease and share-ability.

Obviously, these rules don’t have to be taken as dogma. It’s possible that the next big advancement in distance learning will be built for one type of platform, be difficult to use, be almost unmeasurable and yet be wildly popular. Stranger things have happened. I believe the ideas that will endure over time will be those that follow at least a couple of these ground rules.

At some point, we’ll be reading about another innovation from a visionary building on the accomplishments of those who have captured our admiration today.

Originally published on The KnowledgeVision Fresh Ideas Blog.