Banjo, resurrected

Yesterday my cat of 17 years had a stroke, and we had to have her euthanized.scooter2scooter1

Scooter was a quiet kitty for most of her life.  Having been orphaned as a kitten and bottle-fed by human attendants, she was quite content to lay back in your arms and let you rub her belly.  She would reach out and, with great deftness, pull your hand to her head without using her claws.  She would hide from strangers, and isolate herself when we were out of town for a few days.  Sometimes I would have to go find her, and extricate her from her hideaway – she seemed despondent when people weren’t around.

So we were.  We were around, and I even considered taking her to London with me

scooter3

Getting in the suitcase.

when I had that assignment for work.  In the end, I left her here with friends for a year or so.  She adapted, albeit through seclusion, to her changed life, and we were glad to be reunited with her upon our return.

Scooter, in her last weeks, became demanding – meowing loudly every morning for attention and treats, and had taken to climbing up into our bed at night and sleeping by my face, despite the presence of the poodle at our feet.  She even, willingly, ventured outdoors for the first time in her life last week – 17 years of contentedness indoors with never an attempted escape.  She seemed, in retrospect, to have her own bucket list.

In the end, our beautiful rescued kitty expired after suffering a stroke yesterday.  She

scooter4

Classic – reading, interrupted.

was reduced to limping with one leg completely compromised, and unable to eat, and, I think, having significant pain.  The doctor made sure it was swift.  We cried.

I’m adding some photos here from the last couple of years.  And, reflecting on this quite natural and devastating event, I was reminded of a poem I wrote years ago for a different kitten we had rescued.  One we named ‘Banjo’.

I hope you enjoy, even if it brings a tear or two.

The bottom of the ninth

For Banjo

Paused with paws outstretched
The nape pulled back in a nursing grip
Teeth and gums in unwilling expression
Of the end of it all

I look into Banjo’s one-year-old eyes
Deep orange, dark iris and staring forward
And pray for the light to come to him
His now strained body tensing

For what, who knows but a cat
Soon will, cashing in his cache
Of lives, I, the sudden minister of lives
Signing the deed

And Banjo, our poor Banjo,
Whose heart and swollen throat
Strummed still in his last moments
Wasted swiftly by disease

More swiftly still he soared
As new fluids rushed to quell
The pain, the fear, the life
Right out of him.

His once tense slender feline
Frame relaxing to an ever distant
Beat slowing quickly to the
Rhythm of dreams and

Heaven knows how high he
Jumps now, from what stylish
Crouch he bounds to what
Arching tree he climbs

He was a fine cat.

Steve Mahaley, 1999

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Give me the beat.

It’s been a very emotional few weeks as I’ve wrapped up 18 years at Duke Corporate Education.  I’ve realized, again, that leaving involves people on both sides of the equation:  I needed to say goodbye and process what this next chapter of my work life is going to (could) look like, and all the great people I’ve had the privilege of working with needed to share their sentiments with me, as well.

Today, I just ‘wanna get lost in the rock n’ roll, and drift away’.

Years ago I introduced this idea of Friday songs at work.  Just to have some fun, and most everyone loves music.  We would put on some popular tune on some speakers and sing along, or even get up and dance.  This led to all sorts of laughter and great memories.

Well, today, some colleagues conspired to put together a song list, and we gathered in one of the rooms downstairs, and songs by bands such as Meat Loaf, the Gap Band, George Jones, Springsteen, Billy Joel and others were shared.

We laughed, danced, hugged and may have had a tear or two.  The last song was “Drift Away” by the Doobie Brothers.  One of my favorites, and lyrics, below, capture so many of the sentiments we all have shared.

Goodbye, Duke CE.

Day after day I’m more confused
Yet I look for the light in the pouring rain
You know that’s a game that I hate to lose
I’m feelin’ the strain, ain’t it a shame
Oh, give me the beat boys, and free my soul
I want to get lost in your rock and roll and drift away
Oh, give me the beat boys, and free my soul
I want to get lost in your rock and roll and drift away
Beginning to think that I’m wastin’ time
I don’t understand the things I do
The world outside looks so unkind
So I’m countin’ on you to carry me through
Oh, give me the beat boys, and free my soul
I want to get lost in your rock and roll and drift away
Give me the beat boys, and free my soul
I want to get lost in your rock and roll and drift away
And when my mind is free
You know a melody can move me
And when I’m feelin’ blue
The guitar’s comin’ through to soothe me
Thanks for the joy that you’ve given me
I want you to know I believe in your song
Rhythm and rhyme and harmony
You help me along makin’ me strong
Oh, give me the beat boys, and free my soul
I want to get lost in your rock and roll and drift away
Give me the beat boys, and free my soul
I want to get lost in your rock and roll and drift away
Oh, give me the beat boys, and free my soul
I want to get lost in your rock and roll and drift away
Hey, hey, give me the beat boys, and free my soul
I want to get lost in your rock and roll and drift away
Na na na, won’t ya, won’t ya take me
Oh oh, take me
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Do Rising Tides Lift All Boats?

There is a popular saying, when it comes to economic forecasting, that ‘a rising tide lifts boat and anchorall boats’.  This expression provides a comforting and confident view of top line growth in economies, with the associated presumption that even small and struggling boats will do better in better economic times.

Would that it were true.

I found myself thinking about anchors – those devices that hold us in one place.  For many of the smaller vessels bobbing around in this stormy global economic sea, they have disproportionately huge anchors, with mighty short chains, that hold them down.  While the massive cargo ships, tankers, destroyers and aircraft carriers are built for deep and stormy waters, these smaller mom and pop businesses, in my view, are held down by the increased power that giant corporations have – power to create advantageous regulatory policies; power to merge and grow larger; power to undercut on prices to kill small businesses.

I think this is worth consideration and debate.

And if you’d like a more authoritative view on this, I’d encourage the reader to explore Klaus Schwab’s (founder of the World Economic Forum) 2016 article about the fourth industrial revolution, and the need to ensure a future that is bright for all:

In the end, it all comes down to people and values. We need to shape a future that works for all of us by putting people first and empowering them. In its most pessimistic, dehumanized form, the Fourth Industrial Revolution may indeed have the potential to “robotize” humanity and thus to deprive us of our heart and soul. But as a complement to the best parts of human nature—creativity, empathy, stewardship—it can also lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a shared sense of destiny. It is incumbent on us all to make sure the latter prevails.

photo credit:  fotolog
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Bias in Reporting = Bias in Thinking = Bias in Reporting

One of the reputable news sources I go to with regularity is The Conversation.  I recommend it.

Today there is a post regarding research done on the reporting of mass shootings, and specifically on the characterization of the person doing the killing*.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a stark difference in how White American killers are portrayed, vs. Latinos or African Americans.  (BTW fewer than 1% of the cases studied from 2013 -2015 featured female killers).

shooting profile

The above chart is featured in this report, and I encourage the readers to read it, and then commit, or re-commit, to the practice of telling new and different stories (to ourselves) about people for whom we may hold bias – the poor, the racially different from us, the ethnically or religiously different, etc.

I find this to be a useful practice:  I tell myself a different, interesting, perhaps compassionate story about the person I see that normally I would brush off, or otherwise rapidly categorize in some way.  So when I see the young and hoodied person of color looking shiftless on the sidewalk, I remember my own youth.  I remember being shy.  I remember seeking to hide in my clothing.  I remember following fashion trends (to my close friends, that comment will make them laugh out loud).

And then I seek to look him in the eye, and smile.

Good luck 🙂

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A Brave and Startling Truth

exoplanets

My hope is that, as we continue to discover more and more about our place in the galaxy and universe, that this outward expansion of inquiry will be accompanied by an equally-deep introspection into who we are as people, and how we will be with one another, and with our natural world that sustains us.

A Brave and Startling Truth

Maya Angelou, 1995maya-angelou_D1TR3

We, this people, on a small and lonely planet
Traveling through casual space
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns
To a destination where all signs tell us
It is possible and imperative that we learn
A brave and startling truth

And when we come to it
To the day of peacemaking
When we release our fingers
From fists of hostility
And allow the pure air to cool our palms

When we come to it
When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate
And faces sooted with scorn are scrubbed clean
When battlefields and coliseum
No longer rake our unique and particular sons and daughters
Up with the bruised and bloody grass
To lie in identical plots in foreign soil

When the rapacious storming of the churches
The screaming racket in the temples have ceased
When the pennants are waving gaily
When the banners of the world tremble
Stoutly in the good, clean breeze

When we come to it
When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders
And children dress their dolls in flags of truce
When land mines of death have been removed
And the aged can walk into evenings of peace
When religious ritual is not perfumed
By the incense of burning flesh
And childhood dreams are not kicked awake
By nightmares of abuse

When we come to it
Then we will confess that not the Pyramids
With their stones set in mysterious perfection
Nor the Gardens of Babylon
Hanging as eternal beauty
In our collective memory
Not the Grand Canyon
Kindled into delicious color
By Western sunsets

Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe
Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji
Stretching to the Rising Sun
Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favor,
Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores
These are not the only wonders of the world

When we come to it
We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe
Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger
Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace
We, this people on this mote of matter
In whose mouths abide cankerous words
Which challenge our very existence
Yet out of those same mouths
Come songs of such exquisite sweetness
That the heart falters in its labor
And the body is quieted into awe

We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness
That the haughty neck is happy to bow
And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines

When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear

When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.

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Killing Time

https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6427459251555438593

Thinking about this over coffee as well. I fear we may be falling further into a reductionist mode of thinking that killing perpetrators is an appropriate answer to violent crime. Jeffrey Fagan, professor of Law and Public Health at Columbia University points out (in 2006) the lack of validity or reliability of evidence that would support such thinking:

“There is no reliable, scientifically sound evidence that pits execution against a robust set of competing explanations to identify whether it can exert a deterrent effect that is uniquely and sufficiently powerful to overwhelm these consistent and recurring epidemic patterns. These flaws and omissions in a body of scientific evidence render it unreliable as a basis for law or policy that generate life-and-death decisions. To accept it uncritically invites errors that have the most severe human costs.” (https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/FaganDeterrence.pdf)

I happen to know an expert witness MD (in anesthesiology) from a prominent US hospital that regularly is called upon to comment on the mis-administration of one form of capital punishment, lethal injections. I would much rather see our government and institutions focused on the root causes of why and how such violence happens, and then to propose and create mechanisms for mitigating those causes.

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Game of Clones?

oregon-trail

Oregon Trail – circa 1990

Having attended a serious games conference last week, I’m going to list my likes, concerns and suggestions for the folks working in the industry, and those who are seeking to buy games for learning.  Overall, I fear a game of clones is afoot.

The industry:  What I mean by this is the array of companies that are catering to the needs of educational, corporate, military, healthcare, non-profits and others, seeking to design and deliver game-based experiences that advance relevant learning for included stakeholder groups.

What?!  (Jargon meter pegs to 10…)

Okay:

Game-based experiences:  These can be board games, mobile games, desktop computer games, or headset (VR) games that serve as a part or whole of a learning-related design.

Relevant learning:  The game helps players uncover, challenge, and integrate new knowledge that is helpful to them in their context.

Stakeholder groups:  This would include employees, customers, partner institutions, or members of the general public, who all have some part to play in the value chain of the company or institution in question.

LIKES:  There are are a number of good things that are evident in the sessions and through examples of the work that various providers are creating:

  • Integrating design thinking:  There is some awareness building of doing a better job of ’empathizing’ with eventual users of the game / service / product in question.  While this can slow the process down, sometimes you have to go slow to go fast.
  • Mixing realities:  There are some excellent examples of games created that cause people to visit and/or interact with real spaces, people and objects.  I think this is a productive trend as it has the potential to bring learners into exercising curiosity practically – in other words, there is the possibility of integrating the real world into the game play scenario for faster transfer of learning into practical application.  Whenever we can make people curious about the content and matters at hand, that’s a good thing.
  • Incorporating stories:  We all intuitively know the power of a good story, and there is good reason to believe that well designed stories will promote longer-term memory.  Plus the story gives meaningful context and provides a great structure for an episodic approach to the game.  Think of Oregon Trail.
  • Increasing sophistication:  There is some indication of a general increase, to my mind, of sophistication in thinking about the role of games, design dimensions of the game experience, and the mapping of that experience to a larger flow of learning.  This is a good thing.

CONCERNS:

  • Assuming game designers are good at design thinking:  This is a problem that has been brought forward recently; that design thinking is both a process and a discipline that leverages truly creative thinking.  I fear that there may be a broad dehydration of the depth of the process and intolerance of the perceived inefficiencies.  Not everyone is a designer.  Designing well takes time.
  • A lack of critical analysis of the research on learning and transfer of knowledge.  Some game developers are wrapped around the interaction (as they call it), mimicking real-world assembly of objects, for example.  Current technologies do not even come close to approximating the haptic (felt) reality of moving physical pieces.  I think this is faulty thinking – that simply moving a virtual gear onto a spindle with VR controllers will give the learner a full and transferable appreciation of what that entails.
  • Games for good are waning:  I did not see many  (any?) examples of games built to help address core social, economic and environmental issues facing our nation and planet.  Games are uniquely situated (as a methodology) to involve people in these epic battles.   Just ask Jane McGonigal.
  • Money.  Money.  Money.  Some presentations for the K-12 sector were made by private school teachers or companies that cater to specific schools that can afford their products.  While it’s wonderful to see the amazing use of context-aware, mobile, augmented-reality gaming to bring local history and a fictional story together, the entire process was funded by kids whose parents forked out over $30,000 a year (in tuition only).  This is particularly concerning.  I would like to see the very best educational experiences provided to all students.

SUGGESTIONS:

  • Serious Game designers – take the d.school course on Design Thinking, if you haven’t.  Integrate that into your workflow.
  • US Dept of Public Instruction – divert attention away from advancing the charter / private school voucher agenda, and put money into game development for all curricula (not just STEM).
  • Beware of fidelity trap:  there is a strong attraction to creating visually (and aurally) high-fidelity worlds.  There is, however, some good research that indicates that not everything needs to be so.  Just look at Minecraft for a great example of low-fidelity, high-engagement design.  This falls into the realm of ‘just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.’

If we don’t pay attention, we could fall into the trap of creating clones of game-based experiences that emphasize the wrong points of focus, miss the mark on content and interaction, cost too much, and only serve a particular segment of the population.

Let’s create better games for everyone!

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