Humane computing

Following on from the idea of moving past paper, I want to revisit M.G. Siegler’s post from last April on what the iPad might be:

“In concluding his iPad thoughts on the earnings call, Tim Cook noted that he continued to believe the iPad would eclipse the PC market in terms of sales. Tim Cook is an operations guy. He has long handled Apple’s supply chain perhaps better than anyone has ever handled a supply chain in the history of industry. When he makes such a prediction, it’s not to be taken lightly. He has Apple’s supply chain ready and primed for such a day.” …

I return to my mother. She first looked at the iPad as cool, but foreign. Now you can barely pry it out of her hands. It is her computer.

Craig Mod responds to Siegler’s part about his mother with this: “Really, this is what it boils down to: the iPad is the first computer that is humane. Truly humane. Usable. Fully understandable by the common user.”

I agree with Siegler’s insight into Cook that the iPad (or something like it) will replace what we think of as computing devices (desktops, laptops) today. After living with iOS, sitting down with even a MacBook feels like I’m subsuming myself to technology and the process of using technology. Writing, communicating, reading, etc. on iPad doesn’t feel this way. It does feel humane.

Our desktops and laptops feel natural to us now. Essential even.

But I think our desktops and laptops are to “computing” what the first telephones where to “voice communication.” A rudimentary first step toward something much more humane—in the case of the phone, what is today anywhere-communication as one service among many on a pocket sized device that can be charged by the sun.

Moving past paper

Among certain people I’m known for being anti-paper. This happens mostly in meetings, where I’ll ask for digital versions of agendas, documents, etc. rather than paper copies. If I’m given something only in paper that has lasting value, I’ll use my iPhone to create a PDF version.

It’s a lot more efficient for how I process things, particularly taking notes during a meeting. It’s also important to me to have digital versions because everything of even potential worth gets put into the cloud and it’s important to me that I can pull open an app and search for and find exactly what I’m looking for within seconds.

I grew up with paper. I breathed paper in many ways, living in the home of a history teacher. I ran the high school newspaper and later worked briefly in news and had plenty of experience with the physicality of paper and ink. 

But I’ve firmly moved past it, and other than exceptional books that I want in my personal library, I find having paper attracts more paper.

The tipping point for me was finding an excellent app for note taking. Not an app where notes accumulate like paper notes do. But an app where I can jot things down and routinely sort those notes into their proper digital homes in the cloud. Board meeting notes, project ideas, conference talks, etc.

Simplenote is that excellent note app for me. I can’t pin-point exactly what makes it better suited than others for me, but it does.

Between Simplenote, iPhone, and iPad, I probably haven’t handled more than a dozen sheets of paper this year. A small thing maybe, but it feels a bit less stressful this way.

A chance encounter with my grandfather

Earlier this morning I was searching the Penn State Library archives. Specifically, I was searching for the earliest possible student newspaper articles on the creation of WDFM, which was the Senior Gift of the Class of 1951.

After a bit of searching, I found what I was looking for. And just as I was about to close the browser, a something struck me.

“Pop graduated only about a year before this. Why haven’t you ever looked for him in these archives?”

Starting a new search, I typed in “John Shakely” and two small results revealed themselves. The first, a minor May 1949 news brief noting my grandfather’s role on the Earth Science Club’s steering committee.

The second and final result from April 1952, two years after his graduation, was the better one:

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I wrote earlier this year about my discovery of my grandfather John Shakely’s Penn State junior class book, and his poetry on the sea.

Discovering this Daily Collegian article exactly 63 years later to the day (and on Blue White weekend) is meaningful to me. He died when I was barely a teenager. I’ll never have as many personal memories of him as I’d like. Thanks to the Penn State Libraries, I have a bit more of him:

Greenhorns to Sail Across Seven Seas (Apr. 18, 1952)

It’s one thing to go around the world in a 30-foot sailboat, the smallest ever to attempt the feat. But when you’ve never sailed a boat before, people may begin to question your sanity.

John Shakely, an alumnus of the College and of Sigma Phi Alpha fraternity, is now in Florida preparing to take his peapod across the seven seas.

He has just purchased his sturdy galleon, the “SKOAL,” and with a companion, who never sailed a boat either, is getting ready to embark just after the typhoons quiet down, which will be sometime this summer.

Shakely is a fun-loving fellow who used to keep three and one-half foot snakes, lizards, and various crawling and jumping animals in his room at school.

He’s been planning the trip for about six years. He intends to spend three years sailing around the world collecting material with which to write a book.

Little things don’t stand in the way of John Shakely and his stalwart companion. John quit his job and his friend quit college to make the trip.

On the voyage Shakely will enjoy the true comforts of a Penn State student. He says he’ll carry only “philosophy books and liquor.” What food he’ll require he intends to obtain through various and sundry means from islanders.

Our later-day H[?]urtons will weigh anchor at Elkton, Md., and follow a course through the Panama Canal, the South Pacific, Australia, the Suez Canal, and Mediterranean areas.

You’ve got to know Shakely to realize the significance of the venture. Imagine natives all over the Pacific singing “Hail to the Lion!”

His book, should his 30-foot boat successfully battle 60-foot waves, will no doubt make interesting reading.

Borders and experiences

Steve Garguilo and his friend Nate Mook delivered this TEDxCarthage talk recently, which is worth 15 minutes in order to hear about their Mongol Rally experience:

I think their point about reconsidering borders is an important topic too. Steve and I met a few years ago. An inexplicable personality in many ways, he’s the sort of person you want in your life after your first encounter. Their Mongol Rally is one example for why:

The rules of the Mongol Rally are simple: First, per the official guidelines, “You can take any car, as long as it’s crap and with an engine of 1 litre or less.” Garguilo and Mook took a 750CC Fiat Panda, circa 1992. “You can get a sense of how old it was by knowing that the windshield said ‘Made in Czechoslovakia’ on it,” said Garguilo. “A car with this small of an engine was a challenge for much of the journey, especially as we got into places with incredible mountains and places with no roads.”

Second, “You are on your own.” There is no backup and no support for participants of the Mongol Rally. Solve your problems yourself, declare the guidelines, or it’s not really an adventure to begin with.

Last, “Save the world.” The purpose of the Mongol Rally is to raise a minimum of £1000 (about $1,500) for charity, £500 of which goes to the official charity of The Adventurists, “Cool Earth.” Participants have the option of donating the other £500 to a charity of their choice. Garguilo and Mook chose The Africa Prisons Project, which  works with prison administrators, prison staff and prisoners themselves in Uganda, Kenya, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, to isolate and respond to their needs, thus transforming the lives of prisoners, and how they are viewed and treated by society at large.

Personifying monumental leaders

“To Thy Happy Children / Of The Future
Those Of The Past / Send Greetings”

This is the inscription that the University of Illinois’s Alma Mater statue bears for the curious passerby. It’s a perfect encapsulation of everything a place of learning exists to achieve—bringing the reality and wisdom of the past alive in the present, so it can do the same for the future. I wrote about this earlier this year, and shared a few pictures including the iconic personification of Alma Mater at the University of Havana:

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At the time I mentioned a concept for Penn State that I want to convey in the hope that it can be brought to life sooner rather than later.

The concept: a “Penn State Encountering Heritage” initiative, the purpose being to honor monumental men and women in our history by personifying them across campus through monumental statuary that would make them feel closer to a living part of the university experience.

We possess an incredibly rich history, thick with the vision and strength of countless men and women who’ve helped build Penn State into what it has become. But aside from Joe and Sue Paterno (and maybe George Atherton) I doubt most could name the most significant figures in our creation or development. Let alone the personalities of our best cultural values or local folklore.

Why personify leaders of the past

It’s necessary to acknowledge, even despite our incredibly rich history, that we live in a practical time. What practical value is there in beautiful and romantic notions about honoring monumental leaders?

Ben Novak, a retired four-term Penn State trustee, offers tremendous perspective on the practical value of the past. In “Is Penn State a Real University?: An Investigation of the University as a Living Ideal,” he writes:

“The past, because it was lived, cannot really be destroyed. It can only be covered over, like a lush jungle that gets condensed into a pool of oil or a vein of coal, just waiting to be drilled or mined to have its energy released. But you have to dig for it, and you have to know how to use it. When we don’t know what is in the past, we cannot use it, and we cannot release its power.” There’s a reason that millennia after their death we continually re-approach the Greek philosophers. There is an evergreen sort of power in their thinking and stories. There is similar power in Penn State’s past.

“Fortunately,” Novak underscores, “we do not live in a world where the past, present, and future are in airtight cubicles that we must look at separately as though the past is dead and gone, the present stinks, and the future is always bright. Rather, the past, present, and future are fluid, and keep washing over each other. There were a lot of good things in the past that can brighten the present, and a lot of things in the past that seem to be missing in the present, but which could brighten your future.”

“Spirit,” Novak concludes, “is indestructible. But only if, in a practical sense, we allow it to come alive in us.” By personifying some of the most monumental figures in our history, we can enshrine them as a physical and concrete part of the campus. Doing so creates the context for the sort of personal and communal encounters with our institutional spirit that allows it to come alive in each new class.

An abundance of practical value, both institutionally and personally, can be realized in helping the newest members of the Penn State family encounter a few of her oldest as a means to fulfill the Greek challenge at the root of learning, which is to know thyself.

Who deserves a place on campus

So who are the sort of people that could brighten our future if we were to encounter them on campus?

I’m thinking about Evan Pugh, our visionary founding president whose whole story is little known. His spirit lingers near University House, his home. I’m thinking about his remarkable wife Rebecca, Bellefonte-native, whose faith in her husband and his vision outshone death itself. She wanders campus as a symbol of fidelity. I’m thinking about George Atherton, who sustained Evan Pugh’s vision at the turn of the 20th century while encouraging and implementing the development of the modern university structure and who, like Evan, died in striving to realize his vision. Only his grave presently remains.

I’m thinking of Wally Triplett, who came to Penn State in 1945 on academic scholarship as one of our first African American varsity football players and who during the 1946 season came to embody our community’s cultural values a generation before integration became a serious national conversation. Triplett in bronze stands in spirit near Beaver Stadium, sharing the stories of his time. I’m thinking of Joe and Sue Paterno, who as nominally athletics figures improbably elevated the academic mission of Penn State while supporting the viability of its diverse athletics programs through the powerhouse of college football. The Paternos belong by their library as much as, if not more so, the athletics fields.

I’m also thinking of people from outside the Penn State experience who nonetheless came into it in an historic way, representing some of its best aspects.  I’m thinking of Martin Luther King, Jr. at Rec Hall, symbol not only of America’s Civil Rights achievements, but also an historic voice representative of the vision of an inclusive culture who shared his prophetic voice with Penn Staters months before Selma.

I’m even thinking of institutional and legendary symbols like Alma Mater’s personification as the source of knowledge and conveyer of institutional heritage. I’m thinking of Princess Nittany, the folkloric originator of Mount Nittany and the inspiration for our identification as Nittany Lions.

What do we presently have? We have two modest busts of Evan Pugh and George Atherton in Old Main’s foyer, a place few students ever visit. What stories do these small busts share with the people of the campus and community? What physical context is there for gathering there or for sharing moments with others? None.

Each of these men, women, and iconic symbols I’ve mentioned speak in some way to aspects of our university’s character. Each represents some fundamental strain in the DNA of the contemporary community, and each helps unlock part of the secret meaning of the declaration that “We Are Penn State.”

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One of my favorite places in Philadelphia is Washington Square. In 1954, planners created what you see above, George Washington and the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier. It’s a remarkable yet restrained and modest honor that creates the physical context for gatherings and ceremony and admiration.

We don’t have to think as grandly as the University of Havana’s Alma Mater, or as traditionally as this Washington Square monument. But we owe it to ourselves to think more aggressively and with bolder vision than tucked-away lobby room decorations.

Where to start

I think history is most relatable when it’s personal. This is why the most engrossing stories of the past are often told through the people at the center of events, rather than through the otherwise context-shorn details of the events themselves.

Thanks to Erwin Runkle’s history in The Pennsylvania State College 1853-1932: Interpretation and Record, we know an incredible amount about the persons and personalities of Evan Pugh and Rebecca Pugh, as well as George Atherton.

To start thinking through how a sculptor might embody our founder, Runkle describes: “a rugged, energetic physique, a straight-forward common sense manner, combined with the heart of a child, and the integrity and moral robustness of mature manhood.”

Later: “On June 6th, 1863, Dr. Pugh was returning to Willow Bank when a severe thunder storm arose. The horse he was driving was frightened, and backed the buggy over the bank into the stream, throwing the future Mrs. Pugh and himself under the vehicle. Dr. Pugh managed to extricate himself, raise the buggy and rescue his fiancee who suffered severely from bruises and shock. Dr. Pugh sustained a broken arm…”

After Pugh’s death in 1864, J.B. Lawes writes Rebecca Pugh: “Although I had my fears that he was taxing his powers too severely, I was watching his course with great interest, as I felt certain that if he lived he would be the founder of a great college. I hope some permanent memorial is proposed. I shall be proud to become a contributor in honor of a man whose character and abilities I so greatly admired.”

Each of these vignettes brings Evan Pugh to life in a special way. There are countless more examples throughout Runkle’s book alone. Writing more than 80 years ago, Runkle points a lingering truth about J.B. Lawes 1864 proposition: “That memorial remains to be erected; somewhere in the Commonwealth there should be the will and consecrated means to give it fitting form and substance.”

Implementation

So how can a “Penn State Encountering Heritage” initiative be implemented? I think there are a few opportunities. I think the most natural home for something like this is among student leadership, working to institutionalize this in the way that Homecoming exists to perpetuate culturally significant traditions.

In terms of revenue, support through a time-limited “Encountering Heritage” allocation approved by students or voluntarily crowdfunded for a period of time makes sense as one of many potential solutions.

But if student leaders aren’t keen, an alternative home for such an initiative is the Penn State Alumni Association—specifically through an Alumni Council standing committee. Another possibility is through the Alumni Association’s staff-led programming efforts wherein alumni might be engaged broadly—almost of an alumni version of the Senior Class Gift concept, wherein alumni would vote and support on a recurring five or ten year schedule.

Another possibility is through an Alumni Association partnership with Homecoming or the Senior Class Gift committee to jointly administer such an initiative.

The opportunity exists. The important thing is to start.

Revisiting b-corporations

Earlier this year I wrote about Benefit-corporations and why I think they’re the future for most 21st century companies.

B-corps enable “holistic corporate valuation” because they allow a company to define its mission and measure its impact not only in the traditional terms of profit, but also in social and environmental terms. B-corps blur the line between for-profit and non-profit companies in a compelling way.

This Nature Conservancy interview is further proof to me that companies will find attractive ways to instill b-corp values into their corporate culture even if they don’t become b-corps themselves:

One of seven goals outlined in The Dow Chemical Company’s 2025 Sustainability Goal, the “Valuing Nature” Goal is a first-ever commitment by a corporation to consider nature in virtually all of its business decisions. It’s a big bet on the idea that there is a lot of unaccounted for value from nature, and a lot of undiscovered nature-based solutions to business problems. In fact, Dow is betting that they will find $1B by 2025, in business value from projects that are good for ecosystems and good for business.

And in the meantime we see how lack of b-corporation status for today’s companies still leaves room for the first step of evolving corporate culture:

One potential limitation is that the Nature Goal process will not add up all of Dow’s impacts to and benefits from nature; it is not designed to achieve a metric like net positive impact. Instead, it will focus on changing behavior across the company through improving decisions for thousands of projects a year. This project-based approach is intended to inform actionable decisions and create learning opportunities for project managers, while other sustainability goals at Dow address enterprise-wide impacts, such as greenhouse gas emissions and energy use.

Considering place and time

Yesterday I wrote about “Why Place Matters: Geography, Identity, and Civic Life in Modern America,” and specifically about the value of place.

A related aspect to place is time. This is expressed in the idiom that “there’s a time and place for everything.” It’s also often heard at weddings in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” So while the context for individual experience and shared cultural experience always occurs in a particular place, it also occurs in a particular time. Borrowing from yesterday’s chapter “Local History: A Way to Place and Home:”

“As much as a place is rendered real by its geography, environment, demography, social and built structures, organized spaces, made things, and social forms and ways, a place also belongs to a time: a period and its happenings, events, memories, and dreams… when philosophers, artists, geographers, and sociologists have recited their lyrics of place as home, family, neighborhood, town, village, and region, so the historian offers the music—the rhythm and the beat—of a linking narrative. Narrative alone affords an understanding through stories and tales of what a place was, where it stood in the process of becoming, and how it exists in the folds of memory and the unfolding layers of interpretation.”

I think that there are about 1,000 years of cumulative history alive at any given time. This history is alive through the insight, perspective, and attitude of the living and it helps form a linking narrative on a large scale. As a friend of mine says, a linking narrative allows for the past, present, and future to be constantly “washing over one another” as fluid and dynamic forces.

Considering place

“Life is lived out in a place. Any given place has a natural geography and belongs to a shaped landscape and a built environment of structures, buildings, homes, organized spaces, and a multitude of objects, tools, and machines. Also, a place, which can be defined as a discrete locality or as an expanded region or state, embodies a type of commerce and industry, as well as a stage of an economy. A place is also a society—a set of institutions, a collection of groups, and a mixture of communities and cultures. A set of unities, similarities, contrasts, juxtapositions, polarities, and contradictions, a place exists also as a combination of differing states of change, development, maturation, decay, and decline”

This is from “Why Place Matters: Geography, Identity, and Civic Life in Modern America,” an anthology that came out a year or two ago. Specifically, it’s from Joseph A. Amato’s chapter “Local History: A Way to Place and Home.”

Maybe this excerpt is obvious, but I think there’s also some confusion about what constitutes place. And I think there’s value in re-encountering basic concepts every so often.

Capitalism and globalization are minimizing the importance of physical distances, but as market forces they’re still driven by the desire to serve specific people in particular places.

And understanding the place we live and how we might make it better is what makes a city, town, or neighborhood worth contributing to, not only in terms of the market but also the culture.

Charitable impact update

I wrote in January about my experience of Catholic education, the influence of my grandparents John and Marion Shakely in my life, and why I believe it’s important to support access to Catholic education for young people.

All these reasons and more prompted the creation of the “John & Marion Shakely Charitable Fund” at the Catholic Foundation of Greater Philadelphia. It’s a small way to honor my grandparents while working with new generations of family and friends to perpetuate better Catholic support for young people. The Catholic Foundation describes the fund this way:

The John & Marion Shakely Charitable Fund supports Catholic youth and young professionals through scholarships and awards recognizing curricular, co-curricular, and extra-curricular achievements, as well as grants supporting Catholic youth and young professional endeavors.

Thanks to the support of many initial donors, including more than $1,000 raised during Catholic Schools Week, we’ve surpassed more than $10,000 in endowed contributions.

As a result, Archbishop Wood is awarding $2,500 this month in John & Marion Shakely Scholarship assistance to students for the next academic year. This scholarship assistance represents the equivalent of 16 weeks of part-time work at minimum wage. That’s time that can now be time spent on that student’s personal, academic, or professional development.

It’s my hope that with continuing support from friends of Catholic education we’ll be able to grow this fund and its impact in improving access to Catholic education. If you’re already a contributor, know that I’m super grateful and that I hope you’ll continue supporting the fund’s growth in the months and years to come.

Mount Nittany Night

The Mount Nittany Conservancy hosted its fifth annual Mount Nittany Night at Mount Nittany Vineyard & Winery in Linden Hall last night and awarded its annual Friend of the Mountain award.

I’ve been in State College for three of the five Mount Nittany Nights so far thanks in each case to scheduling coincidence, though I didn’t attend this time. Mount Nittany Night is a great celebration of the Mountain’s conservation and literally the Mountain’s fruits in the form of lots of pretty remarkable Pennsylvania wine. (My go-tos are Nittany Mountain Blush and Tailgate Red.)

Thinking about Mount Nittany Night reminds me of Mount Nittany Conservancy’s great podcast that Bob Frick produced and which I wrote about in October in Onward State:

In “The Legends of the Nittany Valley,” folklorist Henry Shoemaker records some of the American Indian and settler stories that provide much of the cultural and historical basis for Penn State mythology, including Mount Nittany as our sacred symbol and pristine retreat, the love story of Princess Nittany and Lion’s Paw, and even the reclusive Nittany Lion.

Yet stories alone have no independent life to speak of; their significance grows from the affection, tenderness, and patience of the reader, from the moments spent in solitude or near friends with the words of a long-dead peer over a coffee at Saints or W.C. Clarke’s. Herodotus or Dante would be nothing without the gift of time and attention paid in gratitude by the living reader. It’s through that gift that we reverence something culturally significant, and make something from the past a part of our present time.

This is what tradition is, if distilled — the continuing act of encountering the past, helping it come alive again in some way, and then in due course becoming a part of the past ourselves as we look to the future. This beautiful notion is encapsulated in an even more beautiful, practical example: The singing of Robert Burns’s 1788 “Auld Lang Syne” every New Year’s Eve. It’s a lyrical and literal Scottish injunction to remember our friendships and honor days gone by on the eve of a new time.

This helps explain why Mount Nittany, by all accounts an ordinary Pennsylvania mountain, is nonetheless sacred for Penn Staters and the people of the valley. As with the stories of the past, we’ve infused the Mountain with a distinctive meaning. …