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Fill This Out With a Number 2 Pencil February 28, 2017

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
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I am a reasonably healthy older male, with no personal or family history of heart problems. I recently had a racing heart rate, which was replaced fairly quickly with a normal one.  My doctor, in an abundance of caution, referred me to a cardiologist, claiming reasonably that such an event could result in a blood clot.

Okay. The referral was to the New England Heart and Vascular Institute, which sent me some paperwork.  To be filled out only with a Number 2 pencil.  Yes, it is fill-in-the-circle, from my elementary school standardized tests of 40+ years ago.

I have not owned a pencil in about 20 years, and am not even sure where to get one.

So I go to their website.  What is the biggest word on the page?  Innovation!

I am beside myself with amazement.

I am sorry. Innovation is not a buzzword.  It is something that you believe, invest in, and practice daily.  It is not something that you spray across your website with reckless abandon.

And, believe it or not, there are typos on their website!  And is ‘adn’.

This does not inspire any sort of confidence in this organization. New England Heart and Vascular Institute, I call you out as frauds.  I cannot believe that you would be advising and possibly treating me with any innovation whatsoever.

We talk about quality in software. This is not quality, in healthcare.

I Am Disgusted with Tech February 23, 2017

Posted by Peter Varhol in Technology and Culture.
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Well, no, not really, especially since it pays me well to do what I do. But I seem to be surprised and amazed (in a negative sense) daily with their behavior, both on the public stage and behind the scenes.

But Uber seems to be bound and determined to support its bro culture and its combative approach to opening new markets. “We’re hurting.”  Seriously?  This is about as juvenile as it gets, and for a company that’s purportedly worth north of $60 billion, is completely uncalled for.  And oh by the way, let’s attack by name the woman who had the courage, and the evidence, to speak out against that culture.

And getting former assistant attorney general (and current revolving door ambulance chaser) Eric Holder to investigate them is like getting the fox to investigate why chickens have disappeared. I can write his report right now:  “This company is the paragon of virtue, although it does have random pockets of sexism and racism.  They don’t really have to do anything about that, because they are so good otherwise.”  If Uber pays Holder enough money, CEO Travis Kalanick won’t even be required to do a public mea culpa.

Uber has done some good, upending an industry that needed to be upended. But it has done so in a way that has created an entirely new class of working poor drivers, and a class of upper-income users who sadly don’t actually have to talk to anyone to get a ride.  Or tip anyone (I am sorry, the Uber drivers work for a living, and deserve courteous treatment.  Instead, Uber continues to not include a tip function on their app.)

Sadly, I don’t think that Facebook has done any good whatsoever. It has created a mass worldwide addiction that can never be satiated.  I see no innovation or value there.  And Zuckerberg?  He continues to deny what Facebook is and has become, all the while bringing in billions in market value for himself.  And uses it to buy his privacy, which he denies Facebook users.

Uber and Facebook, if you are looked upon as the adult supervision of Silicon Valley, then I can’t imagine what is happening elsewhere. It does not have to be like this, but this is what you wanted, and it is so very wrong.

My Fitness Tracker of the Month February 22, 2017

Posted by Peter Varhol in Technology and Culture.
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Is the Samsung Gear Fit2 (or something like that).  It has an awkward name, a moronic app, and questionable distance statistics.  In particular, it does not do what it purports to do with flights of stairs, failing to record what it promises.

But it was relatively inexpensive, and does many things at least adequately. It automatically detects walking, running, sleep, and probably other exercises too.  It shows a lot of data on the device, and more on the app, although the app is pretty poorly designed.

I like the slim form factor of the device, which many multifunction trackers don’t have, but was an important characteristic of my late and lamented Microsoft Band.

I still question why Microsoft got out of this business. They had a decent, competitive product at a reasonable price.  I understand that they didn’t sell many, but from my vantage point, they weren’t trying to.  To be frank, their marketing sucked.  I was actually told by one Microsoft employee that the Band was only intended as an experimental testbed, with any sales being incidental.  But they did their customers a true disservice by not continuing it.

I don’t think I’ll stay with the Samsung Gear Fit2 (I can’t even say it without giggling) very long, but it gives me an interesting perspective on alternative for fitness and activity trackers.

About Being Great February 15, 2017

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
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I am not, let’s get that out of the way right now.  I have certain things going for me.  I am smart, I have a really good memory (most of my friends curse me for it), I am active physically and curious mentally.  I have a growth mindset.

But I truly admire someone 20 years younger than me.  Yes, that is Tom Brady, quarterback of the New England Patriots.  As he has fought through the most difficult year of his career, he remains the picture of class and grace.  His explanation of his ability to focus and control what he can control is simply amazing.

There are those will continue to call him a cheater.  From what I have read, I think not.  I think he was punished through an exercise of power that had little to do with the facts of the case.  I think any reasonable and objective person would agree with that.

Yes, I live in New England, now for most of my adult life.  But I am not a die-hard football fan.  I grew up as a casual fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and was a teen during their first years of success.  In the conference championship game of this year, I was fine with whatever team won.  I was traveling during the Super Bowl, and only received occasional updates.

Many people might interpret Brady’s words as false, even hyperbole.  I simply don’t see that, because he has had many opportunities to say what he really thinks, and continues to be high-minded.  Certainly few would blame him for taking out frustrations on others, yet he does not.

Coming up on my 60th birthday, I still have much to learn about life.  Tom Brady can teach me, through his example.  I promise to be just a little better tomorrow than I am today.  He promises to excel every day.


Weapons of Math Instruction February 15, 2017

Posted by Peter Varhol in Education, Technology and Culture.
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That old (and lame) joke, of course, refers to Al-Gebra (algebra).  But the fear of math is very real.  For decades, many have hid behind the matra “I’m not a math person”, without exploring the roots of that statement.  This article, by Jenny Anderson on Quartz, offers hope that we may be able to move on from this false rhetoric.

I never understood math early, but I always loved it.  Post-BA degree, I taught myself calculus, and obtained an MS in applied math.

I taught various math and statistics courses to college students for 15 years.  I would like to think that my enthusiasm and down-to-earth explanations at the very least made it tolerable to them.  I still remember one student saying to me, “In elementary school, the teacher would preface the math lesson by saying, ‘I don’t want to do this any more than you do, but we have to, so let’s get it over with.’”  I think teaching is a very big part of the problem.  If teachers don’t like the topic, neither will their students.

I especially came to appreciate word problems, something that few if any students liked.  I had a method of dealing with them.  My original issue with word problems was that if I read it once and didn’t immediately see the solution, I would be stumped.  Instead, I taught people to read the problem first, to understand it without seeking a solution.  Then read it again, and highlight any information that seemed pertinent.  Then read it a third time, to pull out that information and see how it might help lead to a solution.  Then try a formula.  If it didn’t seem to work out, discard it and start back at step 1.

It is not hard, folks, though it does require overcoming age-old biases, as well as a willingness to be open to new ways of thinking.  Anderson notes that learning and applying math and quantitative methods requires a growth mindset.  That is, a willingness to get something wrong, and learn from it for the future.

As we move (or already have moved) into a data-driven world that requires an intimate understanding of how data shape our lives, we can no longer plead ignorance, or lack of ability.  If we plead lack of interest, we will be left behind.


Thank You Bank of America: Paying Bills Keeps Getting More Challenging February 3, 2017

Posted by Peter Varhol in Technology and Culture, Uncategorized.
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Not in a financial sense, but in a process one. Let me step back.  Growing up, my parents paid the vast majority of their monthly bills in cash, at the Post Office or the service window of the grocery store.  As a young adult, I handled my bill payment entirely through the US Mail.  Under some circumstances, you could have installment payments automatically deducted from your checking account, but that was about it.

Today, I pay most of my regular bills online, through my account(s) at Bank of America. I don’t particularly like to write out physical checks, but I typically do so for seasonal and occasional bills.  But the regular stuff is all online.

Now Bank of America is telling me that I shouldn’t be paying all of my bills through their system. Instead, they want me to pay through the individual vendor websites – FairPoint Communications, AT&T, Pennichuck, Nashua Wastewater, VISA, etc., rather than through my bank.

I do find that problematic. Each provider has its own login, which means a user name and password.  You really don’t want to use the same account name and password (and most have different requirements surrounding password definitions), and you don’t want to write them down anywhere.  I have a good memory, but I cannot balance dozens of account names and passwords in my head.

So the fact of the matter is that I don’t want to maintain a dozen or more different accounts on different vendors that I use. I understand that Bank of American finds it burdensome to handle my transactions, but that is what a bank is for.  Right???  It sounds like they want my deposits, but don’t want to go through the effort that is required to work with my deposits.

I’ve had issues with Bank of America before.  I would move, but for various reasons several of my accounts are sticky.  But they keep demonstrating again and again that they don’t want my business.  One of these days I may have to accommodate them.