Friday, July 24, 2009

Charlayne Hunter-Gault - "Women are the Poorest of the Poor"

It’s been more than two months since I saw Charlayne Hunter-Gault speak at the Simmons Leadership Conference, but her grace, wisdom and strength still stick in my mind.

She’s had an illustrious career to date, currently serving as a foreign correspondent for NPR. Previously, she was chief national correspondent for The Newshour with Jim Lehrer on PBS from 1983 to 1997. She was the first African-American reporter for The New Yorker in 1963, and reported for the New York Times for more than ten years. She received the New York Times Publisher Award, two Emmy's, a Peabody, the Journalist of the Year Award from the National Association of Black Journalists and multiple honorary degrees.

I missed a few minutes of her speech, but I walked in just in time to hear her story of growing up in a small rural town in Georgia, attending a segregated elementary school. They got the hand-me-down books from the white schools.

Once a year, everybody in the community came together for a fundraiser for “this poor little black school,” as she described it. The child of the family who raised the most money was the school king or queen for a day.

“So the money was counted, and I heard my name called. I just couldn’t believe it. I got a Bulova watch and this little diamond tiara,” Hunter-Gault explained. “So the next day, I went to school in my bobby socks and loafers, and my little diamond tiara. I was just so proud.”

Hunter-Gault said she internalized this lesson of pride in oneself and in one’s community.

“So when I walked through those crowds at the University of Georgia, and they were yelling ‘Kill the niggers,’ I thought of that little diamond tiara,” she said. When there was a mob outside her dorm, throwing bricks, she thought of her grandmother, who’d taught her bible verses in the summers. “Yeah though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil.”

She eventually got suspended, “for her safety.” This tactic had worked at another school, because then the student criticized the school and she was expelled.

But Hunter-Gault somehow endured the climate at the university, and in 1962 became the first African-American woman to graduate from the school.

Hunter-Gault's remarks then fast-forwarded to modern-day South Africa where the “born frees” registered to vote this year in record numbers. (Born frees are citizens who were born in the post-apartheid era.) Two women ran the election process; 17 million people voted in a near-flawless election. Fifty-five percent of the voters were women.

“I look to the women of Africa to bring the second wind of change to our world, the first being the era of post colonialism,” said Hunter-Gault. “If we save the women of Africa, we can save Africa. They say that if you educate a man, you educate an individual. If you educate a woman, you educate a nation.”

But even as women are making advances in some areas, it is not translating to success in others. “In South Africa, a woman is raped every 26 seconds. In Darfur, women are raped as they go out to gather wood to cook food for their children.

"I am committed to giving you some good news too. There is more to Africa than the four D’s – death, disease, disaster, despair. That’s why I wrote New News out of Africa: Uncovering Africa's Renaissance."

The number one problem in Africa is poverty, explained Hunter-Gault. “Women are the poorest of the poor."

Why should we care? "Ghana and Angola have tremendous oil reserves. And terrorism feeds off poverty," she noted.

“So beyond caring on humanitarian grounds, and I know that many of you do, we should care out of our own national interest,” Hunter-Gault closed.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

We Say Good Night to Walter Cronkite

Along with the rainy and generally bad weather plaguing the nation recently, we have experienced quite a few deaths of famous personalities over the prior months. Musings of this current gloominess aside, we reflect on the life of Walter Cronkite, who was recently added to the list of passings in the entertainment world.

The TV journalist, who is perhaps best known for anchoring the first man on the moon, as well as the assassination of John F. Kennedy, passed away on July 21 at age 92 of cerebrovascular disease. I was at my mother's house when we heard the news. As a flower child of the 1960's, she experienced firsthand the contributions that Cronkite made to journalism and was visibly affected by the news of his death. As a young woman in my twenties, I was not fortunate enough to experience Cronkite's work. What I do know, after watching numerous specials and tributes to Cronkite this past weekend, is that he reported on some of the most important events in our country's history: the Kennedy era, Vietnam, Martin Luther King, Watergate, Apollo 11.

Watching several clips of Cronkite's reports, I get chills just thinking of the world-altering events he guided our nation through. He interviewed President Kennedy, whose legacy I never experienced, but imagine it to be like that of our current leader, President Obama. He brought the news of America's first man on the moon, gathering huddled crowds around black and white screens. He was involved in the Beatles' first television debut on the CBS Evening News, which later went on to become one of the most famous bands in history. And he did it with an accuracy and integrity that journalists today still strive for. He not only reported the news, but showed vunerability and emotion while he did it, relating him to the rest of America. He choked up while reporting Kennedy's assassination, news that had the rest of the nation in tears. It is said that no one in broadcast news will ever compare to Walter Cronkite. I only wish that I had been able to directly witness what he brought to American media. I guess that's just the way it is ...

To view clips of Cronkite's work, visit CBS News for complete video coverage.


Want to Design a Superhero Exoskeleton? There's an App for That!

Today, Concord, MA based SpaceClaim announced that their customers will soon be able to design using a Windows Touch enabled version of their 3D direct modeling software. What was once only a pipe dream plastered on the big screen during sci-fi (or SyFy?) blockbusters is now right around the corner thanks to the touch capabilities of the soon to be released Windows 7 software and a slew of amazing multi-touch screens from a wide variety of hardware providers.

You may be thinking to yourself that you have been using touch screens for years as you played a solitaire arcade at a restaurant or a digital jukebox at a bar. What sets this software and hardware apart, however, is the ability to use multiple inputs to control your digital content. Whereas computers that allow you to swipe around images and music with one finger have been around for a while now, this new generation will allow you to use all five fingers, and even a stylus for additional accuracy, to perform more complex and potentially useful tasks (very similar to iPhone technology). Now instead of simply flipping through a digital photo album or pointing at an Ace of Spades, you can use a multi-touch screen to assemble and analyze complex 3D geometry, and of course circle lady bugs and play Guitar Hero.

What makes SpaceClaim's product special, in light of the previous two examples of somewhat fluffy, albeit fun, uses of multi-touch, is that SpaceClaim is one of the only developers currently looking to utilize multi-touch for serious, enterprise software. When users get their hands on SpaceClaim's multi-touch software they are going to have every ounce of design and analysis power that can be found in the currently available product. The multi-touch interface will allow for more streamlined design as well as more intuitive, and dare I say "fun", collaborative interaction with fellow engineers and/or clients. Using their fingers to navigate and the stylus for precision, people will be able to explore 3D direct modeling in new and exciting ways as SpaceClaim paves the way for the future of developers on the Windows Touch platform.

And now for the kicker, see below SpaceClaim co-founder Blake Courter's groove-infused multi-touch design demo to see exaclty what I'm talking about:

Thursday, July 16, 2009

“One of These Innovations is Not Like The Other”...or is it?

Last night, David Beisel gave us yet another very successful WebInno event. Huge crowd, lots of energy, and each company improving even on the innovations seen at the last WebInno (more on that in a sec).

As I perused the companies involved, the old Sesame Street matching game ran through my head. Overall, the common thread running through most of the companies seemed to be connecting all the aspects of what I’ll call, the “me network.” They addressed increasing the effectiveness of pretty much all aspects of how you interact with the online world, and how it interacts with you – From entertainment and learning, to news consumption, to social network interactions, all the way to the marketing of smartphone apps and restaurants based on your preferences. That is, all but one.

From the minute I saw this company on the agenda, I said, huh? The Tor Project, is an 8 year old, “anonymity network.” You may have heard of them as a popular tool for Iranian protesters to circumvent government controls during the election. But in talking to them, they’re starting to build out partnerships with Google, eBay, browser vendors, security companies and others to enable “safe modes” that protect your information. So it does make sense that to really keep the me network about “me”, is the ability to control how much of me, is out there.

An interesting opposite bookend to anonymity, is having people branded with actual barcodes, from CaptureCode…

Actually, I just let it hang there for dramatic effect. Far from ominous, CaptureCode is actually doing something pretty cool. Whereas a previous WebInno attendee allowed restaurants to send you deals/promotions, CaptureCode gives you a personal barcode on your smartphone or a plastic card that when scanned helps restaurants put you in a loyalty/rewards programs. And one of my favorite restaurants, Not Your Average Joe’s is already testing it. Well shave my head and sign me up. ;o)

Thanks again to the WebInno sponsors and crew for another great event. And make sure to check out all the other cool companies that were there:

  • Planet Cazmo -- Music-oriented virtual world for tweens and teens
  • Thunder Thimble -- social sentiment tracking and interaction platform
  • BuySellAds -- “Anti-Advertising Network” for SMBs to better target their ad buys
  • Shareaholic -- Browser add-on for one-click social sharing
  • Muzzylane -- Immersive 3D gaming environment platform for developers
  • Localytics -- smartphone application analytics platform
  • Fluent Mobile -- First mobile newspaper for iPhones
  • The Tor Project -- The world’s largest anonymity network
  • CaptureCode -- Your own personal barcode for restaurant rewards/loyalty programs

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Phase Forward Rings Opening Bell

Huge congrats to Phase Forward! The company marked its fifth anniversary on NASDAQ today by ringing the opening bell.

Here's to the next five, and the next five...