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Sunday, April 20, 2014

The "end" of the printed book?

    I remember reading some predictions 20 years ago from some futurists.  The one that I remember is the one that predicted that in the future people would have phone numbers and not places.  We now know how accurate that prediction was.   The generation under 40 probably have never had their own land line telephone number.
    Recently I read the book "The Burning Page" that was written by the product manager for the development of the Kindle with Amazon.  By the time the Kindle was rolled out the digital revolution had dramatically altered the way newspapers and magazines were being read online but books were still being read in a printed form.  The development of the e-reader and the digital tablets have finally had the same impact on how books are now read.  As early as Christmas 2009 Amazon was selling more e-books than hard covers.  The author even speculates that the future historians will look at the period from the mid 15th Century to the end of the 20th Century as the "Gutenberg Period."
     This book explains some the the impacts of the e-readers and where the future goes with books.  Will publishers be diminished with authors self publishing books directly to readers? We have already seen the rapid decline of the large chain book stores.  What will libraries look like without shelves of books?  What will we do with our hardcover books?  Burn them?  Try to sell them? As someone who dreaded packing up books with every move the ability to store all those books on an e-reader just has more appeal.
    The first generation of e-books that we now have are just digital versions of the printed book.  The next generation of e-books will have interactive features that the printed book could never provide. The author of the "Burning Page" had a link at the end of each chapter to a Facebook page where readers could discuss the content of the chapter with the author and each other.  Authors could update books quickly with new information.  This would be especially helpful for textbooks.  Remember when encyclopedias sent out a year book with updates every year?  Links to videos and other publications could be embedded in the text.  No more need for footnotes.

     I have always thought that I have keep up with the changing times.  I have had a smart phone for years, I tweet, I blog, I have an e-reader.   But I recently was taken aback by something one of my children said.  She is looking for a house in Howard County and was looking at houses built in the 1950's and 1960's.  She was talking about how old the house designs were and mentioned that they even had soap dishes built into the tiles in the shower.  I asked her where she puts her soap and she told me that young people only use body wash.  Really?  I will feel old every time I now take a shower.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Lessons from 100 years ago

      This weekend I thought I would recommend a couple of books which I have recently read. My first recommendation for a good book to read is "The Bully Pulpit" by Doris Kearns Goodwin.  The over 700 page book on the progressive agenda of Theodore Roosevelt and his relationship with William Howard Taft has many parallels to what we are seeing today in our political discourse.  A significant part of the book examines the relationship of the progressive media, especially McClure's magazine, of that time laying the groundwork for the progressive legislation promoted by Roosevelt.  Without the media's attention to the issues of political corruption, unsafe work conditions and unsafe food production the public sentiment for change would not have been possible.
      Up to the presidency of Roosevelt the moneyed interest of the "Gilded Age" had created a situation where political bosses had been able to thwart most progressive legislation.  This battle between the policies of the moneyed interests and their political counterparts with their progressive elements played out in the Republican Party of the early 20th Century.  Many progressives today see a similar Gilded Age developing with the increasing power of moneyed lobbyists now having reduced limits on campaign contributions.  The days of public financing seems to be a campaign reform that now longer controls our election.  It is only a matter of time before the next Watergate-type scandal is makes campaign reform possible again.  
     Ironically the book points out how a speech of Roosevelt's decrying the over reach of his named "muckrakers" provided a platform for conservatives in the Republican Party to fight back on some of his progressive legislation.  The book concludes by describing the disillusionment of of the progressives and Roosevelt with the administration of Taft and setting the scene for Roosevelt's presidential run in 1912 with the Bull Moose Party.

     I am not sure why authors of this type of political history feel the need to produce a 700 page book.   The story could have been told just as well in 250 pages.  Maybe after spending years researching a book like this the author has to justify the time commitment with a book of this length.  Maybe an editor should have recognized the need to condense this story for the readers.

    The partnership between Roosevelt and the progressive media does remind you of the partnership between Fox News and the Tea Party.  It is not hard to believe that the Tea Party is largely sustained, if not created by the Fox News Network.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Take a weekend hike on the Trolley Trail

   With this weekend giving us another nice Spring weekend we should put the memories of our brutal Winter behind us and take a hike along one of our rails to trails that is just over the Howard County line in Oella.

    Just around the corner from the Trolley Stop Restaurant in Oella is the Trolley Line Trail that follows the route of the old trolley line from Ellicott City to Catonsville.  This 1.1 mile trail was last in trolley service in 1955.  Now it provides a trail that passes some very nice scenery.

    One of the most interesting features of the trail is the place where the trail had to cut through a rock hill to keep the grade gradual enough for the trolleys.

     A nice feature of walking this trail is the selection of restaurants to have a breakfast or lunch after a walk.

   For a hearty breakfast try one of the omelettes at the Trolley Stop Restaurant.  It is almost enough for two people to share.

 Next Door is the Old Mill Bakery Cafe with a large selection of breakfast sandwiches. pastries, coffees and teas.

    Finally the Breadery is right along the trail and has a nice selection of pastries and other sweets.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

A divided nation on providing health care

     Probably no other area of policy divides the United States more than the attempt to provide health care to citizens of different states.  The chart above from the Health Reform Monitoring Survey shows the division among states on just one of the parts of the Affordable Health Care Act---the expansion of Medicaid.  The six percentage overall difference is made even more dramatic when you examine the difference from the state with the highest percentage of uninsured with the state with the lowest rate.  Texas has the highest rate of uninsured with 27% of the population uninsured and Massachusetts (RomneyCare) has the lowest at 4.9%.  Not surprisingly the states most unlikely to have expanded Medicaid are those with conservative governments and the highest percentage of uninsured.  Maryland is in the middle of the pack of states for uninsured at 12.9% with Baltimore City and the Eastern Shore counties driving the rate higher.  Not surprisingly income levels in the different jurisdictions were the main driver of how many persons were uninsured.
      Having our health care system an employer based system will always have this reality of who is uninsured.  As I have blogged before the greatest accomplishment of the Affordable Health Care Act was the small step to create an alternative to employer based health care insurance.  The poor roll out and the challenges of developing the alternative will continue to require refinements but it provides a platform to move toward a publicly provided option for health care coverage.  The next step in that process is to create the public option that was not provided in the AHCA.   In some ways having some time to develop and refine the platform before rolling out a public option may not have been a bad thing.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Giving young people a break

    Last week I talked with a parent of a high school senior who had just endured the long process of selecting a college for one of his children.  What was so telling about the process was the uncertainty of exactly what was the right fit for their 17 year old daughter.   He talked about how many family arguments they had endured with their daughter having to make a decision of which she was unsure.  I asked if they had ever considered not choosing a college just yet and looking at alternative choices for their 17 year old daughter.  He responded that the expectation of your children going to college was so strong that any other choice would seem to be reflection on qualities of their daughter and her parents.  How have we arrived at this point in our expectations for our children?  Do we really feel that we have failed as parents unless our children are accepted at a prestigious college?   What young person understands what they find fulfilling at 17 or 18?  Maybe their should be a different path.
     I can't see our Country instituting a 2 year service requirement for young people graduating from high school any time soon but I do think that we would do better for our children if we allowed them to spend sometime in a service capacity before making life decisions.  Exploring service or intern options might be a useful inclusion along with all those college visits.

    One other way to help young people make career decisions might be to strengthen the 25 hour community service requirement for students in grades 6-8.  Too often this is done in a "make work" fashion that sounds good but provides little benefit to the student.  Howard County Leaderships "Leadership U" and the Women's Giving Circle "Journey Program"  are two programs at which parents of high school students should look.

P.S. 1
   Read how one community is making the cost of college more affordable.

    After enjoying the 80 degree weather this weekend and then seeing sleet in our rain last night I saw this.