Jan 14

Kentucky Wisdom: What you do on the first day of the year is how your year will go. In that case, uh-oh.

My mom says that my grandmother Hester used to say that what you do on the first day of the year foretells how you will spend the rest of your year.  If that’s the case, 2014 will be a year of unexpected tears in fences and figuring out how to fix them.

The Culprit:

Curious jumping Indy puppy

Curious jumping Indy puppy

Apparently 6 months is the “terrible two’s” of puppyhood.  Indy has entered an incredibly destructive phase of intense curiosity, increased mobility, and the ability to jump over 3 feet high, as evidenced by her Great Escape through a relatively small and high hole in the fence line.

The Fence:

Wiring mesh to the old fence

Wiring mesh to the old fence

My mom and I put in a split-rail fence last spring, which is still beautiful and amazing, but the very back edge of my property already had chain-link fencing, so we didn’t do anything with that, even in the SW corner where there was a gap.  It was such a small gap and so high up, it didn’t seem like a worry.  There was also a low spot where a tree had fallen down and bent the fence.  This was just the opening Indy needed to test her new spring-loaded jumping skills to escape through the fence into the neighbor’s back yard.

The Fix:

Janey fixing the fence

Janey fixing the fence

We hand-sawed through the tree trunk to get the weight off the fence, and  zip tied new mesh that extended about 7 feet up from the ground.  Even Indy can’t jump over that!

Fleep fixing fence

Fleep fixing fence

Zip ties solve so many problems!

The Lessons:

Indy safely back at home, enjoying the mud and commotion

Indy safely back at home, enjoying the mud and commotion

Curiosity pokes holes in what we thought was secure and established.

Ignoring the gaps and procrastinating on fixing obvious problems might be at your own peril.

Asking for help makes solving every problem easier.

Zip ties really do solve so many problems!


Jul 13

Meet Independence

Meet Independence the Puppy
Meet Independence, affectionately known as Indy the Perpetually Playful
(if she’s awake).

So in my last post, I told the story of how Bauser came to be a part of the family, and how my mom and I built a fence so he could run and play in the yard.  The project went really well, and Bauser definitely loves having full run of the place, but after a few weeks it became obvious that I could never play fetch and toss and tug-of-war enough to keep up with his youthful energy.  And neither could my kitties.  Though they have adjusted pretty well to Bauser, they definitely aren’t interested in wrestling with a big dog.   (Except for Lucy, they are pretty old gatos at this point – all older then 10, Bandit is blind, and Alex is going to be 19!)

After much consideration, I decided that Bauser would probably be happier with a canine companion who could keep up with his rough-and-tumble ways, and started watching the free puppy ads to see what was available.  I also decided I definitely wanted a very young puppy because, though I love Bauser and think he’s adjusting pretty well, I also hated not knowing where he came from and what kind of experiences he had before he came into my life.  It’s far more difficult to correct bad behaviors that have set in than it is to train a pup properly from the start, and even after 8 months, there are still certain situations where I’m not sure if I trust Bauser’s reactions.  I think when you raise a dog from the start, you have a deeper understanding of their psychology and can better work with them to make sure they grow up to be well socialized and happy dogs.  Finally, I also wanted a dog that would be about the same size as Bauser, and definitely a female so we didn’t have any aggressive male competition going on.

Independence came home on the 4th of July, a wriggly, curious, absolutely fearless little bundle of puppy joy.

A Boxer like Bauser, the second she saw him, I mean the very very second she laid eyes on him, it was all over.  She didn’t seem to notice the predatory glare as he eyed this new critter in his home, she simply wanted to lick his face off.

Bauser glaring at Indy
Bauser is not at all sure about this creature in the house.

The first hour or so was pretty tense.  Indy was seemingly oblivious to Bauser’s angst and wanted to play straight away, and he didn’t seem sure if he should eat her for lunch or try to play back.  He definitely wanted to sniff her out good, and it was a little difficult to hang onto her so he could without her chewing his ears off.  He seemed very perplexed about the whole thing, and excited, and a little freaked out.

Bauser sniffing Indy
Sniffing out the new puppy.

I was a little afraid it would take weeks for Bauser to adjust, but after the first hour or two, when he realized she wasn’t a threat and that she liked to play, he seemed to relax and in no time at all Indy became a part of the pack.  She climbed on his head, she chased his tail, she licked his nose, she playfully tossed her blanket around, and I think she charmed his socks off.

Bauser passed out from all the excitement
Bauser passed out from all the excitement.

The next day, you’d think Indy had been here all along.  I don’t know if I ever truly knew what the expression “Followed him around like a puppy dog” meant until I saw Bauser and Indy together.  It is the cutest, most adorable thing I ever saw.  Wherever he goes, she is hot on his heels, if he lays down, she does, if he gets up, she does, if he gets a drink of water, she does.

Indy hot on Bauser's heels

Checking out the maple tree…

Checking out the garden…

Oops, Indy fell in!

Feeling playful, if only you could hear her tiny ferocious bark!

Chewing Bauser’s collar.

Tearing down the hill together at top speed.

Watching Bauser come back up the hill.

Crashed half on, half off the coffee table after a long day of play.

All in all, I think Bauser and Indy are going to be the best of friends, and when she gets a little bigger, hopefully they will have a lifetime of playing together, too.  🙂

Mar 13

Easter Reflections: On Redemption & Renewal

Since my grandparents passed away these last few years, every holiday without them seems as hollow as the cheap chocolate bunnies lining the store shelves.  On this soggy Easter morning, I miss them more than ever.

My mother’s side of the family was never particularly religious, so for us, Easter was more about celebrating the arrival of spring and having an excuse to get together. There were Easter baskets with jelly beans stuck in the fake grass at the bottom, Peeps and Cadbury eggs, and when I was a little kid, my mom colored eggs and hid them out in the yard for us to find.  But the extended family gatherings on her side were never too big on the egg hunt tradition.  More likely, after eating too much dinner and candy, we’d all play cards or check out Dad’s seedlings that he’d surely have started by now in preparation for planting the summer garden.

With my mom and brother, Easter 1980(?)

My biological dad’s side of the family, on the other hand, was very religious indeed.  They are Pentecostal Christians, and Easter was a Very Big Deal.  The small church they attended always had a contest to see which family could bring the most people to service on Easter Sunday, and I remember the church bursting at the seams with people you never saw any other time of year.  Distant relatives and sons and daughters who rarely came, and everybody dressed not just in Sunday best, but all the girls in frilly pastel Easter dresses and patent leather shoes.  Easter was the only time my dad ever went to church with us, that I recall, and we had an enormous clan with 7 kids and a huge extended family of cousins and great-aunts and uncles.

I think some years we won, some years we didn’t, but what I remember best is after church in the parking lot, us kids would run around in our fancy clothes and the men of the church all gave change – shiny quarters and if you were lucky, silver dollars.  Afterwards, my step-mom would drive us to Hook’s drugstore where we’d take our loot and blow it on so much reduced-price Easter candy that we thought we’d already died and gone to heaven.

With my grandma and cousin Rodney at Easter last year.

As an adult with no kids of my own, Easter isn’t quite as exciting anymore.  I’ve long since lost touch with my biological dad’s side of the family, so it’s been many, many years since I attended an Easter Sunday service in a pretty dress.  And my mom’s side of the family sort of fell apart after my grandparents passed away, so we haven’t had any gatherings on her side of the family lately, either.

Still, there’s something about the smell of spring in the air and the fragile green shoots poking out of the ground that make me feel nostalgic and happy that Easter has arrived.

Some friends and I were talking the other day about how, for those of us who are agnostic or atheist, there seem to be few alternatives for the kind of spiritual gatherings or sense of community that church provides for the faithful.  We agreed that humans seem to have a need for certain kinds of rituals and that even though we aren’t religious in the organized religion sense of the word, we still felt a need for traditions and sacred spaces and a sense of belonging to a community.

My mom and sister-in law taking a picture of my niece Julie in her pretty Easter dress.  Nephew Joel possibly picking his nose in the background.  lol

I often make the joke that if I have to be categorized by religious belief, that I’m “apatheistic” – don’t know, don’t care – but that’s not really true.  I may not believe in the Old Testament God I was taught about in Sunday school, but I was raised in a culturally Christian community, and at least my biological dad’s side of the family was very religious,  so I’m sure that my internal moral compass is still largely guided by Judeo-Christian values.  I still believe that “love thy neighbor” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” are good rules to live by.

It’s hard sometimes for me to resolve the conflicts I feel about my views on organized religion and the culturally Christian heritage I was raised with, like celebrating Christian holidays or loving the architecture and iconography of churches and cathedrals, but over time I’ve come to believe that it’s ok to celebrate culturally Christian holidays in my own way, and to keep faith in the core meaning of traditions and celebratory rituals that probably preceded Christianity anyway.

So I think for me, Easter is about the coming of spring, about renewal, and a new season of growth.  And it’s about redemption, too, letting go of past mistakes and “sins” and trying to make a fresh start.  Maybe not with an entirely clean slate, the past is the past and our mistakes and history can’t be undone, but we can go forward “reborn”, hopefully wiser and kinder than before, and in anticipation of a new season of possibilities when the warmth of summer returns.

I’m not with my family this year, but I’m thinking of them, and remembering Easters past when we were all together.  Hope you are having a happy Easter too, and feel a little spring in your step today.

Jul 12

Emmaline F. James (1933-2012)

My grandmother passed away this morning.  Thank you to all the friends and folks in my social networks who offered  information about caregiving and Alzheimer’s, patience when I couldn’t be around, an ear when I needed to vent, and lots of love and support during this last difficult year.  I couldn’t have done it without you.

Jul 12

Jellybean (Beanie) Dinkus (2001-2012)

To my kitty Beanie who was, of all the kittens, the bratty one, the spoiled one, the skittish one, the hairiest sheddingest one, the one who when she needed lovins didn’t ask for them but demanded them right this second, with the sweetest purr and the most plaintive meow. We’ll miss you.

Nov 11

Caring for my Grandma, Diagnosis Alzheimer’s

My mom and I have known since probably last summer that my 78 year old grandmother was experiencing difficulties with day-to-day life, and over the course of the last year she began to drop weight at an alarming rate and have more and more trouble with things like using the ATM machine, paying bills, grocery shopping, and just the stuff we all have to do in life.  Her house is about an hour and a half away from us in the town where I was born, and we spent most weekends this spring and summer trying to help her until things reached a point where it was clear weekend visits just weren’t enough or sustainable.  She was forgetting to eat through the week, and it was costing us a fortune in gas driving 3 hours back and forth, nevermind the stress and worry when we weren’t there.

It’s really sad to see someone you love begin that decline, and it was all the more difficult because her forgetfulness and confusion seemed so intermittent.  Some days she seemed perfectly fine, and other days she couldn’t remember how to tie her shoes or use a zipper.   One minute she’s ranting about someone in the family in perfectly normal-for-her fashion, the next she’s lost in the town where she’s lived for 50 years.

To compound matters, she’s been a “collector” (aka a hoarder) for at least all of my lifetime, and her always packed to the rafters house began to slide into an even more disorganized, cluttered, and dangerous mess than usual.  She’s never had furniture or living spaces like most normal people’s houses, but there were at least always clear pathways to the main rooms and around the tv, the kitchen table, etc.  Over time, though, even these areas became cluttered and unnavigable, with cords and wires and boxes and bags and plastic tubs of stuff every which way so that even I could hardly get from room to room without tripping.

And in her confusion and forgetfulness, she began to develop delusions to explain why some thing that she swore she hadn’t moved was suddenly in a new place in her house – someone must be living in her basement and sneaking up to move things.  And the thing she was looking for and couldn’t find – someone must have stolen it.  The delusions became so complex and detailed, and so frightening to her, that she began hiding weapons around her house, and carrying big butcher knives around so that the man living in her basement couldn’t attack her.

It got to a point where it was truly dangerous to leave her alone.  She was so upset over the man in her basement she wouldn’t even leave the house to go get groceries or eat even when we came to help and assured her we’d checked the basement.  She was calling the police every couple of days about the man in the basement and was becoming outraged that they wouldn’t even go down there to look for him after a while.

It was clearly time that something had to be done.  But what?  How do you start that process?

A Confusing Process

It turns out that the answer isn’t very clear, or wasn’t very clear to us anyway.  We spent weeks making phone calls and searching the internets for advice, and we discovered that at least in Indiana, most of the social services and institutions that we assumed would be able to help us couldn’t.  Adult Protective Services cannot intervene until or unless someone files a complaint that an elderly person is being abused, neglected, or exploited.  Obviously we were trying to deal with the situation BEFORE any of those problems came to pass.  The police couldn’t intervene unless someone filed a complaint that she was a danger to herself or others.  And though she was certainly a danger to herself, we didn’t feel like the criminal justice system was the appropriate path to take.

We spoke with her doctor, but he was little help at all and in fact was rather insensitive to the situation and made it much worse – after that visit, my grandmother refused to speak to my mother at all and I was caught in the middle.  Though I’d hesitate to allege outright fraud, when we discovered how often her doctor was seeing her, how many tests had been ordered, how many different medications he’d prescribed, all for a patient who was clearly suffering from some kind of dementia.. you have to wonder how much Medicare $$ he made from her visits and if that had any influence over his decision making process.

It was really pretty scary, knowing that she needed help but unable to figure out how to start the process to help her.  In the end, we discovered that she had to have a psychiatric evaluation and then my mother could apply for emergency temporary guardianship, though even that is complicated by a new law Indiana passed this summer to guard against “granny snatching” since we live in Ohio and she is a resident of Indiana.

All of the legal stuff aside, the emotional stress was another terrible weight.  We had been talking to her all summer trying to convince her to move to Cincinnati closer to us, but she didn’t want to leave her house, her town, her community, her friends.  And who could blame her?  She wanted to be in her own house, with her kitties, where she’d lived for many years.  She was adamant about staying.  But it was obvious that wasn’t an option, so what to do?

Diagnosis: Alzheimer’s

Finally she was admitted to the hospital for another complaint and eventually qualified medical staff diagnosed her with Alzheimer’s, delusions, and dementia and that made it easier for my mother to get guardianship, but once that happened it opened a whole new can of worms.  Which facility in Cincinnati was best?  What level of care?  And how expensive could she afford?  My mother and I toured facilities and asked questions, tried to compare the various options with what we thought would work best for my grandmother, even as my grandmother felt imprisoned and angry that she couldn’t go home, stuck in the hospital and sometimes enjoying the respite from her worries about her cats and the thieves she believed were robbing her and other times upset about being away.

We eventually selected a facility but her transfer from the hospital to the new place was frightening for her, and she’s still having trouble adjusting to the new circumstances even as she seems to enjoy the increased stimulation, company her own age, and the activities they have at the memory care unit.  I think for the most part she doesn’t realize what actually has happened and she often wonders when she will be able to go home, and when she remembers, worries about her cats.  Mostly I’m happy to know she’s somewhere safe even if I worry she’s frightened and worried about being away from home.

Reading about Alzheimer’s is scary too, the disease progression is unpredictable and we have no idea how long it will be before she doesn’t recognize us or doesn’t know where she is, and the late stages.. well.  I guess we’ll just have to take things one day at a time and do the best we can to make sure she has good care.

What I’ve Learned

I’ve learned a few things from this process that I wanted to share while it was on my mind, in case you or a loved one ever has to face these difficult decisions:

  • No matter how young or old you are, you (yes you!) NEED to have a living will and durable medical power of attorney documentation drawn up, signed and witnessed, and filed somewhere easily located (and hopefully shared with your designated caregiver) so that when the time comes that you are unable to care for yourself, someone you know and trust can do this for you.  DO NOT WAIT.  Do not think that you’re not old enough to worry about it.  Everyone should have this, and especially if you have children.  It will make what is already a horrible situation so much easier for your loved ones who need to be able to help care for you.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask your friends and colleagues about their experiences with aging parents.  Some of the most helpful advice for both me and my mother has come from our social networks and from friends who have gone through similar experiences.  It really helps to know that others have faced what sometimes feels like having to choose between least worst options for someone you care about.
  • And above all, talk with the people you love and trust about your wishes regarding end of life issues or what you would prefer if you become incapacitated.  While thinking about such things is not particularly pleasant, I feel closer to my mom too, as a result of all of this, and feel that I have a better idea of what she will want when the time comes, and I’ve also talked to her about what I would want if something should happen to me – and that gives me some comfort.

Thanks to my friends and colleagues who’ve sent well wishes as we’ve been going through this stressful process, and thanks to the friends and communities I’ve neglected in recent weeks for their patience.

Sep 11

How an Online Conference 5 Years Ago Led Me to Share #CookieLove with my Grandma

The opening keynote at SLBPE 2007 – Look at all that bad system hair!!  
Image courtesy: Rosefirerising

Back in 2007 when Second Life was still at the peak of its hype cycle, I and a few others who had been working to explore how virtual worlds could be used for education decided to hold a conference in Second Life to discuss it with other educators.  I know, it doesn’t sound very novel now, but it was the first time it had been done and the Second Life Best Practices in Education Conference was born, with over 1400 unique avatars in one 24 hour period talking about the cutting edge of education.

One of the people I met through that conference had the cutest dog avatar I’d ever seen and on a day when I was so stressed out I hadn’t slept literally in three days and was panic stricken that horrible things would go wrong and the whole conference would be a disaster, this cute canine avatar named CDB Barkley was cheering us up a storm and helping us go with the flow.  At the end of the conference when it was all over and I felt like passing out from fatigue, there was this magical moment where all of the organizers and the real trooper attendees who had stuck it out to the very last session all congregated, and I very clearly remember CDB telling us what a great job we had done and I cried right there on the spot in gratitude.

Five years later, it’s still going strong (though now called Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education to account for other platforms), and many of the connections I made at that first virtual conference have become the kind of net friends every gal should hope to have – great professional colleagues, many of whom I’ve since met in person, and great life friends, sharing stories about their experiences not just with technology but also life in general.

Fleep hanging out with Alan and Joanna at NMC Summer Conference 2007.
Image courtesy: J0 anna 

CDB Barkley, otherwise known as CogDog (or Alan Levine if you’re Google+ and demand to know his real name), was one of those people.  He worked at the New Media Consortium and was one of the early and tireless supporters for those of us trying to start our own campus projects in virtual worlds, and over the years became one of the bright stars in my online universe – tons of great links, resources, thoughtful blog posts – but also plenty of humorous tidbits, loveable crankiness about this or that, and just plain good stories about living life in this crazy digital age.

When I heard last week that his mother had passed away unexpectedly, it brought back all-too-fresh memories of Dad’s passing, and reminded me again how tenuous life can be – and how very real our relationships developed online can be, too.  I remember how painful Dad’s death was and how comforted I felt that my online friends were thinking of him by thinking of me during that rough time, that his life was being honored by so many people from all over the world really meant a lot to me then and now.

CogDog’s mom, Alyce.  Image courtesy: cogdogblog

I never met CogDog’s mom, but through the ether of the net, my sympathy for his loss is no less real for having met him online, and his beautiful tributes to her on his blog are moving to anyone who has experienced the deep grief of losing a loved one.  More than that, when I think of all of the thousands of people’s lives who have been enriched by knowing Alan, I think all of us in his network, through him, have a deep appreciation for the lady who raised him to be such a generous, caring, good person, too.

Clearly I’m not the only one who felt that way, as some other folks came up with an idea to share his mom’s awesome generosity with #cookielove:

In tribute to Alan Levine’s mom, who passed away unexpectedly last weekend, we’d like to invite you to participate in Cookies for Cogdog. One of the wonderful things that Alan’s mom did was bake chocolate chip cookies every Sunday and then give them away to strangers. This Sunday, September 4th, we’re hoping to get people to follow in her footsteps. Bake some cookies and then brighten a stranger’s day by giving them away.

So I’m heading out to visit my grandmother today to share the #cookielove in honor of CogDog’s mom, in honor of my grandmother who I’m lucky to still be able to visit, and in honor of the power of online friendships and support networks that endure through all of life’s challenges, whether it’s a stressful conference, joyful celebrations, or helping each other through the most painful of times.

Three generations, my mom, my grandma, and me.

Cheers to CogDog and Alyce and to all those sharing the #cookielove today.

Update:  Just got home a bit ago, here are some pix from the day spent with my grandma (we call her Momo) enjoying cookies..

Feb 10

Cincinnati Restaurant Review: Queen Mary Family Restaurant

@Sine922 in front of the Queen Mary Family Restaurant

Braving the Snow for a Hearty Breakfast

Before he passed away, my grandpa loved to take us out to breakfast at locally owned “hole-in-the-wall” style diners.  It was a family tradition to get up early on Sunday mornings and trek out rain or shine to whatever business he’d decided to favor.  In the spirit of finding a similar place nearby, Madre and I braved the cold and snow to try out a newish local restaurant right up the street in Cheviot.

From the outside, the building certainly looked like a Dad-style joint, but as we walked through the doors we knew right away this place was too fancy for Dad – it had cloth napkins, tablecloths, and art on the walls!

Bright morning sun streams in on a table at Queen Mary’s Family Restaurant in Cheviot.

Despite the fancy linens, the menu was more in line with Dad’s pocketbook – great recession-friendly prices that won’t break a family’s budget if you want to come for regular meals.  The two pancake breakfast looked like a steal at $2.50 but Madre decided to have the most expensive item on the breakfast menu.  The Queen Mary Omelet Surprise rang in at $6.35, but according to her, it was worth every penny.   (And had a surprising ingredient, so the omelet lived up to its name!)  I had a simple eggs and bacon breakfast, but it came with delicious fried potatoes and a side of toast included.

Breakfast is served – including delicious fried potatoes
which won the seal of approval from these two Irish gals.

The menu has traditional American fare, so you can get burgers and fries or steaks and chicken, that sort of thing, but it also has a number of ethnic offerings I can’t pronounce but want to try the next time we go for lunch or dinner, including shish kebob, Macedonian sausages, Sarska Pleskavica, Karadjordjeva, and Hungiarian Beef Goulash, to name a few.  It was a nice surprise to find some unusual but delicious sounding dishes, and we spent more time than we should have drooling over the dessert case.

We had a terrific first experience at Queen Mary’s and plan to make it our regular breakfast spot.  Not sure how Dad would have felt about the Karadjordjeva, but he definitely would have liked the prices and the great coffee!

Queen Mary Family Restaurant

The Queen Mary is located at 4050 North Bend Road, just across from Harvest Home Park in Cheviot, OH.  They’re open from 8AM to 10PM Monday – Saturday, and 8AM to 8PM on Sundays.  They offer casual dining with American and ethnic fare, a take out/To-Go menu, and catering services (including roasted lamb and whole roasted pig!) for special occasions.   (513) 661-8400

Apr 09

In Memoriam & Thanks to Friends

Dad’s Army picture, 1951

Just a brief update to apologize for the several months of silence on the blog. As many of you know, Dad passed away a couple weeks ago and the last few weeks have been spent trying to catch up on all the things that got left by the wayside while we were caring for him at the end. I should be back to blogging regularly again soon.

My sincere thanks to everyone who offered kindness, understanding, and advice throughout the last 18 months. The support of my professional and personal networks helped tremendously in learning about the cancer and how to cope with being a caregiver. I feel lucky indeed to know so many wonderful people, and you helped me be a stronger support for Dad.  Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Dad smiling in 2005

Jan 09

2008: The Year of Limits

I started writing this post in 2008 but didn’t get it finished before the year ended, even with the extra second. In light of the subject, perhaps that is quite apropos.

Like most of you, I’ve been reading all of the end-of-year retrospectives and predictions posts, and scrolling through the “year in photos” or video clips or whatever, caught up in refreshing my memory about just how many things happened in 2008. Wars, elections, economic meltdowns, media shifts, massive natural and man-made disasters, and that’s not even including all my personal stuff. It was a crazy year no matter how you slice it!

And though it is.. overwhelming to absorb this barrage of our collective memories on the net, I do think there’s value to the tradition of reflecting on the year just past and the year ahead. If it’s honest reflection, and you or someone else learns from it, then there can never be too much of it so I refuse to apologize for the length of this post. =)

2008: The Year of Limits

In reflecting on 2008, my experience was one of recognizing “limits”. Some of them are absolute limits, but some of them are just current limitations that I know will change in the future. Some of them are artificial limits, too, and those seem to deserve special attention since it’s easy to make bad choices if you’re working with falsehoods.

The list below describes some of the limits I ran into in 2008…

1. The limits of American-style “free-market” capitalism

Wall Street I won’t belabor the point, we’ve all heard plenty of analysis and finger-pointing, but I will repeat the headline from my initial blog post at the beginning of the end of the beginning of the crisis:

Privatizing Gains, Socializing Losses

On the days when I feel most pessimistic, I think the TARP bailout is nothing more than a wholesale absconsion of our national treasury with perhaps more on the way. So far at least, the US government seems to be much more concerned about the troubles of our corporate citizens than the troubles of our human citizens. On my optimistic days.. I have the teensiest bit of hope that _someone_ _somewhere_ will have the will and the power to do what’s best for the people, not just what’s best for the corporations.

The economic problems have limited the options for many people I know – friends and relatives laid off, retirement nest eggs shrunk to nothing, people unable to sell or buy houses and get on with life. On a personal level, I haven’t felt this economically pinched in a long time. My modest university salary isn’t keeping up with the rate of change very well and in 2008 I began to really hit the limit of my budget in ways that cause me to question what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, and how much I can scale back.

Of course, many people are in tight situations right now, that’s why they call it a recession! But it’s what choices you make when you start to hit those limits that define who you are as a person and as a people.  The government (of the people, by the people, for the people) has choices, too. I guess we’ll see in 2009 what choices we all make in light of these new limits and I hope for all of our sakes that they turn out to be good choices.

2. The limits of American racism


Of all the limits on my list, this one felt really good to bump up against. I can’t say how immensely proud I am of my country for the results of the 2008 presidential election. I am relieved to know that the president-elect’s middle name is Hussein and his last name sounds like Osama, and he’s black, and spent some time living in a Muslim country, and grew up in a non “2 parent/2.1 kids” houseshold, and that none of these things kept him from being elected. Not that racism has ended by any means, but this was an example of its limits and it really does give me hope.

On the personal side, my 74 year old grandpa who still refers to people as “colored” from time to time, and who has been a staunch Republican voter all of his life, actually voted for a black Democrat. Yes Virginia, hell really did freeze over! I can’t take 100% credit for this change of course, but we had a lot of downright difficult and uncomfortable conversations about race, so this year’s election felt like a personal victory as much as a national milestone.

3. The limits of the American educational system and limits to learning online

It’s possible I am living in a concrete-reinforced, super-duper-thick, no-sound-enters-or-escapes echo chamber, but it seems that everywhere I turn, everyone from _everyone_ is convinced that the American educational system is in desperate need of a massive, major overhaul. In my own neck of the woods, Ohio is in the process of implementing a state-wide university system, several education related organizations that are funded by the state are being abolished or merged, and a couple of universities including my own are switching from quarter systems to semesters (not as simple as it may sound and more expensive than you might think).

So change is happening already in a pretty big way, but I’m not sure how much these changes will address some of the underlying problems. One of which, I am convinced, is a staggering lack of understanding about the power of current IT/web/net based technologies. There is increasing curiosity at all levels – thank goodness or I wouldn’t have a job! But from administrators to faculty to staff, I’m perpetually shocked by how little others use the web even for basic things,like as a reference system. Everyone now uses email, of course, and LMS adoption has increased tremendously in both breadth and depth of use, and the core university business and billing systems are state of the art, but the social media/personal empowerment side of the web doesn’t seem to have penetrated academia very much yet at all. You might be surprised how many faculty don’t know about using quotes in google searching, for example, or who don’t read the blogs of their peers from other institutions.

I find that pretty distressing for a lot of different reasons, not least of which because this lack of understanding really limits my choices as a student (or potential customer, if you prefer).

The first problem is that the thing I want to study not only doesn’t have its own discipline or recognized curriculum, most people aren’t even aware it exists! My area of study is the metaverse and I spend far more time trying to demonstrate that it is “real” (ie has real impact) and justifying why we should be studying it than anything else. What time I do get to spend on actual research doesn’t count towards tenure, and unfortunately, most of my output is in blog posts and wikis and PDFs and Second Life builds, and none of these things will get me a degree either. They aren’t “accredited” kinds of output.

The second problem is that even if I could find a good fit in a program, then what? Will I be able to bear sitting in a classroom with a bad teacher who regurgitates the text book and wants me to regurgitate it too? Will I be able to keep my trap shut when we all hand in our papers to the prof and learn nothing from each other instead of sharing them so we all learn more?

When I think of it, I tend to tell myself and others that I can’t find the time or money to go back to grad school right now (artifical limit, I’m sure I COULD if I were willing to radically alter my life), but the truth is something different: I can’t bear the thought of fitting my learning style back into that crummy old model when I’ve found something 1000000 times better – the entire web is my school, my laboratory, and my teacher. I would guess that in 2008 I read more reports, white papers, and peer-reviewed journal articles (and thousands of blog posts and news articles), attended more lectures by more world-class thinkers and teachers (and talked to them, individually!), and had more hands-on, active and engaging learning experiences than I have ever had in any other year of my entire life – in school or out. I also spent a heck of a lot of time reflecting on what I learned, sharing it with others, collaborating on shared learning experiences, and had a few pretty nice milestone publications of my own.

Everywhere I look, I’m butting up against limits. Limits of the existing system, limits to people’s understanding about what it is I want to study, limits in program and curriculum choices, personal limitations (financial, practical, selfishly wanting to learn MY way instead of THEIR way)..

Furthermore, despite the free and wonderful education I received from the intarnets this year, I also learned that there are limits here too. There are limits to how much information I can process, how many connections I can form, and how many channels of communication I can keep up with. There are absolutely, most definitely limits to how many emails I can process in a day. There are limits to how much I can learn on my own unaided by others. I often have questions, need help, need guidance, need mentoring, need direction. I know without a doubt my work and output would improve if I had a better foundational understanding of both the technology that makes the metaverse possible and the research that already exists about human behavior in online environments. I don’t for a second believe I can “master” this material all on my own, even with the tremendous resources the web offers.

And of all my learning experiences online this year, I’m perhaps most grateful for my experience with the Connectivism & Connective Knowledge MOOC (Massively Open Online Course), because it _broke_ some (artificial) limits in my understanding about what a “class” is and could be, reinforced some limits I was aware of (how much info/connections/channels I could keep up with), and gave an example of how universities might overcome limits in how many students they reach.

Without a doubt, these limits are frustrating, but not altogether discouraging. It just means there’s much work to be done, and I sincerely hope decision makers at the institutional level are paying attention to technology, but at the same time, I also hope that those of us using and evangelizing technology are being honest about its limits even as we explore its promises.

And speaking of technology evangelism…

4. The limits of personal evangelism

My suitcases are tattered from so many cross-country flights here there and everywhere talking about Second Life, Web 2.0, and the emerging metaverse. I gave talks at conferences and workshops and lunches, to teachers, professors, administrators, instructional designers, businesses, entrepreneurs, laywers, government employees.. so many different sectors of society. What I’ve taken from all my days on the road is that there’s a real lack of perceived value and ROI. 1) People need to see more evidence that this technology is useful for accomplishing their goals before they will be willing to invest the time and resources it takes to get to successful implementation. 2) The technology itself must become cheaper and easier to use.

This is not revolutionary news, I know. But I’m reminding myself because as I mentioned above, I genuinely hope to do more research into those areas so that the next time I spend all day flying across the country just to give a two hour talk, I feel like it was really and truly worth the trip for me and the audience and the university that paid for me to do it.

I guess this means my “zealot phase” (and hopefully “self-righteous jerk phase”) is over for the moment. That isn’t to say that I’ve given up, but rather that I’ve learned the limits of what I, Fleep can do alone. I need to start leveraging my networks better and work in collaboration with more people instead of running myself ragged trying to do too much alone.

5. Limits of the Second Life platform and our current Metaverse

Of course, the job of evangelizing would be a lot easier if the thing itself were easier. Alas, we face some tough issues. The metaverse as a concept is mind-boggling for many, the best iteration of it at the moment (Second Life) is hard to use and has serious limitations, and everything else out on the horizon is still in alpha/beta phase.

I really can’t stress enough what an obstacle our current lack of.. vocabulary is. What is a virtual world? What is the metaverse? What the heck is Castranova talking about with all this synthetic stuff?

Earlier this year when I was struggling with the Looking to the Future: Higher Education in the Metaverse piece, the hardest part was explaining what the metaverse currently IS, nevermind what it might be in the future. Here’s what I wrote:

In its current context, the metaverse is a complex concept. For the purposes of this article, the definition in the Metaverse Roadmap will suffice: “In recent years, the term has grown beyond Stephenson’s 1992 vision of an immersive 3D virtual world, to include aspects of the physical world objects, actors, interfaces, and networks that construct and interact with virtual environments. . . . The Metaverse is the convergence of 1) virtually-enhanced physical reality and 2) physically persistent virtual space. It is a fusion of both, while allowing users to experience it as either.”

In short, we can imagine multiple and myriad digital mirrors of the real world existing alongside multiple and myriad digital worlds that do not represent the real world, all used for a variety of purposes, tied into a variety of communication methods, and populated by any user with Internet access, as well as a steady stream of data originating from objects and devices in the real world.

That’s awful! A mouthful of confusing stuff and I feel very disappointed in myself that I couldn’t find a better way to communicate it. That’s a limitation I (we) must break through in the coming years.

Beyond the limits of our terminology, there are serious limits with existing platform(s) that can’t be ignored either. I still believe that anyone interested in the metaverse must be in or at least paying attention to Second Life – Linden Lab’s platform and the OpenSim derivatives are the most promising metaverse project on the horizon, and perhaps more importantly, the people using, working, and playing in Second Life simply _are_ the vanguard.

But Linden Lab’s Second Life, and the alpha-stage OpenSim grids, are still extremely limited in their enterprise use. Whether the intention is to use it as a social or collaboration space, or as a modeling and prototyping space, or to explore the new frontiers of music and art made possible in these worlds – the platforms need a LOT of work across the board, from the GUI to reliability to providing access to other digital content. Sadly, after 5 years of being out of beta, Second Life’s group IMs still don’t work reliably.  I can’t show a flash or .wmv movie in Second Life, can’t collaboratively access webpages and documents with others easily, and it takes forever and 50 steps to do something as simple as making a prim clickable to launch a webpage.

And those are the simplest technical limitations that need to be overcome. That’s not even getting into the wet, squishy world of legal, philosophical, and social questions: content creator rights, intellectual properly, who has jurisdiction, who governs these spaces, code as law, what’s happening with all of the data we generate from “living” in these spaces and how can we protect ourselves from its misuse, what are the social implications for communities moving to the metaverse, and on and on and on..

In other words, we have a LOT of work to do.

6. The limits of Will Wright

Yes, I’m sorry, this one gets a whole bullet point of its own. Do you have ANY IDEA how long I waited, and with how much _anticipation_ I waited for the release of Spore? (Many many years, and a lot, respectively.)

Others have done a much better job than I in analyzing just why it was such a rotten egg, but I think that might be my biggest (most trivial) disappointment of the year.   I don’t know where it all went so wrong, Will, but dude, you really let us down.

(Sorry, needed a little levity before tackling #7..)

7. The limits of life itself

In late 2007, we learned that my Dad (grandpa, actually, but my dad in all other ways)  had stage-4 metastatic lung cancer that had already spread to his adrenal glands. By mid-2008, it had spread to his spine.  Helping to take care of him through this battle with cancer has been excruciating and it affected every single day of the year for me.

I know that death is a part of life. I know that death is inevitable. I know that I am neither the first nor the last person to lose a parent or to lose a loved one to cancer. I know that some day I will die. I know all of these things, but I’ve never _felt_ them until now.  In my heart, I know it’s a minor miracle that he’s survived more than a year past the initial diagnosis, and it’s a gift that we’ve had all this time to say goodbye, share memories, and adjust to the hard reality. But it has also irrevocably changed my sense of time. I see the limits it imposes on us all in the starkest of terms now.

This experience has also made me wonder how on earth people without families or support networks manage in the face of serious illness (something we’re all bound to face) because without a doubt, I have finally seen the limits of the American health-care system up close and personal.

Wow, what a wreck. I don’t even know where to begin. The absurdities of insurance claims and Medicare, Part-D and doughnut holes, hospital staff that don’t even put on clean gloves unless you ask them too, different doctors with different charts and lab results and patient information systems that don’t talk to each other, medication regimens that require a PhD and 50 gazillion bottles, refills, and dosages to keep up with, doctors prescribing medications that conflict with pre-existing orders… the list goes on and on and on and on. It’s insane. INSANE.

Our family care-team is made up of four intelligent, literate, capable people and we can’t really keep track of it all. The hoops are simply ridiculous, the cracks in the system are more like black holes, and for all the mistakes or near-mistakes we’ve caught, I fear to think of all the ones we didn’t. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my deep bitterness that the _only_ part of the American health-care system that appears to be using IT efficiently is the damned billing systems. Sharing information about the patient to improve care? That’s a spaghetti mess, but they can sure share information about how much it all costs!

Perhaps my viewing the year 2008 from this prism of limitations is all the result of Dad’s cancer; maybe it’s colored my view so much that limits are all I see at the moment. But I don’t really think so. When I look at what’s happening in a broader context, I see that the American economic, education, and health care systems aren’t the only large-scale systems and institutions that appear to be feeling the strain.

For one, the financial/economic crisis is definitely a global one. It’s not an indivual experience, or a national experience, it’s a global one. Even those who haven’t felt the pinch yet have certainly felt the fear.

For another, I believe wars and violence result when political systems fail. Mumbai. Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Palestine, Georgia, and many more places besides, deaths caused by people killing other people, caused by the limits of our existing political institutions.

Human activity in combination with completely “natural” weather and geological phenomena are rapidly, and I mean RAPIDLY changing our environment. The very finite resources of the planet and the real consequences of natural disasters are absolute limits that we simply can’t afford to ignore. The earthquake in Sichuan, China killed almost 70,000 people. The Nargis cyclone in Myanmar killed almost 135,000 people. Predictions seem to indicate that more trouble is on the way, and for the most part, our individual, national, and global responses to these challenges have seem limited by disorganization, misinformation, and a terrible refusal to plan for the reality we all know is coming. It’s absurd. And frightening.

I should probably stop there, this post already turned into something of a monster and I could go on in this vein for quite a while. But the lingering question I have at the end of all this reflection is this:

Have we reached the limits of our patience with behaviors and systems that just plain don’t work anymore?

I sure hope so, because the upside, the real benefit to recognizing these limits, is the ability to leap into the paradigm-shift – and leap we must.

The parameters aren’t what you thought they were.

The rules of the game are changing.

The world of the 21st century is different than the world of the 20th.

The sooner we come to terms with it, the sooner we can start dealing with it. These limits – even the artificial ones – really need to, can, and must be addressed.

I don’t know if I’m up for all the challenges I see looming in the days ahead, with my work, my personal circumstances, with Dad’s cancer. I don’t know how to best prepare, either, but if I’m sure of anything after 2008, it’s that I don’t have a choice about it anymore. The changes are already coming too thick and too fast to ignore, best get with it, buckle down, and get ready.

(And 10 days after the new year, I finally get this posted.  Hooray.)

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