Jul 10

Interview posted – Discussing Social Media on WVXU’s Impact Cincinnati!

Chris Collins & Chris Brewer in the WVXU Studios

Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking with Chris Brewer from Northern Kentucky University on WVXU’s Impact Cincinnati show with host Maryann Zeleznik.  Our topic was how new communication tools are impacting our lives and we discussed all the usual suspects like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, etc. in addition to the changes iPhones and Android smart phones have brought to the scene since our last show back in July 2009.

From the Impact Cincinnati website:

Topic: How new communications tools are affecting our lives

Millions of people each day now access Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and other social networking sites, using home computers as well as a rapidly growing array of sophisticated mobile devices that allow anywhere, anytime internet connections.

Guests include:
University of Cincinnati Instructional & Research Computing department IT Analyst Chris Collins
Chris Brewer, a social media consultant for clients such as Apple and the New Media Consortium, Director of Online Technology for NKU’s College of Informatics, and the developer of GrooveRiver.com, a niche social network for Cincinnati musicians.

Listen to the Program

It’s always fun to get a behind the scenes look at our local NPR station studio and I hope we encourage Cincinnati listeners to try out some of the social media offerings that can help expand your personal and professional networks.   Check out the recording here and many thanks to Chris and Maryann for a great conversation about social media!

Mar 10

Cincinnati Food Security: A Community Assessment

For my second learning mission on EVOKE, I read a Master’s thesis entitled Cincinnati Food Security: A Community Assessment written by Brandy Jeanette McQueary at the University of Cincinnati (2008).

From the paper’s abstract:

This study investigates whether residents within the City of Cincinnati, Ohio have equal food access. For the purpose of this project, literature was reviewed from the following disciplines: international development, sociology,  environmental science, urban policy, geography, planning, health, nutrition, and economics. For the purpose of this study, food access evaluates both geographic and social character. The research project establishes whether food deserts exist within Cincinnati neighborhoods, and whether a correlation exists between neighborhood social character and food insecurity.

From the paper’s first couple of chapters, I learned more about the definitions of phrases like “food security” “food deserts” “grocery gap” and other terms defined by international as well as US organizations. This helped me to better understand the research. I also learned some interesting facts about food production and security in the US:

  • In the US, just 10 companies supply more than half of the food and drink consumed in this country.
  • Farmers account for less than 1% of the US population.
  • Food travels 2,000 miles on average from farm to plate in the US.
  • Inner-city shoppers sometimes pay as much as 40% more for basic grocery items than suburban shoppers.
  • Food production and delivery systems are often not considered or accounted for in urban planning models.

While I was aware that food production and distribution chains have consolidated tremendously in the last few decades, I didn’t realize just how much! And it was disturbing to discover how vulnerable inner-city populations are to food insecurity, and that urban planning often fails to address food system needs at all. Food is so basic to community sustainability (obviously!), it is shocking to realize that city planners don’t even take it into account!

After the introductory information about the topic and laying out the terms and definitions to be used for the study, the paper continued with its primary objectives, to identify all the grocery facilities in the Cincinnati metro area, defined as fifty-two Cincinnati neighborhoods, and to identify if there were “food deserts” in Cincinnati. A grocery store was considered to have a service area of 1/2 mile radius around the store, since that is the distance a healthy person could walk within 15 minutes to reach the store.

Based on McQueary’s survey of grocery stores in the Cincinnati area, I learned:

  • Cincinnati is home to 165 grocery stores – 91 supermarkets, and 74 convenience stores.
  • Of the 52 neighborhoods in Cincinnati, not one is completely food secure.
  • 31 neighborhoods do not have a single grocery store within their boundaries.

And significant portions of the Cincinnati metro area could be defined as a “food desert” as indicated in this graphic (all areas outside the circles):

external image 4429654088_7e95174965.jpg

Based on this research, it appears that Cincinnati is not nearly as “food secure” as I would have thought, for being such a large metropolitan area surrounded by extensive farmland in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. These findings are quite disturbing!

My mom and I have talked about finding out if a community garden exists in our neighborhood, and if not, maybe we should start one, and this research just reminds me that we need to get moving on that.    Mom, are you reading this?  Call me!

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

Sep 08

CCK08 – Disconnected

(This post is about the Massively Online Open Course called Connectivism and Connective Knowledge being taught by George Siemens and Stephen Downes from September to December 2008. Over 1900 participants have signed up, and I am facilitating the Second Life cohort for the course. Over the following months, I will be posting about the experience, home work assignments, and other materials related to our activities.)

Storm damage in Cincinnati, photo by elycefeliz used under CC licensing.

On Sunday, the remnants of Hurricane Ike traveled all the way up to Indiana and Ohio, and though I’ve certainly seen my fair share of weird weather phenomena, I have never seen a wind storm like that! I lost my biggest shade tree in the back yard and have a little roof damage, but other than property damage, all my friends, family, and coworkers are ok. Being so far inland, this part of the country is certainly not prepared for hurricane or tropical force winds, and it caused a massive blackout in the region, shortages of gas and food, school closings, and a new understanding and sympathy for those in Texas who took the brunt of the storm.

And suddenly, in the middle of the Connectivism course, I found myself forcefully Disconnected.

I’ve had brief power outages before, but not for so long and never for so long in the summer. When you get a big winter storm, there’s a snowy white visual barrier between you and the rest of the world and you know it will melt and things will get back to normal. This time, there was no visual, nothing but the hanging powerlines and broken telephone poles to remind you that our modern society and all of our connections are really quite tenuous. Without the juice that those cables provide, and the pipes that transmit all of those 01010101011110001’s, those of us who are hyperconnected online may be more isolated and disconnected locally than ever before. It was a sobering thought.

It wasn’t until sometime on Monday when I began to worry that the power might not be back by Tuesday’s Connectivism course meeting in Second Life that I remembered my Utterz account. I have Utterz set up in such a way that I can call Utterz from my cell phone and record a message. Utterz then creates a post automatically on my blog, and WordPress is set up with a plug-in to automatically send a message to Twitter whenever something is posted on my blog. This means that when I was stranded with no electricity, internet, or landline phone, I could flip open my cell phone, record a message, and within a few minutes my voice was online and my network of twitter friends were notified. Chilbo residents Malburns Writer and Tara Yeats noticed it, and Tara is also in the Connectivism course, so she very kindly sent an email out to the Second Life Cohort to let folks know I was offline. (Thanks Tara!)

Hmm, so maybe not so disconnected after all. But it was quite strange to be standing in the dark and sending out what felt like an SOS of sorts into the ether. What to say when you’re talking to.. well, anyone? Should I direct the message to my blog readers, to the Connectivism course? Without access to my online calendar, I wasn’t even sure who else I was supposed to be meeting with, so maybe it should be as general as possible? I realized I am quite weirded out by posting a voicemail to anyone who happens to hear it!

Mobile post sent by fleep using Utterzreply-count Replies.  mp3

And then a few days later I ran across a post by fellow Connectivism student Janet Clarey, who writes about my Utterz post, saying:

Chris Collins (a/k/a Fleep) sends a mobile post to her blog because she has no power and no Internet connection. She’s letting her ~2,000 online course mates (in the CCK08 course) know that she won’t be in attendance today. No biggee right? It’s no different than a voice mail sent to a group. Or is it? I think it’s significant. She’s communicating with anyone.

I’m not sure I could be as creative if I found myself without power or a connection. Perhaps that’s because Fleep seems to have several less wrinkles than I do and doesn’t carry the weight of my prior telecommunication experiences. Or maybe I’m just not cool.

See, I’d call someone even though anyone would be the better choice for learning (e.g., what was covered during her absence). She’s inviting dialogue over monologue.

Janet gives me too much credit. =) I am actually old enough to remember shared phonelines, dialing telephones, and pressing 9 to get an outside line. I’m old enough to feel awkward speaking to just anyone who happens to hear, and I’m still experimenting with and feeling out my own boundaries about what is and isn’t appropriate to broadcast out to the whole wide world. The only difference, perhaps, between Janet and myself, is that I had previously played with Utterz, had taken the time to set up the cascading automated linkages that would make that audiopost > blog > twitter chain happen, and remembered it during the blackout. But on the inside, I’m still uncomfortable both with my connectedness and disconnectedness, I still feel unsure, strangely vulnerable talking to anyone and yet discomfited when the lights were out and the PC buzz was palpably absent.

I think we’re all still learning how to be connected, how to cope with disconnection, and where our comfort level begins to stray into uncomfortable territory. One of the lessons I took from this (besides the fact that I really should have a bigger store of batteries and non-perishable food!) is that there turned out to be great value in the hour or so I spent playing with Utterz.. what a year ago when I set that up? It turned out that by connecting my blog and twitter to some new service I wasn’t even sure how to use or what to use it for would eventually come in handy. That the few minutes I spend from time to time listening to my friends’ Utterz was back there in my memory, recalled in the moment of need. Setting up connections is time consuming, and sometimes I don’t know what value, if any, it will have, but in this case, it turned out to be very handy indeed.

And it wasn’t just the technology connection that made this work, it was also the people connection. Malburns and Tara are good online friends, good citizens of our community, and good hyperconnected netizens. Who knows how many people saw/heard that post and did nothing, but Tara took the time to not only listen to the message, but then to compose a message and forward it on my behalf, completing a circuit in the chain that was NOT automated (notifying the Connectivism SL cohort) – and it was our personal relationship and connection that made that part happen, not the technology itself.

Lesson: Need batteries and better emergency stores at home – you must plan for the unexpected.

Lesson: Our electronic connections are more tenuous than they sometimes appear. The energy crisis and degrading infrastructure in the US is a Serious Issue that we need to pay more attention to.

Lesson: Keeping abreast of and playing with new online tools and ways to connect can have big payoff in the future, even if you don’t see value in it now.

Lesson: Technology facilitates many things, but it’s the people connections that ultimately save the day.

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Jul 08

Obama Addresses NAACP in Cincinnati

I was quite bummed to miss the rally tonight for Obama’s address to the NAACP (had family obligations). Local media broadcast the speech to a crowd in downtown Fountain Square, and local media reports a couple thousand people showed up.

Unfortunately I can’t embed the video directly here and it’s not yet up on YouTube, but you can click the image below to watch the speech.

Obama giving speech to NAACP

Given the audience, it’s not surprising that he addressed social justice issues (breaking down barriers and fighting oppression), but said that’s not enough alone, it’s also about economic justice.

He stressed corporate and government responsibility. “America is better off when the well being of American business and the American people are aligned. Our CEOs have to recognize that they have a responsibility, not just to grow their profit margins, but to be fair to their workers and honest to their shareholders and to help strengthen our economy as a whole. That’s how we’ll ensure that economic justice is being served, and that’s what this election is all about,” he said.

He also addressed public education, which given the abysmal state of the Cincinnati Public School district, should have been absolutely cutting to the administrators who have completely botched our local school system, and the need to educate and train those coming out of the prison systems.

But perhaps the most controversial part of his speech came at the end, when he stressed personal responsibility, directly addressing the firestorm over Jesse Jackson’s crude and critical comments caught on an open mic a few days ago. (For more on the response from the African American community, check out this NPR clip addressing, “..a growing disconnect between Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and several prominent African Americans, who argue that he is moving to the center and catering to white voters too much.”)

I have to quote from Obama’s speech in full because it’s just too good:

“If we’re serious about reclaiming that dream, we have to do more in our own lives. There’s nothing wrong with saying that,” he said, “We can lead by example as we did during the civil rights movement, ’cause the problems that plague our communities are not unique to us, we just have it a little worse, but they’re not unique to us. Providing guidance for our children, turning off the TV set, putting away the video games, attending those parent teacher conferences, helping our children with their homework, setting a good example, that’s what everybody’s got to do if we’re going to be moving this country forward. Teaching our daughters to never allow images on television that tell them what they’re worth, teaching our sons to treat women with respect, and to realize that responsibility does not end at conception, that what makes them a man is not the ability to have a child but to raise one, that’s a message we need to send!”

And this in a week when the New Yorker had the horribly bad taste to run a cover “satirizing” the misconceptions and stereotypes about the Obamas. I’m not going to embed the image here because I think it was totally irresponsible of the New Yorker to publish it and I don’t want to give it more eyeballs on my site, but it portrays Michelle Obama as a radical militant and Barack Obama as an anti-American, flag burning Muslim.

And that’s a shame because if the statements I quoted above are “militant” or “anti-American” then I guess you can put me in that category, too. I don’t care if it’s just election year rhetoric or not at this point, it’s the best damned rhetoric I’ve heard in a long time from any politician and I give credit to Obama for not ducking the issue as the fellow from EbonyJet.com on NPR advised him to do.

Take the bull by the horns and address the complex and difficult problems we face, that’s what our leaders are supposed to do.

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