Intercar Communication Tames Rhode Island

According to Time Tech, the federal government is deciding whether new cars can be equipped with transponders which will tell other cars their position. They may do things like alert other drivers or possibly even interact with the breaking systems of fellow drivers causing them to slow or stop to avoid accidents. Experts estimate that these advanced systems may reduce accidents by up to 8%.

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 7.22.53 PMThis may be a good thing for Rhode Islanders, who have long-held the honor of being the worst drivers in the nation. Imagine, every time we swerve toward another car in traffic or cut across two lanes with no spaces, all the other cars could automatically jack up and leave us the room we need.

Also, when another car comes dangerously close, loud alarms would be helpful. I’d learn to obey alarms such as Amber Alerts without spilling my coffee–the only thing Rhode Islanders are permitted to drink and drive–all over the upholstery. I need to be impervious to distraction to hone in on my Rhode Island driving skills because I’m not from these parts. You can tell the true Rhode Islanders because they drink Dunkin Donuts iced coffee even when it’s 20 below. My coffee–you’ll see upon investigation–is always hot, and often homebrew. An outsider. I digress.

This technology can do more. Even more than simple transponders, it could be effective as an advanced intercar communicator. I’d call the upgrade the FU model. This would interface with the dashboard video screens, sending thank you texts to courteous drivers, and have a built-in button for the Rhode Island salute just like Waze has for police and obstructions. I could send Rhode Island’s favorite finger to indicate “You’re an idiot,” to those who park six inches from my driver’s door in a perfectly empty lot, and could compliment the politicians and important people who all keep the really low license plate numbers–just like their offices–for generations at a time.

I’d want an automatic warning for things like “Teen driver,” or “Driver over 80,” or “Driver doing makeup.” You might think Rhode Island doesn’t need car-to-car communication. After all, the state’s not that big–usually opening up a window will do. But I think these things would be helpful. I’m tired of Nader bars and child restraints I can’t buckle without the right combination of swears. Give me something I can use.

I’d be grateful.


Storm Alert: The Rhode Island Bread and Milk Report

When a snowflake threatens to dangle in the air, Rhode Islanders go out in full force. Today, was no exception. Every single last Stewie and Vincenzo went out for bread and milk. Because it might never be available again…

I didn’t intend to go into the grocery store. I was at the craft store nearby, and my husband instructed me to get a Christmas turkey if I found one on sale. Being as though there weren’t any Christmas turkeys at the craft store and a good woman always obeys her husband, I went into the grocery store even though I knew that it was a very bad idea. In less than twenty-four hours the snow would be falling. A flake or two landed on my glasses in confirmation. Rhode Islanders would mob the scene at any moment.

I found the turkeys. I bought two. As a vegetarian wife, I go above and beyond. I know sometime this year, he’ll want another turkey, and off season they’re expensive. So expensive that I consider running over just one of the turkeys that play chicken with me during my morning commute. I’ll target the one who stares me down and laughs.

Rhode Islanders were out in full force–buying loaves of bread, gallons of milk and case upon case of water like they couldn’t pour it from their sink into a bucket in preparation for the power outage we are probably not going to have. I picked up some cranberries. I might make cranberry orange muffins for breakfast. What’s better than the smell of muffins in the morning? Besides, nobody is crowding the produce aisle before the snow. Bread and milk are more critical to long-term survival than broccoli and lettuce I guess.

The more I can’t find things, the more I realize I’ve spent a lot of time at farms, canning, growing things this past year and a half. I no longer know my way around the regular grocery store. I get in everyone’s way looking for the bacon, and for the life of me I can’t find the cream cheese. I’ll deal with that next week. I can make some cheese in the mean time if I need it, because I already have enough milk. I’ll get the Philadelphia for the Christmas cheesecake later, because I don’t want to mess with tradition.

The store gets more crowded. I notice a kid get nearly decapitated because he is curled up laying under the carriage, head occasionally protruding like a turtle from a shell. Rhode Islanders, whizzing around trying to get the last carton of eggs nearly slice his head clean off like Robespierre. Twice. His responsible party tells him twice to get up. He negotiates, “Only after you pay.” Sounds like my six-year old, who can out negotiate the G8. I check to make sure I’ve left him at home. Phew. I have.

I get in line. I reach for the store coupon card. I can’t find it because I never use it. Eventually, I locate the card which will tell the marketing team I’m the only moron who was in the broccoli aisle instead of buying bread, milk, and cases of water in advance of six inches of snow. They’ll know I’m native to Connecticut, not Rhode Island.

It’s New England. It’s winter.  It snows. I escape the grocery store with my life. I got two turkeys and didn’t even have to run one over.

But if you want bread or milk, you’d better get out there…fast.

Looking into the Artists’ Eyes

It’s easy to give feedback. But there’s something about giving honest and genuine feedback while looking into the eyes of an artist that’s emotional, different.

View of the Congregational Church that started the festival in 1967.

View of the Congregational Church that started the festival in 1967.

The Scituate Art Festival is one of the largest festivals of its kind in the nation. We’ve been coming for years. It’s my husband Rusty’s hometown. He always wanted to move back here but the time was never right. I’ve found the time is never right for most big things in life–changing careers, having a baby, moving…making any life change, really. The time is never right.

Sometimes, the universe intervenes. Other times it sends people to drop kick me. This time, it was both. The airport began to swallow up homes behind our house threatening to take our last shred of value. Selling wasn’t easy–who wants to move into a neighborhood where the roofs are part of the tarmac? Moving is tough–stressful, expensive. It’s never time. We found this house in the woods in my husband’s hometown, the town with the huge art festival and postcard New England village, and a buyer who was grateful to get from an apartment to a house. We escaped. And now this art festival is our hometown event.

“You’d better get rid of your hyphenation,” my husband said, “It’ll do you no good here.” This is his hometown. His last name gets nods. Mine, not so much. This is the type of town where people have lived for generations. I’ve been grandfathered in. “Oh, you have that house…” Everyone knows the house by description. People tell me stories of each generation who lived here, and the stonemason who built it. It’s the type of history I love.

As a real resident of this town, I pay attention to the festival. I listen to the old-timers, talking about the way the town was and used to be. The real history. The kind you can’t find in a book. The Greatest Generation telling the way things use to be, could have been, and sometimes still are.

The food court is everyone's favorite at festivals.

The food court is everyone’s favorite at festivals.

The Art Festival is the way it always is, a finely tuned operation that draws 2-300K people in a good year. Locals and people flock in for the artisans and the New England foliage alike.  We stop here and there for a small-town greeting or an apple dumpling–the type I eat every year, once a year, like clockwork. The civic organizations, school clubs, and people of the region set up booths and all the repeat revelers know how to find the best BBQ, the biggest sausage and peppers, the most perfect fries…and that apple dumpling.

And of course you can’t run a New England town without chowda and clam cakes.

Everyone in town bakes, mans a booth, volunteers or attends. Artists from all over the world show their crafts. As an outsider, I appreciate the variety and efficiency. As an insider, I see the community. I am starting to attach.

I see the antiques booths, the painters, the artisans. What started as a twelve-booth event in 1967 has expanded to pay for repairs to the Congregational Church has become something to behold.

But the best feature, by far, is the artists and artisans. I used to look at art through the eyes of a simpleton, an ignoramus.  Now, I look through the eyes of the creator. Just for an hour or two, I imagine myself painting, sculpting, bringing forth woodwork or pottery into the world, instead of writing, and showcasing my creations for the public. I look at the soul of the artist sitting, quietly showing his or her work. What courage to put oneself out there, in the middle of 300K people passing by casually, blending as people say things like “Beautiful,” or “Oh, no, that’s awful,” or worse yet, passing by without a single glance. The heart and soul of the artist unnoticed. Brilliance blending into the background of clamcakes and doughboys. There can be no greater insult than that.

I see the soul of the artist with the brush, crayon, typewriter, or lens. When possible, I talk to them. I appreciate them. We’re all the same, no matter the genre. We all put stuff out there, hoping someone will appreciate it. Or maybe, just maybe, that it’ll make a difference.

That’s what I see at the festival. Community, cohesion, and people making a difference. It’s the way every community should be, and can be, if we all just smile, create, and share. I’m grateful to be a part. Even if the screaming boy makes me leave early. Some day, this festival will be his.

Using Chalk Outlines to Parallel Park in RI

I left the house early. My appointment was at 10, but traffic and parking can be a challenge. I found a spot about a half-mile from my destination–I have always objected to paying for parking if there is any alternative, and I hate parking garages. Not that I can’t afford six bucks to park–it’s the principle of the matter. I can walk. There was a time that I couldn’t. When I was finishing grad school, I ruptured my Achilles’ tendon playing basketball. It was the tail end of student teaching.

You don’t know joy until you’ve humped your student teaching supplies–and you can tell a student teacher a mile away because of the supplies–eight miles a day from the parking lot to the classroom. Crutches are fun for the first day when people give you the sad look and bring you coffee and gifts. After that, you’re about two days away from pinched nerves, numb fingers, and shoulders you think might have been your primary injury.

I never much thought about parking before that, with the exception of my mom’s continuous prayers for parking. She always prays for a good spot. I, myself, think the Almighty must have something more pressing to do than look for a parking spot for my mother at the grocery store–not that she hasn’t earned it with her goodness, but isn’t there cancer to cure? World peace to negotiate? I could never pray for a parking space.

Until I was on crutches. One day, I had to return library books to the college library. There were no handicapped spaces–they were filled with cars without handicapped stickers probably going to the ball game. I was forced to park in the student lot about twenty marathons away.  Eight hours later, as I hobbled to the library door, I saw a lady returning to her car without a handicapped sticker in the space I would have used.

“Ma’am,” I said. I’m not usually assertive–twenty books about dead people at five pounds each on one leg will do that to you, “That’s handicapped.” Many people will do things like litter and park in the handicapped spot because they feel they’ll never get caught. But when they do, they get shifty, embarrassed.

“Oh, um, there’s nowhere to park,” she tried to explain, unable to look me in the eye. Even if she wanted to, she couldn’t have seen over the stack of Schlesinger and McPherson.

“Yes there is. Over there. In the lot. You have to walk. Lucky you can. That’s where had to park because you are here. There are plenty of spaces left.” She looked like she wanted to be bitchy but I was being polite. And she was wrong. She slammed her door and zoomed away to look for another handicapped space I wasn’t guarding quite as well.

Yes, parking is an issue in Rhode Island. I didn’t mind today’s half-mile hike. Finding a space is a victory. As I walked, I analyzed Rhode Island parking. I took pictures. On first glance, it seems Rhode Islanders are leaving a respectful distance between cars. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is only because parallel parking is not part of the driving test here. No one knows how to do it. If you know how to parallel park, you simply line up the rear ends of the cars, and turn the wheel in. It may take a few reverses and wheel turns, but you can get into a space as long as it’s a foot or two longer than your car. I had a job once where half the staff meeting was spent watching one member arrive and try to parallel park every week. It’s a skill that’s next to impossible to witness in these parts.

Examine these spaces closely. A New Yorker would start slashing tires. You can fit eight Fiats and an RV in those spaces! This would never, ever fly in a city, where parking half a car length away means someone has to sleep at work because there are no spots near his home.

You see this extra space? A New Yorker would lift this car and move it to make space.

You see this extra space? A New Yorker would lift this car and move it to make space.

Unacceptable. If you can't parallel park in a reasonable distance, don't drive.

Unacceptable. If you can’t parallel park in a reasonable distance, don’t drive.

Stop this nonsense. Let’s hear your voice added to “Rhode Islander’s for Parking Reform.” There are so many parallel parking travesties we’re not even going to discuss the diagonal-parkers or those who park on the line so I need to exit through my sun roof. Which is tough, because I no longer have one. Maybe we need to put lines on parallel spaces, too. Maybe a chalk outline of a dead body or something–that’s a universal symbol Rhode Islander’s understand. If you can fit your cousin Vinny on the ground between two cars, you have used too much space. Be considerate. Let other people park too. There aren’t many of us here. I know we eat a lot of pasta, but There should be space for all of us.


Rhode Island 101 for Quora

Screen Shot 2013-07-10 at 11.00.58 PMI couldn’t resist answering this Rhode Island question on Quora. I tried to resist, but failed…Stewie made me do it. Being a foreigner from Connecticut, a state I can no longer afford, I feel dual allegiance. I was born and bred in Bridgeport, also known as “Chapter 11 City.” That means it went bankrupt. Not that Rhode Island did any better. When I moved here, a banker named Molocone had just crippled the credit unions, leaving the good people in a lurch. At work, we asked for a raise–every other state got a 15% cost of living differential. We got a kind “STFU (translate: “Please be quiet.” You’re lucky you gotta job.”) Lucky I got a job? I just spent 80K on a college degree to be lucky? I could have gone to Vegas or Foxwoods for that.

So, here’s the Quora question that tempted me more than a trip to Scarborough Beach (eh, that’s not much temptation).

“How would you characterize Rhode Island and its inhabitants?”

Rhode Island is a unique place. Usually people say “Oh, you live in Rhode Island? That’s in New York, right?” Yes, it is a state. A unique state. You do hear about Rhode Island in the news, any time there’s a mafia arrest, or large-scale world disaster, like a fire out West, which will invariably be mentioned in terms of number of Rhode Islands affected. This is not a very good measure, since so few people know Rhode Island is a state that they won’t be able to determine the size of the fire anyway.

The inhabitants of Rhode Island are a cross between the Sopranos and Family Guy. Rhode Island is famous for two things, “mobstas and lobstas.” There is a Rosetta Stone available for the Rhode Island language–linguists estimate that the average Rhode Islander saves approximately five hours per week by not pronouncing the “r’s” at the end of their words, time they then spend frequenting Dunkin Donuts or Iggys (clamshack). Rhode Islanders drink ice coffee, Del’s Lemonade (a curiously frozen drink out of which the creators forgot to take the lemon rind).

Rhode Islanders have been branded the worst drivers in the nation, which allows them to be less formal on the road. Cars are less expensive, because they are not required to be equipped with blinkers. They use the sunroof and the center finger of the left hand to indicate the intention to turn.

All in all, though, “Rogue Island” is a unique place that’s been flipping off the system since Colonial times when it was the national meeting place for pirates and refused to sign the Constitution until the new Federal government threatened sanctions. It is the home of the first act of revolution of the Revolutionary War (the burning of the HMS Gaspee) and the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. It has many microclimates and terrains, making it a great place for filmmakers who don’t want to fight New York traffic or breathe LA smog, and the close proximity of the amenities it contains makes it a great place to live.

Want to eat some of the best food in the nation, get from the beach to the forest in ten minutes flat, and enjoy the history of Colonial New England? Come to Rhode Island. A few of us may even be friendly and try to drive between the lines.


Building Bridges Instead of Burning Them–EdTechRI

Shawn and HeatherI was teaching a unit that was boring. But it’s in the curriculum so I had no choice. I tried to chug it down and get on to something better. I gave the test. They bombed.  I don’t even like tests–In a few years, I bet we won’t even need tests–they’ll wear a Yankee Hat that will suck out their collective knowledge and send me a report.  I won’t even have to teach them because there will be an app for that too. Oh, how much money the tax payer will save!

All these apps are very cool–it’s what I’m trying to do–get these things into the classroom.  But sometimes looking around at the old and the new in classrooms makes me wonder if I’ll ever get to the Yankee Hat stage.

Yesterday, all that faded into the background. I was in the middle of an event designed to change the world. An event filled with rock stars, creating rock star vision. It was the EdTechRI Shark Tank Smackdown. Actually, I think there was a better name than that, but it was really the culmination of a year or so of work where we sat down and got key players together at the table to discuss the issues faced by educators and entrepreneurs system-wide. The bottom line, educators and entrepreneurs need a constant dialogue. By opening the lines of communication, we solve problems and get those solutions where they need to be most–to the teachers and the students who need them.

Last night’s event was beautiful. It was sponsored by the Highlander Institute, which brings blended learning (teachers using tech and traditional methods) and EdTech accelerator Socratic Labs, (they help ed tech startups develop so they can be successful) and housed at the very classy Rhode Island Foundation, which supports pretty much every good mission in the state.

photoThis event was special for me. When I started my tech journey approximately one year ago, simply by making a few Learnist boards and beginning to use them in my classroom, I never imagined it would end in my involvement with Learnist, EdTechRI, and the EdUnderground–in getting to work with some of the world’s best and brightest in the field of teaching and educational technology–in seeing both sides come together.

It seemed there was a disconnect–education on one side, and entrepreneurs on the other. School systems didn’t always get the best technology, and entrepreneurs certainly wanted to build it, but they sometimes lacked access to the feedback they needed from the classroom end. Teachers would say, “Oh, you’re a vendor.” Vendors sell stuff. Entrepreneurs and visionaries create stuff. Totally different. We don’t have vendors. We have visionaries creating critical solutions with cutting-edge technology.

In getting the sides together, Rhode Island is solving problems in education.  Some of the best platforms in the world need one or two simple tweaks to rock the education world. Teachers give that feedback. I’ve seen this first hand. It’s magic.  By getting the educators and the entrepreneurs together, we eliminate about seven layers of bureaucracy. We have the tough conversations we need to have about our commitment to engaging students and making education real–and better. By involving visionaries, creating bridges and partnerships with the best and brightest the teaching and technology worlds have to offer, everyone wins.

I looked around the room, and saw the picture.  My friend Heather Gilchrist, who mentors startups and has personally yanked me off a cliff on my own entrepreneurial journey. Shawn Rubin, who, though he doesn’t know it yet, is pretty much the face of EdTech in Rhode Island and will be on the forefront of this momentum nationally. My EdUnderground friends and antagonists. A room full of startups and entrepreneurs in various stages of development pitching their creations to smiling teachers and educational leaders, all  tweeting feedback on the board. A food spread that reminded me of classy seminars when I was in Corporate America. People laughing and having a good time. Business cards exchanging, entrepreneurs and teachers lighting up when they found the right match to discuss needs and solutions, and in general magic in the air.

And I got to come along for the ride.

To be continued…


Write Less. Be Right More. A Top 10 List.

Screen Shot 2013-04-16 at 8.27.18 PMEverywhere I go, there’s a top ten list. “Top 10 Ways to Make Your Sneakers Smell Fresh,” “Top 10 Ways to Declutter.” As an stodgy history writer, I decried the top ten list for the longest time.  Now I write them.

“What? People have such short attention spans they can’t even read a paragraph?” I’d say in my former life, imaging historian James McPherson’s Civil War epic as a top ten.

I was wrong about brevity. Completely wrong. I stand beaten down and corrected. I now strive for brevity and clarity. I’m honored by your reading this, and do not want you to suffer, ever. “If you need a priest, get a priest,” said my friend who got me into this mess.  He advised me never to torture my reader. I love that line–a real writer’s slap in the face.

As I stood between several worlds, each with a different writing style and view on the quantity and quality of the written world, I transformed. The worlds of research, teaching, and Corporate America overuse words. The world of tech does not. Once I stopped having cold sweats encountering sentence fragments, I liked the world of tech; it became freeing. Zen.

Brevity has value. There is a reason six people in the world want to read anything historians write.  Historians are too obscure–and too darned long.  This year, I’ve taken a lesson from the tech people. I try to be brief, interesting, fun, and informative. I hope I have been succeeding.

Here, in honor of my 100th post, I’ll make my recompense complete by employing the Top 10 list, sharing some of my favorite posts about life, happiness, education–things that matter to me.

Failing at Music–Succeeding at Life, Part Two: This is a story of how I fell flat on my face in college.

A Formal Apology to Henri Matisse: I apologize to a dead artist for being so ignorant as to disrespect his work.

The Frankenstorm of the Century–Storm Prep, Rhode Island Style: Rhode Islanders are crazy. This proves it.

Teach Like a Soviet: In order to navigate the education system, I ask “How would a Soviet do this?”

What Is That Moment Where I Change Someone’s LIfe Forever?: We never know how we affect the lives of others. Sometimes we never find out. But that moment has the potential to exist every day.

Don’t Ban Dodgeball: Ban Life: Society’s propensity to restrict everything is silly. Beyond silly; it has crossed the line into stupid.

Carrying People through the Sand: Lifting each other up makes a difference–may we never fail to see the significance of our actions even to those our lives touch in slight measure.

Crumpled Paper Airplanes: Taking My Own Advice: Declan crumples airplanes. I tell him we must try in life without being afraid which turns out to be a giant hypocritical moment in parenting.

Separating Out the Geniuses: Traditional education values one kind of genius. Everyone is a genius. It would be great if schools would notice this.

Loser for Life: Tales of a Girl without Klout: In the beginning of this journey, I discovered the concept that Silicon Valley could, indeed, brand me a loser. Mathematically.

I am deeply honored have enough content to make this list, and even more honored that you read my stories. Nothing is more meaningful to me than the relationships I have made through writing. I am grateful I kept my promise to create–I’ve made friends, and my life has changed direction forever. Friends are the treasure we receive if we open our heart and mind to the experience; experiences are what make up the essence of life. I thank you, not only for reading, but becoming part of that essence, teaching me so much this year, and inspiring me to strive to improve each day.