Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Read for Free

When Amazon first announced their Kindle Unlimited program I was very excited.  As an avid reader, I have long been sold on e-books.  Initially after purchasing my Kindle I would purchase a traditional copy of the book followed by the Kindle version and sometimes even the audiobook if there was one available.  The idea was that I used certain editions of the book based on my current situation.  If I am commuting between cities for work I can listen to the audiobook or if I am home by the fireplace, I would pick up my print copy of the book and pick up where I left off.  So, the idea of unlimited reading, which is the promise of Kindle Unlimited, was needless to say very exciting to me!  Amazon’s website touts 700,000 titles for only $9.99 per month.

I thought to myself, shoot, I buy at least 3 or 4 books a month and I read at least one a week so this will pay for itself each month.  While I was trying to decide if I wanted to give it a try, Amazon announced the free trial.  Whew this just keeps getting better.  I signed up for the 2 month trial and I figured this would give me plenty of time to evaluate the service and make my decision.  Initially, I was very disappointed but as I write this I could not be more pleased and I am paying the monthly fee at this point.  After signing up for the free trial, I decided to search for a few books that I have been meaning to buy to see if they were offered as part of the Unlimited program.  One by one, each book I searched for was in fact not available for free.  Well if most of the books that I wished to read would not be available then I would end up buying the book and paying a monthly fee.  No can do.  But over the course of the trial period an interesting thing happened. 
I began to notice that no matter what I book (or should I say subject) I am searching for Unlimited seems to always have a free option.  This is like.  For example, recently I decided to learn Python programming.  So, I go to Amazon to find a Python book.  There are hundreds.   However, several show up as free since I am a Kindle Unlimited subscriber.  Granted the book that is available may not be the best resource for learning Python, but I am able to get my hands on a Python book and began to consume some knowledge on this subject without having to pay for it.   I have already done this several times.  A few weeks ago I was reading an article and a book was listed in the article and I decided to follow up by checking out the book and guess what when I went to Amazon I was able to start reading the book for free.  What I have determined about Kindle Unlimited is that it is an absolutely awesome resource for exploring topics and information.

The only drawback I have found is that it seems you are limited to having 10 books in your queue for free reading so sometimes I have to return one before I can check out another.  This has not really been a big deal since usually I have completed reading one of the books or simply decided that I no longer care to go any further down that particular rabbit hole. 

At this point, I am thrilled with the program and I would recommend it to those who are avid readers or folks who need to come up to speed on different subjects in a hurry.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

5 Books Every Black Technologist Should Read

I have been a software developer for 30 years.  A few years back while pursuing my doctorate I conducted research for my dissertation centered on why there are so few African Americans pursuing careers in STEM.  I did that partly to satisfy the dissertation requirements, but also because in my 30 year career rarely if ever was I not the only black
developer on the team.  I learned a long time ago that studying history is an important part of learnng how to solve problems.  I learned that from my mentor Malcolm X.

During this time, I came across countless books and articles that quite frankly answered the question for me.  It is no longer a mystery to me at all.  Of all the books that I read during this period and since then I have selected 5 that I feel every black technologist, engineer, scientists or inventor should definitely make a part of their collection.

  1. Technology and the African American Experience:  Needs and Opportunities for Study by Bruce Sinclair:  Of the five books listed here I feel this is the most important one.  At a time when folks are searching to unlock the mystery as to why few African Americans are underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, Sinclair’s work gives us the historical background and why most African Americans have the attitude they have towards technology.  This book suggest that African Americans were conditioned to believe that they do not possess the mental dexterity needed to be inventors and this conditioning started at the time this nation was founded.  “White Americans, including those as committed to Enlightenment ideals as Thomas Jefferson, even as he corresponded with Benjamin Banneker, the African-American astronomer and almanac maker, believed that black people among them were mentally inferior (Sinclair, p.1).  My discovery of this book as well as many others has done much to help me to understand the lack of African Americans in the technology fields in much the same ways reading classics such as the The Mis-Education of the Negro and The Autobiography of Malcolm X helped to make sense of the plight of the Black man in America for me in my early twenties.

  2. A Struggle Worthy of Note, David Wharton:  This short work by David Wharton makes the case that even as slaves African Americans have always been inventors and in many cases have invented technologies that have become the basis for several major corporations in America. These men and women were not only ripped off but were never granted their rightful place among the nations contributions to science and technology.  Because of this, Wharton makes the point that the lingering effects of these omissions has done damage to later generations who were unable to look at these inventions from a position of pride and view those such as Lewis Latimer and Granville T. Woods as role models of what they could aspire to achieve.

  3. Proving Ground: A Memoir, David Tarver:  Proving Ground is the story of David Tarver.  Tarver is an African American engineer and the book is a memoir of his career as a professional engineer.  Tarver started his career at Bell Labs and after two years influenced two other African Americans to leave Bell Labs and join him in founding his own company.  He did just that.  After 12 years, Tarver sold his company for 30 million dollars and if I am not mistaken he never used venture capital and never set foot in The Silicon Valley.  The book proves that NOT all technological entrepreneurship has to start in the The SilIcon Valley and those that do not want or have that option can use Mr. Tarver's lesson as an alternative blueprint for African American technological entrepreneurship and I believe this book should be read by all aspiring to do so.

  4. The Black Digital Elite, John T. Barber:  Most African American technologists know the names and stories of contemporary technologists such as Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg.  But ask them to name a few of the African Americans who contributed to the evolution of technology and they are stumped.  Most have never heard of Mark Dean who led the team that crafted the IBM’s PC AT or Dr. Clarence Ellis who was part of the team at the XEROX Palo Alto Research Center team who built Alto, the world’s first personal computer.  What I love about this book is that it profiles 26 African Americans who played a major role in the development of modern computing technology across several sectors including scientists and innovators as well as educators and professionals.

  5. Black Inventors, Keith C. Holmes:  This is an excellent reference book.  The research spans over 200 years of black invention. Mr. Holmes has been researching Black inventors for 30 years.  This book covers the contributions of black inventors all over the world.  His research covers America, Central America, the Carribean, Canada Africa and even includes Native American contributions.  It is an excellent work of research.  For example did you know that inventor of the Bowflex exercise machine was a brother named Tisafaye Shifferaw?

    I am avid reader so I am sure as time goes on there will be other books that I will want to add to this list. There is one that I read this year that I think deserves mention but I am going to include it on my next list with a slightly different twist. One that I have not read yet but I am looking forward to is My Evolution as an Entrepreneur: The Story Behind Blackwell Consulting by Richard D. Blackwell. I have not read it yet so I obviously could not include it as of yet.  

    So there you have it. These are the five that I feel should be read by every black technologist. Are there others? Please give me one that you think is important so that I can read and add it to my next list. Happy Reading!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Highlights from the 44th Annual Legislative Conference of the Congressional Black Caucus

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the 44thAnnual Legislative Conference of the Congressional Black Caucus.  This was my third consecutive year attending the conference and each year has surpassed the previous.  The first time I attended I was invited to be a part of a panel convened by Representative Hank Johnson entitled Beyond the Digital Divide.  I had a great time and share the stage with some great minds to include Hank Schocklee of Public Enemy fame.  Last year I was invited to participate in Bloggers Row.  I wrote about last year's experience as well and you can check out that post here.  That gig came with a press pass and I was asked the chronicle my observations.  It was big fun and I was able to connect with bloggers Norm Bond and Faye Anderson.  This year was my first time simply attending without having to prepare to speak or write and I found myself being able to relax and simply enjoy the festivities and I did just that.

I had a had a great time at the event not only meeting and mingling with leaders and celebrities such as George Wallace, Martin Luther King III, Roland Martin and Jessie Jackson but I also enjoyed some of what The District has to offer from Ben’s Chili Bowl to the Frederick Douglass Museum.  It was a great three days and I am already eagerly anticipating attending the 45th event where I am hoping to participate in The Authors Pavillon.  As a matter of fact I have already reached out to Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson about being included on her Science and Technology BRAINTRUST for next year!

Some Observations:

·       I stayed at the new Marriott Marquis across from the convention center.  This was a perfect choice as we did not need to ride the train or hail cabs.  We simply walked across the street and we were at the convention center in the midst of all the activity.
·        I attended several sessions on STEM.  These discussions have stalled.  They are problem-focused.  We are aware of the issues it is time to move to solutions.

·       Several other sessions that were not STEM focused were discussing real solutions.  In the fatherhood session hosted by Omega Psi Phi fraternity the conversation got down to the real issues and challenged churches and other cultural mainstays to step up their games as well as acknowledged that there needs to be a strategy to mediate the media (no pun intended).

·         Networking at this event may be best that I have ever experienced.  One of the reasons for this is that this conference is not targeted to one group.  Everyone is here.  One minute I could be having a tech conversation with Wayne Sutton (I ran into Wayne in the hallway) and the next minute I am mingling with folks whose passion is health and family.  The intersection of these varied interests and people is quite powerful.

·         No more Powerpoint.  Someone on the advisory board should make PowerPoint illegal in these sessions.  Some of the sessions were brutal as panel participant after participant walked up to the podium and double-clicked on their slide deck icon.  Stop.

·       Last year I rocked my black patent leather Creative Recreation kicks with my black and grey suits.  It was a great call.  I looked good and I was able to handle all of the walking.  This year I figured since we were so close to the hotel I would go back to rocking the Mezlans.  Big Mistake!  At least bring or pack a pair or sneakers that work well with suits so if you have to make the switch you will be prepared.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Is Bringing Awareness to Disease A Good Thing?

Lately I have noticed an alarming trend on social media particularly on Facebook where those who have been diagnosed with disease have decided to embrace or bring awareness to the disease by posting pictures and facts regarding the disease.  This is unwise.  You should never own a disease.  In fact, the goal should be to reduce the amount of time that you speak or think about being ill.  Moreover, you should be diligent in refusing to allow illness a place in your consciousness.  You should only place your attention on that which is desired.  The reason being whatever you place in your consciousness will become your experience. 

Socrates said:  The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.

It is my feeling that most folks who do this are not aware of the harm they are attracting to themselves.  They believe they are empowering themselves and facing their circumstances head on.  They are not.  Recently in good faith I reached out to one of my Facebook friends to make them aware of the unintended consequences of focusing their attention on the disease.  I sent my friend a private message and suggested that they recognize the power of their thoughts and that it would be wise to refrain from posting about her bout with the disease. 

I received a terse reply.  It was something along the lines of:  Thanks Kai, I am well aware of the power of words.  Obviously not!  One may understand something intellectually but that does not mean that you have not internalized it in such a way that is has transformed your behavior and behavior transformation is the goal of any understanding or habit.  You see when you make yourself aware of something then it becomes part of your consciousness.  That which becomes part of your consciousness will become part of your experience.  There is no way around this truth.  You can take it or leave it.

According to Esther Hicks, author of Ask and It is Given, You get what you think about whether you want it or not.  Just because your post says:   you are going to beat cancer, it does not negate the fact that you are actually focused on cancer!  What you focus on expands.  The fact of the matter is that you are still mentally involved with cancer, thus it will continue to be a part of your experience.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Use Your Imagination

Each year, #SXSWedu invites the greater online community to share their input on content they would like to see at the event. Public voting will open at 10AM Monday, August 11 and close at midnight Friday, September 5. The community will have the opportunity to vote on session proposals (votes will be kept private) and add comments on the ideas submitted.  Once again I have submitted a proposal and I would like to enlist my readers support.
This year I decided to try something different.  In previous years I have been part of a panel discussion and our focus has been much targeted toward the digital divide.  In fact, my topic last year Plugging the Links in the STEM Pipeline.  I have moved on.  I am ready to change the game.  My approach this time around was to try my hand at a solo panel.  I have never done a solo panel at #SXSWedu but I must say I am looking forward to getting all of my points across.
Also, this year’s topic is entitled Use Your Imagination.  The idea was to dig a little deeper and be more proactive.  Our children are born utilizing their imagination but somewhere along the way this instinctive behavior seems to dwindle.  My goal is to not only rekindle the creative instinct but to also share practices that will aid them in cultivating this faculty which will allow them to not only flourish and thrive in STEM but in any field of endeavor of their choosing.  Help me to help them. 
Can you imagine that?  If you can, do me a favor and click here to cast a vote for my panel.  And if you are really feeling imaginative, share this link with a friend and help me get the votes I need to move closer to making this important presentation in Austin in March.

Click here to vote.

Monday, May 5, 2014

You Got 99 Problems...

Last Saturday I was watching the biopic Jobs and I was reminded of something that I learned later in my career as a software developer.  There was a scene, after he had returned to Apple after having being ousted by the board,  that he charged each member of his team to start to work on something new.  He told them he did not care what they decided to create but that his only requirement was:
It must be something that you care about, because if it is not something that you care about, you won't have the passion to see it through. 
In my opinion that was one of the most important scenes and lessons of the movie and it has nothing to do with technological prowess.

The most important thing an aspiring software developer needs to determine is what problems are interesting to them.  I have known this for years but sadly I was not aware of this when I started my career as a software developer thirty years ago.  What problems are you passionate about?  In most cases, your skills as a software developer will be employed to solve a business problem, but you certainly do not have to limit yourself to solving problems of business.    I have known many software developers over the years who became burned out and switched careers at about the 10-year mark, and looking back on it most of them would agree it was not the role of being a software developer that burned them out, it was solving the same dull, boring, problems in the same organizations ad infinitum.  Boring because they had already solved them many times over.

I find this particularly interesting because as an African American male who grew in an impoverished community it never dawned on me to use my newfound skills as a developer to solve the very problems that plagued my community.  Currently, there are many efforts underway to recruit and attract under represented groups into S.T.E.M. and while I certainly applaud the efforts and I myself am an advocate for having more Women, African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans participate in STEM careers, but I would also like to see the communities that these future technologists emerge benefit from their ingenuity as well.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

How Do I Connect My Students to STEM Mentors That Are Not Available In Our Neighborhood?

Last year during SXSWEdu, I was part of the Plugging the leaks in the STEM Pipeline panel and it was wonderful to share my thoughts among such thought leaders as Dr. Raphael Travis and Sonia Galliard.  One of the great things that came out of that discussion was this question from one of the attendees:

How do I connect my students to STEM mentors that are not available in our neighborhood?

On Wednesday March 5th during BiTHouse SXSW Inclusion Factors, Dr. Crystal Jensen, Andrew West, Brittany Fitzpatrick, and Dr. Mateen Diop will pick up where last year's conversation left off.  We will dig deep and provide attendees with the kind of information and resources and examples that they can take back to their communities and make a difference.  This year it is about SOLUTIONS.  I will have to hold my tongue as I am serving as moderator but I am so excited to be among such brilliant minds that are devoted to using their powers for good.  The BiTHouse SXSW panel the year is entitled:  Education and Technology:  Innovative Resources to Increase and Maintain Minority Interest in STEM. 

Please click on the links above to learn more about these remarkable change agents.  These are not only brilliant minds, but these are folks who have dedicated a big part of what they do to increasing the opportunities for minorities in the technology space.  

I would be remiss if I did not give a shout out to Jewell Sparks.  She is the driving force behind what will take place this week and she has done a remarkable job adding to the conversation during SXSWEdu