Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Let’s bring the voting process into this day and age.  Let’s vote electronically.

 2020 voting in the USA is a horror story.  Our children and children’s children (not to mention the rest of the world) will have a hard time understanding the 2020 election process, as it was conducted in the most atrocious way.  People had to show up in person or use the mail, which then didn’t deliver all the ballots or didn’t process the returns in time to be counted.  Then, the counting took days, even weeks, was disputed, recounted, cut off and not counted.  Then, incumbent went to court to either stop the counting or to dispute the verity of paper ballots, or a specific group of paper ballots.  A nightmare if you ever wanted to see one, except that it really played out that way.

Common sense would have demanded that we vote electronically via our smart phones, handhelds, tablets, computers.  We already use these devices extensively every day, actually 9 hours per day or more on average.

Voting via one’s smart phone or equivalent is a lot more authentic and certainly prompt, no time delay whatsoever.  

So the question is why are we not voting electronically TODAY?  There is really no excuse for wasting paper for ballots and then battling about how that paper was handled.

At least four manufacturers of electronic voting machines already exist (https://votingmachines.procon.org/how-to-vote-on-an-electronic-voting-machine/).  Electronic voting machines are already in use in various voting locations in the United States, for example in Illinois.

Then there is “ElectionBuddy” (https://electionbuddy.com/), which will build you the voting software to make your electronic voting accurate and secure.  In other words: the technology exists.  Voting via your smartphone should be no problem at all.  After all, you can manage your bank account, send and receive any amount of money, by pushing the right buttons on your handheld, tablet or computer, any time from anywhere, also absolutely accurate and completely secure.  If the government wants to be super-secure in the voting, it could require that you use your fingerprint for identification and verification, which you may be doing already as your password on your iPhone.  Nothing is easier.  

Therefore it seems that there is really no reason at all not to change to electronic voting in all our elections.

Look at the cost this would reduce!  Dramatically.  And all the commotion, facilities, paid and unpaid workers, that would no longer be needed.  Actually most of it could be run by computers, only monitored and supervised by a few individuals who’d make sure the computers are working correctly.  No need for partisan hacks to come around to mess with the data.  Don’t you think that should be easy to do?

So why hasn’t it been done yet? Why are we still voting in the most medieval way?  Having to show up in person or fill out intricately designed ballots which need to be filled out format-correct, signed, sealed or unsealed according to instructions, and then entrusted to a Postal Service, which in more cases than not, may delay delivery past the voting day time.

Voting electronically is straight forward instead, much easier, 100% secure (see fingerprint), and eliminates all the means which, in one way or another, could be influenced by partisan management.  Plus a considerable side benefit:  Greatly reduced cost of the whole endeavor.

Thus it makes sense if electronic voting were adopted nationally.  In addition to the enormous cost savings, it would make our democracy better and stronger.  Congress or the president could use that electronic voting connection for gauging the country’s position on major issues which may need to be decided.  Congress could go back to the voters in midterm, or any time, to get their thinking on whatever the major issue might be. This ability would eliminate or at least greatly reduce the objections, or even hatred, building up for the next election date.  It would enable the government to govern better because of continuous feedback from the governed.  And the cost therefor would be negligible, if any.

The biggest concern circulating about electronic voting is the presumed possibility of hacking (such as by hackers on FaceBook and Twitter, the Russian disinformation campaigns, etc), and the subsequent alteration of votes to benefit a given candidate.  Well, these same hackers or others like them have been and are trying to crack into your and everybody else’s bank accounts online to move money into their hide-aways.  Yet, the banks’ electronic security systems have been and are making this a rather fruitless endeavor.  Of course the same would apply to the attempt of stealing electronic votes.

By the way, there ARE already countries which do use electronic voting extensively.  So far, Estonia seems to be the only country in the world that relies exclusively on what’s called “internet voting.”  In Canada, online voting is possible for municipal elections in Ontario and Nova Scotia.  Already in 2004, the Netherlands used i-voting for an election to the Rijnland Water Board and in 2006 (for overseas voters) for national elections.  In Switzerland some cantons offer online voting.  And more.

So, there is no good reason why the U.S. is so far behind in using electronic technology to make voting safer, faster, and more reliable.  Now, therefore, after this election is over and well before the next one is coming up, please go to your representative, your senator, the powers-that-be, and urge them to make our democracy stronger, greatly reduce the cost and circumstances of voting, by switching to electronic voting.  Yes, in the 21st century this is not only possible, it is high time to conduct our voting in a 21st century manner.  We just need to do it.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Garbage In Garbage Out: How Food Affects Our Brain Function


I’ve had several reminders recently about the close connection between what we eat and how well our brain functions (or not).  The most recent:  I ate plenty today, so I was not hungry.  But my brain was definitely tired around 3 pm today, even though I’d tried all my usually restart techniques (had a snack, took a walk, did a short mindfulness practice, worked a word puzzle).  I ate a handful of nuts, and presto, about 15 minutes later I was ready to attack the to-do list again.  That little combination of protein and healthy fat was the kickstart my brain needed to re-engage.


The topic of this blog entry is not likely to be news to many of you.  We all know that eating a diet high in processed food, sugars, carbs and saturated fats is unhealthy for us.  But maybe we don’t think there are significant ramifications beyond that unsightly blob of belly fat.  Think again.


Our brain uses as much as 20 percent of the body’s energy.  So, it makes sense that the fuel we give our body to create energy (food) can have a direct impact on how well our brain functions.


A recent study concluded that higher levels of body fat in individuals 65 and older suggested a higher risk of cognitive impairment.  By contrast, greater muscle mass in the same age group suggested that these individuals were more protected from cognitive aging.   Of course, the difference between obesity and greater muscle mass is not merely a function of what an individual eats, but a bad diet is a strong predictor of obesity.


Studies have shown that high sugar intake causes the brain’s memory functions to deteriorate, and may increase the risk of dementia.  Other studies show the opposite, that a reduction in sugar intake can support improved brain function.


The food-brain function connection is certainly a long-term relationship.  The healthier you eat over the years, the better and longer your brain will work for you.  But there is also a more immediate food-brain function connection.  This article suggests a menu filled with protein, healthy fats and snacks to eat the day before and the day of a big test, to give your brain the energy it needs to do its best work.


Interested in learning more about which foods are actually good for you, and should improve your cognitive function?  This chart will tell you everything you want to know.  I think I’ll add some blueberries and dark chocolate to my handful of nuts when I hit tomorrow afternoon’s slump!





Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Free Resource for Our Blog Readers to Empower Your Mind to Learn


Last month, we introduced a new resource that can set you up for success as a learner.   This resource remains available for free for our blog readers for the next ~60 days.  If you haven’t accessed the EMindful website yet, let me tell you a little bit about what you’ll find there.


First, you’ll fill out a 4-question survey to establish a baseline of how you emotionally cope with stressful situations.  Next, you’ll indicate your familiarity with mindfulness (in 3 simple steps).  After that short-and-sweet get-to-know-you introduction, the website’s many resources are revealed.


EMindful’s resources fall into 38 categories, including stress, Covid-19, sleep, relationships, anxiety, focus, happiness, performance and effectiveness, communication.  I selected these three:  resilience, leadership, wellbeing.  Fascinating material, providing relevant and practical strategies.


Exploration of the website starts with a 2-minute video called “What is Mindfulness?”  I would give a summary, but I think you should watch it for yourself!  A tour of the website reveals that there are many live programs, with a daily schedule of guided mindfulness practices.   


There are many live programs (multi- and single session) on topics such as weight balance for life; stress less, live more; social eating and holiday weight loss (a single session happening next week on 10/29).  If you don’t want to be tied to someone else’s teaching schedule, there are also on-demand programs on topics such as enhancing performance, emotional intelligence, avoiding burnout, purposeful decision-making.


So, how will these mindfulness resources help someone become a better learner?  I have an example of something that just happened today.  One of my ESL (English as a second language) students came to our one-on-one session today emotionally upset about events happening in her home country (far from here) that she cannot change.  She was so distracted that she couldn’t concentrate on her schoolwork.  Luckily, she is familiar with mindfulness and we were able to use some mindfulness strategies to re-focus her brain away from the emotional drama and toward today’s lesson plan.


I encourage you to visit the EMindful website today to make the most out of the remaining free trial period we’ve arranged for our readership.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Improve Your Brain Function With Riddles, Puzzles, and Games


Yes, your brain is plastic; it changes, it grows, it shrinks, it works better, or worse, all depending on what it is up to at the time.


The acquisition of knowledge, all kinds of knowledge, builds the structure of a child’s brain.  The more the child learns, the more it is able to learn.  This process continues all the way through life, though at a slower pace for grown-ups.  Actually, for some of them it may go in reverse, like for Alzheimer sufferers.  That’s why it is truly a staying-alive necessity to exercise one’s mind and keep on learning.  For most adults this needs to be a conscious effort, for otherwise the brain will shrink and its performance will be diminished.  


This becomes most important at the onset of aging and further on into old age, for otherwise decline is going to be rapid and possibly irreversible.


So, what are the easiest ways to keep your mind active, flexible, plastic, and functioning well?  Well, here are a few ways:  Riddles, Puzzles, and Computer Games


Wikipedia in defining Brain Training, points out that puzzles are one of the main categories of mind games for self -improvement.


Here is an article on “10 Best Free Online Puzzle Games” that was published in March  2020 by Cianna Garrison.


Learning is a process that does not judge what you are learning, as long as you are acquiring new information. So never mind if you are a beginner or an expert, as long as you are exercising your brain.


While challenging your brain functions, try having fun with it.  For example:


Whenever I have a free moment or am stuck in a waiting line, I am using “Jigsaw Puzzle,” available from the App Store. It has free daily puzzles you can use. Depending on the difficulty level of your choice, you can choose the number of puzzle pieces.  It surely keeps your mind working, happily.  


You can do a google search for riddles, puzzles, and games which are free or may cost little.  Amazon has a wealth of books on the subject, including “Which is not true?” (ideal for quiz lovers) by Nayden Kostov, which is free for Kindle users in Prime, otherwise $9.49 in paperback.


Have fun!


Guest blogger, Meredani Straube, worked 15 years as Finance & Administration Officer for Deloitte & Touche.  She is now the Director for Finance and Human Resources of the Straube Group companies.



Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Master of Legal Studies Program Creates Alternate Online Pathways


Innovations in legal education tend to be slow. Law schools have been some of the most hesitant participants in online education – if indeed they participate at all. But, slowly, and with the impact of COVID-19, some are coming to see the necessity – and even effectiveness – of the online format for legal learning. The S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah is at the forefront of these innovations with its Master of Legal Studies Program (MLS program) and attendant online offerings. Starting with the 2021-2022 school year, the MLS program will also be offering its programming to anyone anywhere with the development of a fully online version of its master’s degree. This is an exciting new development for online legal education and for those who would otherwise be unable to attend our in-person program.


The MLS program is a one-year executive, graduate degree program designed for working professionals and offers a broad-based education in legal concepts and practical applications for professionals who regularly interact with the law or lawyers in their work. The program itself is an exciting innovation in legal education as it offers important legal courses to non-lawyers – education that has previously only been available to students seeking a JD degree. As such, this program strives to expand meaningful legal education to anyone, not just lawyers.


Up until now, the MLS program has only been available as an in-person program, running on a weekend schedule to accommodate local students’ responsibilities in their careers and personal lives. However, online courses are now being developed to provide the content to a broader geographical audience. The online development has been aided by the instructional designers working for the university’s Teaching and Learning Technologies (TLT). These designers sit down with the participating professor to map out how that professor will translate his or her live course into an engaging online format. This can be difficult, especially for faculty who are not tech-savvy, but TLT’s technological resources and expertise are helping immensely.


There have also been several challenging aspects to the online development of the MLS program. For instance, we have not yet determined whether or in what ways the in-person version of the degree and the online version should diverge. At present, the goal has been to have the online program mirror the in-person one, which means more development time and costs as we add new or different courses to our in-person program. In addition, COVID-19 has brought both a swift push to put courses online and in the process created strain on the university’s technological resources. The online MLS program was already in development when the pandemic hit. We were forced to delay our timeline by several months as the university struggled to help ALL faculty on campus adjust to teaching in distance formats.


Looking toward the future, the MLS program hopes to expand its online offerings, not just for its online and in-person students, but for others in the local, national, and global community with the creation of online skills badges, microcredentials, and certificates. The vision is to create small, bite-size, affordable courses that can be stacked to confer certificates or other credentials for individuals seeking to improve their work skills, or shift careers. These types of offerings would be ideal for someone who needs specific skills, but who does not have the time or monetary means to invest in a full degree. With these innovations, the S.J. Quinney College of Law is on the road to creating high quality legal education that is truly available online for anyone anywhere.



Guest blog author Carolynn Clark is the Director of the Master of Legal Studies program at the S.J. Quinney College of Law, University of Utah. She also teaches conflict and legal crisis management in that program, and has worked extensively as an attorney-mediator.  Before joining the law school in 2020, she directed the University of Utah’s Conflict Resolution Graduate Certificate Program.


Friday, September 11, 2020

Setting Yourself Up for Success as a Learner: A Free Resource for Our Readers

There are plenty of reasons why “learning online” can be hard to do.  First of all, you need a device which will connect you to “online,” such as a computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.  Second, you need to have sufficiently broadband WiFi access.  Third, you need to be able to hook into high quality teaching platforms.  All of which cost money, lots of money depending on your geographic location and/or other barriers.  Yet, all of these obstacles can be overcome with, you knew it, money.   Therefore, in a civilized country, or one which prides itself for being highly developed and prosperous, (in my humble opinion), it should be the function of the government to take care of these costs, just as it is the obligation of the government to provide decent education, at least up to 18 years of age, free of charge.  If the government does not cover these costs, then the cost is on the parents of the students, or on the students themselves or friends and supporters of the students who are willing to take on that burden.  As we all know, in this “highly developed and prosperous” country, none of the three online learning cost categories as stated above are taken care of by the government.  Maybe some efforts are being made by schools providing computers or the like to students.  That’s a good start, but by far not enough, for it ought to be provided to ALL learners, anywhere in the country.  Plus the WiFi and the choice of quality learning platforms are still missing.  So, for the time being, and in most of the rest of the world, particularly less developed and less prosperous nations, the cost is on the parents and/or the students themselves.  My conclusion of this sad state of affairs, and my recommendation is that the population at large should muster its political power and make the government take on the responsibility for making it possible for everyone anywhere to obtain a high quality education online.  It would solve a lot of other problems at the same time.  Primarily cost.  The cost of education should dramatically decrease vs. the present modus operandi.  Even the worst health risks, such as coronavirus, would be entirely eliminated. 

Yet there is one more impediment to learning online, and maybe plain learning itself, one which has nothing to do with money.  That is:  the curiosity and will to learn anything. 

Although, by design, human nature is such that it is curious and wants to learn things, skills, language, math, what have you, yet, somehow, for many of our natural curiosity and willingness to learn gets dumbed down by environmental factors, such as poor nutrition, deprived living conditions, miserable company, stupid examples, boredom, political chaos all around, and many more.  Therefore, the very prime challenge to meet is to make up one’s mind to learn, learn how to learn, and then keep learning.  All of which costs no money and doesn’t require your government or anyone else to pay for it.  So, here goes: 

Being able to learn, and the act of learning, means being mindful.  Yes, “mindful” like being conscious or aware of one’s thoughts, emotions, feelings, physically and mentally, without judgment, focusing on the present moment, for example breathing, meditate. 

 In other words, to meet this challenge, the very first step is to set up your mind to become mindful.  Once you are, learning will be natural, easy, even a pleasure. 

eMindful (Yes, that’s a company in Florida whose business is mindfulness) has set up a web site for us which will help you to become more mindful and learn how to learn, easily, naturally, at no cost (at least for 90 days). 



Monday, August 31, 2020

Access to the Internet: A Challenge Not Always So Easy to Solve

I am writing this blog post while the Google Fiber technician is doing his installation work at my house, because our existing cable access to the internet is barely sufficient for my husband’s teaching over zoom.  As the technician explained, our download speeds might be fast, but our upload speeds are capped by the cable company, making zoom and facetime and similar live-video-stream connections frequently pause in mid-sentence.  I’m one of the lucky ones – I can afford to pay for whichever internet access service best suits our family’s needs and multiple services are available in my neighborhood.

This blog post is the second in a series that explores the barriers to allowing anyone anywhere to obtain quality education online (the Straube Foundation’s mission).   The first post analyzed the challenge of universal access to online learning-capable devices (laptop computers and tablets).  Today’s post will look at the challenge of accessing the internet to take advantage of online learning opportunities.

Students’ lack of access to the internet has been called “the homework gap,” “a national crisis,”  an “educational crisis.”  While I will focus on the lack of access to internet in the United States, this is an international problem. 

Before the coronavirus changed our daily lives, students of all ages went to their schools, libraries, community centers and other public places to access the internet.  Now, in the time of Covid, these places are closed and free access to the internet is much harder to find.  A picture of two elementary school children in California sitting in the parking lot of a Taco Bell restaurant to access the wifi for their online lessons went viral recently.   College students have been seen spending the day in their cars in a parking lot to access the wifi from adjacent businesses.  That is a resourceful solution to the internet access problem, but not a sustainable one.

Some communities are trying to provide Covid-protective community center locations to give those who need it access to the internet.  While this is well-intentioned, I don’t know that I would feel safe spending much time doing my studies in such places.  I hope these communities will maintain these internet hubs in the post-Covid era, as that will be very useful.

Many schools and local governments have been giving away wifi hot spots to students that don’t currently have internet access.  Many of the laptops and tablets that are being given to needy students, as discussed in my previous post, include wifi hot spots.  This strategy assumes, however, that the communities in which the students live have good internet coverage.  In many rural parts of the US, including the Navajo Nation, this is not the case, meaning that students have to figure out where to take their new hot-spot containing device to be able to access the online classes they need to attend.

Some college students are renting large houses (college collab houses), in part to emulate the dorm experience their colleges are not providing this fall, and in part to ensure that they have the access to internet they’ll need to do their coursework online.

Education policy makers are making the argument that universal broadband coverage – internet access for all – should be considered a public utility, an essential feature of everyday life, much as we consider electricity and culinary water.  The quest for universal broadband coverage will require two separate actions:  installation of internet infrastructure that reaches all populated areas of the country, and attention to the affordability of the available internet coverage.  The US House of Representatives considered providing funding to address the affordability issue as part of the first coronavirus stimulus bill.

Online education requires access to the internet.  Providing that access to all students, free of charge, is a laudable goal, but difficult to implement.  The solutions have to be tailored to the students’ specific situations and geography.