Monday, June 08, 2009

Tip of the Hat, Wag of Finger - smartphones, proposed CT budget

A la Steven Colbert, today's "tip of the hat" goes to smartphones, those ingenius portable computing devices (formerly known as cell phones) that are changing the way society interacts with the online world.

  • Apple announced a number of improvements to the iPhone, both in the software release 3.0 for the original iPhone & iPhone 3G and - most importantly (& comprehensively) in the device known as the iPhone 3G S, which will be available on June 19th. Finally, hurrah, the new iPhone will support such features I've longed for since acquiring my beloved 1st generation version in Sept. '07 as: MMS (multimedia messaging service, so others can easily send photos, videos, audio clips from their phones, though the addition of MMS isn't promised until later this summer... see: and the quote from "AT&T Comes Clean" about why MMS won't be available right off...); Copy, Cut & Paste (with a shake to undo feature); Voice control for everything from the phone to the iPod, no longer just for the Google voice search (now I can tell the phone to call my husband and remain safe & hands free as it executes the task); improved accessibility with a screen reader for the visually impaired; Video shooting & editing capabilities; a 3 megapixel camera with auto & manual focus, auto adjustment for light and color balance (original iPhones had 2 megapixel cameras); Voice memo/audio recordings; Longer battery life; Landscape keyboard; Spotlight search across all apps; improved battery life. Those are just the points that hit home for me, particularly. At first, I was very excited to see that "internet tethering" (basically turnining your iPhone into a modem) would be available in iPhone 3G S... (at last I could use my iPhone's inet access via my laptop without hacking the system!) but then I saw that this feature wasn't available in the U.S. Thanks a freakin' lot, AT&T. As always... And no, I don't know if the rumor of the iPhone no longer being exclusive to AT&T in the not-too-distant future is true or not. Everything I'm seeing about the 3GS suggests that AT&T is still the devil any would-be iPhone user MUST deal with. Moreover, if you were foolish enough to upgrade to / start with the iPhone 3G, it looks like you'll be punished by AT&T & have to pay +$100 to upgrade your 3G to the 3G S (compared to new iPhone purchasers). People in the know are already crying foul about the so-called "Apple tax". It would make good sense for Apple and for consumers to get out of the AT&T box, but I don't see that happening. I know a number of folks who've avoided the iPhone route solely due to the service provider. I can't blame them. (Personally, I hate that I have to leave my office and go out into the parking lot just to use my old iPhone, while my peers who use Verizon never even leave their desks). At first, I'd heard the rumor that the iPhone was now going down in price to $99 and was thrilled - but that won't include the 3G S, only the older 3G model. The 3G S starts at $199 (16GB) & also offers a $299 (32GB) model. As for the iPhone 3.0 software update for older iPhones - either the original first generation or 3G versions - there will be some limitations despite the updates (e.g., with MMS). But it sounds like some of the cool features (minus the hardware's limitations) will be available for free for all iPhone users. Still, I'm so excited about the options in the 3G S vs. my 1st gen model, I may have to offer my husband the original & move on to 3G S.
  • In the meantime, I've heard a lot of positive buzz about the newly released Palm Pre. Since I've never really gotten into Palm products and I'm so completely in love with the iTunes App store at this point, I can't offer much of an opinion on the Palm Pre. If someone I know gets one, I'll be happy to share more about it. For now, reviews like this one from the UK's Telegraph make it sound like it does a better job than the iPhone in allowing one to use a fuller qwerty (physical) keyboard (as opposed to the iPhone's touch screen/software-based "keyboard"); in integrating all of the ways one might communicate with an individual on the phone - be it via calling, SMS/MMS (text/multimedia messaging), email or what have you; & finally that its OS can handle running multiple apps simultaneously, something the iPhone cannot do (instead, you rapidly switch between apps). For more on the Pre (which is usable with Sprint), see:
  • I should add that I don't know too much about Google's smartphone OS known as Android, but they've announced an update of Android (Cupcake!)... For more, see this review from InformationWeek or this ComputerWorld Blog Posting that posits "Why Android will not beat the iPhone". Perhaps more interestingly from my perspective, it looks like at least one Netbook (Acer, which gained significant traction in the ultralight, ultraportable, ultracheap world of netbook computing) will be running Android as its new OS - I guess the rumors weren't that far off-based - Google has successfully built its own OS, in defiance of Microsoft's chokehold on that market for so many years. It may yet work!
  • Finally, the Blackberry line is so comprehensive (and there are models that serve multiple mobile carriers, so you aren't stuck with a given service provider, a la the iPhone AT&T stranglehold) that I wouldn't know where to begin in offering you information about their smartphones BUT I can't fail to point out that their smartphone devices have traditionally been the favorite of the business crowd. I know a couple of colleagues who've recently acquired Blackberries for personal use (and yes, there's a mobile Facebook app for the Blackberry, too). They are often more affordable than the smartphones generating the most buzz out there. Blackberries also offer an array of applications and options for getting users online. If you're trying to decide on which smartphone to buy, don't leave this option out of your comparison matrix.

I'm still partial to the iPhone due to the breadth of the iTunes app store, but that's the major advantage I see to the iPhone vs. other types of smartphone.

Now to the more unhappy task, a MAJOR "wag of the finger" at Governor Rell's latest budget, which would cut core library and educational services in Connecticut. Items on the chopping block support the information and educational equity needs of the state's citizens. At best, these cuts would place significant NEW (multimillion $) burdens on already-struggling local governments as they try to ensure that their students and residents get basic information services. At worst, it means that those children and citizens go without... particularly those in the most hardscrabble towns and cities.

People who haven't lived in Connecticut may see it as an affluent state, but those of us who live here know only too well the great disparity between our wealthiest and poorest communities. We have some of the highest per capita income municipalities abutting some of the most impoverished urban areas in our great nation. Programs like the statewide Connecticut Education Network, the iCONN statewide database (digital library) program, and interlibrary loan (to name but a few of the items decimated by the governor's newly proposed budget) helped to provide some level of equity, some level of access for everyone.

[From then Lt. Governor Rell's 1999 report]: As we look to the future and as we move forward with information technology, we must continually ask who will be left behind. A so-called digital divide does exist and it widens as technology evolves. It’s real and it’s disturbing.

In real-world terms, the Governor's newest budget means, among other things, that as of this summer, almost all of the state's public and school libraries will have their online access cut off. If they don't immediately find and pay for (on their own) alternatives to the CEN, there will be no more internet for these institutions.

There are so many troubling, even dangerous, unintended consequences to such a move... my sister, a public reference librarian, often tells me about how even the most seemingly basic jobs these days - e.g., those to be greeters or janitors at the big box stores - require people to apply for them online. The people she helps to apply for those jobs do not have internet access at home. They usually don't have computers. What about the online classifieds that have allowed people to find out which jobs were available in the first place? Connecticut's libraries have been working with the state's Department of Labor to help the unemployed find new opportunities. How will they continue this mission if the Governor's budget passes? When sponsored a job fair in Hartford last week, it required people to register online ahead of time - where would people without access to computers and the internet have been able to do that if there were no internet access at their local libraries?

What about accessing basic governmental services? From getting the legally mandated annual free reports from credit bureaus to registering for the "do not call" list, we've made internet access a prerequisite for the public to access so many services these days. Just getting a coupon for the digital converter box (in order to continue using your tv after the nation's switchover to a digital system) required you to fill out an online form at the website of the governmental agency coordinating the switchover. And these are just a few minor examples that come to mind...

We've reduced how many materials we print in the public sector in order to save money and the environment. But then the only way for people to see, read, and use those materials is to give them access to the online world - to provide computers, internet access, and a helping hand to guide them through that sometimes confusing and dangerous environment... So now, as people need these services most, they're about to be axed - does this make good sense from a societal perspective?

Public, school, and college/university libraries all rely on the statewide library services that are to be eliminated in the new budget. These services range from interlibrary loan support to a statewide catalog to access for all Connecticut students and residents to high-quality online information through iCONN - Connecticut's re-Search engine. iCONN supports businesses, helps people gain reputable information about health issues they face, and aids students, faculty, and researchers in a broad array of academic disciplines. These statewide services not only ensure that even our most impoverished school districts have equity with our most affluent in terms of the core informational databases they can use, but they offer economies of scale that are simply impossible if each school district and library must negotiate separate database agreements. In some cases, iCONN and interlibrary loan may be a key factor in keeping a school accredited (where otherwise, their libraries would be egregiously deficient in supporting the students informational needs).

From the perspective of more efficient state government, iCONN provides all state agencies with access to news and research at no extra cost. Without iCONN, agencies will once again pay for clipping services or per article when they need to research or provide background on issues. Key decision-making in government requires high-quality information. iCONN offers this for all of the state's policymakers.

Another swipe the Governor's new budget takes is at the State Library's Law & Legislative reference materials. As an attorney recently pointed out (to my student intern, no less), we offer all citizens the right to represent themselves, but without the reference materials to inform them, they are unable to do so effectively. The materials required to conduct one's own legal research are prohibitively expensive. To shut down (or materially reduce the collections of) the State Library's Law & Legislative research unit (which is open to everyone) leaves Connecticut residents at the mercy of a system they becomes a "black box" to them. It begs the question - without a place like the State Library's Law & Legislative reference library, are we ultimately barring our citizenry from getting access to the legal protections that our lawmakers have put in place (the laws built by and for these very same citizens)?

I don't mean to be out of line in pointing this out, but wasn't it originally the vision and foresight of then-Lt. Governor Rell that led to such services as iCONN and the Connecticut Education Network? In Rell's November 1999 report to Governor Rowland on the state's educational information technology needs, she'd pointed out how important this vision was for the future of our state, our workforce, and our competitiveness in the global marketplace.

[From then Lt. Governor Rell's 1999 report]: * That a new independent authority be established, via legislation, to manage, plan and advocate for a statewide high speed, flexible, robust network, known as the Connecticut Education Network, as well as a Digital Library, in order to provide reliable universal communication links to Connecticut schools, libraries and institutions of higher education with sufficient capacity to deliver state-of-the-art access to education, training, and electronic information.

The authority, which should fall within the purview of DOIT for administrative purposes, should oversee the development and operation of the Connecticut Education Network and Digital Library, as well as set broad operating policy, undertake planning services and identify and coordinate all necessary fiscal needs. Authority membership should reflect public and private constituencies with a direct interest in meeting the goals outlined above.

* That a Connecticut Digital Library be established as a component of the Connecticut Education Network to ensure online access by all students and citizens to essential library and information resources. The keystone of the library would be a collection of on-line electronic full-text databases, a statewide electronic catalog and interlibrary loan system and the electronic and physical delivery of library resources. The Connecticut Digital Library shall include elements specifically designed to meet the educational and research needs of the general public, higher education students and faculty and K-12 students and teachers

Just two years after iCONN's unveiling, she'd pointed out what a success the service was for the state's residents. In fact, it did take vision to create these services. It made our state a model in the provision of information resources for all residents. Maybe vision's easiest when there is no budget crisis, no recession... but that's not when we need vision and leadership the most... no, we need leadership the most when we are floundering. We need vision that is long-term and proactive, not reactive and short-sighted... we cannot fall into the trap of being pennywise and pound foolish. We cannot destroy information services that are vital to Connecticut because it makes a better sound bite to say "no new taxes", (and Governor Rell proudly acknowledged earlier this year that:
"The top income tax in New York and New Jersey is nearly 9 percent and Rhode Island's is just under 10 percent, while Connecticut's top rate is still 5 percent," she [Rell] said. From

) than it does to say that those who can afford to pitch in must do so during this crisis in order to ensure the survival of programs that sustain ALL of the state's citizens.

There's so much more here than I have time to express, so please see this page, put together but the Connecticut Library Consortium that explains some of the impacts of the Governor's disastrous budget proposal. And - for the sake of Connecticut's present and future - let's hope that the budget that DOES finally get passed doesn't destroy our libraries and schools.

Finally, to follow some of the News (via the Google for a News search on Connecticut budget and "iCONN"), try this RSS feed -

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