Andy Carvin's Waste of Bandwidth

April 26, 2005

2005 Boston Marathon Photo Album

Filed under: Personal News — Andy Carvin @ 5:14 pm

I’ve just posted a photo album of pictures I took during the 2005 Boston Marathon. Here are a few samples:

runner closeup

Close-up of one of the runners

pack of runners

A pack of runners

runner collapses

A collapsed runner receives emergency medical care

wheelchair racer

One of the wheelchair racers

Backyard Animal Adventures

Filed under: Personal News — Andy Carvin @ 4:20 pm

A family of deer grazing behind Susanne’s parents’ house in Parker, Colorado.
deer

April 25, 2005

A Musical Trip to Denver

Filed under: Personal News — Andy Carvin @ 3:05 pm

We’re spending a few days in Denver right now with Susanne’s parents. On Tuesday evening, we’re going to see a live performance at Gates Concert Hall at the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music. Susanne’s dad is a composer and two of his works are being performed by the university orchestra, including a wedding march he composed for our wedding. Both pieces will be played by a full orchestra, so I’m really excited to hear them live…. -andy

Grandpa’s Matzah Brei Recipe

Filed under: Sundries and Such — Andy Carvin @ 10:50 am

Now that Passover is in its full swing, I thought I’d share Grandpa’s Matzah Brei recipe.
Maztah Brei is essentially french toast made with matzah. My grandfather had two recipes, one for a drier, flakier brei, the other a more hardy, omelette-like brei. Both are wonderful for any meal.
Matzah Brie Ingredients:
Two squares plain matzah
two eggs or egg substitute
cooking spray
Maple syrup (or whatever else you as a condiment)
salt and pepper
If you prefer to make the heavier, omelette-like matzah brie, begin by taking the matzah and soaking them in a bowl of warm water for two minutes, then drain. If you prefer the flakier matzah brie, skip the soaking process.
Crush the matzah into small pieces, but not too small. (How’s that for specific?) Think no smaller than one inch square, or three centimeters square if you prefer the metric system. In other words, break it up but don’t pulverize it.
Whip up the eggs in a small bowl, then incorporate them with the matzah. Let it sit for a few minutes so the matzah will absorb the egg. Add a dash of salt and pepper; you can also throw in a bit of cinammon.
Coat a large pan with cooking spray and then bring it to high heat. When the pan is hot, add matzah mixture and turn heat down to medium. If you’ve soaked your matzah, allow it to cook as a large omelette and turn when it begins to brown, cooking it as desired. If you’ve used dry matzah, stir fry the mixture as you would with scrambled eggs, and serve when brown. Goes well with maple syrup. Enjoy! -andy

April 22, 2005

MyPyramid.gov: Achieving E-Health for All?

Filed under: Digital Divide — Andy Carvin @ 11:57 am

I’ve just published an article on the Digital Divide Network about the USDA’s MyPyramid.gov and the problems faced by marginalized populations accessing government nutritional information that’s only available on the Internet. A reprint of the article can be found below. -andy


This week, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) unveiled its newest food pyramid. First launched in 1992, the food pyramid is intended as an easy-to-use tool to convey healthy nutrition guidelines to the general public. Unlike the previous pyramid, which was a one-size-fits-all dietary recommendation, the new pyramid is actually a collection of a dozen different pyramids, each one designed to target specific groups of people based on their age, gender and activity level. That way, individuals may select a pyramid that’s personalized for their health needs.
On Tuesday, the USDA launched MyPyramid.gov, a new website for disseminating the updated food pyramid to the general public. While health experts debate the nutritional merits of the new pyramid, it’s raised eyebrows among some activists involved in the digital divide movement because of the way the new pyramid was rolled out primarily as an online resource. Since the website is currently the only easy way for members of the public to determine which personalized food pyramid applies to them, it begs the question of how offline populations will gain access to these new guidelines.
Earlier this week, I posted one of the first stories on this issue on my blog. In it, I noted that many of the potential target audiences for the new pyramid, such as low-income households and ethnic minorities, face many challenges gaining access to the Internet, thus denying them easy access to important health information. Here at the Digital Divide Network, we’ve written extensively about this issue, which we often refer to as “e-government for all”: in other words, ensuring that all members of the public have equal access to government services and information, no matter their income, education level, ethnicity, language spoken or physical ability. Quoting our 2004 report E-Government for All: Ensuring Equitable Access to Online Government Services:

It is all too common, for example, that information on most government websites is skewed to the needs and abilities of highly educated citizens. For low-literate populations, the Web remains an untapped resource. People with disabilities, such as the visually impaired, continue to struggle with government websites that don’t address their accessibility needs…. Millions of people are effectively cut off from these increasingly essential resources as long as government information and services are not offered appropriately to accommodate their needs…. As U.S. government agencies expand e-government, a pressing question remains what will happen to these underserved, marginalized populations, particularly as traditionally offline government services are replaced entirely by online services.

The MyPyramid.gov website raises similar concerns. In this particular case, certain populations that would benefit the most from accessing the latest government nutritional guidelines are some of the least-likely populations to have access to the technology or the skills to accomplish this.
By The Numbers: Obesity, Overweightness and the Digital Divide
According to the US Surgeon General’s website, ethnicity and income level are contributing factors to obesity and overweightness:


  • In women, overweight and obesity are higher among members of racial and ethnic minority populations than in non-Hispanic white women.
  • In men, Mexican Americans have a higher prevalence of overweight and obesity than non-Hispanic whites or non-Hispanic blacks.
  • For all racial and ethnic groups combined, women of lower socioeconomic status are approximately 50% more likely to be obese than those of higher socioeconomic status.

And it’s not just adults faced with these health challenges, according to the USDA pamphlet, Facts About Childhood Obesity and Overweightness:

  • Low-income white adolescents were about 2.6 times as likely to be overweight as those in middle- or high-income families.
  • Overweight and obesity rates among children and adolescents were highest for Mexican American males age 6 to 11 (17 percent), African American females age 6 to 19 (16 percent), and adolescents age 12 to 19 from low-income households (16 percent).

Paradoxically, many of the demographic groups faced with these health challenges correspond with the same groups that are most likely to be on the wrong side of the digital divide. According to the US Department of Commerce report, A Nation Online 2004, only 37.2% of Latinos and 45.6% of African Americans have Internet access at home, compared with 65.1% of white households. The statistics are even starker when you examine household Internet access by income: while 82.9% of households earning $75,000 or more are online, only 31.2% of households making $15,000 or less are online. The deeper you dig into the data, the clearer it becomes: ethnicity, income and education level remain barriers to bridging the digital divide. This fact has enormous consequences when it comes to relying on the Internet as a tool for conveying public health information to at-risk audiences.
The USDA’s Response
Following the launch of MyPyramid, I contacted the USDA and spoke with Jackie Haven of the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion to learn more about the USDA’s strategy. “[The Web] seemed like such an excellent resource and a way to reach many masses of people,” she said, noting the site received 62 million hits yesterday. Haven explained that the original pyramid, launched in 1992, came with a 32-page booklet that offered details on nutrition, “but no one had really seen it.” Creating a website with nutritional information, therefore, seemed like a natural course of action.
“With the Internet, it’s really possible to personalize this a little bit more for consumers,” she continued. “So it really seemed like the best and only avenue to reach more people and to help personalize it for everybody.”
Haven described Tuesday’s launch of the MyPyramid website as part of a three-year initiative to get the word out about the new nutritional guidelines. For the time being, the launch is focusing on the website, though she expects other agencies and programs, such as the Food Stamps program, to tailor the guidelines for different audiences, including low-income families, Spanish speakers and others. “We thought, ‘Let’s get it out there, let’s get the feedback,’ and we’ll continue to grow and refine what we have on the Web,” she said.
I noted the concerns that many of us in the digital divide movement have regarding equitable access to government information for all members of the public, and asked whether the USDA would contemplate launching public campaigns that utilized PSAs, toll-free numbers and other off-line communications tools. “I think we may come to that point,” Haven replied. “If we don’t, there are other agencies that might.” She went on to describe some of the educational materials available through the website, which could be downloaded by schools and intermediary organizations to pass on directly to members of the public who aren’t online. “There are also spin-off publications that are being printed as we speak,” she noted. This summer, the USDA will launch an initiative to publicize the new pyramid to all US public schools via the discounted lunch program. For now, though, people interested in the new guidelines will have to find access to the Internet.
Regarding whether the USDA had any intentions to publish MyPyramid.gov in Spanish, Haven said, “A lot of the material has been translated but it hasn’t appeared yet. So we do plan to reach out to those audiences as well.” I then turned the conversation to access for people with disabilities, noting that there is a federal US statute known as Section 508 that requires government websites to be designed with accessibility in mind. “Oh, absolutely, that was in the contract, 508 compliance,” she assured me.
Needless to say, Haven was surprised when I informed her that my rudimentary tests of the website’s homepage and an additional page suggested the site had not reached compliance. “It certainly needs to be 508 compliant,” she said, before assuring me that my concerns would be raised with appropriate people within the USDA to correct these mistakes.
Conclusion
In many ways, the case of MyPyramid.gov is a classic example of the challenge faced by government agencies when it comes to achieving e-government for all. There is a strong desire to utilize the Internet as a tool for reaching the general public. In that regard, I applaud them. But the desire to get information and services out to the public as rapidly and as cost-effectively as possible sometimes means that traditional off-line channels such as public service announcements, storefront government access points and telephone services get marginalized, postponed or left out of the equation entirely. In a country where two-thirds of the population is online, it’s tempting to shrug off these concerns. But the reality is we have millions of people without Internet access or the skills to use it, not to mention millions of people with disabilities whose Internet experience is severely curtailed because of insensitive website design.
There are some very simple steps the USDA could take. For example, they should create a PSA and print promotion campaign that would encourage the public to either go to the website or call a toll-free number for more information. The toll-free number would allow people to talk with an operator in English, Spanish or through an assistive device. The operator would look up the appropriate pyramid for the person, describe it to them, and dispatch appropriate materials either on paper, braille or as an audio book. Materials could also be distributed through post offices, libraries, schools, community centers, health clinics and other community institutions. Some of these materials, it seems, are already in the pipeline for later this year. For the sake of equitable access, though, it would have been much better if at least some of these offline materials had been made available at the same time the website went public. That way, people without Internet access would have had alternative mechanisms for accessing this information.
Fortunately, it seems that Jackie Haven at the USDA recognizes the limitations of the food pyramid’s online strategy. “Of course, the Web can’t reach everybody, but we’re doing our best here, and with the kind of hits we’ve been having we know we’re reaching somebody. At least we’ve gotten, I think, a fairly decent start, but we know we have our work cut out for us.”
Indeed, the USDA — as well as government agencies large and small — has their work cut out for them. So it’s incumbent upon those of us involved in the digital divide movement to support government efforts to use the Internet for public services, while at the same time getting them to understand that relying solely on the Internet to convey information and services is a sure-fire way to marginalize segments of the general population even further.

April 20, 2005

The Mystery of the Food Pyramid: An E-Government Fiasco?

Filed under: Digital Divide — Andy Carvin @ 1:59 pm

In case you haven’t heard, there’s been a change at the US Department of Agriculture. No, we don’t have a new Agriculture Secretary or an official national vegetable; instead, we’ve got a new food pyramid.

old pyramid new pyramid

The Old Pyramid

The New Pyramid

While the old pyramid was far from perfect, it was readible. You could look at the pictures of the various foods within each section of the pyramid, and get a sense of what proportion of your diet should be made up of those foods. (Personally, I follow more of a Mediterranean diet than anything else, but that’s another blog entry.) There wasn’t much to explain with it. We could all quibble over whether it was over-reliant on carbs or whatever, but at least we knew where things stood.
security alertNow, with the new pyramid, it seems that the folks at the USDA have taken a play out of the Department of Homeland Security’s book, creating a color-coded pyramid. It’s somewhat remiscent of that infamous color-coded security alert symbol; just imagine it being turned on its side and skewed in Photoshop. But the amazing thing about the new pyramid is that it doesn’t have any food symbols or text. It’s just a pyramid with an uneven rainbow shooting to the top, with the little recycle dude icon pulling a Tenzing Norgay on the left side.
In case you’re not thoroughly confused yet, there’s actually more than one new pyramid. In fact, there are 12, based on your age and level of activity. In some ways, it’s a good thing that they’re acknowledging that no one food pyramid could apply to everyone, but having 12 might be seen as overwhelming to some people. Because there are 12 different pyramids, it’s no longer possible to print it on cereal boxes or other food packages, unless you just want to show the standard pyramid. Instead, if you’d like to know your perfect pyramid, you’re expected to go online to the MyPyramid.gov website, fill out a form, and wait for the website to recommend a pyramid for you. (Interestingly, I’ve tried it three times today; each time it’s hung for about two minutes, then timed out with an error message.)
I truly, truly hope the USDA does more than just this website to educate the public, though. As I’ve written before in my work on e-government for all, it’s poor policymaking to assume that all constituents will have equal access to the Internet or the skills to use it. Therefore, you need to make sure you use alternative offline channels — TV, radio, print, in-person meetings, etc — to make government services and information available to the people who need it.
Unfortunately, when you look at various demographic groups, there’s a higher likelihood of lower-income, less-educated people to eat a poor diet. Just the audience you’d want to reach in a public health campaign, right? Paradoxically, they’re also the ones least likely to have Internet access or Internet skills. This makes it even more important to invest in large-scale offline campaigns to get health-related information directly into their hands.
Meanwhile, don’t get me started on Web accessibilty for the disabled. I ran an accessibility test on the homepage and the Inside the Pyramid page, which describes the pyramid in greater detail. Both failed even the most basic accessibility standards; in the case of the homepage, it was because it didn’t have alternative text descriptions for all the images on the homepage.
I hope the new pyramid(s) will lead to a healthy – no pun intended – debate in this country over what is a proper diet and what isn’t. I just worry that the populations who would benefit the most from this dialogue will be left on the sidelines, eating more Big Macs and other nutritional train wrecks. In the meantime, I’ll just sit back, relax, and wait for MyPyramid.gov to tell me which pyramid is the right one for me… -andy

Tom DeLay’s Digital Divide

Filed under: Digital Divide — Andy Carvin @ 1:21 pm

In a recent radio interview about judicial activism, congressional firebrand Tom DeLay went out of his way to attack US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy – for his use of the Internet.
The main thrust of DeLay’s comments labeled Kennedy as an irresponsible judicial activist. “We’ve got Justice Kennedy writing decisions based upon international law, not the Constitution of the United States? That’s just outrageous,” DeLay told Fox News Radio on Tuesday. But as icing on the cake, he added this perplexing nugget of scorn: “And not only that, but he said in session that he does his own research on the Internet? That is just incredibly outrageous.”
I did a double-take when I read the transcript earlier this morning. No matter what you think of DeLay’s politics or Kennedy’s perspectives on jurisprudence, the whole idea of attacking a Supreme Court justice because they use the Internet when researching cases is absurd, not to mention disturbing. What exactly was DeLay trying to suggest with this remark? That the Internet is a treasure-trove of misguided case law and other judicial balderdash that should be avoided at all costs? That Internet users might succumb to dissenting viewpoints, historical documents or empirical data? That Supreme Court justices might become porn addicts, buy prescription drugs from Canada or – perish the thought – learn how to play Texas hold’em?
So far I haven’t seen much of a response to this angle of the DeLay-Kennedy story, but Senator Dick Durban of Illinois caught on to it immediately. “Has the Internet become the devil’s workshop?” Durban asked. “Is it some infernal machine now that needs to be avoided by all right-thinking Americans? What is Mr. DeLay trying to say, as he is stretching to lash out at judges who happen to disagree with his political point of view.”
I really, really wonder what DeLay was driving at with his anti-Internet comment. Is it the Internet he hates, or is it Internet research? (Perhaps it’s just research that troubles him.) Should we assume that DeLay bans his staff from researching policy issues online? Or that he ignores online correspondences from his constituents, because he sees it as somehow tainted? Is he against e-government, computers in the classroom or teaching Internet skills to encourage low-income citizens to enter the high-tech workforce?
Perhaps he supports all of these things. Perhaps not. But I think Congressman DeLay has a lot of explaining to do, so we can all understand why a well-respected jurist using the Internet to make informed decisions is so outrageous…. -andy

April 19, 2005

Seeking Volunteer Judges for World Summit Awards USA Competition

Filed under: Digital Divide — Andy Carvin @ 1:53 pm

As some of you may know, I’m the US representative for the World Summit Awards, an international competition to identify the world’s best digital content in conjunction with the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). Nearly 170 countries will be submitting nominations for the contest; winners will be honored at the WSIS summit in Tunis this November.
Each country participating in the World Summit Awards will first host their own national competition to select the best digital content in a variety of categories, including e-education, e-culture, e-health and e-inclusion. As US representative to the international competition, it will be my job to select one winner in each category, then submit these winners to the international competition. US-based content producers will be able to submit their projects for consideration in the coming weeks; I’ll have more information on the contest rules soon.
In the meantime, I would like to put together a small team of volunteers to assist me in selecting the winners for the US contest. The volunteers should be US-based experts in at least one of the contest categories (listed below), and be willing to assist in reviewing applications in early June. The review process will occur online, so no travel will be involved. Reviewers may not submit their own online content to the contest, though they may nominate content produced by others.
I’m seeking experts in these categories:


  • e-culture
  • e-education
  • e-health
  • e-government
  • e-science
  • e-business
  • e-entertainment
  • e-inclusion

I am also looking for at least one expert in Web accessibility for the disabled. While accessibility is not a content category in its own right, websites will be judged on their accessibility during the selection process.
If you are interested, please email me (no attachments, please) at acarvin @ edc . org. In your email, please include a brief description of your areas of expertise and your professional background. Thanks! -andy

April 18, 2005

Marathon Winner Clips

Filed under: Video — Andy Carvin @ 2:20 pm

A couple of video clips of the winners of the marathon: Catherine Ndereba of Kenya and Hailu Negussie of Ethiopia.

Elite Runners Head to the Finish Line

Filed under: Podcasts — Andy Carvin @ 2:20 pm

The fastest runners in the Boston Marathon enter Boston and race to the finish, as I note in this podcast from Brookline. -andy

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