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Addressing the digital skills gap with #techmums

Plenty of people, myself included, have chuntered on about the digital skills gap that threatens economic growth in the UK. That if we don’t address the language skills that we presume we’ll need in the 21st Century (Mandarin and coding), then we’ll be left behind. And we add to that the comedy angle – how intuitive the kids are, compared to the parents and isn’t it funny how the kids mastered the iPad so quickly?

Very few of us have looked at the issue and seen the iniquity – yes, women are under-represented in the tech industry; yes parents need to learn new skills just as much as their children do. And yes – that can actually be a way out of economic hardship.

Dr. Sue Black is a remarkable woman. She’s reinvented herself (she blogged that story here) and become one of the most significant people in the UK tech scene. She has understood how technology and an understanding of it, can transform lives and create new opportunities. And she’s taking that experience making it practical.

I first encountered Dr. Black with Unbound, where I do a spot of work occasionally, where she crowd-funded a book about Bletchley Park in three days – and now she’s taken that networking talent into creating #techmums.

#techmums is a drive to take women who are in the drudgery of low-horizon jobs that come from basing your work hours around school drop-off and pick-up, and re-skill them with the kind of tech skills that can empower them to understand the internet better, and drive their own businesses and pull themselves and their families out of poverty. It’s based around schools because that’s why so many women’s routines are centered and because better skillsets can help women back into the workforce once the children become self-sufficient. And it doesn’t just change the mother’s horizons, it changes the family outlook too.

Nicholas Soar, the head of Bishop Challoner, one school that’s hosting the programme, said in The Guardian:

“I saw the massive impact it had on both family and child. So many parents don’t know how to track or monitor their child’s internet footprint, nor do they have any sense of how to programme in a computing language. The parents’ own fears create a parallel reluctance in their daughters to approach computing and computer science. But #techmums has increased confidence and self-esteem that sets them apart from people who haven’t completed the course.”

But it’s early days and the crowdfunding is still going on – those of us who gather around our Macs and bemoan the shortfall in digital skills should look and wonder at someone who’s doing something about it. And then we should join in.

The Web Empowers the Vocal Minority

Shouldn’t empowerment be considered a good thing? I am going to submit in this case that it may not be the case. The ‘net has really given everyone a voice, so wouldn’t you think that the majority would be heard and win out in the end. I’m not so sure. I think the most active we tend to see are the vocal minority, troublemakers, and generally speaking, the people with the most time on their hands. We get a lot of arguments, insults and complaining by those that think they can say whatever they want online because they have a computer, Internet access and a public forum to voice their opinion.

Of course, that is not to say that everyone that posts online or writes things falls in this category. The reason for this post is to point out the highly active ones that seem to travel the superhighway with a virtual chip on their shoulder, feeling perpetually wronged.

I have managed a variety of sites over my tenure online. Most of them have ended up having some sort of support or customer forum to invite participation and hopefully improvement through the community. On the whole, this tends to work, but it also leaves you wide open to the whiners, the incoherent and those just looking to cause problems. When you provide any way for people to post publicly or communicate via email, you open the doors to all kinds. And believe me, you will hear from them.

Why is it that people feel like it is ok to say things online that you would never consider saying if you were standing face to face? People jump right up to hand out the insults and put down anything that opposes what they think. Why is it this vocal group tends to fall back on the logic generally used by people under the age of 10, yet proclaim themselves to be smarter than you because of their extensive experience and schooling. Why is it the hostility flows unabated at the slightest written word that can be interpreted (read that twisted) as offending for whatever reason.

At times I like to post comments on websites by my local TV stations and newspapers where they make them available. I enjoy some interaction with people that have had an interest in reading and sharing their thoughts on a topic. I don’t mind a little healthy debate if intelligent and decent points are brought up. What I can’t stand are the trolls that throw in inflammatory comments simply to get a rise out of others. Trolls are typically easy to spot and are best handled by ignoring them. There are others even more annoying – those that throw out their opinion – usually opposite of the majority – laden with sharp comments, daring anyone to disagree and preempting the dissenting comments with a call of stupidity and ignorance to the parties that do. I so appreciate systems that let you “vote” such comments down, so as a group the sane thinking types can get such comments stricken or at least hidden.

Back to the “minority” aspect of this post, particularly as it applies to customer support forums. What I find is that so often those that think they have a valid argument, especially when they feel wronged, assume that everyone agrees with their position. They throw up their comments and if they don’t get the supportive response they expect, begin to call into question the integrity of the site, system and anything else they can throw in there. If ever told they are the only one, or perhaps one of a handful of people in their situation, this is called a lie and a part of some big conspiracy against them.

More typically, especially in a support situation, it is not a lie, it is really the truth. What happens when you get something shipped to you on time, in good shape and everything is as expected. Typically you say nothing and go on your merry way. Sure, a few zealots make sure to say thanks or offer their commendation, but usually, you don’t hear from them. In the world of commerce, no news is generally good news. Who you do hear from is people with something that went wrong. That is ok though because you typically want to help fix the wrong. When they call into question your practices and claim that this must be a fraudulent act against the entire customer base, that is a problem. More often than not, they typically are the one in a thousand that had a problem. Even if they did find a dozen others with problems, that is not too bad if the same ratios hold true. It is still your responsibility to “fix” the situation, but the fact that these people have an outlet makes them feel strong and empowered.

So is this a good thing that they can air their problems to the generally satisfied public in the interest of finding support for their position? If there truly is a problem, then yes. Just because something runs against the grain or voices displeasure, it shouldn’t be immediately be labeled as wrong. But, and I submit this generally not pointing to anything specific, if they are actually in the wrong, it only serves to damage the reputation of a company in a manner that is both unfair and untrue. What ends up happening is that companies move to protect themselves and the services that would otherwise help the average consumer, i.e. forums, help centers, knowledge bases, etc., get removed.

Once a company doesn’t provide these services, the outraged and supposedly wronged groups head out to other outlets to find the attention they so desperately seek. They start up “anti” sites, their own forums, or in what I consider the worst case scenarios, they post virtual fraud reports at sites designed for that purpose. Have you seen these sites? I think they were all created with good intentions, but what ends up happening generally is a lot of company bashing by people that didn’t get their way. Whether they are justified in their position or not, they have an outlet and they use it to the fullest. I have read hundreds of posts on these kinds of sites, usually for entertainment purposes. Most posts so often throw in every accusation they can, along with some obvious “impressions” of the truth in order to feel good about their vengeance against the company. In the end, the company either has to give in to the unfounded position, or lose face and likely some customers who believe the drivel out there. I really don’t believe the vigilant justice systems work all that well, but I give them their due for at least making an effort.


Is there a solution to this situation? Any time there is an opportunity for open communication, you leave yourself open to all types. In the case of the Internet, we are creating a new breed that knows no bounds. With the distance from your intended recipient and the feeling of anonymity provided by the ‘net, more people feel like they can get away with anything. No matter what they are in “normal” live, they can be whatever kind of person they want online. This grand and powerful ability can be used for good and bad, and I am afraid the bad side of this can have strong repercussions.

My only hope is that as the Web 2.0 continues to emerge (where the audience provides the content and drives people to it), there will continue to be born better systems to let the best of the web shine through while keeping the rest under wraps. I believe there should be a place on the web for most everything, but also the ability to allow it to exist or not exist wherever intended.

Coffee Espresso Machine: Tips for Buying the Perfect One for You

Imagine your self relaxing into your preferred chair, at your favorite table by the window, holding your warm cappuccino. You savor the aroma and admire the frothy, foamy peak your barista brought to life. It is nice and peaceful. No noisy chatter. Just quiet.

And here’s the best portion: your vehicle keys are sitting on your dresser, and you are still in your pajamas. And that talented barista who has mastered the art of foam? That is you! You’ve developed your own quaint small cafe proper here at home, with your extremely own coffee espresso machine.

Think this is impossible? Believe once more! There are several diverse sorts of espresso machines on the marketplace that are created especially for house use, ranging from extremely simple and affordable, right up to the same machines utilized by specialist baristas.

Even so, ahead of you rush into investing in a coffee espresso machine, take some time to do your homework and think about your wants and preferences. How typically do you strategy to make espresso drinks at home? Do you also drink a lot of brewed coffee? (Some machines have dual brewing capabilities.) How critical is the milk frothing capability to you? If you have preferences in any locations such as these, this will help you narrow down the possibilities.

Also, contemplate any preferences you may possibly have about how your espresso drinks are produced. For instance, my favorite part of an espresso shot is the crema – that’s the caramel-colored, creamy foam that forms on a perfectly pulled shot. When you pour shots from a shot glass into the mug, most of the crema gets left behind, so I prefer a coffee espresso machine that is tall enough to fit the entire mug, so I can appreciate the entire shot in my drink.

Here are the fundamental types of coffee espresso machines on the market:

What is the Pump Coffee Espresso Machine?

This is the very best but most costly kind of machine to buy. The pump coffee espresso machine is known as this since they use a pump to maintain the water pressure at the suitable level, which produces the greatest and most consistent shot of espresso. These machines are mainly produced for commercial use, and are usually quite huge, heavy, and noisy, but can be employed at the property.

About the Piston Coffee Espresso Machine

This sort of machine utilizes a piston or lever system to manually preserve the optimum pressure required for a fantastic shot of espresso. This type of coffee espresso machine requires little maintenance and is much quieter than the pump machines. Nevertheless, the lever might need a good deal of arm strength to preserve the pressure at the appropriate level, and it may well take some practice to get the timing down. But if you are willing to experiment and function out the procedure, you’ll be rewarded with a great shot and a sense of accomplishment.

About the Steam Coffee Espresso Machine

This type of coffee espresso machine is typically smaller, quickly accessible and comparatively cost-effective, utilizing heat to generate steam instead of a pump or piston to create the pressure. Whilst the lower costs are certainly an advantage for steam machines, if you’re quite certain about the good quality of your espresso shots, you may locate that the steam does not constantly produce the optimum pressure for the best tasting coffee. Also, sustaining sufficient steam to both pull shots and steam milk at the exact same time is at times hard.

About Moka Pots

This sort of machine costs the least of all the options and requires only your stovetop. The Moka pot is a two-part pot which utilizes boiling water and the steam to produce pressure, which pushes the boiling water up by means of the espresso grounds rather than gravity basically pulling heated what down. The coffee tastes excellent, but given that you can’t froth milk with a Moka pot, it is not for you if you actually like your lattes and cappuccinos. But if you like an excellent espresso or a shot in the dark (brewed coffee with a shot of espresso added) and have a limited spending budget, give the Moka pot a try.

Do not be put off by the high costs on a coffee espresso machine. Take a few moments to think about what that everyday latte is costing you. A latte can cost you as much as. If you’re like me, you average about 5 a week. That is five a year! Over the course of time, you may possibly find that dropping the money when the up front is worth the investment – especially when you take into account the convenience of enjoying your favorite espresso beverage at a house.

So take a little time to contemplate each of these alternatives and how they fit with your preferences and wants. Whichever coffee espresso machine you choose to produce your own cafe at home, you’ll be making your own espresso drinks for you and your friends and family – with or with no the frothy foam peaks – in no time.

In Too Much of a Hurry to Enjoy Life

Combating Comment Spam

Over a year ago I jokingly noted that I had apparently “arrived” with my blog because spammers had found me and began regularly trying to post comments to the site. I am proud to say that to date no comment spam has successfully made it to public viewing, but unfortunately, that has taken a little effort along the way.

First, staying ahead of the abuse curve requires always installing the latest version of the WordPress software I am using for this blog. This may not seem like a big deal, but because I have customized things a bit to my liking, updating to the latest version of things often requires me to enter again my customizations. On more than one occasion I have broken things with the upgrade and had to take the time to research and fix the errors.

Combating Comment Spam

Second, though WordPress includes a rather effective plugin called Askimet that autodetects comment spam, the spam is placed in a queue that can be reviewed for false positives. Though there are very few misses, I feel obligated to wade through this large queue regularly to make sure no valid comments are missed; another big waste of time due to some lazy spammers ‘bots keeping mine in their attack list.

I recently tried to install a hidden programming trick that didn’t work, much to my chagrin. I have been hesitant to use other methods because they require you as users to read a funny image and type in the text (CAPTCHA), but now that appears to be my best solution. So, at this point I am testing out a CAPTCHA installation on the comments to see if that will cut down the hundreds of comment spam entries per day wasting the resources of my server and me personally. I apologize for the extra step on your part, but hopefully, you can bear with me.

In Too Much of a Hurry to Enjoy Life

You do have the option of skipping the CAPTCHA if you are a regular poster and would like to register as a user on this site. Registered users are not required to do this step.

Spam is definitely something that’s gotta go, but the reality is we can only hope to stay one step ahead.