Tag Archives: history

Remembering Jean H. Hepner, beloved grandmother and Fells Point community activist

I’m still processing the death of my grandmother this weekend, on Saturday night. I haven’t shared any updates anywhere about it online. I’ve gone through several stages of grief, from disbelief to numbness to acceptance and deep sadness. You never know how long you’ll have with some one. Some times, they’re gone in an instant.

News of her death was in the Associated Press yesterday, along with local news yesterday.

The circumstances of her passing feel at once banal and extraordinary. My grandmother and her longtime partner, Ben, were driving back home from visiting his son and grandchild, just outside of DC. According to state police, around 6:30 PM he hit another vehicle on the Beltway and lost control of their car, hitting the jersey barriers on the right before veering across the road to hit another on the median and come to a stop.

Passersby pulled over and quietly committed an act of heroism, pulling them both from the car before it caught fire. I’m grateful to these good Samaritans, who may well have saved Ben’s life and tried to save my grandmother.

After the Maryland state police arrived and saw the extent of her injuries, and called in a helicopter to medevac her to the Maryland Trauma Center. Sadly, she passed in flight, despite the efforts of the paramedics and the doctors and nurses in the ER. [Virgil Ruben Carlson passed away from his injuries one week later.]

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My sister, thinking of “Mom Mom” this morning, shared an item from the “Fells Pointer,” a publication from the neighborhood that she and my grandfather, Dr. Walter Ray Hepner Jr., moved to in September 1968.

My grandmother not only renovated the 18th century townhouse that she, my grandfather, uncles and a troop of Boy Scouts rescued from ruin, in other words, but became a pillar of the early community of preservationists who moved into the then-decayed houses of Fells Point and then fought to protect the entire historic neighborhood when government officials sought to run an expressway through the area.

As my sister Susanna Brennan Buchta noted in her remembrance of her, our grandmother was both “an indomitable spirit and community activist”:

“…she and her fellow members of the Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fells Point probably saved Baltimore. Without their efforts to stop the expansion of I-95 straight through our historic Inner Harbor, Baltimore could well have become another Detroit. Instead, we got our ‘second wind’ and a beautiful waterfront attracting millions of visitors and capital to invigorate vibrant neighborhoods.”

These neighborhoods are now the jewels of the Baltimore of today. While the city still has immense challenges, from poverty to crime to urban blight, the revival that began in the late 1960s and fiercely defended by men and women like my grandmother in the “expressway revolt” will endure for decades to come.

Jean Harvey Hepner had just turned 90 as 2014 rolled over. She lived a long, full life, raising 4 children, including my mother, her eldest. She leaves behind dozens of grieving family members and friends, including this eldest grandchild who is grateful for last Christmas, when Mom Mom was able to meet and connect with Allegra, her first great-grandchild, and the six weeks in the summer of 2005 when I stayed with her in Fells Point, finishing renovations that my grandfather had begun in the 1980s.

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Today, I’m remembering nearly 4 decades of my life with her, from the wonders of Boxing Day to the fun of egg hunts on Easter to halcyon summer days on the coast of Maine. I’m glad that we had the time to visit the Robert Long House in Fells Point and walk around the beautiful garden that she had painstakingly, methodically researched and planted with the flowering plants and herbs that would have been present in colonial Baltimore, when the house was originally built. My grandmother knew an enormous amount about plants, a passion and knowledge base that she passed on to her children over the decades, along with any number of other things.

One of the most precious gifts she ever gave me was a perfect Meyer lemon from the tree that resided in her sunny drawing room on Fell Street. I made one of the best lemon-butter sauces of my life with that fruit, and reserved the zest from the skin for many deserts and dishes to come to boot. My grandmother would have approved of that thorough use. As a child who came to age during the Depression, she reserved, preserved and even hoarded all kinds of things, from string to hardware to any number of baskets, button and doodads that I found fascinating as a child.

I still have an index card, somewhere, inscribed with her simple, spectacular recipe for Maryland crab cakes, although I stopped needing to consult it long ago: some skills, once your grandmother teaches you to do them, become engraved in your memory for lifetime.

I miss you so much already, Mom Mom.

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The past and future of .com: Bill Clinton on the first Internet Presidency [#25years]

How much has the online world changed in the past quarter of a century? In the years since Synbolics.com was registered, hundreds of millions of websites have followed that first domain name. According to the VeriSign Domain Name Industry Report, at the end of 2009 there were 192 million domain name registrations across all of the Top Level Domain Names (TLDs).

Of those, .com continues to have the highest base. “The world we live in today is the most interdependent in history,” said former President Bill Clinton, speaking within the Reagan building in Washington D.C. last week at the Policy Impact Forum. “The real question is what can we do through the present state of the Internet to improve the path we’re on.”

Clinton was introduced by VeriSign president Mark McLaughlin as the “first Internet President,” a reasonable contention given the explosive growth of the online world during his terms in office. As McLaughlin pointed out, under Mr. Clinton Internet governance passed to ICANN and the first White House website. (For those interested, you can still hear Socks meow.) McLaughlin and others blogged about 25 years of .com on Facebook.

Clinton made his comments on the day that the FCC’s National Broadband Plan was released, putting the question of how connectivity, innovation and speech should be stimulated (or regulated) into clear relief. Clinton suggested that access framework proposed by the FCC might be needed.

“In America, we opted for a degulation approach in the Internet and cellphone business,” he said, “but a lot of our competitorsnow have better cell phone coverage than we do because they had some regulation to guarantee a framework of universal access.”

In the present, “I’m worried about unequal access,” Clinton said. “We devoted 870 million a year to education technology. We developed the E-Rate so that information could be more publicly shared.”

“In general, our entrepreneurial approach is the best one,” said Clinton, but “there are limits to it and sometimes we need a framework to make sure the markets can continue to grow by having more universal access. So I’m hoping the FCC proposals will do that.”

Clinton talked about how the Internet has been indispensable to the work of his foundation. He also focused on the importance of information technology to his administration.

In 1996, then-President Clinton issued Executive Order 13011 on federal information technology, which ordered the heads of all federal agencies to “refocus information technology management to support directly their strategic missions,” create agency CIOs and “cooperate in the use of information technology to improve the productivity of Federal programs.”

When the decision  came to support as a medium, said Clinton, “the Internet was either going to be to the private reserve of a few or to the positive good of all. All the decisions that came were a result of seeing in its infancy the staggering potential we see today.” Clinton also gave credit to Al Gore, who “took unmerciful abuse about a claim he never made.”

Clinton chose to highlight a proposal from President Obama and the Secretary of State for a global health initiative that will leverage information technology. “There has to be a limit to ability to wealthy countries helping poor countries by treating discrete health problems,” he said. “Sooner or later, they have to have [functioning] health systems.  In the end, you have to give people the ability to support themselves.”

When considering potential answers to that immense challenge, does the Internet have anything to do with solutions? One area where the Internet has proven its utility is enabling distributed fundraising. Clinton himself said that over half of donations made to victims of the Indonesian tsunami were made online.

In 2010, Clinton said that MassiveGood.com, could a micropayment fundraising model where every time a consumer buys a plane ticket, reserves a hotel room or rents a car, they can choose to donate a small amount to AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria or childrens’ healthcare. “None of this would be conceivable without the Internet,” said Clinton.

“We’re going to have instantaneous posting of all donations and expenditures,” he said. “That’s what we did after the tsunami, with stunning effects in reducing corruption and increasing transparency.”

Clinton took some time to talk about both healthcare, the issue of the day, and climate change, perhaps the issue of the decade. “There are four countries which signed the Kyoto protocoal,” said Clinton: Denmark, Sweden, Germany and the UK. Clinton asserted that was because of the way that they consume and produce energy. ” A wealthy country has to have a new source of jobs every 5-8 years, he said. “The only way can be distributed is through the adequate use of IT. In the years ahead, we ought to do whatever we can increase access, compress time, improve connectivity.” ABC News’ Julie Percha reported more on Clinton’s talk at the Tech Forum, focusing on his remarks on healthcare.

Clinton also issued a challenge to those in the audience that work in technology: “What is the role of IT in dealing with the capacity problems of the poor and the rigidity problems of the wealthy?

What is necessary to ensure open global access? “First of all, you can’t if nations disagree,” he said. “If they decide to control access, they have some ability to do it. Look at the role tech played at bringing to light what happened in the Iranian election.” Clinton suggested too that the audience consider the impact of cell phones in poor countries. “For every 10% increase of cellphone usage in poor countries, they gain .6% to GDP,” said Clinton, citing a recent mobile research report.

In looking back at the importance of the Internet, Clinton said that “the potential for impact has gone far beyond what I expected. On balance, it’s an instrument of freedom, not repression.”

The former President offered some insight into his use of technology during a question and answer with McLaughlin after his keynote. When asked what his three favorite websites were, Clinton chose political ones: Politico, the Huffington Post and FireDogLake. Clinton affirmed the substantive contributions that websites can make, although “don’t have to do what newspapers have to do every day,” as “some only have to have three serious articles a week.” Clinton said that he’s “worried about the ability to maintain any newspaper” in the years ahead.

Clinton also fessed up to his favorite device: an iPhone, “because I can get everything on it.” He said he tried to stay away from the BlackBerry “because I’m still obsessive,” sharing in the process that former President George H. W. Bush was “constantly doing email.”

Kara Swisher from All Things Digital was also on hand at the 25 Years of .Com Tech Impact Forum, where she moderated a panel on the future of Web technology. She recorded a video of the Q&A after the keynote that can be viewed at Boomtown, in “Bill Clinton talks about his Internet legacy.”

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If technological change is exponential, how can government adapt?

Can the agile development cycle be applied to government? Cory Ondrejka, c0-founder of Second Life, offered up a provocative paean for more flexible adaption to new online platforms for citizen engagement and empowerment. “Who will know first if the rules have changed: customers, partners, clients?”

Ondrejka drew a fascinating parallel between today’s open government movement and an open data case study from another age: the Era of Sail.

In the The Physical Geography of the Sea,” published in the mid-1800s, a disabled sailor who could no longer serve as crew found something to do from ashore: aggregate the logs of weather, winds and current.

As Matthew Fontaine Maury started aggregating that data, he found patterns. Maury saw great value in publishing this data “in such a manner that each may have before him, at a glance, the experience of all.”

Ondrejka suggested that government agencies and those creating applications that use open data “write less code, get more data.”

When it comes to resources, he asked, “who’s cheaper: a silicon or carbon employee?”

His observation that social computing platforms will “require different level of trust, support and information” is apt; citizens now have different expectations from a government that’s gone online than existed in an analog world.

As Ondrejka put it, online users represent the “largest focus group in the world.” And in that content, he says, there is a role for government innovation, and it should be occupied by both leaders and citizens.

Ondrejka provided one more “analog” example of how government data was used in the 1800s. By studying harpoon designs, Maury found that many whales in the Pacific has previously been harpooned in the Atlantic and vice versa. He used that as evidence of a Northwest Passage. While that didn’t go well for subsequent explorers who went north and ran up against a frozen ocean, the ’49ers were able to use the data to reduce the length of time it took to get around Cape Horn. In those days, it took more than 200 days to travel from New York City to San Francisco.

The Clipper Ship "Flying Cloud" off the Needles, Isle of Wight, by James E. Buttersworth, 1859-60

The Clipper Ship "Flying Cloud" off the Needles, Isle of Wight, by James E. Buttersworth, 1859-60

As the Gold Rush was on, time was at a premium, and for “extreme clipper ships” like Flying Cloud, any advantage that could be derived from patterns in the data had economic value.

A similar parallel to innovation using government data can be seen today in the use of the global positioning system (GPS) that the U.S. funded.

With any of these technologies, however, there’s a long-standing pattern in technology adoption, the data around which follows a “fairly predictable” curve, said Ondrejka. That “linear to exponential” is something that’s been true in multiple technologies, from email to the VCR to the DVD to social media platforms like Facebook.

In government, however, applying such technology has multiple considers, including regulations, transparency and cybersecurity.

“When you’re driving institutional change, you’re requiring people to be fearless,” said Ondrejka. “Experimental culture doesn’t mean just go try stuff.”

Measurement is key. “Stay out of the Church of Assumption,” he said. “The plural of anecdote is not evidence.”

Concerns about data ownership are also central, as are questions about vendor lock-in or the use proprietary formats. “We need to be careful about not releasing the data that taxpayers pay for,” said Ondrejka.

UPDATE: Ondrejka has posted his presentation online (embedded below), ” Cory Ondrejka Government 2.0 LA Opening Keynote” and blogged about government 2.0 at Ondrejka.net.

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