Browsing the archives for the Houston tag

Twitter Improves Lives

family, Life as it is, Twitter, Vulnerability

I wrote this as a comment – a very long comment – to Good Times, where they offer an inexperienced view that Twitter Sucks. I could not save my comment (due to a problem with their captcha anti-spam defense), so I decided to share it here with you.

There are a lot of good comments in the post written, but it also lacks the frame of reference of the experience of using Twitter for any length of time – or at least using it with any interpersonal connections of value. I have been using Twitter since 2007 and will offer some other glimpses in how Twitter is improving lives – or at least my life, and impacting – in a good way – the lives of my daughter, family, Houston homeless, hurricane Ike survivors and many others.

Reaching Out to Twitter

Twitter is Experiential

I believe that the value of Twitter is experiential, and almost impossible to see from the outside. Just as one sonar ping on a naval warship is uninteresting – it can only tell a distance to another object, a series of pings can tell a tale of hidden dangers, hidden enemies, and even locate lost friends. So too, one tweet may be have limited meaning or value in and of itself, but reading a series of tweets of a friend’s day or life lets us get an image and tells a tale of their life that we would not see otherwise.

For example, I know that my niece just served on a jury for the first time and thought it exciting; is planning to attend a baby shower; and struggling with the amount of e-mail she receives. My daughter has a grim but determined relationship with Geometry; has endured the loss of a meaningful relationship (that would not normally be shared with a dad); and gets to play the instruments during break at the music store where she works.

Are any of these of major import to others? No, but they let me see the lives of those close to me in a way that is meaningful to me and would not be mentioned in a letter from my niece or at dinner with my daughter. In other words, i get a chance to see the lives of those i care about in a way that I might miss otherwise.

Twitter Saved My Runaway Daughter

That doesn’t mean that Twitter is without importance, however. When my daughter ran away last year into the 4th largest city in the US, twitter (along with Flickr and Facebook) was instrumental in finding her and carrying her messages of my love for her. Where the police could not find her, friends and social network contacts who spotted her would tweet where she was and what she was doing. Their ability to tell her of my love for her helped set up her eventual return.

Twitter and Hurricane Ike

When Hurricane Ike hit the Houston area, I heard many people frightened, alone and cut off on the radio talk shows through the night of the storm. I hadn’t seen any of that because all of us were able to continue touching one another with news and hope and human connection through the storm through Twitter. Based on SMS, Twitter also proved reliable as a communication medium the next few days as cellular voice calls became overloaded and unreliable. We were able to arrange shelter for people still without power as some of us gained power back, tracked locations for food and assistance, and were there for one another.

Twitter Feeds the Homeless & Shelters My family

This past Christmas I decided to see whether Twitter could help me feed 100 Houston homeless (after learning about another effort to do so from someone on Twitter). As a result of the generosity of the people who use Twitter in this city, over 230 homeless people in Houston got a full Thanksgiving dinner, complete with all the trimmings and pumpkin pie.

When my son and I lost power unexpectedly for several days over Christmas, a single tweet of our situation ended up with us having a complimentary hotel room while we waited for power to be restored – thanks to a generous-hearted individual that uses Twitter. I have had wonderful photowalks with old and new friends, just because one person would tweet where they were going and offered an invitation. Many lunches around here are spontaneously organized around local venues – some of whom (like @coffeegroundz) will let us tweet ahead with our orders and have them ready.

So What Then Can We Make of Twitter?

Twitter is nothing more or less than a way for people to communicate with one another – in a way that removes geography and other barriers. What we make of Twitter is based on this – it may be vapid connections with people that don’t matter to us if that is how we choose to connect to one another. Or… And this is the most wonderful thing about a technology like Twitter. Or, it may be used to connect lives together in ways that we can do things together that we could never do on our own.

How meaningful that makes Twitter, then, is up to each of us. In the same way, I started writing this about twitter, but the truth of the matter is – it is really about how blessed i have been to have such wonderful people connected to me through Twitter. the technology remains juts a technology. as always, it is the people that matter.


Twitter and the Hurricane Ike Community

Life as it is, Twitter

Hurricane Ike passed through this area more than a week ago, and the effects are still very present. I sat in a McDonalds today – the only one in the area that was open – and listened to a mother explain to her young daughter that they couldn’t watch anything on TV at home because they still had no power, but now they could have a hot meal. But while there are still bumps in the road ahead of us as we clean up, what I will remember from Ike is the night of the storm itself and the community that kept me company.

Watching Ike Through the Night

After the height of the storm – about the time I had taken this photo – the power had gone off shortly before and the waiting began. But I was in touch with so many people that night, i was able to sit in my living room in the dark with my computer and phone and candles and participate in a conversation about the storm – we shared stories of when we lost power, the noises we heard as trees broke and crashed, the fears as one of us thought their house was on fire. We had each other through the storm.

A couple of situations underscored this comforting community for me. I had been following on Twitter the National Hurricane Center’s @HurricaneIke account and they were correcting news errors about tornadoes and sending links to show radar imagery. They even shared the way the downtown buildings were creating blind spots and false indications of tornadoes. A calm voice of reason and knowledge. But turning on the radio, I found other voices that were not as calm, callers that were alone and frightened and isolated from one another except for the radio, all in the dark as I was, but without the reassuring chatter of friends and experts as we on Twitter had with one another.

The next couple of days saw a near-collapse of the cellular voice and data networks in the area. Calls may or may not work at any given time, but the SMS-based technology of Twitter kept us still in touch. We knew who had power and who didn’t. People with power were opening their doors to the people without, and we knew the condition of the city as people checked in with their zip codes. (This also lead to someone messaging me on twitter to check on their brother as they realized I lived in the same neighborhood.) Messages got out about who needed help, and what people were doing to pass the time in the heat of a city with no air conditioning. Tips were given on how to check for power, or where generators could be found, and what sort of nails would best hold tarps in place.

The final way this community worked for me was when I started searching those messages on Twitter hashtagged with #ike, so that they could be viewed as a whole. I got the idea to search for my zipcode as well, and found others that lived near me that had also shared their stories and community during and after the storm. I added them to the list of people I follow on twitter and my own community on-line grew to include the people in my geographic community.

I even found the way to express some of my own feelings from the tweet of a neighbor:

HughesJW: Today I’ll try to take a step out of crisis mode and begin finding a new normal. Still grieving loss of old normal, #Ike.

The final irony is that this new community on Twitter, the same internet service that has had so many availability problems, turned out to provide the stability that we needed to get through this storm together.

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My Tweets for 2008-01-09

  • OK, so i could’t let @Jennifer be the only one to post rare self-portaits… Now back to work…detatching with love" thing…. #
  • take two – having a hard time with the whole "detatching with love" thing…. #
  • I’m in the Assignment: Houston (#21 Places of Worship) photophlow room #
  • G’night twitterfolk, let’s dance again in the morning… #
  • Awakened by a call this morning to hear again that today might be the day my Jeep is ready from the shop…. #
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The Symphony with my daughter

family, Mythology, Spiritual Journey

This past year I became a subscriber for the Houston Symphony, and it has been a wonderful investment for time with my daughter. We usually get their early, eat brunch nearby, and then get back to Jones Hall in time for the lecture before the music. We like to try to get to sit near this Houston Theatre District landmark when we get a chance. My daughter is a bassist, and so it is a special bit of art for her, she even says it is “sexy”. May she continue to find only the unreal men sexy at least until she becomes an adult.)

Today’s performance was Yo Yo Ma, and he was incredible. I had gotten some field glasses to use while watching the show, and when it was my turn I couldn’t help watching his face while he plays. He was his own audience, swaying to the music he heard and grinning at the concertmistress and the other cellists in the symphony.

Anyway, a wonderful day with my beautiful daughter.

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Orion, My Longtime Friend

Astronomy, Mythology, Science Fiction

Technical forward: All the links to pics below are from Stellarium referencing the sky tonight from my home near Houston, TX around 8pm tonight. well, except when Sirius shows up – his tail isn’t wagging and visible until about 10pm tonight. But while oriented around tonight and my home, Orion and Sirius are visible through the Fall and Winter in most of North America.


I “discovered” Orion long before I knew who he was. I still remember it, because I was so sick as a child driving home from Thanksgiving in Houston to New Orleans and remembered pressing my face against the glass in the car to cool off. In time, I realized that the stars seemed to be keeping pace with the car. And I was comforted that as sick as i was, the stars were traveling with me. Three starts in particular I noticed, in a straight line, up-and-down, and I didn’t see anything else like them in the sky. I called them “family” and watched them racing over the ground to keep up with the car. In time. I noticed a pair of stars – one on each side – of my new star-fiends, Family. I think I named them Peace and Hope. Click on the pic/links below to see if you can spot them here:


Eventually, I learned about constellations and stars and fell in love with Astronomy. I found star charts that showed that Orion was the name of those stars together, and that what I called Family, was actually Orion’s Belt. Orion has been a friend ever since, because I see him so easily in the Fall. About 9pm in November, he is at the end of my driveway as I am getting out of the car, welcoming me home. Seeing him from the line drawings is a bit difficult, but here they are. That is not a bow in his hand, like I always thought, but rather his latest kill. His club is in his hand above his head. And his sword is on his belt (and there is a special jewel there).


It turns out that Orion has quite a past, even before I discovered him and his belt. The great hunter to the greeks was said by some to be the son of Poseidon, and came to desire Merope. Her father gave him a task of removing every dangerous animal from the island, and though he completed the task, her father would create rumors of wolves still out there to keep him from Merope. One night, Orion and Merope got together, and in retaliation for not waiting for his blessing, her father blinded Orion while asleep.

Now Merope was one of the seven Pleiades, the Sailing Sisters, and they together lead Orion to help. Eventually Dawn (Eos) and her light returned him to sight. But they say that Merope in the meantime had married a mortal her father approved of, and this is why only six of Pleides can ever be seen in the sky when dawn first shows her light. Eos was smitten with Orion, and they spent a long time together. But you know those gods…

But all was not well with the Gods and Orion. The great hunter eventually started going off on hunting trips with Artemis, the red-headed goddess of the hunt and the moon – she apparently so enjoyed his company that she started to skip her nights of lighting the world. And after boasting he could hunt every species to exinction, Mother Earth took matters in her own hands and sent a giant scorpion (Scorpius) to kill him. But Apollo, Artemis’s brother got him first, tricking Artemis to shoot a far off target bobbing in the ocean (who he knew was Orion, but told her he was someone that attacked her priestesses), and Artemis grabbed her bow and put three arrows in Orion before realizing who he was. When she saw what she had done, she rushed to Orion and made him immortal, now placing him in the stars to continue the hunting he loved – she even sent him his dog, Sirius for company.


One last bit of Orion coolness for now…. Those two bright stars opposite one another across the belt of Orion? They are Betelgeuse, the home of a certain hoopy frood, and Rigel the star where Harry Mudd and his women were, and on a different planet in the system, the one where McCoy hooked up with a couple of chorus girls. And if we look, Betelgeuse is Orion’s shoulder, which answers that question of where exactly Roy Batty, Rutger Hauer’s Character from Blade Runner, was speaking of when he said he had, “seen things you people wouldn’t believe, attacked ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.”


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