Now and again, one needs to step away from the practicalities of work, consulting, travel and running a business to celebrate something utterly wonderful and unexpected. What I am going to tell you about is a living, breathing organism that moves along the road of life in the direction of the Twilight Zone, but not in the manner in which Rod Serling wrote. It is a source of awe and of good, of amusement and surprise. It returns value in a myriad of ways. And while I doubt that it is unique, I suspect that it takes a unique set of factors for something like this to flourish. Those factors are in evidence here.
As many of you know, I now hail from a small community on the northern tip of the Olympic Peninsula in the state of Washington. And while my wife and I have been coming here off and on for nearly thirty-five years, we only settled here fourteen months ago. In a small community, that makes us newcomers and to a great extent, still outsiders. That does not mean that folks are not cordial. Quite the contrary is true. If I am out walking the dog, I need to be prepared to wave to every passing vehicle because the folks inside will be waving to me. If I step into the bank to make a deposit, I need to allow time not for a line of people ahead of me, but for a line of conversations. The pace here is different, some would say slower. But it is also more personal and it takes time to really build those personal relationships. Does that sound like one of my main themes?
As part of my local networking, I joined the Sequim and Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce. After all, while there may not be much Business Intelligence work here right now, I pay a business tax like everyone else and there will eventually be local clients. Besides, it is always good to be networking, right? Not long after joining, I was perusing the membership directory and came across the Sequim PC Users Group (SPCUG). I went to the web site and it looked pretty interesting so I parted with twenty-five dollars for the membership fee and signed up. The next day, Tom (the President of SPCUG) called me to welcome me to the group and tell me about what they do. That evening, I had a call from Steve, another one of their members. Like I said, this is a small community. Folks talk.
Essentially, SPCUG is a not for profit organization that collects and refurbishes old computers, which they then donate to a variety of places including senior centers, disadvantaged families, low income seniors, and the like. They also help out at the Sequim Senior Center with computer training and equipment maintenance, and offer a series of Saturday classes at Sequim High School. In the past, they’ve helped agencies like the Boys & Girls Club, Sequim School District, North Olympic Foster Parents Association and more. These folks do a lot for the community.
The most astounding aspect of SPCUG is the bi-weekly Monday morning breakfast meeting at Ely’s Café. The meeting officially begins at 9:00 but if you want a seat at the table, you need to be there by 8:30. The meetings I have attended so far have exceeded capacity. The PC Outlaws (officially the planning committee but it seems to encompass everyone) consists of the most amazing confabulation of retired folks I have ever come across. It is mostly men, but there is at least one intrepid retired businesswoman who is a regular. And while I myself am pushing sixty, I am the youth in knickers at that gathering. The mean age seems to be mid to late seventies. But hold on to your hats and glasses, folks, this is where the magic really happens.
The agenda opens with reports from what they call the Tech Shop, where the computer refurbishments take place. This is followed by reports from the Special Projects Teams. Then the fun really begins. Steve (who moderates the meetings) sends out an advanced copy of the agenda with links for us to pre-read. Here is a sample of topics from a couple of past meetings (with the links).
- How to capture videos on the web, I use NirSoft VideoCacheView here: http://goo.gl/3LlA and download the 94K program here: http://goo.gl/EnVorl this would be a good program to capture online videos to play later or burn to a DVD. Discussion.
- Privacy search engines, I use DuckDuckGo: https://duckduckgo.com/ and StartPage: https://www.startpage.com/ (located in NL) in FireFox (both plugins)Discussion!
- Sign up for a new MS Outlook.com account to go with your Win 8 install: http://goo.gl/zhfMqn this will enhance Win 8 and make it easy to sync with Skydrive and MS Office 2013. Discussion!
- High security email service shut down: http://goo.gl/Y4IjK1 Discussion!
- Virtual machines; how do they work? http://goo.gl/kJPyG0 where to get the software: http://goo.gl/Bon9p and here http://goo.gl/9DKc and why would you want to do this. Windows Virtual PC info: http://goo.gl/zPrqWj Discussion!
- 5 ways to securely encrypt your files in the Cloud http://goo.gl/mbQBQ
- XP’s retirement will be hacker heaven: http://goo.gl/LwG3uG (Bob S.) a good reason to go to Ubuntu: http://www.ubuntu.com/desktop/features or Win 8 (for refurbished computers). Discussion!
- How to use the 25% of the internet that the NSA doesn’t monitor: http://goo.gl/wf6xX7 and this for more security: https://www.eff.org/https-everywhere.
- TPM (Trusted Platform Module) what is it, who uses it and how is it used: http://goo.gl/1scqrl a German website was reporting security issues with Win 8 and TPM, later retracted. (Bud F.)
- How to Completely Anonymize [sic] Your BitTorrent Traffic with a Proxy: http://goo.gl/O6Nsz some of you are using bit torrent so I thought this might be an interesting discussion!
- BitTorrent Sync Automatically sync files via secure, distributed technology: http://labs.bittorrent.com/experiments/sync.html . Discussion!
This is just a sampling. Where the discussions go from these raw agenda points is even more extraordinary. These folks are all tech savvy; most are much more so than I. The privacy search engine topic meandered into a discussion of the Tor network. (I now have DuckDuckGo as my default search engine on my Linux Mint VM, along with a Tor network connection.) The XP retirement agenda point evolved into a discussion of the relative merits of Ubuntu versus Mint, with excellent points being made on both sides. During the course of the BitTorrent discussion, Vuze (a BitTorrent client) came up. At that point, Dick chimed in with a completely lucid technical description of how Vuze works. “Are you saying that you are a BitTorrent user, Dick?” asked Steve. “No, I’m saying that I’m a Vuze user,” responded Dick. By the way, Dick was born in 1920. You do the math.
During one of the discussions, someone asserted that “memory is expensive.” And while this was not his intended meaning, it struck me at the time what a fitting tag line it is for this group and the value it delivers on so many levels. Memory is expensive, both to attain and to retain. It requires deliberate effort. Consider the following:
- Memory retained: These are people who clearly remember their own roots and are now remembering to give back to the community. They devote many hours of their time each week to these pursuits.
- Memory created: It takes effort to create memories, so ponder the impact on the children at the Boys and Girls Club and in the Sequim School District of the computer equipment and training that they receive as a result of SPCUG. The club’s efforts make it possible for another generation of children to have its own seminal experiences, hopefully to be thankfully recalled later in life.
- Memory nurtured: Most important, SPCUG activities are keeping its members own memories sharp, slowing immeasurably their passage on the twilight road. They are not just doing, they are learning and applying new things every day. That is what is most impressive of all.
I mentioned earlier that SPCUG might be the product of a unique set of factors. Sequim is a small community making it easy to find others with shared interests. There is also a higher than average proportion of retirees here, many of whom chose to move from other parts of the country to share the high quality of life (the mountains, the ocean, the light, and the clean air). And they are generally well educated, have been successful in life, and have a strong sense of value. Somehow, the group seems eminently bespoke for Sequim.
It strikes me that the habit of staying engaged in both activity and learning are not new to the members of SPCUG. Rather, it seems to be the extension of a habit already ingrained that keeps them out ahead of the pack. They are certainly out ahead of me in so many ways. While I blogged about Internet security (Here’s Looking at You, Kid) on June 3, coincidentally just before the NSA data collection began making headlines, I had no knowledge of privacy search engines or Tor. Nor had I concerned myself with data encryption. And what about BitTorrent? I think I may have used it once about five years ago. More than a couple sets of eyebrows went up when I confessed that I did not use it.
I used to think that the best way to stay sharp was to hang out with younger people who are working on the “bleeding” edge. SPCUG has turned that thinking on its head. What they have taught me is that I need to be on, and stay on, the bleeding edge myself. That is the high price of memory: memory retained, memory created, and memory nurtured.
So my hat is off to SPCUG. You have inspired me, motivated me, and invigorated me. You have also written this blog post for me. And for any of my readers who should happen to get out this way, I hope you will join me for breakfast at Ely’s some alternate Monday morning. I guarantee it will do you a world of good.
So what inspirational story do you wish to celebrate? What do you do to keep your memory sharp?