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Learning Stuff from the Boy Scouts of America

May 24, 2013 Leave a comment

The Boy Scouts of America voted to allow homosexual boys to be scouts, reversing previous decisions extending back to the 1970s.  Perhaps most impactful, boys who were part of the Boy Scouts of America who came to the realization that they are gay previously would not be allowed to continue in the program.  Now, they are allowed to remain a part of Boy Scouts.

I feel scouts has been important for me and my family, 2013-03-03 12.36.19particularly over the last year as we transitioned back to the Blacksburg area. Prior to joining scouts, I’d thought it was targeted for fathers who don’t know what to do with their kids—the bumbling sitcom/cartoon dad with minimal competence with kids.  Instead, it was the opposite. I found that scouts encouraged and enabled me and other parents to connect with kids in lots of nurturing and supportive ways.  Some of the ways were in areas I knew a lot about: computing and skiing and chess.  And some ways were in fields that I enjoyed but wouldn’t have pursued on my own: visits to police stations and newspaper offices.  And in activities that pushed me into areas where I lacked knowledge and interest (but maybe my kids would like) like building the infamous pinewood derby car and camping out in the woods for extended times.  Most people associate scouting exclusively with outdoor activities like camping and tying knots and shooting arrows, and there’s certainly plenty of that.  But there’s also astronomy and maps and disability awareness and basketball and biking and pet care and photography and lots more.  Scout leaders work hard to put a modern spin on activities, with avenues for new activities to be added.  And there’s lots of flexibility to choose the best set of activities that meet the needs and interests of the great many boys who choose to participate in scouting.

Most importantly, I’ve found scouts to be very supportive of my boys–much more supportive than some organizations that claim to be more liberal and compassionate.  Over 100 years of dealing with boys has resulted in a rule structure that addresses the needs of the individuals and the group, realizing the unique gifts and issues that each person brings to the table. I’ve found the leadership to be knowledgeable and compassionate, often because they have experiences as scouts and parents that help guide their decision-making. And participation by the parents at every stage of the activities reflects the importance of growth and inclusion that is strengthened by this new ruling.

Many people are arguing that the decision by the Boy Scouts of America does not go far enough, because homosexual adult leaders are still banned from participating in scouting.  At the root of the arguments to ban homosexual leaders is a belief that homosexuality somehow is correlated with pedophilia, which doesn’t seem to be supported by any viable source. Others point to scouting’s roots in Christianity, but lots of branches of Christianity are accepting of homosexuality. I’m hopeful that the Boy Scouts of America leadership will continue to debate this point—it’s unclear why turning 18 and becoming an adult would somehow make a person unqualified to be part of scouting. But yesterday’s decision was an important step that I feel should be applauded.

There’s also a push to create alternate organizations that are similar to Boy Scouts, minus the religion and restrictions.  Certainly you should feel free to do that, if you wish. But I prefer to leverage the many years of experience captured in the Boy Scout experience, and work from within the organization to affect change. Leaders and participants in scouting will always have differing opinions than mine on a wide variety of issues—all I can do in that regard is hope that I can learn from them, and they can learn from me, and our boys can learn from all of us. That’s why I encourage my boys to take part in scouting.

Finding a place for a Fitbit

September 21, 2012 4 comments

In celebration of my Fitbit Ultra eight-month anniversary—four months in Colorado, four in Virginia—I wanted to capture my motivations and experiences with it.

me and my fitbit

Me and my Fitbit (not a recommended carrying place).

A Fitbit combines an accelerometer, an altimeter, and Wi-fi access to collect data on step count and floors climbed, then it calculates information like miles traveled and calories burned. There’s a sleep monitoring mode that tracks how well you sleep, which I used enough to learn that I sleep pretty soundly. You can also log things like workouts, biking, and meals to help track calories, which I’ve not felt the need to do (beyond trying it out).

The Fitbit web site provides several views of your data, defaulting to your daily info but allowing you to focus on any continuous set of days. They show cute little badges for reaching nice round numbers, like 25,000 steps in a day and 8,000 floors in a lifetime of fitbiting. And they have some calculated stats that I don’t quite understand–like active score??? There’s a social component to Fitbit as well—they allow you to connect to friends via Facebook and other social networking tools to compare step counts. Of course, any time there’s a social component, there are opportunities for a little too much sharing. Unfortunately, after their too-much-sharing scandal, Fitbit has shifted too far in the other direction, restricting some of the more useful social networking aspects like mileage and floor count leaderboards, alas.

To maintain my usability engineer cred, I’ve gotta point out a few weaknesses. Their tracking page isn’t the best example of web creation out there. Actions like looking at the step count for a previous day and switching to a week view require reloading the entire page—time consuming given their slow servers and unnecessary given that most of the information on the page is repeated. And selecting date ranges (i.e., to view step count for the last n days) is a bit awkward from an interface design perspective. Their mobile app for Android is even worse; it leaves out lots of the info I want, and since the Fitbit’s Wi-fi capabilities only syncs with the base station (though soon that will change!), I don’t see the motivation for using their mobile interface as it is. Any time Team Fitbit wants to sign up for some usability engineering advice, I’d be happy to oblige for the right price!

8 months of Fitbit step counts

My eight month step count–the first four in sunny Boulder while on sabbatical, the next four in not-as-sunny Blacksburg post-sabbatical.


The positive encouragement from my Fitbit is definitely a good thing—it certainly pushes me to walk instead of drive, to take that last walk in the evening when my step count is low. And it’s nice to be able to see how my activity levels have dropped since moving from sunny Boulder to variable-weather Blacksburg. But there are some negatives as well. After my first Fitbit broke in late February, I lost motivation even to do things I otherwise would have done. And alas, it took over three days to get a response to the web problem report I submitted about my Fitbit. They posted on the submission site that it would take a while due to post-holiday traffic…but what holiday is that? Christmas 2 months previously? Valentine’s Day? (Not sure about the message you’re sending if you give your true love a Fitbit for V-day.) The good news was that once they isolated the problem as a hardware one (a flaky altimeter), they shipped out a new Fitbit free of charge.

In all, I’m pretty happy with my Fitbit, and probably hooked to the point that I might get this new Fitbit One when it comes out (or when mine craps out). I’m not as interested in their cheaper Fitbit Zip since they left out the altimeter. And I don’t see a need to buy their scale or other products. But overall, they seem to have plugged into some good ideas, well worth the somewhat steep price tag.