TECH COLUMN: Following up on past columns
Today I'm following up on three columns -- two stories of generosity and one about the damage of layoffs -- that produced surprising postscripts. Jon Bjornstad, for instance, has been globe-trotting since I wrote in May about his free software pr...
Today I'm following up on three columns -- two stories of generosity and one about the damage of layoffs -- that produced surprising postscripts.
Jon Bjornstad, for instance, has been globe-trotting since I wrote in May about his free software program that helps quadriplegics use computers. It started with a phone call from a Saratoga, Calif., woman.
"The very day that your article appeared, I got a call from Ana Cook," says Bjornstad, whose Sue Center program translates a user's head movements into mouse maneuvers. "She said she had a friend in Croatia who was paralyzed and she thought from reading your article that her friend might be able to use the software."
Bjornstad, a Santa Cruz software consultant, met with Cook and her husband, Roy. They talked about the possibilities. The Cooks offered to pay for Bjornstad's trip to Croatia to install the program. And so in mid-June, all three of them were off.
The installation took about a week and a half and required a good deal of translation, which Ana Cook, a native of Croatia, was able to provide. From there, Bjornstad was on to England to talk with computer accessibility experts.
You can read his account at www.suecenter.org/stanka .
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School supplies finally reach Africa: It seems like only yesterday that Tad Malone was in Sunnyvale, Calif., waving goodbye to a cargo container filled with school supplies headed to a Zambian orphanage. OK, it seems more like a year ago, which it pretty much was. At times it seemed the shipment would never get to Zambia. But it did.
"Maybe two weeks ago, three weeks ago, the container got there," Malone, 18, told me recently. "They had a huge ceremony."
Admittedly, I lost track of Malone's container after I wrote about it in May 2008. I told then about how Malone worked a distinctly Silicon Valley network -- venture capitalist John Doerr, Siebel co-founder Pat House and Cypress Semiconductor CEO T.J. Rodgers, among others -- to raise the money for his Eagle Scout project.
The idea was to load a 40-foot cargo container with donated books, desks, chairs, pianos, computers, school uniforms, etc., and send it to Zambia, where the container would be converted (adding windows, doors) into a classroom.
Classroom-in-a-box, he called it.
Back then the shipment was about to leave for Children's Town, a home for orphans that Malone had visited on a 2005 family trip. It seemed the supplies would set sail any day and once they did, how long could it take?
Plenty long, says Malone, who added that he'd grown used to the snail's pace of a shipment to Africa.
"Anytime it stops anywhere, it takes at least six months to get moving again."
Malone had negotiated a low rate with a shipping company, which meant his cargo didn't necessarily have priority. It was November before the container made Mozambique, its first stop in Africa. There, a paperwork mix-up put everything on hold for three months. The container made it by truck to Zambia in the spring, but two months of heavy rains meant it would have to wait to be hauled the final miles to Children's Town.
Eventually, the rain cleared and at long last, the container arrived.
"Philanthropy is pretty hard," Malone said. "Giving is a lot harder than it seems."
But, Malone said, he will try his hand at doing good again. Just not right away.
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The bright side of layoffs: After writing a couple of columns arguing that layoffs devastate individuals and families, I received a note from Linda Webbon, who's written a brief, self-published book, "The Joy of Job Loss." The Almaden Valley, Calif., woman, who worked for 18 years for USA Today, says that unexpectedly losing her sales job in December was a blessing because it forced her to focus on faith and family.
I spoke with Webbon, 64, at her home, hoping I might gather some tips for the many others who find themselves suddenly out of work. Webbon's prescription is not for everyone. She's found her key strength in a deep spirituality that leaves her confident that all will work out for the best.
But there are parts of her strategy that many might find useful. She says she's reduced stress by keeping a routine (up and dressed by 7 a.m.), exercising, eating right and focusing on positive thoughts.
Webbon is still looking for work, so this joyful tale does not yet have a happy ending. But Webbon insists it's only a matter of time.
(Cassidy is a technology columnist for the San Jose Mercury News. Read his Loose Ends blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/Cassidy and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .)