Innovate Chatham focuses on digital inclusion, STEM education, and monthly, free public presentations on technical topics of interest. As the world’s only nonprofit focused on improving the lives of Chatham, NC, residents through technology, we use our network of members and friends to help other nonprofits, residents, students, schools, and County government.
This is a report on what we have been doing.
In June, Innovate Chatham welcomed two new Board members: Don Kallgren and Tych Cowdin. Our other Board members are Graham Bird (Chair), Mike Hills, Jesse Bradley, Kaley Taber, Pete Harkins, and David Delaney (ex-officio), and me, Burney Waring (President).
We added several new friends, members, and donors this month. Please tell your friends about us and expand the network!
Chatham Tech Talk
In the last newsletter I told you about the excellent Tech Talk by Kevin Flynn, so this month I will look forward to July and August.
It has been almost three years since hackers silently accessed Chatham County computer networks and began their attack in October 2020. The criminals tested Chatham’s systems and found a way in. They stole data and then encrypted the County’s copy and asked for a ransom to have it returned. Although the County restored the systems after weeks, residents’ sensitive data was released.
Our next Tech Talk will be July 13, when Tim Steiner will talk about cybercrime prevention as an Ethical Hacker, aka white-hat hacker. He gets paid to break into systems before the criminals can and helps patch up the systems. Tim has a local business, and just reading the outline of his presentation has raised quite a few profound and exciting points. This event is sold out, but we will try and get it on video and put it up on innovatechatham.org.
Ashville, NC, is supposed to be the brewmaster’s city, with 27 breweries per 100,000 residents. Pittsboro has 4 (or 5, maybe), but we are much smaller. That gives us (4/4592*100,000=) 87 breweries per 100,000 residents! Weird and wonderful Pittsboro! “Pittsbeero”?
On August 17, we will have a very special Tech Talk in the brew room of Havoc Brewery in downtown Pittsboro. Michael Pipkin will explain the Science of Brewing. Sign up early. Space will be limited. We still have some tickets left.
Have you seen an excellent presentation? Do you know a talk that you would like to hear? Is it something related to tech, sort of? If you can keep a secret, we are trying to arrange a panel on AI, and an event for entrepreneurs to present and get feedback. If you have any suggestions, please let me know!
More information about Tech Talks is on our website here.
Digital Inclusion Plan
The Chatham County Digital Inclusion Plan is still routing (slowly) for approval in the summer-version of Chatham County Government.
While that is happening, let me share some of the content of the Plan. The Plan consists primarily of three sections: Availability, Access, and Adoption. For many readers, the main focus will be Availability, which is about whether or not your home has internet that you could purchase or not, and if so, at what speed.
Here are our Goals and Strategies for Availability:
Strategies 1.1 and 1.2 are primarily about maps because maps determine grant funding and internet service provider interest. More densely packed areas are more attractive and already have good availability. Rural areas will not get the proper attention without attention paid to mapping residences. The State has recently been listening to folks like us and has created a location-based map that should help considerably.
NC has $1.5 billion coming to us from the Federal Government, most of which will be used to improve internet availability, and it will probably be enough to get internet to everyone IF they are on the map. If you have not done so, help yourself and your neighbors:
- Check your address on the FCC National Broadband Map. Challenge it if it is wrong. The instructions are with the Map, but you can contact me to help.
- The State and County can also challenge the FCC map to improve it. They have already challenged 43,000 locations. Take the North Carolina Broadband Survey. There is a cellphone text version and a voice call version too.
Sharing the importance of this with your friends and neighbors will help Chatham flourish.
Digital Inclusion Help
Jesse teaching at Word of Life in Siler City
Jesse Bradley is teaching basic computer classes including for Adam Sides (article about Adam just published in the CN+R), and at a church in Siler City. We are working to arrange more of these classes. Please get in touch with us if you know of any people or groups would benefit from very basic computer classes or coaching.
Would you like a story about about how difficult it is for needy people to get discounted phones and the internet? You may have heard about Lifeline, which provides users with $9 per month for phone service; and the ACP, which provides users with $30 per month for internet (or phone). Adam Sides had just received his internet service using the ACP discount. And he had a phone for years with Lifeline. Then, Adam used too many minutes on his Lifeline phone (which never was a problem before). The way the company providing his phone described it, his service was cancelled, plus he could not have both Lifeline and ACP.
When we challenged this, they tried every trick to get us to change the ACP discount to the phone service, which would have benefitted the phone provider greatly (they would have received $30 from the government instead of $9), and this would have cancelled Adam’s access to the internet. We were ultimately successful, but it took a room full of folks working together about 2 hours to untangle this problem. I don’t know what ordinary folks are supposed to do when left on their own. At one point, the government contractor for Lifeline told us to start over and disconnect both Lifeline and ACP accounts because “you cannot start with the ACP discount and then add Lifeline”, for some unknown bureaucratic reason.
It isn’t all bad. We learn something new (sometimes disturbing) whenever we try to help.
Erin Denniston, STEM Guru, will start another round of STEM Club at the Pittsboro Boys and Girls Club. We will rotate between groups, 10-20 kids at a time, for 2 hours. Traci Newby, the Director of the B&G Club, is delighted to have the help. Erin has multiple new STEM projects she has learned and is delighted to teach them.
In other STEM news, I am arranging IT career presentations for kids in an IT summer program at Seaforth High School. If you would like to participate, please contact me.
Miscellaneous Tech Notes
AI isn’t the only scary tech around. Why not worry about emojis. Apparently (in Canada), the thumbs-up emoji counts as a contract agreement despite the vagueness of what the thumbs-up emoji might refer to in a text or email.
To get an AI like ChatGPT to do anything, you need to write a ‘prompt’. It ain’t that easy to write a good prompt. For people who think AI will take over all the jobs, please do this search: “prompt engineering” “chatgpt”. Google gives in 27 million results. There are already hundreds of courses and books available to improve your AI ‘prompts’, that is to improve your ability to communicate with an AI so you get the best results. It may be that the level of expertise to do an adequate job is falling, with the help of AI. But, maybe the level of expertise required to do the best job is rising because of AI, not falling.
Some of the prompts required to do amazing things are whole pages of very carefully worded text. 90% of results require another iteration, and 100% require verification and often cross-referencing. As someone once told me about their job, “It ain’t that easy, or anyone could do it.” We may be finding that most everyone will be raising the bar of their job so not just anyone can do it. If the output from their job is better, cheaper, or faster, humanity will benefit.
Also, about AI: Many people cite false information as a reason to pull back on AI. False information has always been common, and we know how to fight it. We will win the battle of natural stupidity vs. artificial intelligence with natural intelligence. Below is the ‘methodology’ I have been using for a few decades. I bet you use something just like this.
First, information is only useful for making decisions. Most information isn’t useful to you for making decisions and so can be safely ignored. False information you come across will probably also be useless for your own decision-making.
If some information looks useful, here are some rules:
a) Stay suspicious — There are going to be clues. Is the story just too perfect? Perfectly timely? Perfectly relevant? Do I have to make a decision right now under duress? Is there any reference or trusted source that I can independently examine? Are there numbers cited and do they make mathematical sense? Does it only help one side of an argument? Are there any human witnesses?
b) Pull back and wait — If I am unsure if something is real, I will wait a day and read the news again. I will look at multiple sources. The truth will likely have been uncovered by tomorrow. I say, let’s always delay rioting or fleeing the country by a day, at least.
c) Surrender territory — I don’t question theoretical physics because I have ceded that area to others. That area isn’t essential enough for me to spend time educating myself. I do the same thing with celebrity royalty news. It wouldn’t change anything if I knew the “truth” today.
d) Fight asymmetrically — I will use my expertise in other areas. I don’t understand climate science or cosmetic, but I do understand uncertainty, numerical models, economics, and human behavior. Any decision I must make will likely involve information from more than one area. I will try to look at the decision from a different viewpoint. And, I will ask others with other expertise.
To the list above, which I’ve used before AI, I will add one new method.
e) Fight fire with fire — Good people win most of the time. Good people aided by artificial intelligence will win most of the time, even against bad people with AI. AI-augmented decision-making will be the most critical area in tech, perhaps followed by AI-augmented information verification.
What sort of evil AI can defeat this approach?
I think an AI discussion panel for a Tech Talk would be very interesting. I have started working with Innovate Carolina to find panelists. If you have any friends with AI expertise, let me know.
We are always interested in having additional volunteers. In most cases, we prioritize opportunities based on volunteer interest. So, let me know if you would like to help with any of these things, or you can suggest possibilities for us to help:
- Technical topic presentation – we need topic and presenter suggestions
- STEM Club – we need volunteers to help in the Fall, maybe this summer
- Instructor’s aides for basic computer classes
- Tech Career Fairs – always need a list of people to describe and discuss their tech careers at various high schools.
- Science Fairs Judges – needed for Fall and spring to judge science and engineering projects while encouraging kids
- Help with an ACP event – we would like to hold a few events to help folks complete the Federal discount program for internet access. This requires a couple of hours of free online training.
- Congressional App Challenge – we would like to help middle and high schoolers build their own simple software app that they can submit for recognition in a contest.
- Search engine optimization help, and social media help
Please let me know, and we can chat further about your interests.
You are very welcome to share this newsletter with anyone you like.
Thanks for your membership and participation!
Not a member? If you like our work at Innovate Chatham, please consider joining us as a paid member, which helps us cover the expenses of running a nonprofit.
Innovate Chatham President