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Cover Story: We Love Technology


Yes, they remember when computers were room-size. But these members are making the most of their 21st-century retirement


By Aaron Dalton


When someone says “techie” you’re likely to imagine a pimply-faced teenager or twenty-something hunched over a keyboard surviving on a diet of chips and soda pop.

But like many stereotypes, that image is woefully inaccurate. Whoever thought that computers are just for Gen X, Y, or (is there a Z?) never met someone like Loreen Jorgensen, a retired NEA member who spent 31 years as a librarian in the Wayne Central School District east of Rochester, New York.

“Whatever you do, don’t take my computer away,” says Jorgensen, who has been interested in computing ever since the early 1960s. Back then, before DVDs, CDs, or even floppy disks, computers used tape drives to read and record data. The 1980s brought us personal computers, bigger than microwaves and often as clunky to operate.

Jorgensen was instrumental in pushing the use of computers in her district’s libraries. At first, library staff used the computers mainly to keep track of book circulation. But by 1993, Jorgensen had created an educational unit to make sure every student in her primary school got time using computers to learn, not just play games.

Jorgensen continued to innovate. By the late 1990s, the library’s circulation system was networked so that teachers or students could access the catalogue from any computer in the building. Jorgensen upped the kid-friendly factor by creating customized categories and icons (like Star Wars and princess books) that would appeal to young children.

Over the years, Jorgensen learned more and more computer programs—not just the basics like Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop, but also Web design programs like Microsoft FrontPage and educational programs like Kidspiration and TimeLiner. “Because of my position and because I was into technology, I used pretty much every piece of software that we had,” recalls Jorgensen.

Now that she’s retired, Jorgensen relies on computers to help her perform all her volunteer and mentoring roles. Mondays, for example, she volunteers at Reachout Radio, a radio-reading service offered by her local PBS broadcaster. At Reachout Radio, Jorgensen uses spreadsheet software to maintain a database of the print-impaired listeners who rely on the programs.

Tuesdays she mentors a librarian in her old school district and volunteers with three others, sharing her knowledge of software and confirming the accuracy of catalogue data.

Wednesdays you can find Jorgensen at the local Wayne County Historical Society. Officials there were concerned about wear and tear to antique Bibles from use by genealogical researchers.

Jorgensen helped solve the problem by photographing some of the genealogies in the rare books, importing the photos into a program called PastPerfect, then printing and organizing them in a binder. “The Bibles were put into storage where they will be safe, but people can still have access to the photographs of the printed page,” explains Jorgensen.

This problem-solving capacity is precisely what attracted Jorgensen to computers in the first place. Consider the family tree with more than 1,600 entries that Jorgensen has built on her computer using Family Tree Maker software from Broderbund. “There are always more ancestors to discover—and every time you discover one new person, you have that person’s parents or siblings to discover, too,” says Jorgensen. “Without the software, I probably could not have put together the family tree.”

Sharing a passion with the world

Deloris DeLapp, a retired German and French teacher in Aurora, Colorado, was reading the Denver Post one day when she saw an article by a former student of hers. Admiring his success, she sent him an e-mail congratulating him.

Her student responded, and asked what DeLapp was up to in retirement. She told him all about her personal travels and trips on behalf of her Salvation Army church. That’s when he proposed that DeLapp blog about her journeys for the paper.

“I had heard the term before, but I had never actually tried blogging,” admits DeLapp. Her former student gave her instructions, the Post set up a Web site, and The Adventures of a Retired German Teacher  was born!

DeLapp posted her first entry in February 2007, titled “What does a German teacher do after retirement?” In the blog post, she talked about the trip she had taken to the Philippines to celebrate the first publication of the Bible in one of the local languages.

She also discussed the challenges and advantages of life in retirement: the strangeness of adjusting to a life without schedules, and the pleasure of no longer needing to wake at 5 a.m. to lead a 7:30 class. She talked about personal journeys, including a trip to Chicago for a nephew’s wedding and her mother’s 91st birthday celebration.

Blogging for the Post has given DeLapp a bit of unanticipated celebrity status in Aurora. On some days (DeLapp likes to joke they must be “slow news days”), the Post features photos from her blog on the front page of its local Aurora editions.

Actually, DeLapp has a longtime interest in photography. For many years, she took photos with 35 millimeter film, but over the past few years she has started experimenting with digital photography. At first, she was frustrated with the slow response times of digital cameras. “They were so slow that I lost the moment that I wanted to capture,” she explains.

An upgrade to a new Fujifilm camera has given her faster response times, but DeLapp still feels more comfortable with her reliable old film camera. That’s why she went back to using film on her trip to China, the topic of her most recent blog posting.

Though DeLapp insists she had never thought about becoming a journalist, the experience has encouraged her to write other articles for the paper. For example, when her church needed volunteers, DeLapp wrote a story publicizing the need.

The newspaper later used some of her photos of the volunteers who helped out as a result of the story. “The blog has really opened up a new world for me!” exclaims DeLapp. “Now I’m getting assignments from my students.”

DeLapp isn’t the only retired teacher to have discovered the delights of blogging. Sam Mackintosh of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, retired in 2000 after 41 years teaching high school chemistry.

He launched his eponymous ‘Sam Mackintosh’ blog—in 2006, fulfilling a long-held desire to explore the intersection of science and religion.

Mackintosh says he’s been interested in both topics for as long as he can remember. “I have a basic, fundamental curiosity with regard to the world and how it works,” he explains. This curiosity propelled him to get two science degrees—a bachelor’s in chemistry, and a master’s in science from Wesleyan University. Later on, Mackintosh pursued a master’s degree in religious studies at the New York Theological Seminary.

Then in autumn 2006, fed up with what he saw as rancorous arguments between mutually antagonistic science and religion camps, Mackintosh turned to his daughter, an Internet entrepreneur with an online baby announcement business, for help in setting up a blog.

Mackintosh’s posts explore complicated and interlaced topics in biology, evolution, brain activity, cultural anthropology, and much more. Some focus more on the science (“Overview of Biogenetic Structuralism,” 6/19/07) and others on religion (“Resurrection of the Dead,” 10/9/07).

Early on, Mackintosh grappled with both technical and rhetorical challenges. After decades of speaking to a class he could see face-to-face, he struggled with crafting an argument for an unknown audience. Who would stumble across the blog? How could he write entries that would appeal to diverse groups of readers at different skill levels?

Mackintosh also got frustrated with the inflexible blog interface. His blogging platform—Blogger—automatically archives and lists past entries according to date, but he wanted his archive to display the titles of each post. Ultimately, his tech-savvy daughter helped reconfigure the blog so that it worked the way he wanted. “Whenever I complain, she reminds me that it’s free,” he muses.

Mackintosh has kept up a respectable frequency, churning out an average of three lengthy postings per month. “I’ve been doing this for over a year now and still have a sequence of ideas that I’m trying to share,” he explains. He’s explored how humans are connected with the world; now he’s ready to tackle the link between humans and the creator.

As for comments from readers—a key part of what makes a blog a blog—Mackintosh says they’ve been quite positive. He’s hoping the site will generate even more dialogue among readers as he continues posting new entries. “This is a long-term thing,” says Mackintosh. “I’m plowing through so many new areas.”

Taking part from afar

During the course of her career, Glenda Frasier devoted 30 years to teaching primary grades in Nebraska schools and wrote several books, including three on standards-based elementary level geometry.

This writing experience would come in handy after her retirement in 2006, when the editor of Crinkles magazine asked Frasier about writing nonfiction for the publication.

Created to stimulate the minds of children ages seven to 12, Crinkles magazine gets its name from a neurological process that is said to add crinkles to your brain’s surface when you learn new bits of information.

Frasier was eager to get involved, but she dreaded the thought of commuting more than two hours each way from her home in Kearney, Nebraska, to the editor’s office in the capitol of Lincoln for staff meetings.

It turned out she didn’t need to worry. “Our work is done completely electronically!” Frasier declares. In fact, Frasier has worked with her editor for almost two years without even a single in-person meeting with editorial staff or the other authors, who are based all over the country.

Thanks to the collaborative power of the Internet, Crinkles can be edited in Nebraska, published in Connecticut, and printed in Virginia. “Technology has opened up an entire new avocation for my retirement years, and has allowed me to pursue a passion in a most convenient and satisfying way,” says Frasier.

With one or two assignments per issue, Frasier has relished the chance to research and write about everything from the winter carnival in St. Paul, Minnesota, to the top attractions of Beijing, China. In one of her favorite stories, she explored the evolution of old Virginia folktales.

Naturally, the Internet figures heavily into Frasier’s research. She interviews sources via e-mail or conducts initial research on reference sites like Wikipedia.org, seeking out corroborating sources on any controversial data.

When it’s time to make sure her stories match the sixth-grade reading level that Crinkles wants, Frasier can just copy-and-paste the entire article into a free online readability calculator  from LiteracyNews.com .

“You have to know how hard it was to analyze readability before to appreciate how easy it is to do now with the Web site,” says Frasier. “It’s like the difference between using a calculator and adding on paper.”

All of the research she’s doing must certainly be adding plenty of crinkles to Frasier’s brain. Instead of feeling left out of dinner table conversations with her husband and sons, all of whom are NASCAR fans, she’s now familiar with racing jargon, thanks to an article she wrote on the 50th anniversary of the Daytona 500.

And nothing beats the thrill of seeing all her hard work come together, with the help of technology, in the printed magazine every other month. “It’s like Christmas morning six times a year,” says Frasier.

Technology-related resources compiled especially for This Active Life readers can be found at www.nea.org/ref?retiredresources.


Ready…Set…Blog!

If you have an Internet connection and an opinion, you’ve got everything you need to start a blog.

“Blog” (from the term Web log) is just a fancy word for an Internet site that functions like a journal or a diary. The author of the blog (known as the “blogger”) writes entries as often as he or she likes. Some professional blogs are updated 10 times a day! But most amateur bloggers update only once a week, once a month, or less frequently.

One of the great things about blogs is that they are totally free to create and maintain. There are several different blogging software platforms, but one of the easiest to use is Blogger.com, which is owned by Internet search giant Google.

The Blogger Web site will guide you through the process of setting up a Google account and creating a name for your blog. (If you already have a Google account for shopping or e-mail, you can skip straight to the naming stage.) At this point, many obvious names will already have been reserved, so if your first choice is unavailable, you’ll need to get creative in thinking up a name for your blog.

Remember, the best blogs have a clearly defined purpose. Once you have established a framework, write a little post just introducing yourself and what you plan to write about. The sky is the limit! There are blogs about politics, religion, travel, technology, gardening, food, and much, much more.

Now you can e-mail your friends and family a link to your blog. Encourage them to post comments on your entries. One of the fun aspects of blogging is getting a response to your writings.

If you want to get a bit fancy, you can try posting pictures or linking to other Web sites (most sites really appreciate links from bloggers). Don’t be afraid to experiment.

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17-May-08


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