Program Report: Creating Online Communities – Anton Zuiker

I’ll confess that I am out of it when it comes to “social media.”  I don’t blog, text or tweet.  Anton Zuiker’s program on “Creating Online Communities” inspired me to do something about these deficiencies.  Rob Everett who introduced Anton has a knack for ferreting out topnotch, stimulating programs.

Anton talked about blogging and social media in general and how they create communities with common interests or goals.  As a specific example he spoke about locally-spawned ScienceOnline that is both a conference and ongoing conversations online and at local gatherings in informal settings about science on the web.  From small beginnings ScienceOnline has emerged as global community of persons committed to communicating about science more effectively, accurately and responsibly.  The ScienceOnline conference or “unconference” as Anton describes it—the seventh such—will take place in Raleigh from January 30-February 2, 2013.  Unlike a conference in which “experts” typically read papers or lecture on topics, an “unconference” basically consists of moderated thematic sessions in which members of the audience are the program, sharing their knowledge, narrating their own experiences, or tossing questions to the audience for its input.  A glance at the conference program reveals several themes that run through the 2013 sessions: using storytelling to explain science; making science appealing and important to kids and adults; and considering the role of science and scientists in the public sphere.  For details of the ScienceOnline 2013 unconference, see [Read more…]

Rotary Minute: Tammi Brooks

Tammi Brooks escaped into books to cope with a difficult childhood. Now a mother of four and a success, she wants as many kids as possible to have that same outlet.

After her father divorced her mentally ill mother when she was 11 months old, she was handed to the care of her minister’s family, a blessing for sure.

She went back to live with her mother after a time, but it didn’t work out. “By the time I was 16,” she said, “I figured I was on my own.”

Tammi graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in literature and African-American studies ­– the first white student to major in the then-new discipline. “It revealed the latent racism that comes from being a white person in the South that you don’t even know you have until you’re thrown into being a minority,” she said.

She launched a magazine in Gainesville, and it’s still going strong to this day.  But Tammi longed for an experience outside of her college town, so she went to work for Algonquin Books in Chapel Hill.

Small wonder that she has a passion for sharing the gift of literacy with underprivileged children. She brought to the podium three of her favorite childhood books: Miss Twiggley’s Tree, Tikki Tikki Tembo and How Fletcher Was Hatched.

It was all by way of plugging the new “Books on Hand” initiative, in which our club will be charged with supplying 45,000 books to needy children by April. Each member will be asked to provide at least 25 books or a monetary equivalent. Donor accounts will be set up with Barnes & Noble and Amazon to make it no-excuses easy.

It’ll be hard for anyone in attendance to not meet the expectation after Tammi’s moving account. She knows better than most that, as she said, “If children read, they will have a better chance of succeeding, no matter what their circumstances are.”


Submitted by Matt Dees

Program Report: Economic Outlook – Dr. Michael Walden

President Don Stanger introduced our speaker by invoking the famous James Carville axiom, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

The best part about N.C. State economics professor Michael Walden’s address was that it was laid out in easily understood terms, even for those of us who may feel a little, well, stupid when trying to grasp the complexities of what makes the market tick.

Though we all know the housing market crash was the predominant factor in the 2008 recession, it was illuminating to hear some of the jaw-dropping stats. On average, home prices doubled from 1996 to 2006, an unprecedented boom. All booms must end, Walden reminded us, and we learned that unprecedented booms come with unprecedented busts. Usually home price hikes will just decelerate. Starting in 2007, they didn’t just decelerate. They ground to halt, then “pierced zero” and kept dropping.

The tech sector fallout in 2000-2001 caused plenty of problems, but the housing collapse was more catastrophic.

“You’re talking about a sector that is four times bigger than the tech sector and touches virtually everyone,” Walden said. “Not only homeowners but construction, developers, finance, supplies, furniture, roofers, interior designers, you name it.”

The good news is the economy probably has bottomed out and is on the road to recovery. The bad news is that recovery will be sluggish.

Walden took pains at the beginning of his speech to note that he would be as apolitical as possible. He took that a step farther by saying we’re at least a few years away from a full recovery regardless of who wins the White House in November.

North Carolina, the Triangle in particular, is and likely will remain in better shape than most, Walden said.

On a macro level, though, the Federal Reserve will be taking some rather drastic steps to drag less fortunate parts of the country along.

Our economy is consumer-driven. The housing boom meant people had more to spend, seeing their home as a nest egg that could justify that new car, that trip, what have you. The bust sent people into squirrel mode. While saving is prudent on a personal level, it’s disastrous of the overall economy.

Which is why the Fed is printing more money – an action they call, in a triumph of euphemistic obfuscation, “quantitative easing” – which likely will spur some inflation and, it’s hoped, more spending.

“I think, quite frankly, the Federal Reserve doesn’t want you to save,” Walden said. “They want you to spend money.”

Guess my kids will have to understand that depleting their college fund was merely an act of patriotism. Anybody have a boat they want to sell?


Below is a letter from Mary Carey, a founder of BootstrapsPAC who was a guest of the club for Dr. Ferabee’s presentation outlining Durham Public Schools’ partnership with Durham Rotary to make a big dent in the literacy achievement problem in the school system. In an informal meeting after the meeting, there was some concern about our ability to scale up the program and make more than a small dent.  If a few of us catch a little bit Mary’s passion that shouldn’t be a problem.  But see for yourself.

Program Report – Blake Strayhorn and Habitat of Durham

Ah, the sweet smell of fresh cut lumber and the music of spinning saws and rhythmic hammers under a crisp blue sky.  Another Habitat House is coming.

Don Stanger, who is not only our club President but also the Board Chair of Habitat for Humanity of Durham, introduced Blake Strayhorn, the new President/Executive Director of Habitat to update us and announce that the Rotary Board had approved the  sponsorship of another Habitat home here in Durham. Blake is also one of the newer members of Rotary.

Since 1985 Habitat of Durham has built 280 homes under their model of providing affordable housing for worthy potential homeowners. This year it expects to complete 16 homes and there are currently 25 applicants on the waiting list for participation in the program.

As both a real estate agent and participant in the last two Rotary “builds” I’m amazed at the quality of the homes. They are kept affordable through sponsorships like ours, sweat equity from the purchasers, 0% financing and energy efficiency.  Typical payments are a little over $500 per month from owners with typical incomes of between $20,000 and $25,000.  Habitat not only builds homes but does renovations and fix-ups with the same purposes in mind.

Blake shared with us a video (see it at that was introduced at their annual Foundation Breakfast in May that does a great job of showing the motivations of donors and volunteers and what Habitat means beyond building houses. It also perfectly illustrates the “Pay it Forward” theme that Habitat adopted for this year as the home owners featured talked tearfully about the gratitude they felt for the help they were getting and their commitment to reach out an help others.

The video and Blake’s excellent presentation provide a tantalizing taste of the benefits of Habitat but I don’t think you can experience the real substance of Habitat without actually showing up in your grungies for one of the construction days.  On my first time on the job my initial impression was actually kind of negative. Anyone who has ever used a framing nailer attached to an air compressor…or even seen one used…knows immediately that this is not the most efficient way to build a house. In fact, it can be a amusing watching a little 98 lb lady with a three dollar hammer tap-tap-tapping a 16 penny nail into a wall plate.

But you soon understand that efficiency isn’t what it’s all about. The number of houses is just the most visible metric of the program and the easiest to quantify. Much more important is what the houses mean to the owners and the community.  Most Rotarians are at least middle class earners and their choice of a home has more to do with preferences in style or neighborhood than anything else. For most of the Habitat clients it’s much more basic than that…it’s safe shelter that they can’t be forced to leave if they meet their obligations. And with a 2% foreclosure rate it’s clear that most do. The fact that the homes are nice is just gravy.

Habitat investments in neighborhoods are often the spark that encourages further development. Again that’s easy to see. What’s less visible is neighbor helping neighbor and the mutual concern for each other that develops and not just among neighbors on the block but in the neighborhood of man.

It’s also good for Rotary. I’ve been a member of this club for many years but if I had to point to a moment when I really became a Rotarian, it was during that first day or so swinging a cheap hammer with my fellow club members. There may have been a wide, wide range of construction skills but there was plenty of big, big hearts.

Rotary Minutes – Brantley DeLoatch

President Don announced that in preparation for our the big celebration of our Centennial right around the corner that he had scanned two previous histories of our club, one that spanned the timeframe 1915 to 1955 and the other from 1955 to 1990 and had them posted on our website.  When introducing Brantley DeLoatch (Brant) for his Rotarian minutes, President Don noted that Brantley was mentioned in both of those books. In fact, Brantley joined Rotary in January of 1946, the same year I was going vertical and taking my first baby steps.

Brantley got a whoop from Anna Jones when he mentioned his origins inNorthamptonCountywhere she was also born and raised. Like most men of the Greatest Generation Brant’s career was interrupted by World War II. I’ve known Brant for a while but one thing I learned is that he got his navy training at Notre Dame. Brant spent a fair amount of his time at the podium sharing his war time experience including a chance reunion on a golf cart in Pinehurst with a Marine who was rescued from the South Pacific when Brant navigated the battleship he was assigned to on a mission into those treacherous waters.

Many of us here in the high tech Research Triangle Area might be forgiven if we don’t fully appreciate the importance of agriculture to the economy of this state. It’s massive and Central Carolina Farmers Exchange was the hugely successful Durham farm co-op that Brantley managed until its merger with Raleigh based FCX in 1980. His influence in the agribusiness community propelled him to positions of influence in a number of organizations including his alma mater NC State. I first met him when he served on the board of Central Carolina Bank. He also served on the boards of Duke Hospital, Durham Regional, the RDU Airport Commission, the Chamber of Commerce and the Durham County Commission.

Brant and his wife Geri have 5 children and a bunch of grandchildren. If you ever get a chance to ring the Salvation Army bell with Brant, don’t pass it up. It will be one of the nicest hours of the Christmas season for you and he might tell you how he tracks down wood to heat his home in the winter. Seriously.