Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I'm a Millionaire

Want to hear something crazy? I love CHANGE. In fact, I’m thankful for it.

Of course, I am most thankful for my family, health, faith, and the tremendous gift of being born into a part of the world in which access to food, shelter, healthcare, gainful employment, opportunity, creature comforts, and freedom are so common that I often forget that there are others who would be happy to have just one of those blessings for even one moment.

But as I reflect on what—beyond the obvious—is something I am grateful to have in my world, I keep coming back to change.

A classic film called The Shop Around the Corner, starring Jimmy Stewart (as Alfred Kralik), contains one of my all-time-favorite movie quotes:

Kralik: Pirovitch, did you ever get a bonus?

Pirovitch: Yes, once.

Kralik: Yeah. The boss hands you the envelope. You wonder how much is in it, and you don't want to open it. As long as the envelope's closed, you're a millionaire.

That’s change for me—being on the verge of possibility. It’s why we are all moved by weddings, births, new jobs or projects, commencements, elections, the start of a school or fiscal year, and other first moments and beginnings—they are all so ripe with fresh hope and promise. Anything, ANYTHING, could happen if we just can figure out how to seize the opportunity.

As we move into the busy holiday season and 2009 draws to a close, there’s change in the wind once more. Although I appreciate and respect what and who have brought me to this point, I look forward to what comes next: new projects, new ideas, new chances, and a new year. It is thrilling to open that envelope. I do it with confidence because, with all the blessings in my life, I already am “a millionaire.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

(If you are thankful for something, too, why not join in the global celebration of TweetsGiving? Thanks to Jay Baer and his his post on TweetsGiving for bringing it to my attention.)

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Social Media and the Art Thing

Thanks to this post by Dave Rowley, a pencil smudge has reappeared on the side of my hand for 4 days straight now. {Giggle.} I haven’t had that smudge in 25 years.

From my earliest memories, I enjoyed art. The absolute standout Christmas gift of my early childhood was The Big Box. The Box contained every imaginable child-friendly art supply and craft kit. It was rapture…and kept me busy until the following Christmas.

When I was 5, I won a coloring contest sponsored by a local (but famous) department store. This was the first of many, many coloring and art contests in which I would snag prizes during my childhood. Usually, I didn’t win first prize, but I earned enough gift certificates and event passes to keep me (and my family, who got fringe) very happy. When I was 12-ish, I won first prize in the National Kellogg’s Stick Up for Breakfast Contest. The magnitude of this win was apparent to me when my mom and I visited a lawyer to help me complete the paperwork to receive my prize. Among other things, I had to sign an affidavit confirming that the entry was really my own work and allowing Kellogg’s the full rights to further use of the drawing. I began to realize that perhaps I had talent beyond the norm.

(Kellogg’s sent me a coveted prize for the 1970s: an Atari video game system. We hooked it up to our TV and played Pong in all its first generation glory. Dad—my regular Pong opponent—and I still love video games. This will be another blog post.)

When I was little (6 or 7?), my older sister had a summer job as a playground director. A guy would come to our house every other weekend and teach her how to do the playground crafts for the upcoming weeks. After he'd left, I’d try all the projects he'd demonstrated. Sometimes, someone would teach a short art class at the playground. I remember being instructed to close my eyes and feel a mystery object. Then I had to draw it from this tactile memory. I drew a bumpy vase and a basket with some fringe at the ends of the handle, which I can still see in my mind’s eye. My drawings were very accurate, to the general astonishment of everyone except my sister.

When I was a bit older (maybe 10 or so), an elderly neighbor liked to sit on his front porch and sketch. Emboldened by the natural curiosity of childhood, a friend and I trotted up to him one day and asked to see his picture. After that, he’d regularly teach me drawing basics. He gave me his sketches, often a portrait or an animal, and I’d take them home to copy. When I returned with my attempts, he’d coach me on how to improve them. I learned a lot from Mr. Chiara.

In high school, I took history in summer school so that I could fit two years of art into my schedule. I took my art very seriously, even selling some paintings (for about $20 each—imagine). I fancied myself to be part of the artsy circle at school, hanging out in the art room during free periods, trekking to the art museum on weekends with the hipster art teacher, and celebrating when my work placed in the Scholastic Art Awards. I was art editor for our award-winning school newspaper, made sports team banners and posters advertising the drama club’s plays, and designed covers for our yearbooks and other publications. Years after I’d graduated, a logo I’d designed was still gracing the school newspaper’s literary page.

By college, my drawing skills were relegated to poster making and a couple of class assignments, pushed aside in favor of other distractions (like physical chemistry and differential equations). My parents had encouraged my art, but strictly as a spare-time, stand-alone hobby rather than a gift to be channeled into my future pursuits. (In retrospect, my nose-to-the-grindstone parents had strong objections to all of the arts—seemed to view them as livelihood-threatening potential addictions. Since they lived through the Great Depression, I can see why pushing their offspring into more stable, practical, predictable pursuits was so important to them.) So, when life and career got busier, I stopped making art, except occasionally on vacation or by special request (“Hey, Shell, design a tee shirt for our alumni clambake!”). It seemed like the adult thing to do.

In all the years that I designed databases and web pages, I was able to sneak a little of my artistic eye into my work. It also is evident in my home décor and even in the way I dress my kids. But after years of creative neglect and a lifetime of hearing the message that art is for lightweights, I have trouble grasping that art is something I must do if I am to show gratitude for my God-given gifts, not something wickedly stealing time from worthier pursuits.

Now, after a year of seeing the worthwhile work of artists, authors, creativity coaches, and others I’ve “met” through social media, I’m finally waking up to the point that becoming who I was born to be means I must take 15 minutes a day to sketch. When I look at a finished sketch, flaws and all, I am 15 years old again and the world is full of possibilities. I can go forth and do good work in other areas of my life with renewed creativity.

Also because of social media, I not only have a ready-made venue to learn and receive constructive criticism about my artistic attempts from seasoned professionals, I also have encouragement and support from the same wonderful friends who fed my artsy side when I was 15. We had a particularly rebellious high school class and, although we’ve all grown up and gladly shoulder our responsibilities, my inner creative rebel is sparked by my fellow rebel sisterhood. (Love you guys!)

Who knows, maybe if I start to revive my heretofore shunted-aside talents, I may even find that there is a joyful living somewhere within them. In any case, it makes me giggle to see the smudge on the side of my hand—that alone does my heart good.

Thanks, social media.

Addendum: Gotta add the sketch for day 5:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Eleven, eleven, eleven, and one more eleven

Today is Veterans Day. On Veterans Day I always remember my grandmother.

Not that Grandma was an actual veteran if you use the primary definition: a former member of the armed forces. But in some ways, she was a special kind of veteran if you consider the secondary definition: someone of long experience. And she certainly was a fighter.

November 11 was first to become Armistice Day in 1918, later to become Veterans Day. Armistice Day was the day World War I ended on the Western Front. In a railway carriage in the Compiègne Forest in France, the Allies signed an Armistice with Germany to ceasefire at “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" (Paris time).

To add to the stream of elevens, my grandmother turned eleven years old on that day in history. It was a defining moment for her generation, and my grandmother felt a special connection to it.

World War I was simply called The Great War before World War II. I’m sure that until World War II, those that had gone through the First World War thought they had seen the worst hostility and suffering the errors of man could produce. More than 16 million people died in the war, which had to seem unthinkable until World War II shattered that gruesome record with 60+ million deaths.

My grandmother lived most of her life struggling. She was near the top of the birth order in a Sicilian-American family of 11 (there's that number, again) children, 10 of whom were girls. She only completed her education through the eighth grade because she was needed at home. Too young to really enjoy the roaring twenties before the stock market crash of 1929, by the time the Great Depression started, she was a young wife and grieving mother who had already tragically lost her first-born child to an unknown heart defect before the child was 2. Two more children came along quickly, but there was no work, no money, and no prospects for my grandparents. Life was about survival.

My grandfather, a gifted artist and draftsman, did any job that would pay the bills, including digging ditches for the WPA. He often spent hours en route to and from a job, navigating buses with a book in his pocket to help him pass the time. My mother remembers a childhood of living in scruffy apartments over stores and eating nothing but pasta with nearly rotten vegetables no longer suitable for sale on her grandfather’s vegetable cart, while listening to the panic in her parents’ voices as they argued under the enormous stress of poverty and uncertainty. As a small girl, my mother would walk her younger sister home from school and manage the household until her parents came home, including handling the damper on the old coal furnace—a very risky duty for a child—because her parents were off working at whatever odd jobs they could find. Life became even more gloomy as my grandmother’s mother fell terminally ill and, for 3 years, my grandparents, mother, and aunt lived in my great-grandparents’ house so that my grandmother could care for her dying mother and manage the house for her father. My mother says that it was a terrible time: stressful, depressing, and lean, with a grim specter of impending death haunting each day.

World War II allowed my grandparents to finally earn a steady income. Having no sons, the war did not intrude on their immediate family unit, but their extended family had the same devastating losses and after-effects of war as nearly every American family during that time. My grandmother worked in a factory during the war and lost a thumb on the job.

Finally, things began to look up for my grandparents, who, not long before becoming empty-nesters, fulfilled their fondest dream and became homeowners. They bought a tiny house outside of the city,what we’d now call a “starter home.” They thought they were the richest people in the world.

They endured more worry as a grandson nearly died after being hit by a car and went through years of surgery and recovery. A son-in-law died of a heart attack in his thirties, leaving their daughter to raise 5 small children. Just before retirement, my grandfather suffered a fatal third heart attack.

By that time, my grandmother was solidly a veteran—a veteran of adversity and survival, a veteran of shattered dreams and keeping dreams alive, a veteran of cruel losses and unbreakable family ties, a veteran of poverty and unthinkable stress and hardship and duty.

She fought many health battles of her own in the following years, losing both legs and, eventually, her mind to diabetes. But, still, she was an incredible fighter. We were called to her deathbed time and time again, yet she pulled through many times before finally succumbing. I think, perhaps, because she had spent her entire life fighting for life and happiness,she just didn’t know how to stop fighting. She was a member of a generation of fighters, survivors, veterans.

Today, I first and foremost remember and appreciate veterans of armed services. But I also remember all veterans and those in service, past and present, military and civilian, who fought—and continue to fight—for a better world amid hardships and obstacles that I can’t even imagine.

And, with special fondness, I remember a strong and courageous woman whom I loved very much; who showered me with little grandmotherly gifts and my favorite cookies; who gave me treasures like my first Christmas stocking and a cherished Minnie Mouse handkerchief; who always worked hard; who faced heartache after heartache with indomitable strength; who made wonderful Sunday dinners; who drove 1000 miles with a turtle in a coffee can because she thought I would like it as a pet; who made the world’s best Sicilian pastries; who wrote me letters and made me feel important for receiving real mail; who had a beautiful face, a beautiful smile, and an infectious laugh; who had a quick temper, a fierce spirit, and a ton of love for her family; who was a fighter and a role model; and who was always proud to say that on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month she turned eleven years old.

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Saturday, November 7, 2009


In the early 1970s, I was a little girl growing up in a middle-class suburban neighborhood of Cleveland. None of the moms worked outside the home (except maybe to volunteer in the school cafeteria twice a week) and a summer day meant playing outside with the neighborhood kids from late morning until dusk with breaks only for meals. Everyone in my neighborhood was white, Christian, and spoke with a Midwestern accent.

Once or twice, a family with a slight European accent might move in, and after months of covert scrutiny, the neighborhood consensus would be something like, “They’re good neighbors. They have a well-tended yard. They seem very clean.” I’m pretty sure that—given the rampant “people like us” thinking of the time—the earth would have shifted off its axis if a non-white family had ever moved in. Those precious few European accents were about the limit of difference the neighborhood seemed to be able to sustain.

The social climate in Cleveland back then was characterized by intolerance. I still have lots of issues with the belief systems under which I was raised and which surrounded me in all aspects of my childhood universe. I knew that there were people whose skin was different than mine because my parents would make us cross the street and walk faster or lock the car doors whenever we saw them. I was probably a teenager before fully grasping that there were people who weren’t Christian. I had no knowledge of the world outside of the U.S. except that there was something called an Iron Curtain behind which the godless, evil communists in Russia lived; we prayed daily for their conversion (presumably—in my youthful understanding—to our correct way of thinking and worshipping).

But race, religion, or ethnic origin weren’t the only focal points of intolerance in my neighborhood. There were also whisperings about families who had—or were suspected of having—lives that didn’t quite resemble that of the Cleaver family. (The Brady Bunch and Partridge Family would have been considered way too progressive to live in my neighborhood, despite their squeaky-clean images by today’s standards.) There were meaningful looks exchanged by the adults about the young people in the neighborhood who were suspected of using drugs (despite no real evidence, I’m sure), became pregnant before marriage, got into trouble at school or with the police, looked too much like hippies (no shoes and long hair = lay-about drug addict), or in any other way didn’t fit the model of approved behavior.

Our parents never gave us information other than orders to stay away from so-and-so, as if whatever perceived imperfection—too shameful to talk about—might infect us. These were the days when children didn’t ask questions if not invited to do so, and we weren’t ever invited. And, being kids, we blindly accepted everything, sometimes drawing crazy conclusions from the snippets we overheard, while trying to emulate our parents’ behavior.

There was one particular neighborhood girl, a few years older than I was, who was different. The neighborhood line was that Bethany was “slow.” As a kid, I thought that had to do with speed in the literal sense. Bethany walked slowly, sort of dragging her legs from the hip with her toes pointing inward. She talked slowly, with a kind of slurred drawl. She stared a lot. She came uncomfortably close to you when she talked. She seemed to have an endless amount of time and no expectations on what she should be doing. Even as a very young girl, I found dealing with her to be trying.

She seemed to have a lot of freedom that the rest of us didn’t have. She never seemed to have to go home for lunch or dinner; she’d sit on one of our porches and eat something from her pocket. She was out on her bike hours earlier than the rest of us were allowed to go out in the morning and hours later than the rest of us were allowed to stay out in the evening. I always assumed that the hours she kept were allowed because she was older than I was.

Bethany never seemed to mind waiting. She would often wait on someone’s porch or in the yard until the child who lived there came out to play. This irked the neighborhood moms. After watching for a while through the kitchen window and realizing that Bethany had no intention of leaving, my mother would firmly tell her that she couldn’t hang out on our back porch while I ate lunch or all through the early morning until I was allowed out to play. Bethany would argue a bit (which was shocking in our neighborhood, where talking back to a parent was a capital offense), but would eventually say, “Okay,” pick up her bike, and cycle off to someone else’s porch. I suspect she just went from porch to porch, biding her time, day in and day out.

Bethany always seemed to have an extraordinary number of scrapes and bumps that she attributed to falls from her bike. I believed her—she always had her bike with her and I saw her wipe out on it now and then. She’d often ask for band-aids. I remember thinking it was strange that she never went home to get one like the rest of us would have done.

Bethany sometimes joined in our games, though she’d lose interest quickly and try to distract us. Sometimes she’d watch us play, which always felt kind of creepy. She had endless questions and often I couldn’t figure out what she meant. I tried to be polite, but my stomach clenched whenever I saw her coming. Sometimes my best friend and I just wanted to be left alone to our own secrets and games, so we’d pretend our mothers were calling us and hide inside until she went away. As it became harder to cope with Bethany's constant presence, we developed increasingly elaborate schemes to ditch her. Sometimes she’d catch on to what we were doing to exclude her and start berating us. One of our moms would overhear her angry shouts and tell her to go home. All of the moms would shake their heads and whisper.

I don’t know what ever happened to Bethany. Eventually, she stopped hanging around. Maybe her family moved away. I don’t remember. Nobody missed her when she’d gone. We forgot all about her—easily.

Looking back, I wish my parents had known how to teach me to be more compassionate toward Bethany. I wish they had explained why she behaved the way she did and helped me to develop appropriate skills for helping her to feel included while not feeling confused and irritated by her myself. Although I did try to play with her more than some of the children in my neighborhood, I wish I had tried to understand her rather than merely endure her. I wish an adult had tried to help her. I guess those were the times.

My kids recently told me about a child they know. Based on their description, I suspect the child has developmental challenges. Their irritation was apparent, and I heard echoes of my childhood in the intolerant things they told me they and the other children were starting to say and do. From my deeply buried memories came the recollection of Bethany.

We had a serious talk that day on the drive home. We’ve had a few follow-up discussions since. I hope I advised my children well. I hope they will be more inclusive than I was. I hope that the child they described won’t be easily forgotten the way I forgot Bethany...until now.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

It's Not a Competition

Today I read an article in The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) digital edition called “Why Email No Longer Rules…And what that means for the way we communicate.” It summarized the differences between email and social networking services like Facebook and Twitter and the challenges presented by the changes in information flows. I thought it was fairly good until I read the last paragraph and the comments. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the writers and audience of The Wall Street Journal are—shall we say—conservative. With respect to social media, the writer concludes, “And we will no doubt waste time communicating stuff that isn't meaningful, maybe at the expense of more meaningful communication. Such as, say, talking to somebody in person.” Puh-lease.

When are people going to get that social media isn’t about trying to cram a business email into 140 characters or mindlessly reporting what you had for breakfast to an uninterested cyberworld? When are we going to stop thinking that the decline of civilization is at hand because Facebook and Twitter will erode our verbal communication skills? Ooh, I just had a flashback to the 1980s when I told my boss that email would change business communications forever and that the ability to post and answer questions on open discussion boards gave a whole new dimension to research. Fast forward to the 1990s when my company’s former head of IT said, “We will never, ever have an intranet” and I laughed out loud.

Okay, Michelle, belay the snarkiness and deploy some patience. Cultural change is difficult. They’ll come around. Try to be constructive.

Let’s go through these issues one by one.

1. Email is superior for business communication

It’s not a competition. No one said you had to choose only one true communication method.

Sure, for some things, email rules. For other things, it is not the best solution. For yet other things, there may be equivalent solutions—there may even be a slight edge in efficiency.
Email is great for:

• Private communications
• Keeping a trail

I sure as heck don’t want my boss tweeting follow up information about my performance review or my doctor answering my personal medical question on WebMD if I didn’t post it there in the first place.

Email is also great for keeping a specific communications trail. When I have to answer questions for internal audit at work, I keep an email trail. That way I know what was asked and how it was answered, the dates of all of the communications, etc. Easy reference and only I and the auditors care to see it anyway (i.e., need to know).

However, email is not a great tool for collaborating on a document. Nothing like writing a few paragraphs and then 20 other people send individual emails with their individual edits. This situation screams, “Use a wiki” or, at the very least, use one working document in a shared workspace with “track changes” switched on.

Now, what about all that less obvious stuff in the middle that isn’t particularly private—perhaps it could be better addressed if it were shared in unexpected ways—and doesn’t need to be saved for posterity? Think about it. There’s a heckuva lot of it in my email inbox right now. How much is in yours?

• “Did you see this article in today’s WSJ? {link} Interesting summary of email vs. social media in business.”

• “Hey, do you have any information or old reports on topic x? I thought you worked on a team related to it a couple of years ago…”

• “It occurs to me that so-and-so {link to bio} may be an interesting speaker for our lecture series. Can’t remember where her specialty fell on your priority list. I may run into her at my next stop and I can ask her about speaking if I see her, but I don’t want to bring it up and then tell her later we’re not really interested.”

• “Did we ever get a copy of the slide deck from Joe? I can’t find it.”

What if I tweeted the WSJ link? Instead of a few of my colleagues privately debating the merits of the article, in mere moments I could be pointed toward expert assessments and related articles. Instead of speaking in theoreticals with my colleagues, people at other companies that actively are using social media in business can share real experiences and data with us.

What if the question about the old reports and team was posted on an internal Twitter-like system, but flagged to make sure I would notice it (@michelle). Not only would I answer the question, but others who may have relevant information could also weigh in, even if we didn’t know who had that relevant information. Others could weigh in with related information not specifically requested.

What if I texted the question about the speaker? My colleague directing our lecture series can look up the professional bio information easily from the link, make her assessment, and answer me quickly enough to seize the opportunity if it is, in fact, an opportunity we want. Note: links can’t be sent over the phone.

When someone just asked me the last question, the person in the next cube overheard it and said, “Just got it and posted it. I’ll send you the link.” What if the person with the answer wasn’t in his cube or worked in another area? Twitter-like apps allow him to weigh in even if I didn’t know he had the answer, and point to the link for more than just the requester to see.

None of these require email trails. My inbox is not cluttered and I don’t have to clean it up. And I might even get a quicker, more complete answer than I would have otherwise. I may even point someone else who also could benefit from the information—but who didn’t think to ask about it while I didn’t think to include them—in the right direction.

2. We’ll lose depth if we communicate in 140 characters or less.

Well, yes, we’ll lose depth if we try to fully communicate in only 140-character units. But, if you look at a Twitter or Facebook feed, there is a mix of what can be communicated in 140 characters and pointers to further information. Links point to blog entries, pictures, articles, reference works, etc.—depth is still there, but it comes to us via hyperlinks.

3. We don’t care what you had for lunch. It’s digital narcissism and a big waste of time.

Think of social media posts about what you had for lunch as a sort of digital small talk and a way to give people with whom you’re communicating a mental picture to replace the physical one they’re missing. It helps build the personal connections behind the productive ones. After all, you shoot the bull with colleagues now and then, don’t you? On the way to a meeting, you chat about weekend plans or your kid’s soccer game, right? When you come in to the office in the morning, you lean over the cube wall and rehash last night’s ball game or Zumba class, don’t you? You comment on the way back from the cafeteria about the yummy looking taco salad your friend just bought, right? (If you don’t, you work in a lonely place.)

Well, posting what I had for lunch on social media is the same thing. It’s not narcissism because it is intended as an invitation into conversation and a glimpse into my day for my friends. It’s all part of building relationships.

Today, a colleague on vacation tweeted about being at a popular Thai restaurant. Working from home, I chimed in about how much I enjoy Thai food and made a menu suggestion. Another colleague back at the office made a joke about it. We all had a good laugh, got to vacation vicariously through my colleague, and now know that we share a liking for Thai food. Revolutionary? No. But even while on vacation, my colleague, with a miniscule time and effort investment, was continuing to sustain the personal connections behind our working team without any intrusion from work on his personal day. People that have some level of personal connection work together better professionally. This exchange took 2 minutes, if that, out of each of our days. If we were in the office together, we might have had a similar conversation anyway—nothing new and no big time waster. But on this particular day, if we didn’t tweet, we wouldn’t have made that connection at all. And I’ll tell you, when you’re working at home to try to jam on a project, a momentary break to make contact with the outside world, without breaking your momentum, is a sanity saver.

Of course, many of our tweets have nothing to do with food. Well, okay, at least some of our tweets have nothing to do with food. Some days.

What social media is about is connecting with people in way you might not have otherwise. Through Facebook, I’ve reconnected with school friends I haven’t heard from in decades. Though we now live, literally, all over the globe, we’ve caught up on each other’s careers, families, interests, and lives through pictures, notes, updates, and links. In a small way, we are right back outside our lockers of 25 years ago sharing what we’re thinking or doing every day, only it’s better because now we can really be of support to each other through much more complex challenges than facing math tests and prom dates. We encourage each other through everything from potty training to job searching to cancer. These are people I had true and heartfelt connections with many years ago, but time, space, and life separated us. Now, I can easily maintain at least a portion of those friendships through simply writing 140 characters a couple of times per day, or more when necessary. Sometimes, if we happen to be online at the same time, we pull up the chat window and have real-time conversation with no long distance rates and no child-awakening telephone rings. And yes, when it is appropriate, we still pick up the phone and call. I even recently reconnected with one friend who, in one of those late-night digital chats when we were discussing the pitfalls of potty training, noted that he’d be in our state soon for a class reunion. He agreed to drive to my city and give a lecture at my company (and visit). His lecture was extremely valuable and well received. This wouldn’t have happened without Facebook.

On Twitter, I check out interesting people that my friends quote, and, if I find them interesting, follow them. I’ve had digital conversations with people I would have never otherwise met and may never meet—a whole variety of known business experts and people who aren’t famous but are interesting and knowledgeable—people who push relevant information to me and quickly point me toward answers to my questions. A few of these people have become key professional resources for me and there’s a good chance that we could work together in the future. It’s like being at a professional conference all the time—in the background. And, trust me, the time I save looking for relevant information more than compensates for the few minutes it takes me to type 140 characters (or click the “tweet this” key while reading an article) here and there throughout the day.

4. No one will talk anymore.

I hear this one all the time: “The kids were sitting right next to each other, texting each other instead of talking.” Yes—just like we used to have code phrases or pass notes as teenagers so that our parents didn’t know what we were talking about. I knew a few girls who learned a sort of sign language so that they could talk without saying a word. Do you seriously think teenagers won’t still talk, too? Social media is just one more way to talk more often, not less often.

In the professional world, it isn’t much different. Sometimes, like in the examples I already gave, there is a convenience to using digital communications, even in real time. Among these are brevity (e.g., "I can’t stop to chat because I’m running to a meeting, but can you answer this one quick question?"), the ability to share links and other visual aids, extended reach, or privacy (e.g., a person I once mentored would IM me for quick advice while difficult situations were unfolding because she was in a cube and wanted privacy without having to call attention to her situation by fleeing to a conference room to use the phone).

There may even be an advantage to social media for those of us who aren’t as quick on our feet as we’d like to be. (That’s around 95% of us, isn’t it?) Even though it takes me just a few seconds to post a comment in social media, I still need to click a button to transmit. That gives me a moment to check to make sure that I said whatever it is I’m posting in the way I really want to share it. Sure, typos still happen, but I have a moment to rethink, reword, delete, add, or change the tone. I come off as a much better conversationalist than I really am. Or is that true? Actually, it gives me a chance to convey the meaning I truly intended, rather than one blundered into because of my words outpacing my thinking. So, in fact, I communicate better.

Do these digital conversations replace verbal ones? No! They most often are conversations I would not have had otherwise. These are extra conversations, more opportunity to connect and converse, right when the communication is most useful and relevant.

We didn’t stop using the post office when the telephone was invented. Perhaps the art of letter writing suffered, but the art of communication simply found a new vehicle and added to the opportunity for people to connect more frequently, with more direct relevancy, and across larger distances. People could become more involved in each other’s lives (“Mom, listen! The baby just said “Dada!”) in ways that letters can’t quite convey. So, in this socially networked age we have more vehicles for making the world smaller and more connected. And, if life is all about the connections we make, the relationships we have, the way we reach out to each other, how can giving us ways to connect with others throughout the globe, in real time, in larger numbers and with more diversity of thought and experience than ever before be the downfall of civilization? Seems like exactly what civilization is all about to me.

Stop the fire and brimstone sermons on how social media will condemn our souls to oblivion and get connected. You’ll see. Of course, the people who need to read this won’t ever see it because I’m going to blog it and then transmit the link to Twitter and Facebook. Maybe some of their more connected friends will print it out for them and paste it into their print copy of The Wall Street Journal. Or tell them about it.

After all, it’s not a competition.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sticky Notes, the Em Dash, and Mom

I have always been surrounded by enthusiastic punctuators presenting a myriad of punctuation-related quirks:

  • Grandma used commas in a way that mystified me (but I always felt important when she sent me real mail).
  • An in-law follows each salutation with a semicolon (but always remembers my birthday).
  • An aunt surrounds her signature in quotation marks (but always knows the right thing to say).
  • Others perplexingly pepper quotation marks on random phrases throughout their writings (which keeps me laughing—in a good way).
  • Many overuse commas and exclamation points as if every moment in life is high-action adventure with unexpected and illogical pauses for breath. (Perhaps this is the right way to live.)

The list could continue for pages.

No doubt, this barrage of unusual usage has formed my views on punctuation. I hold each of these punctuation marks—and the punctuators—dearly in my heart. Yet, despite my overexposure to quotation marks, semicolons, commas, and exclamation points, my ultimate preference in punctuation was born of more than 40 years of life orchestration via sticky notes, all neatly arranged and regularly rotated on my parents’ refrigerator. It is born of the discipline of daily checks for new information and directives as conveyed upon quality-controlled, precision-cut squares mirroring my mother’s unrelenting sense of order. It is born of the triumph of my Sicilian mother overcoming her genetic predisposition to illustrate effusive thought with animated hand gestures by redirecting her communicative energy to a more subdued, adhesive-backed outlet. Here, on my mother’s sticky notes, on nearly every appointment reminder and to-do task throughout a lifetime of refrigerator news, is the em dash.

My mother’s em dashes signify thoughts that stretch beyond the limits of 3x3 sheets covered with precise, perfectly-spaced handwriting that only could be produced by a former first grade teacher who drilled thousands of Catholic school children in penmanship. When I was little, the em dash suggested items to bring to school that were obvious extensions of a list that didn’t quite fit on the note. There were em dashes ending the endless reminders of school and sports events, birthday parties, pediatrics appointments, bowling banquets, and parents’ club meetings. As I grew, it sometimes represented information to be privately understood between my parents as they struggled to communicate amidst our large family’s hectic, tangled schedules. When I was a teenager, the em dash signified undetermined babysitting times, reminders about part-time work schedules, or an admonishing reminder of Mom’s omniscience about her teenagers’ behavior. When I was a young adult, the em dash took the place of surnames of college friends and coworkers my parents had not met. In my young married days, em dashes showed my mother’s unspoken emotion following the jotted birth weight and name of a new grandchild or details about an upcoming celebration of a family member’s latest achievement. Now that we are older, the sticky notes no longer act as the nerve center of a once bustling, overcrowded household, but as joyful proclamations of the results of a life of loving industry—reminders of family picnics, birthdays, weddings, graduations, vacations, visits, and birth weights and names of great-grandchildren for a family that grew far beyond imagining. There is comfort in knowing that the sticky notes of our family life are as reliably on the surface of the fridge as meatballs are inside. And, on each one, there is a heartfelt em dash, indicating a depth of emotion and richness of experience that cannot be expressed in mere words.

The em dash, for me, is beloved because it represents a life’s worth of thoughts and feelings my mother left unwritten—but not uncommunicated—on the perfectly square, pastel yellow pages of her ongoing refrigerator memoirs. My em dash impressions are swaddled in a lifetime of loving and firm guidance and support, encouragement and maternal pride, offered by my mother to our family. Em dash, my love for you—and Mom—is forever—

Written in honor of National Punctuation Day and Mom's 80th birthday. Happy birthday, Mom!

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Twitterization of Facebook -- and Me

Jay Baer, a social media consultant, wrote an interesting article, “Imitation and Obsolescence – Facebook Guns for Twitter” in which he asks if Facebook’s recent moves to incorporate Twitter-like features is the beginning of the end for Twitter. (I love how Jay always tries to stir up conversation.) In reference to the new Facebook feature that mimics @replies (a way to flag particular Twitter users) on Twitter, Jay wrote, “… this will break down one of the last cultural differences between Twitter and Facebook in that people ‘follow’ many people…on Twitter whom they don’t really know at all, but most folks restrict Facebook friends to people they actually know…That’s going to change…”

Well, maybe.

Name drops won’t change the way I use Facebook. Facebook only allows a user to have one account/ID. If I were able to have a professional Facebook account AND a personal Facebook account, I’d be golden. But since I have to choose, my Facebook friends are only people I know and trust in meat space. Privacy controls help me feel reasonably comfortable posting details about my family and musings I’d disclose over a latte with buddies at the neighborhood coffee shop, but would never announce over institutional coffee with associates at the conference table. Facebook gives me a way to maintain closer relationships with a greater number of friends and family than I previously could within the time and space limitations of our busy lives. I’m genuinely interested in 90% of my news stream, read it voraciously, and often comment (the other 10% is Farmville and Mafia Wars) because I genuinely care about these people. I’m not trying to widely expand or diversify this network, but simply strengthen or renew bonds that already exist. I suspect that I am not alone in this approach.

But, on Twitter, I don’t know who’s reading, so I post only what I am comfortable disclosing openly. It is a place for social and informational risk-taking---following someone just because they said something interesting, I admire their work, or they are a friend of a friend. The benefit I find in Twitter is expanding my network to include people I don’t (and probably won’t) know in meat space. We have common ground but don’t operate in the same circles, so our perspectives arose differently. This influx of fresh perspective and pointers to sources of information I may not have found otherwise refines, tests, and pushes my thinking---huge value. But, as the net is cast much wider, I have true interest in less than half of the posts in my news stream and only read, comment, or retweet (i.e., re-post as a quote) the stand-outs. The members of my Twitter network aren’t emotionally invested in each other, which is why we’ll sustain the associated social risks. I lose a follower on Twitter and I sigh, but I lose a friend on FB and my heart aches.

I continuously “meet” insanely interesting new people on Twitter, which gives my network breadth. Over time---and if we meet face-to-face---some of the people in my Twitter network may become my friends. But, on Facebook, I continuously learn more about how insanely interesting the friends I already have are, which gives depth to my Facebook network. For me, these are entirely different types of networks.

So, I for one, will be continuing to use both Facebook (minus Farmville and Mafia Wars) and Twitter for the foreseeable future.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

I Am a Leaf

Childrens Literature - K-2 (Scholastic Books Level 1 Reader – Science)
I Am a Leaf
By Jean Marzollo

This book was read aloud to a crowd of adoring literary fans (my family) by an acclaimed new reader and kindergartner (my daughter).


Bright and cheery, looking like reliefs of construction-paper cutouts (perhaps an homage to Eric Carle?)


As the story opens, we are lured into believing that this will be a light tale of blissful simplicity in nature:

See the ladybug? She’s crawling on me. It tickles!
Yet, this seemingly innocuous account foreshadows the work’s weighty underlying theme: contrasting proletariat transcendence of the establishment with bourgeois hubris of respectability teetering on a cesspool of mediocrity.

The hapless leaf intuitively grasps the transience of its plight:

We have a summer job. We make tree food.
Reliant on an uncertain supply of raw materials (water, light, air), the worker-leaf sacrifices its own sense of self in the substance of chlorophyll (reckoned “KLOR-o-fill” in a transparent attempt at colloquialism to ensnare the trust of the largely illiterate leaf population) to the photosynthetic means of agrarian production:

Then I add something green…Chlorophyll is green. It makes me green.
The leaf acknowledges its non-entity, an anonymous cog in the societal machine:

It [water] flows into my veins. My veins are like little pipes.

The leaf, flora’s embodiment of the biblical Job, is continuously marginalized by the bourgeoisie: A caterpillar eats a hole through our hero’s very substance, a spider be-webs it, and a squirrel tramples upon it. But the leaf transcends each humiliation with selfless virtue:

But I still did my job.
Employment opportunities diminish with eroding raw material supply (sunlight) as production migrates to prey on the populace of a new, unsuspecting solar-emerging nation. The hapless leaf is abandoned to its eventual demise. Yet, the simple leaf does not despair. Just when we think the leaf could show no higher virtue, our hero defies defeat, choosing spiritual freedom as a symbolic victory despite the inevitability of death. Reveling in the magnificence of its autumnal shroud, the leaf hurls itself from its branchy bondage into an ultimate dance upon the wind, a final flight of liberty before returning to dust.

We are left with the image of a new leaf budding in Spring, both testimony to the noble sacrifice of its predecessor and demoralizing evidence of the perpetuity and desensitization of continued oppression. The leaf displays an innate form of arboreal Stockholm Syndrome:

Soon I'll get a job...Mm-m-m. That sun feels good.
Thoroughly depressing. (This, of course, is the essence of high art.)


When synopses contain words like proletariat, oppression, and bourgeoisie and make reference to biblical characters, one feels obliged to applaud the intellectualism of the published work, while recognizing that it is probably a less-than-classic read. I Am a Leaf is no exception. It is, however, engaging enough material for reading practice, with a basic scientific theme thrown in as a bonus. As first readers go, The Mystery of the Missing Tooth by William H. Hooks is still the front-runner in our house.

And, yes, this synopsis has a higher word count than both books combined.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

All your grammar are belong to us

We all could use some help with our writing now and then, even if, like me, you went through 16 years of Catholic education. Following are a couple of resources for improving your writing.

Grammar Girl
I've noted my appreciation for Grammar Girl (Mignon Fogarty) in this blog before. She is the mastermind behind the podcast, Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. She has a book available by the same name and will be publishing a new book in October 2009. What I find to be useful, though, beyond Grammar Girl's cyber and print publications, is Grammar Girl's presence on Twitter. She tweets all kinds of interesting tidbits AND will answer your brief grammar questions directly and quickly. It's like having a personal grammar consultant!

Writing the Cyber Highway
Thanks to Grammar Girl, I stumbled upon this website created by Michele Tune. Michele describes the purpose of her site:
My (original and continuing) goal for Writing the Cyber Highway is to provide useful resources and a breath of fresh air to fellow writers, new or seasoned.

It looks like a wonderful resource for writing help. I need to explore it more thoroughly.

Combining the best of both resources, a
contest is underway on Writing the Cyber Highway to win a copy of Grammar Girl's book! Hurry, you must enter by June 13, 2009.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Information Fascination

I haven't blogged in a while; too much else to do. However, I really want to share three great links that others shared with me recently.

First, watch this successor to the Microsoft Surface preview that was all the rage a couple of years back: a new montage of the future of digital technology that feels intriguingly within our grasp.

Next, here's the preview that really blew me away; it lends credibility to my belief that the montage of the future is within our grasp:

Finally, view this thought provoking video called Information R/evolution on how we need to think differently about information, created by Dr. Michael Wesch of Kansas State University.

Check out his Web 2.0 video, too. I love this guy's style.

These sorts of videos make me start imagining what I can do differently in my little corner of the information universe to make both my personal world and the business for which I work more productive and fun.

I love the information age!

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Fergus MacFergus, Kings, Scotch-Irish, and Oban Scotch

As it is St. Patrick's Day today, I have been thinking about my Irish heritage. In fact, I've been thinking about my entire package of muddled ancestry and thinking about how typically American it is. Yep, I'm a mutt.

So, what's the breakdown? I'm 50% Sicilian, 25% Scotch-Irish, and 25% Dutch-German, according to my parents. I've always been confused about the whole Dutch-German and Scotch-Irish thing...Irish or Scottish? Dutch or German? Both?

There is precious little information about my family history. My grandparents on both sides, seeking to be patriotic Americans in the first half of the 20th century, broke with all of the traditions of the old world (well, except for my theoretically Irish grandfather who supposedly never overcame the Irish drinking gene) and dropped the languages of their ancestors, named their children with decidedly un-ethnic names, changed their own names, and tried to blend in every way they could. Only a couple of traditional Sicilian family recipes survived, most notably Brijole, which is called something that sounds like "seds-a-setti" (on a trip to Siciliy, native Sicilians looked at me blankly when I asked about this dish), something pronounced "cuch-a-daddi" (a mince-filled pastry), biscotti (sesame seed cookies), and an easter cookie with a whole egg baked inside for which I don't know the name; all else was discarded.

On my Sicilian side, we don't know much of anything. What little family folklore survived the great American purge is that both my grandfather's family and grandmother's family lived in the same general area in Sicily, in or around a place called Campo Felice in Palermo. Both of my great grandmothers apparently attended the same convent school. The families immigrated to Pennsylvania in the late 19th century. I'm buying that story on my grandfather's side, as his family name was Distefano, and that story seems to match up with origins of the name. Not so much on my grandmother's side; the name was Greco. There's got to be a reason for "Greek" being the translation of the name...lots of immigrants to Sicily in ancient times mixed the bloodlines. Who knows?

As for the Dutch-German thing, things are even sketchier. On travels to Germany, some friendly locals with whom I chatted said that one of our old family names, Van Neill, was definitely Dutch, not German. They looked somewhat dubious about the other name I mentioned, Wissing, as well, although that has a more German ring to it. (I also was repeatedly mistaken for a German, twice by people incredulous to the extreme that I wasn't, so I must look German.) We have no details on this part of the family. Was the description "Dutch-German" simply rooted in a marriage between a Dutch Van Neill and a German Wissing? Who knows.

So we come to the Irish bit. Family legend gives us a few tidbits about the Fergus family:

1. We were descended from a King.

2. We are descendants of Fergus MacFergus (some say that was the King mentioned in #1).

3. We are Scotch-Irish.

Best I can piece together from impromptu internet research is that:

1. Most Scots having "Fergus" as any part of their surname (Fergus, Fergusson, Ferguson, etc.) descend from an early Scottish King. Check.

2. Fergus MacFergus was given some land in Ayrshire, Scotland (lowlands), by one of the Scottish Kings. So, do my roots trace to Ayrshire?

3. Some of the clan from Ayrshire moved to Ulster for political (land grabbing?) and Protestant evangelization reasons. That fits with the Scoth-Irish bit, but doesn't fit with the fact that my family is decidedly Catholic.

4. Ulster Scots called themselved Scotch-Irish when they settled in America. That would explain my grandfather describing himself as Scotch-Irish.

Of course, this whole Fergus MacFergus, descendant of kings thing is also recounted on the label of Oban scotch. When I discovered this as an adult, thinking of the Irish drinking gene my grandfather preserved so fondly, I began to question whether the family folklore was true, or simply something Granddad read on a bottle one day at the pub and decided would make a good story for our family. Did he call himself Scotch-Irish because of the possible links described above, or was he simply an Irishman who loved scotch?

Despite the variables and unknowns, on St. Patrick's Day, I declare myself and my progeny to be Irish AMERICANS. After all, this is a great melting pot in which we live, and edges and distinctions are blurred when all of the ingredients melt together anyway. I guess the melding of cultures, too, is another reason why everbody is Irish on St. Patrick's Day!

Happy St. Patrick's Day to everyone, no matter what your roots!!!

Addition on 5/24/2009

Talked to relatives about the Irish thing. Here's the best "authoritative" story from relatives of my father's:

The Scotch-Irish label is probably a mistake, not really intended to convey the assumed Ulster-Irish connection. It was likely my grandparents' joke or misnomer for the marriage between an Irish (County Mayo) Toughy (or, possibly, Toughey) and a Scottish Fergus. So, it's looking like I'm 12.5% Irish and 12.5% Scottish, rather than 25% Scotch-Irish.

Still wonder about that whole Oban story, though.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

I should be in Athens contemplating souvlaki

Okay, I know it defies pop culture, but I see nothing attractive about LOLCats. It may have something to do with the fact that I loathe cats. I don't find cats to be cute in any way, whatsoever. They are not cuddly or affectionate. I just don't get why people have them as pets. Every cat I have ever met has been a self-centered tyrant that treats its owner as its minion. Plus, I am insanely allergic. Being plunged into itching and asthmatic fits has a tendency to defeat one's tolerance.

For Thing 30, I was supposed to cruise LOLCats sites, pick a fave LOLCat, and blog about it. Yuck. I cruised the sites. It was horrible. Unmitigated torture. And un-funny. Very un-funny. I think I'm starting to break out in hives.

Now, if I'm required to pick a LOLCat, there is only one site for me, but it isn't on the Learning 2.1 list. It is Rolcats: English Translations of Eastern Bloc Lolcats. Now this is funny, despite the cats.

I think I'm amused mainly because the captions parallel the sorts of things my friends and I say when we've had one too many (or sometimes when we haven't). We're odd that way. (Our legendary, dearly-departed trailer at the beach was dubbed Glorious Peoples Revolutionary Recreational Cooperative #7. It confused a lot of peroxide-headed sunbathers; but, then again, what didn't?)

These Rolcats speak for themselves. You've got to love any quote that contains either of the terms "proletariat" or "pig iron."

February 6, 2009 by Yuri

Have strength, my little cabbage. By the mercy of NKVD Order No. 00447, we have been chosen for Resettlement.

We will show the tin mines of Kolyma the true power of the proletariat.

February 4, 2009 by Yuri

Aaaaah… Pig iron, your musk is that of glorious industry …

Now these merit the remark "LOL."

Well done, Yuri, whoever you are. I'm ROFL.

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Scrapblogging is the only scrapbooking I'll ever do

Thing 29 is Scrapblog, an online utility to lay out a fancy-schmancy PowerPoint-ish sort of document that is supposed to look like a scrapbook. The actual tool reminded me a lot of Blurb.

I like it, but it is incredibly time consuming, as are all tools for graphics-intense publishing. They definitely get brownie points for allowing me to use the jump-right-in method very easily, though. I also thought the many options for pulling in pictures from other sites and for sharing the finished product with other sites was very slick.

I doubt that I will use this much, maybe for some personal use. Again, I do pretty well with PowerPoint, and it's more commonly accepted everywhere. If I wanted to make and store a short public presentation for online use only, I might use this. Or, if I ever develop the urge to join the scrapbooking craze (like that might happen), I would probably opt for a digital solution, too.

So, here is my masterpiece: My Favorite Books. Enjoy!

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Rolling Stone Cover

Thing 28, online image generators, is just for fun. I tried WriteOnIt Fake Pictures.

Pictures speak better than words for this one.

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Thing 27 is Photobucket. Apparently, this is a competitor of Flickr and is owned by the same company that owns MySpace.

I really like this tool a lot. The dashboard seems more intuitive to me than that of Flickr, and it can store images like animations (Hooray! I found a place to store my Meez avatar!) and video clips.

The text in Thing 27 states:

One big difference is that from Flickr you can only use photos you have posted; at Photobucket, add any image or video you like to your album (or further organize your choices into sub-albums), and you can use it, no matter who originally posted it. In other words, anything you add to a public account at Photobucket is fair game for any other Photobucket user to see and use on a blog or profile at any website (as long as it's not for commercial purposes).

This makes me wonder about copyright. How many images there are copyrighted and being used as if they weren't? I did notice at least one box that said the image had been removed due to a violation of Photobucket rules. Wonder if it was an unlicensed image issue or something merely distasteful. I guess this is a problem everywhere, though.

A bigger concern is that if I copy an image that I find on the site to my own account and then post it somewhere else (like this blog), it identifies the image as "by" me. As I did not create the image, I would prefer that it retained the information identifying its original creator. Credit should be given to the artist; seems a bit too much like finders-keepers to me. But, I can fix that by simply not posting from my account but, instead, from the original image.

All in all, a really great find. I definitely will be using Photobucket!

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Widgets, Gadgets, Gizmos, and Thingamabobs

Thing 26 is widgets from YourMinis. I couldn't figure out what the instructions in Thing 26 were trying to tell me to do with a template...I think maybe that function has vanished since Thing 26 was written.

However, I did browse quite a number of widgets there, and added them to iGoogle. I have to admit that I liked the widgets I found in Google better. My favorite is this playlist widget. It was easy to select a couple of songs to create a playlist (mine is 59811528) at and then just fiddle with the widget settings to make sure that my widget played it. I was rather disappointed that the feature for adding it to Facebook apparently needs repair.

I also picked a totally silly one, below, from YourMinis. It couldn't have been simpler to put it here in my blog. I just clicked "Grab & Share" on the widget, selected Blogger as the destination, and the widget automatically was inserted into a new blog post (this one). I just had to edit the post to add my own text.


I like widgets, but prefer to use them sparingly. Like any web components, widgets, when overused, make a page too busy. Web pages should be simple, IMHO.

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Bursting the bubble about LetterPop

I'm far from giddy about Thing 25, LetterPop. Frankly, creating great looking documents using ordinary MS Office tools like Word and PowerPoint is pretty darn easy for me. I also have a firm grasp of HTML, so I can create documents in that format, too. If necessary, it is easy to convert documents created in MS Office tools to pdf using Zamzar and attach a distribution. I just don't see the advantage of using LetterPop.

I found it to be clunky to use, having to click several times to get the editing windows to open; pages frequently loaded with errors. It was slow. I would have thought that I would either be warned when my text exceeded the designated area or it would continue automatically to a new page or column. Nope. I had to cut and paste the overrun manually into several new text boxes. The options for free accounts were limited.

The ability for readers to comment is an attractive feature.

If you want to create basic newsletters and want a simple tool, this would be a decent free option. Of course, you could just blog -- much easier.

My newsletter

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Zamzar is ze best!

This is my blog post for Thing 24.

I have used Zamzar before. It is an extremely useful utility for file conversion. In fact, let me check...

...yes, I already had it in my bookmarks.

Nonetheless, I went through the steps anyway, as directed in the lesson. Here is my beautiful new pdf, converted from a Word Document. (BTW, try the procedure in the pdf file. It is very amusing.)

I received the link to the converted file in my email box in less than a minute! Impressive! I don't think it came that quickly last time I used it.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Celebrate! It's Thing 23!

I've finally reached the end, and now I can both continue on to Learning 2.1 and start figuring out how to use Learning 2.0 in my own organization. But first things first. Let's finish this part of the journey!

What were your favorite discoveries or exercises on this learning journey?

Undoubtedly, keeping this blog was my favorite part of this journey. I had blogged intermittently as part of a group blog before, but this program gave me a reason to put together a cohesive and continuing blog. I don't think I'm going to stop, although I may take a bit of a break for a while.

I also had a number of "Aha!" moments while thinking deep thoughts about wikis.

How has this program assisted or affected your lifelong learning goals?

I've been a proponent of lifelong learning, well, lifelong. I don't believe this particular program has impacted my own goals at all. However, I think it could be used effectively to help others move along the social media path a bit more quickly, which is how I intend to use it.

Were there any take-aways or unexpected outcomes from this program that surprised you?

I think I was surprised that it is so difficult to search effectively through social media. I guess I was expecting a revelation I had simply failed to recognize before. But, nope, it's still a slog. I was further surprised at how far Google has come to offer nearly a full portfolio of tools across the Learning 2.0 spectrum in the couple of years since the Learning 2.0 program was written. Google rocks!

Oh, and I never would have guessed that I'd look good in Donald Trump's hair (courtesy of HairMixer).

What could we do differently to improve upon this program’s format or concept?

I'd suggest making it a wiki, but that was already done in Learning 2.1. Also, the program should be updated to replace the broken links with working links and active resources.

If we offered another discovery program like this in the future, would you again chose to participate?

In the words of some of my favorite cartoon characters, The Powerpuff Girls, "We're super heroes [of learning]. That's what we do. Duh!"

So this ends the formal documentation of my 23 Things adventure. It was great!

Special thanks to Helene Blowers for taking a simple idea and making it into a powerful learning tool. Genius is making the obvious obvious.

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A little tough to do Thing 22, but let's press on anyway...

Well, Thing 22 was tough to do since I couldn't access NetLibrary without having a PLCMC (The Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County) library card. Do you think they'd give me one just for that purpose, even though I live in Cleveland? Just kidding.

Anyhow, I'm not clueless about how to search and download materials, so let's just pretend I was able to do this.

I browsed for classics. One that struck me was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, mainly because a little snippet of this was pre-loaded on my GPS, and my kids and I really enjoyed listening to it in the car. However, as I generally do not drive for extended periods of time, I did not actually purchase it. Seems simple enough, though. If your comfort level is higher with Amazon, it is always an option to search there in the audiobooks section, too.

On a related note, a word about e-books. My team has a Kindle, which I find useful for reading business books that we don't really want to store on our shelves anyway (short-term user interest, not worth the bother). In fact, we always look for the e-book version first, now, and offer it as an option to our users. I have used it to browse titles, and it is quite simple.

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Podcast Directories (Bah) and Podcasts (Cool)

I'm beginning to feel like a broken record, here. Once again, I did not enjoy the search experience using podcast directories. Again, too many irrelevant hits. I spent too many years developing precision search techniques and database systems to slog through line after line of false drops.

Unfortunately, there were a lot of broken links in the Thing 21 lesson. The Podcastalley link worked, though. After slogging through pages of supposed library and book review listings, I finally settled on adding this one to my Bloglines account:

Library Geeks (Description from listing: "Dan Chudnov invites librarians, geeks, and library geeks to geek out about libraries.")
It has only 58 subscribers and a poor rating (1/5 stars) on Podcasters, so we'll see.

I next tried everyone's old standby, Google, resulting in my subscription to:

Forward Thinking (Business & Motivational Book Reviews)
There's something about the concept of motivational books that always makes me cringe, so, again, we'll see.

Again supporting my theory that recommendations are the best route when selecting social media to follow, I Googled and found a few lists of recommended library podcasts. For example, LibrarySpot helped me to find:

PALINET Podcasts (Interviews with leaders in library technology)

My all-time favorite podcast remains Grammar Girl. This podcast is not a library thing, though.

The ease with which people can now create and publish content is both a blessing and a curse. So much to slog through...

Of course, I can't wait to start podcasting myself, internally. I have several ideas on how to further engage and educate our users via podcasts. Just need to get going.

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Sunday, February 22, 2009


I couldn't resist the bad 80s humor for the title of this post about Thing 20 (YouTube) .

I started by doing a simple search for "technical library." This result cracked me up:

Of course, I teared up in the end. Give me a moment to gather myself...

And then I ran across some angry library patrons:

I'm not sure what I learned from this other than to be careful of disgruntled library patrons who have access to musical instruments and a video camera. In fact, it is probably wise never to anger music-video-star wannabes for any reason.

One of my all time favorite video discoveries is this Christmas Card by a guy named Jared Foster, which is pure art and joy. It is hosted on Vimeo. I don't know these people; I just really enjoyed their video at Christmastime.

So, what did I learn? Well, for most topics on which I searched I had to sort through a lot of awful hits to find something good, if, indeed, anything good existed. This lack of precision is the same irritation I have with all social media (e.g., when it comes to searching. Too much time invested for too little return. However, if you are looking for something very specific (e.g., a product demo of LED bulbs from LEDtronics; I have developed a colossal fear of my children being exposed to mercury should we break a compact fluorescent), this is a great place to look. I especially like the ease of finding historical video clips. (Remember how our teachers used to drag out those big reel-to-reel projectors to show videos in school? Now it's just point and click!) It's also great for browsing.

At my library, we frequently incorporate YouTube finds into dynamic news pages we create for our users. We see a lot of traffic to sites that we create to pull together relevant news and video feeds related to a high interest event, such as the Consumer Electronics Show. Another lesson, as with other social media, is the value of user input such as ratings, reviews, and additional content added via comments. This type of information can help users to evaluate the content against their needs and follow leads to information beyond the original content.

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Recipe Key

Here I am at Thing 19, exploring Recipe Key. I remember talking about trying to create an application like this about 20 years ago with my boss at the time. She loved to cook, but wanted a way to figure out what recipes were a match for what she had in her pantry. We talked extensively about how to create a database to do this. (My job largely was designing text based databases, at the time.) I never was motivated enough to really hammer at this idea on my own time -- I don't cook.

Well, as I always say, if I thought of an idea (or in this case, my old boss thought of an idea), chances are someone else did, too, and will make it a reality. Recipe Key is the reality.

It's pretty simple. Just drag and drop ingredients from a list into your digital pantry. Then browse the recipes that "match" what you have. You can filter by meal, ease of preparation, time to prep, etc. Unfortunately, none of the recipes were 100 percent match for what I have in the house, so I'd be running to the store anyway, if I wanted to use this tool. Good thing I don't cook; saved myself a trip.

All in all, a pretty cool app.

Now, as for using it in the library...hmmm. I'm stretching here, but maybe there's some link to the "others with items like yours" type of feature a la shopping sites. Or LibraryThing-like. So you enter what you have in your personal tech library or what literature you've accumulated on a topic and then you are presented with a complementary reading list that goes with the literary "ingredients" you've already got in your pantry. I know, I said it was a stretch. I think the real learning here is that if you can recognize a need, chances are, there's a way to make the solution happen.

Note that I use or have tried a smattering of other Web 2.0 Award Winners. You can even see my HairMixer experiment in one of my earlier posts. If I ever think of a library app for that, I've let you know.

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Web-based productivity applications: Interesting, but of limited use to me

As directed in Thing 18, I tried to use Zoho Writer, but there was something wrong with it. No toolbars appeared and there was no option to save the document. I tried Zoho (Spread)Sheet, which worked a lot better as a very simple spreadsheet. I also tried the Zoho Show, which seemed like a dumbed-down and temperamental PowerPoint. (Not that PowerPoint can't be temperamental, too.)

I guess the best feature is document sharing, although I don't know with whom I would collaborate with enough gusto to warrant use of these web-based productivity applications. My serious collaboration happens inside the firewall, where Microsoft reigns supreme.

Therefore, I have no real use for Zoho, as I am covered inside the firewall and, outside the firewall, there are so many other ways to share information with friends: Facebook, Blogs, etc. However, it's nice to know about. One never knows what the future will hold!

BTW, I am writing this in and publishing this post from Google Docs because of my difficulties with Zoho. I suspect I would be more likely to use Google for this type of thing than Zoho anyway; it's just easier and, in my mind, a very trustworthy tool.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

PBwiki is, indeed, yummy

Thing 17 was a fun one. I've heard a lot about PBwiki but, once again, hadn't taken the time to test it myself. Thing 17 made me do it!

The big plusses:

  1. It's free! Gosh, I love the information age!
  2. It's easy-peasy! I added content to a page, added this blog to a list of blogs, and then created a whole new page! I seriously doubt that many people would be intimidated by editing a page if they have basic computer skills.
One complaint: It seemed to me that the table of contents should have automatically updated to include my new page, but I manually added it. I'm sure there must be some way to make it go automatically; my characteristic impatience for reading help messages prevented me from finding it. I may discover it now that I have created a private PBwiki for myself, just to play with this whole wiki thing more. (You can't get to this link; I put it here for my own convenience. I doubt you would want to diddle around in the chaos of my mind any more than you do in reading this blog, anyway, but if you really want to, ask me and perhaps I will let you. Then again, perhaps not.)

Another note of caution: It would be good to suggest a standard format for the pages. Some of them were too chaotic to read. Too many cooks in the kitchen with no head chef.

We use SharePoint wikis at work; I have contributed content but not set one up independently. They seem to be more automatic than PBwiki in some ways, but also less user friendly in others. This is definitely going to require more investigation on my part, both in PBwiki and SharePoint.

I'm not going to wax philosophic about wikis any more as my last blog entry about wikis is about 3 miles long.

Later note: After playing with my new wiki a bit, I realized that the Learning 2.0 wiki must be built in an earlier version of the software. The current version operates more like I thought it should. It still doesn't automatically generate a table of contents, but it does automatically create a page when you add a link to the table of contents. This is much like SharePoint. It works, but I wish it worked in reverse, too. Maybe in the next rev?

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Wikis are the revolution

I’m not the first to say this by any stretch of the imagination, but wikis truly are revolutionary and have already begun to change the way we think about “authority” information.

Don’t get me wrong; I still scoff at the easily-duped, research-authority-ignorant individuals who profess that single miscellaneous data points found through Google are enough to answer their professional questions. (Triangulate, at least, people!) But that was when most of the free internet was HTML pages created by solo operators or small groups who may or may not have had any real credibility or knowledge about what they posted. The more slick- and professional-looking the web page, the more some would place their faith in the site’s claims, whether or not the person behind the claims was an expert.

But wikis change everything. Now, certainly, there are some who would profess, “None of us is as dumb as all of us.” To a certain extent, that is true. Certainly, a wave of information pushed in an erroneous direction can gather momentum and be presented and accepted as fact.

Digression: I have a particular friend who can make anyone believe anything because he can say it with a tone and manner of great authority. This was especially useful in our younger days when he would easily pass as a respectable adult and secure all of our friends admission to…well, we’ll just leave it at that. My friends and I used to also play a fun game (for geeks, that is) at the beach called, “Lies about…” The idea was to come up with the longest list possible of convincing-sounding lies on a particular subject (e.g., “Lies about nature” or “Lies about Michelangelo”). Trust me, if you put a large group of 20-something-year-old past valedictorians together for a summer full of beer-fueled beach weekends, intellectual creativity blossoms. (I wonder if the folks that invented cheese racing were past valedictorians, because we did a number of what-happens-if-we-toss-this-on-the-campfire experiments, too.) Snopes would have trouble detecting whether or not some of the whoppers we invented were real or not. (I wonder if any of them are listed there.) We even took it beyond the beach, gathering eavesdroppers everywhere from the Cleveland Museum of Art to the Louvre as we waxed lies about particular famous works of art. You’d be amazed at what people will nudge in closer to hear when you and a friend stand in front of a famous impressionist painting whispering— in authoritative tones—improvised untruths about the intentions of the painter and his subtle artistic clues to his secret life.

Open collaborations like Wikipedia are likely rife with erroneous information, some of which, I’m sure, has duped me.

However, in general, I take a more optimistic view, believing that there is great wisdom in collectively created content. Peer review, even done informally, is very powerful, and, as we see in Wikipedia, often times the people involved in collectively creating content really do have expertise on that particular subject. Because I work in R&D at a company that essentially created its industry, my professional world is full of information that is not solid, universal truth. In my world, “fact” is defined by what our research and collective intelligence suggests up to that point. There is little outside authority that parallels ours, so we create our own assumptions. Our “facts” change with new knowledge. This is the nature and progress of science.

So, wikis seem right and natural to me.

The cherry picking opportunities are obvious. Anything that exists currently (or should) as a manual or reference document can easily be envisioned as a wiki, especially if the existing document was a collective effort to produce and will be a collective effort to maintain. In wiki form, updates can happen continuously by those who are best equipped to make them.

The difficulty arises as we start getting away from the obvious. I have one colleague whose company went to a complete wiki systems solution. This company, apparently, uses wikis for everything. Not knowing the details of this company’s operation, I can only say that this approach feels wrong. Wikipedia states, “A wiki is essentially a database for creating, browsing, and searching through information.” If that is assumed to be true, should everything be in a collaborative database? My point of reference comes from early in my library career when the sum total of my group’s systems options included a database system and WordPerfect. Working within this limited infrastructure, we put every piece of information we had into databases. Everything. And it worked. However, if instead of the 1980s it had been 2009, with the variety of intuitive, low cost, highly integrated software now available, that same approach would be ridiculously inefficient. More simply, consider typing a letter in Excel or doing complicated numerical calculations in a table in Word. Both can be done, but it is mismatching tools with applications, which introduces inefficiency.

When do I think a wiki makes sense? The first clue should be that wikis are, after all, part of the social media realm. At its core, a wiki should be rooted in collaboration. If I am the sole author of a training manual, for example, and no one should update the content of that manual without my consent, a wiki is not needed. That’s not to say that wiki software couldn’t be used, just that it’s not necessary. Now, if I am the sole author, but, in the future, this manual will/could/should be improved and updated by collaborative effort, than a wiki is the thing. But the best application of a wiki is when knowledge needs to be pooled to create the content. My incomplete portion of knowledge is complemented by (and, sometimes, overlapping a bit with) the piecemeal knowledge many others. When pulled together, the collective knowledge presents a more complete story than previously available. Voila, the benefits of collaboration. Further enhancement is achieved when others can refine, clarify, and expand upon that content to create a richer content product – continuous improvement. This process of completing and further enhancing the story may be evolutionary and infinite as knowledge grows and adapts.

Which brings us to the second clue: The wiki describes core knowledge. Although any sort of data or information can be typed into a wiki, the content of the wiki should be a record of core knowledge. For example, a wiki could be used as a way to compile a directory of detailed financial reports. But the reports and financials themselves are not really core knowledge, simply transient data. The better wiki would capture the observations and interpretations surrounding financial trends over time, the methodologies for handling financial information, or a company’s summary financials over time in the context of a company profile. The financial statements themselves should merely be linked references at the end of a wiki article, not an actual part of the wiki. Core knowledge is information that is summarized, synthesized, interpreted, and put into context, not simply accumulated or manipulated. Better to use spreadsheets and databases for those types of applications.

And the final point: The wiki has longevity appropriate to the knowledge application. Specifically, the content collection, as a whole, should be more evolutionary in nature than transient. Some parts of the content may become obsolete, but the overall content is ever adapting and growing with changing knowledge and business conditions and is continuously useful as these changes occur. Now, what constitutes longevity depends on the purpose of the wiki. For example, a great short-lifespan use of a wiki, appropriate to the scope of the application, is rapidly compiling a guide for conference attendees. The collective wisdom of the group can easily be contributed for the benefit of all throughout the lifespan of the conference. Even as the attendees head toward home at the end of the conference, they may still be adapting the content of the wiki to help each other navigate changing travel conditions and record learnings that could presumably assist in the planning of future conferences. It is adaptable, changing, and useful throughout the lifespan of the application, and, in some ways, beyond. Wikipedia, in contrast, may have an infinite lifespan because it is emerging as the mother of all (informal) encyclopedias. Certainly, entries will become obsolete over time and may well be deleted for lack of use because they cover topics that are of finite interest to readers, but the collective Wikipedia is continuously useful. There are a whole host of other potential wiki uses that would fall somewhere between a short-lifespan conference guide and an infinite-lifespan Wikipedia.

I really enjoyed Thing 16 because it gave me this opportunity to explore a number of wikis in which I’ve been meaning to poke around but hadn’t found the time, pointed me toward a few of which I hadn’t even heard about, and to think deep thoughts about the most effective way to apply them in my workplace. For example, we have a research guide, but I’d love to adapt this cool wiki model, this book wiki sparked some related ideas about how to incorporate more user input into our card catalog, and that conference guide wiki I referenced earlier inspired some event-related wiki ideas.

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