Friday, December 26, 2008

old school does not rule

Tonight I got contacted by an old friend whose wife makes hand crafted jewelry and is trying to sell it online. "How do I get in the top of the Google search results?" I explained the basics about how Google ranks sites and pointed them to the concept of Search Engine Optimization. But when I tried to give them my real advice, I hit a brick wall.
"Do the easy SEO stuff, but I would not waste a lot of time trying to game the system. With handcrafted articles, you would do better to have her focus on some social media sites, become active and develop a network of people who know her, like her art and spread the link with their friends".
I got a blank silence on the other end of the phone. "So I could use a really obscure keyword and then use it to test when the Google spider has revisited the site and see what changes with my rank, right?".
We went back and forth like this for several rounds, slight variation on the words, but the same underlying meaning. No matter what I said, he was convinced that the only way to be successful was to get highly ranked on Google.
I finally caved. "You could always pay to have your site in the top listing...."
"Yeah, I think that is a little beyond what we want to do."
I did not have the heart to tell him that Adwords was not necessarily as expensive as he thought.
"well, I wish you luck and hope some of this was useful..."

How do you convince people of the value of social media without them living it first hand??

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Not your father's email...

I love email. There is no denying it. The first time I discovered email (back in the 80's...) I can remember a rush of electricity running through me. "the delivery time just went to zero" I remember thinking. "And I can CC: people... it is like a private bulletin board". You can imagine how long I laughed when my daughter recently looked at me and said "Mom, email is dead- no one reads email anymore". I tried to explain to her that I processed several hundred emails each day, there is NO way this is going away. Then I stopped and wondered if the people who used carbon paper on a daily basis felt the same way once upon a time. Was it possible that I was buried so deeply in my habits that I was not seeing a coming change in usage? I decided to take a moment, step back with an open mind and pay attention to how the teenagers around me were communicating electronically. Here are some of the insights I have gathered about our future workforce:

1) All electronic communication is one-on-one. Some communication is private and some is personal, but it is all on a one to one basis. I saw this first hand recently when I was drafting my 14 year old to assist with getting comments on an article in the HP Magic Contest on Chris Pirillo's site. I asked her to contact her friends on Facebook and ask them to read and comment on the article. When I tackled this task, I wrote one message, CC'd it to any of my friends on Facebook and hit send. When she tackled this task, she typed up a message and sent it to one friend. Then she typed something slightly different and typed it to another. Then she typed a new message and sent it to another friend. Then she typed... you get the picture. I asked her what the HECK she was doing.. which led me to observation number two.

2) Only spammers CC: people. Laugh all you want at the naivete in this statement. I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing. Who in business today does not CC: ( or even BCC:) people on a daily (hourly??) basis? Once you stop laughing, stop and think about this. If an entire age group of people think and believe a certain way, isn't it likely to come true in the future? This is not just a misunderstanding of email, this is a philosophical stance being taken by a generation. What they believe and act on is the idea that all communication, even electronic communications, are personal interactions.

3)Messaging is ubiquitous, not a separate application. Email as an entity does not really exist. There is just the concept of messaging. Sometimes you send a private ( or public) message on Facebook, or MySpace. Or maybe you send a message in Flickr,, or from within a game you are playing. It might just be a text message on your cell phone. The concept of opening up a new application or web page JUST to do email is beyond silly (the actual term was "ridiculous") to the upcoming generation.

I have to admit that I am still struggling to imagine my life without gmail or Outlook or Thunderbird, but if I am honest, I have to admit that a change is coming. This is a topic that will continue to watch and discuss with the teens who cross my path- and I will be writing more on this in the near future. In the meantime, I have to admit that although my business usage of an email application has not changed, my personal use of email has become more and more limited- more an more of my one on one communication in my personal life takes place on facebook or twitter or through blog coments and not via email.

Is your email usage changing? What would your digital life look like without an email application ??

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Second Literacy

Although the invention of the movable type printing press by Gutenberg in 1440 is often quoted as the reason for the growth of literacy, it was not until hundreds of years later that reading and writing actually became common skills. The reason for this was the industrial revolution, which made printing cheap- and thus accessible to the masses.

Before this time, the "common man" relied on the "scholars" (usually the wealthy) in their towns to read for them. This meant that there was a small percentage of the population who were reading books and pamphlets of the time, interpreting them, and then telling the rest of the population what those words on the page meant. When cheap books became available, not everyone was happy about it. Those who had previously controlled ideas and influenced the masses with the interpretations that favored their point of view argued the "dangers" of teaching certain classes of people to read and write.

It has not been a smooth ride. Certainly the printed word has been misused and abused people in addition to freeing new ideas. Political propaganda, advertising,and government controlled press are all examples of this literacy revolution being manipulated against people. But once the masses experienced the power of understanding those little squiggles on the page, there has been no turning back. It is not a perfect world, estimates run between 15-20 percent illiteracy rates globally, and literacy is certainly not equally distributed amongst all classes and geographical areas. But today people across the globe read and write and share ideas and experiences in a way that continues to transform our thoughts and lives.

About 200 years after Mr. Gutenberg, a small treatise called Observations on the Bills of Mortality was published by John Graunt. At about the same time, Pascal and Fermat were developing probability theory. For statistical literacy, these events were the equivalent of Gutenberg's printing press.

Now, nearly 200 years after the industrial revolution, for the first time raw data and statistics are available cheaply to the masses. ( See CDC data here, for example) We are currently poised on the brink of a revolution in thought and understanding, and I look back and wonder if the people living and working in a time before literacy was common could have predicted the impact that reading would have on their world. We still live in a time when a very small group of people have a good understanding of statistics, interpret the data and tell the rest of the population what all of those numbers mean. Just as there were arguments that reading was unhealthy for women, we continue to hear how there are "liars, damned liars and statisticians". Look at what reading has brought to the women of the world. Just as there were arguments made that reading was too hard for "colored folks", we still here arguments that math is too hard to teach and learn. We just elected our first black president who is incredibly articulate and literate, and people all over the world are poised for the change they hope he brings.

There are some who are working not just to bring the raw data to the masses, but to bring a means of understanding them to the masses. Just as McGuffey created a set of readers that were age appropriate and helped to teach generations of children to read, Hans Rosling is working to create graphical tools that make statistics more accessible. If you have not listened to any of his GapCasts, or his TED talks, I highly recommend them. Check out this one, for example:

The curve of social change is going to be even more radical for this literacy revolution than for the first. During the first curve, it was already common for those who were "well educated" to be literate. Today, even most college graduates have no real understanding of statistics. During the first revolution, even in middle class working families, there was some ability to read simple bible passages and do some basic writing for business clerical reasons. Today, most hardworking blue collar families have no one who understands the difference between correlation and causation.

We are currently living in the equivalent of a world flooded with free books- stacked on every table, in every corner of every building- but with no one picking them up and reading them because reading is "too hard". I suppose it is possible that we will continue to live in these surroundings, allowing our statistical priests and scholars to tell us what the data means and what we should think, but my mind struggles against that. I can not imagine that the human spirit will continue to resist the urge to explore and pick up that book and learn to read. When we cross the bridge and statistical literacy becomes common, the variety of free data sets easily available will be much wider than the variety of books that were available to the first common readers.

When I hear people arguing that probability and statistics is much too hard to teach small children, I am visualizing an illiterate parent or grandparent in the early 1800s who did not see the utility of sending small children to school to learn to read, but wanted to keep them home to do useful work. When I hear people argue that math is important, but statistics is too advanced and not very useful, I visualize those same parents arguing with teachers that going to school beyond the 5th or 6th grade was a waste and it was time for the 12 year olds to go to work and be productive. It is easy now to look backwards and see how important early childhood education and a High School ( or college) diploma is, but can you look forward and imagine a world where equivalent statistical literacy is taken for granted?
What sort of a world will you choose, one where data is interpreted and manipulated for you, or one where people can come to a real understanding of data?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Wierder than you even imagined

I recently got tagged by WickedWriter, a twitter friend, to share seven weird and possibly unknown things about myself. Since I chatter a LOT on twitter and share random bits of my life, I am digging deep to find the truly odd bits of my soul.

1. I can not stand peely bits. It does not matter if it is on my body ( peeling nail polish, peeling sunburn) on someone else's body or just a bit of peeling paint on a wall. If I see something starting to peel, I feel compelled to work at it. Ogre, on the other hand, HATES to be peeled, so when he gets sunburned in the summer, it takes all my will power not to sit and tear off those tiny bits of skin. ( grossed out yet?)

2. I have Hashimoto's Disease. This is probably not as weird as you might think. Hashimoto's is a thyriod auto-immune disorder. It amazes me how many people I meet who have this or some other thyroid disorder. As long as I take my artificial thyroid hormones every day.. no big deal at all.

3. Sugar and I do not get along well. I am not diabteic,hypergylcemic or hypoglycemic, I just have a hyper reactive insulin response. I apparently release a lot when I eat sugar and then I react to it strongly. Best thing? Avoid foods with more than 10g simple carbs. Worst thing? I have an insane sweet tooth and when I get stressed, this is an immense craving. Some days I win, some days I lose.

4. I love clean floors and a freshly made bed. I am horrible about dusting, but I it makes me all excited to get down on my knees and scrub a floor.

5. I never use a dishwasher and wash my clothes on the line at every chance I get. In a crazy, hectic, gadget driven life I find those small opportunities to slow down and do something by hand are a great opportunity to just breathe and center and clear my thoughts.

6. I think best on the move. It is rare for me to sit through a conference call, I am usually up, walking around the house. If I get my body moving, it energizes my thoughts. The ability to do this may have ruined me for working in a cramped office ever again. I blame this on the fact that I grew up in "open space" schools in elementary and middle school and was never forced to sit in a chair at a desk for very long. Contrary to this, I also problem solve in my sleep. When I am really stuck, I lay down and take a nap. I almost always have a new line of thought or a solution when I wake up.

7. I love grocery shopping. Some days I go to relax, even if I do not really need anything. I love walking through the store, seeing all the possibilities, experimenting in my head with new combinations of ingredients, checking out what is new and interesting. The only thing better than a grocery store is the Farmer's Market in the summer. I am religious about going to the Farmer's Market every Saturday morning.

So, now seven more people who I am sure have oddities they have not yet divulged:


Saturday, December 13, 2008

scoble needs some backtalk

Yesterday morning, Robert Scoble was chastising someone for sending him a DM on Twitter. The strength of his dislike caught me off guard, especially since just hours earlier I had found out that I had won one of the HP Magic contests, and I was crediting a large portion of it to the power of a DM. I had to ask why he hated them so and he pointed me to an article he had written on why DMs suck. Although he has some reasonable points, I think for the most part, he is missing the point of DMs. If Twitter is the back channel discussion of real life, DMs are the back channel discussion on Twitter. If Twitter is a meeting room, DMs are the equivalent of sitting in a meeting, leaning over to the guy sitting next to you and quietly talking under your hand to him. If Twitter is a cocktail party, DMs are the equivalent of walking up to your lover in the middle of the crowded room and whispering something suggestive in their ear. I think that private one on one communication remains a powerful force, even on the internet, so I am presenting some counter arguments to Scoble's 10 reasons, reproduced below. I am interested in your thoughts... how and why do you use DMs?

Robert Says:
1. I can’t delete them all. So I ignore them all.

I say:
1. This seems like an incredibly binary reaction to the world. And honestly, it misses what was at first the most disconcerting "feature" of DMs for me- if the sender deletes their DM to you, your version of it disappears as well. This feature should give us a huge clue that DMs are meant to be transient. They are whispers, quiets jokes or a poke in the ribs from a friend.

Robert Says:
2. I can’t put them into folders. So, no way to prioritize them. Or, if you are a Gmail addict, no way to tag messages.

I say:
2. Why would you want to tag, file and sort transient information? And how is that useful if something you spent lots of time classifying could randomly disappear when the sender cleans out their DM drawer?

Robert Says:
3. No way to resort them. No way to see old messages. Or messages from someone specific. Email has those features.

I say:
3. DMs are not email. This is like saying that apples are not a good because banana skins are easier to peel. It would be more useful to discuss the features we would like them to have to make them even more useful, rather than just griping about how they are different from something they are not.

Robert Says:
4. No way to forward messages. That means they are useless for business. If you ask me a business question I MUST forward the question and get approvals. No way to do that on Twitter.

I say:
4. Thank God. The whole reason you whisper something is that you do not want everyone else to know about it. The real complaint here is that people are misusing DMs. Why would you mutter a business proposal to someone in real life without also handing them a business card that they can take with them and has more permanence? The opportunity here would be to educate people. Don't ridicule them for sending you DMs. If you like the proposal, respond by asking for a follow up email. If you don't like it, politely ignore it.

Robert Says:
5. No way to BCC messages. In email I can copy my boss blindly so you can’t see that I’m doing that. That’s a way that I can keep him involved in my life and up to date on all the wild promises I’m making to people. That’s why I don’t make promises on Twitter or Facebook.

I say:
5. You are right, don't make business deals in the wrong venue. But does the fact that you cannot BCC a cocktail conversation mean that you should not talk to anyone at a party? Not everything in life is a business deal, not everything on Twitter is meant to be productive.

Robert Says:
6. You ask me a question that requires a 500 word response but you ask it in a place that limits me to 140 characters. Thanks for frustrating me.

I say:
6. This would piss me off too. But get mad at the sender, not the medium.

Robert Says:
7. I can’t respond to your own DM’s unless you follow me. Seriously. The design of Twitter’s DM’s +is+ that lame.

I Say:
7. On this point I completely agree. It would be more useful to have a method that lets the receiver block an annoying incoming DM, rather than requiring a bidirectional relationship to start a DM.

Robert Says:
8. I can’t put an auto answer onto DM’s so that I can tell you to get a clue and to send me email instead.

I say:
8. I know I should say something astute here, but I am struggling with a mental image of Robert walking around a cocktail party with a sandwich board sign strapped to him reading " Just email me".

Robert says:
9. I can’t CC, or copy other people, or send a message to a group. Things that email has been able to do for years.

I say:

9. See Number 3 above.

Robert Says:
10. I can’t move my DM’s out of Twitter and into other systems. That’s something that I’ve been able to do with email for years and it’s served me well. Even Hotmail lets me forward emails to Gmail.

I say:
10. Again, with the mental images.. this time Robert is at a cocktail party with an MP3 recorder so he can record, resort and archive his conversations. Wait. he does this, only it is a cell phone.

Robert Says:
11. UPDATE, this just came in via Twitter from @TraciKnoppe: “@Scobleizer Use your great influence for good & get Twitter to chng the DM req. & API limits. Make it so number one. :P”

I say:
11. I hope that if I am ever as famous as Robert, I remember to occasionally use my power for good, and to listen to the requests of the "little folks", rather than just being annoyed by them. Ya'll make me famous and I promise to try.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Proof that a teenager's brain is disconnected from reality

( as if we needed proof)

Last evening, Sam was prepping for the HS Christmas Concert and we were casually talking. She looks over at me and says "I have figured something out". I turned, waiting to hear what revelation had occurred to her this time.

"I really suck at music"
"music, I suck at it".

This from the child who has been playing bassoon since 5th grade and the private instructor wants to get her hands on, but Sam does not want to work that hard.
This from the teen who, since you can not march with a bassoon, was handed mallets in June and by October was put in the front row of the pit, because she was excelling. Now, to be fair- she has played with percussion before, but not mallet.
This from the young lady who, since you do not play bassoon in the pep band, was handed a baritone, an instruction sheet and some sheet music. A week later, she was playing in pep band. With some fumbles, to be sure- but playing. From double reed to brass.

Yeah, she sucks at music.
Sam's teen aged brain and reality? Just not connected in any discernible way.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The importance of Bridges

EDIT: I won an HP Magic giveaway on Chris Pirillo's site ( link later when it is not the middle of the night). This makes me in-eligible for Sugar Jone's contest. However, I have already met some amazing people and Sugar has given me permission to continue to network with others. I won the contest I did, because of the power and reach of my network of friends and contacts. I will always believe in the power of reaching out to help someone without thought of reward, because eventually it really does come back to you. It is all very surreal right now, I am sure I will have more to share later on. If you are here to network and find other people whose lives you can change, read on and comment. I will reply. If you were hoping to just "gain points" by commenting, feel free to skip this and move on to the next link.

There is great clarity in my mind that one of the things I am best at is being a bridge. Bridges are structures that help to overcome an obstacle or clear a path from one thing to another. We usually think of bridges as wooden, or metal, or perhaps even rope. The word evokes different mental images in different people perhaps a large spanning structure, like the golden gate bridge. Maybe your mental picture is an old log you used to use to cross a stream in the woods when you were a child. For others, the word bridge calls up a scene from an Indiana Jones movie, with a precarious rope bridge barely attached to a cliff over a deep canyon. If you are really a geek, you might even be picturing a bridge in an electrical circuit- essential for converting energy from AC to DC. But I say that some of the most important bridges in our world today are the human ones.

None of us can fix all the problems in the world. None of us can help all the people who need assistance, or provide resources to everyone who needs it. We do all the small things we can to make our immediate world a better place- feed the family next door, donate used clothes or toys, lend a helping hand at the local soup kitchen and we can see the changes around us. It changes the lives of the people we touch and it changes our lives by reaching out. These are so important. In our immediate family, we work hard to teach our children to donate outgrown clothes and toys, to collect cans for canned food drives, to donate time to local animal shelters or to help fight teen drug abuse. They see us donate blood, vote in elections and take an active stance in the community we live in. Those are all incredibly important and I would not want any of them to stop.

But some problems are bigger than what we can tackle on a personal level. Some problems exceed our own personal resources ( time, money, location, mobility) and leave us feeling frustrated. This is where you can become a bridge. You may not have the time to donate to a local animal shelter, but you know three people who do and you can connect them. You may not have the money to put a new roof on someone's house, but you know of an agency who assists and you get them in touch. You may not be able to grow an extra row in a garden, because your yard is too small... but you know someone at your church or school who has a huge yard.

In the internet age, it is easier than ever to see potential connections. How often have you been online and thought.. "wow, how ironic. I just read about someone trying to figure out how to get rid of their old bed without a truck.. and now this person is blogging about needing a bed. What a weird world this is." Instead, be proactive. Introduce the person without a truck to the person needing a bed. It does not have to be a formal introduction... maybe just passing on a blog note, or a quick tweet reply to point someone in the right direction. Don't assume that just because you read something on the internet, everyone else knows it is there. The internet is a big big place, awash in information that often only small numbers of people see.

In the normal course of your online browsing, chatting, blogging and tweeting, take a minute.. when you see a potential connection- be a bridge. You don't need money or the ability to travel, or to even be well enough to leave the house. You just need to be willing to speak up and point out the connections you are seeing. Convert the crazy alternating current of energy flowing around us into a direct current that can take action and solve problems. Be a bridge and be astounded with how good you end up feeling with all that energy flowing through you.

note: this entry is published in response to a request for the HP Magic give away contest being hosted by the Living-in Theory Blog. If you are interested in what I would do with such great computer loot, you can check out an earlier blog post I wrote on the HP Magic Contest.

Social Media Lessons learned

The last week has been an interesting social media experiment for me. As you know by now, HP is doing a massive computer giveaway split across 50 different blogs. I became inspired and am still trying to work hard to win one of the contests to make a little Christmas magic happen here in the Heartlands. I entered a couple that were random drawings..and lost. I entered one on Liz Henry's Blog about poetry, technology and politics that was an "inspire me" contest. I got an honorable mention for my comment, but no computers. I was excited because people liked my writing, but no computers to share. Then I found out about Chris Parillo's contest.. it was a write a post and get the most comments sort of post. I wrote about something I have a passion for.. cooking and then started the social media pimping. I wanted to spread the word, but did not want to be completely annoying about it all.
I did a couple of tweets about the contest and included a link to the article. I posted it on my Facebook status. I sent out multiple emails to different mailing lists. The comments rushed forward... mostly family and really good friends at first. We jumped up to 21 comments in no time at all.. putting us at about number 5 or 6 in the contest. My hopes surged.. maybe we had a real chance at this.
The next day, I put out a few more tweets, but the response was slow. We stalled at about 24 comments. I really want this for the people involved, so I started calling some friends who I had emailed in the initial rush. I sat people down and asked them to read and comment on it... we jumped up to 41 comments. There was a chance after all..
With less than 24 hours left in the contest, I decided to get a little more pushy.. I started DMing people on Twitter. I actually DM'd so many that I used up my 24 hour quota of DMs (several of us did not even know the limit had been added...). But I started getting lots of positive results. DMs back from people, emails, wow. I got excited. I logged back into Facebook and started Facebook IMing people who were actively online.. asking them to please check it out and comment if they liked it.
The comments awaited moderation and poor Chris apparently came down with food poisoning, others covered for him. With no idea where I stood, I finally drifted off to sleep at about 1am.
I woke up at 3am this morning to check. Comment count was at 96!! Unfortunately, someone else has 100 and another yet has 110, so although no official winner has been announced, I am guessing this is one I did not win.
However, I learned a really important lesson about social networking. We all talk about the power of public statements and posts. We get in the pulpit and talk about how it streamlines communication and action to have things like blogs and general public streams of ideas and discussions. And I think these are all very very good things. This is a good way of asynchronously getting together groups of people who would never have converged, otherwise. But when it came down to really getting things done, to really motivating people to action? The personal, direct one on one interaction won out every single time.
I do not regret participating in Chris's contest.. I got introduced to Geeks!, which I did not know about and found some great new people to follow and interact with over at Twitter. Life is all about the journey.
Oh, and the computers? I have not given up on those yet either.. I found another contest to tackle and try all over again over at Sugar Jones' Living in Theory blog. You should come and join in the fun. This one is not about popularity or the power of your story alone.. ( thank goodness-- no more requests for contests)it is also about community building. I am impressed with the concept, and look forward to applying some of the lessons I learned in the last couple of contests. Watch a little later for my essay part of that entry, and check out the #sugarmagic tags on Twitter to see if we can get a community built up.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Holiday spirit running rampant FTW!!!!!

Best EDIT EVAH: I DID win the contest. OMG. Chris Pirillo and his team did the unthinkable, huge task of peeling down IPs and eliminating duplicate entries.... and I WON. I so could not have done this without the power of my friends in real life, my facebook contacts, but most of all my Tweeps. The people I network with regularly on Twitter jumped in and made magic come true to push this over the top. Don't ever discount that small networking connection you make... there is power in giving and it can come back to you in amazing ways. Living proof, right here!!

Edit: I want to note that two things have happened since I wrote this post.
1)Since I did not win this contest, I am trying my hand at another.. on the Living in Theory Blog. I am referencing this post to answer the "what would you do with these computers" part of the contest, as that is only a small part of the contest... the most important is a discussion of how we are all working to change or improve our world. I encourage you to follow through the Living in Theory link to read some amazing, inspirational stories.
2) It has come to my attention that the local preschool at our YMCA ( which both of my kids spent some time at) is really struggling. Much of their extra funding comes from United Way funds, and most of the United Way money comes from donations in the community. In a community where the two largest employers are related to the auto industry, it is probably no surprise that donations are down. Our old PC would be perfect for preschool education, and I am excited thinking about having the opportunity to donate it to them.
( end edit)

HP has stirred up a lot of energy and enthusiasm with their HP Magic contest. 50 blogs around the blogosphere were chosen to be able to give away amazing prize packages. The prize includes more than one computer, with the intent that the winner will "share the magic". Each blog owner gets to set their own rules and requirements (within reason) and so many different niche groups are being reached. I am impressed with HP's savvy on this.. by allowing themselves to give up some of the control, they will reach a wider audience with less work effort on their part. Seems like a win/win situation in all cases.
Never one to pass on the opportunity to share some joy,I pondered who I would share computers with and decided to enter a couple of contests. Most of the contests are "impress me with your story" or "random drawing" type entries. I encourage you to go to HP's website and find a few to enter yourself- everyone knows some person or organization who could really benefit from a new computer.
Chris Pirillo's contest is working a little differently. Since his website is about getting people to guest blog and write interesting articles to share, he is having folks write an article, then the article with the most comments wins.
This means I need your help. I know there is nothing in it for you, except the joy of knowing that you really helped someone out. I will, of course, do follow up articles, pictures and videos so you can share in the moment when the gifts would be revealed.
What would happen with these?

1) My best friend has never owned a computer in his life. He struggled against rough times and a very rocky start early in his life and has turned things around amazingly. he works very hard as a part time mail man ( yep, even through midwest winters) to make ends meet, but he does has not gotten to a point of being able to buy his own. I would love to see him with his own laptop. The freedom of not having to "borrow" computer time from friends or at the library would mean the world to him.

2) My new inLaws are farmers. not big corporate farmers, but small, "trying to make ends meet and not let the debt get too much bigger this year" farmers. They do not have a computer either. They use a data line, but we know that if we get them a computer, not only will it save money by replacing the dtn, but it will give them so many other options for running the farm, managing the business and staying in touch with their grandchildren who are scattered across two states. We know once it is in their hands, they will never want to give it up.

3) my daughter who is a freshman in high school is really struggling with splitting her time between two households ( mine and her dads). I am hoping that having a small mini laptop that is completely hers no matter where she goes will give her some consistency that she is lacking. I had hoped to get her one for Christmas, but since we got the "temporary layoffs up to 13 weeks are imminent" letter from our employer last week, gifts of that scale are out of budget this year.

I will not lie, we would use the last computer to upgrade our family computer.. with my stepsons 3 hours away, having a family room replacement computer will make video conferencing with them much easier, and give us a place to gather for fun. It will even run Spore! ( the graphics card in our famliy room computer will not run it now). Our old computer will then be donated to a local charity to pass on even more love.

So what do I want from you? go read the article on cooking tips to eat well and save you money that I wrote. I think you will like it. Then make an intelligent comment. Simple thing you might have done anyway... and it will help out a bunch of other people!!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Just under the wire?

EDIT: Well, I did not win this one, but a really cool grandma from colorado did. You can still click through and see the announcement and her story. I have another try going on Chris Parillo's site. I will blog that as soon as the bread is done baking...

Not really expecting anything to come of it, but you never know.. right? Gotta try. Just found out about Jake Ludington’s HP Magic Giveaway contest and entered it hours before it is over.. you can still enter too!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Keep it simple?

I know the advice offered up by Dean Rieck in his "Ultimate Blogger Writing Guide" is exactly what I should be doing to increase the readability of my blog and widen my audience. But I find I tire easily of blogs written in small words, with short sentences arranged in short paragraphs. I long for complexity. I crave writing that requires thought and digestions before I decide if I agree or disagree. I love it when an interesting article sends me off to my dictionary to look up a word, which will then be added to my working vocabulary and is certain to show up in a future blog post of my own. I recently used the word "ponder" in a facebook status and had a high school sophomore seriously asking what it meant to "ponder" something. Perhaps, if we were not all trying to write to the lowest, widest common denominator, more readers would be stretched and grow. Then again, maybe they would just stop reading what we have to say...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Playing telephone with the truth..

One of the primary things that many years of studying/practicing academic research science taught me is always go back to the primary source- get as close to the raw data as possible. Today's latest news blurb nonsense made it obvious that this is true in all areas of life- especially news as spread by social media.

I love getting up to the second news bits and pieces, love that social media helps me find information that would have been lost to me otherwise, but I get frustrated that the growing push to get more pieces out faster is corroding the truth of what is being spread. Here is my latest experience:

1) I receive the following Tweet from @mollywood on Twitter:
"DUDES. Obama may get rid of Daylight Savings Time!? Do it! Do it!"
2) Because I was sitting at my computer, I clicked through on the URL. It took me to a BoingBoing article with the headline "Obama might get rid of daylight saving time". The lead off sentence reads: "President-elect Obama wants to get rid of daylight saving time in the United States to conserve energy. " And the short BoingBoing summary has a click through link that reads: "Obama Looks to Axe Daylight Time". Being a DST hater myself, I was intrigued. I clicked through- what would the man of hope have to say about DST?

3) That link took me to a GreenDaily article with the headline: "Obama Should Axe Daylight Time -- NYT Op-Ed Explains Why". My confusion was growing. Note the change in language between the two headlines, although the BoingBoing article was meant to summarize and highlight the GreenDaily article. This was not an Obama opinion at all, this was a scientific report in the NYT. The GreenDaily article linked through to the original NYT article. I am always looking for evidence against DST, so I clicked through.

4) I ended up on an OpEd ( that Op stands for Opinion, in case you did not know) NYT piece entitled "What’s the Point of Daylight Time?" It is actually a good read and contains references to research done recently with Indiana data- but being an Opinion piece, has no links or references to the actual data or studies. This was an article that originally went into print on Nov 20 in the paper version of the NYT. If I had read this straight from the paper, it would have driven me to the computer to look up the researchers, drive back to the original research. It is too easy to just read something that agrees with your opinion and not check the facts. Unfortunately, this trail that got me here already took too much of my lunch hour, so the real background checking will have to wait until later. You can go do it yourself and comment here on what you find, or wait a day or two for me to update here.

What does this teach us? It took very little effort to go from an opinion piece in the NYT where some researchers are discussing their research and making an open general recommendation to the new president on actions they like, to an environmental blog summarizing the NYT opinion piece and correctly reporting it as the NYT recommending this action to the President-elect to a BoingBoing article that made it sound like Obama was actually taking action. As we speak, the internet is blossoming with articles saying "Obama looks to axe DST", "Obama wants to get rid of DST", etc..- all of them linking back to the BoingBoing article. And yet, in NO part of the sources of these articles did any information come from the Obama camp.

I am a proponent of distributed news and social bookmarking. For this to work, we need to keep the flow of information "clean", rather than a news headline version of telephone that results in a distributed flood of articles with as much veracity as the National Enquirer. Try the following to help keep the information flowing:

1) If you are passing on a news article or "fact", take an extra 3 minutes and click through to the source.
2)Reference the original news source, in addition to the "pass through" intermediary.
3) Don't just recap the headline of the intermediary you read,read the original and re-summarize if you think the intermediary got it wrong; or link the to intermediary and give some value add as to why this is good or bad news.

Monday, November 17, 2008

switching roles: journalist mode

I am getting settled in here at SC08 in Austin Texas. This is one of the conferences where I get to attend as Press, a fun hat switch for me. I like approaching new technologies from the perspective of outsider looking in, questioning how we can stretch the discipline and grow it in many directions. When I have my journalist hat on, it is how to grow it in the direction of Manufacturing IT.
Instead of looking as a consumer of technology, I get to brainstorm on behalf of many technology consumers, trying to think not just what my family or my company needs.. but what anyone could possibly do with some of the new ideas being introduced. I get to dream, think big and travel way outside of the box. Most of my "official" posts will appear over on the Intech High Performance Computing Blog, but I will try to keep posting here as well, including some pictures as the week goes on.

Friday, November 14, 2008

How bandwidth caps will hurt the economy more

I remember the days of dialup networking well. I don't mean the old AOL/Geni/Compuserve dialup service, I mean "put your funny shaped, wire tethered phone headset down in a cradle and listen to the funny tones squeal while you wait for a handshake" dial up. When network connectivity was difficult, you saved it for important things. You did not squander precious bits without putting thought into it. Modems evolved, and then became incorporated into computers. It was easier to connect, so we shared small pictures,backgrounds for webpages ( usually tiled), animated images and silly sounds. But the connection was still slow and we paid by the hour. Some people even paid twice.. once to the service/ISP and then again in cost per minute to the phone company for the connection. Things like video and online shopping could not take off because the overhead of paying for the connectivity, and the worry that you would run out of minutes and not be able to continue with basics like email. Then came always on, unlimited bandwidth. No longer did I have to dial up to the ISP, wait for the connection and then carefully count the minutes I was online.
With a bigger pipe and free access, the business model for the web changed. Want to share all 1200 pictures from your last vacation with me? Cool. I have all the time I need to sit and admire them, and I know I will still have bits left over to read my email. Someone put videos on thee web? holy crud. Let's sit and watch, who cares if there are advertisements on the page, these are funny videos!
Busy at work? Need to get birthday presents for your grandma who lives on the other side of the country? Here.. order flowers online- you can page through the images and select one. Not flowers? How about any one of a million other products you can order online and have easily shipped to her? Maybe you would like to buy her one of those nifty products you saw advertised while you were watching the funny videos.
Like to play games> No need to get up from your computer and go to the store to buy and install discs, just buy them over the internet and download them directly to your PC. Why not to your wii? your PS3? Your Xbox? Download them to your console and then move them to your DS or your PSP.
Too busy to go to the store, buy CDs, load them in your computer and then copy them to your mp3 player? No matter. We have many different services where you can buy music directly over the internet and then just download it. You like to buy music? how about music videos? TV shows? Movies? Don't download it- you can just stream it. Heck, stream it in high definition- why not? Your bandwidth is virtually free!
Soon, it became easier to shop online than to get in your car, drive and interact with grumpy, rude people at the mall. The price of gas went up- you are saving money by staying home, so you can buy more. Right?
The internet is the ultimate impulse buy.
What happens when we go back to that old dial up mentality and we are worried about how many bits are flowing to and from our houses again? Will you let Spore waste your bandwidth uploading and downloading creatures? Will you continue to directly download audio books from the likes of How many ad-supported video podcasts will you download and watch? Will you let your video game console communicate over the net?
Last month, I spent hours and hours looking at images of dresses on the internet while I was shopping for a wedding dress. If I had a cap on my DSL, I never would have done that. Nor would I have bought the dress online from the merchant I did. What will happen to iPod hardware sales if people are concerned about how much they are downloading from iTunes or to put on it? What about your cell phone that uses a wifi connection when you are at home to save on your cell phone minutes? Will you still let that connect? If not, will you talk less or will you spend money on your cell phone bill instead of something else from a store in your home town?
Personally, I work a lot from my home office. Bandwidth is cheap, I can VPN into the corporate network and do my teleconferences. It saves me gas money from the commute and time to stay caught up on things like laundry. If my bandwidth gets capped, I will be driving into the office again every day to use their bandwidth instead. The money I have to spend on gas will take away from things like eating out, seeing movies, or buying new wii games for the kids.
What other gadgets and habits do you have that eat away at the bits you consume every month. How many purchases will you forgo, if you are worried about being able to read your email at the end of the month? how many youtube or 12second videos will you upload? How many will you watch? Will you Hulu? How useful is that iPod touch if you are not connected to the internet?
Will your highspeed bandwidth provider become the gas companies of the next decade, making big profits to give you virtual mobility at the expense of other businesses and sectors?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Keeping IT Cooking through a recession

I sometimes get to catch a TV show called "Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares" (Between you and me, I like the BBC version better- but you can actually watch it on Hulu via the first link). It is a show where famous chef and restaurateur Gordon Ramsey spends a week with a failing restaurant and attempts to turn it around. In a week, what he can usually do is is rework it and point the owner and the staff in the right direction. It occurs to me that the types of activities we, as corporate IT folks, should be taking during this "economic downtime" are very similar to what Chef Ramsey goes through with a restaurant. The process is really fairly formulaic, it is only the personalities involved that make the shows different from week to week. If you are a corporate IT type and your business is slowing down, here is the basic flow:

1. Inventory. Understand what you have.
For IT this can not mean spending lots of money. It may mean lots of man hours. Time spent on phones with end users, technical staff etc. Then tracking it down in detail. It is tedious, it can be boring. You can not do anything else without this information.

2. Clean ( usually while inventorying). Throw out the green fuzzy leftovers in the back of the kitchen. Make sure the old grease is cleaned up and the plumbing is working well.

You may have done some of this as part of cost cutting already, but I am sure there is more to be done. Keep the following key principles in mind: simplify the software stack, lower the variety of applications that fulfill the same task and look at which technologies are potentially nearing their expiration dates and may need to be replaced in the future. You will not be able to spend money to do simplification; but you can do all the research and be prepared with detailed business cases and implementation plans when the money is released. Look at the entire queue of identified projects and rationally prioritize your actions for when the budget is a little more flush. You may even surprise yourself and find some cases where you can see immediate cost savings.

3. Understand the neighborhood and potential clients. Understand the competition. What unsatisfied tastes/needs could this establishment fulfill?

What are the technologies that will give your company the best business edge over your competitors? How do your competitors work? What is the growing infrastructure in the IT and/or ( fill in your domain here) world at large? Where are the biggest business gaps that IT can assist the business with? Do the full technology evaluation, write the business case, use this information to help build the new menu. Understand what ingredients are needed, what the best suppliers are, etc.. Read, talk to other IT folks at other companies, hold internal discussion groups and seminars to get everyone up to speed and well educated on today's possible technologies. Have a few key sandboxes where you can build without costs, using your own man power to try things out.

4. Rework the menu, always remembering to keep it simple. Narrow the number of choices. Use ingredients that allow you to make a quality product while keeping the menu price low and still make a profit.

This is not just coming up with the same dishes on a pretty new piece of paper. Sometimes you have to work with the suppliers to teach them better ways to do things. Help them find ways to lower their costs, so they can get things to you cheaper. Sometimes you have to find brand new suppliers. Test all the menu items. A good chef Always tastes and eats his own food. If we do not test and use the technology, we will never really be experts or understand the potentials. It is your experience with technologies combines with our deep understanding of the business that makes us an invaluable addition.

5. Work on staff communications and clarify duties. Make sure everyone knows their job and can do it well.
Clean up your processes. This does not mean make them more complicated. This does not drawing pretty pictures.. It means practicing. OK, you don’t have real paying customers? Run yourselves as customers and practice how to handle the orders, how to serve and how to talk to each other and the business clearly.

6. Relaunch with a fanfare and some important guests. Be sure not to blow the relaunch.
Have a great new recipe/offering to dazzle folks. This means having fully prepared business cases/implementation plans and have the business partially sold on it before the dollars start flowing. Execute well.

7. Work hard, but do it with passion and feeling
That is just something that never changes. It is insufficient to just beat yourself to a pulp to get tasks done- you still will not win at the end of the day. You have to have a passion for what you do and add in your personality and flair to make it really a winner.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The treo to blackberry transition

I recently had to switch from my beloved Treo 700p to a blackberry when the much used and abused Treo gave up the ghost in the middle of the MESA conference. I was amongst the very first group of Blackberry users ever, when RIM first sold them at a JavaOne conference before releasing them to the general public about 10 years ago. I was more than sold and the blackberry saved my life and got me business more than once. But I am all about the rates, and when I switched carriers for a significantly lower rate, they did not yet support the blackberry and I had to switch phones. I tried to get by on a "regular" cell phone for a while but that did not last long and I soon found my way to a Treo 700p. I was once again in smart phone heaven, but I have to admit there was some glee in being able to return to the Blackberry after all of these years. Even though it is a happy return, no transition is without a little pain and adjustment, and there are a handful of features from my Treo that I will always miss and pine for. The rest are things that I have just not figured out how to do yet, so maybe you can help me with your favorite hack or hidden shortcut.

High on the list of "things the Blackberry was not built to do" is switching SD cards easily. All of my devices use SD cards.. by design. With my old Treo, I could esaily pop out an SD card and insert a new one. This meant that audio recordings or pictures shot with other cameras could still be easily uploaded to flickr or my blog by simply switching around the SD cards and using the Treo to send. The Blackberry not only uses microSD cards ( ugh), but also requires you to pop out the battery to switch cards around. Not exactly an easy or convenient card change method. One of the best Treo features was the sound on/off switch at the top of the phone. Yes, it is easy enough to switch phone profiles on the blackberry to put it into silent or vibrate only mode.. but nothing, absolutely nothing is easier than a physical switch located at the top of your phone. I could reach blindly into a pocket or a purse and turn it off in seconds flat without ever taking it out- a great feature in any crowded place when you suddenly realize that is your phone going off- not some idiot who did not mute their phone. on the side of small, silly but significant, I loved that the video and still picture functions were accessed on the Treo via the same application. This meant that it was very easy to switch back and forth between shooting video and shooting stills. On my Blackberry, I have to switch back and forth between applications, meaning time and shooting opportunities are sometimes lost. Honestly, considering the things I can not imagine how I lived without that my Blackberry does that the Treo could not, this is not such a long or painful list.

Then there are the things that make me scratch my head and think "I know there has to be a way to do this, but I will be DAMNED if I can figure out how...". Now I am no slouch with gadgets, but either through years of habit or lack of free time to play, I can not figure these out to save my life. The first and biggest on my "how to" wish list is being able to select multiple emails at once in the built in email software and or messaging. I have my emails forwarded from several accounts to my blackberry, which is very handy, but sometimes need to go through, clean it up and delete a bunch at once. Having to click messages one at a time and select delete for each is thumb wearying. Then there is the ability to send photos via the messaging application. I have figured out how to open the media application and send as an email to someone.. but this does not give me the phone to phone photo capabilities that I used to have on my treo. Help?!

All in all, I am settling comfortably back into being a crackberry addict.. and loving most every moment of it.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Travel and Events

I spent part of this week just planning and booking travel for the next month and a half. My life has hit fast forward and I am trying to catch up. I would still love to catch up with ya'll, so if we are going to cross paths, please comment here or Twitter me. Here is what my travel schedule looks like for the next bit of the year

Oct 3-5 Bloomington Indiana and Brown County State Park - with the boys
Oct 10 - ( 11/12?) Lafayette,Indiana - Weekend of Debouchery and pre-birthday fun.
Oct 10 PM will be at the Neon Cactus. Holler out if you can come.
Oct 18- Lafayette, Indiana - Marching Band Regional competition
Oct 25- Indianapolis, Indiana- Marching Band Semi- State (assuming regional goes well)
Oct 30-Nov 2 McCormick's Creek State Park-- Wedding!!
Nov 7-9 Baltimore, Md ( Md. Wedding Reception)
Nov 17-21 Austin, Tx- SC08 conference
Nov 29 Winamac, In Northern Indiana Wedding Reception

It will all be fun, but I am getting tired already thinking of all the packing and unpacking. Speaking of which, I have to go pack for this weekend and then off to work.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Cell phone desperation

Well, I have reached a crash point now in my tech reality-- my cell phone has well and truly died. It is an old treo 700p which I much much loved and ( apparently) used to death. It has, of course decided to die while I am traveling and at a conference. But that is beside the point. I need to figure out a replacement and Fast. Prefer something I can call and order tonight and get it delivered to the house ASAP. My current carrier is Sprint, but I am not locked into them. My contract is expired, so I have the option of switching carriers if there is a better deal out there.
Here is what we need:

Phone on a network with a fast data connection.
Decent sized screen display for google map usage, web browsing, etc
ability to add an application to ssh
good calendar system and able to synchronize with google calendars through some add on
I type on this a lot, so a good keypad for input ( not a number pad mapping and NOT an onscreen simulated keypad, real keys please)
ability to expand storage via SD or mini SD card

carrier need to have a plan where I can put two or more ( by christmas it may be 6) phones on a single plan to share minutes. The first two phones need unlimited text and unlimited data.

suggestions? recommendations? please respond here as my phone is dead and twitter is unreliable. I am hoping to order something tonight.

Strange, mind numbing cell phone withdraw symptoms already setting in..... waiting for the twitching to start...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Massage Bar Soap

My hotel has small, palm of your hand massage bar soaps for the shower. For those of you not familiar with the object under consideration, massage bar soap is regular soap molded with small "massage" nubbles on one side. While small bumps on your soap does not really qualify as a real massage, it does have a soothing effect on small muscle knots and tension tightness lurking beneath your skin. Therein lies the biggest problem. It feels just good enough that you will easily find yourself running the soap back and forth across tight, tense curves and dips much more than you would have with an ordinary bar of soap, leading to a much faster consumption of soap than you may have planned for in your toiletry budget.
There is also the issue of exfoliation. The natural exfoliation that occurs by simple rubbing the terry roughness of a washcloth across your naked skin is one of the best things that can happen to you. Roughing away the surface dead skin cells leads to brighter, lighter more glowing skin (don't rub too hard-- red skin is NOT glowing). Mechanical action is also one of the major contributors to the removal of bacteria and other "ick" from your environment. Rubbing a bar of soap directly on your body gets every more foamy and slick, but does NOT provide that fresh scrubbed glow.
In my opinion, this is a product that combines two great products and comes out with something that is not quite as good as the originals on every point. Stick with your favorite soap, a great washcloth and maybe a waterproof massager, if the in shower massage is important to you. I think when I get home, I will resort back to the ministrating fingers of my man and leave the massage toys alone.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Truth in advertising

I am sitting here in a Hotel in Orlando typing this.
Yep, some of you have traveled before-I can hear the empathetic breathe draws and see the shaking heads as you remember trips when your hotel connectivity sucked. Even better, I am plugged into the wire on the desk, I am not even using their wireless access.
There is no doubt that the task of designing and scaling shared hotel access is challenging- but there should be some truth in advertising. In this day and age, how can anyone call this "High Speed Internet Access" and get away with it? I left Comcast for better performance than this.
Just as food must follow certain guidelines in order to call itself "low fat",internet connectivity should have a certain throughput at peak usage in able to be able to be labeled "high speed". I am beginning to think there needs to be a "geek's guide to hotels" published and maintained.
What do you define as "high speed" when it comes to connectivity?? What scale would you rate hotels on given the chance?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

News from the LHC

In case you have only been following the news of the imminent collapse of the world, and not actually looking at the data that is flowing, you are missing one of the most interesting scientific experiments that will be conducted in our lifetime. Although the LHC is a single large installation, it has several major experiments and detector sets, each watching, recording and probing in different ways. You should check out some of these sites:

  • Images from first data collected by CMS. Watch the official CMS site, it is rumored that they are thinking of doing some live web casts of data collection in the future...

  • The official ALICE site is also posting images of the first beam passes.

  • The LHCb, which is trying to figure out why there is so little antimatter in the universe, has a website and has links there to some of their first images.

  • The ATLAS team made a flash movie of their first detections, and is sharing news and information on their main site.

  • Although the TOTEM group is not yet sharing data, watch their website for future updates and information.

  • With a set of computers that spans the globe, and public access so prominent, it should be no surprise that hackers have already cracked their way in to the LHC. While I understand the draw of the challenge presented by the LHC computer network, I hope that the hackers of the world show some restraint and do not cause a complete lock down of systems that would end this type of open data sharing.

    Thursday, September 4, 2008

    The perfect September Sandwich

    School may be back in session, but the recent soaring temperatures have been reminding us that the calendar says it is still summer. If you want a reminder of your carefree summer days, try this perfect September Sandwich for lunch or dinner.

    Start with a light flavored but full bodied bread. You will most likely want something with a thin or a soft crust. You could try anything from a lightly toasted English muffin ( for a small snack) to a slice of Tuscan loaf, a slice of fresh sourdough or even a sweet Italian.

    Thinly slice a fresh red tomato and layer on the bread. Cover the tomato with fresh basil leaves, then layer that with thinly sliced fresh yellow tomato. Top off the sandwich with fresh mozzarella medallions, then very very very lightly drizzly with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. I like lots of freshly ground pepper and a light dusting of sea salt, but handle this as your tastes desire.

    Be sure to grab a hand towel, this one can get messy to eat, but the taste is divine.

    While you are enjoying your meal, have a quick visit with my new friend and remember.. Spore is coming. If you will be downloading and playing this game on Sunday, leave me a comment.

    Saturday, August 30, 2008

    Comcast Caps it off

    The latest round of news and announcements from Comcast make me glad once more that I left their service last spring. With the announcement of a bandwidth cap of 250Gig per month to kick in on Oct 1, they clinched the deal for me for the foreseeable future. I had to stand up and cheer out loud as I was reading Om Malik's series of rants on the topic. I agree with Om that one of the biggest philosophical problems is that there is no good way for end users to easily see and track their usage. It is ethically wrong to tell people they will be penalized for over usage of something they can not measure. Comcast, ( and TimeWarner and anyone else considering Metered Internet) if you are going to start billng this way, you need to have an application that I can either log into on the internet ( but don't charge that against my bandwidth...)or else an application that shows up on a channel on my DVR box so I can sit there and watch the bits and bytes stream by in real time.
    I think that Om has the right ideas in this blog entry, but he is dancing around the issue. Let's just come right out and say it. The only reason cable companies are metering or limiting bandwidth is to limit their competition.
    In a household that includes two teenagers and two almost adolescent boys, a household where I work from home and VPN to work, a household where my fiance is often logged into multiple servers at work over night it does not take long for the bandwidth to start piling up. In addition to computers, we have a Roku box, a wii, and a home media server. We have DSs and PSPs that connect to the internet and my next cell phone will almost certainly be chosen to include the ability to broadcast over wifi. Even my HP printer occasionally talks over the internet. I hit a handful of devices that are on OM's list of devices that can spell trouble for bandwidth, and a few that he forgot to mention. ( I warned you that he went on a bit of a rant, didn't I- and "Go OM" is all I have to say about that)

    The effect of metering bandwidth will be the same as long distance dial-up numbers were back in the days of dial-up networking only. Companies quickly learned that end users were not going to pay long distance charges for the convenience of the internet. It was not until they worked to expand 800 and local numbers that people started jumping on the wire in larger numbers. Once more people were online, the technology began to be seen as a real market, innovation flourished and we got animation, flash, audio, video and real time interactivity. As soon as people start being more careful about where they go and what they download, new projects on the internet will be more carefully considered and maybe even abandoned before they are started. If you had told me back in 1995 that I would be sitting here blogging with TitanAE streaming to my browser in a pop-out window, I would have laughed at you. It is significant that Hulu required a critical mass of people with high speed bandwidth to be able to float the business model. What new and currently unimaginable technologies will never see the light of day because of the competition for bandwidth?

    Although the war for your money and attention may be in the entertainment market, it will have impact in other places. What will these bandwidth caps mean for the new MS Online service offering ( how many excel files do I have to read and stream over the internet to pop my cap?), for Google's push into the enterprise market space, for the newly proposed and marketed "cloud computing" models ( then again, maybe that is a benefit...). Just as businesses and schools start to explore the use of High Performance Computing and "over the wire" CAD and animation tools, Comcast and others are looking to limit the amount of data they can push.

    Thinking of online storage services as a business model ( either as a provider or a consumer)? Once your bandwidth gets capped, this will be one of the first services to come crashing down. I have 5 computers I back up regularly. Their weekly backups range from 30-80 gig each. If I were doing this into the cloud, I would be over my cap before two weeks finished.

    The list of potential side deaths and inhibitions gets longer every time I think about it, what other businesses or technologies do you see heading for the dead pool when cable broadband users are all capped?

    Monday, August 25, 2008

    Neil On the Moth

    I have long been a fan of The Moth Podcast. I love the true life tales and confessions from people both known and unknown to me and the hilarious insights into human nature.
    Life has, however, recently been a bit busy, and I had about a month's worth of podcasts to catch up on. I had some time to listen while canning this weekend and did a bit of a catchup session. You can almost imagine my fangirl squee when I discovered that one of the podcasts from earlier this month was Neil Gaimon telling a story about getting left in a train station when he was about 16. Not only is this a story fitting of the typical hilarity levels of a Moth story, it explains why he seems so unflappably cool through all sorts of situations....
    If you love Neil, this is a must listen. If you have never checked out the Moth podcast and enjoy modern story telling, this is a good place to start.

    Saturday, August 23, 2008

    Amazon Rocks it

    I continue to be enamored with the amazon MP3 store. The music is all DRM free, their downloader automatically loads it into iTunes for me ( which I shouldn't love, but honestly? I do), and the prices are generally lower than the iTunes store. This morning I was poking around and found the kicker that makes me completely infatuated. They have over the top offerings of free music. You have to poke around a little to find, it.. but not too much. Every music service out there offers free music ( heck, on AmieStreet it all starts for free). But right now, Amazon has over 3,000 free songs. That is not a decimal shifted typo-- 3,000!!. And it is not all new breaking bands that are badly produced. I just spent 10 minutes out there and downloaded 150 songs. I got Lena Horne, Benny Goodman, and Billie Holiday. There is even Ted Nugent, Hermans Hermits, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, and the Bee Gees (ok, admit it, you would not BUY the BeeGees, but you would listen to it if you could get it for free.. you know you would)
    I have not even started to wade through all 3,000+ songs currently available, so go and muddle through and leave a comment with a gem that you found, so I can download it too.

    Friday, August 22, 2008


    I picked tomatoes over lunch on TwitPic

    It is the time of year when the harvest of vegies makes you feel like you could eat forever and still have food. It has been weeks since I have been to the grocery, but it is only today when I finally feel like I need to go pick up some bread and milk and odds and ends.

    Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

    As I write this, the roma tomatoes are on the stove, simmering into a mess that will become tomatoe/spaghetti sauce and the rest of the tomatoes await canning tomorrow. Some will get canned plain, but some will become cilantro tomatoes for a summer delight later when the snow is piled high.

    Tomorrow will be a busy day, there is swiss chard and kale to pick and freeze, pickles to be made and late summer seeds to be sown... now all we need is just a bit of rain...

    Tuesday, August 5, 2008

    Sister Blog time

    Because the Gencon KickassKickoff party is getting so close, I am spending the majority of my time working on that blog. Expect postings over here to be few and far between until After Aug 18-- but please go check out the action over at the KAKO site!!

    Wednesday, July 30, 2008

    Customer Service that Shines

    My eldest daughter has been doing developing this year and nicely rounded out curves. This has made bathing suit shopping in local stores challenging.. she really needs a medium bottom and an XL top. As a result, we spent a bunch of time looking and shopping online. We finally found a company called Blue Sky Swimwear that had cute suits, with separately order-able pieces, where we could get a suit for under 50$ for her. The suit came quickly, but unfortunately, even though we looked at lots of suits before picking this one, she was not happy with the fit ( I should have known... who ever buys the first suit you put on your body??). It came yesterday, she tried it on last night after band camp and I tried calling them last night. Even though their recorded message said that customer service was open until 9pm, at 8:30pm I was not getting a human. I was nervous. I was convinced that we had found one of those scary internet stores and I started looking around for other options.

    Today, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I could not have been more wrong.
    We originally bought the swimsuit to be returned on sale, knowing that that meant exchange or store credit only... not full return. That was OK, we were confident we could find something that looked great. But their policy said that I had to return the existing swim suit to them before ordering the new one in order to get an exchange credit. Today is Wednesday, even if I got to the post office today, overnight shipped the return, let them process it and ordered, there was NO way we were getting the new suit back by Friday. Add on top of that that I was solid packed with meetings until 6pm today and I was doomed.

    But Linda, excellent store owner and service provider that she is, merely marked my account for credit approved and we ordered the replacement for delivery on Friday. I will ship out the return tomorrow, regular shipping to save the fees and when they receive it, they will credit my account. Wow.. customer service who actually works with you and understands that sometimes, for 17 year old body conscious females, exceptions must be made.

    You can be sure we will do more shopping with them.

    12 seconds of excitement

    It has been a while since a new interactive web tool actually got me buzzed up. I see lots of potential in lots of new tools, but not all of them have applicability to my life directly, other than geek curiosity. Vlogging in some form or another is something that has been teasing at me for more than a year, but I have not been able to find a solution that is easy and portable enough to make it a winner. Qik had an initial attraction, but I do not own a Nokia phone, so it will not work for me. I can not even sign up for an account with Qik without the right phone. uStream has some interesting potential, but again I can not easily upload things from my Treo. I love what ustream is doing with the broadcast of longer events, of bringing events that would have been otherwise unavailable to the masses live across the web. I have watched LOTS of events on uStream, and participate in live chat.. but I have not used it for broadcasting yet. Both of these missed the boat for cases where I want to share something, but have no connectivity at the moment I am recording ( often the case inside a school building, for example)

    Kyte looked like it was going to be a lot of fun, but I had to be at the computer to upload and make channels. But now I have 12 seconds. The thing I am most intrigued about with 12 seconds is that I can take video I recorded on my treo and email it in as an attachment, and it is auto shared. I can think of all kinds of potential for this one... vacation video sharing (our family vacation starts this Saturday), event clips (Gencon is around the corner), party bits and clips... all kinds of scrapbook type sharing on top of the daily conversation and discussion that people may be doing. Since my Video Camera and my Treo both use SD cards, it even means I can record with my digital video cam and then email from the treo later. My mind is starting to get a bit excited on this one-- who said my Treo is extinct and I need to move on?

    Looks like for the next month I am going to be hammering this service hard, please check it out, comment, give feedback and let me know if it works for you. I will do more reviews here as the month progresses. As a bonus, I also have a few invitations left, so if you are interested in trying out 12 seconds yourself comment here and let me know.

    Monday, July 28, 2008

    Thankful for my connected life

    Last week one of my good friends from work contacted me in a panic. He had a hope RAID array for his family videos, pictures, etc.. The idea being that if a drive failed, he would have time to recover without losing all of his files. Then Lightening struck (figurative lightening, not the real electrical surge creating kind) and he had two drives fail at once. A critical failure for the array. One of the drives is clanking and grinding and probably dead. The other seems to be ok and comes online, but with errors and does not want to make the array whole. Hopefully it is recoverable.
    The whole thing would be bad enough, except that the timing came when his wife, who has been battling breast cancer for about 10 years had what was being predicted as about 3 weeks left to live. Faced with losing his wife forever, now he was faced with losing their pictures and videos as well. It was more than he could deal with. "can you just come and get the disks and make them go away and handle this for me?" Of course I agreed.
    Faced with the daunting responsibility, I quickly put a notice out on LinkedIn. It was easy enough to find companies online who do data recovery, but I wanted someone who was tried and true and worked well for someone else before. I got an amazing response.. but in speed and in variety. After calling all the recommended services, I picked on ( and am waiting for their analysis and estimate for the recovery service. One of the great things was that they were the ONLY service out of the ones recommended to me that does not charge an up front fee for analysis and en estimate. Every other shop had a 500-800 dollar up front fee, even if they decided there was nothing at all recoverable on the drives.
    I will update with the label "data_recovery" as this progresses and track their performance and price. In the meantime, keep your fingers and toes crossed for my buddy that they can recover at least some of the data..
    The bad news is that much faster than anyone predicted, his wife passed away this past friday evening. I will be heading to a funeral tonight.

    My Integrated Life

    My to do list for this week is a good indication of the strange and twisted integration of all the facets of my life. I have entered a time when there is no real separation of home, work and personal.

    Here is what I need to get done this week:

    Management approval of new IT_FMEA templates
    Management agreement consensus across teams for Corporate Diagnostic and Traceability Use Case standards
    Prep presenter for D&T Overview they are doing on my behalf next week
    Build slide deck and do initial management presentation on Workplace of the Future
    Complete ROMs for two international projects
    Edit 2 chapters for MESA Lean Guidebook
    Write my section of third chapter for MESA lean guidebook
    Attend funeral Monday night
    get stepsons haircuts ( wed afternoon)
    get my haircut( friday night)
    pack and organize family of 4 for week long vacation that starts Sat am
    continue picking and freezing vegies as they come ripe
    plant late summer veggies ( radishes, turnips, snow peas, spinach and lettuce)
    get oil changed in my van
    clean van for trip
    laundry ( just a forever process in this household....)
    Blog at least twice ( this counts as one at this rate....)
    return library books
    find Ogre a second pair of swim trunks to take to the ocean
    three discovery meetings/workshops for Warranty analysis system requirements with the business.
    get everyone here prepped for oldest daughter's birthday which in sunday while we are on vacation.
    pick up gift card for daughter my mom has requested
    deep technical dive into possible new MOM application for corporate install.
    review JCAPS to SAP integration and get up to speed on new MDM included with JCAPS released a month ago.
    do next steps of organization/planning/promotion for GenCOn KickassKickoff party on Aug 13
    do round two of graphical reviews for
    catch up with my backlog of messages on

    how does your week look??

    Saturday, July 12, 2008

    I am currently involved in a new project and am leading the efforts to build a strategy/plan for the "workforce of the future" at the company who employs me full time. This is one of those fun instances where my work world and my real world overlap. As a result, I have been thinking about and exploring social networking even more than usual. ( is that possible???). The type/configuration/functionality you would want to have in a workplace social network is different than one you would build for people to share hobbies or plan parties. Yes, there is a lot of overlap.. but the idea of online networking at work is not just social.. it is a way to build relationships, increase productivity and achieve an end goal.

    There is not currently any social network in the online market that I would want to pick up and transplant to my workplace- but if I could pull bits and pieces from several networks to build a new one, here is what it would look like:

    General Profile info:
    I love the info that is in the LinkedIn profiles, even if you are working at the same company now, it is sometimes useful to know what the other person's history is, the people they know and the skill set they bring with them. I would want to add the additional feature of .rdf for basic keywords in people's profiles to make the information more linked and more searchable.
    References are great things to be able to display, but I waver between a reference and being able to tag people. I find that there are always useful tags people would not have thought to apply to themselves. Being a workplace, you would probably want to "block" certain tags from any use at all ( asshole and slacker are two that quickly come to mind....). I think the best solution would be the ability to do both- writing longer references that are listed, as well as being able to tag people and their abilities.
    Tags are of no use at all, unless you have good tools for searching, sorting and clustering them. is my favorite interface for this task. I sometimes need to know who has worked at a location, or on a product/product line or even for a certain manager.. the possibilities are endless.

    Project Information:

    For many of us, work is defined by the projects we have on our plate, or that we have completed. I am torn between the Ning approach to project sites and the Amazee approach. I like the functionality in the Amazee site, but the look and feel and ese of communication/connectivity that persists at Ning. The folks over at the Amazee site are doing a redesign, so I am reserving judgment until then.

    Communication Tools:

    There is no overlooking the importance of IM and/or microblogging to online communications. A Twitter-like interface that allows people to pose questions to the corporate brain, update on project progress or notify coworkers of delays, problems or frustrations would go far in the quest to improve internal corporate communication.

    What would you add? What would you change? What is the one killer function that a corporate social networking tool has to have??

    Thursday, July 10, 2008

    Teens and issues of media legality

    Let me try to defuse some of the potential inflammatory comments:

    1. DRM is evil.
    2. The RIAA is not only evil, it is stupid.
    3. Pirating media is not only illegal, it is morally wrong.
    4. Artists deserve to be able to make a living from the art they create.

    Back story:

    I have friends and family who are artists and make money from the art they create. I have long been a proponent to everyone I know that if you enjoy art, you should be willing to pay a reasonable price for it. No question, organizations like the RIAA go in wrong directions and to far extremes, but I am willing to pay for art I enjoy and have always encouraged others to do the same.
    As a parent, I have held to my guns on this one. My children have been taught copyright, the idea of creative value and that illegal media is not tolerated in this household. I am the parent who would not give them blank CDs to give to their friends to make copies of movies and music. I was the one who informed teachers that making copies of "Kid Music CDs" for fun is NOT an educational fair use and they should not be requesting blank CDs from home for it.

    Limewire is banned. We buy or rent movies, we do not download them. My kids get iTunes allowances as part of a Christmas Present. I have worked hard to instill this in my kids. Honestly, there is a grey area that if I were in a house alone, I would live in that includes some violations of this principle. But when you are setting an example, you tread more carefully than when no one is watching. And Kids? they are always watching.

    While they were younger, this was successful. But now they are older, independent thinkers. Plus we have broadband connections. Broadband= streaming media.

    I can say with much confidence that my children do not, will not and disagree with downloading illegal copies of music and movies. They do not want to possess it, they know this is a good way to behave as a citizen consumer of the arts. You pay for what you own.

    But what about the illegal videos on YouTube.. and the myriad number of sites that are available on the internet. It happens.. I know they do it, they even tell me about it without thinking about the wrongness of how that media is uploaded.

    Then again, is it really wrong? Illegal, YES. But wrong? Watching something on the internet will not stop a bunch of teenagers from paying to go see something again. And in some cases, it goes deep into the gray area- video footage that they would have no access to, or outlet to pay for, if they were not watching it stream.

    I want them to respect artist's rights and means of life. But I do not want to be such an "enforcer" that they never talk to me or tell me what is going in their lives, either. It is a very delicate balance. Is it OK to condone things that I might participate in myself if kids were not watching? Where do you draw the line with your children?

    Thursday, July 3, 2008

    UPS Knows.. why cant they tell me?

    I got busy last week and did some online shopping for Vacation trip surprises, up coming birthdays and Christmas( yes, I am one of those people...). I shopped last week, knowing that there would be no kids here for 2 weeks and I could have deliveries without lots of "what's in the box" questions.

    Yesterday, according to one of the tracking numbers I had, I was due to get a delivery from the UPS man. I love the delivery tracking websites, except that once the package hits the final stage, you just get a "loaded for delivery" message with no clue when during the day it will arrive.

    I had to work anyway, so no big deal. I worked and watched, watched and worked. I announced my readiness for delivery to the world on Twitter. The day dragged on. Work got done- still no delivery guy. I got impatient. I griped on Twitter. At about 4:30, I finally decided that I could wait no longer and had to run around the corner to pick something up from the grocery for dinner. Honestly, I could have made do with what was in the fridge and gone shopping today- but yesterday the weather was nice and they were calling for thunderstorms today ( it is actually raining). I decided the hell with it and made a dash for the grocery. I was gone less than 40 minutes- which is, of course, when the UPS guy came, attempted delivery and left me a little slip of paper instead.

    If this were the end of the story, I would have nothing to gripe about- I left the house, after all. However, the little slip of paper that he left me to tell me he would re-attempt delivery tomorrow also had little check boxes that indicated 3 hour windows of time when he would arrive. So Yesterday he could tell me within 3 hours when he would be at my house on the next day.. but in the morning their system could not tell me the same information. malarkey.

    I know they use complex delivery algorithms and have a fairly specific route to follow when they leave the office. Yes, it can get updated if someone else has a wreck or a breakdown, but it is pretty accurate and they stick to it closely ( which is why when 10 minutes after I got home last night the UPS guy drove past my back yard and I waved at him, but he could not stop to re-attempt delivery then...). I do not believe that their system does not know within 3 hour windows when a delivery will arrive... they just chose not to tell me until I have inconvenienced them first.

    Every other utility /service/delivery person I have ( gas, electric, phone, plumber,water softener, local store delivery, etc...)can give me a 3 to 4 hour window when they will arrive- why don't delivery companies like UPS or FedEx do the same in their tracking information ???

    Tuesday, July 1, 2008

    The Roku Review

    I have had my Roku Netflix box for about 2 weeks now and so far the Pros far out weigh the cons.

    Setup was so easy that I am comfortably considering getting my parents one of these for Christmas and knowing that they could open the box and set it up themselves. Take it out of the box, plug it in, power it up and follow the set of simple onscreen instructions.

    Connectivity is excellent, I have had playback over my AT&T DSL without glitch, hitch or hiccup.

    The software interface is clean, easy to use and you can easily browse movies in a "cover flow" style, get details on the movie and jump back to the flow without difficulty.

    Because the box only displays the items in your instant view queue, and does not browse the entire instant view library, you will need to either spend some time building up a long queue, or be satisfied with just a few choices when you use the box. Since I can never be sure what anyone will be in the mood for, I now have an instant queue that is 334 titles long and manually organized by movie genre. This was not a fun process and takes time to maintain when new movies are added to the queue.

    Allowing profiles to have their own instant view queues and being able to select a profile from the Roku home screen would simplify this. Since we have a wide range of tastes ( elementary school boys, teen-aged girls and grownups) the titles I had to put in the queue vary widely and you have to wade through everyone else's possibilities to find the ones you might be interested in. I do not like that I have to either closely monitor the kids and make sure they do not choose the more adult content in the queue, or else add and subtract it all the time to keep them out of it- but this is not a killer issue. I will just keep my fingers crossed that since they are officially keeping profiles on the regular queues, they will soon let us have multiple instant watch queues. Having a search feature to be able to search through the queue ( by title, by actor, by director, by genre) would be a great addition to the interface as well. I believe that Roku and Netflix think that people are going to put about 6 movies in their queue and dynamically change it all the time. I don't see this happening. It is much more useful as a sort of streaming video on demand box with a broad list of options to choose from. Once you get more than about 20 movies in the queue, you really start to wish for search.

    We have also learned that losing power unexpectedly will cause the box to lose it's brains and hang- luckily a simple power hup seems to bring it right back again. The power up and reload process takes about 4-5 minutes ( I have a queue that is over 300 titles long, remember...????) so this is an annoyance if you are in a hurry- but not many people are on a tight time schedule to watch a show. Since power outages here are limited to about a weekly episode during thunderstorm season and this is not a daily occurrence, it is a livable problem. A cleaner failure would be nice- the hung interface would be frustrating to most users without the savvy to figure out the power hup trick ( then again in an age when cable companies make commercials telling people to power hup their routers and modems when they have problems, maybe it is becoming a common solution).

    The biggest issue is the available content. Netflix is adding new movies and TV shows to the list of titles that are available through the instant view option on a daily basis- but if you are the type of person who only watches first run movies, the current industry licensing policies will keep you from ever enjoying this little box. If you like classic movies, strange B Science fiction, really great documentaries, musicals, music specials or like to watch TV shows on DVD, you will love this little box. Since there are tons of classic movies I still want to share with my kids, I like to watch musicals and bad science fiction while folding clothes and we are a documentary hungry household, this is a good fit.