December 12, 2014

Alone With the Books - Night One (12/9/14)

I am so jealous of people who take the time to reflect.

Last year, I declared that I *would* reflect on two momentous endings in my life, one much more personal and significant than the other, but both with the potential to provide insight.

And here I am, almost a year later, without much to show for my declaration. I scribbled down a few thoughts here and there on scraps of paper that are now at undefined coordinates.

But tonight I am alone with the books.

As we pack up my mom's condo, and throughout the last year whenever we discussed the prospect of packing it up, discussion always comes around to the books.

It is kind of heart-wrenching to think of disseminating the books. There are thousands of them and so many of them have a story to tell.

My mom was a life-long scholar. Her collection spans the ebbs and flows of the tides of her interests. Romantic poetry, visual arts, philosophy, Jungian psychology, Eastern mysticism, counseling psychology, feminism, modern poetry, Buddhism, and above all William Blake. Always and forever, Blake.

And tonight, when I look at certain books, memories flood back. Many of these books were shelved in my father's study 45 years ago. I would sit on the carpet on the floor and ponder them, deciding what I might want to read. That is how I came to read, at a rather tender age, volumes such as The Bell Jar, The Turn of the Screw, The Hobbit, The Wizard of Earthsea. When I look at the color of the book jacket of The Complete Poems of Robert Frost, I am a child again.

If I allow the books to slip away, does my childhood slip away? Do I dishonor my mother and the supreme reverence she afforded her library?

February 28, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Musings on Internet Privacy

My IT guy just told me to delete a folder I had called "personal music - move to Google". It was really old and I had forgotten all about it but it was hogging up 3GB. Well, that led me down memory lane to all kinds of crazy files I have here at work. One of them appeared to be the draft of a blog post I wrote on November 25, 2003 but never posted, probably because I couldn't strike the right tone and wasn't sure if I should post it at all. But it's Throwback Thursday so what the heck, here goes:

Photo Credit: Jim Barker, flickr

Recently I came across an article Peter Miller of CTCNet wrote called Requiem for the BCS and NPTN [note from 2014: the URL I had for this in 2003 has been taken over by a junk wordpress blog, but thanks to the Wayback Machine, it was easy to find the article. Goddess bless the Internet Archive].

I was instantly transported back to High School when I read the part of the article that mentioned one of my classmates, Jonathan Rotenberg, who founded the Boston Computer Society (BCS)in 1977

He was not someone I actually spoke to, as far as I know. He was an always smiling, often suit and tie wearing, unfathomably intelligent, certified geek who was nearly always having a bad hair day (or do I just think that because our High School yearbook photo features him grinning while touching the van der graaf generator, hair sticking wildly into the air?). 

The BCS went on to become the largest computer user group in the world with 23,000 members. All started by a crazy geeky pipsqueak with a passion for computers before most of us knew they existed. After noticing his name in Peter’s article, I was surprised that his Google hits were only 78. That seemed low for someone who has been immortalized in various histories of personal computing.

Thanks to Google, I was able to figure out what he’s been up to. I almost feel like I was able to figure out more than I should. One thing I noticed was that he and a fellow named Marc donated money to Fenway Community Health in the year 2000. I seemed to have unearthed his sexual orientation. I only mention this because I later found an article, Gays at Home in High Tech, that clearly confirms he’s out and proud. 

It really makes you think about privacy. Google makes it a lot easier to be a private detective nowadays. 

I also determined he got his MBA from Harvard and was active in the Gay and Lesbian Student Association there: “A year earlier, in 1992, then dean of the Business School--the Business School--John MacArthur chose not only to fund the Harvard Business School Gay and Lesbian Audiotext Hotline, but to single out Jonathan Rotenberg, M.B.A. '92, its creator, in his commencement address” 

And that's it. The blog post was never quite finished, but clearly my thoughts were about the sheer power of Teh Google, which people did not quite understand so well in 2003. The phrase "digital footprint" had not been coined yet.

Peter's article is really quite lovely, by the way, and reminds me of the writing I am supposed to be doing here, when he says of the BCS, "let us first acknowledge the passing and loss." 

Jonathan is trucking along, as amazingly accomplished as ever, but has long since shed any traces of the awkward teenage geek. 

February 13, 2014

Two Cars: What if We Could Empathize With Earth?

Today on my way to work, I was missing my cushy car. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I drive our old Toyota truck. It's a manual, with manual steering and no radio. As I was missing our comfortable new automatic Camry and the radio, I thought: What if driving our cars made us as uncomfortable as climate change and fossil fuel pollution makes the planet? What if we got unusually hot or cold in our cars as we drove along? What if the air quality inside the car gradually filled with ozone, carbon monoxide, and carcinogens? What if the sea level inside the car began to rise, and the fresh water supply diminish?

Maybe then, we would drive our cars a lot less. Maybe cushy isn't such a great thing after all.

February 11, 2014

Endings and Beginnings

The last few months of 2013 were filled with some very intense endings for me. My mother was in the final stages of her terminal illness, and my grant-funded project at work, something I worked on for 13 years, was coming to an end.

Generally, transitions like this in real life do not have fairy tale endings. If they did, our funder would have lovingly taken over our project and given it the same attention our team gave it. I would have communicated eloquently to the grantees what a privilege it was to serve them for 13 years and how much I would miss them. My mother and I would have exchanged our most heartfelt thoughts, feelings, and perfectly worded goodbyes. But I don't live in a fairy tale.

Photo Credit: Flickr: penelopejonze

What I'm left with is the thought that I want to reflect on these two major pieces of my life, even as I have moved on to new beginnings. Even as I have not had a chance to clear my office of those 13 years, nor my mother's condo of her 81 years.

Reflection is so important and yet, so hard to make time for. I owe it to myself to process the endings, so I can free up all of my energy for the new beginnings in my life.

I hope that by blogging once a week with some insights on one or the other of these endings, I'll be able to truly say goodbye to my project, and to my mother. I don't need fairy tale endings, but I do need to feel a sense of closure, and a sense that I have learned from these two major life experiences.

January 30, 2014

People, Let Me Tell You About My Best Friend

My mom and I used to really love to watch The Courtship of Eddie's Father. The song was the best. Somehow that song popped into my head recently, and it's making me face the reality that I did lose my best friend. My mom died November 15, 2013 and I'm still trying to process that.

I realized that part of the reason my mom was so thrilled about my son was not just because she genuinely enjoyed him as a person. It was also because his birth made me a mother. Because she would get to see me experience the joys of motherhood. I think about that when I make my son breakfast in the morning and pack his lunch. I think about how she used to draw a little Momma cartoon on my lunch bag each day.

I know my mom was so happy for me when I got pregnant. She realized that this person, my son, was probably going to become my best friend. She was right.

I lost my best friend, and I have a new best friend now.

January 23, 2014

X Ways to Verb Your Noun

Watching a blogging class from HubSpot. It's packed with great information, so I have to admit I was a little surprised to see them embrace the tired convention of creating a headline with a number in it. Sure, these are meant to assure the reader that they will get a finite number of digestible tips to achieve their goal. But they are so commonplace now, and so many inferior articles have been written using that type of headline, that it's almost embarrassing to rely on that construction.

Another piece of advice offered was:
Q. How often should you blog? 
A. As often as you want people to pay attention to you.
 Here's a novel thought:
Q. How often should you blog? 
A. As often as you actually have some useful information to convey.
I agree with the advice in the class that coming up with a really good title is important. There was even a slide in the presentation devoted to the quote from Dharmesh Shah, "spend half your time writing content, half writing the title." Sometimes, though, a title just comes to you, like the one for this post, and you have to roll with it, even if you don't have all that much to say.  It was either that one or: One Way to Title Your Blog Post.

January 08, 2014

Think Like a Customer, Not Like a Marketer

Woman buying clothing in store from clerk
Yesterday I was taking a look at some of the Google ads we are running, including one that had originally been drafted by someone on the marketing team. Not to call anyone out specifically or anything, because I see this all over the place, but I noticed he had used the word "products" in the ad heading. I also noticed that the ads headed "MyPlate Education" that I had been experimenting with
were performing better than those headed, "MyPlate Products." And this was my thought:

Marketers: Please do not use the word products in your marketing materials. When I head to the store, I don't think, "Oh, I can't wait to go buy some products." People don't buy products. The don't buy services. They buy the thing they need. I need a massage. I need some cold medicine. I need a poster for my classroom about MyPlate. To market effectively, we need to describe to people exactly what we have available, and to leave the marketing jargon in the office.

So, I think I am going to include some even more narrowly targeted ads: MyPlate Posters, MyPlate Stickers. Because the customer is always right.

January 07, 2014

Instant Analytics Feedback is Addictive

When I wear my social media hat, I get addicted to real time analytics. Whether it's or Facebook, the data absolutely shapes my behavior and helps me do my job better - instantly! I actually think Facebook made a big mistake by taking the little graph off of the pages main view. Now they give you some general up or down data, but I always thought the graph was very motivating.

Now I'm switching gears and relishing AdWords feedback. But it is *much* more complicated. What's it all mean, Mr. Natural? I'm having a great time figuring it out. Trying to balance my instinct to tinker with the need to not introduce too many  new variables -- otherwise I won't know how to assess the new data.


January 06, 2014

Habit Fails and Successes

So ... as predicted ... since I was so super busy this weekend and forgot to think about cues for my new habits, I failed on some of them:

  • Grabbing lunch of leftovers - Didn't do ... but it wasn't exactly a fail as I still have last week's lunch because I ended up going out to eat Friday.
  • Kegels - Totally spaced. Car radio being on is not a good cue because I just leave it on! Cue has to be an action.
  • Planning Today's Work - same as last week - my desktop holds the undone. But I am thinking more intentionally about the order of the day. Still, maybe that should be re-thought and be something I do at the *end* of each day to be ready for the next one.
  • No Sugar in my Coffee - OK, the cue is simply getting the coffee. Almost mindlessly added sugar today, but I stopped myself.
  • Newly added habit of blogging: AOK!

Tripping through my Facebook feed (or was it Friendfeed?), could have sworn I saw an article about a habit app that appeared to be based on BJ Fogg's work. But now I can't find it. UPDATE: Found it! It's called LittleBit. There does seem to be a lot of buzz about habit apps these days. I am not much of a smartphone user - being tethered to my desktop all day, I *try* to stay away from devices during my downtime (emphasis on *try*, more emphasis on *not succeeding*).  I predict 2014 will be the year I succumb to smartphone land.

January 03, 2014

Day Two of Habit Patrol

What I didn't do: sit down and create a chart and determine what the cue and reward will be for each of the habits I spontaneously started yesterday.

What I did do:

  • Grabbed a lunch - this is going to become harder next week when school starts for Wade. May need to change the habit to: make lunch the night before. What's my reward for this? Getting to eat a tangerine and some dates for breakfast at my desk.
  • Kegels - I think the cue for this was just the car radio being on. Not sure if that is a strong enough cue. It worked today. Reward? Ummm, going to get my coffee when I get to work? Might have to change that to getting a latte ...
  • Planning the day's work structure - did not do in car. Sitting at my desk this one is looking like: do the stuff I didn't finish yesterday. I think the planning habit is not what needs work - the follow through is the issue. Reward: learning about my own work habits.
  • No sugar in my coffee - I think this habit is working. The cue is pouring the coffee. The reward is consuming less calories. Yeah, I know, it's not supposed to be a reward like that, it's supposed to be something more tangible and immediate. Anybody have any ideas for rewards?

By the way, although the book The Power of Habit is getting a lot of the press on covering these issues, my interest in effective ways to create good habits has to do with a chance re-encounter with B. J. Fogg, who I originally heard about when I worked at Interval Research many, many moons ago. He ran an experiment called Tiny Habits back in December, 2011 that I participated in. He's a pretty smart guy.

January 02, 2014

New Year, New Habits

I didn't really make any resolutions. On Friendfeed, where my online posse hangs out, I tested out some vague hopes: "Be present. Be more social with potential/close friends. Make hard decisions and do stuff."

But today, after rising, I found myself trying on many new habits:

  • I grabbed some leftovers and fruit for lunch so I would save money and eat healthy
  • I did kegels on the way to work (yeah, TMI, sorry)
  • On my way to work I thought about how I would structure my day: Facebook and Twitter for work accounts, a pressing HR matter, finish off something I had promised to do *before* Christmas, then tackle AdWord reporting plan, spend one hour cleaning out old project files
  • At work, I did not put any sugar in my coffee
  • I sat down to write this post

Small things, all, but things I plan to continue. I've been reading the recent research on "the science of habit change" that boils down to: start small, have a cue, reward yourself. So, I'll need to ponder how those three things apply to each habit above. I hadn't even thought of rewards yet, just very pleased that some sort of motivation is driving me.