Friday, October 31, 2008

Tech Support of a Different Kind

These days, we're often too busy to nurture relationships. Sometimes we don't even get to know our our own neighbors very well. The isolation and relative anonymity of the internet sometimes exacerbates this problem - but not always.

My friend, Mike, tells me today that his brother-in-law's house in Gig Harbor burned down earlier in the week - the kind of event that is always tragic and hugely impacts a family. Someone has already been kind enough to have posted a website with information and photos about the fire - started by a raccoon, most likely.

Best of all, the site also makes it easy for people to contribute to a fund supporting the family and it also lists various other kinds of contributions that would be helpful for them. Something like this makes it so much easier for friends and neighbors to support one another in times of need and I'm always impressed by the ingenuity and compassion involved.

More than once, I have seen friends and family support one another through grave illness via the CaringBridge website. Caring Bridge has been descibed as "social networking for sick people", providing "connection, love, and support when you need it most" by making it easy to post updates and photos to people who want to stay in the loop, with minimal impact on those immediately involved. Guest book entries where people can express their love and support work even better than filling up answering machines and keeping people notified of news is hugely helpful, whether it's a premature baby waiting to come home from the hospital or a loved one battling some disease process.

Network for Good helps us find charitable organizations looking for contributions - and makes it easy to give to them. I love using this site to handle all of my year-end donations all at once. They also make it easy to match volunteers and organizations needing help.

Sometimes the internet helps bring us together. Let's celebrate that capability and help it help us to be better humans.

Do you know of sites that help us help each other? Please do share. It's the time of year when it's that much more important to be thinking of how we can help one another in an economic climate that demands we do whatever we can. However badly we may each be hurting, someone else is hurting more. Even if it's just to reach out a hand or a thought, it's something that can make a difference.

How can you improve your connections with other people?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pause. Think. React

Just because we grow up doesn't mean we get that much better at behaving like adults. More than once as a manager, I've had to referee disputes between employees that would have been more fitting on a playground than in the workplace. It's worse though when we receive one-sided reports of poor behavior. When it's kids, we call it tattling, and there are good reasons to hold a bias for kids/employees to work it out amongst themselves.

Parents generally know something about getting dragged into the middle of such "Did!" "Did not!" arguments that managers often forget and voters hardly seem to know at all. Smart parents understand the importance of taking a moment to pause before reacting, to think about whether what's just been reported is actually true. They ask themselves first, "Does this even make sense?"

They also recognize that sometimes individuals providing their accounts of the matter often have their own agendas or biases that color their perceptions even when they are honestly trying to be truthful. The only sure-fire way to ascertain the truth is clear-eyed research using objective resources although sometimes getting both parties in front of you to respond to probing questions works too.

Then, when you have a better understanding of the truth, ask yourself what the potential impact is and how much it really matters. Only at this point is it safe to react, so it helps to practice your poker face for all the time in between.

I'm just glad I've already voted. Now I can ignore the rest of the crazy-making accusations flying around this last few days before election day. It will be like turning up the music in the front of the car while kids argue in the back.

What research do you need to do to make an informed decision based on objective fact?

Easy Money - Developer Focus Group Week of 11/3

Why should you consider the focus group below? My personal experience is that focus groups

  • are almost always interesting - and are often fun
  • provide insights around what's next from companies
  • sometimes provide a forum for providing feedback that will actually be taken into account
  • are occasionally worthwhile financially
  • nearly always lead to more focus group opportunities
Extra exclamation marks aside, here is an interesting one aimed at Developers. Since I'm a very low-grade hack, I don't come anywhere near qualifying for this Gilmore Research focus group scheduled in Seattle for next week - but maybe you do...
Attention: Mobile Developers!

The Gilmore Research Group, a highly accredited marketing research company, is currently undertaking an especially interesting project which we hope you find fun and exciting! We are conducting an interesting study in our office the week of November 3rd, 2008

We are seeking Mobile Developer across various platforms for a developer study and if you qualify are participate you will be paid $225 for 1.5 hrs of your time!

If you are or know a mobile developer, we would like to hear from you!

All information is kept strictly confidential and we are in no way selling anything.
Data collected is for research purposes only.

In order to qualify, Please email the following answers. Based on your answers we will then give you a call.

1) Name:
Best time to reach you:

2) What is the primary context you develop for?
Laptops/desktops 1
Cell phones 2
Handhelds (e.g., game boys, Palms) 3
Other (specify) 4

Again, Please email us your answers and based on your qualifications, we will call you.

If you have any questions about this please call 206-219-1942 and ask for the study about Mobile Development.

In advance, we thank you.
-The Gilmore Research Group

For further information about our organization, please visit our website at
If you qualify, I encourage you to contact them - they've always been pretty cool to work with in the past. And if you are accepted, post a comment about your experience (the parts you're allowed to share anyway) here for others to enjoy.

Have fun!

What do you want to know?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Some of the Best Marketing I've Seen

Coming out of Top Pot this morning, I came across a smiling gentleman selling copies of Real Change newspaper. Ever since I learned that the paper is a vehicle for homeless to get back on their feet while educating the rest of us on the issues they face, I make it a point to try to buy a copy whenever I run across a vendor. Heading into the doughnut shop, however, I hadn't seen the guy, and I said as much while locating a dollar to give him.

"No ma'am," he responded, smiling even more broadly. "The new issue comes out on Wednesday, so I had to get down there and pick up my copies." He thanked me as he handed me my paper, then asked, still smiling, whether I had last week's issue.

Great question - I'm actually not downtown that often so in fact I had not seen the issue before the fresh one he'd just handed me, and I said so. He sealed the deal by pointing out an important article he thought I might appreciate. I handed him another dollar and he flipped over the stack of newspapers in his hand, pulling out a leftover from last week to give to me.

Smiling that charming grin of his, he thanked me again as I walked off, one delicious Top Pot doughnut and two Real Change newspapers richer - I felt certain that the 65 cents he just made on each copy will make some bit of difference for someone who is clearly working hard to stabilize his life. And while I'm unlikely to know the outcome for him, I can say for sure that he exhibited excellent marketing and customer service skills and truly made my day.

What makes you richer?

Monday, October 06, 2008

I'm Not There

Too bad they haven't invented functional teleportation yet. If they had, perhaps I'd be in Great Falls this afternoon and evening celebrating the 50th Anniversary of KRTV. It was a pivotal time in my life (one of several, anyway) and I have some distinct memories of that time - the threads of which remain interwoven in the tapestry of my life even still.

Of course, I have special memories from each of the stations I worked throughout various western small markets. Today though, is a day set aside to remember forecasting and reporting around the Golden Triangle.

Some of my KRTV colleagues will remember the guy who would regularly drive all the way to Great Falls from Seattle just for a long weekend (and then arrange for me to receive a dozen roses there at work the day that he left). They might be pleased to know that three television stations and several years later, we finally married and settled here in the Seattle area.

One enduring memory from KRTV would be the struggles I always had trying to wear the battery belt for the light when out shooting news on my own. Being considerably smaller than the regular photographer, the belt was way loose, and with my hands full carrying the light stand, the camera, the deck, and the microphone bag, I always had a tough time keeping it from slipping off my waist.

I also remember one of the first times I edited a story on my own, it took me so long that I had just enough time to run it up to engineering and then sprint out onto the set (think Broadcast News) just as we were coming into the weather segment. I was so out of breath from running up the stairs that one woman called the station to inquire whether I was feeling okay. To say that I was mortified would be an understatement.

Professionally, I learned a great deal about broadcast journalism from the news director, Mack Berry, and everyone else there at KRTV that I was able to then take successfully into stations in El Paso and Omaha where I did health and science and environmental reporting in addition to weather.

As just one example, one day at the police station briefing, the only item of particular note was the theft of some 14 cases of diet bars from the weight loss clinic. Not sure how to make that newsworthy, Mack sat me down and taught me that anything can be written funny and so that’s how I wrote that story. That knowledge (along with some understanding of when to use it) has served me well for many years.

What I remember most, however, was how much everyone at KRTV and so many other people in and around Great Falls took me into their hearts and homes. One elderly couple even drove 75 miles one day just to come to the station and visit with me for a bit, showing me their book of family history in case we might be related. It touched me so much that I was making that kind of difference in people’s lives that I stayed working in television for 5 years until I finally came home to get married.

Thank you all for teaching me so much and for being such wonderful friends while we were together.

What memories of today will stay with you?

Friday, October 03, 2008

Pigsquatch, Whales & the Economy

We love My Name is Earl at our house. Watching the final fate of Pigsquatch last night had us rolling on the floor, despite my not being that big a fan of gross. Then in the midst of gasping for air, Tall Person suddenly flashed on a news story he remembered from when he was at KOMO "way back when".

It seems a reporter at KATU, their sister station in Portland, wound up covering a strikingly similar situation in the early 70's. Sure enough, searching YouTube for Oregon whale, he immediately came up with exploding Oregon whale. Bingo!

Our other conversations of the evening turned to the economic crisis, understanding the innate problematic nature of sub-prime lending and how we got into the stinking mess in the first place of trying to decide to do a bail-out or just let nature run its course, and don't forget too the whole "money as debt" issue on top of it all (thanks to Brad for pointing that one out - when I find the exact post, I'll link to it).

We appreciate the dark humor in September Madness, but even so, the whole matter is definitely a stinking whale carcass on the beach and a giant hairy pig in the middle of a trailer park. Stinks to high heaven and no one wants to touch it.

It could be that just like with Pigsquatch and that whale in Oregon that there only seems to be one viable option because everything else is so much worse. If so, history would seem to indicate you do the best you can to avoid the most obvious problems, and then make sure everyone is as far out of the way as possible from the fallout. Of course, the other possibility may simply be that the cure really is far worse than the problem.

The trouble is, how do you ever know for sure? And how do you prevent that uncertainty from paralyzing you in your tracks?

What works best for addressing the stinky problems in your own life?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Healthy Lunching on the Eastside

Seattle Lunch 2.0 was an interesting event this month. For one thing, it was on the Eastside, which always seems easier somehow than crossing the Big Water even though technically it takes me as long to get to Crossroads area as it does to get downtown.

For another, Microsoft was a great host - way too much food and all of it good (geeks like good food) and pretty cool pedometers to boot, complete with USB cables for automatic data transfer to your computer. The pedometers and the lunch were courtesy of the Health Solutions Group which has their new HealthVault platform currently in beta, so we got to hear quite a bit about HealthVault and their plans in that space going forward.

People attending the Lunch 2.0 event had lots of questions - good ones too - and most of them centered around privacy. Listening to the answers, I didn't once hear the sort of 'trust us' comments that always put me on edge.

Instead, what I heard was how closely they'd worked with privacy advocacy groups to make sure they were taking the right approach. And when you work with stakeholders closely enough that they can feel satisfied that you've done all the right things (or done them as well as you can, anyway in some cases), then that's probably the best possible outcome.

Although lots of us were interested in the platform and what it can do, I'm not sure everyone was convinced. I tend to go back and forth on privacy myself anyway so I came away not exactly sure at first. But look at what we've done with debit cards and credit cards over the years. I remember when privacy advocates yelled about the dangers of those in the beginning. My father's tongue-in-cheek approach at the time was to take advantage of his position as an airline pilot to use them all over the world and hope to confuse anyone who might be paying attention. These days, we don't give it a second thought and in fact, many of us operate nearly cash-less.

So - while I do care about privacy myself and certainly care that Microsoft and their partner vendors are taking appropriate precautions in that area, I also take a long view of the risks vs. what I get out of it. I figure it's not unlike my approach to being a first-time mother of an infant - once I heard that mothers of two babies tended to not wash pacifiers nearly so rigorously the second time around and in fact, tended to let the dog lick off the big hunks by the time they got to three or four babies, I jumped straight to the less-than-hyperclean approach with my baby.

And just what do we get out of it with HealthVault? Well, I like being able to upload and track all my new pedometer data, especially since these new pedometers are ever so much more accurate than they used to be. The HealthVault interface itself leaves quite a bit to be desired but once I remembered that it's the platform and the other services are the real interface, I didn't mind that part so much.

Trying to find the right service was a bit of a scavenger hunt. I checked out all the HealthVault-compatible currently available, trying to fine one that made the most sense for my needs. I'm not trying to lose weight and I don't have a particular condition like diabetes where I'm trying to track specific information, although there are services that are relevant for people who are.

Neither am I old enough or sick enough to be taking multiple medications such that I'd benefit from tracking prescriptions and how they interact. And while reasonably active, I'm not training for a big athletic event these days so those services weren't quite what I was looking for either. I also wanted something a bit more comprehensive than a service designed primarily to make health information available to appropriate parties in case of an emergency (ICE).

In the end, I decided that what I really wanted was an all-around tool for managing day-to-day healthcare information and healthcare records once electronic information sharing with my doctor and pharmacist becomes a bigger part of my life. Being able to do that for all the members of my family was on my wishlist too. HealthyCircles appears to meet all those needs quite nicely and, as an added bonus, it's also free so I signed up for that service and started testing it out.

Nearly a week later, I'm starting to enjoy having data to review and have a plan in place for digitizing all my paper health records so that I can keep all that information in one place and more readily accessible. I'm thinking that will make that part of our lives considerably easier - that much more so thanks to digital filing.

At some point, I'll probably want more devices that work with HealthVault. I'll shift to a scale that allows me to directly import data and the same with our blood pressure monitor but manual data entry is probably good enough for now. We already have a HealthVault-friendly Polar heart monitor so I just need to get that set up.

Of course, as often happens in such situations, the more I play with this stuff, the more my imagination kicks in and the more I want to be able to do with it. I've already sent probably 4-5 suggestions to the HealthyCircles people so hopefully they're watching their inbox!

Noticing the issues I have seen as a consumer and having worked with hospitals as clients in the past, how ridulously silo'd information still is these days, the HealthVault platform is likely to be a game-changer. One of the services already offered is appropriately titled NoMoreClipboard. I mean, how stupid is it that I should have to fill out the exact same information from one time to the next - sometimes even on the same day if I happen to be visiting two different doctors in one fell swoop? That alone is bound to give us back some important chunks of time and that is certainly worth a lot right there.

There is so much more around the corner in this space. I'm looking forward to watching it unfold.

What helps keep you healthy?