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2010: My Year in Review

2010 was an eventful and transitional year for me, with highs and lows, and moments of happiness and sadness.

January
I started the year determined to branch out professionally from managing technical projects in the web/tech space. In an effort to make new contacts and connect with unusual suspects, I finally embraced social media, and created accounts on LinkedIn and Twitter. Gradually, I met many new, interesting people, and really became energized about work and professional networking.

April
In April, my mother passed after a long illness. I felt the full gamut of emotions: grief that my mother had passed, relief that she was no longer in pain, sorrow that my daughter's time with her grandmother was so short, and resolve, to go out and embrace life.


In October, on the date of her birthday, I posted some of my memories of my mother.

May
Toward the end of Spring, I joined the Reserve Hose Fire Company. I'd been looking for a way to give back to my community, and volunteering as…

Drive by Daniel Pink (Book Review)

In Drive, Daniel Pink challenges the old guard notions of motivation that remain entrenched in business today and still hold that people are driven primarily by external carrot and stick motivators.

Examining and citing old and new research, the author contends that carrot and stick motivators actually only work in certain circumstances (with rule-based routine tasks) and people are instead strongly motivated today by some combination of the following factors:
Autonomy - the desire to direct their livesMastery - the urge to get better and better at something that mattersPurpose - the yearning to do something as part of something larger than ourselves
The implications of a reassembled paradigm of motivation are huge and far-reaching. In a normative workplace, everything from prescribed work schedules, fixed work processes, and performance bonuses could and should be recast if you approach motivation differently.

One other note. It's worth noting that Daniel Pink writes very well. Th…

Unbowed by Wangari Maathai (Book Review)

There is an early sequence in Unbowed when Wangari Maathai describes a fig tree and nearby stream where she would constantly go to fetch water. Even as a girl, Maathai relates how fascinated she was by the crystal-clear stream and all the life in the water and around it, in the shrubs, reeds, ferns, and surrounding fig tree. Later she would realize how everything was connected -- how the "fig tree held the soil together, reducing erosion and landslides," and how forests, fresh water, wildlife, everything contributed to a functional, sustainable biodiversity.

Fundamentally, Unbowed, is the story of Maathai's devotion to the natural balance and sustainability she felt at a young age. The text details her education in Kenya and abroad and key role in establishing the Green Belt Movement, an environmental and communal grassroots organization based in Kenya with a primary focus on planting trees and combating deforestation.

The book details Maathai's many struggles and ob…

First Storm of the Season

Our snow-covered backyard, courtesy of an intense band of lake effect snow:

A Thanksgiving Playlist (Sort of)

There are a number of Thanksgiving songs, but few that I enjoy that much or that are universally recognized.

Hankering for some distinct Thanksgiving rock/pop music, I made my own playlist of songs that express "thanks" or "thank you" in the title or lyrics. It's a start, but I would love to add to the list. So please suggest other songs in the comments.

"Kind and Generous" - Natalie Merchant
"Thank God for the Bomb" - Ozzy Osbourne
"Thank God I'm a Country Boy" - John Denver
"Thanks That Was Fun" - Barenaked Ladies
"Thank U" - Alanis Morissette
"Thank You" - Dido
"Thank You" - Led Zeppelin
"The Thanksgiving Song" - Adam Sandler 
"Thnks fr th Mmrs" - Fall Out Boy

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Loving Dead by Amelia Beamer (Book Review)

Zombies are nothing new, of course. From the seminal Night of the Living Dead and its many imitators to more recent reincarnations, in film, books, and video games, including Shaun of the Dead, the Resident Evil video game and movie series, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and Zombieland, zombies resonate strongly with readers, gamers, and movie-goers today, as much as any other horror figure, even the vampire.

To this tradition, you can add Amelia Beamer's entertaining and hip The Loving Dead. The novel achieves that all too rare measured treatment of subject matter that too often ends up over the top. A modern retelling of the zombie apocalypse, The Loving Dead starts off as an ordinary, plausible story about young people in San Francisco and then shifts when one of the characters gets sick and turns into a zombie. As the infection spreads and more and more people become zombies, Beamer keeps the focus on a small group of characters, who head to Alcatraz in a desperate effort to…

Dear Random House

Dear Random House,

My daughter absolutely loves your Step into Reading toddler book Super Friends: Flying High.


Unfortunately, as of this writing, there are no other Level 1 Step into Reading superhero books in the series and few books overall featuring strong female heroines. I think it would be really great and empowering if you followed up the first book with a Level 1 Super Friends book featuring Wonder Woman. I know, there are Barbie and Disney Princess titles, but I believe Wonder Woman is galvanizing in ways those characters aren't. And Wonder Woman has a new look and costume that is well-suited for a new generation of girls.



I tried to send you feedback about this using your Feedback link but the form did not submit correctly.


Then I considered pitching the idea to you, but you made it quite clear on your FAQs that you only deal with agents.
"Like most big publishers, Random House only accepts manuscripts submitted by an agent--the volume of materials we receive is just…

Hacking Work by Bill Jensen and Josh Klein (Book Review)

Have you ever had to work around a company rule or policy that prevented you from doing your job effectively? Ever used non-company software and tools to get things done? Or reached out to a co-worker to skirt a dumb work process? If so, than Hacking Work is your kind of book.

Hacking Work is all about the rising tide of benevolent hacking at work and the people who bypass corporate-centered systems in favor of efficient, user-centered approaches. The text is not anti-work or anti-business. On the contrary, it's about saving business from itself and reintroducing effeciency and human innovation back into the workplace. Because, ultimately, if your organization is not as effective and flexible as it can be, a competitor down the street or across the world will be.

Fortunately, the maturation of available software today, including loads of free, open-source options and the proliferation of social media, make it easier than ever to introduce hacks that create efficiencies and benefit …

What I Learned from My Mother

Today would have been my mother's 72nd birthday. While she passed earlier this year, she's still very much with me. As I celebrate her birthday and life today, I thought it fitting to share some of my memories of her with others. The following was originally presented as a eulogy at my mother's funeral on April 6, 2010.

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The temperature was 81° degrees when I got to the hospital on Friday afternoon, shortly after I received a call that my mother’s condition had taken a serious turn for the worse. It felt like a collision of opposites: my mom on her deathbed and a beautiful and unseasonably sunny day.

But then I remembered how much my mother used to love being outside and it all began to make sense. Whether it was planting or pruning, weeding or walking, or just enjoying the sunshine or a mild breeze, my mom came alive when she was outside.  So it was no surprise that my mother’s last day was also the warmest day of the year to date. It was as if the Earth and all of the o…

Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh (Book Review)

Excuse me one second while I send a message to my past self from 10 years ago: "Drop everything and go west and get a job at this new company Zappos."

Delivering Happiness is probably the most authentic business book I've ever read. It's not that the book tells the origin story of one of the coolest, most innovative companies (Zappos) in the country, although it certainly does that. It's not all the sound business advice and lessons imparted from Tony Hsieh, although there's plenty to consider in these pages. It's not even that the book is inspiring, although it definitely will make you believe that anything is possible again.

All those good elements aside, the book really resonated and stood out for me because every bit of it felt genuine and real. Tony Hsieh made the decision not to use an editor, and it really paid off. I felt no degrees of separation when reading this -- instead, the reading experience was intimate, as if the author was writing to me. …

The Power of Purpose by Richard Leider (Book Review)

Richard Leider has spent much of his professional life interviewing older adults over the age of 65 and asking them about their lives. Most people, the author noted, expressed that a feeling of purpose was vitally important to them. The subjects also expressed that they would have been clearer about purpose earlier in their life if they could live it over again.

On the surface, this makes perfect sense. We all want to live for something and for our lives to have meaning. Right? But if so, then why do only 20% of employees today report feeling passionate about what they do, as thinker and writer John Hagel contends? Where's the purpose?

Leider provides some guidance about what we're missing and what may help by examining the importance of purpose in The Power of Purpose. Unlike some texts that promise to fix everything that ails us, The Power of Purpose is more like a lamp, casting light in a previously darkened room so we can see the disheveled mess for what it is.

The text co…

Rules of Thumb by Alan Webber (Book Review)

One month ago, I'd never heard of Alan Webber. Today, I'm telling everyone I know to read his insightful and accessible Rules of Thumb.

For those who haven't heard of Alan Webber, he is the co-founding editor of Fast Company Magazine, and a former managing editor of the Harvard Business Review.

Rules of Thumb gathers all the lessons and pivotal stories he has learned through forty years of working in the public and private sectors. For example, Rule #9 tells us that "Nothing Happens Until Money Changes Hands", while Rule #45 reminds us that "Failure Isn't failing. Failing Is Failing to Try". For each rule, Webber tells us a story, of how he came by the rule and what he learned in the process.

The result is a fascinating and provocative text that's both a guidebook for business and entrepreneurs and also a revealing glimpse into the "value of experience and observation".

You can learn more about Rules of Thumb and Alan Webber at http://r…

Maternova

Earlier this year, I blogged about Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. I mentioned that the text effectively revealed the widespread plight of women in the developing world, and issued a clear call for change through awareness and action.

Meg Wirth is one of those people who's responded to the call and is helping save lives. When Meg learned that pregnancy is a leading cause of death among women of childbearing age in the developing world (because so many women, quite simply, bleed to death), she took action and founded Maternova, an online marketplace for safe and simple birthing technologies.

Conceived as a media platform, Maternova is now focusing on core questions of supply and distribution.
What effective, low-cost tools (in development or on the market) can save mothers' and newborns' lives in low-resource settings?How and where should global health innovators direct their efforts?In low-resource areas, where do the facilities exist that can provide wo…

Of Superbugs and MRSA

I received a number of emails in response to my review of Maryn McKenna's Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA.

One of the most interesting and informative was from a microbiologist with direct experience working with Staph aureus and MRSA. I was grateful for the email and asked the individual if I could reproduce the comments here.

The microbiologist has kindly given me permission to reproduce those comments, but has asked that it be anonymous. I hope you find the information as revealing and helpful as I did.

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"I am a microbiologist. I wanted to assure you that Staph aureus and MRSA are the major pathogens that we isolate from wound cultures. Staph aureus is not always MRSA, but MRSA is seen in many of our wound cultures. We see several per day.

It seems that the diagnosis I have noticed on some of the cultures with Staph aureus is “spider bite”. Apparently this must be what it looks like when the infection is starting. We do those screening cultures where patients are cul…

Kay Nou

Kay Nou is a fascinating new blog by my next door neighbors. Take a visit and you'll be treated to all manner of opinions on a wide range of topics, including running, teaching, law, food, Buffalo and Western New York, and Haiti. With 46 blog posts in September alone, they produce a steady amount of content that rewards repeat visits (or an RSS subscription). Just to put that in perspective, prior to this post, I managed 46 posts on this blog for the entire calendar year.

Visit Kay Nou:
http://kaynou.wordpress.com/

The Social Network (Movie Review)

All companies need creation myths, and if one doesn't exist, it's probably necessary to invent one.

It's unclear how much of The Social Network is fact and how much is exaggerated and fictionalized, but it doesn't really matter as David Fincher's film succeeds as a compelling story of a smart but irreverent college student who doesn't quite fit in at Harvard but pounces and executes the right idea at the right time. The results speak for themselves as Facebook has become the number one social network site in the world.

I enjoyed the film and especially appreciated the balanced treatment of Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg). He comes across neither as a sympathetic figure nor as a villain, but somewhere in between, and mostly as a lonely and sometimes angry kid who desperately wants to fit in. This flailing coupled with his savvy at building innovative web applications (first MP3 software, than the infamous Facemash, and, finally, Facebook), leads to an unexpected m…

Remix by Lawrence Lessig (Book Review)

Copyright and fair use have become confusing and confounding. Not only is it unclear today what exactly we can copy and create, but it seems incredulous that record companies and movie studios would resort to suing children.

In Remix, Lawrence Lessig cuts through the confusion and details how American copyright laws have ceased to perform their original role of protecting artistic creation and allowing artists to build on previous creative works. Today, Lessig contends, digital technologies make it as easy for media artists to remix, as it does for writers to quote from other sources. Unfortunately, such remixing is in violation of the current laws and creates a stifling climate for creativity.

Lessig stridently argues against the continuation of such a limited "read only" culture and suggests five major changes to our copyright laws:
Deregulation of amateur creativityOpt-in copyrightSimplification of the copyright lawsDecriminalizing copyingDecriminalizing file sharingNote: 

SeeClickFix

I previously mentioned that I'd be blogging about many of the fascinating speakers and innovative organizations I was exposed to at BIF6.

SeeClickFix advances a civic Internet through progressive technology and social media. Basically, SeeClickFix allows anyone to report and track local community problems to government officials and the media via the internet.

Think about it. You're driving through your downtown and see a pothole. You take a picture with your cell phone and use a mobile phone app to send the picture through SeeClickFix. The picture and issue is logged on the site, and the governing (transportation or city works) agency receives an alert about the problem.

I'm fascinated by the concept and eager to hear from others if they've used the service and if it's been effective in their communities.

BIF-6 Summit

I had the good fortune to attend the Business Innovation Factory'sannual summit this year in Providence, RI.

The conference featured more than two dozen innovators who took the stage and told stories demonstrating their passion, creativity, smarts and discipline to get things done in new and valuable ways. Think TED, but on a more intimate scale, and with a clear focus on business and social innovation.

I found the event absolutely exhilarating and fascinating. Almost a week removed now, and I still can't stop thinking about it. Look for follow up posts in this space about some of the speakers and stories featured at BIF-6

There She Goes - Characters My Daughter Resembles

My daughter turns three on September 9th. Her personality is really beginning to develop now, and everyday my wife and I are greeted with new sentences, vocabulary, and concepts that she has mastered. She's also navigating her way through a full range of mannerisms and emotions.

One moment she might hold her white teddy bear "Pickles" close and give him a big, expressive hug. Then, in the next, after I've asked her to do something, she might react quite differently.

"Cecilia, it's time for dinner. Let's put your toy away and get in your chair."

"Daddy, no. Last one," she often says.

"Honey, time for dinner."

"No. No dinner. NO!"

In these moments, while I sometimes feel exasperation depending on the particular outburst and duration, I mostly find myself smiling and wondering if these expressive moments foreshadow the personality traits my daughter will exhibit as she gets older. The possibilities seem endless but, even a…

Buying In by Rob Walker

The message of Buying In is that while modern consumers have becomes smarter and more discriminating, they are nonetheless embracing brands like never before.

Despite cynicism in general toward the persuasion industry and new technologies that allow people to bypass advertising in some contexts (using TiVo, DVRs, website ad blockers), author Rob Walker contends that people are increasingly finding value by bringing their own meanings and interpretations to brands. Using varied examples including Hello Kitty, Timberland, Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR), Red Bull, and the iPod, Walker cites case after case where the consumer brings her own meaning to the brand, often ascribing an interpretation totally unanticipated by the company owning and marketing the brand. Bottom up interest in pink Timberlands is just one of many examples from the text.

This phenomenon has led to what Walker calls "murketing", partially a range of tactics that blur the lines of the traditional sales pitch, but …

The Starfish and the Spider by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom (Book Review)

As the Internet has collapsed the relative costs for forming and maintaining large groups, it has paved the way for a new breed of distributed, decentralized organizations. The Starfish and the Spider is all about emerging, leaderless organizations in comparison to traditional, centralized organizations.

The authors use the great title metaphor to setup and explain the two types of organizations. Here, centralized organizations are like spiders, with a head and command and control system, and distributed organizations are like starfish, with no central brain and nearly-autonomous parts that can function so well indpendently that you can cut off a starfish's leg and the leg will grow an entirely new starfish.

Practical examples follow, with studies showing how Alcoholics Anonymous, Craigslist, Wikipedia, Napster, and Skype all flourished as they embraced distributed models or aspects.

The text does a good job elaborating the differences between centralized and decentralized organiz…

Following Polly by Karen Bergreen (Book Review)

Following Polly is a fresh and fun novel about Alice Teakle, a women who tries to inject some excitement and pulse into her nondescript life by following a more interesting woman, a former classmate named Polly. Alice finds the stalking strangely affirming, but things turn when Polly ends up murdered and Alice finds herself the prime suspect in the murder.

I started Following Polly not sure what to expect. I suspected that the book was written primarily for women (in the vein of The Nanny Diaries), but I was intrigued enough by the hook of a bored and lonely person following someone much more interesting that I knew wanted to start reading. I'm glad I did, as I enjoyed the evenly-paced plot, the dialog, and the blurring of genre elements, especially as the book shifted from a traditional romantic fantasy to a comedic murder mystery thriller and then went back and forth. Ultimately, the book will likely appeal more to a female audience, but I think male readers will enjoy it as wel…

The City & The City by China Miéville (Book Review)

The City & The City refers to two overlapping and interspersing cities -- Beszel and Ul Qoma -- somewhere in Europe. Despite the proximity of the cities, that at times is so tight that part of a street may be in Beszel while the rest is in Ul Qoma, it is both law and custom that people observe only the environs of their city and "unsee" the other city. So, if they are in Beszel, they only see Beszel buildings, streets, and people, just as people in Ul Qoma only see people and places that are in Ul Qoma. To do otherwise is to commit breach, a serious crime enforceable by a secret power that mandates the perception of Beszel and Ul Qoma as distinct cities.

If this all sounds confusing, I submit that it is probably due to my inability to capture what Miéville has done in this novel, which is to take a speculative premise that completely jars against our expections and sense of what should be, and make it work and flow.

We are introduced to Beszel and Ul Qoma through Inspect…

Randy's a Dandy

After sharing the Buffalo and Cleveland post that compared sports failures between the two cities, I wanted to follow up with something positive. I've been tossing some ideas around when a co-worked forwarded me this great clip from the 1978 NBA All-Star game featuring Randy Smith (a former Buffalo Brave) going on a tear and hitting shot after shot. When I saw this, I knew immediately this was what I wanted to post.

Enjoy!

Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky (Book Review)

Cognitive Surplus continues where Here Comes Everybody ends and examines how excess free time and the adoption of social media are transforming us from consumers into collaborators.

We've had surplus free time for a while, Shirky contents, at least since the postwar boom. However, because we spent so much of this excess time watching television, the surplus was mostly used for consumption. It has only been in recent years, with the emergence of online social networks, that we're beginning to see our cognitive surplus applied beyond consumption, to all manner of sharing and collaborative creation.

It's worth noting here that the application of our cognitive surplus to social networks is instrumental. It won't by definition produce output of higher quality. You will instead get everything from Wikipedia to Napster to millions of blogs and Twitter posts. But because the Internet has removed the barriers to entry for amateurs creating and sharing content, the pool of conte…

Buffalo and Cleveland: Let’s Make a Pact!

I'm a Buffalo sports fan, but I found myself acutely disappointed when LeBron James choose the Miami Heat over the Cleveland Cavaliers. You see, it's not easy being a Buffalo sports fans, with the Bills' four Super Bowl losses and the Sabres' inability to win the Stanley Cup. I've always felt that the only fans who truly understand the continual disappointment and ache of no championships are Cleveland sports fans.

So, somewhere along the way, I've become a stand-in Cleveland fan, and I always cheer for Cleveland teams to win when they make the playoffs (excepting on the rare occasion when the Browns and Bills meet in the post-season, when I root for the Bills). This year was no different, and I really thought it was the Cavs' year and LeBron would lead them over the top.

It was obviously not to be, though. But the Cavs' loss to the Celtics and LeBron's decision to play for Miami got me thinking about other famous sports letdowns and disappointments…

10 Reasons Why Independence Day Is the Best Holiday

Earlier this year, I gave ten reasons why Memorial Day is my favorite holiday. I stand by that list, but, in full disclosure, I really like Independence Day too, almost or even as much as Memorial Day. To flush this out, I decided to make a case for Independence Day as the best holiday of them all. Don't worry, I won't do this for every holiday.

Note: As with Memorial Day, I'm aware that Independence Day (on the Fourth of July) is a U.S. holiday, but I know other countries have similar holidays, so I figured people everywhere can relate. I also tried to pick qualities that aren't specific to America. If anything, they're more season-specific.
Here's the list: It's a holiday for everybody. Almost everyone gets off work on Independence Day and most businesses are closed. It makes the day feel extra special and celebratory, and there are only a few holidays where this is the case.It's affordable. Unless you're hosting a giant party, you won't spend a …

Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff (Book Review)

Groundswell is a really great survey book about the importance of social media for business. Here, the authors interpret social media as the groundswell, "a spontaneous movement of people using online tools to connect, take charge of their experience, and get what they need -- information, support, ideas, products, and bargaining power -- from each other."

The book is well-structured and begins at a high-level, defining the groundswell and why it's vital for businesses today. Next, the authors include case studies and go through various strategies for tapping into the groundswell. The final section includes tactical examples detailing how to implement social media initiatives and gain buy-in throughout an organization.

As you read the book, it's easy to tell that Groundswell pulls together a ton of relevant information, and the authors did an excellent job of leveraging data from their parent organization (Forrester Research) and gathering new information though many…

She's Out of My League (Movie Review)

She's Out of My League is a mildly funny and easy-going-down comedy about an average guy named Kirk (played by Jay Baruchel) who finds himself dating Molly (Alice Eve), who's better looking, smarter, and more successful than he is. Basically, he's a 5 out of 10, and she's a 10.

The premise works because the characters are likable and we want them to work it out and be happy. This is true despite the fact that there are no real surprises here, and the plot paints by the usual romantic comedy numbers. I did like that the story took place in Pittsburgh, and that the writers gave Molly some substance -- she is ridiculously pretty, but she's not an airhead.

I recommend She's Out of My League if you're interested in a light romantic comedy with some probable rising stars, especially Jay Baruchel and Alice Eve.

Connecting with Strangers on Social Media Sites

I love using social media sites to meet new professionals for networking and sharing ideas. LinkedIn and Twitter are my favorite social media sites for this, as they bring you into contact with a ton of people in all different fields and specialties.

Over the past few months, I've been trying to add new professional contacts and I've reached out to people I didn't previously know. At first, this was a little awkward, as I had to overcome my own hesitation about connecting with strangers. I was worried I was being too intrusive or even spamming people. I tried to balance this by being transparent about my intent to connect and never bothering anyone with duplicate messages or invitations.

Overall, this process has been rewarding and very positive, as the majority of people with whom I've interacted have been very receptive to networking and connecting on LinkedIn or Twitter, and I now am connected to many more interesting professional contacts that I would be otherwise …

Book Blogger Appreciation Week 2010 - Intent to Register

I recently discovered the Book Blogger Appreciation group which works to "recognize the hard work and contribution of book bloggers". Even more, the group also sponsors a Book Blogger Appreciation Week to recognize the contributions of book bloggers everywhere.

I'm by no means a full-time book blogger, but I comment about enough books here that I wanted to participate in their event. I also like the intent of the Book Blogger Appreciate group, and want to do my small part in publicizing their activity.

For the BBAW awards, there are several niche categories you may pick from to enroll your blog. After traversing the categories and looking at what I posted this past year, I decided to select the Best Nonfiction Book Blog category and have selected the following as representative review posts:

Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA by Maryn McKenna (Book Review)
Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford (Book Review)
Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (Bo…

What's Your Favorite Version of the Leonard Cohen Song Hallelujah?

Lately, I've been hearing more and more covers of the Leonard Cohen song "Hallelujah". This includes adaptations for TV, the movies, and special events, like the last Olympics and the recent Hope for Haiti fundraiser. The song was also performed by two recent American Idol finalists, Jason Castro (in 2008) and Lee DeWyze (this season, 2010). According to a Wikipedia article summarizing the song and the website The Leonard Cohen Files, the song has been covered by different artists almost 200 times. There's also a great awmusic.ca blog post that goes into more detail about the many covers of Hallelujah, and suggests that it is now "the most overused song ever". Good stuff.

Anyway, after hearing DeWyze attempt the song last month, it got me thinking about the different versions of the song, and which interpretation I like the best.

For my part, while I appreciate the emotional intensity of the the Jeff Buckley version, I favor the controlled sincerity in the …