Friday, December 31, 2010

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 a firefighter instinctively felt right.
I'm still a probationary member with much to learn, but I've enjoyed the experience so far and look forward to continuing on.

June
In June, through some new contacts I'd made on LinkedIn, I ended up helping to stand up the Buffalo chapter of the Social Media Club. This was a great, energizing experience, and a true coming together of talented people from many different fields. The only thing more exciting about starting the club will be seeing how it will surely evolve and become even better next year!

September

I had the good fortune to attend the Business Innovation Factory's annual summit (BIF-6) 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. I found the event absolutely exhilarating and fascinating.

Also in September -- my daughter turned three and transitioned from a small in-home daycare to a preschool. To mark the occasion, I wrote a short post about her.

October
My story Costumed won the 13th Annual Saugus.net Halloween Ghost Story Contest.

I also visited Chicago in October, and though I've been there many times previously, this visit was memorable because I was introduced to Intelligentsia Coffee and sampled some of the best coffee I've ever had.

November

I had the opportunity to visit Shanghai, China to attend a marketing offsite in November. It was a wonderful opportunity to visit a faraway country, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.





December

In December, I accepted a new position as Brand and Business Innovation manager for the Superior Group. In my new role, which will commence in 2011, I’ll be responsible for the creation, development, and maturation of new ideas and driving innovation for the business. I'm very excited about the new position, and look forward to a productive 2011 in my new role.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

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:
  1. Autonomy - the desire to direct their lives
  2. Mastery - the urge to get better and better at something that matters
  3. Purpose - 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. Though the text gets high marks foremost for its insightful arguments, the writing is masterfully fluid. That is, it's comfortable and easy to read without ever sacrificing intelligence and rigor for accessibility.

You can read more about Dan Pink and Drive at his website: http://www.danpink.com/.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

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 obstacles to keep the movement going in the wake of government opposition and resistance. As Maathai writes, "Working for freedom and justice is often a lonely and dispiriting business." Fortunately, for the people of Kenya and all of us, she was able to persevere and grow the movement into the international organization that it is today. In 2004, she received the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of all her work with the Green Belt Movement.

You can read more about Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement via the links below:

The Green Belt Movement (Website)
The Green Belt Movement (Facebook)

Thursday, December 02, 2010

First Storm of the Season

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

Thursday, November 25, 2010

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!

Monday, November 22, 2010

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 get away from the zombies that are multiplying throughout Northern California.

I would recommend The Loving Dead for anyone interested in an original horror novel. In some ways, it reminded me of Peeps by Scott Westerfeld, although I'm not sure if that's a well thought-out comparison. If you're thinking that you don't read books about zombies, well, neither did I, until I read this. Give it a try.

One other note about how I discovered the author and the book as this was a true social media success story. I first heard of Amelia Beamer when I read a piece about the book on John Scalzi's blog. My interest picqued, I subscribed to Amelia Beamer's own blog and followed her on Twitter. For a time, she was posting whole sections of the novel on her website for sampling and still has the first four chapters online. After I read a bit, I knew I would enjoy the book, and I did.

Friday, November 05, 2010

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 too large to accept unsolicited submissions or ideas."
Running out of ideas, I decided to write this post in the hope that someone in your organization monitors posts that include the keywords "Random House". If you're reading this, please consider a Level 1 Step into Reading Wonder Woman book.

Note: I'd be happy to make a more detailed business case for this and author the text.

Thank you.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

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 the person doing the work as well as the organization. In this sense, hacking includes everything from the emergence of Gen Y as the major demographic in the workforce, to the return of a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) work sensibility, and "a growing openness about challenging the tools and procedures we're handed."

To give you a sense of what you'll find in the book, below are 10 Hacking Work starting commandments:
  1. Be cool
  2. Try non-hacking first
  3. Do no harm
  4. Never compromise other people's information
  5. Play well with others
  6. Pay it forward
  7. The law of attraction works
  8. Be true to yourself
  9. Talent is overrated
  10. Hacking can be a journey of self-discovery
Definitely, definitely read this book. And while you're at it, tell your boss and your boss's boss to read it too.

You can learn more about Hacking Work at www.hackingwork.com.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

My Story Costumed Wins First Place in Halloween Story Contest

My story Costumed won the 13th Annual Saugus.net Halloween Ghost Story Contest.

The story has been posted on the Saugus.net site and on my site at www.ravenweb.net/writing/costumed/ (different formatting and background color).

Friday, October 29, 2010

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.

##

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 outdoors came forward as if to say, “Welcome back, Diana.”

As I made my way into the hospital, I found myself remembering more of what my mother held dear and what I had learned from her over the years.  In tribute to her, I’d like to share some of that with you.

Reading
Some of you may not know this about my mother, but she used to be an avid reader. Growing up, I vividly remember her reading through paperback after paperback. I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but this made a big impression on me. I ended up identifying reading as more than important, as something essential that everyone does at home.  Among other factors, this influence helped guide me to a graduate degree in English. Thanks, Mom.

In Defense of Food
Ah, the days of lemon pie and baked macaroni. I never knew how good my mom’s cooking was until I was out on my own and regularly eating TV dinners and Chinese take out. And it wasn’t just the food, although it was undeniably better. It was the labor of love that went into the meal preparation and the custom of recipes passed down generation to generation. My wife and I have recently begun returning to these roots in our diet and organic food choices, and there’s no doubt that my mom’s invisible hand is in the kitchen, helping us.

Smoking
My mother smoked for most of her life, from her early teenage years, I think. I’ve no doubt that her health was adversely affected from many years of smoking and that smoking directly contributed to her cancer. I won’t dwell on this except to say, if any of you smoke, please think of my mother and consider quitting.

Kind and Loving
If I had to pick two terms to describe my mother, I would, without hesitation, say that she was kind and loving. If these sound a bit obvious and characteristic of any mother, I would suggest that you should ponder further.

I say this because my mother loved her family unconditionally and was kind without filter or reservation. She always put her children and her husband first, sometimes before her own happiness.

My mom only wanted peace and harmony in our family. When my father and I would start off talking politics and end up arguing and name calling, my mom wouldn’t take sides and instead gently suggest that we switch subjects.

She saw the best in everyone while overlooking their shortcomings.

Belief in the Goodness of People and Redemption
This leads to my final point about my mother: deep down she believed in the goodness of people and second chances. This is best illustrated with an example.

When I was young, we had no contact with some members of my mom’s family. I never learned the reason for this, but it had the feel of an old family grudge, where someone said or did something years ago but no one could remember exactly what started it, and the only way forward was to continue the standoff.

This continued until my mother’s brother Sam got sick and my mother and her family made peace and came together. It was a remarkable lesson to me and I learned for the first time that love and forgiveness can overcome pride and selfishness.

I will always respect my mother for this and, though I lack her compassionate nature, try to live by this example. One sign that her lesson might have taken hold is that, since we’ve been adults, my sister and I have never had a meaningful quarrel.

All of us here today, at one time or another, benefited from my mom’s loving nature or actions. We are better for having known her, and her children – my sister and I – are who we are in no small part because of her love and guidance. 

I will miss her, will do my best to impart her story to my little girl, and will remember her always.

##

In Loving Memory of Diana Gullo (1938 - 2010)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

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. Even the occasional awkward grammatical phrasing didn't matter -- it just worked.

There are so many reasons to recommend this that I couldn't possibly list them all. Instead, I'll just list the Zappos core values, as they figure prominently in the book (and Tony's story) as well:

   1. Deliver WOW Through Service
   2. Embrace and Drive Change
   3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
   4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
   5. Pursue Growth and Learning
   6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
   7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
   8. Do More With Less
   9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

Friday, October 15, 2010

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 continues with examples of people who have found real purpose in many different kinds of professions. What distinguishes the examples Leider cites is that the people found purpose primarily through acts of compassion and by helping others. This point resonated with me, and it felt very true, both from my own experiences as well as what I've perceived with habitually self-centered people (they're never happy).

Monday, October 11, 2010

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://rulesofthumbbook.blogspot.com/.

Monday, October 04, 2010

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 women with skilled care?

    Source, About Maternova web page, http://maternova.net/about-maternova 
Maternova is also working to provide postpartum hemorrhage kits, midwife alert bracelets, and other deliverables to midwives and health care workers in areas with high maternal mortality rates.

I was fortunate enough to hear Meg speak at BIF-6 and meet her afterwards, and I wanted to share that here.

You can read more about Meg and Maternova via the links below:

Sunday, October 03, 2010

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.

##

"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 cultured with swabs to the inside of the nostrils. Thankfully we don’t see many that are positive for MRSA.

If you are interested in this sort of thing, read online about ESBL and KPC or CRE. These are on the rise, also. I have heard that the drug companies are not that interested in working on new antibiotics. I don’t know if that is true or not. I am sure that developing new antibiotics is extremely time consuming and super-expensive. The bacteria will eventually become resistant to those too, but at least they  would work for a while. I have been doing this for 30 years. It is really scary seeing the resistance that has been developing during those 30 years.

If everyone would wash their hands diligently, things would be safer. Bacteria and viruses love to ride on our hands. Then we deposit them on money, door knows, hand rails, steering wheels, cell phones, keyboards, etc. A great defense for this is to clean things with a 10% Clorox dilution. That takes care of pretty much everything. If you cannot use the Clorox, use rubbing alcohol.

Here is a great site for information."

CDC - Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

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/

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

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 mixture of success and obnoxiousness.

Deep down you sense Zuckerberg doesn't quite know what to do with his unprecedented success. To paraphrase one of the characters, speaking to Mark at the end of the film, "You're not an asshole, you're just trying really hard to be one." Perhaps that's why the final image in the film is of Zuckerberg, now Facebook CEO, sitting alone in a conference room and browsing his own social network site, awaiting a friend confirmation.

Monday, September 27, 2010

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:
  1. Deregulation of amateur creativity
  2. Opt-in copyright
  3. Simplification of the copyright laws
  4. Decriminalizing copying
  5. Decriminalizing file sharing
Note: Remix, published in 2008, does not include any information about the purported looming Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.

Friday, September 24, 2010

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.

Monday, September 20, 2010

BIF-6 Summit

I had the good fortune to attend the Business Innovation Factory's annual 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

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

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 at three, some traits are clearly more dominant than others. I extrapolate and spin through the possibilities, and my mind invariably turns to famous female characters from books and movies that Cecilia is beginning to resemble.

DOROTHY, THE WIZARD OF OZ

Some days, my daughter is a Dorothy. That is, she's an explorer, always on an adventure, moving from room to room, and looking for the Emerald City or some elusive Wizard. Her yellow brick road might be the laminate flooring that spans most of our house because, after all, it is on the floor where she meets and ventures forth with her stuffed animal friends. Ever at her side, her teddy bear Pickles is her first and closest friend and can only be Toto. Elmo from Sesame Street is the companion she talks to the most and has to be the Scarecrow. Her lovable, over-sized bear Ruff -- who is her equal in size -- is the largest and strongest of her friends and recalls the Tin Man. Finally, a diminutive Japanese puppet cat named Felix is the Lion.

She talks to these companions all the time and takes them with her, throughout our house. Her affection for her friends is matched only by her protectiveness. She covers them with blankets, feeds them pretend food, nurses them when they are sick, and will stand up to anyone who she thinks wants to take them from her (like Mommy or Daddy, who sometimes make the mistake of picking up Cecilia’s friends in an effort to tidy the house). One imagines Elphaba or the Wizard cowering from this child's protection.

Cecilia is most like Dorothy, though, at the end of a long day, when she has had her full of play and fun. As night falls, she smiles and grows comfortable, in her own room, her bed, her home. There’s really no place like home.

CHER HOROWITZ, CLUELESS

One day when I picked Cecilia up from daycare, Linda, our daycare provider, stopped me.

"Do you know, at the end of the day we do a clean up song?"

"A what?" I asked.

At this point Cecilia chimed in and began singing. "Clean up. Everybody, everywhere. Clean up. Everybody do your share."

Linda laughed. "We sing this at the end of the day so all the children know it's time to pick up the toys and clean up. But you know what Cecilia does? She sings the song but just stands there and tells all the other kids to put everything away!"

I laughed too, but it got my wondering, what if Cecilia developed into a bossy child? What if she continued to hone her conniving and manipulating skills to always get what she wanted? I suddenly had visions of Cecilia in high school playing matchmaker to difficult teachers to turn C grades into As. Or adopting the nerdy, unhip girl at school as her friend. Even further, she might strut atop the high school social scene, self-assured but self-absorbed and tilting toward the superficial.

I glance over at my daughter and see her cute face and pigtails and, for a second, the image blurs and I have a vision of a teen-aged Alicia Silverstone from Clueless walking down the halls at high school. Could my daughter turn into Cher Horowitz?

At first the notion really frightens me, and I can’t get the image out of my head of Cecilia going on a wild shopping spree though Beverly Hills. But then I remember that as Clueless begins, Cher is only 16 years old, smart in fashion and social manipulation, but still a young girl with much to learn about life and people. This gives me some comfort, not for the hard lessons Cecilia would face if she grew up like Cher, but for the person she would become at the other end. Because, even as a toddler, with the self-absorption that comes with the age, Cecilia has shown a remarkable capacity for growth and change, and it’s not so difficult to see her, like Cher, learning through her teenage years and making efforts to help and understand people better.


SCOUT, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

If I had to use three terms to describe Cecilia, I would, without hesitation, say that she is strong-willed, curious, and independent. She often knows exactly what she wants, is content to explore and work out how to get it on her own, and will fight for and protect it once she has it. In this sense, she often reminds me of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird.

A few weeks ago, Cecilia was playing with a neighborhood boy, when the boy grabbed the ball Cecilia was playing with out of her hands

"No,” Cecilia said forcefully. “You need to share!”

The boy just looked at Cecilia, not sure what to make of the challenge, and then dropped the ball and began playing with something else. It wasn’t exactly Scout standing up for Atticus, but the episode made me realize that Cecilia has it in her to speak out when she believes things aren’t right. I beamed with pride but also worried at the conflicts my daughter might someday face if she regularly calls out other people.


Another time, after dinner, we were eating chocolate for dessert, and when Cecilia saw that one of our guests at the table was eating an extra piece, she cried out.

“Mommy, Mr. Gary is having an extra piece of chocolate!”

It’s not just when she speaks out that Cecilia reminds me of Scout. My little girl is insatiably curious and always wants to know what’s happening. She regularly looks out her window and tries to see what the neighbors are doing. Had we a reclusive Boo Radley on our street, Cecilia would be just as terrified and fascinated with him as Scout.

Her curiosity extends to other children. Though Cecilia is sometimes as shy as she is independent, she invariably comes around to new kids and befriends them. In this sense, she sometimes makes me think of how Scout became friends with Dill.

I don’t know if Cecilia will continue to resemble Scout as she grows older. There are times when she avoids conflict, so she may be less inclined to speak out in the future. If she does not change and continues to mirror Scout, though, I will do my best to support her and impart the lesson from Atticus that "you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view — until you climb around in his skin and walk around in it.”

PRINCESS LEIA, STAR WARS

I suspect that all parents can't help themselves from bragging about their children, or overstating the qualities their children possess. My wife and I are no different, and often hear ourselves mentioning our daughter's singular talents and how precocious she is. Of course, deep down we know her quirks and idiosyncrasies, as well as her full range of emotions, the stuff that no one else gets to see.

As an example, just last week Cecilia refused to eat her dinner. My wife and I tried everything, but Cecilia continually refused and her mood shifted from forceful to abrasive.

“No!” she yelled, over and over.

My wife and I held firm and amidst the brinksmanship, I recognized that my daughter reminded me of Princess Leia, who did not give in to Vader while she was imprisoned on the Death Star and disclose the location of the rebel base.

Cecilia loves to tell others what to do. “Finish your dinner,” she often tells me, or “I want to wear the orange shirt.” One can just see her moving Chewbacca along, and leading Han and Luke to an escape from the Death Star.

My daughter is a petite little girl, but she plays hard, climbing and leaping off couch cushions and running and aggressively tackling me and my wife during playtime. As Cecilia leaps off her bed or down the stairs, I’m reminded of Leia swinging across a chasm with Luke, and holding her own in firefights with stormtroopers and ultimately besting Jabba the Hutt when the opportunity presented itself.

Finally, like Leia, Cecilia is not forceful or driven all the time. She can be subdued and loving, like at night before bedtime. And she loves her Mommy and Daddy more than anything, and would do whatever it took for them, as Leia did for Han, when he was frozen in carbonite and she had to rescue him.

##


I know I have an overactive imagination, and, to an extent, see my daughter as I want to see her, and as the characters I’d like her to resemble. In the end, of course, she’s her own person, and won’t be exactly like anyone, not the characters I described, or other close matches, like Jo March from Little Women, who my wife believes Cecilia is already beginning to resemble. It is fun to compare and imagine, though, and wonder which character Cecilia will resemble next.


Happy Birthday, Cecilia!

Monday, August 23, 2010

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 also a whole new, closely-connected relationship between consumer and brand. Murketing includes brands quietly sponsoring extreme sports and music, tapping popular youth as commercial persuaders, and facilitating buzz agents to push products in everyday conversation.

I've only touched on what you'll find in Buying In, but if you have any interest in what we buy and why, like me, you will probably find this fascinating.

You can also learn more about the author and find links to his popular "Consumed" column at http://www.robwalker.net/contents/consumed.html.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

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 organizations, and it also concedes that many organizations have evolved to use a hybrid model. Perhaps the best example of a hybrid organization is eBay, which is decentralized in how it lets users sell to each other and centralized in how it has established a reliable rating system and relationship with PayPal to ensure transaction security.

Bottom line: The Starfish and the Spider is interesting and and well worth reading.

Monday, August 02, 2010

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 well, especially those who enjoy light murder mysteries.

Following Polly is the debut novel by Karen Bergreen. The author has a distinctive but smooth style that made for easy, enjoyable reading.

Full Disclosure: The author is the best friend of the wife of one of my best friends, and I learned of the book through that relationship.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

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 Inspector Tyador Borlú, who's investigation of a murder leads him to travel through and explore both cities. As the plot develops and at least ostensibly follows a police procedural, the implausibility of Beszel and Ul Qoma lessens and we begin to accept the cities as they are. It does help that the cities are in Europe, which allows us to recall Berlin when it was divided and find something familiar and real to which we can compare Beszel and Ul Qoma. By the end of the novel, the notion of two cities occupying basically the same physical space or unseeing someone or something right beside you doesn't seem strange at all.

I don't normally give books a numeric or star rating, but if I did, I would hand out top honors for The City & The City. Both thought-provoking and enjoyable, this is speculative fiction at its best.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

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!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

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 content and user cultures is an order of magnitude greater and beyond what it ever was before. This is transformative change, the results of which won't be clear for years, if not decades.

If you liked Here Comes Everybody, you'll probably enjoy Cognitive Surplus too. If you haven't read Here Comes Everybody, I'd suggest you start there first.

Friday, July 09, 2010

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 in Buffalo and Cleveland sports. The similarities were striking, and I am now more convinced than ever that the two fan bases are united in shared misfortune by their sports teams.

Below is a comparison of significant Buffalo and Cleveland sports failures, misfortune, and near misses. I should note that my purpose in compiling this list is not to dwell on the negative and find company in misery, but to issue a clarion call of sorts for both fan bases to consider coming together and supporting each other's teams, at least until both cities win a modern day professional sports championship.

The List

Buffalo Cleveland

No Goal


Team: Buffalo Sabres
Sport: NHL
When: 1999 Stanley Cup Finals
Opponent: Dallas Stars

No Goal is associated with the controversial goal scored by Brett Hull of the Dallas Stars in the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals. When Hull scored the series-clinching goal in triple overtime of game six, his foot was in the crease but the puck wasn't.[1]

Beyond the controversy surrounding the goal, Sabre fans painfully remember the loss to this day because it represented the best look the Sabres had at a Stanley Cup, possibly ever. It was also the closest they got with all-world goalie Dominik Hasek.

The Drive


Team: Cleveland Browns
Sport: NFL
When: January 11, 1987
Opponent: Denver Broncos

The Drive refers to an offensive series in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship Game played on January 11, 1987, between the Denver Broncos and the Cleveland Browns.[2]

Broncos quarterback John Elway, in a span of 5 minutes and 2 seconds, led his team 98 yards to tie the game with 37 seconds left in regulation. Denver won the game in overtime with a field goal, 23-20.[2]

Music City Miracle

Team: Buffalo Bills
Sport: NFL
When: January 8, 2000
Opponent: Tennessee Titans

Music City Miracle is the name commonly given to the game winning kickoff return that took place as time expired on January 8, 2000, during the 1999-2000 NFL Payoffs when Tennessee pulled off a nearly impossible cross-field lateral to create daylight for returner Kevin Dyson.[3]

After the Bills's first Super Bowl loss, this might be the most painful Bills playoff defeat.

The Fumble

Team: Cleveland Browns
Sport: NFL
When: January 17, 1988
Opponent: Denver Broncos

The Fumble refers to Earnest Byner's fumble in the AFC Championship Game between the Cleveland Browns and the Denver Broncos on January 17, 1988. With 1:12 left in the game, running back Byner appeared to be on his way to score the game-tying touchdown, but lost a fumble at the 3-yard line.[4]

The Drop

Team: Buffalo Bills
Sport: NFL
When: January 6, 1990
Opponent: Cleveland Browns

The Drop describes the play when Bills' running back Ronnie Harmon dropped a potential game winning catch in the end zone on January 6, 1990 during a wildcard playoff game versus the Browns.

Red Right 88

Team: Cleveland Browns
Sport: NFL
When: January 4, 1981
Opponent: Oakland Raiders

Red Right 88 was the designation of a Cleveland Browns passing play that was infamously called during a Browns playoff game against the Raiders in 1981 that led to an interception and eventual loss.[5]

The Disappointing Finish

Team: Buffalo Sabres
Sport: NHL
When: May 19, 2007
Opponent: Ottawa Senators

The Disappointing Finish describes the failure of the Buffalo Sabres in the 2006-07 season to win the Stanley Cup, despite winning the Presidents' Trophy for most regular-season points for the first time in franchise history.

The suffering of Sabre fans did not end with the elimination by Ottawa, as the offseason saw the exit of two of the teams most productive and popular players, Chris Drury and Daniel Briere.

The Wedge

Team: Cleveland Indians
Sport: MLB
When: October 21, 2007
Opponent: Boston Red Sox

The Wedge recalls the 2007 ALCS when the Indians held a 3-1 lead in the series over the Boston Red Sox with a 19-game winner going at home in Game 5 -- and still lost the series.[6]

The series loss is generally characterized in Cleveland as a major choke, such that the term "The Wedge", named for former manager Eric Wedge, is now synonymous to Cleveland fans with this series loss.

The Wrist Shot

Team: Buffalo Sabres
Sport: NHL
When: May 10, 2001
Opponent: Pittsburgh Penguins

The Wrist Shot describes the game-winning goal and overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals of the 2000-01 season. Darius Kasparaitis beat Hasek 13:01 into overtime with a long 30-foot wrist shot from around the left faceoff circle.

This series and its aftermath will forever haunt Sabres fans. In Game 6, the Sabres were leading 2-1 and 1:18 away from advancing to the Eastern Finals when Pittsburgh tied the game on a fluke bounce and eventually won the the game in overtime. The Sabres would blow a lead in Game 7 as well and lose in overtime on the Kasparaitis goal.

This would prove to be Hasek's last game with the Sabres, as he was traded in the offseason.

The Shot

Team: Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport: NBA
When: 1989 NBA Playoffs
Opponent: Chicago Bulls

The Shot is the game-winning basket made by Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls in the fifth and final game of the first round of the 1989 NBA Playoffs against the Cleveland Cavaliers, on May 7, 1989, on Cleveland's home floor in Richfield, Ohio.[7]

The buzzer-beater gave Chicago the best-of-five series, 3-2. It was both a game and series winner. The Shot is considered one of Jordan's greatest clutch moments, and the game itself is considered a classic.[7]

Wide Right

Team: Buffalo Bills
Sport: NFL
When: January 27, 1991
Opponent: NY Giants

Wide Right describes kicker Scott Norwood's missed 47-yard field goal attempt during Super Bowl XXV on January 27, 1991.

Wide Right (and the loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XXV) is widely regarded by Buffalo fans as the most heartbreaking professional sports moment of all. Wide Right is sometimes associated with the Bills' loss of four straight Super Bowls, and has become viewed as the one consummate game the Bills should have won. 

Two Outs Away (Jose Mesa)

Team: Cleveland Indians
Sport: MLB
When: October 26, 1997
Opponent: Florida Marlins

Sometimes associated with the labels Two Outs Away or just Jose Mesa, Cleveland's loss in the 1997 World Series is best remembered by the team entering the ninth inning of Game 7 with a 2-1 when closer Jose Mesa blew the lead, culminating in a Marlins win in the eleventh inning.

In the modern era, this series is the closest a Cleveland team has come to winning a championship and is bitterly remembered by Indians fans.

Championship Drought

Despite reaching the Super Bowl in four consecutive years from 1990-1993, the Bills have never won a Super Bowl. The Sabres have also failed to win the Stanley Cup.

The Buffalo Bills did win the AFL championship in 1964 and 1965, and the Buffalo Bandits of the NLL have won 4 Championships in 1992, 1993, 1996, and 2008, but fans want what they consider the real thing, a modern day championship in football or hockey.[8] 

Championship Drought

Cleveland has waited longer than any other city with three major sports franchises to win a title. The last time a Cleveland professional sports team won a championship was in 1964 when the Cleveland Browns won the NFL Championship (pre-Super Bowl era).

The Cleveland Indians last won the World Series in 1948 (the second-longest drought in MLB, after the Cubs) and the Cleveland Cavaliers have never won an NBA championship. The city even had a short-lived NHL hockey team called The Barons, which never won a championship either.[9]

Abandonment

During the early years of the 1970s, Buffalo hosted three professional sports teams: the Bills (NFL), the Braves (NBA), and the Sabres (NHL). The era was short-lived, though, as the Braves left Buffalo forever after the 1977–78 season. The departure stands as one of the early sports losses endured by the city and came about because the team's ownership prized short-term financial gain over building an enduring NBA franchise in Buffalo.[10] In some ways, the loss of the Braves was also a sign of serious sports disappointments to come.

Over the past 30 years, Buffalo has shed population and jobs, giving rise to the notion that the market may not be big enough or viable for the Bills in the future. This uncertainty is exacerbated by Bill owner Ralph Wilson's refusal to discuss succession plans for the team. The Bills currently play one of their home games in nearby Toronto as part of an ongoing to regionalize the team, but skeptical fans view the move as a sign that the Bills already have one foot out the door.

So the Bills endure, but with a veritable Sword of Damocles hanging over the franchise and fanbase.

Abandonment

For a three year stretch, from 1996–1999, Cleveland lost the Browns and there was no football in Cleveland. Art Modell's decision to move the franchise has made him as one of the most reviled figures in Cleveland sports history. The city did get the Browns and the NFL back, but the scar from the relocation of the original franchise remains.

With his decision to leave the Cavaliers for the Miami Heat, LeBron James immediately joins Modell as one of the most self-centered figures in Cleveland sports history. There's no doubt that the sting of the departure was heightened tremendously by the manner in which James made his decision: during a prime time ESPN special, but it would have hurt no matter how he announced it.

As it was, though, to Cleveland fans, "The Decision" special was an hour long knife in the heart, and it's doubtful they will ever forgive him.


References
  1. 1999 Stanley Cup Finals. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1999_Stanley_Cup_Finals. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  2. The Drive. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Drive. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  3. Music City Miracle. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_City_Miracle. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  4. The Fumble. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fumble. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  5. Red Right 88. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Right_88. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  6. Cavaliers' failures are something that could only happen in Cleveland. http://www.cleveland.com/dman/index.ssf/2010/05/only_in_cleveland_1.html. Cleveland.com. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  7. The Shot. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Shot. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  8. Drought (sport), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drought_(sport). Wikipedia.org. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  9. Drought (sport), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drought_(sport). Wikipedia.org. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  10. Comment, buffalonationhttp://ravenhost.blogspot.com/2010/07/buffalo-and-cleveland-lets-make-pact.html#comments. ravenhost.blogspot.com. Retrieved July 14, 2010.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

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:
  1. 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.
  2. It's affordable. Unless you're hosting a giant party, you won't spend a fortune on Independence Day. You can spend what you want on food and drink, of course, but it's often less than what you'll spend on other large meal or gift holidays, like Easter and Thanksgiving. And if you like holidays that don't dent your wallet, Independence Day entertainment will suit you just fine, with free fireworks in the evening.
  3. The time of year. Falling in the first few days of July, Independence Day arrives right as the summer festival season blossoms. Where I reside, in the Buffalo/Niagara region, whenever the fourth approaches, I know other great summer events are coming, like the Friendship Festival (a celebration between Fort Erie, Ontario and Buffalo, NY), Shakespeare In Delaware Park, and various ethnic and cultural festivals, including the Taste of Buffalo, the Buffalo Italian Heritage Festival, and the Canal Fest of the Tonawandas.
  4. Outdoor Gatherings. Take a moment and think how you've previously spent the day on Independence Day. Chances are, you've enjoyed time at barbecues, picnics, beaches, parks, backyard parties, and consumed all manner of delicious food and spirits. Independence Day lends itself to fun, outdoor gatherings like no other holiday.
  5. Summer movies and drive-ins. If Memorial Day kicks off the summer movie season, by Independence Day, we're in the thick of it, and by the fourth we typically have a nice selection of big-budget action films and easy summer fare to choose from. One year on the fourth, we actually got one of the schlockiest summer movies of them all, Independence Day (you remember). Of course, since the weather is so warm by the fourth, you can take in a movie in air-conditioned comfort or make a long night of it at the drive-in.
  6. Work shutdowns and vacations. Many companies still have summer shutdowns during the week of July 4th, prompting a number of employees to take vacations. This gives the week of the holiday some extra buoyancy, as more people are out of work, on vacation, less stressed, and generally happier.
  7. True Summer holiday. Independence Day is our only holiday that's pure summer. That is, it's right in the gut of summer. For those of us who love the season, early July is a wonderful time, with over two months of boundless summer still ahead.
  8. Party. Let's all be honest, for a moment. Independence Day is a great day for summer parties and responsible consumption. This isn't to say that there isn't a lot of drinking going on during other holidays, and of course nothing can top New Year's Eve for sheer partying and holiday carousing, but Independence Day is different. It's warm and you can drink in the sun, in your backyard or on the beach, and parties often stretch out through the day and into the evening.
  9. Fireworks. As Chandler Bing might say, "Fireworks are cool and you know it!" Yes, you know it, I know it, we all know it. There are bottle rockets, lady fingers, M-80s, sparklers, just to name a few. I loved watching fireworks when I was a kid, and I expect I always will.
  10. The Birth of a Nation. Ultimately, the best case for Independence Day may be that it's a celebration of our country and a reminder of how our freedoms were won and why it's so important to preserve them.
Happy Independence Day, everyone.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

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 in-person, telephone, and email interviews.

I'd rank Groundswell as one of the best books that's been written to date about social media. Along with Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky, it's the most useful text on the subject I've read.

As a final aside, it's worth noting and fitting that in my case I was compelled to read Groundswell after hearing about it, well, within the groundswell. Those who are familiar with LinkedIn know that the popular social networking site for professionals allows you to join Groups which feature Discussions. A few months ago I joined the LinkedIn Group Social Media Marketing, and, shortly after joining, I quickly noticed an active discussion entitled "What is your favorite book on the subject of Social Media Marketing?"

As of this writing, this discussion has generated 369 comments, with lots of great suggestions and back and forth. I haven't done a tally, but my sense is that Groundswell has received the most recommendations from people who have responded to this thread.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

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.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

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 through simple, organic network growth.

I'm interested in other perspectives about this. Do others also connect with strangers, or only with known friends and colleagues? Why?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

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 (Book Review)
Less by Marc Lesser (Book Review)
Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott (Book Review)


Bloggers are also invited to register in a featured category, and I selected Best Written Book Blog. Below are my selections:

Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA by Maryn McKenna (Book Review)
10 Reasons Why Memorial Day Is the Best Holiday
25 Days of Christmas (25 post blog series)
Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford (Book Review)
TiMER (Movie Review)

Friday, June 18, 2010

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 John Cale treatment, and I was really impressed when I heard Kate Voegele's version a short time ago. She brings a lot of fresh energy to the song, and I think helps make it accessible for a new, younger audience.


What about you? What's your favorite version of the song? To help you think through some of the options, I've listed some of the more famous cover versions below.

Hallelujah - The Original
Leonard Cohen - Various Positions (1984)

Hallelujah - Famous Versions
John Cale - I'm Your Fan (1991)
Jeff Buckley - Grace (1994)
k.d. lang - Hymns of the 49th Parallel (2004)
Kate Voegele - Don't Look Away (2007)
Jason Castro - American Idol (2008)
Justin Timberlake & Matt Morris - Hope for Haiti Now (2010)
Lee DeWyze - American Idol (2010)