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.

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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 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.

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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.

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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 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)