Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Dying Well

There was a lot of jibber-jabbering at the office today and I made a bonehead move that really bothered me. Then Maddie pooped on the stairs so I had to clean that up when I got home from lunch. And it still isn't Saturday so I was grumpy. I was driving back to work thinking "The only thing we have of any value on this earth is time, and I spend 8 hours every day at RedCoat Publishing hating every minute of it.

Not pleasent.

Then I read this story from Musings of a Distractable Mind, a blog I frequently find much in common with. (I found the story through Better Health, a always-fresh site that compiles posts from a community of bloggers you should check out if you have any interest in the healthcare.

The story is about a doctor and his patient who died recently, but did so without complaining. Just with a smirk and a joke, as DrRob said; the man was totally accepting of a fate that shouldn't have been his.

Also: today is the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

What lessons did I take from this story and this fact?

Well, first that as bad as things may seem, I've never been put in a concentration camp and worked/starved to the brink of death. Or actually killed by incineration or gassing. So I should think about that next time I have to clean up dog poop.

But also, that as precious as our time is on this earth and as much as we should do to ge the most out of it, ultimately, we all die one way or another. It's gonna be over someday. All you can do is be grateful for what you were able to do with your life and accept it.

I may be unhappy where I am right now professionally, but its going to get better and I need to take responsibility for making it better. And in the mean time, there's not point to bitching about it because I'm a lot luckier than many.

Its very hard to remember that when you're standing in dog poop.

My goal: to pause when I'm standing in dog poop to remember that its just poop; that I'm fortunate, and that I have control over my own situation (clean off the dog poop, work to prevent stepping in it again).

My sister and I sometimes say, "At least you weren't bitten by a shark" when things are going particularly bad. You can fill in your unfortunate circumstance of choice but this one is good because it always causes me to smile a little.

Too deep for a blog post?

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Evolution of News

If you liked my other posts about the evolution of news, Justin Kownacki has more to say about that in his most recent post. Go read that. There's a lot to talk about from it, but here's where I started.

The internet enabled people to get more information faster. The growing desire for this gave birth to the 24-hour cable news channel, which is able to broadcast breaking news almost instantly whenever it happened and is a place for info-junkies to turn.

But to succeed, mass media has always had appeal to the lowest common denominator (ie the media’s role in Spanish-American war, among many other examples).

Thus, the 24-hour news channel now features celebrity gossip and blows coverage out of proportion to achieve ratings and make money; the more sensationalist the story, the more attention, the more money. Print media has been trying to compete on the same level with some success (ie: the Boston Herald), but really can’t keep up.

With so much sensationalism and some widely publicized mistakes as major media move too fast to break a story, however, some people have been looking for alternative sources. And more will as time goes on.

The internet helped out there too by lowering the cost of entry into the journalism business. Now, people can turn to a lot of different sources for immediate coverage AND alternative opinions and in some cases more trustworthy reporting. Think about Twitter: you get hundreds of eyewitness reports in the form of tweets, which are too small for much more than the facts – the who, what, when, where, and why newspapers are supposed to be covering.

Now, people have the challenge, like Justin said, of filtering the tweets (and blog posts etc) from people they already know they agree with, or they know are trustworthy, down to the most interesting commentary or, as Justin says, the most actionable piece of information to save time.

A reporter, then, has the task of finding a field they specialize in; Congressional politics, for example. That reporter spends her time reading Senators’ tweets, pundits’ blogs, and even working her beat to get the raw information. Through networking and diligence, they can build an audience that is interested in what they have to say and eager to include them as they whittle down the places they get their news from dozens to a handful. As long as that reporter (or organization) continues to provide interesting, original, actionable (I like that word), and most importantly relevant information, people will look at her website, see her advertiser’s ads, and even pay content.

And here comes a brilliant analogy:

Think about your car. You might have one or two gas stations you go to for gas because they are convenient; they are on your route to work maybe. But you go to a certain local garage whenever you need to get your oil changed because you trust the mechanics not to overcharge you and to educate you if they see something you need to know about. But maybe you don’t go there for new tires. You go to specialty tire store that has a wider variety in stock and better prices because they have better buying power.

You go a website like Politico that specializes in Congressional news and has a great deal of sway in that industry.

Make sense? Do you agree? Neither?

Monday, January 18, 2010

First ever roundup

I don't much like link roundups that so many bloggers do from time to time. Why would someone click on just a link just because I or anyone else said so? But a number of factors (lots of interesting things I found this morning plus not quite enough time or content for a full, thoughtful post) have convinced me to reach a compromise. Here are a few links that I think are 100% worth your time to check out, plus some commentary to explain why I think so.

First, a blog I just tweeted about and added to my Google RSS reader: Far Beyond the Stars. I don';t know how it happened, but I've been slowly collecting minimalist and simple-living blogs. I find them soothing and inspiring. I don't think my life is that complicated or cluttered, but I want it to be even less so. I'm slowly developing an idea of steps to take toward that goal, and I find this and a few others (Rowdy Kittens for one) very helpful.

I'm in the middle of a few different posts from Change Your Thoughts (like this one) and I definately buy into the concept that you can control your mood and outlook, and much more, just be changing your frame of mind and adopting positive catch-phrase things. Like for me, to get myself to the gym, I remind myself "Once you go you'll be happy you went" or "You want to be someone who goes to the gym often". Repeating one or the other in head is very helpful, so I'm excited to read more about this idea here.

I also found this post on EcoVelo, a blog about a couple making bicycles their primary mode of transportation as well as just general healthy, low impact living. Not only are the pictures gorgeous, this is another concept that I like and am striving to integrate into my own life, at least in some capacity. Today's post about Showing Up definitely resonated with me, so I expect to come back here often.

And in a totally different track, I found The Beauty Brains from one of today's Broadsheet posts
and I'm in love. My best advice for people buying cosmetics products is 1) don't buy it. You are beautiful the way you are and as long as you wash reguarly, you don't need anything else. But if you still want a product, my other two rules are: 2) understand what the ingredients are, and 3) don't buy brand name. Most products are highly glorified but otherwise very simple things.

All that being said, one of my favorite sections of the Broadsheet piece is the idea that if YOU like something and are comfortable spending money on it, then buy whatever you want:
But they also noted, as they do when discussing nearly any product, that some people rave about it, and if they're comfortable spending the money, "To each her own!"
Like, I love the way Aveeno products feel on my skin, so I sometimes opt for those (especially the sunblock) when I have the cash. I'm also in love with my mascara (I forget the name of it, but ask me later and I'll find it for you) so even though its expensive, I splurge because I use it a lot and am very satisfied with it.

I can't wait to see what the Beauty Brains recommend!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

I'm a Journalist

The other day, BQ told someone I was a journalist and I felt a little glow of pride. I was associated with those sexy, fedora-and-trenchcoat-wearing icons who got to the root of the issue and exposed the bad guys. Or they resisted temptation and ran the story despite the costs. And their hard shells softened a little as someone showed them the real story is how to slow down and enjoy life.


But the reality, as Justin Kownacki reported, is actually much grittier. And less romantic. Print writing is dying and the latest bright idea, signing up to pay for online content, hasn't proven to be much more successful. (Those last two I woke up to this morning; great way to start the day working for a magazine.) I like Kownacki's commentary:
Your value is perpetually in flux, which makes matters of personal identity — to say nothing of job security — one massive grey area.
and later he writes:
This type of “progress,” like the assembly line and the printing press before it, may cause the future of human employment to seem bleak. But fear not. Sportswriters, journalists and defenders of culture everywhere, take heed: there are still people out there who are willing to pay you for what you do.
The key, though, is to remember how this IS progress in the same way the automotive industry is progessing to a new business model. Unfortuantely for us journalists, these transitions are ugly and stressful. So that makes it difficult to focus on the future and the positive aspects of change. (I’ve been learning just how difficult it is to keep positive in general.) But they are there. And the payoff for moving forward with the change rather than standing firm against it is great, both literally in terms of your paycheck and figuratively in terms of your professional development.

Instead of thinking about what people are NOT interested in (print publications delivered to their doorstep or not-free online content), think about what they ARE interested in, specifically, short, blog-like articles that are available for free online and are updated a few times per day. Newsletters that show up in their inbox in the morning and evening with a few new pieces of content, especially content that leads them to more content they might not have found otherwise. And, as Kownacki said, content that has a unique, fresh voice instead of a stodgy one.

And what is extremely important is that independent journalism persists to continue to expose the bad guys, keep politicians on their toes, and explain the world to everyone else who’s too busy to keep track of te insane amount of information we now have available. Information aggregating systems are a tool journalists can use to do that.

Journalists need to learn how to write for the internet. Language and written communication is changing. I’m figuring out a way to adapt that works for me; let’s work on this together.

Be Thankful Everyday

At least I have a paycheck coming in at the end of this week! This was a sobering article from a new source for me, KoreAm, a blog for Korean-Americans. You may not know this, but immigration and the lives of immigrants is fascinating to me and, I think, should be fascinating to everyone. I think I'll be bookmarking that one.
Since the recession began almost two years ago, the economy has shed 7 million jobs. Whole industries—auto, housing, finance—have been decimated. And while students like Hong spend their afternoons studying and fretting about graduation, there are scores getting fired, working unpaid internships or agonizing about the U.S. jobless rate—which in September, hit a 26-year high of 9.8 percent.
Makes me want to crawl under my desk and write furiously to avoid having to confront THAT reality, which, thankfully, belongs to Other People right now.

Moment of Weakness

After 10 days of vacation, I came out swinging. I am so proud of myself for getting out of bed every day, driving to work, and getting done what needed to get done rather than let myself get back into the swing of things slowly after that long out of my corner.

That's not to say the last two weeks have been easy. I've been chugging along and barely scraping by. And today, it finally happened. What I thought would bring me down (a particularly tough day last Wensday) didnt, and I suppose its a victory I made it this far.

I broke. I am sad to report a full blown pouting session this morning. Stomped feet and clenched fists - the whole shebang. I'm sure CW thought it was actually quite comical, but he was gracious enough to let me whine and give me a kiss instead.

Three hours into this work day and I'm so far behind. I don't think I'll ever catch up. I'm taking a few minutes here to update and share the many exciting news items from this morning, and then its going to be a long afternoon. And evening: I'm going to a three-four-hour meeting of the school committee tonight to cover their budget planning process for the good citizens of Hamilton and Wenham.

I don't know how I did it, but something about sitting down at my desk and making a pile of things to do that got me moving.

Here's to a brighter and better tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

No more quizzes, please

Today, The Next Great Generation blog (which is pretty cool I think) posted about the difference between a participatory marketing campaign and an EFFECTIVE participatory marketing campaign. I love this:
For instance, I’ve seen a number of “fun, interactive” quizzes in advanced tv campaigns and on Facebook. Really? You think someone wants to take the time to do a quiz about BMW automobile parts or a word scramble about Vaseline on tv in their free time?
Because seriously, who thought that was a good idea. I've seen maybe one in 1,000 of those little quizzes running down the side of a Web site that looked REMOTELY interesting. And the best is when a company, like Vaseline, makes one.

I was talking to my dad about social media marketing today at lunch. He admitted that he knows basically nothing about it and asked what companies are using it for. I admitted that I only know what I've read about and experienced first hand from the receiving end, but that social media, generally, is about creating more intimate relationships with communities of consumers that are based on authenticity. That means the company uses social media in a way that makes sense for them. Vaseline has nothing to do with word scrambles.

And honestly, there are some social media tools that make sense for some businesses. If you're communicating the same thing on Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr, you need to rethink your strategy and choose the tools and strategies that make sense.

Earth-shattering, right?

The next social-media-marketing rut that I want companies to break out of is getting people to vote for things, like which charity to donate too or which color to include in the next line-up of products. While that's a great way to get a better understanding of a company's consumers, I also am not getting paid to direct that company's corporate responsibility program or R&D department. As BrennaHanly so accurately said:
If you develop a participatory program, make sure it has real value and provide the right incentives. Give us money, give us free stuff...
Gen Y might be more tuned in to what's going on in the world around it, but that doesn't mean it wants to spend time doing busy work for a business when it could be updating its Fantasy Football roster.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Want to piss of CW?

There are many ways; its a fun game finding them all. (Don't worry, he has just as much fun trying to get me all worked up as well.) I haven't tried this yet, but I'm 100% sure that it'll work: talk to him about the January Effect. is pretty cool

As I figure things out on the Interwebs, I like to share them, though it's typically 50-50 that the person I'm sharing it with has already seen/heard of what I'm talking about.

Everyone's heard of, I'm pretty sure.

But dude, check out the clicks info. The site takes some figuring out to see where all the information is (I wish it didn't take you to a new page every time but expanded or contracted the page you are on to display new numbers. But then, that might not be possible), but it's cool to see who's clicking on the links you shortened and posted about and how many clicks you contributed to the total click count for that item of information. Confused? like I said, it takes some getting used to. But it's still pretty cool. If only as a way to kill a few minutes while you wait for your coffee brea...OMGTIMETOGO.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Infotainment isn't news, much less fair and balanced

Ok I get it: Sarah Palin is fascinating. I don't even hate her, I confess. She's got an interesting story, both personally and professionally, and she was amazing at the RNCC in 2008 when McCain announced her as his choice for VP. But all of that does not make her qualified to act as a news analyst in the sense of what (I think, at least) a news analyst ought to be. To wit: someone who understands the issues and can explain them in a way that resonates with the American public, which is very busy and turns to cable news for information about what’s going on in the world and how it effects themselves or their loved ones.

The key word in there being INFORMATION. What Sarah Palin will provide is not that.

I’m sure she’s learned a lot about national and international politics since she first started out on the campaign trail. But what is she going to contribute to a story about Congress, having never served there herself? Or even covered it for a newspaper, magazine, or BLOG. Or a story about a Supreme Court case, not being a lawyer, law professor, or remotely related to the legal profession?

Sarah Palin is not a specialist in anything except holding the public’s attention on an issue or, more often, herself. Doing so better than the other cable news networks is what has made FOX News the animal that it is. I’m not saying that’s not necessarily a Bad skill. I am saying that skill is not applicable when your professed goal is to INFORM the public.

There it is again: INFORMATION. Do you know what FOX News usually provides its viewers? INFOTAINMENT. Subtle difference

And hey, CNN, I’m talking to you too. AT 730 when I’m trying to be INFORMED about current events before I head out the door, I don’t really want to hear about Ben Stiller’s new charity or a bunch of teasers before ten minutes of commercials.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Strategies for Feeling Better When Things Suck

Today started out awesome because it's Friday and I had a really great time with some new-ish (for me) friends last night. So I was feeling really confident, really on top of the world, really pulled together this morning. And that was despite not having very many good outfit options since it's the end of the week; usually that bothers me in the morning.

But not today! I'm totally ok with ABW (already been worn) jeans and my old green fleece. So ok, I get to work and am immediately productive, even though its Friday and I didn't have breakfast. I even get through my RSS feed this morning without getting totally distracted or fired up. Want to get fired up about something? This'll do it. Stupack sucks.

Anyway, things are going great. Then 11am rolls around, which has become My Enemy this week. For some reason, I can never keeping going past that hour. Then I wind up wasting an hour before lunch. Repeatedly, this is because something happens at work, and I need to take 30 minutes or so to re-plan out what work needs to get done when and catch my breath enough to prevent myself from leaping ontop of my desk and throwing things.

This happened today. What happened is irrelevant; there is always something. I hope that I will come to accept this and not feel the need to propel somewhat dangerous items at the heads of my cowokers. That will not be good for CW's and mine saving goals for the wedding or indeed my goal to stay out of jail.

I manage to get home for lunch and everyone is in one piece.

Maddie, who is much too good for a dog for me, sometimes bears the brunt of my Eleven O'Clock Hour of Rage, but today is Friday after all, so I force a smile and talk in a high pleasent voice about how much I love her. She wags her tail, and I feel myself actually feeling happy about how much I love her rather than angry about how much work (and Stupak) sucks.
  • Strategy #1: fake it until you make it.
We go for a walk. I cut it short because there are a lot of people on one of the roads in our apartment complex doing work on a water main, and Maddie's overly friendly personality often pushes me into social interactions I'd rather avoid. So we do a quick walk to keep from bumping into any of those people.
  • Strategy #2: know what makes you unhappy or angry and work around that.
Then its time for lunch. We have hot dogs. Actually, the sell-by date for them was January 1st, but hot dogs are highly processed right? Into the frying pan it goes.

"One lonely little hot dog for my lonely little lunch," I say pitifully to Maddie. But I think if I add some green beans that will be pretty healthy lunch. So I boil a pot of water to begin my made-up vegetable cooking strategy: put veggies in a pot of boiling water for three minutes, strain, then drop in cold water to stop the cooking, then serve. I don't know where I got that from, but the results have been pretty good (if a little cold).

I actually am really proud of myself because, instead of butter, I put olive oil, salt, and pepper on the beans. So even stressed out, I managed to cobble together a somewhat healthy (if the hot dog doesnt kill me) meal.

While lunch cooks, I wash the dishes the in sink, dry them, and put them away. I don't like having a) dishes in the sink or b) dishes in the drying rack on the counter cluttering the kitchen up. So I get rid of the dryer. In between making and eating my lunch, I clean the countertops and the stove top, wash; dry, and put away the dishes I used for my lunch; wipe down the coffee table with Pledge; and put away the little pile of junk growing on the kitchen table. I think about the best way to talk to CW about improving the way we manage the cleanliness of our house.
  • Strategy #3 and #4: distract yourself and think proactively.
Then I give Maddie a treat and send her to her crate. I turn up the heat and open all the doors upstairs so the apartment warms up as it cools down outside and the air circulates more. I get my things together and go outside and check my phone. And even a voice mail from my mom doesn't penetrate and bubble of calm I created.

Then I get to work and decide instead of waiting for a good time to write about the latest news that's interesting, I ought to just blog about my day because I want to be honest and I want this blog to be about Life, generally, as a twenty-something, thinking woman in the US. Then I read one of the may favorite bloggers, Penelope Trunk, who has a particularly relevant post today and had a great post yesterday, and I'm reminded about how much I want to talk about the challenges I, and I presume others, face every day. So I did.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


There is much I wish to share with you today, but as my deadline creeps dangerously close and I have Plans to Go Out with someone other than CW tonight, I won't be sharing them. But stay tuned, awesomeness will abound!

Instead, I simply had to link to this news story at Discovery News about Killer Whales dividing into two separate species. HOLY SHIT penguins and seals, watch your backs.

I wonder if this could hold true for humans: will vegetarians actually become a separate, somewhat freakish and intimidating hominid species??

Side note: I'm so apologetic to vegetarians. I find out someone I know has Switched and I'm all "Wow, I'm so sorry about how much I love meat. Oh no, I'm drooling all over you, I'm SO SORRY." They tell me they don't care what I eat; that this is their personal choice, but I guess I just don't believe them.

Anyway: killer whales guys, killer whales!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Really Cool Stuff

I just discovered this website today so I'm still figuring it out, but honestly, I'm blown away. The funny thing is that I found out about it via those annoying suggestion boxes on Facebook: someone I know is a fan of it and Facebook thought I would too. Carelessly, I clicked the little X, only to stumble across it a few hours later when another blog I was reading linked to it. I guess Facebook was right.

The site's About page does a better job explaining what it does, but this relates really well to what I was talking about yesterday in filtering the news you read. Instead of telling you What Is Important, this site tells you what lots of other people think is important, even if its news that's a few days old and even if the traditional Media isn't covering it.

I was looking at one topic - Apple's purchase of Quattro Wireless - and Thoora had a tab of the big news media, a tab for its indexed blogs, and a sidebar running alongside both with the most recent Twitter posts on the subject. It only gave you a snippet from each source, and the clean lines and soothing colors (I mean CNN, really: a giant, fire-engine red banner across the top, while simpler than you're previous look, is just the thing to get me all concerned) prevented it from becomming an overwhelming experience. So much information, and you get to choose who get it from and how indepth you want to get. Fabulous.

I haven't explored the various tabs and filters yet, but I'm pretty much sold - Thoora is officially part of my Google Reader feed.

Monday, January 4, 2010

24-hour cable news is bad for you

I would now like to address the challenge of being well informed and up to date on current affairs while avoiding the hysteria of the mass media which aim to spoon fed Americans in a spasm of fear.

It bothers me a little when my friends say things like “I don’t want the news; it doesn’t effect me and its so negative it brings me down all the time.” First of all, I’m sad that they get sad when the think about how terrible the world can be; I mean, it is depressing sometimes and who wants their friends to be sad? But advice like this, found at an otherwise excellent blog The Personal MBA -

Seriously – 99.999% of the things you hear in the media are completely outside your sphere of influence or locus of control. The news media makes money by attracting attention, and nothing gets attention more than the rumor of imminent danger or threat. The only likely outcome of watching the news is that it’ll sap your attention and divert your energy from improving your situation to fretting about what the world’s coming to. Keep your attention on what you’re doing to build the life you want to live, and it’s only a matter of time before you get there.

- also bothers me because, as a citizen of a democracy (in title anyway; let’s not go there today shall we?) that is a major influencer of the world, I think its irresponsible to not care. It’s your right to not care of course, and maybe I’m not thinking about the people out there who will never care, no matter what. But as a curious human being, don’t you want to know what’s going on?

The real issue is about control: where you get this information dramatically effects how you feel about it. Is someone behind your TV screen and someone behind a desk telling you what you Need to Know? Then of course you’re going to feel lost and scared. I agree with the above point in that those Someone’s eat when they get your attention and the cheapest, easiest way to do that (since the world can be, in fact, a somewhat scary place) is to talk about bad things and the negatives. Seriously: look at those headlines!

What’s the solution?

Instead, get your news from sources you can control, and the Internet is the best place to start. At least at the above sites you can click on what you want to know about and what is important to you.

A site I like to get my news from is Politico. I’m subscribed to its RSS feed in my Google reader and, throughout the day, I get a peek at its headlines. If a headline seems especially important or interesting to me then I click and read further. Otherwise I focus on what I’m interested in and what makes me happy.

Salon and Slate are good news sites that mix hard news with feature stories about life that make me happy. Twitter trending topics, interesting articles your friends are posting on Facebook - these are other ways you can focus on what you want to know about without all the DRAMA. Take advantage of technology and learn about the world around you! It's not all that scary, really. Plus, it's fun to get fired up!

Welcome to 2010

And we're back! After a week and a half basking in the glory of vacation, I'm at my desk and have been surprisingly productive. No fidgeting and no doodling. I even made it until about an hour ago before thinking into The Future in that non-productive, worry-inducing, crazy way that I do.

Where will I be in five years? How can I prepare? What do I want to do with my life? Am I good enough to do that? What if I never reach my potential?

The thing I've come to understand about New Years is that it's a period of transition that humans love to endow with mystical powers. There is no difference between January 1st and December 31st except a handful of letters and numbers, really; the first day of the new year is always the same 24 hours you have every day. It's really just for convenience sake that people make resolutions for the new year, but how often do people follow through?

I, for one, have never completed a New Year's resolution. I decided last year not to make them anymore. And this year I'm thrilled not to have to. I've been trying to lose weight and read more every day for the last six months, and some days I get closer to those vague goals than others. That's all you can do, really: take one day at a time.

I sometimes think I ought to get that tattooed to my right hand so whenever I pick up a pen to start scribbling three-, five-, and ten-year life plans with any kind of seriousness, I'll remember to breathe first.

Nietzsche said, "You must have confusion in your heart to give birth to stars." Someone else said something about how the mark of a true genius is to be able to hold two conflicting ideas in her head at the same time. These quotes comfort me: being confused is a natural, and even enviable, way to be. Those who are certain of the path before them are blind to the possibilities.

You can quote me on that.