Friday, December 5, 2008

One Smart Penguin

Here's a video I came across. I'm saving it here because I'm sure my kids will love watching this. That's one smart penguin and the metaphor kind of writes itself. Enjoy.

Penguin Pro Evades Killer Whales - Watch more free videos

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

They Must, But Do They?

I'm just saying: what's my guarantee here?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Quick Thought Appropos of Nothing

I don't go to sleep, sleep happens to me. I wake up and realize I've been asleep.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

One Day

One day you will be a wrist watch buried in a dresser drawer. One day you will be two loose coins in the pocket of a coat you once wore. Your son will slip it on and find them there and maybe think of you. Although you are, right now, electrically alive; although you feel, right now, the world requires your hands twisting its old rough axis, the coins know better and will say nothing of that when they are found. The wrist watch will have stopped at some pm or am and there will be no whisper of the wakefulness, no accounting of the post-midnight hours with open eyes. One day you will be a picture on a hallway wall beside pictures of new babies and old women. One person still to happen might then stop as they move to dinner, sip their drink and guess at your name.

Monday, November 17, 2008

This Is the Weekend That Was -- November 14, 2008

How do children change you? They make you like puzzles when you never have liked them before. We spent the weekend building, destroying, building, destroying and building again a jigsaw puzzle one of the boys had gotten at some point as a birthday present. Their excitement, their pride in their accomplishment each time they finished it was contagious. To the point that I found myself at 6:30 PM on Sunday night making an impromptu dash to Fred Meyer to buy 10 additional puzzles.

Before puzzles, writing. The boys were telling us stories at Starbucks on Saturday morning, creating characters and narrating adventures for them. When we got home I sat with each of them and had them tell me their story while I typed it up and then printed it for them. Then they each sat and illustrated their own stories; we stapled the finished pages and they were authors and illustrators. Here's what they wrote:

Studento the Not Nice Student
by C.J.Y.

ONCE upon a time, there was a boy named Studento the Not Nice Student.

Studento never brought his own lunch to school. Instead he would take everybody else’s food when they weren’t looking and he would eat it. Everybody was sad about that and they would cry.

The people thought maybe if they went inside to eat, they could get away from Studento the Not Nice Student. But he opened the door and came inside and took their food way.

So they grabbed it back from him, pushed him outside and locked all the doors so he couldn’t get in. Then they could eat their lunches in peace.

After that, the police came and put Studento the Not Nice Student in jail.

While Studento was in jail, he had time to think about the bad things he had done.

Studento the Not Nice Student realized he should be nicer. He should not do bad things like stealing peoples’ food. Instead he thought he should make them tomato cookies, because everybody loves tomato cookies.

Then the police let Studento the Not Nice Student out of jail and he went home and baked tomato cookies for everyone at school. When he gave the cookies to everyone he said “Sorry.”

Everybody was happy and they said, “Thank you, Studento, for being nicer.” After that, everyone called him Studento the Nice Student. And he never stole their food again.


Helmet Hero
by R.O.Y.

ONCE upon a time, there was a boy named Helmet Hero.

There was a bad guy named Boodie who was not listening to a nice person.

Boodie should have been listening to the nice person so Helmet Hero had to fight him.

Then Helmet Hero and the police put Boodie in jail for being bad.

When he was in jail, Boodie thought about the bad things he had done.

He thought he should be nicer to people. So he asked Helmet Hero to let him out of jail so he could go home and make chocolate chip cookies with frosting on the chocolate chips for everybody he had been mean to.

Boodie brought the cookies to everyone and shared them. Boodie said “sorry, everybody.”

Everybody said “Thank you, Boodie” when they took a cookie.

The people all said “Thank you” to Helmet Hero for making Boodie be nice.


It is clear that both of my children believe in the redemptive power of incarceration and that the role of prison is to reform. And shouldn't every man know where his children stand on that debate?

And that is the weekend that was.

Business Trippin'

I'll be in San Francisco this Wednesday - Friday at Microsoft's Strategic Architect Forum 2008. Two rock stars from my company will be presenting on technology strategies for extending the enterprise. Last time I went on a business trip I started this blog. I wonder what I'll start this time. My money's on international incident...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

I Do Not Know Everything I Do Not Know

But I know I do not know this:

This light switch is on our bedroom wall.

I have lived in this house for 7+ years and I still don't know what this light switch is for. I am making no effort to find out. I may never know. And I'm OK with that.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Good for You America

It's been 12 years since I was happy with the outcome of a presidential election. Eight years since I was proud of our president. I believe in Hope; it's not a fanciful notion, it's an essential element to the advancement of all causes. It is the pilot light of the human spirit and it has been the missing element in America for too many years now.

If we're going to turn the situation around, we need intelligence, honesty, strength, perseverance, curiousity, collaboration, cooperation and guts. But without Hope, none of those other things will matter. For me Barack Obama represents the return of hope.

Update: Lincoln weighs in:

Second Update: Talking with a friend about the crowds of people that materialized in cities all over the country following the announcement that Obama had won. In D.C. a couple thousand people appeared in Pennsylvania Avenue outside the White House chanting "Yes we can! Yes we can!" Here in Seattle people poured out of restaurants and bars and formed an impromptu celebratory marched that wound through downtown chanting and cheering. These people and those like them across the country were rejoicing. The country was rejoicing. And it occurred to me that, though I have heard of rejoicing, I have never experienced it before. I've seen the country happy, but I've never seen the country tumble out into the streets and spontaneously erupt in joy. What does that mean about what this moment means?

Monday, November 3, 2008

This Is the Weekend That Was -- October 31, 2008

It was Halloween and there was a whole lot of Batman this year. C & R were both the caped crusader and their friend A was Bat Woman; the forces for Good were overwhelming. Other friends included Knight who's name was Knight; crazy Cat; made up costume that looked like Strawberry Shortcake dressed up like the lead singer of 4 Non Blondes; and Death. The Grim Reaper. When he walked in the room I had to ask everyone else if they saw him too. When they said yes, I was relieved. When they pointed out that he was wearing white socks, I relaxed.

Saturday, the boys spent the night at Grandma's house, so we had time to vote! We live in a mail-in voting only county, but the county does offer ballot drop off stations, so we decided to drop our ballots off at our neighborhood grocery store instead of putting them in the mail box. It just seemed more immediate and impactful that way. This is a year when you want to feel your vote happening.

Sunday, swimming lessons in a miserably cold pool. The boys did the best they could, but their teeth were chattering so we cut the lesson a little short and sank into the hot tub to warm up. As we floated among the jet-driven bubbles, C said, smiling:
"Daddy, I hope you don't die."
"I hope so too," I replied.
"But if you do die, you'll be in the cemetary and we'll come visit you there."
"That's nice." I said.
"Look," he said, "my suit is filling up with air."
And finally I must tell you that I witnessed, this weekend, that which I had previously thought impossible. R stretched his plastic slinkey to its limit so that he could tie it around his mother's leg. When he released it, the slinkey collapsed, but it became twisted, as slinkies always do. No slinkey ever escapes the twisted demise and no twisted slinkey ever gets untwisted. At least not in my experience.

The twisted slinkey is the great mind bender. It is the unsolvable riddle. It is like peanut butter on a dog's nose: impossible to ignore, impossible to solve. Or so I thought until this weekend. SY sat patiently with the busted slinkey and with the deftness of a knitting gymnast twisted it back against itself and restored it to it's slinkey prime. I knew at that moment I was in the presence of one of this world's great thinkers.

And that is the weekend that was.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

I Kid You Not -- Halloween Edition 2008

This really happened in C's class on Friday. It was their Halloween celebration (although, annoyingly, they referred to it as "Harvest Parade Day", because somewhere along the line "Halloween" became offensive). All the kids get in their costumes and march around to the businesses near the school to trick or treat.

What some parents dress their kids in for...harvest.

What is this kid dressed as?

If the letter K came to your mind, and, more specifically, if 3 of them in sequence came to mind, you are not alone. In fact he was dressed as the Concorde and that Grand Wizard hat he's wearing is actually his super sonic nose cone. But if you saw him from the front, you couldn't help but think it was the deep south circa 1912.

Now before you get on my case for being mean to this kid let me tell you that I spent Halloween 1977 thinking I was dressed as C3PO from Star Wars only to look back years later and realize I was in fact walking around the neighborhood in gold-spray-painted jeans and sweatshirt with a gold-spray-painted empty Baskin Robbins ice cream bucket on my head. So I know it's not this kid's fault, but the costume looks how the costume looks.

And here's the best part. This kid has a brother. The brother was dressed as one of the Power Rangers (the one who wears white). Kid Triple K couldn't find his brother in the crowd, so he began running around the room calling out for him, raising his voice high above the din of mingling children: "WHITE POWER ranger, WHITE POWER ranger, WHITE POWER ranger."

I kid you not.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Who Made All That History?

Look, we’ve all sat through high school history classes and learned about the remarkable people who fill the history books. They were so much better than us, imbued with qualities so much more worthy of respect than any of our qualities. They built the world that we simply live in.

Only, I’ve come to realize that’s not true. I’m not saying we’re all as great as anyone in the history books. I’m saying they weren’t as great as that either. Neither were they bad. The truth is they were just like us and they managed to make our history.

I’m thinking this because last week I went to yet another public hearing in Kirkland about the proposed redevelopment of Kirkland Park Place. This was the third one I’d attended and I learned that it was the 27th hearing on this topic to date. No one can say the planning commission isn’t thoroughly vetting public opinion on this one. The public hearing room is not large – about 100 seats, I would say. It was full on Thursday evening, as it has been in the past, but still 100 people is not many and not everyone spoke at the hearing. Those who did speak each got 3 minutes to make their case for or against the proposal before the planning commission and, at some point, based on that input the planning commission will make its recommendation to the city council on whether to go forward with the proposal. Already, though, the public input has had an impact on the project. The scale model the architect presented at last week’s hearing incorporates many of the changes citizens have requested at past meetings. And so, assuming the development goes forward, what gets built will reflect the input of ordinary citizens.

This whole experience with Kirkland Park Place has led me to one major realization: history is made by those who show up.

The bar really isn’t set all that high. You show up, you participate in the conversation, you stick your neck out a little bit, voice an opinion and the world changes shape.

It’s easy to get the impression from reading the high school history books that history is made by some class of people who are almost professional “history makers” – History Making Remarkable Person is their whole identity as they’ve been passed down to us and, therefore, history making must have been their full time occupation. Not so, I’ve come to believe. History is made by those who show up. And those who show up do so in time they’ve carved away from the primary aspects of their lives: they’re business people, parents, artists, retirees, high school kids. Being at the public hearing, raising their voice is not their primary occupation and most of them feel and act a bit nervous and awkward about it. But they step away from their lives for a short time and they do show up and they do speak and then the world reacts and history is different from then on.

Monday, October 27, 2008

This Is the Weekend That Was -- October 24, 2008

Don't believe everything you read on a blog (except this one). See that "Next Blog" link up there at the top of the screen? I was clicking that on Friday when I came across a blog called "Backporchmusings" on which I saw a recipe for a dessert called Pumpkin Pie Cake. The blogger raved about it and posted the recipe. I saw an opportunity for some good father/son time, so I copied the recipe and on Friday night the boys and I worked together on making our own Pumpkin Pie Cake. Great anticipation led to great disappointment. Without a doubt one of the worst desserts I've ever had. My positive spin to the boys: "isn't it fun to experiment and see what happens?" Later in the weekend we went back to the safety of known quantities and made a Duncan Hines yellow cake with chocolate frosting. That one was a hit.

Saturday we met Grandma at the Seattle Acquarium:

And, thanks to Netflix, I got to see another movie this weekend. This time:
  • Iron Man -- This is a surprisingly good super hero movie. For one thing, Robert Downey, Jr. acts the hell out of the role. For another, there's actually a pretty good story here explaining the hero's motivations for becoming Iron Man. Maybe this is the Iron Man story, not something the screenwriter made up, but since I never read the comic books I don't know. Jon Favreau directed this movie; the same director who did "Elf" and "Swingers". He's really good. In the end, of course, this is just a super hero movie, so it's got the same annoying cliches that usually keep me away from these things: uber villains, bad guys who die but won't die, the hero who can't just win outright, but has to win by the skin of his teeth after it looks like all hope is lost. And this movie once again proves that if there's a character with a bald head, a beard and a fat cigar, he's evil, no matter how nice he appears to be in the beginning. Bald+Beard+Stogie = Evil every time.

And that is the weekend that was.

Friday, October 24, 2008

R Brings Home His Vocabulary List

My son R is 3 1/2 years old. He brought home his vocabulary list from preschool. Words they are using frequently in class and discussing:

Big Bigger Biggest Large Larger Largest Enormous Gigantic Medium Small Smaller Smallest Little Tiny Beginning Middle End First Second Third Fourth Fifth Under Over Above Beside Behind Beneath Around Across October Gather Flock Migrate Flight Store Hibernate Den Environment Nest Acorn Pinecone Cool Cold Coat Jacket Boots Overcast Gloves Hat Scarf Mitten Season Change Flutter Soar Drift Shiver Stomp Trample Conserve Save Recycle Bridge Strong Strengthen Connect Arch Triangle Square Rectangle Circle

I know what all of these words mean.

I get to be witness to the beginning of R knowing them. How often are we able to pin point the moment in time when we moved from not knowing something to knowing it?

When you don't know something you may never know you don't know. Once you know a thing, is it yours forever or do you someday not know it again?

Trample. It strikes me funny they're focusing on "Trample".

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sooner or Later All Bloggers Must Explain Themselves

The day may come when people blog unselfconsciously. When those of us who blog don't feel compelled by some perceived societal skepticism to explain at length our decision to start recording our thoughts, viewpoints, experiences, frustrations, humiliations, triumphs and tragedies publically. But that day is not yet here.

I've explained myself on this blog already here and here.

Christopher Buckley, late of The National Review, felt compelled to use finger quotes and verbal italics on The Daily Show last night when he said he had "just (pause) blogged today" about a hot campaign topic. When Jon Stewart reacted to his self-conscious delivery of the word "blogged", Buckley himself laughed and said he felt odd saying it and admitted he sounded like he was talking about some dread disease rather than a form of writting.

Now Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic has published an essay about why he blogs in which he traces the origins of Web logging back to the earliest forms of log keeping.

As you read a log, you have the curious sense of moving
backward in time as you move forward in pages—the opposite of a book. As you
piece together a narrative that was never intended as one, it seems—and is—more truthful.

More truthful because it is more immediate.

For bloggers, the deadline is always now. Blogging is therefore to
writing what extreme sports are to athletics: more free-form, more
accident-prone, less formal, more alive. It is, in many ways, writing out

Interesting piece, worth reading. But I still wonder why we're all so driven to blog but so compelled to explain ourselves while we do it. In the end, I think it comes down to a fear people have of others thinking they take themselves too seriously.

Out the Back Window -- October 22, 2008

On this date in 1962 President Kennedy announced the presence of offensive nuclear weapons in Cuba. And so began the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The view out my back window today:

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

One Lesson from the Bacon

I worked at Henry Bacon Lumber Yard for one year after college. My job was to load the contractors' pickup trucks with the lumber, drywall, pvc pipes, etc. that they had paid for inside the store. So I was just the dumb muscle in the yard.

But one day, for reasons I don't remember now, I found myself on the phone in the delivery manager's office talking to a very angry customer. Seems our driver had delivered the wrong door to her house, her contractor was showing up the next morning to install it, she was pissed that now her project was going to be delayed, she wanted a refund so she could take her money to Lowes and get the right door from them. I apologized for our error, talked her down, arranged a special delivery for that evening and hung up.

When I turned away from the desk, my manager was there looking surprised. "That was great, man. The way you talked. You could end up as a manager some day."

I was a little taken aback by his reaction and also a little pleased. I didn't understand why he was so effusive. So I asked him.

"Most guys," he said. "They'd get mad at the customer if the customer was getting mad at them. They'd tell the customer it was their fault. But you kept your cool."

I don't think most people would act that way to an angry customer, but that was his experience. Bottom line, though, he was impressed that I hadn't gotten defensive. And that's the lesson I learned. I didn't get us off the hook for being wrong with that customer's order, but I did get the customer to stick with Henry Bacon. Nobody likes defensiveness; defensiveness never works.

It's not the crime, it's the cover up.

People will forgive you your mistake, but not if you won't admit the mistake.

Monday, October 20, 2008

This Is the Weekend That Was -- October 17, 2008

Headed out to the Seattle Center on Saturday with the boys. I've criticized that place before as being kind of empty, sad, dirty and covered in asphalt, but I must have been experiencing a more upward-trending biorhythm on Saturday, 'cause it struck me as a pretty wonderful park. The sun was shining, lots of people, and the kids got a thrill from the giant fountain.

After the fountain, we went inside to the Children's Museum. We hadn't been there in almost a year and I think the boys had forgotten about it. They reacted to everything with so much excitement it was like they'd never seen it before. What a great place to spend the day -- so relaxing as a parent to be able to just turn your kids loose and let them go everywhere, touch everything, without having to run around behind them policing their every move.

Sunday was a quiet day of hanging around the house, and swim lessons in Bellevue. But it was not without it's moments of entertainment. The boys got into a bout of "dress-up" in the morning. No princess costumes; they discovered the closet with all the old halloween costumes in it. So we were visited by Batman, Spiderman, a couple of pirates and even a Super Doctor -- everything's got to be a superhero or it's not worth doing, you know.

I'm also happy to report that over the course of the weekend, I got to see three movies! The Happening, Smart People, and W. My reviews:
  • The Happening -- It's M. Night Shymalan. People start dying mysteriously. The beginning and ending of this movie are way too far apart.
  • Smart People -- A genuinely good, but not great comedy about a curmudgeon widower (Dennis Quaid) his estranged children (Ellen Page as the daughter) and doofus adopted brother (Thomas Hayden Church). There's great tension and emotion in the relationships between the father and daughter and if the movie had been about resolving that it would have been a whole lot more satisfying. Instead, it gets sidetracked in a really implausible relationship between Dennis Quaid and Sarah Jessica Parker. C'mon! Who believes this crap? It was a good movie, despite the love story between Quaid and Parker, not because of it. There's a story between father and daughter, father and son, brother and brother, and old ugly dude and too-young-for-him chick. The screenwriter focused on the wrong story.
  • W. -- Very engrossing political drama, more like a greek tragedy than an American political history. But ultimately, I couldn't buy in to it. It's just not a believable story -- it's about this rich kid from Connecticut who screws up everything he ever tries to do -- can't keep a job, fails at business -- but gets saved every time by his rich, powerful dad who's a big wig in politics. Eventually his dad becomes president but loses his bid for re-election. To avenge his dad's defeat the screw-up kid decides to run for president, thinking, if he's successful, his dad might finally be proud of him instead of disappointed in him. He reinvents himself, pretends to be from Texas, and he wins, becomes president and then he screws that up too. Like I said, an interesting story, but hard to buy in to since something like that could never really happen.

And that is the weekend that was.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Thoughts After Another Cat Nap

At work at the University, my dad would often close his office door in the afternoon and lean back in his chair for a 15 minute nap. He claimed it kept him sharp.

Lately I've been doing the same thing. I find myself limping along by 2:30 in the afternoon and only a few minutes with my eyes closed will get me back on track. It's a helpful practice, but it raises the question in my mind: have I just gotten wise, or have I just gotten a little older?

Improvement is not limitless. We can't always get better. At a certain point, we start getting worse. If everything that goes up must come down, and our lives (personal, professional, physical, intellectual) reach a zenith, will we know the moment when it arrives? Will we recognize it and say to ourselves "This is as good as I will ever be"? Or do we always believe we can get better and only once we're headed back down the other side of the mountain see behind us that moment when we were at our best?

In the end maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe you just always push yourself to do your absolute best and measure your output against what you feel you're capable of but don't measure what you're capable of today against what you did in the past.

Monday, October 13, 2008

This Is the Weekend That Was -- October 10, 2008

On Friday there was no reason to have a party. And that was all the reason we needed to have a party. We invented No Reason Day. Went to the party store for balloons, streamers, party hats, cupcakes. Let the kids decorate however they wanted. Best party ever. Happy No Reason Day everyone.

Saturday, we were off to Craven Farms in Snohomish for pumpkins. I don't like pumpkins, but I like watching the kids like pumpkins.

After the pumpkins, friend Monica's in Issaquah for a Halloween Party.

Sunday, a day of rest at Qwest. Got a chance to go to the Seahawks-Packers game at Qwest field in Seattle thanks to Jeff. Great seats. Seahawks lost, but I was secretly pulling for the Packers anyway.

And that is the weekend that was.

Friday, October 10, 2008

If You Are a Fish, You Shouldn't Live at My House

...If you want to live, that is.

Another gold fish has died, people. That's two in 2 months. At least this time it was R's since the last fish that died was C's. So they're even.

The fish came into the house 2 months ago greeted by great fanfare and excitement. We prepared a fish bowl with gravel and a plastic plant. The next day C's fish was belly up. He said kind words over the corpse and flushed it down the toilet with tears in his eyes and cried all the way to Wal-Mart as we rushed to get a replacement.

Over time -- very little time -- R's original fish and C's replacement fish shed their novelty and became just two more things on the kitchen counter. But annoying stinky things in a bowl of water that turned green every couple of days.

This time when the fish died Suzanna was the first to notice it when she got out of bed to make coffee in the morning. I identified it as R's, we sighed with relief that now C would be spared the complex of being a reverse King Midas of gold fish (I wouldn't want him burdened with the belief that every gold fish he touches turns to dead). Then we dispatched it quickly down the crapper, poured some coffee and turned on the Today show.

We should not be entrusted with the care of anything that can not ask for food.

It took the boys three days to notice the fish was gone. When they did, they paused briefly to take in its absence and then went on with their business, but not before asking us "Why do fish die so fast?"

Good question, son. A mystery. I wish I knew.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Post Turtle

These are momentous times we live in. I have resisted saying anything here about the presidential election simply because I talk about it everywhere else I go and I thought I would keep this forum for discussing other things.

But if it's true that one purpose of a blog is to record your thoughts in a particular moment in history so that you can look back at them in the future and be reminded of what you were thinking, then I probably should say something about this election.

The truth is I am fervently pro-Obama for his grace under pressure; for his focus on restoring the middle class because he recognizes it as the backbone of the American econmy; for his emphasis on demonstrating to the world the power of the American example not the example of American power.

And the truth is, I believe John McCain and Sarah Palin are a dangerous combination for this country. I think they're shallow and/or wrong on the issues -- deregulating banking, taxing health care benefits, saber rattling instead of the face-to-face diplomacy that was good enough for Ronald Reagan (whom they claim to admire, who scared me in 1980, but who looks like a graceful throwback to an age of reason compared to these two); I think they've run a cynical and duplicitous campaign; I think they talk about honor while acting dishonorably. And with regard to John McCain specifically, whatever remaining respect I had for him evaporated the moment he picked Sarah Palin, so obviously a political choice designed for momentary gain and so obviously a compromise of his values of putting country first, because she is not ready for the job and he knows it. His ambition got the better of his judgement in the case of picking his VP, what does that say about his ability to make the right judgement as president? Rhetorical question there.

Rolling Stone has just published an amazing investigation of John McCain's history, showing that what is true of him is universally 180 degrees different from what he says of himself.

And what of Sarah Palin? This just came to me in an email from a family member, and I think it's the perfect assessment of Palin (and, by extension, McCain), so I'll let it speak for itself:

While suturing a cut on the hand of a 75 year old rancher, who's hand was caught in the gate while working cattle, the doctor struck up a conversation with the old man. Eventually the topic got around to Palin and her bid.

The old rancher said, "Well, ya know, Palin is a Post Turtle'".

Not being familiar with the term, the doctor asked him what a 'post turtle' was.

The old rancher said, "When you're driving down a country road you come across a fence post with a turtle balanced on top, that's a 'post turtle".

The old rancher saw the puzzled look on the doctor's face so he
continued to explain. "You know she didn't get up there by herself, she doesn't belong up there, and she doesn't know what to do while she's up there, and you just wonder what kind of dummy put her up there to begin with".

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

This Is My Paul Newman Story

Our company, Allyis, donates time to maintain and host the Web site of Camp Korey , the newest camp in Paul Newman’s network of Hole in the Wall Camps. Because of that, in June 2007 I was invited to attend a grand opening event at the camp that Paul Newman himself was going to attend.

I was excited by the prospect of being in the same room with acting legend Paul Newman – Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy, Henry Gondorff from “The Sting”. I was a Paul Newman fan and I’ll admit, though by doing so I’ll reveal just how shallow I can be, it was the prospect of meeting Paul Newman more than the camp opening that had me excited that morning as I drove out to Carnation, WA.

The truth is I had imagined that Paul Newman was going to spend time with us personally to thank us for the work on the Web site. I’d have a chance to shake his hand and tell him I admired his films and then act really cool and nonplussed by his celebrity which would in turn make him admire me because, “Dammit, if there’s anything I hate its people who treat me like a celebrity and not the real person I am” he would think to himself.

When I got there the room was much bigger than I’d expected and there was a horde of media and a couple of hundred people taking seats on folding chairs in front of a stage. I was confused. How was Paul Newman going to grant a private audience to me and the rest of the group from Allyis in a setting like this?

The program got underway. Dignitaries and muckity mucks began filling the chairs on the stage – there was King County Executive Ron Sims, former Governor Gary Locke, the camp’s board officers, a couple of folks I didn’t recognize. And, sitting at one end of the stage, looking small, unassuming and, frankly, more like an old man than I’d expected, was Paul Newman. Others on the stage were wearing suits and ties, Newman was dressed in a white sweater and baseball cap, aviator sunglasses perched at the end of his nose.

Before Newman spoke, though, there were others. One, the father of Korey Rose, the boy after whom the camp is named. Korey died of cancer at age 16 and his father dedicated himself to making the camp a reality in his son’s memory. Then there was a man who, as a child, had attended a Hole in the Wall camp in California. He explained what a life changing experience it was, as a kid who spent most of his time in hospitals, to have the chance to go to camp like a “normal” kid. In a place where every kid was a sick kid, suddenly nobody was defined by their illness. They were just kids for that week, doing what kids do at camp.

I was beginning to realize by this time that this event was not about celebrity.

And then Paul Newman got up and walked to the podium. On this day that had started, in my mind, defined by Paul Newman, focused on seeing Paul Newman, all about Paul Newman, I now understood it wasn’t about Paul Newman at all. It was about the kids that would come to this camp. It was about kids who were suffering more pain and sadness than most of us ever encounter having a brief chance to experience joy. It was about a father seeing his dream come true and succeeding at something that perhaps healed some of his own pain, that perhaps made him feel connected to the boy he had held, had cherished, had worried over and had lost. It was about growing out of that pain and finding the strength to help others find their own strength.

The day wasn’t about Paul Newman at all. And Paul Newman knew that better than any of us. At the podium for no more than 3 minutes, I’m sure, he said “thanks for supporting Korey’s dad.” He said “every kid deserves the chance at least once to raise a little hell and just be a kid.” He said something about having “too many Budweiser suds” clouding his thinking. And then he said, with that Paul Newman gravel in his voice that sounded like every cantankerous character he ever played, and with a dismissive wave of his hand: “if I have any kind of legacy it won’t be for any movie I ever did. It’ll be for these camps.”

Then he nodded and he sat down.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Back from the Canyon

What a fantastic trip. 8 days, 280 miles, rafting down the Colorado River, hiking the side canyons, swimming in river and creeks, sleeping under the stars. It's hard to re-enter the world of work. That's what photographs are for: to prove to yourself that you once did something amazing. And we got out before the dam burst. We did spend a day hiking up the very creek where the rafts got washed away in the flood.

Monday, August 4, 2008

On Vacation!

I'll be away for two weeks on a Grand Canyon adventure. Rafting Lake Powell to Lake Mead (or Lake Mead to Lake Powell, I can never remember which one is north and which one south). I'll post some pics of the trip when I get back on the 14th. Also, remind me to tell you about a couple of the bike rides I've had around Bothell since my last post. I still think there's a lot of room for aesthetic improvements and better community design in Bothell, but I believe in giving credit where credit is due. So I'll do that when I get back. Later!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Hey, Oh, Way to Go Bothell

I love my home, my house, my immediate neighborhood. But this post is about my frustrations with the complete lack of imagination the city of Bothell shows in the urban planning of the business center in my area. Good urban planning matches goals for economic development with the need for people-centered spaces. That's lacking in Bothell's Canyon Park where I live and that's what this post is about...

I’ve been thinking about the study that was reported on in the news yesterday about how your neighborhood -- when it was built and how much it encourages walking by giving you not only sidewalks, but also something to walk to -- contributes to your weight and overall health (here’s the report on MSNBC). The findings don’t surprise me, but it has got me thinking about my own neighborhood (which, by the way gets a pitifully low walkability score on

My own neighborhood reminds me of a wrong turn my wife and I once took when we were walking through London. We’d been told you could take a train from Heathrow airport to Wimbledon station, hop off there, get on a footpath beside the Thames and walk to Oxford. It would be a two week trip, but, again, we were told, we’d be able to find bed & breakfasts all along the way to stay in. That was not our experience. We got off the train at Wimbledon, eventually found the Thames and a trail and we walked, and walked and walked, and walked endlessly through the deepest reaches of industrial London – across freeways, under freeways, past warehouses, around breweries. It seemed we were the only people walking there. The only other people we saw were flying by in cars at 60 mph.

Every city has a part of it that defines it, that is the part of the city people think of and envision when they think of that city. In Seattle, of course, it’s the Space Needle and downtown. But every city is bigger than just the parts you think of when you hear its name. Every city also has those parts on the fringes that seem to exist just to make you feel lost – they’re strip malls and long stretches of wide, high speed roadway. They’re the parts of town where people pick up speed and lose touch with each other because they’re built not as places to bring people together, not as places to foster a sense of neighborhood or community or destination. They’re places that are obviously built to get you to other places that are more interesting. I live in that part of the greater Seattle metropolitan area.

I live off the Bothell-Everett Highway, and some days I really feel like I am perched right on the dash between those two place names. Downtown Bothell is a defined town – it has a main street, it has parks. Everett is a nice small city on the shores of Puget Sound with a performing arts center, a children’s museum and some genuine charm. Both Bothell and Everett are undergoing some resurgence in their downtown cores. But I live off the road that connects the two of them.

My neighborhood is strip malls, fast food, high tension power lines, the intermittent sidewalk of new housing developments and ever widening asphalt. In the 7 years I’ve lived in my house, hundreds of acres of pasture land and forest have been cleared and replaced with thousands of new houses and thousands of people have filled those houses. And yet our's remains a community without the amenities that really make a community: we have several strip malls but no center. We have two Subway sandwich shops, three Starbucks, three Teriyaki restaurants, five gas stations, a Walgreen’s, a Napa Auto Parts and a Shucks auto parts. But despite all the new families living in the area, there is no place in our neighborhood for families to congregate: we have no movie theater, no book store, no performing arts center, no park. We have the Bothell-Everett highway that gives us a way to get to other communities that have those things. Our neighborhood as it’s currently structured is built to ensure you don’t have to slow down much as you make your way to somewhere else.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Lawn Mower, Man

It has become my personal goal to reduce, as much as possible, my use of gasoline. I've been trying to drive less (as I've written about on this blog already) and now that ambition has spilled over into my yard care choices as well. Not long ago I bought a new power lawn mower only to find out shortly thereafter that lawn mower engines are worse than automobile engines in terms of their CO2 emissions -- they're not regulated and they can put out more CO2 than a car idling in traffic. Given that, I wanted to see if I could mow my lawn in a greener way -- gas free. This video documents my first experiment in pursuit of this goal. My conclusion in this case was that green mowing remains a worthwhile goal, but I don't think I've found the right solution for me yet.

So if you watch the video, you'll see that the bad news is I'm still going to be mowing my lawn with a gas-powered mower while I continue searching for a viable alternative. The good news, however, is that since all I care about is how long the grass is, not how pure it is, not how free of weeds -- clover, dandelions, etc -- it is, my lawn is completely pesticide free (I never treat it with anything, cause I don't really care about it that much). So that makes me a little bit green. Green by virtue of laissez-faire lawn care.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Library Thing: Kicking Off a Virtuous Cycle

I know people who keep food journals (writing down everything they eat for a week or two). They tell me that they start the journal as a way of identifying the mistakes they're making in their nutrition ("see, here it shows I eat Twinkies every morning for breakfast") but pretty quickly the act of having to write down what they're eating makes them eat better things. They chose healthier options because they want to be able to write down healthier things in the journal. If you have to account for your actions, you start committing more honorable actions.

Now I understand that phenomenon because I've just spent the last hour working on my Library Thing profile. Library Thing lets you list the books in your home library or books you've read. Once you've added 10-20 books, the Library Thing algorithm starts giving you recommendations and matching you up to other users with similar tastes. So that way you can find the next great thing you ought to read. Suddenly I'm finding myself wanting to read more and read more widely-divergent things so I have more to add to my Library Thing list and so I can get more and more-interesting recommendations. Libray Thing is a tool that I think falls into the category of an online social networking tool -- you can share out your library to others as a way of networking with them. But it goes beyond just presenting you to others, it doubles back on you and makes you want to be a better, more interesting person.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Playing Tourist in Our Own Town

Yesterday R got the chance to go spend the night at grandma's house by himself for the first time in his 3+ years. And we got the chance to hang out with big brother C alone for the first time in a couple of years. I know R had a wonderful time being the center of attention and it was nice to be reminded what a sweet, fun kid C is and for Grandma to get a chance to enjoy R's humor and sweet charm one-on-one. When the two boys are together, they're fun to be with, but we interact with them as a pair instead of as individuals. I sometimes think their teachers know the individual boys better than we do, since they're in different classes at school and their unique personalities get a chance to hold center stage. In a couple of weeks C will get his chance at grandma's and we'll have our fun hanging out with R.

As a special treat to C we took him to the top of the Space Needle for the first time yesterday. We've driven past it a thousand times but have never gone up with the kids. I spent more time watching C watching the view than I did looking at the view myself. As we went up the elevator and the world fell away below us, C marveled at how things were getting smaller and smaller -- of they would look that way, and I take it for granted, but everyone becomes conscious of that phenomenon at some time during their lives and it was profound to be there witnessing C discover the world in a third dimension.
At the top, as we mingled among super-sized tourists, most of whom it seemed had come from the cruise ship docked in Elliot Bay, I put C on my shoulders and gave him my camera. He proceeded to shoot these pictures:

Not bad for a kid who won't be 5 for another week. I am going to get him a small digital camera for his birthday, was already planning on it before yesterday, but now I can see he might have a real eye for this, a real talent. He says he wants to grow up to be a photographer (when he's not saying he wants to be a fireman or spiderman), so who knows, maybe we'll look back at these pictures and understand that they were signs of great things to come.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Life, Liberty, Pursuit of Happiness Up to But Not to Exceed $6.9 million

We take these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life (or $6.9 million whichever comes first), liberty and the pursuit of happiness…

File this one under “You Learn Something New Everyday”. It turns out that the United States government had determined the monetary value of every life in America – it’s $6.9 million. And it further turns out that the value of each of our lives, as determined by the government, in this case the Environmental Protection Agency, is dropping. It’s down $900,000 this year.

Here’s the MSNBC article that discusses this.

The EPA denies it, but many believe that this devaluation of the American life is a way for the EPA to relax pollution control rules. If the aggregate value of the lives saved by a proposed environmental regulation is less than the cost of imposing the regulation, then it’s easier for the EPA to argue against the regulation. That is, if it costs more to save people than people are worth, then you shouldn’t save them.

I find this reprehensible in so many ways that I can’t even get my mind around it. A life should be measured in moral values, not financial ones. Do they not see the contradictions in this? Are these not the people who scare up votes every four years by banging the Right to Life drum? Of course it turns out they only value life as a means to get votes, once they have the vote they don’t feel compelled to protect any lives. Are these not the people who argue in favor of the death penalty for convicted murderers? If a life is only worth $6.9 million, why execute a murderer? Why not just put a lien on his house or garner his wages? The brutality of the death penalty is rationalized by its supporters by pointing to the magnitude of what the murderer has destroyed. Yet this move, to place a monetary value on the life and now to devalue it as a way to make it easier to undercut the quality of that life, betrays their argument that there’s any justification for the death penalty.

You know, I could go on trying to make clever arguments about why this is an outrage and a dumb move. But I’m exhausted by the calculating disregard for the well being of individual Americans exhibited by the Bush administration. I’m not clever enough to make clever arguments. This is wrong, they know it’s wrong, but they do it anyway. Maybe that’s what they’re counting on, that we’ll all just get too tired to do anything about it.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Everything I learned today I learned from American Idol Winner David Cook

The American Idol Winners Tour is coming to Seattle in August and to get us prepared for their arrival, the Seattle Times today printed an interview with last season’s winner, David Cook. Now, in the spirit of full disclosure I must tell you that I did watch Idol last season (you can see we’re even on a short hand, last name basis) and I did root for David Cook, though I didn’t vote at all. Again, full disclosure: I watch, but I don’t vote. I do vote in political elections for things like President of America and stuff; please don’t judge me too harshly.

Back to the topic I started on though. In a
Q&A printed on the Seattle Times online, the conversation between Cook and the reporter turned briefly to his upcoming album:

Q: So what do you listen to?
A: (Singer-songwriter) Imogen Heap. Some Keith Urban. Trying not to stray too far, but get a bit of a fresh perspective.
I'd like this record to be palatable for sure, because I want to sustain a long career. But I don't feel I have to glue myself to the usual 1-4-5 (pop chord structure). I'm trying to write songs you may hear on the radio, but with interesting quirks that make them stand out.
Q: Isn't it the post-album era, where the big thing is single tracks?
A: Yeah, depressing, isn't it? I came from a time when records were records. I'll let the label worry about the singles, I'm into making a record.

I was interested in the statement about the album VS the single. I have thought many times since the beginning of the iPod era just how exciting it is as a consumer to be able to simply buy the one or two songs by an artist that I really enjoy without having to also buy the songs that aren’t so appealing. I grew up in the era of albums and, more often than not, the single you heard on the radio was, on the album, surrounded by filler that was only there to round out the song list to nine or 10 songs and to justify the album’s price. It’s interesting to me that the makers of the music express such dissatisfaction in the consumption habits of those of us who buy the music. It’s “depressing” that we’re in a post-album, single-ascendant era? Not to me.

(As an aside of sorts, David Cook may be assured of enough sales to warrant having an album of his own, but the vast majority of recording artists should thank their lucky stars they live in this era of the iTunes marketplace. Without it, they would never meet the economic bar necessary to justify recording their singles. Don’t take my word for it, read
Chris Anderson's analysis of The Long Tail . It is currently blowing my ever-lovin’ mind!)

There’s an analogy to be drawn here to some of my recent experiences in business where I’ve been on the side of producing “products” based on an idealistic desire for how they would be consumed only to find that the “consumers” didn’t use them because the products didn’t match their use habits or needs. Both experiences have to do with the introduction of communication/collaboration platforms into two separate organizations.

Within Allyis I drove the introduction of what we called our Competency Community web sites – collaboration areas for employees we’d grouped by their core professional competency (project management, Web development or Business Analysis, for example). It’s hardly an exaggeration to say that nobody is using the sites. We’re going back to the drawing board having realized that, while people do want to connect with other professionals and do see the value in collaborating, they want more control over forming their own network. We imposed networks on people. Employees want to determine the criteria – the how and why – of their own connections; we were imposing criteria. At first I was upset that no one was adopting the competency community sites, but I finally realized (and David Cook has further confirmed) that I was asking employees to change their habits to match the product I wanted them to use. Instead I need to shape my product to match the real needs of the employees. And more accurately, I need to put the control in the employees’ hands and let them build the product that matches their habits. That’s the iPod lesson: consumers shape their own product. They want to. Let them. If you let them, they’ll keep buying.

The second experience has to do with the communication tool I set up for the
Kirkland Business Roundtable. There was some desire (admittedly most of it from me) to have a means for members to stay actively connected between the quarterly meetings we hold. I believe close and regular communication contributes to stronger bonds of community and a strongly bonded community is a community with strength it can direct at ideas and causes on which it wants to have an effect. That thinking is sound, I’m confident in saying, but my method of connecting people within the roundtable has proven, so far, ineffective. We set up a simple collaboration environment online and gave all 60 members of the roundtable user accounts and full publishing rights. The tool was right there for people to start using to share their ideas with one another. We set up the tool 5 months ago and so far, I can tell from user logs, 13 people have logged in; the 47 other members of the group have never logged in. Of those who have logged in, none has logged in since early May.

Mea culpa, again. I built a space for people to get all activist about the issues facing Kirkland on which the Roundtable wanted to have some input. But I did that without properly gauging whether the Roundtable members wanted to go into activist mode about the issues facing Kirkland and Kirkland businesses. And – assuming for a moment there is broad desire within the Roundtable to be activist in nature -- I did it without knowing how people on the Roundtable want to communicate about the issues that matter to them.

I believe we have moved out of the time of the top-down communication models of the past. Newspapers are dying, people are blogging and Twittering and Digging and tagging. The editor-in-chief determining what content is fit to print is a thing of the past. I built the Roundtable collaboration site with a prescribed structure to where, how and why members would communicate with each other and I expected members to shape their communication with each other into that prescribed model. But what happens in that situation is that most people, rather than changing their communication habits to fit the prescribed model, simply choose not to communicate at all.

There’s also the issue to overcome that while the top-down communication model may be on the way out, there are still many people – especially those within a certain age demographic – who see themselves as consumers of content rather than creators of it. Most of the Roundtable members are within that particular demographic. The tool I set up asked people to be the creators of the content and that is probably not something most of them are comfortable doing.

In analyzing the fallowness of the Kirkland Roundtable collaboration site, it seems to me I have either created a tool to serve a need that may not have been broadly present in the group or I perceived a need but have not yet shaped the tool to serve that need properly. This is a mismatch of supply with demand. I supplied something without understanding the demand. Consumers today want to shape the supply to match their own demands. That goes for iPod listeners who want to hear one David Cook song along with one song from Imogen Heap and one from The Republic Tigers and one from Men at Work (this is what I have on my iPod) but don’t want to be burdened by the album structure and it goes for creating collaboration environments online.

Still to be determined in all of this is how the practice of User Interface Design fits into this new consumer-driven paradigm. UI Design delivers a structure within which to place the content you want users to consume. But if users are now to create their own content what place is there for a practice that exists to prescribe structure? That’s a topic for a future post, I suppose.

My goal with the Kirkland Roundtable, as it has been with Allyis’ competency communities, is to also go back to the drawing board and to find ways to tap into habits people already have for aggregating and sharing knowledge and to find a way to incorporate the group into those habits. For example, if most Roundtable members read news online – general business news, but also Kirkland-specific business news – could they bookmark what they read to a Digg account shared out to the group? Could they tag content for the group on delicious? Could members just pursue the habits that work for them, and indirectly create meaningful content around which the group could coalesce, come to know each other and, as a result, find its strength? I will go down this path a ways starting at today’s Roundtable meeting and I’ll let you know over time what I find out in answer to those questions.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Half a Tank In One Month

Took a look at my gas log in the car today ("gas log" is a fancy name for the sheet of yellow legal pad paper I keep folded up in my glove box and on which I write down the date and price of gas purchases). I was happy to see that the last time I bought gas was on June 5th. I've still got half a tank left more than a month later. I wonder if I'll be able to make it through the rest of the month of July without buying gas...Well, that just became my goal!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Summer 2008 Gasoline Challenge: June Update

In an earlier post, I announced my Summer 2008 Gasoline Challenge (read about it here). I can’t yet completely eliminate my fossil fuel use, but I’m trying to reduce my use. Reduce/Reuse/Recycle = sustainability, right?

So here’s my update for the month of June.

June 2008: Miles Budgeted – 200/Miles Used – 157.1/Challenge Miles Remaining – 782.6

Miles Budgeted May – June: 400
Miles Used May – June: 217.4
Miles Under Budget May – June: 182.6
Longest Single Drive in June: 57.1 miles (from home to the Totem Lake P&R Goodwill drop-off station, which is only nine miles. But then from there to the Downtown Seattle Goodwill store after the jerk at the P&R wouldn’t take the stuff I had to donate.)
Most Unnecessary Drive in June: 5 miles (From home to Yummy Teriyaki and back when I got a craving for spicy chicken and egg rolls. But, honestly if you tasted their egg rolls you’d understand.)

Those numbers look good, on paper. And I’m pleased that I’m still under budget. But I know I didn’t give it 100% in June. I know if I wasn’t sometimes lazy I’d be doing better. Giving up the car means I have to do more planning ahead of time now to figure out alternative modes of transportation. If I’m taking the bus, I need to know when the bus is coming and get myself to the bus stop on time. If I’m carpooling with someone I need be ready when they’re ready to take me. If I’m riding my bike, I need to leave my house an hour before I have to be at the office (and pack a change of clothes and figure in time to de-sweatify once I get to the office). I’m not very good at planning ahead, being organized. I leave the planning till the last minute every time and sometimes I don’t leave myself with enough time to take advantage of the alternatives to driving. There were a few trips in June that were just me being forced to take the car because – as my grandmother would have put it – I had “frittered away the minutes” until I had no other choice.

I’ve developed this general pattern for the week –

Monday: Carpool
Tuesday: Carpool
Wednesday: Work from home, bus or bike
Thursday: Bus
Friday: Work from home, bus or bike

The biggest challenge for me on the days I take the bus is getting from my house to the bus stop. I catch Sound Transit #532 from the Canyon Park Park & Ride. The Park & Ride is 3 miles from my house. I can walk there, I’ve done that several times, but it does take over 30 minutes and see above for why that doesn’t always work out. It’s not a big P&R and it fills up quickly – by 7am most days all the spots are taken. So I have Suzanna drop me off, but then after I’m out of the car she has to drive solo just so I don’t have to. That doesn’t make a lot of sense, so I don’t do that unless she’s going out to run errands anyway. I’ve found that riding my bike to the P&R is a pretty slick option – takes 10-15 minutes and there’s always a slot open on the bike rack (turns out there’s bike rack etiquette, too, interestingly enough. I’ll fill you in on that in a future post).

Once I catch the bus, it’s incredibly easy to get where I’m going: #532 goes straight down 405, stops only twice at freeway stations and is at the Bellevue Transit Center within 25 minutes. From there I hop on the Metro 230 that comes down to Kirkland and takes about 15 minutes. In 40 – 60 minutes I can be at the office.

Given how easy it is once I catch the bus at the P&R, it seems ridiculous to me that the hardest part of the whole journey should be the first three miles from my own front door. I don’t live in a remote wasteland; I live on a major North – South artery through Snohomish county, along with a couple thousand other Sno-Co residents. But the closest bus stop is two miles away. This inconvenience factor is what has always stopped me in the past from taking mass transit and I know it’s what stops a lot of other people from doing it too. I’m choosing to accept and overcome the inconvenience now because of this challenge, but realistically not everyone will or can make the choice to do what I’m doing. So if Community Transit, Sound Transit, and Metro are serious about trying to deal with traffic problems and greenhouse gas emissions by getting people out of their cars, they’d better be realistic about the fact that they still have some work to do to make it easy for people to do that. Things are good on the freeway routes and the urban routes – the main lines – but they have to make it easy for people to make it from the fringes to the main line.

More updates soon.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Two Ways to Use Twitter for Business

My best thoughts usually occur when I'm in transit -- driving, riding the bus or riding my bike away from or to the offfice and invariably when I'm away from pen and paper. And so the brilliance of my thoughts goes wasted.

Last night, though, riding home on the bus, I used Twitter to record ideas as they occurred to me, texting them from my mobile phone. Next day when I sat down to work, I fired up Twitter and worked from the notes I'd jotted while on the bus. There's been some debate about what the real value of Twitter is -- is it social exhibitionism, is it a tool to build friendships, is it a business tool? I suppose it could be all three of those, but it most definitely has some useful business application. Using it as I did on the bus means interpreting your audience as yourself, primarily, but I've learned that's as legitimate an audience as any for a blog, even for a micro-blog like Twitter. In this context, it's like a Post-it Note, and yet it has the same benefit as a full-fledged blog, in that it's public and as such your notes to yourself may be enriched by others who are following you.

One other business application for Twitter occurs to me. We've all been in meetings, large and small, where the conversation may really only go on between a small subset of the people there. Maybe they're just the stronger personalities, maybe they're leading the meeting and there isn't time for group input. Whatever the cause, there are people in meetings who have ideas and thoughts to contribute but who either are reticent to say anything out of shyness or simply don't get the opportunity to contribute. But what if you set up a meeting so that everyone knew ahead of time that if they weren't comfortable speaking up during the meeting, or if you didn't have time to take questions or if people just needed more time to process ideas before contributing their thoughts they could post their ideas to Twitter? The meeting leaders could then review the Twitter posts afterward and probably would come across some good input that otherwise would have been unrecoverable. This, I think, would work best in a large presentation, but the idea that you could give a new channel for input to those who are perhaps less comfortable with the standard channel means you'd broaden the group contributing to the conversation and that makes an organization stronger.

This latter idea is similar to the "back channel" present at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston. As presenters were speaking throughout the day, there were simultaneous conversations going on about the presentations on Twitter. People exchanging ideas about what they were hearing together, but also people in one breakout session sharing ideas with colleagues in other breakout sessions. It was a much richer engagement with presentations than I'd seen before -- I was taking notes with a pen in a notebook and couldn't share them with anybody until well after the presentation. And the beauty of doing the idea sharing in Twitter was that it was instantly preserved, thus allowing people to go back later and pick up conversations or take ideas and pursue them further.

Meanwhile Life and Death Continue as Always

Outside to cut the grass this morning, I noticed a sudden commotion in the trees at the edge of my yard. I looked up just in time to see a hawk come thundering out of the leaves of a maple with a baby bird clutched in it's talons. As the hawk flew low through the neighbor's yard the baby bird began screaching a high-pitched, beseeching cry, the sound of it growing fainter as the hawk rose into the sky. A moment later two small birds -- the parents of the stolen baby -- shot out of the trees in frantic flight, calling to each other. They flew off after the hawk, but returned a few moments later having been unable to catch him. After that they perched in the cedar tree above the fence chirping and squeeking, agitated. I know what they were talking about.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Confessions of a Blogging Convert

If you’re an avid blogger already you may find this post a reciting of the ridiculously obvious. But if you’re like me, new to the idea of blogging, maybe some of my thoughts on the value I’ve found in blogging will be useful to you. Maybe.

Until I attended the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston I was anti-blogger. I dismissed blogs out of hand because I believed bloggers were the online equivalent of the troubled souls who stand on street corners arguing with themselves. I had decided bloggers were people who believed no moment passed that wasn’t worth recording. Bloggers, I thought, lacked the filtering ability common in the rest of us.

I was a blog bigot.

Since the conference I’ve made such a complete and rapid 180 degree turn on the idea of blogging I think I may have slipped a disk.

Why the sudden turn around?

If this was a Hollywood movie, the answer would be that my daughter fell in love with -- and eloped in the arms of -- a blogger. That through her eyes I came to see bloggers in a new light, realized I had prejudged and that I thus underwent a transformation and became a better, more accepting person.

A “
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner” for the online social networking age… “Guess Who’s Blogging About Dinner”.

But I don’t have a daughter.

No, the truth is the conference helped me relax my idea of who a blog’s audience can be. And that, in turn, helped me finally understand the purpose of them.

“Who is your audience?” was the first question addressed in the “What Blogging Brings to Business” breakout session and, to my surprise, many of those in the room, including the panelists, answered that, at least in part, they were their own audience.

“I keep a blog,” said one, “as a place to write down the things I’m learning so I won’t forget them.”

That resonated with me, a revolutionary idea (fitting that it happened in Boston).

“A place to write down the things I’ve learned so I won’t forget them.”

I have found that given the pace of my life these days – two small kids, running a business, trying to participate in professional organizations, trying to find time to stay in touch with friends and family, hoping to carve out some time for creative expression – I spend a lot of my time skating across the surface of ideas rather than really having the time to dig into them to any depth.

I may have ten minutes here or there to read an article, before I get pulled away to a meeting or to clean up spilled soup or break up a fight over a matchbox car, or show up at a city planning commission meeting, but if I don’t record what I’m thinking about that article in the moment it will evaporate and when I find my way back I’ll have to start at square one again. I hate square one! Honestly, If I’m going to find my way down a few levels into an idea it will happen over an extended period of time.

A blog is a way for me to lead myself back through the parts of an idea I’ve already secured. It’s the intellectual equivalent of shoring up the walls and roof of a mine as you tunnel deeper into the earth in search of gold. But what’s exciting about a blog from a personal perspective and even more so from a business perspective is that while it’s enough to write the blog for yourself, the fact that it’s public writing means that it also can lead others down the pathways of your discoveries and your ideas and can serve as an invitation to them to join in conversation with you – in person or through the blog itself, which adds even more value to the blog since it preserves all the different angles and aspects of the ideas and becomes a richer and richer discussion the longer it goes on and the more people join. If you introduce a blog into a professional setting then as you pursue ideas, build them out, shore them up with new discoveries, then other people in the organization can participate in that as well, adding their own voice and rounding out what can become an organizational understanding. That’s the gold at the heart of the mine. One person starts digging, others join in and that’s when you really get somewhere.

I used to think bloggers just liked to hear themselves talk. I was wrong. Bloggers like to talk, no doubt about that, but I think we do it hoping it will prompt others to speak too.

Yes, I said “we”, bloggers. I’ve become one of you. Forgive me my insensitivities of the past. It will never happen again. Probably.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Kirkland Planning Commission Follow-up

Never underestimate the passion people feel for the place in which they live. That's the number one lesson I take away from last night's planning commission meeting.

There was a good turn-out of both supporters and opponents of the Kirkland Park Place redevelopment plan. I would say the numbers were about evenly divided. And there are strong passions on both sides of the issue, though my unscientific observation is that the people against the proposal generally seemed to be talking a little louder than those for the proposal. Does that mean that those for it are not as invested in the debate as those against? No, I don't think so at all. There were plenty of people supporting the idea who expressed a very hopeful and heartfelt vision of what this redevelopment could mean for Kirkland.

There was real passion in the Kirkland City Council chamber and I had to sit for nearly an hour and a half before it was my turn to speak. That was long enough for me to go through several fits of nervousness and one bought of flight instinct...confrontation over important issues can be a good thing, but nonetheless I'm sure I'll never be comfortable in those situations. "I live in
Bothell. Who am I to tell Kirkland what they should do?" I thought to myself. "I'm a Kirkland business owner, that's who!" I chastized my internal monolouger. "My business is effected by what Kirkland does and that matters." And bottom line, I care about Kirkland and I want to see it thrive. I got up and said my piece, a variation on the comments I made in my blog post last night. Each speaker gets only 3 minutes to make their point, so it's hard to be eloquent and not feel rushed. I always wish I could step into situations like that and say the one "silver bullet" sentence that will cut to the heart and end the debate in favor of my side. But of course the silver bullet sentence is mostly just a myth and what it comes down to now is just numbers -- budget numbers for sure, but also just the pure numbers of people who showed up for or against.

There were a lot of interesting points made on both sides, but I think the comment that I'll remember most was made by one elderly, soft-spoken gent who got up in support of the plan shortly before I did and calmly built an entirely new perspective for everyone in the room. "Many people," he said, "have gotten up here and talked about how this plan would ruin the quiet, small town feel of Kirkland. They talk about living here for 20 or 30 years and how Kirkland has always been a bedroom community and they don't want to lose that. Well, I wasn't going to speak at all, but I've lived here a lot longer than that and I can tell you that 60 years ago Kirkland was anything but a quiet bedroom community. It might surprise you to know that 60 years ago Kirkland was considered the most vibrant city on the Eastside. It was called the hub of the Eastside in fact." He then went on to describe how Kirkland at that time employed several thousand people building ships at
Carillon Point -- the largest single employer in Kirkland until Google moved in a couple of years ago. "Those were people who worked in Kirkland and lived in Kirkland. This plan would bring that back. That's good for Kirkland."