In Praise of our Plumber

Susan Ellsworth

Susan Ellsworth

Often in social media, the highly-talented and dedicated people whose services make life a whole lot better are forgotten. That’s because they are not the ones who show up in social media. They are the ones who often show up at our homes at our convenience to make the fixes and repairs we cannot do ourselves.

This post is about one very special master plumber who has made our lives better and who is not here in social media.

I live in a house that was built before certain plumbing standards were in effect. An outside spigot broke. This was a real problem for us, since we had invested in a number of  ornamental plants around our yard, and just one dry season would be the end of them. According to several other so-called experts repair would have been expensive beyond belief. Some of those so-called experts said there was no way to repair the spigot.

Then came the day we needed some other plumbing repairs. We had made a point of asking for the individual contact information of one of the plumbers who had completed a number of other plumbing jobs in a very satisfactory manner. He was the one who explained to us what the specific plumbing issues were, what caused them and how they might be prevented in the future.

We looked up James. He arrived on time and got straight to work. We showed him the “impossible” spigot repair. James, a creative sort, looked at the job and proposed what no other plumber had proposed: plugging the original line to the spigot and installing a new line with a new spigot. All for a price we were willing and able to pay. Shortly thereafter, the original line was plugged. He had drilled a new line through our cinderblock basement wall and installed a new line and spigot.

James. What a pro who really thinks differently than “the other guys.” You are the best! Spigot_Fix

 

 

 

 

 

Susan Ellsworth

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Talking about Technology

Susan Ellsworth

Susan Ellsworth

As the 2013 year winds down, I find myself musing about the language we use to talk about technology. As a friend of mine observed a while back, every time the online technology comes up with a new feature/experience, the technologists and their marketers struggle to find the right words to describe that experience and its unique selling proposition.

Many of a certain age will remember when “hanging out” was a bad thing tinged with the suggestion of juvenile delinquency. Not since Google brought out Google + Hangouts.  I participate with a group that recently struggled with whether to call itself online  or virtual. Gone are the days when a cloud was simply a fluffy vision in the sky. Now it’s a fluffy way to tell end users that the computer they are using to communicate with others is not in the same facility they are.  Just as there are hybrid cars, there are hybrid clouds, which the Webopedia says is a ” combined form of private clouds and public clouds in which some critical data resides in the enterprise’s private cloud while other data is stored in and accessible from a public cloud. Hybrid clouds seek to deliver the advantages of scalability, reliability, rapid deployment and potential cost savings of public clouds with the security and increased control and management of private clouds.Really old-timers still think of a tweet as a sound made by a bird. Avatar spawned the word Gravitar for WordPress users. Bitcoin has been around for a while, and now has been entered into the Webopedia.  My picture in this blog is a selfie—a picture I took of myself. Then there is BYOD —Bring Your Own Device, a concept that used to scare corporate systems managers into hiding. The phrase Software As A Service is a yawner from yesterday. Now we have Anything As a Service and Everything as a Service, both of which are abbreviated as XaaS. Now that’s just plain weird. I think I’ll go have an eggnog and wish all of you a happy holiday and a great new MMXIV.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Susan Ellsworth

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Standing by Whose Values?

Susan Ellsworth

Susan Ellsworth

What kind of organization(s) do you belong to? Several years ago, I belonged to the American Library Association, a professional and educational non-profit organization organized along the lines of the interests and support of its membership. In 1974, its membership was just over 34,000. That year, the ALA council ratified a resolution supporting ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.  A 1977 resolution called for future conferences to be held only in states that had ratified the ERA, beginning with the 1981 Annual Conference. This was no small decision for the ALA, since its headquarters was–and still is–in Illinois, a State that had not ratified the ERA. ALA members and the council were essentially putting their money where the best interests of its membership were. More accurately, they had decided not to put their money where their interests were not supported. (1)

Now I belong to another 501(c)(3) educational organization. This organization’s bylaws say that

This corporation shall not discriminate, in the conduct of its programs and activities,
against any person on the basis of age (except those persons under 18 years of age),
race, color, creed, gender, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, or physical or
mental disability, so long as the individual, through his or her own effort, is able to
participate in the program or activity. 

This organization has scheduled its August 2014 International Convention in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. As of this year, Human Rights Watch reported that In violation of international standards against discrimination, Malaysian leaders continue to denigrate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak gave speeches in June and July 2012 in which he asserted that the activities of LGBT people do not “have a place in the country.”

On March 28, the Guardian ran a story by Kate Hodal which said

A government-backed musical in Malaysia that aims to warn young people about the perils of being lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) in this Muslim-majority country has sparked controversy over its “state-sponsored bigotry” and potential to incite hatred.

Asmara Songsang (Abnormal Desire) follows the lives of three LGBT friends who throw loud parties, take drugs and have casual sex, thereby incurring the wrath of their religious neighbours, who attempt to reintroduce them to the teachings of  Islam. Those who repent are spared, while those who don’t are killed in a lightning storm.  

While not itself discriminating against members of the LGBT community, the organization has invited its membership to spend money in a country that violates international standards of discrimination—one of which is directly related to sexual orientation.  It has also committed to put its money —and the money of its membership—where one of its own bylaws speaks to a different value.

(1) Cassell, Kay Ann. “ALA and the ERA,” American Libraries, December 1982. p. 690.

Susan Ellsworth

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A Tempting Technology from a Wine Taster and Connoisseur

Susan Ellsworth

Susan Ellsworth

You never know where the next great idea might come from. I sometimes get ideas for this blog from comments by friends in various social media. But who would have ever thought that the idea for today’s blog about a new idea for technology would come from my alltime favorite wine connoisseur and longtime friend Heidi McLain? Heidi is the CEO and founder of the To Your Taste!®Wine Party Kit, an educational kit of tools to help those who may not feel confident about buying wine, ordering it in a restaurant, or just talking about it.

So I was surprised to see a video post from Heidi about Phonebloks.com, a company pointing out an obvious aspect of cell phones. Not built to last, thousands of cell phones are being thrown away daily simply because one component of the phone does not work. Or that it is out of date. The idea behind Phonebloks is that phones should be modular, and enable users to easily upgrade or modify a phone built on an open platform. Basically, the idea is for companies working together to build the best phone in the world. Personally, I had never once thought about what happened to the components of my previous cell phones. That’s a little strange for me, because I have thought of myself as a great believer in a greener earth and as someone who likes to put things together to make them work.

Recognizing that getting phone manufacturers to work together will not be an easy task, Phonebloks takes full advantage of social media. The plan is that on October 29 at 10:00 AM Eastern Daylight Time, all who like that idea send out eMail blasts through Thunderclap.  Messages will go to our FaceBook friends and Twitter followers saying that this modular type phone is a phone worth keeping. (and developing, since the phone has not yet been developed!) Presumably these messages will reach manufacturers such as Apple and Samsung. As of the date of this blog, Thunderclap lists some 856,800 supporters of a goal of 900,000 supporters and a social reach of 331,641,218.

For a team of perhaps three people, this is a ginormous goal. On his help-out FAQ page Developer Dave Hakkens says

>How can you help out and make Phonebloks become something more than just a concept? Do not send money! At least not yet. Dave writes on his facebook page

>“Just to be sure #Phonebloks doesn’t ask for any donation or money. Every site that does is a scam. Please forward this! “ I’m inclined to sign up to participate in his adventure. https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/2931-phonebloks

So if this whole thing actually comes to pass, I think I’ll wander over to Heidi’s place for a nice glass of wine.

To your health!

Susan Ellsworth

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WHAT? Not on the Internet?

Susan Ellsworth

Susan Ellsworth

Recently a rather new acquaintance posted a cartoon on FaceBook. The cartoon featured an old-fashioned professor seated at an outdoor desk in front of a class consisting of a bird, a monkey, a penguin, an elephant, a goldfish in a bowl, a seal and a dog. Behind them was a tree. The professor spoke to them and said “For a fair selection, everybody has to take the same exam. Please climb that tree.”

I was immediately reminded of Albert Einstein, who is credited with saying “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

And then I thought about how a lot of my friends and I spend a lot of our time completely ignoring family and friends who are not “in the Cloud.” Ignoring family and friends who are not even computer users. Some of those family and friends are not computer users completely by choice. Some of those family and friends are, instead, avid book readers. Books—not tablets. Books, as in sheets of paper bound together and words printed on the paper.

Recently, I have begun to realize how easy it is for an uneasy relationship to develop between those of us who do use computers and those of us who choose not to do so. It’s far too easy. And those of us who ARE part of the Internet can, to those who are not,  appear to be arrogant.

Then I read and listened to Carl Sagan’s Episode 11 of The Cosmos, The Persistence of Memory. In it, he says
What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic. 

Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan

Indeed.

I have several acquaintances who never come near a computer. Are they stupid? No. In many cases, they have simply made a lifestyle choice. One of them is an avid reader who has been known to haunt second-hand bookstores, and walk out with an armload of books and a happy grin. Another chooses to connect in real time with members of her community in a way that many of us in the Internet world may never experience.

Let us not look down on a goldfish because it does not climb a tree.

Susan Ellsworth

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“Thought Leaders” versus Action in Canada

Susan Ellsworth

Susan Ellsworth

Recently, I looked at a lengthy LinkedIn list of “Thought Leaders.” Presumably, these are people whom unspecified others recognize as an authority in a specialized field and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded. The extensive LinkedIn list included such notables as Richard Branson (2,272,487 followers), Tony Robbins (588,125 followers), Guy Kawasaki (262,572 followers) and so many others that the bottom of the LinkedIn page of 90 notables said “show more” at the bottom.

I was definitely underwhelmed.

For the past four days, I have been trying to figure out what have these thought leaders actually done for me or my family and friends lately? Nothing came to my mind.  

Then DOVE CANADA came to my attention.

According to the August 5 Canadian issue of Huffpost Style,

Dove Canada says it has created a Photoshop Action that reverts edited images back to their original, un-airbrushed state.

The local division of the skincare company went black ops recently for its latest “Campaign for Real Beauty” stunt, going so far as to create and post the downloadable Action file to social media sites like Reddit (the post has since been removed by its user).

While the file promises to beautify images with a single click, in reality it reverts the edits that had been made to the photo, while adding a banner that says, “Don’t manipulate our perceptions of Real Beauty.” 

As a woman in a profession which only relatively recently has included more women, I deeply appreciate the Dove Canada Real Beauty (inner beauty) campaign. Frankly, for a long time, women in my profession who appeared to be physically attractive were often not taken seriously by men in technical training classes and in professional meetings. We often got the message that our questions were less than worth paying attention to, and answers were often short, and not necessarily sufficient. The man next to us was likely to be called on very quickly.

The Dove campaign for girls and women to appreciate ourselves and nourish our self-esteem has resonated with me for many years. I have used Dove products since I was in college. Detractors aside, I find it refreshing to see a large, well-known company take bold and creative action which backs up a campaign of words.

It’s one thing to be a “thought leader” with a list of tens or hundreds of thousands of LinkedIn followers. It’s another thing altogether to lead not only with thought, but also with action to match. Now that’s leadership!

Susan Ellsworth

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An Open Letter to Malala Yousufzai

Susan Ellsworth

Susan Ellsworth

Dear Malala,
We at Pequod Systems hear you loud and clear. And we were deeply moved by your recent speech at the  U.N. Youth Assembly in New York City. We look forward to the day there is a documentary about your efforts to encourage the education of all girls, women and children. While we  are blessed to be in a country where women are not shot for trying to get an education, we have also been around long enough to have watched a dramatic change in the numbers of girls and women being encouraged to enter technical fields as technicians rather than as secretaries. 

Malala, as a young girl, I was encouraged only to be a secretary to someone who would be far more intelligent than I was assumed to be. Enter my  husband and first computing mentor Grant. He knew I have a mind of my own and gently encouraged me to learn to use his first computer—an Apple II+.  Later, he bought a server on which I managed a database created by my second mentor, Ed Fox.

Ed taught me one of the best lessons I would ever learn about data management: Where does the data come from, who will benefit by its use, and what is your plan for managing it when your first plan does not exactly work the way you thought it would?

David Rorabaugh was my third computing mentor.  David had no truck with those who minimized women for any reason, and was a visionary who understood and talked about the future of Windows. He was a Certified NetWare Engineer when I was on a government contract with him. Eventually we both were taking—and passing—the same professional examinations and comparing notes with each other.

Today, while the number of women computer technicians is still significantly lower than the number of men in the field, I believe there has been a generational attitude shift among younger men about women and computing. A Google search shows a lot of articles about women in computing. Most encouraging (to me, at least) there is a Philadelphia-based Network of Women in Computer Technology which focuses on mentoring young girls who might want to enter the field.

Malala, keep speaking out as you did on your birthday. In some parts of the world, women are making progress. In others, we still need an army of your friends who believe in supporting the education of all women, girls and children just as you do. Thank you for your inspirational example.

Susan Ellsworth

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Graduation—-what’s Next?

Susan Ellsworth

Susan Ellsworth

Tomorrow I will be attending my niece’s graduation party. I live close to a university campus with a sports arena so large and popular that graduation ceremonies seem to start earlier year after year.   All excitement and fun.

Really?

Apart from all the student debt that will come crashing down on these students, I do wonder about the practical, hands-on work experiences that today’s graduates in the computing field bring to future employers. My own Alma Mater with its “Fearless Ideas” campaign and Cal Ripkin Jr. urging its 2013 graduates to keep a positive attitude have me wondering if the waiter at the local Applebee’s was really a computer sciences major in disguise and who was unable to find related part-time off-campus work.  

For what it’s worth, here’s a fearless idea: Provide tax incentives for businesses that revive meaningful apprenticeships for tomorrow’s computing professionals. Instead of paying  those apprentices directly, those businesses would deposit earned compensation directly into an account which automatically pays down a percentage of that apprentice’s student loan debt. Provide meaningful incentives for colleges and universities to give academic credit to those computer sciences apprentices who demonstrate that they have learned new, valuable and related skill sets. No credit for “life skills” learned in the “School of Hard Knocks.” Just for proven business and computing skills learned on the job. Period.

Debt

Your thoughts welcome.

   

Susan Ellsworth

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Figuring Technical Stuff Out..Part 2

Before I joined Pequod Systems, I worked as a contractor for on several different contracts. Inevitably, some situation would arise in which I had to use a customer’s fax machine. (Remember those?) More often than not,  access to those fax machines was ruled by a Queen Bee who had programmed specific codes into the machine so that only faxes from her boss could be sent to specific recipients, whose fax numbers were also hard-wired into the fax machines. Only by talking to a more experienced fellow contractor (who might or might not be present when one needed to send a fax) could one discover the one remaining set of magical codes with which one could send a weekly status report to one’s offsite project manager. I began to hate faxing and loathe the Queen Bees. Today I am grateful for the pending total demise of fax as the Queen Bees managed it. 

Fast forward to a recent blog by my friend Ann Bevans. She says that “in programming (and I would argue, in any job), you can’t know everything you may one day have to know.  You have to be able to figure it out on the fly.” She goes on to say that My first year in business, some of my former colleagues had spun off from that company and asked me if I could build a system like that for them.
I said “YES!”
Then I went to Barnes and Noble and bought a book called Data-Driven Websites or something like that.
When you have the ability to figure shit out, you can do that and get away with it.
You’re not a fraud.

I have many friends who are entrepreneurs of all stripes, and they ALL say the same thing.
When somebody asks if you can do a thing, you say “Yes!” And then you go figure it out.
These days, the interwebs being what they are, it’s a lot easier to figure stuff out on the fly. Use that.”  

We have a wide range of customers. Some of them are like the end user who, at the age of 50 and with no training whatsoever, was suddenly placed in front of a modern computer for the first time. Others are application programmers with a lot of courage and confidence—and thankfully, enough sense to know when not to go voyaging so far into computer systems that they get into trouble they can’t get out of. In each case, we look for ways to help folks figure things out. We act on the value that one size does not fit all. We educate you and learn from you. There are no Queen Bees at Pequod Systems. And no old-fashioned fax machines.
No_ Fax_MachineContact us for respectful and personalized technical support. And to tell us if we are really educating you—and learning from you at the same time.

Susan Ellsworth

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Once again, Please help me welcome Dan!

Dan Antion

Dan Antion

Normally, you see my smiling face in the upper left corner of this blog. However, my friend Dan Antion recently wrote the delightful blog below, which I believe you will enjoy! —- Susan Ellsworth

If we Can’t kill eMail, can we Please Fix It
by Dan Antion

During the last year or so, I listened to several speakers at content management and social media conferences suggest that business email will soon be a technology of the past. danantion_graphic

Judging by my inbox, and recognizing that people are still sending faxes, I think it’s safe to say that I will be getting email throughout what remains of my career. If that’s the case, I would appreciate it if the people who send me business email would take it upon themselves to improve the quality of the email that they send. If I thought everyone would give this topic the thought it deserves, and change their behavior accordingly, I’d stop writing after making the following statement:

Consider that regular business email, the stuff that I will read simply because you sent it, comes with an implied contract based on mutual respect. Then remember that once my respect for you has been earned, that you have to prevent me from losing it.

Since I get so much email, from so many sources, let me offer a few general guidelines to make those emails better:

Size matters.  I had a chemistry professor who required written lab reports but thought they should be factual. In warning against long explanations in lieu of facts – he used to say “remember, the longer the wronger!” It’s the same with email. A single paragraph business communication will be appreciated. A couple of paragraphs will be tolerated and a multi-page monologue will probably be ignored.

Don’t be a jerk.  This sounds like so much common sense, but it’s easy to look like a jerk in email. Unless you want to look like a jerk, reread your message before you click send. Think about whether what you wrote will be understood in the absence of facial expressions, tone of voice and that precious act of reaching out to touch my shoulder. By the way, if you don’t want to reread it because it’s so long, refer to the previous paragraph.

I have an inbox. After you send your email, continue not being a jerk by not calling me, texting me or visiting me to ask me: “Did you get the email I just sent?

Some subjects are better left out of the inbox. If you are dancing around a sensitive issue, delete the email, walk down to hall, or pick up the phone and make personal contact.

Stop crying wolf. Remember that I can sort my email by sender, so I can see if there are patterns in the email that you send. If 2/3’s of your subject lines include “Important” or “Must read” maybe you need to think about the way you organize, schedule and prioritize your work/day/life.

If you find yourself saying “this is good advice for most people, but it doesn’t work in my situation,” maybe you need to think a little harder about your situation and about the nature of email.

One subject – one thought. I know it’s not a text message, but email shouldn’t be a sermon and it absolutely shouldn’t be a lecture. If you have three complex points to make about a subject, schedule a meeting to discuss your thoughts.  This works better because I can communicate my boredom with my facial expression and I can point out when your first assumption is wrong and therefore you should stop blathering.

Email is not a presentation.  Forget the “tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them” mantra that is supposed to set you up to make a great speech.  Just tell me what you want me to know in short, grammatically correct sentences – preferably less than 5. If you are thinking about including graphics, drop the “s” – limit yourself to one graphic.

Note: I added this next rule in response to Microsoft’s addition of the Screen Clipping tool into Outlook.

Remain in media. If you are reading my document, reviewing my presentation or testing my spreadsheet, use the features built into Office on the Review Ribbon instead of artfully crafting a treasure map of arrows and text boxes for me to follow. This should also help you comply with the ‘one graphic’ rule.

Oh, one last thought, particularly if you are still clinging to the notion that you or your emails are somehow special and should be exempt from these rules: If I wouldn’t need to be in the room when you told somebody this critical information in person, please leave me off the CC line.

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