Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Susan Ellsworth

Susan Ellsworth

October —and it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Years ago, who would have thought that awareness of breast cancer would have turned into such a large business? Yet there is a site for which it is possible to buy almost anything “breast cancer.” Pink ribbons, tee shirts and pink clothing of all kinds everywhere. Breast Cancer Awareness events on every public calendar.

As a breast cancer survivor going into my third year of survivorship, I am deeply grateful to a good friend who reminded me that I am pretty good at Internet searching, and that I could certainly research breast cancer treatment centers offering minimally invasive surgery. I am grateful to the friends and family who drove me to my chemo appointments, and who bought me fancy hats I might not ever have bought for myself.  I will be eternally grateful to my husband, who diligently and patiently called the on-call doctor in the middle of the night of the first month of chemo, when I was incredibly sick to my stomach and in terrible pain. And who put up with my food rebellions when I refused to eat so much as a teaspoon of yogurt a day. I am grateful to my surgeon, who educated me and gave me options. I am grateful to the breast cancer treatment team at the Sullivan Breast Center and to a marvelous group at the Holy Cross Radiation Treatment Center.

Here’s what I don’t understand. It’s the pink marketing aimed exclusively at women.
While there are far fewer men than women who get breast cancer, the survivorship rate for men is far less than it is for women. Research has shown that significant numbers of men taking post-treatment tamoxifen stop taking it because of its unpleasant side effects. Where are the options, support, education and specialists for men with breast cancer? Where are the day-long events and Races for the Cure with traffic-stopping crowds of men to raise awareness of breast cancer for men?

It’s time for a blue ribbon campaign.

blue_ribbon.jpb

Susan Ellsworth

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Susan in the Tub/ DUB-DUB-DUB

Susan Ellsworth

Susan Ellsworth

SUSAN IN THE TUB

Recently I have been under a lot of stress. My good friend and quintessential practical networker Ramona, seeing that I was definitely in need of a therapeutic experience, invited me to join her and another friend to visit West Virginia’s Berkeley Springs spa. Never having visited any spa—and pretty well burned out—I agreed to the adventure. Soaking for 30 minutes in a huge ceramic tub of minueral water heated to 102 degrees  was a delightful experience I will never forget. I’m hooked on the experience. I recommend the experience. I’ll be back.

Bathhouse

                                                            DUB-DUB-DUB

(Now Optional)

A while back, my Toastmaster friend from California George—a webmaster by profession—pointed out that for anyone to visit my website, the infamous “WWW” (aka “dub-dub-dub”) had to precede PEQUODSYSTEMS.  All that has now been changed, and you can now get to our website by simply entering PEQUODSYSTEMS.COM in your browser.

Thanks, George! Much appreciated! 

 

 

Susan Ellsworth

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Your Profession: Does your Volunteer Experience Really Matter?

Susan Ellsworth

Susan Ellsworth

Recently Dan Rex, the CEO of Toastmasters International, announced that the TI Board of Directors had decided to institute new District officer titles that, among other reasons, would “Create a parallel between district leadership and leadership in the corporate and volunteer sectors.” Basically, the idea is to help volunteers easily explain to current and potential employers what knowledge, skills and abilities they were likely to have acquired by participating in these roles.

All very nice and mostly window-dressing, insofar as many members have thought.

The real question is, does your volunteer experience actually prepare you for paid work? Does your volunteer experience really matter?

Recently, I sat down with George Marshall, whose online Toastmaster Tools are used by members around the globe. I asked him that very question, and here is what he said.

During my year as Toastmasters Area Governor, I became very interested in the big differences in club quality, and as I gathered data about each of my clubs to try to help them, I realized that the information I wanted was sometimes hard to gather in useful form. I learned a lot that year about downloading the reports and doing my own analysis in spreadsheets.

After a while, I decided to automate the more time-consuming tasks. I started working on what eventually became the Tools for Toastmasters website, summarizing some of the reports in real-time. After a year or so, I realized that the data would be more useful if it were in a database, which I knew nothing about. But I sat out to learn how, and with the help of mentors, within a year or so, the core of today’s site was in place, with built-in summaries and analysis of several types of Toastmaster data.

I have learned a lot about databases with this project, some of which I have been able to apply to our business. [Freemont Web Solutions].

Susan Ellsworth

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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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“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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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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Patted any Birds on the head Lately?

Patted any birds on the head lately? I’m not talking about the parrot or parakeet you live with. I’m talking about the wild variety that just land within view.

Today the Charles M. Schulz Museum posted on FaceBook one of my favorite Peanuts cartoons from May 30, 1967 showing Linus patting birds on the head. And suddenly I realized that sometimes providing technical support can be like patting birds on the head.

Consider the end user who, at the age of 50 and with no training whatsoever, is suddenly placed in front of a modern computer for the first time. (Yes, there still are people like that…) Employees around them ignore them, grudgingly put up with them or offer help only when push really comes to shove.

Pat_Birds

Then the computer novice discovers you. You are their friend, pal and buddy. Just when they think something they did is going to bring the entire Internet down on their shoulders (and they will be blamed for it all), you are the friendly, helpful tech who gets them back into business and assures them that the sky is not going to fall. They are grateful to you.

Enter Lucy and her friends. They are other users who, never having asked for help, may have felt neglected because they did not get their heads patted/egos stroked for the day. (But would never admit to it.) Behind the scenes, they pity, criticize or belittle the novices in the group who asked for help. There may be other users who are expected by their peers to know how to solve all manner of technical issues. They are actually a bit less sophisticated than the word about them suggests. So they put off asking for help until sometime very late in the day when everyone else in the place has left the workplace….and you, the bird-patting expert, are exhausted from all the bird-patting you did during the day.

This is when you, expected to be the tireless tech support, muster all your ego-stroking and bird-patting skills. And you quietly pat yet another bird on the head.

bird_footprint

Footnote: There are those of us in tech services who like to receive an occasional word of appreciation, too.

Susan Ellsworth

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Learning off the Grid

Success in life usually includes learning off the grid. A Ph.D. friend of mine learned his “people skills” off the grid, not through his formal graduate coursework in statistics and mathematics. He learned off the grid through real life experiences. He learned off the grid by dealing with members of his religious community. Some were extreme traditionalists who would be content to live in the seventh century, and some were modernists far more comfortable with making major changes.
My friend chairs a 16-member Toastmasters committee in which I have a consulting role. In a recent meeting, one member proposed an idea completely outside the previously-established values the group had established. My friend, rather than shutting down the suggestion, asked this member questions which, while respecting the idea still opened the door for the member to return gracefully to the fold as it were. The member, his position having been validated, returned to supporting a plan that was within the values set up by the group.

My friend had used negotiation skills he had learned off the grid. And, by simple observation, I got a new skill second-hand and off the grid. Or perhaps I had built my own private off-the-grid environment. Youngsters learn how to tie their shoes off the grid. I had learned how to build a computer off the grid. Perhaps it’s a matter of finding a friend with a different grid than yours and helping yourself to a few amps.

Have a great week!

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