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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Volunteer to Apprentice to “Real Work?”

Susan Ellsworth

Susan Ellsworth

What is a good definition of “real work?” Evidently it’s not quite as easy to define as some would think—especially in a large international organization whose very existence depends upon the coordinated efforts of the hundreds of thousands of members who pay to belong to it and deliver leadership and communications skills training. Some members even contribute time and skills learned elsewhere to expand upon and deliver improved technical services provided by the organization’s paid employees. That organization is Toastmasters International, and the issue was brought up by a Past International Director’s FaceBook post which said, “Fellow Toastmasters: PLEASE do not list your volunteer work at Toastmasters under “employment”. You’re not an employee, you’re a volunteer. And there’s no need to helpfully suggest that I should also list myself as an employee — even as a (past) International Director, one is still not an employee. That’s for just the people who get paid at WHQ.” That post was quickly followed by “And yet, what are we to make of the new district leader titles that are coming out next year? District Director, Division Director, Area Director, Finance Manager, etc. I believe they are intended to make Toastmasters experience, when it appears on a resume, more directly translatable into equivalent business or nonprofit titles. I might quibble with whether an Area Director is in any way equivalent to a corporate Director position. But, it seems clear that Toastmasters wants to be on our resumes in the professional experience section.” Then there was this insight: ” Many of us forget that directing a district, overseeing a budget, and supervising volunteer staff is like running a Department for an organization. We need to think of our service as a learning opportunity. When I was District Governor, I said it prepared me for my current position as Executive Director for a small Chamber of Commerce.” Several years ago, I myself ported technical skills I learned in a Toastmasters setting to paid professional work. Along the way, however, I also took formal technical skills training, passed exams and obtained a widely-recognized professional certification. I am not the only member to have  ported skills learned in “real jobs” into our volunteer organization. And I am not the only member to have ported skills learned in a volunteer organization into a paid position. Potential employer or potential employee…learning experiences are learning experiences. Skills are skills. They are completely independent of how much one earned—or did not earn—for applying them in a setting where those skills are valued. It’s all about how the knowledge, skills and abilities are talked about when they are ported from one environment to the other.     Susan Ellsworth         https://www.facebook.com/pages/Pequod-Systems/46475331027

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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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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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“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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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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