Consumer Electronic Show 2015: Missing a Bet

Susan Ellsworth

Susan Ellsworth

The 2015 Consumer Electronics Show is definitely missing a bet. The CES press is talking breathlessly about drones, futuristic self-driving cars, and glamorous wristbands telling me what I don’t really need to know every minute of every day. I must admit that the report about a refrigerator with eight USB ports from General Electric’s First Build had me going—until I saw the $3000 ticket that First Build wants for this toy. Sorry, GE. No sale.

Connectivity as the big watch-word? (Yawn.) That’s not only not even yesterday’s catch word, it’s older than last year’s catch word.

So the Girl Scouts are in your show. A thrill for the girls, but not for homeowners like me. Obviously, the participants in the show have not spent five minutes a day at home. What this country really needs is genuine connectivity from the grocery store to the parking lot, to my shelves at home, and into my fridge. And make it affordable! Sorry, but the big chain-store delivery truck drivers don’t bring the goods to my kitchen, figure out where everything should be placed and place it there. Where is development of an affordable household inventory system for such items as toilet tissue, shoe strings, tooth paste, light bulbs and laundry detergents? Where is the app that reads and translates the weird codes that still show up on products? And I don’t just mean the bar codes either.

I don’t want or need a car that drives itself. I’m not quite certain I want to see my friendly postal carrier replaced by a drone. I don’t want or need a 3-D printer that produces the Teddy Bear of the Month.  I would rather have self-cleaning drains, a driveway and walkway that melt the ice that coats them in a storm, and self-storing groceries, thank you very much. I’ll be watching from here next year in case the media starts talking about robots for teaching two-year-olds how to build drones.

Groceries_in_Trunk

 

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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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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