Social Networking

Facebook: Am I Doing this Right?

I am about a month into this Facebook experiment and I’m finding it alternately interesting and a chore.

The interesting parts come from the content that my friends and family post; it’s a real variety, as I’m sure it is for everyone on Facebook. There’s pictures of the kids’ latest games or school accomplishments, laughable moments when someone paints the family dog or puts make-up on a parent; there’s work rants and engagement notices and of course the ubiquitous happy birthday notices that scroll.  There’s tirades against the tyranny, protest against the patriarchy, support for soldiers and friendly philanthropy. I see windows into hobbies (miniatures, comic books, quilts, photography), windows into travel (Spain, Japan, England, Australia), windows into houses (parties, selling-of-the-house, buying-of-the-house, the ever-popular remodeling-of-the-house — oh, and the building-of-the-house).

I de-muted a lot of folks shortly after the election because, like everyone else, I was in a bubble; however I note that I wasn’t missing the political posts so much as the non-political ones.  I can get my politics from the Economist and NPR, but the Economist and NPR can’t show me the progress my friend has made on her garden.

Which brings me to the chore: curation. What should *I* post on Facebook, to show that I’m engaged? Am I doing it right?

The concept of Facebook curation is not new and it’s been studied (particularly as to its impacts on mental health). The idea that I should/will consider what I post, the varied audience, etc. before I post means I am not being my “authentic” self and thusly am showing only the “best” side I have, therefore setting a higher standard for others.

This sounds so impressive, except that I’m pretty sure that my quest to find the very best protein powder, or inability to fire the correct muscle groups in my left butt cheek, or continual surprise at insomnia when it decides to rear its ugly head, all of which are authentic, are not my best side.  Perhaps I’m not curating correctly.

I therefore started to look through my feed to see if I could find an example of curation. I believe the point of curation is to show your very best self, so the criteria I used to identify curation was that the post itself had to be positive or show the post-er in a positive light (not neutral or negative).  The post couldn’t be commentary on a news item *unless* the poster had an accompanying lengthy position statement to demonstrate knowledge of the space.  The pictures must be flattering, if there are/were pictures.

I found three genre of possible curation: My Life is Instagram Fabulous, I Have a Lot of Friends, and I am a Positive Person.

My Life is Instagram Fabulous is the person who takes great pictures.  Either a set of three or four, or a polite collage, all framed properly and tastefully filtered or cropped.  Some of them are actual photographers so this makes sense,  and generally speaking their content is mostly photo and a little text.  Often this links to their Instagram account (I don’t yet play there but maybe I should). These are some of my more artistic friends.

The problem with pointing a finger and saying they are curating is that 1. they are expressing themselves in the medium to which they already have an affinity (these are the folks who were running around with actual film cameras back in the day and were probably the school photographer) and 2. I know them and have seen how/when the pictures get produced; yes there is forethought and planning but it’s mostly to capture the *feeling* of the moment and not to convey something artificial.

I Have a Lot of Friends is the person who seems to be permanently at parties and gatherings.  As an extroverted introvert this exhausts me but I can see they are having fun.  Usually there are large group photos, group selfies and photos of tasty-looking food and/or the theme of said party. I have more than a few green pictures right now thanks to St. Paddy’s. The pics seem to be taken early in the party (everyone fresh!) and midway (everyone having fun!) but not towards the end, which we all know is when your mascara is running a bit and your lipstick has worn off and everyone is exclaiming that they don’t usually yawn at 9:30/11/1am but they got up early that morning. (A note about the photos:  one of my friends is a beauty queen — honest to goodness, complete with the sash — and never, ever takes a bad photo. Ever.)

The problem with pointing a finger and saying they are curating is that 1. when was the last time you went to a party and took pics at the end? You didn’t. You were having too good a time, or you rationalized that you already took all of the pics and there wasn’t a point in doing more.  Secondly, the whole point of Facebook is to network among friends, so naturally events that tie two or more people together within the platform would be appropriate to post.

I am a Positive Person is the person who posts a lot of life-affirming, positive statements.  They can either be the someecard style, or the motivational-poster style. They tend to be posted in fits and spurts, leading me to believe that there is some aggregator of these things that people can pick one or more at a given time and simply share to their wall.

The problem with pointing a finger and saying they are curating is that 1. these tend to be something that everyone could benefit from (or get a laugh from), so from the “my life is more wonderful than yours” aspect — which honestly seems to be the sort of curation that is criticized — it doesn’t add up.  If you want your life to be more wonderful than mine by comparison then don’t share a great lifehack about gym prep or affixing importance to given events (don’t sweat the small stuff). Secondly, I get the impression that the Positive Person is trying to boost themselves and others as an aspect of this, and that isn’t curation so much as it is, I think, affirmation.

As I review this list and attempt to see if I am Doing It Right it occurs to me that I’ve fallen prey to survivorship bias. If we posit that “bad” curation (the kind mental health researchers are rightfully worried about) is the act of displaying only a competitive, positive slice of your life at the expense of other parts of your life — I’m thinking teen girls mostly thanks to the literature around this — I don’t have many friends (even Facebook friends) that fall prey to this. (You could argue I don’t have many friends. That may be true.)  The sample set weeded itself out before I sent (or accepted) the invite.  You could make the argument that you pick friends and don’t pick your family — but my family is the one that helped create my mindset (think lots of Nova/Nature shows, learning to balance a checkbook at 10 and do my own taxes at 14, and a severe distaste for bullshit) and so they don’t tend to share this predilection.

So I think I’ll just keep posting whatever I think is appropriate to share on Facebook — with “appropriate” defined as probably not the contents of the morning’s bowel movement or things of a similarly super-private nature — and we’ll see if someone gets jealous of my insomnia or failing gluteus minimus sinister.

 

 

 

 

Doubling Down on Facebook

I have struggled with Facebook– as a concept — for the last several months. Much as with my friends, I find the election year did it no favors with howling political rhetoric and drama around every corner. It’s not the Facebook I joined.

Remember when you could “poke” someone? And then at the holidays, you could “send candy canes” or throw sheep at them? Remember when the status updates had your name in them, so instead of saying things like “Today I discovered the best maple bar doughnuts are to be had at Tully’s!” you’d type something like, “is enjoying a maple bar doughnut from Tully’s” because it would show up as “Bobbie is enjoying…” and so forth. But over the years Facebook functionality has changed; I can’t throw sheep anymore and it lets me do things like tag people and “react” to their posts and serves up ads to me (that are, I must say, pretty on the mark).

I appreciate Facebook needs to evolve and some of these evolutions I truly enjoy. I’m Facebook Friends* (that is a new definition of friendship, I think: you wouldn’t go interrupt them at 3am in the airport in Hong Kong, for example, but if you saw them wine tasting you’d wave hi to see if they wanted to be friends in person again) with a few dozen folks I haven’t seen in many years and I *like* seeing how they are doing. There’s the guy I used to work with who quit his day job and went full time DJ (and is making a damn good living out of it and seems to be having the time of his life). There’s the gal who decided to become a photographer, the Canadian who got his US citizenship and goes rock climbing all over the place, the gal who became a florist (and again, nice work!), the guy from the old SLT job who is raising two daughters *right*, the couple moving to Austin because they can get a brand new mid-century modern house and you know they are going to make it look good.  I can check in on my  cousins in Buenos Aires, my friends in London and my friends in Australia. I can check on my friends from high school– curiously I haven’t any from college — and my friends that I see regularly so when I see them, I can say things like “so how *did* the mustard sauce turn out on the pork?”.  Facebook is particularly useful to getting out the word for civic responsibility and nonprofit work, as well, and for word-of-mouth business (that’s how I found out about Silver and Salt, for example).

Perhaps like most people the part I am unsure of — unsure because I am not certain how much of it is my perception or how much of it is Facebook’s reality — is how much of what I am being fed is representative of the “real” world. That is to say, I have the power to mute people (which I admittedly did do during the last 2 months of the election — I’ve since unmuted everyone), I have the power to “react” to ads (don’t show me this because it’s not relevant, don’t show me this because I see it all the time — they really need to have a “don’t show me this because you are tempting me and if  it goes down much further in price you’ll have my visa card”), and I have the power to say “don’t show me so much of this” or “show me more of this”.

There’s been much discussion of the “bubbles” we live in and how Facebook feeds into that, I won’t retread the ground. With all due respect to Mark Zuckerberg, I don’t believe Facebook should be my only news source — something that is/was the case with many and contributes to the aforementioned bubbles. (I don’t believe Reddit should be your only view to the world, either)**. It is evident though that as you choose your circles and selectively mute or “show me more of this” to ads and content you are tweaking the algorithm in the background and reinforcing your bubble. (It isn’t clear to me how to re-set it back to 0, incidentally — remove all of the “customizations” I’ve either explicitly or implicitly requested and see what a “new user” sees).  I therefore have my bubble, reinforced and evolving, and that is just what Facebook is going to be.

My options are thus: I can leave Facebook (directly as in closing my account or indirectly as in just not visiting), I can stay on Facebook passively (the occasional thumbs up, the occasional “Happy Birthday” as it reminds me and I remember to look), or I can actively participate. I’ve been waffling between the latter two and seriously considering the former (I know a few who have cut the cord, as it were).

The problem with divorcing Facebook is that I would no longer have a ready answer to “I wonder what so-and-so is up to?”, and I don’t have contact information (short of LinkedIn) for many of the so-and-so’s. I would miss more birthdays, I am sure. I wouldn’t get the reminder of where things were at five, six, or ten years ago; in short: I wouldn’t get the things I signed on to Facebook for.  I would not at all miss the ads, the requirement to curate the content (“see less of this”), and I would certainly not miss the uproar that echoes through the platform whenever there’s an election. (To be clear: I have political opinions and leanings just like everyone, and I back them with money and action. I am just not a yell at the top of my lungs person.)

I think, therefore, I am going to stick with one of the three options as an experiment: I’m going to carefully work with Facebook. I’ll go and like all of the things I like, and work harder to engage with the platform; I’ll use the tools it provides for privacy and for filtration, and we’ll see.  I will not make it my only source of data for news (social, local, national, or global) and if this experiment fails I’m basically fine with that. I just figured I’d give it an official run.

*see Dunbar’s number for context.

**I much prefer the Economist and then I use Flipboard to subscribe to topics rather than platforms; so for example I’m just as likely to see an article from the Wall Street Journal as I am to see one from Fox News or USA Today.  I’m also a big NPR fan. I blame my dad for that, I can remember riding in the back of a 1981 Volvo 240DL on the way to and from school and listening to NPR, thinking it was the driest, most boring stuff on the planet. Somewhere in my late 20’s that changed and now I’m putting my son through that.

A Holiday Wish for Facebook

It’s that time of year again, when the man-child and I count the number of houses with holiday lights we see from the roundabout at the south end of East Lake Sammamish, to our turn off (on Inglewood Hill Road). It’s about five miles, give or take, and we chart how many houses we count over the weeks from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. We have been doing this for about six years, and tracking it for the last 4. Every year we add the data to a spreadsheet, when he graduates we will publish a paper. (NB: any holiday lights count — any color, any presentation, etc.).

It would appear people are rushing it, this year.

I can’t say as I blame them. Election years are as hysterical as a Kardashian without internet, and people need something cheery to cling to. As much as people want to point to the blatant, extensive commercialism that is the Holiday Season, at least there is (supposed to be) an overriding veneer of well wishing to our fellow humans.

When I log into Facebook the current top 3 news leads are: someone looks like Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian can’t have a 3rd child per her doctor, and Eva Longoria is engaged. I was all snarky about this on social media — I am neither immune nor dignified — until I realized that the alternatives are the seventh level of hell that is ISIS/terrorism, the xenophobia that is ripping through the world, the dysfunction of some aspects of the government, and the realization that there are people locally and globally in need who are not served by the apoplectic screaming of those with the microphone.

I use Facebook to keep up with my friends — and that is a loaded word these days. As with most people I have varying definitions of friendship. And you do, too. (If you will insist that you don’t, I invite you to consider what happens if you find yourself in a jail cell for whatever reason at 2am on a Sunday and ask who would bail you out with no questions asked, and then you will understand that “friendship” is a thing with  layers.)  To that last parenthetical remark, I point out that I have some friends who would bail me out at 2am, and some who would do it without question, but it’s a Venn diagram.

(No, that hasn’t happened yet. But I’m young — give it time.) (Hi, mom).

I do not use Facebook for news of the world. I use Facebook for news of my friends– friends I have worked with and some I still do, friends I had in High School and some I still see, my best friends who are painstakingly building their home from scratch, my sister who started her practice, a couple of people I have never, ever physically met but should they show up on my door in need of a bed and a meal I’d make them Mexican food and proffer tequila (hi, Magnetarball and Goliard!). I use it to see how the next generation is coming along (for many of us have offspring) and live vicariously through friends who do the things I would never, ever have the guts to do (so, Sdiver with her Heli-Skiing or rafting down the Colorado River on a dory she hand-built, or Mr. Crampy who had major heart surgery and something like 10 weeks later did an Iron man (or his wife for that matter, with whom, if you were in a dark alley, you could be confident)). I use it to check in on folks who have moved away (hi DJ and my first Boss At Premera and the Family Firehouse!) and my family that I haven’t seen since I was 12 (Hola Carla y Sylvia, besos y abrazos). I use it to keep track of former coworkers (the ones I really got along with and admired) (hi Expatriates!). I use it to keep tabs on folks I don’t talk to at all anymore but still share memories of, to follow my favorite authors, and to get Life Hacks and my F*ing Loved Science. I use it to keep track of friends I see but oh-so-rarely, because life and work and school and boy etc.

Facebook, as a PM and one who uses you daily, I ask: can I please configure the trending feed to the right to be what is trending *only* in my network? I can filter your trends by “politics” or “entertainment” but the truth is I don’t want to hear about what Donald Trump says (mostly, ever) and I don’t want to know what any Kardashian is doing, ever. I want to know how my friends are doing, in all meanings of the word “friend”; I will get my “news” from credible sources.

Please. It’s all I want this Holiday Season.

Ever yours,

b

 

 

Free Premium

I recently posted about LinkedIn and how I use it; I recently was the recipient of a FREE month’s worth of LinkedIn Job Seeker Premium, and this post is about my experience with that. (NB: I am not paid by, or influenced by, anyone at LinkedIn, save possibly Daniel Tunkelang, who is their Head of Query Understanding and a wicked brilliant person. And no, he didn’t pay me to say that. It’s just that he’s an “influencer” of mine on LinkedIn).

The short of it is my free Premium Membership ends in four days and when it does I will let it end (or more accurately, I will proactively kill it). Much like other “free introductions” the feedback loop is a negative one: the assumption is if you don’t actively end it then it continues on, and bills your card appropriately.  I am letting it end not because I do not feel it is a good program, but because it is not particularly useful for me.

First, the basics: LinkedIn Job Seeker Premium has a check sheet of the advantages of paid membership here. At $25/month (billed annually, so $300/year) it provides you with the ability to see who’s looked at your profile (the regular free membership shows you a subset), you can see full profiles of people up to 3rd degree, you can leverage LinkedIn’s “In Mail” and receive a bump of introductions, and a few assorted other UI niceties (up to 250 results per search, etc.).

whodatFor me the attraction was the ability to see everyone who has looked at my profile, and here’s the rub: it does show you everyone, but only if they want to be seen. For example, if someone has not logged in and/or is surfing anonymously, with Job Seeker Premium you will see an individual, faceless avatar saying “someone” looked at you; you will have no idea who they are. So if 12 total people looked at you and 3 were not logged in and/or were surfing anonymously, you see 9 photos/bios and 3 blank avatars. This is frustrating for someone who wants to inspect the inspectors, but totally understandable from an execution perspective: LI has no idea who you are until you are logged in, so there is no way to let someone else know who you are, either.

Then there’s the fact that I now know that “12” people looked at me, instead of “5”. I also get handy “last 90-day” graphs with informational snippets like “7 viewers had the title of Technology Manager” or “16 viewers work at Microsoft”.  I can also parse out how they found me: search, 2nd or 3rd link, etc.

icon_gold_inbug_74x74As part of Job Seeker Premium you get a little yellow and white icon in your search results (when people search for you, that is) that indicates you’re on Job Seeker. This should be a very large flag to any potential recruiters that you’re open to inquiry, and the inquiries just come flooding in, don’t they?

In my case, not.  I did get one offer of a contract for Salesforce Development (something that is not anywhere on my profile; I have worked with SF developers on getting two Salesforces (Salesforceii?) to talk according to a set of business rules, but haven’t done it myself, thanks) in another state. For someone who has been Manager and above titled, etc. it was an odd request and reaffirms my belief that people don’t actually read.

The other thing that messed with the experience is that I used this opportunity to update my profile and add on consulting work that I have been doing on the side (for about a year) and the recent appointment to a non-profit Board. This generated a bunch of “Congratulate Bobbie on her New Job” notices to those I was linked in to, and when your own best friend emails you to ask about your “new job” it’s time to add a control to the announcement features, methinks.

The rest of the features offered by Job Seeker Premium were unused and I’m not entirely clear how someone looking for a job would actually use them. To wit: as a free member, I can send in-mail to anyone I’m linked to, and can “hack” that by attempting to link to someone I don’t know (e.g., recruiter) and putting my introductory email in that “link to me” email.   If I’m looking to get a job, rather than find someone for a job, I don’t know how useful it is for me to see the full profiles of 3rd-level linked people; I’m more interested in the recruiters seeing me.  I’m not sure how the ability to see up to 250 people per search is useful, unless the proposition is that I will try to boost my 1st-linked numbers while job searching; even then, if you can’t find someone you worked with or know in the first 100 records then you have to question if they’ll even link to you.

Now, counterpoint and contrariwise: if I were not already gainfully employed (“Congratulate Bobbie on her new old job!”) and were actively networking and really trying to get employed, I would probably pay the $300 and then pay another $200 or so for a professional headshot, and possibly another $150 for a resume analyst. I would probably have a resume for every position type I was qualified for and interested in, and would make sure my LinkedIn profile was carefully agnostic (If you are angling for a Dev Manager job you probably don’t want to over-emphasize your writing skills vs. your coding skills).

This assumes that somehow I had the cash for that (remember it’s good to have a cushion for just-in-case) and have not been unemployed for some time.  To that end, if money’s tight, I’d stick with regular LinkedIn at the free level: if someone thinks you’re what they’re looking for, the presence of the little yellow and white “in” icon is not going to further attract, or dissuade, them.

Be a Traci

Every year, about this time, I get a little hectic. I’ve decided it must be me, because every job I have had for the last ten years, regardless of industry or emphasis, seems to go absolutely crazy at this time, and it lasts right up until about Christmas or just before New Years’. In previous years I attributed it to planning, that process where you decide how much money a given individual is responsible for; in recent years I had attributed it to the frenzy of “finish what we said we were going to do by end of year”.

Now that I am in a Retail Organization, I realize that I was but a Baby Developer/Analyst and had No Idea what the Real World was like.

I am finding comfort, and redoubling effort, in light of something I learned at my old job: Be a Traci.

To explain:

Each year, at this time, in my old job, I was part of a process in which we divided up something on the order of 1 or 2 Billion Dollars (it changed over the years) to 8 or 12 individuals, in terms of responsibility for the coming year. In short: Jane Roe, Jon Doe, and George Smith, you are now responsible for $1bn/x for the next 12 months, and if you don’t generate that cash volume in your area the Whole Company will look down on you with a mixture of derision, pity, and disgust.

As you can imagine, having someone (especially a Dev Manager) tell you “Here is your number, based on my Excel spreadsheet and near-sociopathic bent for analytics, have fun with that”, is not fun. I got a reputation for being “apolitical” and someone took me aside at one point to tell me that “No and no” was not a reasonable response to email.

However, the mitigation for this at the time was to get all 8 or 12 people into a room, for 8-10 hours, with me, a laptop, a projector, and dubious catering service. In that meeting each person would grab their PowerPoint and their skills in persuasion to indicate to the VP’s that Be why they should be able to put 10, 20, or 30 million dollars back in to the pot. After two rounds, I could tell you, in advance, who was going to sandbag, who was going to like it and lump it, and who was going to knock it out of the park.

Traci always knocked it out of the park.

I met Traci formally in Las Vegas during one of these meeting events, she was responsible for San Diego and was an up-and-comer. Traci was a Manager at the time and therefore a bit more down the hill that these monetary expectations rolled down. The next year, though, she was one of the 10, and she grabbed her Power Point, her very cute shoes, and her Excel Spreadsheet, and did something remarkable:

She accepted her number, and said how she’d do it.

Her number that she was allotted was audacious. It was not easy. I remember thinking she had to have balls of solid steel to accept it, and this was in a meeting where at least three other people who had been Directors, longer, put money back on the table. She didn’t act overzealous, she admitted the number was aspirational, but she detailed her plan.

She made her numbers.

She made her numbers every year for five years.

She has been a VP for three years running at a Fortune 500 company,

When there is a problem to go solve, they send Traci.

And every time, she rises to the occasion, grits her teeth, and gets it done. In cute shoes.

There are relative few heroines for women in the working world, apologies to Sandberg and Mayer. The fact that I can only think of two off the top of my head (without getting political) is sad (note: I have a whole blog post about Lean In coming). And the fact of the matter is, Traci and I are worlds apart in the actual work we do.  But I cannot forget her tenacity, and I cannot dismiss the infectiousness of her attitude.

Traci once had a long conversation with me about the 20-odd ways there are to say “No”. I like to say “No” the way I learned to: “No”. But in modern business, you need to say “No” without actually saying it: “I need to review our resources”, “Perhaps XYZ tactic will work better”, “I will take that back to management and we can review”, and so forth. It was one of the best lessons I had ever had in management, and I use it to this day.

So these days, when I feel overwhelmed and like the Powers That Be are dumping more on to my plate than I can handle, I remember Traci, and that meeting in Vegas. I’m armed with my Excel spreadsheet, and my Power Point. Now all I need is cute shoes.

Plus One To Awareness

Yesterday 10pm local time ended my 24-hour vacation from any sort of connectivity (including the ability to “google” anything, text anyone, etc.) If you think it’s simple, try it in a place as connectivity-savvy as the Magic Kingdom. There’s an app to navigate the kingdom that includes line times, parade routes and hidden Mickeys. I couldn’t download or use that, no phone. There’s free wi-fi in the hotel and in the parks. Nope. In a line for Space Mountain where every 3rd person is lit from beneath (thanks to their iPhones and in a couple of cases, iPads), connectivity sure would provide an answer to the waiting game.

When I turned my phone off I made an analog list (pen, paper) of all the things I’d use connectivity for if I had the ability to, and the time.

  • At 11pm that night, finding it difficult to fall asleep and devoid of reading material (I had finished it), I really wanted to read my twitter feed to fall asleep, but I didn’t.
  • At 3am I wanted to look up the symptoms of food poisoning (yes, it was), but I didn’t.
  • At 9am the male child asked if he could bring his DS into the park to keep him occupied, and when I incredulously turned to him to explain the whole park was designed to keep him occupied, and discovered that he was teasing me, I really wanted to tweet it. But I didn’t.

And on it went. In the line for Space Mountain I wanted to share the statistical correlation between a person with an iPhone and a lag in line continuity, I wanted to look up the name/number of the restaurant we are to eat at tonight, I wanted to check the terms of the Disney Visa and see if it really was the good deal it was purported to be.

But the thing that really got me was pictures. I couldn’t take pictures.

Pictures of the male child when he finally got his sword (it’s impressive), of the lush greenery that would exist just fine here without the careful maintenance it gets, but would die in two weeks outside in Washington, of the attention to detail this park gives to its art and architecture. “The floors here are *really clean*,” the male person said, as we trotted along in line at Space Mountain. (This was fortunate for the teenager in front of us who, when the line stopped, would sit down on them. Just plopped right down. Even if the line moved again, and then she’d try to scoot along on her ass. Ridiculous, naturally.) It became a challenge to find something out-of-place anywhere.

Therefore, today, fully connected, app-in-hand, there will be pictures, and tweeting, and tweeting of pictures, and Foursquare check-ins, and more pictures.

PS  – for those wondering, my personal email for a 24-hour period counted 74 including advertisements, and 2 for legitimate communications. My work email counted 14, of which 8 were things that were not about me and completely resolved before I got online, 2 were social (one going away notice, one lunch notice), a meeting change notification, and 3 legitimate to the project I was working on.

PPS — Grog the Luddite would like to mention he’s really a sensitive, un-macho, really into stopping and smelling the roses guy and likes technology just fine and even knows a thing or to about it, he just wanted me to realize that there was life outside of it. Point taken.

Please Stand By

Greetings from Chicago O’Hare, and my second time EVER being here not as a business traveler. Bonus points for the food court between K and G gates.

It’s 6:30 in the morning, and we left Seattle at midnight local time “last night”; ergo, we are running on about three hours’ sleep. The reality of flying to a non-major city (hello, Jacksonville) is you either spend your entire day, or your entire night, flying, because you’re going to be stopping over someplace that is not quite but almost entirely out of any reasonable travel path between your points A and B. In this case to maximize our time with family and fun, we are spending the entire night. It’s not completely awful.

If you think about it, one of the most common ways to placate the boredom, frustration, and general weariness associated with modern travel, is your electronic leash. It may be a laptop; it may be an iPhone or a Crackberry. It used to be a book, but books are losing this race. I am sitting at our gate and follow me around the room: teenager across from me on iPhone. His Dad on iPhone. Behind him, lady with full back and arm tattoos (thanks to her tank top) pulling her cell phone out of her bag. Business lady on an iPad. Businessman on a Blackberry. Other businessman eating, iPhone, iPhone while eating, iPad, something-not-quite-an-iPad but not a Kindle, either.

Our connectivity gives us the opportunity to not connect with others. Anyone stuck in an elevator with (shudder) other humans will note two things: 1. The propensity for an elevator full of strangers to be, in fact, an elevator full of strangers looking at their smartphones, and 2. That the people in the elevator, in the absence of interpersonal communication thread active as they entered the elevator, will space themselves out as far apart from each other as possible. (E.g., if there’s one person in the elevator they’re dead center or in the corner. If there are two, you have upper corner and rear opposite corner. Three are usually one in front middle, two in the rear corners. Four = all four corners. Five = all four corners plus one in middle. And so on.) If ever you’re bored and don’t mind messing with other people’s personal space (and yours), deliberately defy this mechanism.

Yours truly is on her laptop, as it is my electronic babysitter as we wait at the gate for a couple of hours. This is wholly unremarkable with the exception that I know, coming up, I will have a day without connectivity.

I tried, the other night, to trace back how long I’ve had some form of connectivity (to the internet, I suppose), and as best as I can figure that started when I moved back up to Washington and started working for Premera. I think we’re looking at Spring 2001. But the connectivity wasn’t all-encompassing, all-binding until I started working for Expedia, 3 years later. I’ve had a blog since 2005 (not this one), “smartphone” of some sort since 2006, a Twitter account since 2007.

Nine years at Expedia trained me to expect emails 24/7 (this is the boon to working for an international company and having international internal customers). Moving  to Sur La Table has meant a dearth of weekend email. After about 6pm on a Friday it slows to a halt, and doesn’t kick up again (apart from automatic job notifications) until Monday morning. Twice now I have sent myself a test email to my work account to verify that it’s still working.

My addiction to this connectivity is starting to get noticed, and, while normally the recipient of a shaking head or an arched eyebrow, has spawned a bet by Grog the Luddite (Grog works with me, sits in what is referred to the “Man Cave Annex”, and does not understand addiction to connectivity. For “fun”, Grog went to Montana to go do crazy physical acts – like carrying other grown men for ½ mile – in high heat). Grog has declared that for a full 24 hour period, I am not to have any connectivity. To test myself. Like an alcoholic preparing for a day without booze I’m already nervous and wondering what my coping mechanisms will be. It will help that the day selected is a day we’re at the Magic Kingdom all day, right? Well no, because then I don’t get to do my Foursquare check-ins. And what about using Yelp reviews to pick the better eating options? And what if something happens at work?

Because that’s the real crux: what if something happens at work, and they need me, and I’m not available? That’s bad enough. What if something happens at work, and they don’t need me – or discover I’m not needed? Ridiculous, yes, but when you love your job that’s the irrational fear that comes with it.

So Friday it is. From Thursday night whenever I hit the rack, to the following Saturday morning when I awake, I will be totally, and completely, offline. The phone will be on to receive calls, but all email accounts will be turned off, cellular data will be turned off, and my phone will just…be a phone. By way of publishing this now, I am that alcoholic putting in place an integrity check: I’ve SAID I’m going to do it, now I have to do it.

I honestly don’t know what my reaction will be. I wonder if I’ll be irritated by the lack of convenience – or if like a mosquito bite I ignore it long enough I simply forget it? I will be sure to blog all about it… on Saturday.

Twit

Twitter is my modern D&D dice: I play with it here and there when I need reassurance that there are other geeks like me, and table it when I get too busy with grown up stuff.

Of late there have been some hashtag games on Twitter that I’ve been tempted to participate in, most notably #moviesinmypants and #thingsIhaveincommonwithWesleyCrusher (courtesy of @wilw aka Wil Wheaton, who is actually much cooler than Wesley Crusher). The problem is, my Twitter is attached to my Facebook, and my Facebook is attached to people at the office, and while I don’t believe that I give an aura of someone excruciatingly professional and remote I don’t know how serious I’ll be taken if I do things like tweet*:

The Ring in My Pants #moviesinmypants

or

I took myself way too seriously as a teenager #thingsIhaveincommonwithWesleyCrusher

Twitter itself has undergone an evolution in purpose and function since it began. It was first 140 character microblogging– something to say about your day or your opinions or your orifices or your cat, that sort of thing. With the accessibility of hashtags, trending topics, and increased user base, it’s become a collective gumwall for people to post upon. Much like the 1970’s Kilroy was Here, you can follow people you don’t know and watch them as they post to people they don’t know. I personally have sent tweets directed at Leonard Nimoy, Nasa, LeVar Burton, Wil Wheaton, Eddie Izzard, and Simon Pegg. I can *guarantee you* that none of them has read those tweets, but somehow knowing I sent them makes me feel better. I think.

I will say this: I adopted FourSquare recently and abandoned it just as blithely; an application by stalkers for stalkers has limited relevance in my post-SayAnything years. I would have a difficult time, however, giving up my twitter feed: it serves as endless bite-size entertainment, like leftover Halloween candy.

Which goes straight to my hips.

*Why is the action of using Twitter indicated as “to tweet”? Shouldn’t it be “to twit”? Or is that too honest?

Veni, Vidi, Vici

or, as Bill Murray said in Ghostbusters: We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!

On Saturday, June 19th, 2,250 riders showed up to a mall in Surrey, BC.  They departed said mall at 7am and rode 84 miles to Mount Vernon, WA. The next day they rode 76 miles to Redmond, WA.  Those 2,250 riders raised $9.2 MILLION dollars. The expenses of the ride (food, tents, sign, support staff, gas, materials, shirts, organization, website, administration, etc. were reported at about $1M. So $8.2 Million dollars went directly to cancer research.) There were easily 500 support staff members with us on the ride.

At the start, the mall was crowded with bikes, and many of us did not clip in for the first half mile because of the likelihood of stopping quickly to avoid crashing into the bike in front of us. Escorted by police motorbikes through the town of Surrey, things thinned out as we found ourselves edging toward the border. Pastoral Canada, with its smells of cows and sights of green grass and berry farms (“they say blueberries are going to be cheap this year, because of all of the extra coming in from the states, eh”) greeted us on our first 20km out.

That’s how you measured this thing: in Km’s. The whole way… It was an average of 20-30kms between pit stops (except for the border crossing one — there was one at Peace Arch and one in an elementary school in Blaine, and if your map is telling you that’s only like 4 km apart your map is right) and each stop was fueled with water, Gatorade, snacks, a medical setup, and bike mechanics.

I’d just like to point out that I didn’t need a bike mechanic the whole trip, nor did I fall.

Out of Blaine we headed to Bellingham, where the hills greeted us. Quite a few of them, in fact. We rode one that gently curved upward for what seemed forever — the hill itself was more than a mile long and at least a 5% grade– ate lunch, and then got on another, larger one. What goes up must come down, though, and we found ourselves screaming down the other side at speeds above 30 mph — in some cases faster than the cars were allowed to go.

The weather on Saturday was gorgeous.

We landed in Mount Vernon, managed to acquire beers and food and shower (not in that order: actual order was — as defined by me — beer gear shower food beer bed) and slept in tents.

Sunday morning the mist greeted us, and then followed it up with some rain, which lasted most of the day. It was a pretty straight slog for the first 50 miles or so, and then the ride managed to find every single large hill in Woodinville. Unlike the slow, lengthy climbs of the day before, these were steep, “stepping stone” type hills– go up this 9% grade hill for about 4 blocks, hit the top, and realize that a block later you will do it again. The temptation to give up and take the “quitters van” — the aide van that would happily take you to the next pit stop without any hesitation — was huge. Then you’d see an older rider huffing and puffing it to the top, with their yellow flag on their bike (Cancer Survivor). And you’d be ashamed of yourself, switch gears and tell your bike, “C’mon, let’s take this hill. It can’t be that bad.”

At points the cold and wet was bad enough to numb the fingers, when I found I could neither brake nor steer I got off the bike and walked a bit, then sat in the aide van (while it was parked) to warm up the hands. As the blood rushed back into them, it stung, and I got back on my bike.

I personally talked to 9 cancer survivors on this ride, but there were quite possibly as many as a hundred. One was 11 years cancer-free from a soft-tissue cancer in her back she got at 13. One was an elderly man 5 years free of bladder cancer. One was a year past his chemo, and his daughter suggested the ride. She was with him — in spirit, as he was waaaaaaay ahead of her on the course. And one said simply, “I’m doing this because when I was in the hospital for six months I didn’t feel like I fought all that much or all that hard. I laid in a bed, let them pump me full of chemo, and they fed me and were nice to me and tried to make me comfortable. I gained 40 pounds. I feel like I cheated, that I’m cancer free and I didn’t work all that hard. So I’m doing this to show that I can work hard.”

We’re doing it again in 2012. And this time, I’m raising $5,000.

T-1 day and counting

Greetings from the Fairmont Vancouver Downtown (helloooo, Robson street!) where I have discovered the following in the last 18 hours or so:

  • Even mild food poisoning sucks. Not sure how I got it, but I spent a large amount of last night in the beautifully appointed (if not small) WC in my hotel room.
  • My ride packet wasn’t mailed to the friend-of-friend’s house here, which means my butt has to check in (in a line) at 5:30am (even though I did everything they told me to to get the packet early!)
  • Everything I found on Robson street that I liked was either way too pricey or not my size. Except one thing, and I bought that.  Yes, it’s black.
  • No matter how well you list things out to pack, you will always forget something. This trip, it’s hair product…
  • The multiple-Starbucks-on-a-corner phenomena does in fact extend to Vancouver
  • The Hotel Fairmont is the bomb! 4 star hotel, 5-star bathroom products. Yes, it matters
  • I get pissy even when I’m not the one driving in Vancouver traffic
  • Jeff is a very, very patient person (he was the one driving)
  • The route down is mostly flat except for a spectacularly hilly exchange shortly after Bellingham
  • Up until yesterday, the weather predicted for the ride was sunny and 68 degrees. Now it’s rainy and 65, so I went and bought rain gear.
  • Rain gear is not cheap
  • They require you to have a bike bell even if you never, ever use it. I now own a bike bell.
  • Rodgers cell service Canada politely informed me they will be charging me $15/mb while I’m up here, so… yeah no pictures or tweets from yours truly until I get back to the states.