And Now For Something Completely Different

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.

Pockets

Right now my life is all about finding pockets of time in which to get things done, or, more rarely, in which to opt to do nothing. They’re everywhere, like the air spaces between those metal ball bearings in the glass beaker that your 7th  grade science teacher made you put in there. Then she or he made you add sand to fill up the spaces, and then you added water to fill up the microscopic spaces between the granules of sand.

Teeny, tiny pockets of productivity or reflection.

I write this sitting as I do, lately, in a Starbucks on M street in Auburn, WA. It’s a nice Starbucks — it’s kept quite clean, and there’s a nice set of leather-esque chairs that, at 7pm on a Tuesday, are blissfully free in their little corner by the window. The wifi is Google and the tea is hot.

I should be at my son’s Scouts meeting. But as my son’s Scout meetings usually entail him meeting with other scouts and not with me, and as I now have a Very Important Partner in India, well, I filled that particular pocket.  There’s no wifi at the church my son’s Scouts meeting is held at, so to Starbucks I go.

Thanks to the recent time change though, my Very Important Partner needed to bump our call a bit later, and I find myself with a pocket. I’m using it to blog.

I haven’t done much of that lately. The last time my blog petered out — not this one, the other one I did when I was a Freewheelin’ Divorcee — it was because I had no more dating drama to write about; I had Found Myself and (mercifully) found I wasn’t an asshole. More specifically, I had discovered that I didn’t, actually, need to waste time on people not worth it, which in turn means you have a lot less to bitch about. Bitching is entertaining, if done well, and so it was cheap and easy content to create; in the absence of something to bitch about there was a period for about a year where I had nothing to say.

This blog is not about bitching (you may have noticed). Or not much. It’s mostly about reflection, and it’s a soapbox; if you’ve read it you have a very good idea where I stand on some things (education! food!) and have no idea where I stand on others (vaccinations! gmos!). (Incidentally, it’s not that I don’t care about those things — I do, although my opinions may surprise you — it’s just that I think they’re so damned evident or so not worth arguing about that they get no space between my ball bearings here).

I digress…

The issue I seem to be having of late — and it would appear it’s not just me — is that I am very “busy”. “How are you doing?” people ask (most of the time it’s a set of symbols delivered as a greeting: most people really don’t want to know exactly how you are doing when they ask that), and the inevitable response is “Good, good, been busy…”.

This business is not a lie, for any of the people who regularly state it (including myself). Although it is often, I think, exaggerated. There’s work and school and home and errands and social stuff and community stuff and the unexpected things like auto repair and failed septic systems. You can take a step back and attempt to cull some of these in order to be less busy — but my question is, to fill it with what?

Case in point: I could, for example, bump my Very Important Partner call to Thursdays (and… I may). This would free me up to be at the Scouts meeting, right? Where I will…

Sit. Maybe stare at my iPhone. Once a month there is a Scouts committee meeting, for a board I am not on, for things that it is nice to know but are typically on Facebook and delivered via email and on the Scouts website. I could attend that, but I’m not sure that I add any value, and in any event, sitting in a room separate from my kid is only slightly more removed than sitting on the edge of a large room where my kid sits 50 yards away discussing the relative merits of waterproof matches.

I could use that time to knit — and indeed, I did for a while — but knitting is “busy”, too. (The husband person says that “knitting is fidgeting that produces clothing” and he’s actually right, at least in my case).

So we come back to how I use that pocket. And we come back to the Starbucks, where I can work or do board stuff or blog or research grey woolen flats that are alas unavailable in my size.

Yet I know I will wake up tomorrow, not feeling productive or content, but feeling like I’ve dropped a ball somewhere, forgotten to check a box, or left a productivity pocket unfilled.  The thing is I know I have enough time for All Of The Things, and I know it can all get done. I just need to figure out a way to pour water into the beaker.

Little Blessings

I am in a hotel room that is, charitably, 200 square feet. I am in heaven. There is a dishwasher here.

There is a sink!

After four weeks of cooking in my garage, and washing dishes in my tub, the two spaced fifty feet apart, I am in heaven. The loud, mechanical hum of so much soap and water provides a nice soporific as the boychild showers in the only bathroom and the male person is off to gather cookies.

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Larkspur Hotel Bellevue, where our cat can hide under the bed for $10/day and apples are available 24/7. I have just had my first “stove cooking” experience in four weeks and I didn’t waste it: Chicken Cacciatore and Caesar Salad and there are ice cream sandwiches for dessert. Sure, my son and I were on a 2’x2′ table each doing our homework, and there is only one bathroom (I may have mentioned that), but I am far more content now than I have been in weeks previous.

Then again, that *could* be the knowledge that I will soon have real cabinetry and a real sink and a real dishwasher on Friday. It could be the knowledge that ALL of the laundry is done (shower curtains included), folded neatly, and waiting for me in rooms with carefully closed doors against hardwood floor chemicals. Heck, it could be because Halloween is here, and that is my favorite holiday in a year, save Thanksgiving.

Whatever the reason, I am content. I have my fuzzy socks on (courtesy of Ali the Person Who Dragged Me To New York And I Liked It Oh Well), free WiFi, in-room Coffee, and a cookie. The boy is taking a forty-minute-shower (he’s 10) on someone else’s hot water bill, and the cat is blissfully quiet (she did come out … twice… in the last 12 hours). My weekend consisted of homemade biscuits and gravy (thank you for my Bday Kevin and Margles) and I lost two pounds anyways for the week. My back is responding to muscle relaxants.

Too often we are tempted to find the irksome things in our path, or that which annoys us, or the shit that really gets us down (frankly). Perhaps I have drunk the Kool-Aid. But I’m content.

Floating Along

I am, once again, at the airport. Can I just say how refreshing it was to NOT have an instant sense of direction once clearing security? I have a whole new world opened to me, and it’s a weird one. Item one: I checked email two hours after leaving on vacation and no work urgency or email had appeared! (What is this alternate universe I have travelled to?).

No, this is a welcome weird; I am semi-secure in the knowledge that nothing really truly awfully bad can happen, that my company can survive without me, and yet my (brief) absence will not convince them they should get rid of me. Nonetheless I am travelling with two laptops, which means I’ll be totally buff when I return.

Like every vacation, I have a laundry list of things I’m going to do (that I probably will not complete). Like every vacation, I have forgotten something (although the kindly Editor dropped by work earlier today and delivered my knitting, which was the item forgotten). Like every vacation, the boychild and I went to Anthony’s for pre-flight. Like every vacation, I am looking forward to in-flight WiFi.

I cannot sit still. I really can’t. I noticed it a few years back, and it was again brought to my attention when the Brit was in a meeting with me a year back. It has peaked since: hour-long meetings in conference rooms either must include my laptop so I can multitask *or* folks need to suspend their seismographs, because the leg or the hand or the pencil or the anything else will be rhythmically moving to the sound of whatever song is in the head.  So sitting on a plane for three hours is going to be less than pleasant. For those of you recommending wine: thought of that. But I’m going to 110-degree weather, and so dehydrating myself on purpose seems a bit stupid.

In four days I will return, and will have to text my PT and tell him about signing up for Tough Mudder, and will have to acclimatize myself to the notion that in 3 months I need to train myself to 1. withstand electric shocks, or at least grit my teeth over them, and 2. be able to pull myself up (all of myself) (by my own hands) (several times). Up until now the directive for the trainer has been much more mellow, much more “hey can you make sure you don’t re-break the parts of me that are broken?” and more “I have this specific set of criteria I must meet in 12 weeks.”

But until then I’m on vacation. Leave a message!

Transition

Managing transition is either awesome or sucks, there doesn’t seem to be a “transitory” mood to it; either everything buttons up all sweetly or everything runs amok at the last-minute. Or so it seems.

My transition between Expedia and Sur La Table is marred by my boss’ work trip, my personal trip, and a whole host of concern over who takes what work management piece over. Not to fear, the formal plan has been (properly) vetted and communicated, now is the task of actually putting those succinct bullet points in place. For the most part they’re actually aligning nicely, so I’ll deem this transition “awesome”.

I’m very much looking forward to my new position, and a bit sad to leave Expedia, although I really do feel it was time. After nearly nine years, 8 offices, 7 countries, 6 bosses, 5 titles, 4 buildings, and 3 groups (not including a brief reorganization into Finance (?!)), it’s time see new things. And so I go from Passion One (Travel) to Passion Two (Cooking).

When I was 15 I got a job at a Dairy Queen. “Don’t worry,” they said, “after a couple of days you won’t like ice cream or fast food anymore. Everyone loses weight.”  That actually was true for me but more because the walk to and from work was a mile each way, which was certainly good for my food-centric self. I am not, nor have I ever been, known to eschew a Blizzard or a cheeseburger. Going to Sur La Table does not mean I will stop cooking, it will mean I will want to procure more cookware and do more things, and that is an exciting prospect.

Aside from the added incentive to create in the kitchen, though, is the incentive that I will be creating product again — specifically technology product. I’ll be running a small development team, as well as doing some dev myself, and I’m extremely excited at the prospect. I’m quite rusty in parts — although the SQL whiteboard was fun my C# skills are woefully outdated — and so the next few days will be that awkward position of cramming for the “new” job whilst handing off the old.

Transition, indeed.

Ceramic Penguins And You

What drives you to purchase something?

There’s a general notion that in this spend-shift economy purchase behavior is driven by a dollar (or price) vs. quality debate within your average person. That person identifies the most they’re willing to pay for the most possible comfort/quality they perceive the item is worth. In most companies, the department that determines the retail price of a good or experience  is NOT the same department that describes the good or experience,  and the store shelf that displays that good or experience is determined by a wholly third department. Then there’s a fourth department that drives eyeballs to your properly priced, properly described, properly displayed good or experience.

It’s very simple to evaluate the relative price of an object. Let’s say you’re pricing ceramic penguins. Your Aunt Martha loves ceramic penguins, and you have to get her one for Christmas, because if you don’t she will retaliate on your birthday with socks, and you rarely wear pink argyle knit socks. Ceramic penguin, then: you price them out at Target, at Amazon,  at Macy’s, and at Overstock.com. You then discover that, generally speaking, ceramic penguins are $10.  In some stores, though, there are ceramic penguins that are $12, and in others there are ceramic penguins that are $8.

You have thereby evaluated the price strata of a ceramic penguin. Go you!

Now, you know you can afford $8 or $12 for a ceramic penguin just fine, and you may be able to even buy two, if it will get you out of argyle pink socks. Your next step, then, is to evaluate the quality of the penguins, right?

How do you do that, on the other end of a computer? All you have to go on is the content on the site. The photos, the videos, the description, maybe there are user reviews of ceramic penguins. Chances are, though, you instantly evaluate off of the photo FIRST: does the penguin look cheesy? Does it look more like a seagull? Is the paint in the right spot? Is it attractively lit? This is done in a split second.

Now assume they all have decent photos. Maybe there are only 3 ceramic penguin manufacturers who supply the online stores you’re looking at, and they all have the same photographic style. Fine. Now you are going to read a bit about the description: oh, this penguin is only 3″ tall. This other one is actually RESIN, not ceramic, that was a close shave. That one uses the word “durable”… I don’t know if a good quality penguin has to list itself as “durable”, do you?

Note: all of these things are HIGHLY subjective. There is no facile way to quantify the quality of the content you are seeing outside of being in your head (or polling you, which by the way isn’t very accurate: most people polled on merchandising decisions often behave contrary to how they say they behave).

At this point you’ve whittled it down to two ceramic penguins. They’re mostly the same price, they both look good, their descriptions are free of warning words like “sturdy” or “robust”.  What’s the kicker?

User reviews.

Welcome to web 2.0 (finally): you are not going to trust Big Brother, you are going to trust your Fellow Man. And there you find it, buried amongst the 2 and 3 star reviews of your ceramic penguin options: the ones from Store A consistently arrive broken. You had to dig quite a bit to find the four user reviews that mention it, though.

And now, my dear readers, how do you quantify THAT? It’s  all in someone’s freetext upload somewhere. As the SELLER of ceramic penguins, how do you know it’s your user reviews tanking you? How do you know it’s not the photo, or the text description?**

As a company, you can benchmark your pricing against other companies; you can even attempt to benchmark your content (number of photos, relative sizing, what they capture; number of words, etc.). It is however the quality of the Store, and the Product, and the Content that will determine the actual purchase behavior. Great SEM and SEO will drive eyeballs to your ceramic penguins: you need to also have a reliable brand, a good product, and shiny, shiny content to get someone to press “Add to Cart” — and even then you’re hoping that that trifecta garners you the User Reviews you need to keep it going.

 

**PS yes there are ways of doing it — evaluate time on given pages, relative clicks, etc. — but it’s not as simple as a price evaluation. And humans are so not simple!

Fighting for Air

Nope, this won’t be a dramatic post about the stress of my life or some sort of me vs. the world thing. (No drama…. no no no no drama).

I’m running (walking, limping) in the American Lung Association’s 5k run/walk in Magnuson Park, Seattle on May first. I have a team and everything.

I haven’t run in 1 year, 2 months, and 2 days.

I have 3 months in which to go from zero (with a messed up knee) to 3.1, and I think I can do it.

But you know what that means, right? TRAINING! And… training posts. Lots of posts about people at the gym, and running during lunch breaks, and the benefits of various flavored Gu. Oh, and there will be clothing and shoe reviews, too, as I gear up.

Fighting for air, indeed 😀

A Special Hell

Of late I’ve attempted to go to more of the fitness classes offered by my Big Fancy Gym. For one, it helps my cost-ratio-comparison calculator (hello, Excel!) and for two, it keeps me honest when it comes to working out. It’s very easy to beg out of the cardio bike at 30 minutes because there aren’t 12 other people doing it with me, and there isn’t a preternaturally chipper fitness freak in front of me eyeballing me and 12 other people on said cardio bike. Classes start at 60 minutes and some are 90.

Disclaimer: I do actually love my instructors. But it’s that special kind of love that smacks of… well… smacking.

Today’s experiment was “Group Fitness”; actually it’s one of 3 group-type exercises offered at my Big Fancy Gym. It’s the first time I had gone to this class and for sheer entertainment value (yours, mine, and ours) it cannot be beat.

It was helmed by a woman who is probably 2 years my senior, 50 pounds lighter than I am, and I would not want to meet her in a dark alley. Folks, when I say she was ripped, I mean that the girl in the Bowflex ads wishes she were this gal.

This class revolves around weights — as in, weights on a barbell that you lift and reach out with in various poses (on your back, in squats, in lunges, sitting, etc.) and other weights (not on a barbell) that you do the same, and then some good ol’ fashioned crunches that make your abdominal muscles scream at you for days. Also, she plays classic 70’s and 80’s buttrock for the soundtrack. I got my money’s worth.

What was wholly unexpected is that, upon entering and looking lost (my best defensive mechanism to date), the most frail-looking older lady came up to me (85lbs soaking wet, maybe) and offered to help me set up. She encouraged me to take lighter weights (“Don’t try to be a hero”), set me up, and then did her set-up. Her set-up was a little more aggressive than my set-up but boy howdy am I glad I followed her advice.

Many parts of my body want divorces from other parts of my body.

Our instructor kept checking in with me — publicly (“How’s it going Bobbie? You doin’ okay?”) — and all discourse was in that chipper post-Cheerleader “I’m loving the burn” voice you get only from people who, well, love the burn. “And we’re doing this for 8!” “In twos!” “Double time!” were common chirpy cheers.

Let me make this perfectly clear: if there were a way I could have ditched this class halfway through in favor of a couch and a Cabernet, I would’ve. As it was, I had cheerful participants all around me offering me helpful advice and if there’s one thing I can’t *stand* is the thought that *someone else* thinks I can’t do something. I don’t mind ME thinking I can’t do something, but that is not an opinion that is okay from anyone else. That sort of thinking got me into two half marathons, a triathlon, a two day bike ride, and a master’s program. Okay, so we can all agree that it’s a good sort of thinking.

But my biceps, triceps, quads, hammies, and glutes all agree: What the (*deleted expletive*) was I thinking?

Moving On

I was going to have a whole series of little vignettes about the Ride — about the guys playing soccer at camp, about the awful food (but you’re so hungry you don’t care), about how they insisted I bring my own food and then I didn’t need it (or they didn’t have it), about the back pain and yet surprisingly no leg pain, about the endorphin rush and near-wall-hitting, about the simple pleasure a hot shower can bring at the end of a long day.

There really isn’t a place for all of that. None of those things translate well, and they were little events that were part of a much larger event; in short, you don’t care, and I’m not sure how much I’ll remember or what weight I’ll put to it in future. If something strikes me as particularly funny or poignant, then I may. But right now, nothing comes to mind: it was a good ride, I want to do it again, and that’s about it.

I haven’t been on a bike in three days, nor have I done any real exercise beyond some brisk San Franciscan walking. I have a triathlon in seven weeks, though, and I need to start training for that.  So if you’re up to listening to me blather about swimming (and possibly a swim coach), biking (hah! what’s 12 miles?!), and running (let’s hope the knee doesn’t die) then tune in.

Otherwise, move along, nothing to see here 🙂

PS — very glad I didn’t do my planned run in SFO today. They are not kidding about the cold fog early in the morning, and I foolishly packed shorts and a tank top.

Tunes

We are absolutely and completely not allowed to have mp3 players or any other kind of tune-age on the ride. This is fine, because for my actual get-on-the-bike rides I have not had tunes. I have, however, had tunes in the gym.

Tunes are not optional in the gym.

My gym is loud: the music is drowned out by all of the inane chatter. I was getting ready this morning (I had two beers last night, ergo, gym this morning) and outside the ladies’ locker room it sounded like a cocktail party was in full swing. Tunes are a defensive movement.

Fortunately, I have an iPod shuffle, a friend named Kevin, and a thing for old 80’s tunes. The shuffle was purchased with eleventymillion Thank You points (Thank You, Expedia!), Kevin provided enough music from his personal collection to literally require me to procure an external hard drive, and the iTunes store is chock-a-block full of that 1980’s goodness.

You have to be very careful when picking out your 80’s songs, though.

Here are good examples of workout 80’s songs:

  • The GoGo’s, “Our Lips are Sealed”
  • Aha, “Take on Me”
  • Kajagoogoo, “Too Shy Shy”
  • Julian Lennon, “Too Late for Goodbyes”
  • Violent Femmes, “Blister in the Sun”
  • Nails, “88 Lines about 44 Women”
  • Frankie Goes to Hollywood, “Relax”

Here are some bad songs to have in your shuffle, when you’re trying to maintain 115 rpm:

  • Morrissey, “Every Day is Like Sunday”
  • Berlin, “Take my Breath Away”
  • Bad English, “When I See You Smile”
  • Anything by Air Supply
  • Almost anything by Journey
  • Almost anything by Naked Eyes

More often than not, I find myself reaching over and clicking |> madly in an attempt to get to something a little bit zippier. Fortunately, I have quite a lot of 90’s Grunge. Tell me you can’t do 115 rpm to Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.