Yes, this is still an active blog.

I looked at the date of the last post and it’s been more than a month since anything went up here. This would at first seem odd given the wild amounts of things I’ve been up to, but then I went down the list and realized that talking about 90% of it would end up either being

1) Boring
2) Personal
3) Proprietary
Or the controversial 4) which is “Heavily redacted so that things seem neither personal nor proprietary and end up being even more boring.”

Faced with the choice of silence or a series of sentences that looked like this-
I had a meeting with my [unbloggable] and he sent me a list of [unbloggable] and it came at just the right time because I was once again getting frustrated about [unbloggable]-
I went with silence.

So let’s chat about things that are a combination of none of the things above.

1) The Weather.

I think part of the overall blahness of being is that summer has set in. It’s too hot to be outside for any period of time longer than it takes to walk to your car. Then you get in your car and that’s unbelievably hot, so you have to drop all the windows and crank the AC. This cycle repeats itself at every stop until you’re basically drained from having the temperature fluctuate every few minutes from the relatively comfortable 70 degrees inside, to 102 outside, to 168 inside your car, back down to 80 degrees once the AC starts producing cold air. Ironically, that moment is usually when you get to your next destination, so it’s outside into the 102 again. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. At the end of a morning of errands you feel like a frog that’s escaped repeatedly escaped being boiled.

2) The Planets.

Yeah, maybe this isn’t as non-controversial as it should be but Mercury Retrograde was some rough stuff this last time. For those of you who don’t follow Astrological happenings, four times a year Mercury’s orbit moves backwards with respect to the orbit of Earth around the sun. Depending on your perspective, this either means nothing or it means EVERYTHING. Short answer, though, don’t buy anything new that plugs in, don’t trust anything you currently own that plugs in, don’t sign a new contract, expect old contracts you signed to get all screwed up, and avoid making any agreements over the phone. I’d have ended up ahead this last time – which went from June 1 – 30th-  if I’d just stayed in the basement with a blanket pulled over my head. I was without air conditioning for a week, which if you go back and review #1 again you’ll understand was a complete catastrophe.

3) The World Cup.

I was into it this time from the ground up, largely because I was really hoping France was going to be France again by getting all pissy and going on strike. They did so well this time that I bought an FFF jersey. Of course the jersey arrived after they won their round of 16 game, and I missed their game with Germany. So the jersey has not yet seen actual international play viewing. It’s still nice to have.
I’m from [an area close to] Philadelphia originally, so I have serious issues around football superstition. I’m not allowed to watch any important Eagles games lest I cause them to choke. And forget wearing any themed clothing.

The other interesting part about the World Cup was that Texans who could have been talking about the summer training camp of their university football team of choice were talking about Team USA. This includes older Texans who probably would have wrapped their gum in soccer players if there had been any while they were in high school. Not once but twice there were texan sports commentators who talked about soccer for an entire 30 seconds or so before returning to an in depth discussion of the Spurs’ draft prospects. It was damn near revolutionary, I tell you what.

4) I haven’t been running.

I had trouble getting back into gear after the half marathon and had a disastrous run at the Autism 8K memorial day weekend. I decided to take a forced two weeks off of running, and then my first day back I managed to hurt my foot in a way not easily healed unless I stopped everything. I did about a month of short runs and inclined bike at the gym, but I have Beat The Blerch coming up in September and I am 100% untrained. I’m also signed up for three more race after that, too, so something has got to give.

I joined a gym so that I’d have someplace to go run during the worst of the heat. I’ve learned something important about the gym, and that is if you go during an “off” time you are going to see a gallery of bad exercise decisions the likes of which you cannot even dream. The early, lunch and evening crew all have a certain amount of horse sense that comes with being employed or otherwise driven to adhere to human schedules. The mid-crew? Not so much. People are leaned over on stair machines with the resistance jacked all the way up, heaving themselves sideways while fully dressed in street clothes. And those are the sane people. On a sane day.

5) Home Organization

I cleared through my daughter’s playroom and got all the little pieces of everything into individually labelled bucketssssszzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Yeah that was a non-starter.

6) My Fishtank.

For my daughter’s second birthday I set up a 100 gallon salt water fish tank. Or more like, I set up a 100 gallon fish tank in the four weeks leading up to her birthday and then bought her two starter fish in what would ultimately become my pet project. The tank’s population has swelled and dwindled quite a few times. The past four months we’ve only had these soul killing damsel fish and a couple of black and white clown fish. The guy who fixes it up for us brought in a new filter a few weeks ago and the newly clean tank inspired me to repopulate it. My daughter is now much older than she was when we got the tank and she’s able to help with upkeep of the fish. She’s particularly adept at feeding them frozen shrimp, which is good because I can’t stand touching the water and would therefore never do it.

Overall we enjoy the tank, but I’m here to share a few truths about fish keeping

  • 40% of your new fish will die within 48 hours of getting into the house. The odds are no better for $60 salt water fish than they would be with a carnival goldfish.
  • 90% of the fish that die in the first 48 hours are going to be the fish your kid picked out and got attached to on the ride home.
  • 100% of the fish your kid pick out are going to be characters from Finding Nemo.

DORIE. I have removed at least five dead incarnations of Dorie from this tank in two years. The fish itself is a blue tang, which is particularly vulnerable to skin disease and generally crapping out under stress. Nothing is more stressful than a new tank. The Dorie before this one died of an apparent stroke less than an hour after getting home. The current Dorie has Ick, which means he/she is not long for this world.

…I think that’s what I have for now. Next time we’ll talk about [unbloggable.] Or [unbloggable.] Or maybe we’ll put aside all of that and get right down to delving deep into [unbloggable.]

No promises, though.

Tampa, The Ticketing Desk, and how dynamic-duo sized families look from the outside.

I don’t write often here about solo parenting for the same reason Gwenyth Consciously Uncoupled: Because Branding. But this has got under my skin for some reason so I’m going to try to work it out. WARNING: Contains strong language.

This morning my daughter and I left Tampa to come back to Austin. It’s a flight we’ve done at least ten times before, but under normal circumstances my parents walk into the airport with us when we have as many bags as we did this morning. We’d been gone a week, my daughter had her carseat with her, I had extra carry-ons, etc. But time was a factor so they got me a luggage cart at the curb and we said good-bye.

I was on a singular mission this morning because a computer glitch had caused my Known Traveler number to be lost in transmission when my company made my reservation. This has happened before and I knew it was fixable, since the lovely folks at the Southwest counter in Las Vegas had gone to the trouble of figuring out how to do it.

The reason the pre-screen is important is that security is a bitch and I paid good money last summer, over $300, for both Chloe and I to have known traveler numbers, which is supposed to guarantee that you get TSA pre-screen whenever it’s available. It saves me having to juggle taking off my shoes and pulling out my laptop(s) while getting us both through security. This was more important when we still traveled with a stroller but the principle still stands: a solo parent needs their bit of bought-and-paid-for travel sanity.

Chloe’s car seat fell off the luggage rack as I charged up to the counter but I ignored it. The calculus of traveling alone with a child allowed me to quickly tabulate that I was in no danger of having any items (or my daughter) stolen and I knew they’d be there when I had a moment to turn around. Preferably that moment would be when I was having my ticket reprinted with my TSA pre-screen on it.

That didn’t happen. And I would go ahead and call this Runway I in the overlapping ground traffic routes of why I got so upset. The lazy sun lizard at the counter got off to a bad start being actively pissed of that she couldn’t understand my last name, and then after one half-assed attempt to enter the number (which I knew wouldn’t work without the workout I was prepared to share with her), she refused to try anything else. So we sat there and stared at each other, me basically trying to out wait her expectation that I would give up and her trying to figure out if I was too dense to know I was being shut down.

In the middle of this standoff, a nice gentlemen who’d been behind me in line walked up to our luggage cart, placed Chloe’s carseat on the top of it, and went to go check in at the kiosk next to ours. In case you’ve never seen this particular configuration, it meant that he was standing next to us and being served by the same ticket agent.

She and I continued to fence over her complete disinterest in helping me out. I was getting ready to drop “I need to speak to your supervisor” onto the counter whenRunway II opened up.

Runway II was about 60 years old, dressed in head-to-toe denim and reeked of stale beer. He was waving his license around as he walked up to my left and told me to get my stuff out of the way of the kiosk I was standing in front of. Now let me reiterate, I was in the middle of checking in. I was actively talking to a gate agent. And this drunk idiot is coming up and trying to check me the hell out of the way of my own kiosk? The following conversation ensued.

Him: Can you get out of the way so I can check in? *elbowing in to the side of my personal space*
Me: No!
Him: What?
Me: NO! I’m standing here checking in!
Him: You’re not using the kiosk.
Me: I’m STANDING HERE. This man to the side of me is almost done.
Him: But you’re stuff is in the way here.

He was genuinely shocked that I wasn’t going to walk away from checking in. I was completely stupified. Outraged, to be honest. Sober up in time to make your flight. And who the fuck are you to tell me to get out of the way? While the words “Fuck off” were not yet approaching the Runway, they had definitely made contact with my brain’s tower and were looking for an updated flight plan into this guy’s face.

Just for fun, check out this Vine. It illustrates my internal monologue beautifully. #capscapscaps

The nice gentleman standing to the side of me was almost done checking in, and to diffuse the chaos he offered to let Drunky McYankeepants use his kiosk. It was at this point that the woman at the kiosk (aka the one I was trying to outwait) realized I was being harassed by a drunk and told him to go wait in line like a normal person. She gave him a pretty experienced airline employee stink eye and I hoped the fact she’d let me be harassed by a drunk would move her into trying my number again.

Not so.

So I get back on Runway I, where I’m pissed because I don’t have my Pre-screen and I have one ticket with it (because Chloe’s worked) and one without it. I try at every possible vantage point in the security line to make them see sense, but no. We go through the whole thing. Shoes off, laptop out, huffy huff huff huff.

In the background Runway II had a ground halt on it that was seriously backing up traffic.  That traffic was going to need to be processed at a quieter time when there wasn’t quite so much else going on to be mad about. I didn’t see the man again anywhere, but I was naturally still a little amazed at his balls and not a little worried he might get nasty with me if we saw each other. Okay, I’ll be honest. It was sort of half worried and the other half was this feeling of “OOOOH WISH he would. I WISH he would…do you know what I’d do? WISH HE WOULD” that has no succinct english word but still made my hands itch when I felt it.

It was only in a quiet moment after Starbucks walking to the gate that I realized what that asshole thought he’d seen. My daughter is blonde with blue eyes. I’m dark haired with brown eyes. The guy who picked the car seat up for us? Who was standing next to us using a kiosk while I argued with the agent?

Blonde hair. Blue eyes.

We’d looked like a “normal” nuclear family checking in at the gate. And for that reason my non-use of the kiosk had actually seemed like I was blocking a kiosk as my husband checked us in. The fact she and I had been staring at each other for long stretches, combined with the beer goggles he’d brought with him to the airport served to make him decide that I could and should be jostled out of place. Meaning that unless he was watching when the nice gentleman walked away without us, he had actually walked away thinking *I* was the asshole.

Update: Having written this last night I’m still not quite sure what if anything the whole encounter really meant.  I have a few observations.

1) My heart broke a little.
2) The fact that it took me so long to figure out why the guy tried to boot me out of the way probably means that after three+ years I’m further out of contact with the “mores” of dual-parent families than I realized.
3) I’m confused about what I would have done in the same situation had I actually been traveling with someone.  My suspicion is that I wouldn’t have been standing in front of the second kiosk, I’d have been standing either behind the person I was traveling with or they would have been standing behind me.  Runway II added one to one and got five. So the odds are that the whole thing wouldn’t have happened had Runway II had all his faculties.
4) Don’t show up drunk (next day or otherwise) to the airport. Given this guy’s approach to the situation, which was to bomb down from the left and start demanding things, I don’t think he’s all that much of a peach sober.  Beer made it worse.
5) My initial impression, that he targeted me because I was a woman by myself, was dead wrong.  The cardinal opposite of right in fact.  Sometimes a pipe is a pipe.

But then last but not least…our family isn’t broken  in any way that shows from the outside.  We looked just as happy and complete as we would have looked were we three.  And that, my dears, is probably the best thing that could have come out of not being able to pre-screen.

Lizards, Snakes and Crocodiles: Reptilian Behavior and the Business Ecosystem

Perhaps it’s just one of the hazards of paying attention, but there’s been a real streak of crappy dude-bro behavior percolating through my twitter feed this week. Racism. Sexual Harassment. Violence. Sometimes a swirl of all three.  Each piece of it has taken one more bit of my hope for humanity.  But each one of them has two common elements- each situation involves a reptilian brain and presents a study in how an ecosystem handles a predator who’s gotten out of hand.

Don Sterling is a lizard. One of those scaly dry ones that creep around your lounge chair in Cancun and lurk at the opening of their nest by the hot tub. Your hard earned leisure time crosses paths with his alpha-lizard domain, and up until this weekend it was either avoid the hot tub altogether or accept that you were relaxing right on top of his lair.

Tom Preston-Warner is a snake. I’m not sure whether his wife was one by birth or if she just learned how to speak Parsel-tongue while trotting around in boots cobbled out of his molted skin. It doesn’t really matter. Github has snake-eggs in lurking in its pipes, poisonous ones that you might never actually see, but are hatching and thriving right where you wash your face and hands. According to urban legend, there might even be one in your toilet bowl right now. But who wants to jettison Github in their day-to-day life when it happens to be where it’s at? More specifically, can you even get your code out of there once it’s in?

Gurbaksh Chahal is a crocodile. Strictly speaking that’s also a lizard, but far more frightening, as it’s strong enough to kill people and housepets and slither away. There was TAPE on this motherfucker. Actual video tape of him actually beating the hell out of his girlfriend in an argument they both acknowledge happened. He’s had felony charges pending on him since August. But the board of Radium was paralyzed into doing nothing until this weekend, when they were evidently shocked  to discover that there an admitted crocodile in their midst and they fired him.

Here’s the kicker: We only know about these reptiles because one fluke or another caused a reversal in the food chain. For each one of these guys there are 100s, possibly even 1000s that we never see. Why do businesses abide reptiles? Because as with any food chain, disruption incurs chaos, especially when it comes from below.   A visual reminder of how rare this actually is can be seen here.  For those who don’t remember it, it’s the video of a lion pride being thwarted in eating a tiny antelope by, well, pretty much the entire inhabitants of a pond.

Barring nature tipping the scales over on itself, the question of whether forcibly  removing one of the predators from the pond will cause greater harm than good – financially, morally, or otherwise – is always weighing one  side of the scale heavier than we want to believe. In each one of these organizations, in addition to what is undoubtedly hundreds of bruised people, there are hundreds of employed people who don’t want to lose their jobs.

This weekend’s urging of the Clippers’ players to boycott or otherwise break with their contracts would have resulted in their being fired. There was no, “I won’t work for a lizard” clause in any of their contracts. The lizard only got evicted from underneath the spa because bigger predators – read the Clippers’ sponsors, inspired by the collective fury of the NBA’s players and fans – figured out his nest was a threat to their young. Even now, as impressed as we all are with Adam Silver, there are still murmurs about whether getting rid of Don Sterling was too big of a disruption to the ecosystem during the Clippers’ playoff season. There’s also no small amount of fear about whether the lizard will come back.

Mother nature abhors chaos, and so does any ecosystem, no matter how brutish. It will always act to protect the status quo, however it has to. Github’s complete nonpology as a result of their silly internal investigation is a prime example. And it’s awful. Julie Ann Horvath was by most accounts exactly the kind of woman you want working in an entrepreneurial environment, a follower of the “just make awesome stuff and gender doesn’t matter” philosophy that women in tech have been fed for decades.  I’m paraphrasing – It’s not just awful, it’s scary, and it was discussed here in eloquent detail here.  Even after all of that, though, who truly wants to see Github disappear? Can you gut an organization to its  foundation, which is what would most likely have to happen to truly clear out its evident cultural problems, and expect it to regenerate the way you want?

And then finally we come back to Mr. Chahal, as unrepentant a reptile possible, still threatening women ( in now-deleted tweets.), still blaming others for the fact that he got fired, (same convo, now deleted) and still gaslighting everything in a 20 ft radius of his slimy tail. How does business handle it when the predator at the head of the board is shameless as well as reptilian? You get what happened at Radium, where everyone was held in stasis as the public waited for what everyone knew was the right thing to be done . And again, like Don Sterling, it’s not 100% certain he’s really gone. It’s unclear whether Chahal still has a majority stake in the company, and whether he still stands to profit mightily if the business does recover from his firing and goes on to do an IPO.

So…it’s depressing. There will always be reptiles. There will always be unrepentent predators in the workplace. Maybe today shouldn’t be about wringing our hands but more about examining two things – the food chain itself and the brave men and women who fought against it in these three instances. The more we support the fighters – those who don’t go quietly and don’t accept the pecking order as it always has been- the more there will be. And the system will have no choice – no matter how long the arc- to change. So here is to them. And to us, the warm blooded mammals of the world.

IBM Design Camp: An Adventure in Sketchnoting

This one was just awesome.I spent last week at IBM Design Camp with the development and PLM teams for IBM Service Engage.  I’ve been dying to go since the IBM Design center opened in Austin.  An age and a half ago I wrote my master’s report on Agile Development Methodologies and User Centered Design, so I’m giddy to see them in action, working together.

Dress patternOne of my personal projects this year is developing my Sketchnoting skills. I’m a big notetaker in general, but there are always doodles.  Without guidance I tend to either draw eyes or pyramids. Neither of these – however delicately drawn – really help maintain my attention span. So sktechnoting would seem to be a natural fit if I actually want to listen to what I’m sitting through.  I bought a Pogo stylus for my iPad,  but I’ve been struggling to get going with it, largely out of a sense of feeling…I don’t know. Outclassed by the blank sheet of paper?  I got into a Sketchnoting course at SXSWi, though, which gave me a boost of confidence and some practice.  Design Camp was the first real world test.

I think I captured that element of surprise well.  Since the secret sauce of Design Camp is still…secret, I’m just going to share my favorite sketches, not the full notes from the class.  I am now really a believer in the power of Sketchnotes, though. Not only was I interested enough to go back through my notes and add things, but the sketching warmed me up to do the design exercises…which I can’t share either.*

Presented here, with commentary, are the disembodied sketches.  I’m going to mess with the slideshow as best I can to get it to slow down, but in case I fail…read fast or hover at the bottom to pause it.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

* Okay, not kidding. I put an emoticon in here and it actually placed big cheery yellow happy face instead of the standard colon + parenthesis.  There is nothing worse than a fully realized emoticon in the middle of a page of sketches.  Just tacky.

Conscious Uncoupling: When your brand hits a fork in the road, take it.

Two days ago Gwenyth Paltrow amd Chris Martin announced the end of their 11 year marriage.  The announcement termed this transition in their lives as a process of “Conscious Uncoupling,” and the collective interweb has been roaring ever since.

I know very little about the science and art of product branding.  What I do know is that when it’s done right, branding is much like that special smell at the entrance of every Nordstrom’s –  something a consumer isn’t supposed to experience consciously but just recognize.  The only time we really notice it is when it  hits a wrong note, or plain old takes a swan dive that leaves us realizing we’re being “handled.”  People love good branding.  People resent the hell out of being handled.

Gwenyth and I reached a fork in the road of my understanding quite a while ago. It happened not when she decided to become a lifestyle guru, not when she published an exhaustive list of her various daily mom tasks that product – placed in the thousands of dollars. No, it happened at a subtler point then that, when she published a cookie recipe from the then-wife of Billy Joel and referred to him as “William.”  WILLIAM JOEL had come over from the evening and shared his lovely cookies.  William Joel?  The guy who sang “Pressure?” and “Allentown?” It was incredibly ostentatious, an apex of ridiculousness, and I wasn’t signing on for the slide down.

To me it seems that Gwenyth’s  GOOP mission is to promote an image in which all of life’s various wrinkles, informalities, impurities and imperfections had been ironed out and scrubbed away leaving nothing but a flawlessly laundered organic linen sheet where her humanity might once have been. It is an image of a pure, clear and conscious lifestyle that I have no doubt she firmly believes in.  The problem is that no one really wants a friend (or lifestyle guru) who makes you self-conscious of, well, everything in your life that hasn’t been powerwashed, boiled and steam dried. To read any excerpt from GOOP was enough to make me suddenly feel like I’d sprouted a second chin, developed heart disease, and casually been poisoning my daughter with ipad screens and inorganic sheets.

Conscious Uncoupling is what arose from an intersection between Gwenyth’s humanity and her image.  The public’s reaction to Conscious Uncoupling is a burning example of what happens when your brand hits crisis and shifts into handling.

There are a thousand more relatable ways to announce their separation, but I am hard pressed to find one that wouldn’t have shot a hole in to a very well cultivated brand.  Admitting pain, anger, humiliation on her part leads to mental images of Gwenyth curled up with a pint of ice cream and a bottle of bourbon giving it all a big old ugly cry.  There is no room for that in  the GOOP Yoga Fueled breathe-it-out way we’ve been served to date.

Further complicating the issue is the value  of Gwenyth’s acting career. Meg Ryan  never recovered after admitting an infidelity with Russell Crowe. Sadie Frost is still rather buttonholed by Jude Law’s dalliance with the nanny (and later sienna Miller).  And these two example illustrate the point without even having to mention Brangelina and the ongoing existence of Team Aniston. So you have what’s effectively two very lucrative brands- both GOOP and Gwenyth-  headed towards some rocky shoals, even if no one really did anything wrong.

Seen from that perspective the Conscious Uncoupling terminology makes a lot of sense if you’re merely trying to preserve a brand and not evolve it. It sticks close to the core GOOP message about health, simplicity, and mindfulness while also making it plain that there will be no PR disasters rearing their head ahead of the premiere of the next Iron Man flick.  This doesn’t make it any less over the top though.

I admit, I openly and gleefully riffed on it.  I’m woman enough to admit to an attack of schadenfruede when it happens, especially when it becomes comedy gold in the process.

I started this post by saying I didn’t understand branding as either an art or science.  I do understand that humans at base don’t want to know it when they’re being handled, which means it’s best to stick to the genuine when you can find it.  My biggest beef with Conscious Uncoupling is that Gwenyth and team wasted an opportunity to get human again at a point where it’s plainly overdue. Who wouldn’t want to read about Gwenyth’s decision to stack every piece of fried food on the block on top of a big pan of mac and cheese and hide in the house until it was eaten?  Who wouldn’t go down that road with her and come out the other side of it slightly more interested flax oil, knowing the same someone recommending it had the courage to stand up and say, “My life hurts right now.”  Perhaps we will get there at some point. Right now what we’re left with is the impression that the whole thing has been wrapped in a gleaming white light and stashed someplace we are not supposed to look.

Update: After a few days of letting the public clamor, Gwenyth released another GOOP-rooted statement. “P.S. CM and I in deep gratitude for the support of so many.”  Richard Lawson at Vanity Fair, doing what both Richard Lawson and Vanity Fair usually do when confronted with all things Gwenyth, had this to say. And the shade grows ever longer as the shadows stretch to meet the setting sun.