Monday, December 29, 2008

Bad news writ worse

I don’t know which is worse: the current state of the economy, or the dire news stories that keep everyone on the brink of nausea.

Can you even remember a time when reporters didn’t spout words like toxic assets, credit crunch, retail shakeout, housing bust, holiday slump, investment scandal, recession, depression. It’s like an obsession, which makes it harder for everyone to sort through the drama to determine the facts.

There’s more than enough bad news to go around these days, but it seems today’s journalistic smash-up—mixing straight news with emotionally charged language—only contributes to the nation’s unease. And it creates the potential to become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

It’s enough to make me wonder how much of our downward spiral can be attributed to doom-and-gloom reporting. What we need instead is perspective.

Consider this: A BusinessWeek story, “Retail Reckoning,” warns about a big shakeout for retailers because there “are just too many stores.” “Rampant discounting may yet save this year’s Christmas shopping season from utter disaster, but retailers are still expecting the slowest holiday sales since the 1990-91 recession…and what comes after Christmas is likely to be even more frightening.”

This story ran in the magazine’s December 10 issue—in 2001.

So…déjà vu all over again. And that’s reason enough to remain hopeful, despite the hysteria. Everything goes in cycles, which means there are ups and downs. Right now, we may be in a deep trough, but things will come around again. They always do. It’s just a matter of time.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Animal passion

It takes a strong stomach to read or watch the news these days. My brother says the value of his 401(k) has fallen so much, it’s now a 201(k). As depressing as the economy has been, there’s one easy way to fight the blues. Think “pet.” Researchers have found that pet ownership has positive physical and mental health benefits—to which I say, “Duh.”

If you don’t have a pet of your own, or even if you do, these sites will put a smile on your face:

So take a break from all the gloom and doom and have yourself some fun. It doesn't cost a cent...and the stress-relief is priceless.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Tiny URLs are HUGE

First impressions are as important on the Web as in life. If the way to your site is through a long or complicated URL, you may lose visitors even before they get to the "skip this intro" screen.

Solution: Just plug in your uber-URL, and the result is something short, sweet, and to the point. Your tiny URL won't break in email postings and never expires. Best of all, it's free.

A recent example:

Pretty sweet, huh?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Monkey around

What is it about monkeys that lend themselves to becoming fun Web tools? Is it the "it's so easy even a monkey could do it" rationale, or are monkeys so tied to the concept of play that anything they're linked with will be considered fun? I don't know why major companies are using monkeys to attract people to their sites, but I'm having a great time playing around with them.
  • Send some Monk-e-mail courtesy of You can choose your own chimp (and its wardrobe), use the text-to-speech function, or record your own voice. It's hard to get tired of this one.
  • On a more serious note is SurveyMonkey, which gives you a powerful tool for gathering feedback and creates professional-looking surveys.
  • And then there's SurveyMonkey's cousin, MailChimp, for email marketing.

It might look kind of silly using monkey tools when you're part of a large, established business. For the rest of us, we're having a blast.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Searching for search engines?

Someone sent me a link to At first, I thought it was a joke. But the joke was on me for not having this compendium at my fingertips before now. If there's a link that's not on this site, either you don't need it...or you can definitely get by without it.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

I solemnly swear

Finding stillness in a tumultuous world is nearly impossible. It’s hard enough to live in the moment during normal times. With economic meltdowns and presidential politics of historic proportions, the mind races from possibility to scenario to other possibilities and more scenarios. Until the jury summons arrives.

For three days this week, I’ve had to detach from normal life and fulfill my civil duty by sitting on a jury of my peers. The world could have come to an end outside the courtroom, and I’d have been none the wiser.

Yes, jury duty can be inconvenient, and the wheels of justice grind ever so slowly. But for the first time in a long while I was able to focus on one thing, in one place, for hours on end. No multitasking. No emails or texts or Web surfing. Just sitting. Listening. Deliberating. It was wonderfully freeing. Like a mini-holiday in my head.

With this blog, I try to share Web sites of interest, but not this time. The sites I found either focused on ways to get out of jury duty or the minutiae of juror rules. So the best I can do is offer some advice: Answer your summons. Stay focused. Enjoy the experience.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Thanks, Paul Allen

I feel like I've been vacationing with Paul Allen. Yes, that Paul Allen--the co-founder of Microsoft. Actually, I was in Seattle with my husband, and we spent several days enjoying one Paul Allen attraction after another.

  • We started with the Flying Heritage Collection, which features rare and wonderfully restored combat aircraft from World War II. Even the hangar itself was scrubbed down, buffed up, and gleaming. More than just gawking, you can read snippets about the innovations involved in each class of plane--and also the personal story of the individual plane right in front of you. And there are some pretty great videos featuring the people who did the flying.

  • Next up: The Experience Music Project The Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. These are two great places within a landmark Frank Gehry building, located at the base of the Space Needle. Lots to ooooh and ahhhh over, and while the goal is to integrate the two museums into a "thought-provoking center for contemporary culture," the primary link for me was a high degree of cool. Where else could I see the Sci-fi faves of my childhood, emerse myself in the music of Jimi Hendrix, and walk away with a DVD of myself and my husband performing as the Beatles cover band "The Never Weres."

When we were done, I felt like calling Paul Allen to ask: What should we do next? I'm sure his answer would have involved seeing one of his professional sports team play.

For the past two years, Allen has been listed among TIME Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World. And for several days in September, he certainly was one of the most influential in giving me a great Seattle vacation experience.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Indemnify? Really?

Lately I've taken to skimming, if not actually reading, the "terms of use" conditions I agree to follow on Web sites. Now I stop when I see the phrase "indemnify and hold harmless" -- and I push back. Sometimes that means clicking away from a Web site; other times it means shooting an email to the site owner. Indemnify? Really? Me? To join your Web site, post a photo, use your software, do I really need to assume the financial burden of covering your attorney fees and court costs if things go legal? Yes, I know, it's standard language. And it's a far-fetched possibility. But still, that's a steep promise to make.

Here's a good article about the topic--Promises to indemnify, by Susan Butler--that comes from far away (at least for me) at ZDNet Australia and from what seems like a long time ago, December 2000. Worthwhile reading nonetheless.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Olympic addiction continues

For two weeks in August I was transported half a world away, glued to my television and the goings on in Beijing. When the Olympics were over, I actually had withdrawal. But now I've found something to feed my habit for a few more weeks: the Paralympics. Same Olympic deal, but the athletes have greater physical challenges to overcome. One athlete in particular I'm rooting for is Scott Brown, a four-time gold winner in the Adaptive World Rowing Champion (and a really funny guy). His wife Sandy reports from Beijing that he spends "about six hours a day at the rowing venue rowing, weight training and eating!" Scott competes for the first time on September 9th. Go Scott.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The band, the brand, and the bankroll

Brands are bigger than ever these days...and so are Mick Jagger's lips. Not quite a million dollar smile (sold for $92,500 to the veddy British Vic), but pretty great for a nyeah-nyeah, in-your-face pop art design. And how ironic that the very icon of anti-establishment sentiment has been monetized to pay for the education of the artist's son. Private school, no doubt.

Much more (and better) info about the sale on the Creative Review blog and BBC News.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Vote by 9/1 for Students Run Philly Style

The 2007 Philadelphia Marathon took place on a bone-chilling, drizzly November day. But that didn't deter the endless string of blue T-shirted runners, signaling another Students Run Philly Style teen was tackling his or her first marathon. These are all kids who have turned to running to help them overcome the struggles of what can be a very tough life.

I saw them come by alone and in small groups. Some ran the whole thing, others interspersed walking breaks. All seemed destined to finish.

As one of the slower Philly Style teens came to the water stop at mile 25, she was walking. I offered her some refreshments to carry her through, but she shook her head and didn’t stop. I called after her: “This is your marathon. This is a big deal.” And she started running again. Not fast, but not tortured, either. I don’t know if she ran the rest of the way, but it certainly looked like she could.

If she applies that same determination to her journey through life, she will be capable of just about anything. And that’s the whole point of the program, which uses running to help kids imagine and accomplish goals well beyond their dreams.

The current race for SRPS is to win a share of $2.5 million in the American Express Members Project (for those who make a positive impact in the world). Help them make it to the Top 25 projects by casting your vote by Sept. 1.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

What are you really reading?

The old joke about Playboy was that most men claimed they read the magazine for the articles. I make a similar claim about The New Yorker. It's even true. But if TNY ever decided to eliminate its cartoons, I'd have a hard decision to make. Not only do they make me laugh out loud, I can't wait to share them with others.

Take the Alex Gregory cartoon where two dogs are talking. One says: “I had my own blog for a while, but I decided to go back to just pointless, incessant barking.”

Yes, just about anyone can blog these days.

And as one who used to walk a dog several times a day, I don't find the idea of canine blogging that outlandish. After all, dogs have been exchanging pee-mail for ages.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Great tips

Too bad life doesn't come with an instruction manual. Although, if it did, I probably wouldn't read the &!#ing thing anyway. Still, I'm always looking for great tips. I figure others must be, too, seeing how often magazine covers are plastered with Top Ten Tips and other quick and easy advice. Well, here's a link to a really useful--and literal--tip guide.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


The always-on, on-demand, accessible-anywhere nature of today's world can make it hard to quiet your mind when it's time to rest. Maybe these can help:
  • Watch brainiac (and brain scientist) Jill Bolte Taylor describe her experience with having a massive stroke--and how she dealt with it as it was happening. It's an amazing and touching story. And, yes, I cried. Available on TED.
  • On a lighter side, try listening to Daby Toure. What language is he singing? Don't know; don't care. It's the melody and the feeling in his songs that captures my heart and lets me unwind.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Not another blogger

The world doesn't need another blogger. At least it doesn't need another "the world according to me" blog. Instead, I intend to share interesting and thought-provoking articles, sites, and ideas in this space. You may already have found this stuff...but maybe, just maybe, you've been a little too busy lately. In that case, here are some great places to start:
  • Guy Kawasaki's "How to Change the World--a practical blog for impractical people."
  • TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design): "Ideas Worth Spreading."
    An amazing collection of talks by some of the smartest, funniest, most interesting people on the planet.
  • And for those of us who work with words, or just love language, visit BuzzWhack--a guide to demystifying buzzwords.