Thursday, December 19, 2013

A December to remember

It's been many years since we've had such a cooperative snowscape in my local area.

This December, the snow has mostly been on weekends, coming after my morning run, and has melted just enough to make travel easy while remaining picture perfect.

With this wonderland setting, it's hard not to get into the holiday spirit. And I barely celebrate any holidays at all.

But this year, I've felt so jolly I decided to adopt a family to buy presents for. And I had fun doing it.

So as 2013 winds down...and as I gear up for what is already shaping up to be a busy 2014...I intend to fully enjoy this winter season. I will embrace the cold weather, which provides such a welcome contrast to the summer's stifling heat. And I will enjoy the higher percent of good hair days compared with the warmer months in humid Philadelphia and the Jersey shore.

I wish similar simple pleasures for each of you...and a safe, happy, and healthy new year. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Delete is my favorite action

It’s easy to forget names. Or how you know someone.

That’s why I’ve made it a habit to enter all kinds of information about those I meet into my contacts program. I keep my desktop and smartphone synchronized, so I have virtually everyone I know at my fingertips.

Want the name of our guide in Rome? 
Do you need a great carpet cleaner?
Looking for a vacation rental in Florida?

I have all kinds of data in my device. Years’ worth. Spanning many vacations, networking events, and clients past and present. I have info about home projects, medical professionals, and friends and frenemies.

Names come up on the screen, and I can barely remember who many of them are or why I keep them on file.

Today, I ran into a glitch with my synching software. In sorting things out, I decided it was time to clean up my act.

I was ruthless.

People who had asked for quotes on projects, but never ended up hiring me? Delete.

People who had hired me for projects, but had since left those jobs and those careers? Delete.

People who were deceased? Delete.

I kept hitting delete until I could say for each and every name: Oh yeah, I remember them.

When I finally stopped, my contact list was 30 percent smaller, and I felt 100 percent better.

I hadn’t counted on the psychological lift of slimming down all those names. It felt great to keep only those who matter most and make them easier to find.

Of course, I can find all those others, too, if need be. They're on the Web somewhere. They just don’t need to be in the palm of my hand all the time.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Marathon cleanup

In big, bold type nearly an inch high, the newspaper headline the day before the Philadelphia Marathon read “26.2 Miles of Security.” The Friday weekend section had called it “A Run of Fun.”

My headline for the race: “Pure Garbage.” Or, to be more precise, make that garbage, recycling, and compostable materials.

My running club has staged the water stop at the intersection of Kelly Drive and Fountain Green for years. The runners pass us twice: at about mile 14 on the way out, and at about mile 25 on the way back.

This year, there were more than 14,000 marathoners taking two passes at our water stop. That meant about 28,000 cups of water and Gatorade were filled, handed out, and picked up. With the race partnering with the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability on Green Initiatives, and ambitious goals for waste diversion from landfills, my day was pretty much spent in the gutter.

It’s amazing how quickly refuse piles up as runners zip by trying to sip water and rid themselves of their cups without breaking stride.I barely got to see any faces, so focused was I on raking throwaways out of the path of oncoming runners. (Wet cups and pavement make for a slippery surface, which we wanted to avoid.)

The winner crossed the finish line in 2 hours, 39 minutes, and 3.74 seconds. At that point, there were still thousands of runners and walkers who had yet to make it to our water station for their first pass.

The day seemed to drag on forever. So did the trash. I worked with a small subset of volunteers who stomped and separated plastic water jugs (blue trash bags), flattened the cardboard boxes that housed the water jugs (stacked separately), collected the waxy cups (yellow compostable bags), and scraped up sticky GU energy-gel packets and other trash off the road (clear garbage bags).

We called it quits at 2 pm – seven hours after the race started. There were still people, walkers mostly, out on the course. They would have to move to the sidewalks to reach the finish, because the city was going to open the streets to traffic.

Did I feel bad leaving them unsupported for that final mile or so? Not at all. My marathon day had been a full eight hours long, if you count setup time at oh dark thirty.

I would hope they had trained for the distance for weeks and months beforehand. Me? There is no training for trash...except to just keep cleaning up.

Friday, November 1, 2013

And is better

Commercials for EcoBoost-powered Fords feature an “And is Better” campaign. They show it’s better, for example, to get sweet and sour chicken, not sweet or sour; a bed and breakfast is better than choosing between a bed or breakfast. The point: their cars offer nice features in addition to great gas mileage.

My point: And is always better. Especially when it comes to technology. Too many tech entrepreneurs and corporations talk about category killers – how their latest and greatest will make previous technology history.

A New Yorker profile of Jack Dorsey – from Twitter and Square – relates his hope that one day his credit-card reader for mobile devices will kill the cash register.

Financial institutions hope they have the killer app to drive more consumers to adopt mobile banking, further reducing their need for tellers, as ATMs have done.

Netflix hopes whole seasons of killer content will appeal to viewers who binge-watch multiple episodes of shows, instead of following along week by week, changing the very nature of television programming.

But why kill off useful, if somewhat older, technology and customs when you can offer more ways for people to get to you? Some will adopt the latest, coolest, techiest approach. Some prefer the secure comfort of known ways.

If you’ve ever helped an elderly relative transition from analog to digital TV, with multifunction, many-buttoned remotes, you can see why for some people, in some cases, the old ways are better. Another elder vs. digital example: computers and smartphones. Some delight in learning new things; some won’t even touch them.

So why must it be one thing or the other? I want one thing and the others.

I want:
•    Email, text, and postal delivery
•    Newspapers, magazines, and books in print…and e-books
•    Terrestrial and satellite radio
•    A quality SLR digital camera and my smartphone camera
•    A touch screen and physical keyboard on my smartphone
•    Prime-time television and on-demand viewing and streaming video

The beauty of technology is its ability to bring out exciting new things. The draw of old technology can be anything from sentimental value to reliable workhorse to versatile options.

And is always better in my book (and my Kindle).

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What I learned from American Pickers

My go-to TV show while clearing the dinner dishes is American Pickers on History.

I used to consider this light entertainment. Then I realized I was absorbing key fundamentals of negotiating.
  • The art of the bundle Frank Fritz has perfected a technique for elevating price negotiations when at an impasse with  owners. He groups together several items, making the price for each less important. This same approach works wonders when I’m asked to write several small projects. Rather than try to price each one separately, an overall project cost can seal the deal.
  • What do you value this piece at? Both Frank and Mike Wolfe use this line frequently to gauge a starting point for negotiation. Swap out “piece” for “project,” and it’s a perfect inquiry for gauging the parameters of the client’s budget.
  • There’s a bunch of rust, and some pieces are missing Any item in mint condition is going to be worth a lot more than something you dug up in the backyard. The inverse is true in copywriting. Any project with all the pieces in place – clear objectives, accessible background materials, available subject matter experts, reasonable review and approval process – will cost less than one where much more work is required to get it into shape.
With every negotiation, both sides do a little dance to get what they want. When the guys at American Pickers seal their first deal, they shake on it. They call it “breaking the ice.”

There are few handshakes in my business, where client contacts are mostly by phone and email. All I can offer is solid writing, with attention to detail and fresh thinking about the client’s problems.

That must hold sway because many of them come back year after year for new projects. My deliverable becomes the Amy Ink ice-breaker, paving the way for future collaborations...and more negotiations.

I guess I'll having to start paying closer attention to History shows, considering their educational value for managing my small business. In fact, I just might take a break right now to watch a few episodes of Pawn Stars. Let's see what tricks those negotiation pros have up their sleeves.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Tag, you're IT

Whenever some bit of software goes wonky, I’m suddenly IT. That’s what happens when you’re a one-woman sole proprietor.

Something breaks. Software needs updating. New and better technology become available. Tag, I’m IT.

I play the role of Information Technology support much like I play office manager, administrative assistant, invoice preparer, bookkeeper, and whatever else is needed to keep my business running. Oh yes – and writing – I knew I was forgetting something.

Most of my writing projects fall into a hurry-up-and-wait rhythm. Schedule phone interviews; wait until the agreed time. Conduct interviews; wait for additional materials to arrive. Write copy; wait through client reviews.

In between, I can easily fit all the other stuff of running the business. Except when software unexpectedly decides to take a header.

In the good old days, I would call corporate IT support or the company Help Desk. These days, I am the company Help Desk. To be fair, I do have some support – my head of networks, or HON – but my husband has a day job, and troubleshooting via email has its drawbacks.

Yesterday’s crisis involved software that used to synch my smartphone with Outlook contacts and calendars perfectly. Until it didn’t.

An update was available. But nothing could get the old program to uninstall, or the new version to install, because some phantom data was tricking the computer into thinking another installation was in progress. It wasn’t.

I wasted an evening – for me and my HON – searching phrases like “Error 1500” and “problem installing program” and “system error codes.” We applied fixes that worked for someone at some point on some system, but not now. We disregarded warnings and modified the computer registry, even upon pain of possible “substantial damage to the Windows operating system.”

Luckily no damage was done.

Then I stumbled on and ran a little utility called “Fix it” to uninstall the uninstallable program. It worked.

Relief. Joy. And a fresh start.

Today’s technology makes it possible for me to make my living from a home office. And even when technology makes it impossible to work, other technology resolves the problem and gets me back on track.

I can’t say I understand IT systems and solutions in any detail. What I can do is think through the problem and do targeted searches to find fixes.

Maybe being IT isn’t such a bad thing, especially when it saves me that dreaded last step of spending a frustrating few hours calling technical support.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

How did they know?

We may think we’re seeing pretty amazing new stuff these days, but there are fingerprints of the past on everything.

The question is: How did “they” know? Was it precognition…connecting dots…reading tea leaves.

  • In “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” by William Gibson, Colin Laney uses “bulky, old-fashioned eyephones” to view streams of Internet data. Eyephones? More than an iPhone, think Google Glass – but a generation of Google Glass not even possible today.
    [This book was first published in 1999.]

  • “I will follow you. Will you follow me?”
    Well before Twitter cemented a superficial social-media context to this exchange, it was a romantic expression and pledge of faith. “Follow You Follow Me” was a hit single for the British rock band Genesis in 1978.

  • Wearable tech is supposed to be the next big thing, with the Apple iWatch and with Sony and other smart watches. But watches with some form of smarts have been around for decades. Seiko has several brands that, back in 1982, began to smarten up with data storage, docks and thermal printers, and memory slots. There was even a 1982 Seiko TV watch that was smart enough to allow viewers to see live broadcast TV (albeit on a teeny LCD screen on the watch face.)
Maybe there’s truth to the saying “everything old is new again.”

Only this time, the new stuff seems to be much, much cooler.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Down the shore…without the drive (or the shore)

Whether you say you’re going “to the beach” or “down the shore,” you probably mean some large expanse of sandy ground near an even larger expanse of water. 

This summer, the beach took on completely new meanings in places not terribly near the sea.

Take Paris, for example. Yes, Paris. That city far, far from sea or bay or channel. It’s basically landlocked, except for the Seine River.

In 2002, the mayor of Paris began a novel experiment that has lasted to this day. For four weeks each summer, from 8:00 am till midnight, people in the city are treated to a Seine-side holiday.

The Paris Plages (Paris Beaches) are for those who flock to or can’t leave the city during late summer. The banks of the Seine become a pedestrian walkway, with sand beaches, deckchairs, recreational areas, refreshment stands, and above-ground pools (because you can’t swim in the Seine – and, really, who would want to).

Since then, other European cities have followed suit.

Berlin opens beach bars on the Spree, where “[p]alm trees, swimming pools and canopied beach chairs stand in the middle of the city.”

In the U.K., there’s the Bristol urban beach, Birmingham’s urban beach in nearby Northfield, and the Nottingham Riviera, among others.

Now the trend has jumped the pond, and “urban beaches” are hitting home. Not just in the U.S., but right in my backyard of Philadelphia.

For the first time this year, Philadelphia opened a pop-up beach on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

The site, about the size of a football field, was open from July 19 through August 18, allowing kids to dig in the sand at Eakins Oval, with the iconic Art Museum as a backdrop.

These pop-up, urban oases are a refreshing concept.

Even without the roar of the surf in the background, they bring a little bit of beach bliss to those in a hot town. Summer in the city.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Sunny, with chance of LOUD

It has been a hot, wet, humid summer in my corner of the world.

The hot and humid parts aren't too unusual for the Philadelphia area. But the mini-seasons of monsoon followed by baking heat followed by more monsoons added a few wrinkles to summer fun.

What I’ve been waiting for were the temperate days when I could work with windows open. That’s one of the joys of working from home.

It’s also one of the problems when your home is in a suburban neighborhood.

If it’s nice enough outside for open windows, it’s nice enough for neighbors (or their contractors) to do outside – and often quite noisy – work. Think lawn mowers, leaf blowers, power washers.

The day could start wonderfully peaceful. Birds singing. Crickets chirping. Quite the pastoral audio background for my conference calls and client interviews.

But the minute I pick up the headset and start dialing, one or another lawn service pulls up and starts revving its engines. Guaranteed.

I’m not complaining. Really. After 13 years of the freelance life, I’ve learned to shake my head – and close the windows.

I just bring this up as word of warning. I’m always eager to take calls from clients and colleagues. But if it’s a little noisy on my end, it’s probably a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Watch me

Time stood still for me last month.

Every single watch I pulled out of the drawer was stopped.

It’s not that I wear watches often. I fell out of the habit in my corporate days, when I drove myself crazy constantly checking the time because, well, it was right there on my wrist.

Taking the watch off was quite liberating.

Since becoming a freelancer back in 2000, time has been mine to manage. Now I enjoy the few instances when I wear a watch -- for client meetings and to time my runs.

So it was odd that all my watches decided to quit at once. Maybe those replacement batteries from the discount store aren’t such a great deal after all.

I took the whole bunch to a jeweler. It was like the good old days, when it was easy to find a craftsman to fix aging but beloved items.

I'll admit it felt strange not to fix something with a download or a patch or an app. There was no software to install. No engaging in an online chat or phone call with customer service.

I walked into the store and dumped my whole stash of watches on the counter. A short time later, they were good as new.

Time marches on, and now I can once again tick off the minutes.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Feels like…it shouldn’t

For most of my summer vacation I wore a jacket and scarf. That was Paris in June.

When I returned home, I went into air-conditioned hibernation from the heat wave sweeping Philadelphia.

Every day I’d check the weather online. The big, bold numbers would indicate temperatures hot enough to fry my entire garden. Then I’d spy the fine print, which would start with “Feels like…” followed by a few more degrees.

‘Splain that one to me. If the thermometer reads 97, why make me even more miserable by adding two or three more degrees of discomfort? How much difference does it really make anyway? Never mind that people experience temperatures in different ways.

Last week, my father sat by the water in the blinding sun on a 95-degree day wearing a thick sweatshirt and long dungarees. There wasn’t even a breeze to be found.

On the  other hand, one of my running buddies can’t stand to wear sleeves past Memorial Day. Others continue to wear running shorts through winter snowstorms.

Yes, 84 degrees at 5 pm today will feel much, much better than 95 – especially with lower humidity – but is there any real value in AccuWeather’s “RealFeel®” indicator of 83? I don't think I'm going to notice the difference.

I remember when temperatures in the 80s felt tropical, but that was last winter, when I grudging bumped up the heat to 66. Now that I’ve lived through the recent heat wave, the 80s sound heavenly. I might even reach for my jacket if I’m out late tonight when it's supposed to dip into the 70s.

It’s no surprise people make so much small talk about the weather. Hot enough for you? Cold enough for you?

While the answer depends on the individual, at least one thing is true. If you don’t like the weather, just wait. But there’s no promise you’ll like what comes next. Mother Nature has been full of surprises these days.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Can't touch this

Touch-screen smartphones have been around quite awhile. I came to the party a little late, holding fast to my old BlackBerry.

There's just something in my writer's soul that loves the feel of a physical keyboard. Never mind that all my attempts at typing on a borrowed iPhone read like this: "Wyat ari wy d-iwng tomighw?"

Now I have the best of both worlds, with the BlackBerry Q10.

I have the keyboard I want, so typing is a breeze, and I'm getting used to all the swiping and tapping the touchscreen requires.

I swipe up and down, left and right, and eventually I get to the screen I want. It's all trial and error for me, but it's so much fun I don't even try very hard to remember the right commands.

There are a few touchy things that drive me crazy, like the fingerprint residue from so much touching and tapping and swiping. Trying to clean the screen is futile, as I just end up opening more apps in the process.

You've also got to have absolutely dry fingers to swipe effectively. Not always so easy in this brutally hot and muggy summer.

And the speed with which the screen reacts is so much faster than I anticipate that I've deleted a few things -- and sent off many misspelled emails -- before realizing what I was doing.

Still and all, I'm loving this smartphone, which is much smarter than I'll ever be. And even though it's a touchscreen, you can't touch it for a great user experience.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The way you do the things you do

There’s a thin line between having things just as you like them and falling into a rut. One certain way to shake things up is travel. The farther the better. 

This summer’s return trip to Paris did the trick. After an absence of eight years, I noticed many changes in the City of Light...and appreciated how easy planning had become, thanks to the Internet. 

Websites and Twitter feeds provided a wealth of suggestions about current schedules, best ideas, things to avoid, and places to visit, along with online reservations for restaurants and advisories about closures that could affect the day's plans. 

Some sites I found most helpful include the following:
  • AngloINFO Paris, on the Web and Twitter. While the site is geared toward expats, it works well for visitors, too. "Comprehensive, accurate and up-to-date info" on everyday life in Paris. 
  • Girls Guide to Paris isn't just for girls. This "all-encompassing online city guide" features a Travel Club and downloadable walking tours. On the Web and Twitter.
  • Elodie's Paris focuses on "what's hot, what's hip, what's happening -- from an insider at the Tourist Office." On Twitter...and the official tourist site.
  • Paris Walks offers daily two-hour walking tours, in English, of popular areas in Paris. No reservation needed; just show up at the designated meeting place at the posted time, pay your 12 euros, and off you go. An informative and entertaining way to hear history's backstory and peek into otherwise hidden courtyards and alleys. 
  • The Fork, an easy way to discover restaurants based on location or cuisine, with online booking and discounts from participating restaurants. 
For two weeks, I soaked up the sights, the culture, and the tastes of Paris. What made it even more special was attempting to live like a Parisian -- renting an apartment in a residential district, grocery shopping in the local market, riding the metro, and watching the neighborhood parents walk their kids to school. 

It was very much like the way I do things at home, only with a decidely French twist.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Sorry, I'm already in a relationship

Not to brag, but there are numerous people pursuing me. They call. They email. They offer enticements to stay in touch.

My response is always the same. Blacklist the phone numbers. Delete emails unopened. Unsubscribe to all offers.

I never explain why, even when pleaded with to give a reason. 

But I'll tell you. 

I don't want a relationship with...
  • The manufacturer of my toothbrush
  • The online store where I buy running gear
  • The contractor who replaced my roof
  • The station where I buy gas
  • The store where I buy paint

All I want from these -- and all the others who beg me to like, follow, subscribe, complete surveys, or become a member -- is their product. To me, the transaction is finished when products or services are delivered and payment is made.

I don't even call my mother as often as some marketers call me.

Yes, I'm fully aware of the value of repeat customers to a healthy business. And I do consider myself a loyal customer. 

My continued patronage can be assured by quality, service, and value, not constant contacts via digital channels. 

My marriage is the only relationship I want nurtured. I can do without all the marketing-based ones.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Lazy yoga

My favorite yoga poses are the lazy ones. I'm sure I'm not the only one to call them that, but the more sensitive term would be restorative poses.

Forget about going animal with all those down dog poses, up dogs, and cat-cow breaths. Restorative poses are the ones you relax into, with the objective being, well, no objective really. Just rest.

Take legs-up-the-wall pose. Of course there's a more technical name for it: Viparita Karani. But legs-up-the-wall pose is what my yoga teacher calls it, and that's exactly what you do: Lie on your back, butt up against the wall, with legs at a 90-degree angle resting on the vertical surface. There's nothing better after a long run. I can almost hear my legs sigh, "Thank  you."

Another favorite: supported butterfly (a.k.a. Supta Baddha Konasana). Again, you lie on your back. Here, your knees are open and the soles of your feet together. Bolsters or other props are used to support your thighs. Even better is adding more bolsters, a vertical one along your spine and maybe another to support your head and neck. Then just let yourself sink into the pose. Ahhhhh.

This next pose is done at the conclusion of every yoga class I've ever been to, and it's the one I look forward to the most: corpse pose, or Savasana. Basically, you lie on your back (see the pattern?). Your legs are slightly apart and feet turned out, arms resting on the floor and slightly angled out from the body with palms up. Quiet the mind, let your muscles relax, and let the floor support you. Some call this the hardest pose of all, because it's all about doing nothing. No fidgeting. No movement. Just rest.

Don't get me wrong. I love the more active yoga sequences, the flow of asana to asana.

But sometimes, a little bit of support and intentional rest is the best exercise.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Now trending

There seems to be a trend for trends these days.

People want to know: What’s hot? What are other people reading, watching, doing? What’s the latest style, thinking, innovation?

Who are the trendsetters...and, maybe more important, who are the ones deciding what is or isn’t a trend?

Here are just a few of the many trendy places to help answer these questions:
  • – It's a TV series, a magazine, a website, and “the world's largest, most popular trend community.” It bills itself as “source of inspiration for industry professionals, aspiring entrepreneurs and the insatiably curious.”
  •, “an independent and opinionated trend firm, scanning the globe for the most promising consumer trends, insights and related hands-on business ideas.” It offers free monthly trend briefings and also a premium service that includes a trend database, annual trend report, and industry trend reports.
  • Deloitte offers its free annual technology report – Tech Trends 2013: Elements of Postdigital – examining the “ever-evolving landscape of technology put to practical business use.” Ten trends were selected that Deloitte believes can have an impact on business over the next 18 to 24 months.
This short list doesn’t even begin to touch on all the trends in fashion, music, home improvement, paint colors, baby names, health care, or vacation spots. But those trend spotters are out there, too.

It's your choice whether to go with the flow...or to set your own path. Who knows? Maybe you've got some great ideas worth emulating. Maybe you will be the next trendsetter...or the next trend spotter.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

What are you reading?

I read all the time.It's what writers do.

So when I was asked recently about favorite authors, I was chagrined to completely blank out on names.

After a beat, I was able to recall several of my must-read contributors to The New Yorker: Atul Gawande, Malcolm Gladwell, Jonathan Franzen.

Even as I was explaining that I have no favorite genre or writer, that I read broadly and across cultures, I could not retrieve the author's name of the book I was currently reading.

Then the reason for my lapse hit me.

I have been reading on my Kindle.

If I had been reading a hardcover book, I would see the title and author's name on a boldly designed cover every time I passed it by.

My Kindle is like a TV. When it's off, the screen is blank.

Even when I turn it on, it opens to the page where I left off.

The title of the book appears at the top of the page -- that is, most of the title. With the popular Elizabeth Gilbert book, I just see Eat, Pray, Love: One Woma...

The author's name never appears, except on the Home screen.

So even though I am now deep into Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, I doubt I could instantly recall his name tomorrow.

I still love my Kindle for its convenience when traveling, the ability to download trial chapters before buying, ease of searching for and buying new books. But I also love physical books for a whole bunch of reasons (see a previous post, More books please).

I guess what I really love is the content, not the format, even if I have trouble remembering the author's name.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Modern family nests Philly style

It was one big happy family in spring 2012. Mom and dad. Offspring. Living large in Philadelphia.

Then dad dies in a truck accident, leaving single mom with three small mouths to feed.

Enter new suitor, who immediately begins to feed and raise the offspring as his own.

Fast forward to spring 2013. Mom and new dad have feathered their nest quite comfortably, and now three eggs have appeared and are expected to hatch in about a month.

It’s an unusual tale for Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) with all the pluck of a Philly style rise-to-the-challenge story.

What’s even more unusual is that the story is played out in real time, and watched by avid fans, via live streaming video from The Franklin Institute.  

Today's Inquirer reported the appearance of the third egg on Easter, while filling in the hawk family history over the past four springs. The blog Hawkwatch at the Franklin Institute posts regular updates and photos, with an archive dating back to the first appearance of the nest in 2009.  

I’ve never been much of a birder, but I look forward to checking in with the hawks every spring. It’s like watching Big Brother or other reality TV show, but without all the bombast. This is just day-to-day living in the heart of the city for a growing family, and I find it fascinating.

So I was thrilled recently to have a meeting at The Franklin Institute and find myself in the same room with the infamous nesting ledge. I did see Papa Hawk fly in to drop off some building supplies – twigs and leaves – but it was a little early for much else.

Now I can check in anytime during daylight hours to see domestic life in action. It’s not always exciting, and there’s a lot of sitting around waiting…and waiting...and waiting.

But that’s the reality of life.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Hey, what's going on?

Meals become street art in Paris.
Whether I'm home in Philadelphia or on vacation around the country or overseas, I'm always looking for new things to do or see.

Concerts. Exhibits. Restaurants. Festivals. Trails. Parks.

There are, of course, a gazillion places on the Internet to find this information.

There are also a few gems.

In Philadelphia, I often turn to Uwishunu, a blog that touts what's happening in the city. It also features a video series of 101 Philadelphians sharing what they wish you knew about Philly. Its Twitter account, @uwishunu, billed as "Philly from the inside out," is equally worthwhile.

An old favorite on my travels has always been Where magazine, left in hotel rooms and tourist bureaus. I would quickly scan upcoming events, note restaurant suggestions, and tear out maps to stuff into my pockets. The online version offers "Local guides. Worldwide." -- with a newsletter, travel blog, and stories that feature wherever it is you want to go.

You can also subscribe to weekly Where email to get "insider knowledge on what to do in your favorite cities."

Me? I usually resist subscribing to email lists, but I had to try two from Where: for my favorite city, Philadelphia; and for my other favorite city, Paris, which I'll be visiting soon.

It doesn't even matter if I don't get to any of the things listed. At least I'll know what's going on.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Job security for translation professionals

"We posted a story that I picked up"

That's the name of the website?

"Living with human"

That's a subhead on the website? Well, what does the body copy say?

"In my parents have a dog. Golden Retriever dog breed is. Born in the house of his relatives seven years ago, I came to my home...The name of the dog in my house is such a ram. Seems to have dated a girl like that come out in comic guys because my father sold. But what my father would have been wondering. Lamb is a male. Family life and lamb we began all told.

Ok. The punchline here is computer translation, as if you hadn't already guessed.

This all started when I typed in an old URL for my running club. Instead of using the .com suffix, I used the original .org. It seems that in the last few years, the abandoned URL was bought by a Japanese firm in order to publish nonsensical stories.At least that's my take from the translated copy.

I used Google Translate to make some sense of the Japanese characters. I got similar results from Bing Translator. I'm sure other online tools would have been the same.

And so this experience has taught me two things:
  1. There's no substitute for a professional human translator.
  2. There's value in keeping old domain names, because you never know who will snatch them up...or why.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

No more bad news

“Don't bring me bad news, no bad news
I don't need none of your bad news today”

-Patty Griffin

Superstorms. Blizzards. Fiscal cliffs. Political gridlock. Abuse of power. Misuse of trust. Violence – against children, girlfriends, partners, friends, neighbors, elders, strangers, animals.

The news is full of mind-numbing, soul crushing, energy sapping bad, bad, bad, bad stuff.

I can only expect locusts, frogs, and pestilence next.

What I need is more balance. More good news.

Incredibly, I found some:

And there’s more good stuff at such sites as:

So when the news get you down, and you begin to feel the crushing weight of so much bad stuff happening in the world, take the time to search out some goodness.

It’s there. Waiting to be found. Taking a backseat to all those sensational headlines attracting attention.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


The writing in emails is typically a casual affair, IMHO.

The acronyms can be hard to decipher, depending on the IBK.

And rude (IBK = idiot behind the keyboard).

So I've been delighted by recent emails that have included sign-offs that make me smile.

A sampling:
  •  Have a prosperous day (from an administrative coordinator)
  • Sent from my [device], so pardon my typos (everyone with an iPhone)
  • Cheers (sent from overseas)
  •  Mit freundlichen Grüßen (from an American with a global perspective)
I also get a lot of exclamation points!!!! A/k/a screamers!!!!!! As in: Thank you!!!. Thanks!!! 

I don't get a lot of "Ciao!" in emails, but I often get it in face-to-face meetings. Make that cheek-to-cheek greetings, because it's often accompanied by air kisses on alternating cheeks. These can be awkward for Americans, who get tangled up in which cheek goes first and how many kisses are enough or too many. 

For my emails, I've gotten into the "Best regards" habit. It was something I picked up years ago, after a company lawyer included it in his email. It seemed sincere and, at that time, a little different. It stuck.

Until next time...Adios! Au revoir! Avtio!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

What exactly do you do?

I write for a living. For businesses. So naturally my ear is attuned to copy, especially when it’s intended to draw readers into learning more about a company.

Recently I ran across several examples of epic fail.

Below are word-for-word descriptions from actual websites (with original typos and grammar glitches).

BTW: I still don’t know exactly what these companies do.

  • We at [company name] earned vertical niches in global industry through our ability to respond to our clients with custom solutions that resolve issues rather than conceal conceptual and architectural flaws with boiler-plate responses that never quite fit the client’s need. Capability, ingenuity, response, and a commitment to excellence are the foundation of every [company name] relationship.
  • [Company name]is the business improvement company that helps you motivate the people who drive your business. We providing tailored solutions that help you get the most out of your most valuable assets: your people.
  • For companies seeking specific bio-based solutions, we orchestrate the disparate activities that facilitate technology development in order to deliver a customized solution. Specifically, we work hand-in-hand with you to identify relevant technology and determine its technical feasibility. If technical feasibility is promising, we will collaborate to develop, scale-up and deliver a de-risked commercially-viable technology package customized to your precise needs.
A Google search of “customized solutions” turned up 2,370,000 results. In 0.40 seconds

Hard to believe there’s that degree of customization among companies that lack the creativity to simply explain who they are and what they do.

You don't have to be a writer to recognize lazy writing -- or to shudder at what this implies for the brand or the business.

Friday, January 4, 2013

To boldly go

I never knew space could be so much fun. Or Twitter. Or following tweets from space.

Even William Shatner can’t resist.

Here’s his exchange yesterday with Chris Hadfield, currently in orbit on the International Space Station:

From @WilliamShatner: "@Cmdr_Hadfield Are you tweeting from space? MBB"
‏From @Cmdr_Hadfield: "@WilliamShatner Yes, Standard Orbit, Captain. And we're detecting signs of life on the surface."

Within 24 hours, that exchange was retweeted 4,191 times.

Even more amazing than this life-imitating-art-imitating life scenario between Star Trek’s Captain Kirk and the soon-to-be Commander of Expedition 35 are the photos Hadfield posts to Twitter from 240 miles above earth.

Here are a few of my faves:
  • "These mountains near Sochi, Russia remind me somehow of corduroy pillows." 
  • "Great Belt Bridge, Denmark, connecting Zealand and Fyn. Straight lines stand out against nature when viewed from space." 
  • "Like a Hole Punch - confetti of farms using central irrigation in the American Southwest. Jan 2, 2013." 
  • "Mojave Desert and the lake beds of Edwards AFB where I attended test Pilot School, and where the Shuttle first landed." 
  • "A view of the Suez Canal, as it opens into the Mediterranean. A great mix of nature and powerful human engineering."
There’s much more to see and read on

Or on the NASA/ISS or Canadian Space Agency sites.

If you aren't able "To boldly go where no man has gone before," as least you can read the tweets.