Monday, July 23, 2018

Everything new is old again

It's a beautiful day
Back in 2008, starting a blog seemed like table stakes for a freelance writer. I jumped right in and stated my intent to “share interesting and thought-provoking articles, sites, and ideas.”

I was never going to be someone who posted daily or even weekly. I just wanted to publish something every now and then so readers (and potential clients) would know I hadn’t fallen off the grid. A twice monthly schedule seemed reasonable.

That was then. Now social media has become so crowded, with virtually everyone on the planet vying for attention and hashtags and viral posts, that my enthusiasm for the space itself has cooled. I’m reminded of Cracker’s 1992 Teen Angst song, paraphrased here: “What the world needs now is another blogger like I need a hole in my head.”  

And so I’m on sabbatical from blogging and, to a lesser extent, tweeting. For those of you who already spend too much time in front of screens, you’ll now have one fewer blogger to read. (You’re welcome.)

Who knows? I may return. Or maybe some next-generation thing will capture my attention. At any rate, you can always find me at

As my mother used to say when I was a kid: “It’s a beautiful day, go outside and breathe some fresh air.”

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Things I didn't need to know

The internet is full of statistics and information. Not all of it is true. Not all of it is useful. And some of it is downright irrelevant.

Consider, which offers "Facts and Stats about your Name." Just plug in your name and discover all kinds of things you really didn't need to know.

Here's the lowdown on my name, according to the website. Most people named Amy are born on a Tuesday and die on a Friday. Most people with the surname Binder are born on a Friday and die on a Monday.

Truth is, I was born on a Wednesday. As for dying, I don't know whether to fear a Monday or a Friday--or any day in between or after.

Beyond mortality statistics, I learned:
  • There are about 37 people named Amy Binder in the U.S.  
  • The average age for all those named Amy Binder is 36. (Ahh, sure, I'll take it.)
  • As a baby name, Amy was most popular between 1970 and 1980, reaching peak popularity as the 2nd most common newborn name in 1977. (Might that have something to do with Amy Carter, whose father was the 39th president from 1977-1981?)  
  • There are roughly 24 Amy Binders on Facebook--and none are me. 
  • Maine is the state with the most people named Amy per capita. (I've only visited.)

OK. So you get the idea. Data mining makes a lot of assumptions possible. Some are almost interesting. Some are dead wrong. And too many are used in target marketing. (Today's mail brought a no-cost offer for a burial or cremation space at the local cemetery...and it's not even my presumed dying day.)

If you have some time to waste, try and see what trivia interests you. Or if you really want to waste time, check out the Top 51 Free Time Waster Sites. It's all there waiting for you on the internet.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

When the internet goes down

Live by the internet, die by the internet. Well, maybe that’s too dramatic a paraphrase of “live by the sword, die by the sword.” Still, when the internet goes down—as it does from extreme weather, service interruptions, or other unexplained reasons—life comes to a deadly standstill.

At least I have 4G, so my iPhone works even when I can’t. I see emails coming in, but can’t fully address the requests if they require desktop work. Sure, I can camp out with my laptop at a coffee shop, but that's often more trouble than it's worth.

I’ve learned to deal with the forced mini-vacations, but now there’s another level of anxiety to internet outages. My mother resides in a senior-living community, and my brother and I keep testing new internet-based services to keep an eye on things. 
  • One service, Nest Cam, allows a real-time look-see with streaming video.
  • Another, Alzcom, is a remotely managed calendar with interactive reminders that display on a tablet in her kitchen. This free and awesome technology answers the perennial question for people with memory issues: “What’s on my calendar today?”

  • We’ve also tried Alexa to help answer a broader range of questions, such as “What’s today’s date?” and “What time is it?” and “What’s the weather?” But Alexa isn’t always perfect, as this SNL skit so aptly demonstrates: Amazon Echo Silver.
When everything works, it’s a wonderful thing. But March nor'easters have knocked out my mom’s internet, and it will be a while before we can get it up and running again. In the meantime, there’s no streaming video, Alzcom reminders are stuck on the last date of service, and Alexa speaks unbidden to complain about being disconnected.

The suggested course of action, offered by everyone from the cable company to Nest to Alexa, is to go online and search their help pages for a fix. See the problem? Without internet, it’s kind of hard to get on the internet. While I do have access through my iPhone, navigation is both cumbersome and useless for trying to resolve a remote issue in my mom’s apartment. 

After the current nor’easter clears, I will go visit and shift into troubleshooting mode. And I will pester the service provider until everything is fixed.

The irony is that as much as I have come to rely on the internet for any and all services, I need it now more than ever for my mom, who doesn’t own a smartphone or computer. And she doesn’t have to. All these tech-heavy and interconnected services are transparent to her—that is, they are when the internet is up and running.  

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Why would you bother?

Every once in a while, I conduct what I consider a science experiment. There is no real science involved. It’s just me attempting something new, without any surety of the outcome.

Several experiments have taken place in the kitchen, as cooking is like a second language to me. I get the basics, but I’ll never be fluent. 

Among my bench tests are these:
  • Roasted peppers—Easy peasey, so they say. Ingredients? One: peppers. Process? “Blister” the peppers and let them cool. Then magic is supposed to happen, as the skins just peel away. In reality, fingers blister, pepper skins turn stubborn, and cursing ensues. My result was edible, but I spent way too much time on what is essentially a condiment. Never again.
  • Bagels—New York-style bagels are the gold standard. So what makes them different? The care put into each of three cooking steps: boiling, baking, and broiling. Some recipes leave out the last step, but broiling adds a delicious golden crisp to the crust. I’ll admit I didn’t mind the process, but buying bagels is so much easier and tastier, at least in my kitchen.
  • Wheat bread—I have come to the revelation that I will never get along with yeast. It’s too temperamental. Yeast is the Goldilocks of baking; it can’t be too hot or too cold—it has to be just right. I can’t be bothered, which is how my loaf of wheat bread became a wheat brick.
  •  Fingerless gloves—Escaping the kitchen, I turned to YouTube to learn how to knit with circular needles. Then I tackled a pair of fingerless gloves. The pattern I chose was adorable. The instructions claimed ease and simplicity. The result was wearable. Then I wore them. Word to the wise: If it’s cold enough to need gloves, you really need gloves with fingers.
Why do I keep pursuing my version of the scientific process? 
—If producing items fit for purpose is the benchmark, then I’m barely making the mark.
—If we learn more from our mistakes than successes, then I’ve earned an advanced degree.
—If the journey is truly more important than the destination, then there was value gained.

If trying something new and different is what’s important throughout life, then it certainly is worth all the bother.

Monday, February 5, 2018

How much would you pay?

Twice in recent weeks I’ve heard from organizations that want to help me sell my business. Not that AMY INK is for sale. But firms are out there encouraging me to plan my exit strategy. One asks:
  • Are you tired of the day-to-day grind of running your business?
  • Are you interested in new challenges?
  • Do you want to spend more time with your family?
If I can answer “yes” to any of these questions, it’s the start of the end. They don’t want me to risk burning out or face a declining business that hurts a final selling price. How thoughtful!

So I checked another source, “4 Signs That It’s Time to Sell Your Business.” Apparently, you’re primed to sell if:
…You’re on 4 or 5 different medications.
… The company has outgrown your skill set.
…The market might be moving against you.
…A lucrative opportunity presents itself.

With that last thought in mind: How much would you pay for AMY INK? Granted, there is nothing really to buy. It’s just me. In my home office. Tapping away on my computer. Helping clients tell their stories.

If you wanted to buy the business, would you move into my house? Use my well-worn equipment (my printer can send faxes!). Try to mimic my writing style.

I do have an exit strategy. It's just not one any outside consultant can help plan or execute. It’s me deciding when I can no longer string two thoughts together to write a cogent story.

That may not be the most profitable way to monetize what so far has been 18 successful years of AMY INK. But it works for me.
UPDATE 2/7/18: Now I'm getting followup calls from these business-sales consultants. They would be better served by doing more homework on their prospect list.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

What’s next?

3-setting seat control: warm, hot, sear.
Products often tout “New!” and “Improved!” versions of themselves. It’s the nature of marketing and commerce to always look for the next new thing to bring in revenue.

My nature is to favor reliable go-to products—things I consider tried and true. Even so, I find myself smitten by things I never knew I wanted and now don’t want to be without.

My car is a prime example.
  • I once laughed at heated seats. “I don’t drive naked, so why would I need them?” Now I know. They feel wonderful, especially on chilly days.
  • Heads-up display? Brilliant! I didn’t know this existed until I test-drove my late-model car. The information I want to see is projected onto my windshield. I can keep my eyes on the road and still have in my line of sight info on speed, navigation directions, and radio station.
  • Mastering the stick shift is a badge of honor, but I’ll take hill hold assist every time. Now there's no reason not to drive a manual transmission car. Hill hold adds the few seconds needed to go from brake pedal to gas, without fear of rolling backward when stopped on an uphill.   
Less technically oriented innovations have also captured my loyalty. Take Greek yogurt, for example. I used to live on the regular kind, with lots of sweet fruit filling on the bottom. But one bite of the creamier, protein-packed, and tastier Greek variety, and I switched for good. Most mornings I share a spoonful with the cat, who also is hooked.

I’ll share one final discovery, this one mine. Like many eureka moments, it was accidental. I woke a little groggy one morning and began pouring a glass of vanilla soy milk when I really wanted orange juice. So I decided to top off the milk with OJ and, voilĂ , I now had a Creamsicle. What could be better than mixing two tried-and-true beverages to create something even better.

No one would ever accuse me of being an early adopter of New! Improved! things. But once I stumble upon the next thing I really like, I can be the most loyal of customers.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Save me

As the digital world advances, so do choices for how to backup all those selfies and videos—and, of course, work and personal files. For the brave and trusting, there’s always the cloud. But for those of us who want to keep things in-house, what’s the best option?

My early career dates back to the Age of Diskette. Specifically, the 8” IBM Displaywriter Diskette, or floppy disk. What innovation! Forget punch cards, this was the wave of the future. I could store 80 kilobytes of documents on a single diskette and, as long as I didn’t bend or crease it, gain access again with a few keystrokes. 

As diskette size shrank to 5-1/4” and then 3.5”, capacity grew to 1.44 megabytes. What would I do with all that space? I made backups of all my files all the time, and soon found myself awash in diskettes. At least these weren’t as fragile as the 8” kind—but they soon were superseded by CDs and then DVDs. With optical media, thin silver discs could store much, much more and do it more reliably.

When computer manufacturers began phasing out floppy disk drives, I said a final goodbye to diskettes and hello to discs, now able to save gigabytes of data. Then the next technology innovation came along. For my one-person office, that took the shape of USB flash drives. Easy to use, small in size, and growing ever larger in capacity.

But wait, there’s more. Last year I began using the cloud, with a twist. Now I’m backing up all my files, photos, and other digital tidbits to a cloud station that sits on my desk. Basically, it’s my own personal cloud, which can take me into terabyte territory if need be.

I expect backup technology to continue leapfrogging ahead, and I will follow along. While computers have become more reliable, I remember too vividly blue-screen-of-death crashes. Fearful of losing hours of work, I learned to save documents frequently, using the shortcut Ctrl+s. The habit is so ingrained, I once found my fingers doing Ctrl+s motions while writing longhand on a legal pad.

I guess I’m just programmed to save. And, because I’m a belt-and-suspenders kind of person, I save in duplicate, with redundant systems, in case one fails.

In the digital world, it's better to be saved than sorry.