Monthly Archives: June 2007

Trying to Up My Game- I Need A Tech Oracle

Every day, I find out about some new application or tool that’s going to “save me” in some way.  Some of these tools are truly helpful, others are added to the pile of things I should look into, others I start to play with, but rapidly become overwhelmed with the learning curve- how to learn to really use and adapt these tools into my functional everyday toolbox.

At conferences, I check out the stickers on people’s laptops- it’s like looking at a NASCAR vehicle, visual clues about what tools the smartest people I know and respect might be using this week.  Yet what I really need is some sort of database that not only tells me what tools are available, but cross compares features, and even gives a pro/con list to help me figure out what’s worth my time and what’s not.  I know I’m missing key things in my toolbox.  But the learning curve on what will work best for me is still kind of steep.

I’m thinking it might be fun to have a New Media Oracle- like the Oracle at Delphi who could see into the future and predict what you might need or what you should do.  Someplace where you could put in some information about yourself, and what you wanted to do, and the Oracle would spit out the latest and greatest tools, sorted by cost/convenience/reviews and point me in the right direction.  A Consumer Reports of New Media.  SEO optimization makes Google pick the most popular stuff, not necessarily the best, for example, so this won’t work alone for what I’m thinking about.

My time is my most precious resource, and there’s only so much information I can assimilate at one time.  I have decent tech skills, but hey, I spent years studying biology and law.  That makes me great at understanding things like motivations and outcomes, neurological basis of behavior, but this doesn’t help me read XML like a native or really understand PHP or MySQL.

Often I know I have a problem or a challenge, and I’m not sure who to ask to really help me make this all better, even if the money/time continuum now allows me to outsource some work- who do I go to?  Who has the time to walk me through stuff and point me in better directions?  Who wants to use me for a case study on how low entry barriers into the tech world let people get so far before they begin to stagnate/feel impossibly overwhelmed by all the infinite choice and possibilities available/simply can’t know it all so fail to optimize their online presence?  What is the next step?  I need to be able to have a conversation about these issues without feeling stupid about what I know/don’t know- I need to be able to come out of the “partially tech saavy” closet and get to the next level of competency.

Any one interested in becoming an Oracle?  Anyone interested in helping develop a Consumer’s Guide to New Media?  Contact me at ldpodcast AT gmail.com

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Turning Lemons into Lemonade

On my way to PAB, I got a flat tire.  About 30 miles north of Syracuse,  near a little town called Parrish.    One nice guy took me to a local shop, the kind you might find in the movies.  The options were wait for someone to tow the car to the nearest dealership, 120 miles or more away, then fix the tires, then retrack the steps, or simply buy two new tires (the Mini takes special run-flats that you can’t get from just anywhere….), but even this would require a drive back to Syracuse.  All options were pretty unattractive, but I said to myself, ok, let’s not get upset about this, let’s just cope and roll with it.

As a result, this turned into a great experience.  The guy who ran the shop, Dave Reader, took me with him to get the replacements, so his guys could get lunch.  Dave actually bought me lunch at his brother’s restaurant on the lake on the way back to the Shop, and I taught a garage full of people about podcasting.

I could have been paranoid and not gone with Dave to get the tires, staying put and worrying about how safe it would be to trust this mechanic in the middle of nowhere.  But I went with it, and it turned into an amazing experience.  I told him about my podcast about learning disabilities, and a whole new chapter opened in the adventure.  Turns out, Dave has had an interesting life.  He quit school in 10th grade because of his dyslexia and entered the service, later getting a GED.  His daughter had problems in school, but he didn’t let them remove the “label” so she could continue to get help all through high school for her dyslexia, and now, she’s working on her second master’s and teaches autistic kids just outside of Boston.  Dave’s been a township supervisor, and in every sense is a practical, down to earth guy, working hard to make a living when it’s getting harder for small businesses to make it every year.

This is a very real example of what happens to kids with LD over time.  If it’s ignored, kids drop out of school and make other choices- why should they stay in school when it is nothing but a place where they feel stupid?  Yet when Dave saw his daughter struggling as he did, he did everything he could to make sure she got the help he didn’t, and she not only went to college, but grad school.  She’s also helping other children who need the same sort of helping hand in turn.  Dave turned his situation around as well, but it wasn’t the path he wants for his kids- he wants the best for them, and has worked hard to get it despite his difficulties growing up.

For me,  what could have been an awful situation turned out to be a real treasure.  I got to teach a whole bunch of people about podcasting and internet radio; I learned more about how hard it is to have a small business in a small town these days; and that if you are willing to make the best of a bad situation and not freak out, amazing things can happen.

It’s that zen sense of things happen for a reason, even the bad stuff- you just have to find the teachable moment.

Sometimes the lesson is that some people are jerks, sometimes the lesson is that every day people have amazing capacity for kindness to absolute strangers.  In the paranoid society we live in, we need a lot more people like Dave Reader from Parrish NY, who are decent and kind to people who need a little help.  We need to be willing to talk to people and connect; get over our sense of self-importance, and you never know what you might discover.  I discovered once again that opting to “go with the flow” and not get all worked up over a situation I could not control was much better than freaking out or melting down.

If I have any more of these “The Universe will unfold its treasures” experiences,  I may just have to become a Buddhist.   My experiment and new year’s resolution of trying to live without fear has been amazing so far- I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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Caffeine Won’t Solve Your Problems – or will it?

I went to the grocery today, and I found a new product with eye catching labels- diet pepsi MAX, billed as an “invigorating cola”.  Trying to figure out what this is, since Pepsi is always putting something weird into their normal drinks to try to make them new, when they were fine the old way, I looked a little further on the label.  Only by very careful inspection do you find out that there’s 69 mg of caffeine per 12 oz. serving. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has a chart about caffeine content in food and beverages.  Comparitively, Diet Coke only has 46.5 mg,  regular Pepsi 37.5 mg, and Mountain Dew, 55.5 mg per 12 oz serving.  8 oz of regular coffee gives you about 135 mg. caffeine by comparison.  My all time favorite soda, Tab, has 47 mg.

One of my favorite books of all time is Mind Hacks- Tips and Tools for Using Your Brain by Tom Stafford and Matt Webb.  In this book, Hack #92 discusses caffeine.  In a nutshell, Caffeine chemically hacks your brain’s reward system, and is often referred to as creative lighter fluid, which sort of explains the appeal of an odd Red Bull/Woody’s cooler (vodka & soda- like beverage) drink I tried this weekend.  Within 20 minutes of drinking a caffeinated drink, the caffeine has diffused through every cell in your body, and the neurotransmitters in your brain aren’t far behind.

Caffeine manages to upshift the dopaminergic system in your brain, not unlike other stimulants, right in the areas involved in feelings of pleasure and reward.  Studies have even shown that regular use of caffeine results in better mental functioning, making it not only pleasurable but performance enhancing as well.  The hack even quotes Paul Erdos who said “A mathemetician is a device for turning coffee into theorems.”  After this weekend in PAB, I am becoming convinced that Podcasters are devices for turning coffee into New Media solutions. (and this has nothing to do with the toaster….)   The hack then even shifts into a discussion about operant conditioning, taking about how we get trained to like our caffeine delivered in a specialized format (insert the name of your Starbucks order here), so that the ritual of preparing to consume the caffeine is almost as powerful as the actual buzz 20 minutes later on.

For full disclosure, I’ll tell you my whole caffeine story.

Starting in high school, I began a life long love affair with caffeine.  My friends refer to me as the Tab queen, because I always had the diet soda around, or was found drinking large glasses of ice tea.   Later on, I developed a pretty interesting espresso drink habit, that went on until I actually developed an eye twitch that only went away after I cut back on the caffeine and opted for a bit more sleep instead.

A few years ago, my kids were diagnosed with ADHD.  I sat in their psychiatrist’s office, and I actually asked whether or not a double latte was a decent enough substitution for the meds, and was told that “caffeine was such a dirty drug”, and that really, the meds would not only even out the dose of stimulant, but could be , well, measured.  hmmmm. This became prescient of events to come.

About 2 years later, and after the eye twitch episode, I began to realize that perhaps I also had ADHD and had simply been self-medicating with caffeine, LOTS,  daily, for years.  I went for testing, and sure enough, I joined the ranks of the clinically distracted in our family.

So the purpose of this story is really to ask whether the Starbucks on every corner, selling legally addicting yet socially acceptable stimulants, is a sign or symptom of cultural and perhaps actual ADHD in many people.   Do we need to encourage self-medicating behavior by simply adding more and more caffeine into our diets through things like Diet Pepsi Max?  (Which tastes ok by the way- I’ll try it iced down a bit more, and give a more detailed review later on.)

Choosing to treat my ADHD formally rather than by the hap-hazard manner I had adopted on my own, was incredibly helpful to me.  I was no longer reliant on episodic dosing variations in my oral caffeine intake- ie lattes, soda, etc. and I have gotten a heck of a lot more productive and organized.  It’s been simply amazing.

And I probably won’t end up like the resident on my husband’s service a few years ago who actually went into ventricular fibrulation (heart palpitations requiring an electric shock to get back into rhythm), leading his friends to give him a Starbucks t-shirt with two big burn marks where you would put the paddles to shock someone.  Ah, friends.

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Going on New Media PlayDates

This weekend, I attended the Podcasters Across Borders Conference (affectionately known as PAB) in Kingston, ON.  It was another amazing experience, and I met truly wonderful people, with whom I hope we’ve started long and enduring friendships.  PAB had a different format than the several PodCamps I’ve attended and helped organize, and had a different feel as well.  These differences have given me a lot to think about when planning Podcamp Philly as well as deciding what I expect to get out of the process of planning and attending conferences in general.   Here are some of my thoughts:

Paid attendance versus unpaid is not the most important metric.  PAB is a conference with a modest registration fee, but I don’t feel this had any significant impact in the “type” or “quality” of people who attended or spoke.  The speakers were pretty terrific across the board, the attendees were fantastic, and the location was beautiful.  This has also been true of the PodCamps I’ve attended, where admission has been “free”- although obviously, everyone is paying for their own travel costs.   Paid versus unpaid attendance doesn’t seem to have a significant impact on attendance, on the quality of presenters, although the Boat Cruise, meals and amenities at PAB were great, and helped keep the group together as a whole most of the weekend.

A choice of sessions to attend is important, but too many choices isn’t good, either.  PAB had a set speaker schedule, set panels, and one session at a time, over two days.  The topics were applicable to everyone from newbies to more experienced community members, but this also meant some sessions were not as engaging to some people as to others.

By contrast, at Podcamp NYC, we had 12 sessions going simultaneously, and I think this was really far too many, and caused logistics issues for people trying to get from one place to another easily.  As I plan PodCamp Philly, the trick will be to have enough sessions available to give people a choice, but not so many as to cause logistics issues.

Session Attention Deficit Disorder -In a conference where there is only one session going on at a time, people are more likely to stay put, even if this session is not “speaking” to them.  This is the social expectation- the Social Contract- “We set up this conference for you, and you paid to attend, so come listen to what these people we selected for you have to say.”  And I felt compelled to do so, not wanting to miss anything, especially since this was my first year at PAB.

Yet, this caused some interesting behavior from the attendees.  There was a lot of chatting and twittering happening during some sessions, which was fun, but perhaps a little silly and juvenile at times.  And probably not 100% fair to the speakers to deal with a crowd of active side-participants in the back of the room.

These mini-side agendas did fill the need to network and talk- people didn’t leave to use the “podcamp” room to do mini-sessions as intended, but stayed put and chatted in real time during the sessions.  This meant each speaker got to speak to every person attending, not just a portion of them, yet it also meant a fair amount of the back of the room was practicing partial attention techniques most of the time.

PlayDate Time  What I took away from this experience is that there’s an almost primal need for people to “network” and chat during these events.  The”networking” time-or as I prefer to call it- the PlayDate time-is almost always the best part of the event.  People need to learn and to talk, but creating the conversation is something that’s difficult to organize from the outside.  Some of the best conversations I had were over meals, taking a walk around town, and in smaller groups- creating a deeper connection and a sense of intimacy.

Yet how do you get someone to sponsor an event, or to justify going to a conference where the sole agenda is to place a whole bunch of new media people inside a confined area with food & drink and wait for the chemistry to take it’s course?*

This doesn’t sound compelling to people who are just entering the new media, or want to learn about all this “stuff” that isn’t being taught in any systematic way in school.  You can’t take a course that will teach you about blogging or twitter in any meaningful way at the local community college, or university, for that matter.  And the only way to really learn about this stuff is to attend a New Media Conference like PodCamp, or BlogPhiladelphia (July 12 & 13- I’ll be there!)

Mixing Knowledge and PlayTime I’m coming to the conclusion that there’s gotta be a mix between learning, talking and playtime at these conferences, and that the “perfect” mix is largely up to each individual to find on their own.  There has to be a way to feel free to go “create” or talk or discuss things, without feeling like you’re missing what you came to the conference for in the first place.

Talking over meals works well, as do group “flickr” walks, trips to the bookstore, and more.  People need downtime to consolidate what they’ve learned, maybe even sleep a bit, and even create new groups of friends- Two friends need to grab a random two or three people and chat about anything that comes to mind- get to know them and what they do.  I got to meet Neil Bearce– one of the masterminds behind Bum Rush The Charts- this way.  A few of us decided to try a little thai restaurant rather than the large group of 40+ causing headaches for the waitstaff at a local restaurant, and a smaller group of twelve or so at another.  I probably wouldn’t have had a chance to hang with Neil otherwise, and I thought it was simply amazing- one of the people I wish I knew better already, and hope to know better in the future.

As I try to sort through my crowded brain this morning, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what makes a conference worthwhile, and which parts seem less useful?  How much “free time” do you need versus learning time?  How much are you willing to spend on such a venture and why?  It can be expensive to go to conferences in far-flung cities, especially if you’re not sure what you’ll get out of them, or who you’ll meet, but that has been part of the adventure for me as well.  What are your metrics for deciding which conference to attend and why?   What makes it a must versus a “that’d be nice?”

*I keep flashing back to Mike Meyers on Saturday Night Live doing the “Coffee Talk” sessions where he’d throw out a topic and say “talk amongst yourselves-I’ll give you a topic- Rhode Island- Neither a road nor an Island- Discuss.”

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Community Engagement

Chris Brogan wrote a great post today, asking about ways to grow an engaged community.  He spoke about the new media tools, yet a frustration at how hard it is to build communities.  Some people stay voyeurs and a precious few engage.  This happens in every aspect of life.  There are a handful of engaged moms who run the PTA.  There are a handful of people who form the core social structure at a business, or in a highschool.  I’m willing to bet that even within your family, there is one person who takes on the role of “organizer”- planning holidays, trips, and details of these events.  The person who is always calling up to see if we’re doing group gifts this year at the holidays, for example.  The Organizer- or perhaps, the Connector.

Malcolm Gladwell talks about this a bit in his great book, The Tipping Point.   Firstly, that economists have long recognized that 80 percent of what gets “done” is done by 20 percent of the people.  The Chair of the PTA, your relative who gets everything moving in the right direction, and your passionate friend who is a nut over some topic are in the 20%.  They are the people who are going to do whatever it takes to make something happen.  These are your engaged few- your core community.  Within this core community, there are connectors, mavens and salesmen.

Chris Brogan is a natural connector.  He has become, through his natural talents, the Yenta of New Media.  He is a matchmaker of extreme talent, and acts as a social hub for people to meet and then go off and do incredible things once Chris has made that important connection.

Chris Penn, the co-founder of PodCamp, is more of a maven.  Chris is like the Comsumer Reports of New Media.  He knows the latest and best tools around, and shares this with everyone he knows.  He is a connoisseur, he is passionate about his subject, and passionate about pointing people in the right direction.  When I went to purchase a new Mac laptop, the first person I asked for advice was Chris.

So the question is, if we have connectors and we have mavens, who are the Salesmen?  Who are the people that have the charm and charisma to bring this message to others?

We can all act as salesmen for New Media, but I’ll nominate all of the people who have taken the initiative to have their own PodCamps as active salespeople of the idea.  (or the PodCamp Apostles, perhaps?)  These are people who have “drunk the PodCamp Koolaid” and are so excited, they can’t wait to do the same thing in their own town, with its own flavor.   [PodCamp Philly is my version, Sept. 7, 8th and 9th 2007!Sign up now to participate and present a session of your own!] And as PodCamps continue to proliferate, the cycle of connector, maven and salesmen will continue outwards.  My list of salesmen who are active in this community and first “met” at PodCamp Boston currently numbers a minimum of Thirty-Three- more than ten percent of the attendees.

Is this a base conversion rate?  Can you expect 10% of attendees to go out and engage actively with the community further?  I don’t know, or know how you can really measure it, but I hope that’s the case.

One of the side benefits already from organizing PodCamp Philly is that we’re starting to see an active New Media community emerging.  We’re seeing people interested in participating, and becoming less isolated.  And in the end, this is perhaps the best thing about hosting a PodCamp- bringing a community of people together that endures locally and virtually, long after the event is over.

Things in new media seem to move very quickly.  I would argue the idea of Podcamp has propagated very quickly, but we haven’t yet reached a true Tipping Point.  I imagine it’s not too far off in the future, though.

The  barriers to Community engagement, large and small

And if there’s anything I have found as a common factor with many people in our community, is a horrible lack of sense of self- importance, self-assurance, and self-value.

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Podcasters Across Borders Meme

I’m going to Podcasters Across Borders [PAB] this upcoming weekend, which promises to be a great Podcasting conference, possibly even filling in the small holes and questions I’ve long had but haven’t yet spent the time digging to the bottom of, to date.

I was really excited to hear Chris Penn, of PodCamp and Financial Aid Podcast fame was attending.  My dream is to convince Chris to do a DIY “Pimp Your HardDrive” video show, but I’m still working on that one.  In the meantime, Chris has globally tagged everyone who is attending PAB to participate in  this meme, so here it goes:

1. Why are you coming to PAB?

I’m coming to PAB because I’ve become good friends with the organizers, Mark Blevis and Bob Goyetche; I can’t wait to meet Andrea, Mark’s wife who also contributes to GNM Parents, a group blog I write for.  There are a lot of great people attending, including Vivian Vasquez and “Andycaster” and others I can’t wait to get to know more. Oh, and there’s one other reason I can’t share here, at least not yet…

2. A little homework now: Which PAB registrants would you like to meet? Why?

I also know many of the PAB attendees, but I am definitely looking forward to spending time with Vivian, Andy, Andrea, Mark & Bob, Bryan, Chris, Jay, Julien and more.  I didn’t get enough time to really chat with Vivian and Andy during PodCamp NYC, so I’m hoping to make up for that this weekend.  I’d also love to meet the couple behind Two Boobs and a Baby +.
3. Who is your “dream interview” for your podcast? Why?

For my podcast?  Dr. Mel Levine.  Dr. Edward Hallowell.  Rick LaVoie.  Sally Shaywitz. Donna Shalayla.  My podcast is all about learning and learning disabilities, and the experts in the field are often less known than they should be.

4. Who would you like to interview at PAB?

Vivian, Andrea, Julien, Umm, don’t you mean PAB? And honestly, I don’t really want to interview anyone at PAB. I just want to show up and have a good time.

5. What is your, “Can’t miss it” session at PAB?

I have to agree with Chris Penn, that it’s as much about the people as it is about the sessions- I’m also interested in seeing how a “one session at a time” format works versus the standard podcamp Multiple sessions at a time stuff.

6. What is your favorite podcast?

I have so many, it’s hard to single out one or two.  I find I am trying to “snack” a bunch of different podcasts but not consuming every episode.

7. What is your favorite web resource?

Google/gmail/twitter

8. Who is your favorite podsafe musician? (eg. Sean McGaughey).

I have to agree with Chris Penn, that pointing to one artist is difficult. I really like Matthew Ebel, Uncle Seth, Slackstring, Candy Butchers, and the Lascivious Biddies.

9. Ginger or Maryanne?

Oh, come on.  The Professor.  Always go for the guy with brains.
10. Bob, Mark, or Tod?

Need to meet Tod.  Could not choose between Mark or Bob- they are a team- it’s like trying to decide whether peanut butter is really better than jelly.

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New Media PlayDates

I read a post over on Eric Olson’s blog about networking, and how the heart of a good New Media networking event is fun.  Having been to several at various PodCamps, I totally agree.  It’s great to have music and bands, but being able to sit and talk is important.  PodCamp NYC had two really great events at a place called Slate.  There were pool and foosball tables in the basement, places to sit, eat and chat- it was great.

Networking is also such a difficult word.  It conjures up images of overly solicitous, vaguely smarmy salesmen looking for prospects.  The tone that conveys “This is all about me and what I can get you to do for me.”  And this is not what New Media is about.

New Media get togethers tend to be more about meeting new people, learning about what’s going on in their world, and possibly figuring out ways to work together.  It’s about getting to know the people, and what’s happening on the big wide web.  I look at it as a “What can I do for You?” approach- because you never know when another friend of yours has a similar interest or bent, and by connecting people, the whole new media space grows stronger.

So the question comes down to this- Do we need a better vocabulary to talk about Networking events?  Since how you frame a question or conversation will often dictate the type of response you get, is it better to call them something else?

Thinking about how Meet-up sounds a little like teenagers hanging at the mall, and meeting sounds too formal- Does the term New Media PlayDate work?

CC Chapman speaks often about the New Media Playground. The thought is based on the fact that we are all discovering this new and ever changing landscape in new and social media.  It’s fun, and you learn by playing with the toys.  So perhaps the answer to to change the name of these events to something that connotes fun and play, and simply co-opt the parent term Play Date.

I’ve never liked the term Play Date when used for kids agetting together with their friends. It makes child’s play sound so scheduled and arranged, where play should be fun and free.  Especially having a child on the cusp of puberty, how do I translate this term when talking to Jamie’s friends parents- “Let’s have a playdate” seems inappropriate for twelve and thirteen year olds.  But it’s not a date either- what the heck do we call this thing, that still needs some arrangement and participation from the adults, if for transport purposes only?

So let’s take this bizarre term and make it useful in New Media.   I think a Social Media or New Media PlayDate  sounds like fun!  Your thoughts?

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