Dern ye, ya shoulda taken d’pie

When I was fifteen, I worked as a cook for The Viking Village Smorgasbord on Snelling Ave in St. Paul, MN. It’s not there anymore and someone long ago turned the building into a furniture store. A few decades have passed since I last clocked in, but a few stories stick vividly in my brain as if they happened only yesterday.

In “The Cities,” as we were wont to say, we prided ourselves on being urbane, but we were surrounded by the State of Minnesota that had its share of dirt farmers. On this particular weeknight, a farm couple wandered in for dinner. He was wearing his best overalls and she, her best go-to-church Sunday dress. Neither had very many teeth, their faces were ruddy with sun and wind and their hands gnarled from years of manual farm work. They held all the cash they were going to spend in The Cities in their hands. Maybe it was all they had left, maybe all they started out with or everything they planned on spending but you could tell it wasn’t much.

….

A nation of inclusiveness this July 4th

A tweet pooped into my stream this morning from @XpressiveHandz with a link to the following video. It is short and most of us know the tune; some of us even know all the words to the song.

Watch it now, please. The rest can wait.

My daughter is taking ASL in college. She’s quite good at it and gets excited when she can use it out in the real world. Many times, she makes someone’s day when they realize they don’t need to scribble on a piece of paper or gesture and point oddly to be understood. Like anything, when the deaf community becomes a greater part of your life, you notice that it has been around you the entire time. You just didn’t notice it all that much before.

As I watched Kristina’s interpretation of the music and the lyrics on the video, the swell of pride and enthusiasm contrasted markedly with the anger and vitriol I had been exposed to all weekend by John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Sarah Palin and others on the cable and news talk shows about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. As they spewed their disgust about how “normal” Americans should not be forced to pay for those with pre-existing conditions, the contrast is even more striking.

Perhaps Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell need a reminder that they also represent the interests of the deaf and hard of hearing, not just those who can hear their hatred and nod along.

The private insurance market classifies deafness as a pre-existing condition. Many insurance policies do not cover the costs of acquiring ASL skills as a basic human right for the deaf and hard of hearing. Yet, when you watch the National Anthem signed for those who may never have heard the music or the words, it is hard to mask the strong sense of patriotism that also exists in the deaf community. The United States of America should stand for something every day of the year, not just in flag-waving ceremonies on select holidays.

It occurs to me that as the “normal Americans” work to marginalize those of us who don’t look and act like them, it does not do much to squash the pride and patriotism the rest of us with “pre-existing conditions” have with that part of what it means to be a member of the American community.

Don’t wait until November to decide what kind of country you want to live in. Each of us has a “pre-existing condition,” whether it is visible or not. We are all a part of each other. Decide today if you want to live in a community of inclusiveness or one of separation, fear and hate.

Some say we can’t afford to take care of each other. I say we can’t afford not to.

Look what I got for five bucks! My fiverr.com test

Last week, I found out about this web site called Fiverr.com. Being of a curious nature, I go there and read a few things that people will do for $5. Some of this stuff I would never trust for a fiver, but Adam Russell’s listing “I will over react to anything you want for $5” caught my eye.

I could not pass that up. I plunked down $5 for the video and another $5 to upgrade to HD and waited.

This is what Adam came back with. It might be his British accent, his youth or his comedic timing but I think it’s quite funny! Certainly worth way more than $10. This kid will be famous one day. Dogs have a nose for this.

If you need to rant about something but you’d rather a surrogate did it instead of you, ring up Adam. He’ll rant for you and you can disavow yourself of all ownership if you get caught.

For now, crack open a beer, unwrap a whoopie pie and watch. Eat and drink fast; it’s only :45 seconds.

The analog still rules. My takeaway from #140conf NYC 2012

140conf The State of Now

140conf The State of Now

The #140conf was held last week at the 92Y in New York City. We were there.

It seems like every year, going to the conference is like being at Woodstock; the one in 1969, not the fake ones that tried to recreated the magic. At some point in the future, my ability to say “I was there” will stop and define a moment of time.

When you find yourself in a room filled with geeks, the point of view tends to change somewhat where the technology begins to get worshipped far more than the humanity that created and used it. I guess that is human nature to see your point of view as holding an answer to problems but most of life acts as a potentiometer, not a switch. Sometimes what you know or can bring to the table is in the off position or dialed back really far. Other times, it is full-on. Wisdom is in knowing the difference and being able to apply it correctly.

As I was listening to each of the talks, I realized that no matter how great all this twitter and facebook connection stuff is, nothing happened until someone with a belly button cared enough to reach out and touch; using “old media” like a telephone or television or in some cases, a letter scratched out with a pen. Then — and only then — did the wheels turn and the train start moving forward.

To hug a friend during a chance meeting in the hallway; to hear music created with the tips of ones fingers; to extend a hand to an old gentleman climbing the few stairs to the entrance of the building; to feel your butt fall asleep even as the sessions went on; to hear the clamber of the trade show right outside the door, competing with the speaker on stage, to feel your stomach growl. These are the things that are most memorable even though they maybe shouldn’t be. These are the things that have almost nothing to do with the digital marvels that brought us all together in that one place.

Yet it is the digital marvels that we use to justify why we are there.

The more we immerse ourselves in this digital stuff, the more we crave analog contact. Eventually, it will be this very thing, this very messy analog that digital was supposed to bring order to which will once again define us.

* * *

My pick of the 2012 conference is Kevin Honeycutt (@kevinhoneycutt). His presentation* was the right mix of excitement and skill without dipping into the overly-exuberant. He lives and breathes his message and attempts to infect every student, every teacher, every one of us in the audience with an enthusiasm for learning. His story is also told with an analog pivot, a phone call. Read his story, watch the video below and then make something happen in your school, even something really small. But I dare you to just sit there afterwards.

One frustrating note: The speaker who came after him Andrew Rasiej (@Rasiej) wrongly concluded that education in America would be better if every student had access to an iPad.

NOOO!!

In one sentence, he negated the entire point of Kevin’s presentation.

Every student should have access to teachers like Kevin. It is Kevin who is the variable here, not the iPad. I’ll bet Kevin would have been just as effective motivating kids to get excited about music with a couple buckets, some string and a gum wrapper. How very, very sad this was so very wrongly interpreted.

Invest in people first; invest in the analog and the digital will follow. The people you invest in will see and use digital in creative ways. If you just invest in the digital, you will turn students into robot users, not creators.

Kevin’s presentation is between 1:47 and 2:06 below. Kevin’s “conclusion” follows briefly afterward.



Video streaming by Ustream | 140conf Day 1, Session 1

*The harmonica app is awesome, but as an accomplished player of the real thing, I got bored. The banjo tuner was fun only it that is annoyed @chirn9980 when I claimed to be able to play a foggy mountain breakdown in the key of G. He claimed it was just a tuner and I was an idiot. It was still fun.

We should be careful about filling people with ambition

I had a pretty lively discussion with someone on the twitter this morning who had some strong opinions about how everyone should be self-employed and that we should quit relying on “The Man” for a job. I expressed some concern that before cheering them to jump off the ledge, we should perhaps maybe encourage people to first assess the risks, that they should jump with eyes wide open.

Twitter being what it is — by the end of the discussion — I was accused of scaring people, looking for more ways to fail than to succeed and killed fifty people on the highway with a load of wood.

….

I can’t make it to @140conf NYC, so I’m sending my editor

I’m backing out of the @140conf #NYC at the last minute and sending my ne’er-do-well editor, @gerardmclean in my place. This is what the bum .. err, I mean hobo.. looks like so if you see him lurking the hallways, stop him and say hello. He will probably be in the back of the hall making trouble.

Feel free to frisk him while you’re at it; I haven’t been paid in years and sure could use some cash. I’m certain the man is loaded.

You’re both right, but it depends on your point of view

Yesterday, a Facebook friend wrote on her wall:

“bought a car, am getting my hair done, AND on top of all that, had mac and cheese pizza for lunch. This is just the best day ever.”

It could have just as easily read:

“incurred long-term debt on a rapidly depreciating asset, contributed to our culture’s ideal, unreal expectations of female beauty and consumed a high-fat, high-carbohydrate food-like product. This is just the worst day ever.”

and still have been true.

Happily ever after; why the dogs were humping in Mad Men

Humping dogs from Mad Men

Humping dogs from Mad Men

A while back, a friend of mine asked me what I thought was the purpose of life. “To ensure the survival of our species, nothing greater,” was my reply. To him, that sounded incredibly sad but for me, it is incredible pragmatic with a sense of ultimate clarity of purpose.

I still believe that and believe also that it can be expanded out to cover the whole condition of the human animal with this simple formula:

Step one; create.
Step two; develop and nurture.
Step three; release, let go.
Step four; repeat.

Whether we’re talking about raising kids, writing a book, building a bridge, mentoring a protégé, composing a song or any of the thousands of things human beings do, the formula remains the same. Create-nurture-release-repeat.

Where people get hung up (yeah, pun intended) is when they become scared of step four or hang too long onto step two and never pull the trigger on step three or never even start step one. Throughout season five of Mad Men, this has been the theme; the journey each character takes through each of these steps on the way to letting go and starting over, to sharing their creation with the rest of the species to ensure its survival. Some made it through the formula while others got caught up in the tentacles of one or more of the steps.

When Matt Weiner puts a two-second scene of two dogs humping out on the sidewalk, you bet we’re gonna notice. You bet we’re gonna write about it. While some have called the scene “completely unnecessary” and put in as a “cheap attempt at soliciting a reaction,” I disagree. Two seconds of airtime is just way too expensive to just “throw in a couple of dogs shagging each other” for the heck of it. I say the scene sums up the meaning of the season perfectly.

Hear me out.

It would be easy to say the humping dogs symbolizes that the old Don is back, but that is missing the mark. I think the dogs humping in the parking lot symbolizes nature’s way of forcing a species to start something that they will need to nurture (nurse), let go and repeat. Dogs do this in a care-free, almost matter-of-fact way. To a pair of dogs in a parking lot, the act of copulation is neutral; it has no moral value. Its only purpose is to ensure the survival of their species.

The activity will eventually result in a litter, which will be nursed along until the pups are ready to be nudged out on their own. The mother’s job will be over and they will go forth and be “successful” on their own without her. She will then repeat the process with another litter.

This is Don’s role. When he was younger, creating, nurturing, releasing and starting over was easy, especially when it was only him. But these days, the formula includes other people. As he is aging, he is also forming attachments that are harder and harder for him to let go. But in true Don Draper stoic style, he finds a way and when he does, he closes the door and moves on even as he cares deeply and honestly about everyone with whom he gets involved.

When Don watches Megan’s screen test, he is not going through the act of falling in love with her all over again or realizing she really is perfect for the part. What he is doing is realizing he has fallen in love with the two-dimension, celluloid version of Megan. The “real Megan” is far more complicated, far more damaged than stylized, acting Megan. In that moment of clarity, Don realized he had hung on to her too long. He realizes that for her to grow, he needed to let her go on without him. That light-headedness was not the smoke in the room, or the sadness in his heart, but relief. He does the right thing even if nobody will ever know he did, even if the right thing looked to the outside world like two dogs humping in a parking lot.

Real life has no happily ever after. It just has a never-ending cycle. But it is it’s purpose.

Celebrating National Donut Day

Friday, June 1st, 2012 was National Donut Day. We didn’t grub for free donuts at the Dunkin’ Donuts or KrispyKreme. Instead, we headed out to the quality shop at Ulbrich’s Bakery on Main in Englewood and paid full price. (no website!!)

And unlike many people who shoved their fried baked goods into their cake holes and plopped their wide butts into an office chair for eight hours, we went for a good run in the park following our indiscretion. We have to stay trim; there are ducks about to chase and we can’t afford to be slow! (Sorry, we have no pictures of the park run. Apparently when you break apart creme-filled donuts for three hungry dogs, there is a slight danger of getting all this gooey goodness smeared on the camera lens. Nice soft-glow effect, though.)

Did you celebrate National Donut Day? Tell us about it in the comments below.

This is us on our way to the donut place. Zoey is navigating.
This is the sign from God that translates "Turn Here. But only on donut day."
Donut evidence. I like the juxtaposition of the human foot and the dog foot. Besides, I have not used juxtaposition in a long while.
Zoey eating a donut
Charlie eating a donut. He is a shy eater. He'll get right up in your face to bark, though.
Sallie begging for more. She knows there is more. She's the smart one.

Don Draper and potted plants

When I worked at a major retailer many, many, many years ago we would get regular deliveries of potted plants in the spring. They would come in on trailers from some place south and everyone would gather at the dock and help unload them. They were always huge and green — large palms, ficus trees, dieffenbachias — planted in gallon pots and sold for $19.99 or some other low price. Having spent the previous five months buried in the snows of Minnesota, customers were eager for anything green.

The plants sold quickly. They also died quickly.

Apparently, the grower would force the leafy part of the plant to grow quickly and not care about the roots. He made money on quick turn of the product, not on the health of the plant. He knew the big, lush greenery would sell. He didn’t care how long they lasted.

“All of this for such a cheap price? Wow, that would look great in my apartment!”

As I watched “The Other Woman” episode of Mad Men this past Sunday, that lesson leapt into my head.

Taking short-cuts work for short-term results. Anyone who has ever worked in the online space has probably had constant battles with the “SEO v Quality Content” arguments, knowing full-well that a dedicated SEO effort with back links and “black hat” stuff will produce quick results. We know that we will have to defend the “quality content” argument against the seemingly successful SEO push as the client’s site hits page one of Google at a meteoric rise. But we know equally well that the page will drop like a stone once the effort is stopped.

We are rarely given the chance to defend the quality position as the client gets busy popping the champagne cork in celebration.

We know the plant will die because it does not have the root structure to sustain the leafy green top. That might be ok if the client were a white-label brand selling quick greenery to a cabin-fever-infected audience looking to buy cheap plants. But if the client was in the long-term relationship, quality results business such as selling very expensive cars to an exclusive demographic — where their brand is also on the line — that might prove to be a bit problematic.

This is what Don Draper knows. While many reviews out there focus on the morality of “whoring out Joan” or the role of women in the workplace, the real significance of the “deal” was not lost on Don. He now has to decide how to handle a situation where he is contractually tied to a group of people who are willing to game the system to produce leafy green plants with no root structure to sell to an audience who will buy from the nameless vendor willing to sell the leafiest greenery at the cheapest price. His future is tied to these people and he no longer gets a vote. He is feeling too old, powerless and out-of-touch to just leave.

This is what he is processing in the instant Joan and he exchange looks in Roger’s office. He is not judging Joan; he is assessing everyone else in the office. Joan has won 5% of a leafy green company and Don knows it. That is what is in Don’s eyes.

I’m not quite sure what is in Joan’s.

Visiting London on a Sunday morning

Gerry and London from The UnseenBean Coffee

Gerry and London from The UnseenBean Coffee

“Do you drink coffee?” he asked me eagerly as soon as we shook hands. With a broad smile and cheerful flourish, he was already digging into his bag, giving me a pound of coffee from The UnseenBean.

Gerry (Gerard) Leary was born in 1952 and named after the patron saint of expectant mothers, St. Gerard. He weighed three pounds when he was born and the oxygen used in the incubator during the first few weeks of his life took his sight. Despite his lack of sight, his parents were determined to raise Gerry to be self-sufficient and independent.

“The last ten years of my father’s life, we were like two peas in a pod,” Gerry boasts with a slight chuckle. “But when I was growing up, man….” as his voices drifts off and his face lights up with a broad smile that tells a colorful story full of fond memories of youthful hooliganism.

At 59, he is fearless. He interacts easily with everyone around him and marches forward with as much confidence and conviction as any sighted person.

Gerry grew up and became a mechanic, but about nine years ago, his interests started to wander. As he was having dinner at a San Francisco café, he heard what sounded like a rock tumbler. It was, in fact, a coffee bean roaster. Immediately intrigued, he asked the roastmaster if he could learn to roast beans by sound and smell. Without missing a beat, the roastmaster explained what the roast looked like as the beans turned color. Gerry pieced together the subtle changes in sound and smell to map out a roasting cycle.

Armed with his indomitable confidence he enrolled in the San Francisco Coffee Training Institute to learn the craft of roasting coffee beans, despite the skepticism of the roasting instructors. He couldn’t see the color of the beans as they roasted, but he could smell and hear the change. He outfitted a sample roaster with a talking thermostat made from parts found on the Internet and The Unseen Bean was born. Later as the business grew, he bought a full-sized roaster.

But this was Hamvention weekend and Gerry (WBGIVF) was in town for that. We were curious about his entrée into HAM radio. London, a four-year-old yellow lab and Gerry’s guide dog, was also patiently waiting for us to get to his story. We’ll get there, I promise.

When Gerry was nine years old, he came down with an ear infection which kept him home from school for several weeks. He was driving his dad crazy with boredom, so his dad’s Army buddy gave Gerry an old radio to listen to. It wasn’t long before Gerry’s natural curiosity took hold and he and his dad were taking HAM radio operator classes. By the time he was eleven, Gerry had his license and he could not only listen, but talk on the radio.

“Keep active in the HAM Radio operators’ community,” his dad advised. “You’ll always be in the company of educated, caring and compassionate people.” Each year, Gerry comes to Dayton, Ohio to meet up with his community in person. Each year, they greet him as they would an old friend.

“London is my third dog,” Gerry shared. “I had a setter at first — which didn’t work out — and a black lab named Midnight for nine years after that.” Midnight was diagnosed with cancer and Gerry was faced with the awful decision to put him down. The training facility had another dog — London — but he was three days away from being cycled out of the program. Gerry would have to move fast to get this dog.

Within hours, he had completed the application and London and a trainer were on their way to Gerry’s house. It usually takes three to six months to acclimate the guide dog to a new owner; it only took about thirty seconds for London to jump into Gerry’s lap and then settle at his feet, London’s side snuggled up against his leg.

I takes six months to a year to train a guide dog. Only 40 percent of all dogs who enter a program graduate and are placed. Despite his casual demeanor, London is a dog with exceptional skills.

For more on Gerry Leary, visit his website at http://www.theunseenbean.com, on twitter at @TheUnseenBean or come on down for the next Hamvention and meet him and London in person. You will be inspired by his effervescent personality and quirky sense of humor.

If you have a HAM radio, reach out to WBGIVF. Tell London his Dayton Pack is anxious to meet up with him next year. And the year after… and the year after…

A distraction

In order to distract you from the fact that I have not written a serious bog post for the past two weeks, please enjoy this video of some dogs wrestling in the park over their lunch break.

Don’t worry, the skinny redhead always comes out on top. Really.

Open letter to the teen who nearly died yesterday in Englewood

Dear teen driving the car on Walnut Street;

You nearly died yesterday because you were impatient and you thought you were owed the right-of-way making a left turn onto National Road.

From page 36 of the Ohio Digest of Motor Vehicle Laws on left hand turns;

Is required to yield the right-of-way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction. Prior to engaging a left-hand turn, the driver must wait for oncoming traffic to clear the intersection. One may advance into the intersection as a prelude to turning, provided that no other traffic control devices prohibit this action.

I was the vehicle approaching from the opposite direction. I outweighed you by at least two tons. If I had hit you, one of us would have gone to the hospital and it would not have been me.

You did not have the right-of-way simply because you were waiting longer than I was at the 2-way stop. Yes, I have been where you were, trying to make a left-hand turn onto a busy road at 4:00pm. Yes, the lights in “downtown” Englewood are timed badly, if at all. Yes, it is maddening that others pull up in the opposite direction to make a right-hand turn just as the road looks like it is clearing up.

But your sense of what is fair does not give you the right to punch the gas and pull in front of me simply because you felt it was your turn to go. The traffic laws do not work that way. Life does not work that way. Your sense of fairness nearly cost you your life. Defending traffic laws are not worth dying over.

You are very lucky that I yielded my right-of-way to you, even though I really didn’t have to. I have seen other drivers in my situation who would have pushed their advantage. The look on your face clearly indicated that you thought I was the one in the wrong, so I suspect you learned nothing from our chance encounter. Perhaps by luck, you will read this open letter.

I understand you may not have received as much training as you needed from our local driving school. I know my two kids did not. I also know from experience that the “testing” given by the Ohio Department of Motor Vehicles is not all that hard to pass. A drunken monkey could pass that test. But that really is no excuse to not know some basic right-of-way laws.

Few interactions on the road determine whether you live or die behind the wheel than knowing who has the right-of-way and when. Please learn these laws. And when in doubt, yield the right-of-way and live to drive another day.

It’s not about fair. Ultimately, it’s about surviving other drivers. You should not also have to fight yourself.

Regards,

Rufus Dogg.

Past the edge of the park and back

Edge of the Park

Edge of the Park

For the past three years, we would visit Centennial Park in Englewood, Ohio for our afternoon walk. If you look at the satellite map (posted below if you want a quick look) and follow the light green line, that is usually our walking path.

To the right are some corn fields and soybean fields; to the left baseball diamond where we have to check out the dugouts every day.

Until a few weeks ago, we had not ventured past the midway point of that first group of trees. Looking ahead, there was just more grass. Besides, the dogs had lots of room to wrestle each other, far away from the reach of anyone wandering by.

But then we ventured just a little bit further from the edge of our world — where the tree line broke — and saw the photo you see to your right.

Wow!

Blue sky, a babbling book, an oasis in the middle of farmland.

We should have ventured further sooner.

This blog post is part of a blog-off series with a group of bloggers from different professions and world views, each exploring a theme from his/her world view. This was about exploring the theme, the edge of your world. To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.