September 2005 Archives

new york state of mind


It's funny the things that stick in your mind about a place, and the ways those memories are triggered. Taking the shuttle from JFK into Manhattan, I looked out through the window at the rain-slicked streets and reflected lights and was transported back to a similar shuttle van ride I took before I'd graduated from high school. It was startling how vividly I recalled the moment--I was on my way to the airport that time, and was trying to figure out how to ask a guy to a school dance when I returned home.

That kickstarted a series of disjointed memories of New York trips. There was the Internet World conference in December of '93, where I first saw a professionally-made graphical web page (it was the O'Reilly Global Network Navigator, or GNN), and had the immediate sensation that I was looking at the future of information. There was the first trip I took to NYC after living in Tuscaloosa for a while--it felt so good to be in a real city that time, to see the energy and buildings and lights. There was the trip with Gerald to see Little Feat play two shows at the BB King blues club.

I really do love New York. I love the greengrocers on the corner, with their brightly-colored produce contrasting with the gray buildings. I love the proliferation of international restaurants, the halal hotdog vendors, smorgasbord of personal styles, the lights and the noise. I wouldn't want to live here...I like having a house, a yard, green space nearby. But I don't want to give up my visits, either, because they always end up making me feel just a little more alive.

things to do while traveling

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  • cull inbox (made serious progress on this)
  • work on tomorrow's slides (yes, I'm a chronic procrastinator...)
  • gaze out window (the cascades were gorgeous, but it's been mostly cloudy since then)
  • listen to selections from Song's music library (currently enjoying Better Than Ezra)
  • feel grateful (once again) for my wonderful Etymotic earphones
  • wonder why the large woman seated on the aisle looks so sour (who knew you could purse your lips disapprovingly even while you sleep?)
  • consider reading novel for book group (didn't get any further than consideration; funny how "needing" to read something makes it instantly unattractive)
  • read obligatory mindless magazines (today's purchases: People, O, and Redbook)
  • try to decide whether for a 48 hour trip it makes more sense to try to keep my mind thinking it's on PST rather than EST (not sure I can really control this, though)

life is good: airborne edition


As I got out of my car in the SeaTac parking garage, at my feet was a sheet of paper advertising stickers from the "Life is Good" line of products. It made me smile, because lately my life has, indeed, been good. That's not to say there haven't been challenges, changes, and occasional crises. But those are part of any life, and I'm increasingly aware it's up to me to determine the level of happiness or suffering I experience.

I'm writing this as I fly over the Cascade mountain range, en route to NYC via Delta's new subsidiary, Song. So far, I'm very pleasantly impressed with Song's service. They're clearly trying to compete with JetBlue, from the quirky and entertaining safety announcements (today's was done to flamenco music) to the seat-back television. The music selections are good, the headphone connections accommodate my beloved Etymotic earphones, and the overpriced food at least looks appetizing. (I brought my own snacks, though, and I've opted for party shuffle in iTunes while I type.)

This is the first time I've traveled in quite a while; one of the great advantages of being in a major tech city like Seattle is that I don't have to leave town to interact with people active in my areas of interest. Why go to a conference, after all, when you can have dinner guests like Robert and Maryam Scoble, Buzz Bruggeman, Lilia Efimova, Nancy White, Lili Cheng and Linda Stone? In fact, it's been about five months since I've traveled for work-related reasons. This is a short trip, though. I arrive tonight at 7pm EST, and leave 48 hours later. Just enough time to give the opening keynote tomorrow at C2, enjoy presentations from a few other people, admire the view (I hope) from my hotel room, and then head home.

There hasn't been much blogging in this space (or any of my spaces) recently. Not because of any conscious decision to take a break...I just don't seem to have been in the blogging mood. I've been pretty focused on building a comfortable social and professional space for me and my family, and that takes a lot of offline engagement. At home we've been entertaining fairly frequently (it's a lovely house for that)--both kids and adults. And at work, my efforts to increase my interaction have definitely born fruit--resulting in a lot less free time. But traveling always seems to spur me to write. I'll probably churn out a few posts over the next two days, both here and on M2M (and maybe misbehaving, even!). And there will be occasional cameraphone photos on Flickr (alas, I forgot my Canon A95 on this trip).

lunch with dan ling


I had lunch today with Dan Ling, the corporate vp for Microsoft Research. We had a lovely discussion about social computing topics, as well as my impressions of Microsoft thus far.

I realized that the biggest problem I've encountered here is a growing sense of isolation--if I don't make a proactive effort to schedule time with other people, I end up spending the day in my bare, windowless office. And since I tend to do my best thinking when I'm engaged in discussion with others, this hasn't been a healthy thing.

Dan pointed out that the MSR office buildings' design doesn't facilitate informal meetings at all. Too many isolated corridors, high-traffic locations like kitchen and restrooms opening up onto narrow connecting corridors rather than open areas. I really miss the Golisano building at RIT--it really did a great job of facilitating informal interaction. :(

During the course of our discussion, I also mentioned to Dan my critique of the Virtual Earth Katrina maps. When he asked whom I'd sent it to, I told him I'd blogged it rather than sending it out. Perhaps I need to make a point of letting people internally know when I've blogged about Microsoft stuff, though, since it's unreasonable to think that they're all hanging on my every word here!

Clearly, I need to start being more proactive in a number of ways, which starts with my requesting some office space over in RedWest with the MSN search folks, so that I can interact with them more regularly as they start to roll out potentially cool new features. I also have to take the initiative in scheduling regular lunch and/or coffee dates with people whose work I'm interested in, so that I can find ways to contribute a little more around here.

One of the things I've been using--and pointing people to--since Katrina is Google's brilliant "Katrina" button, which they implemented a few days after the flooding. In addition to their map, satellite, and hybrid views, they added a bright red Katrina view, which showed satellite photos as of 8/31.

While the idea was excellent, the execution was somewhat limited. The photos weren't very detailed, making it hard to assess damage in specific spots (an important task for people with homes or businesses in New Orleans). And worse, a number of areas of the city were completely missing--so when I searched for a friend's house, I got a big blank spot on the map. (click image for larger version)


Today, I found that MSN's Virtual Earth had launched something similar, but with flyover photos (not just satellite) taken last week. These photos, taken from low-flying airplanes rather than orbiting satellites, show a much higher level of detail. Better still, they include the area where my friends live (which, alas, appears to still be underwater. From the standpoint of someone who needs real information about their property in New Orleans, there's no question that the MSN implementation is far more useful. It also offers a side-by-side before and after view that allows you to pan in tandem, which is also quite useful. (again, click the image for the larger version)


So why the title?

The good is obvious. This is a very helpful tool that addresses many of the shortcomings of Google Maps' Katrina view.

The bad is that it was slow, and once again, looks too much like a me-too attempt after Google has innovated. It doesn't matter if the ideas were born at the same time--what matters is that Google captured the mindshare by bringing something out fast when people were starved for information.

The ugly is that it only works in IE on a PC.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

People like Google because their tools just work--regardless of your platform or your browser. They don't require you to change the way you work and the tools you use in order to get access to the features they're offering.

Why can't Microsoft do the same? Why, oh why, do they have to design all of their coolest technology only for those who agree to use their browser on their operating system? It's not just an issue of market share. It's an issue of mindshare, and goodwill, and getting your products to be adopted and championed by opinion leaders.

If Microsoft wants to compete in the brave new world of web 2.0, they're going to have to start designing web sites that just work, rather than crippling them by using technologies that aren't cross-platform and cross-browser.

introducing cecil

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Meet the newest addition to the Lawley household:

Photo of Cecil, our new pet hedgehog

This is Cecil, an African pygmy hedgehog. The photo of him is from the website of the store where we purchased him, but once he gets more settled in at our house, we'll be putting lots of photos of him up on my Flickr account.

He's adorable. And no, he's not uncomfortable to hold. He's quite friendly and inquisitive once you scoop him up.

For more information on hedgehogs as pets, take a look at the excellent Hedgehog Central site. And if you're looking to buy a pet hedgehog in the Seattle area, Animal Talk seems a good place to do so.

a must-read malcolm gladwell essay

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In a recent New Yorker. On health care.


Please read it.

odds and ends


I've been neglecting my blog lately. Between personal and global events, I've had precious few cycles to devote to writing. But I'm determined to make writing a regular activity again, and there's no better time than the present.

(I've made a deliberate decision not to write about what's going on down in New Orleans--there are plenty of bloggers and news organizations giving you all the information and commentary you could want. I'll limit my remarks to saying how relieved we are to know that our friends Deborah and Bruce left the city early Saturday with their dogs, and are safe with relatives in Alabama for now.)

Among the many things that I've neglected to share with my readers over the past month are the acquisition of several nifty new toys. The first is the first new car I've had in over 15 years (the Odyssey doesn't count, since it's Gerald's vehicle). At the end of July I signed a lease on a brand-new 2006 Subaru B9 Tribeca, and I love it. I'm feeling slightly bad about not having gotten something with better mileage, but we'll be turning the Odyssey in next summer, and will replace it with something much more fuel-efficient--the Tribeca, which has seating for 7, will become our primary family car.

We got the Tribeca with the DVD system for the kids, but not the GPS navigation system, which added nearly $2000 to the price. Instead, we bought a small, portable Garmin Quest GPS unit for less than $400 from Amazon. It's wonderful. So, so helpful when you're new to a city and have lots of navigating to do. The only problem is that we keep stealing it from each other's vehicles, so we'll probably have to acquire another one to keep the peace. Without a doubt, this is the best gadget purchase in a long, long time.

Today was the first day of school back in Rochester, and also the first day of homeschooling for the boys. They each went to an enrichment class sponsored by the school district ("Grammar Games" for Lane, and "Origami" for Alex). Lane is taking two additional classes that meet later this week--"Origami Math" and an improv acting class, and Alex is taking a cooking class. Early reports from the field (yay for cell phones!) are that the classes got a big "thumbs up." They've also been playing with some online math activities, and some discovery channel tv/worksheet tie-ins.

We're thinking about acquiring some caged pets (for their scientific educational value, of course), and spent a good bit of time last night reading about the pros and cons of different options. I was unenthusiastic after reading about gerbils, hamsters, and guinea pigs. But then we found out about pygmy hedgehogs. How cute are they? So tomorrow the boys are off to a downtown Seattle pet store to check out some babies for suitability.

Also on the agenda for that all-important "socialization" aspect of homeschooling are a regular Friday afternoon "HomeZone" program at the YMCA that includes gym, swim, and art, as well as a local homeschooling group that sponsors everything from lego clubs to family hikes. And perhaps most surprising to anyone who knows us, we're going to check out a local Unitarian Universalist church on Sunday and see if it's a good fit for us.

On the professional front, I'll be speaking at C2: Connect & Collaborate later this month, participating in a workshop at State of Play III: Social Revolutions in early October, and then speaking at Internet Librarian in late October. If you'll be at any of those, come say hi!

All that ought to give me plenty of fodder for writing on a regular basis. Plus it's September now, so my brain is kicking into gear (as befits a well-socialized academic).

unconditional love


I'm not a big fan of self-help books. The few I've read have felt like bad mail-order medicine--tastes awful, costs too much, and never works the way it's supposed to. So I've resisted blogging for the past week or two because I've found my life substantially changed by a book that you can in fact buy in the self-help section of a bookstore. While I'm not concerned about the book's labels, I suspected that anything I wrote about it would be perceived negatively by my fairly intellectual audience.

But one of the things that's starting to change inside of me is my concern about what other people think. I'm discovering how much of an (often unconscious) motivation it has been for my actions, and how crippling that is. I can say without hesitation that as a result of this book, I'm a happier, more centered person today than I have ever been--and that despite some significant personal turmoil over the past few months.

The book is Loving What Is, by Byron Katie. It was recommended to me by my dear friend Linda Stone, someone whom I trust and respect, or I might never have looked at it. I started with the audio version--I have an Audible subscription, and here in Seattle I have a significant (at least an hour a day) commute. What did I have to lose by listening to it? It's not like the time would otherwise be spent doing something useful. But before I'd gotten halfway through the recording, I knew I wanted the book, as well. And before I was finished with the first book, I knew I wanted the second one, too.

How has it changed me? Slowly but surely it's helping let go of my unrealistic expectations of the people around me and my unrelenting need to control them, and it's forcing my attention back on myself and my thoughts. It's like a crash course in the first step of a twelve-step program. Actually, it's a crash course in all twelve steps, with a non-denominational spirituality that works well for my world view, and an astonishingly simple (but not necessarily easy) approach to dismantling your own thought process and then putting it back together in better working order.

And because I've changed my approach to my own thoughts, I'm finding that I'm less angry, less frustrated, less annoyed, less unhappy. And I'm more centered, lighter, and happier. I laugh more. I cry less. I don't yell and snap at the people around me. I don't fume silently because of other people's actions (or inactions).

How long will this last? I don't know. But it doesn't feel temporary. It's not like a diet, or an exercise program. I don't think I can stop thinking in this new way now that I've started. It feels so right, so unforced, so clear a path. It feels as though I'd have to work much harder to stop feeling this way than to continue. One of the things that I particularly like about Katie's approach is that it is so much in harmony with other spiritual ideas that have resonated with me--from the 12 steps of Al-Anon to the concepts of attachment and detachment in buddhism to the simple admonition that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

I have no idea if this book will help anyone else around me, and I'm finally reaching the point where I realize it simply isn't my job to push other people onto a path (although, like Linda, I can see the value in at least pointing out that a path exists). I suspect that it's much like attending a 12-step program--if you try to do it before your mind is ready, it won't do you any good at all. But if you come to it when you're in a place like I was--frightened, angry, lost--perhaps it can help you, like me, find your way out of that, and into a place where you can love yourself, and the world around you, unconditionally.

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