Opening Day Picks and Poetry

April’s still chilled air
Is the perfect medium
For a hanging curve

Opening Day of baseball season always inspires thoughts of happiness, warmth, and new beginnings. Anything is possible! The sun is shining! The closer is on the disabled list (gulp!)

My Phillies are looking a little less unstoppable than they were at the start of spring training. Brad Lidge — the aforementioned closer — is on the aforementioned DL. Both the veteran rock of the infield — Chase Utley — and the future phenon of the outfield — Dominic Brown — are also out indefinitely with injuries before the season even starts. Even so, the thought of a clean slate combined with the scent of popcorn and spring is enough to warm even a crappy, snowy, Rochester day.

I’m going out on a limb, but for the record, here are my picks for the how the season will end up. Check back in 162 games to see how wildly off-base I am.

AL EAST: NY Yankees
AL CENTRAL: Detroit Tigers
AL WEST: Texas Rangers
AL WILD CARD: Boston Red Sox

NL EAST: Phillies
NL CENTRAL: St. Louis Cardinals
NL WEST: San Diego Padres
NL WILD CARD: Cincinnati Reds



Lessons Learned from the MBteamS Twitter Race

For three days in February, my Twitter feed and large chunks of my day were taken over by the MBTweetRace, a real and virtual race to the Superbowl sponsored by Mercedes Benz. Four teams of drivers took off from four different cities. Destination: Dallas. Prize: a new Mercedes for the the winning drivers and $50,000 for their selected charity. The higher ed community was giddily stunned to learn that one of the teams was to be captained by Todd Sanders (@tsand) — student affairs webmaster at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay, higher ed Twitter superstar, Packers fanatic, and bacon connoisseur.

The cars were powered by tweets containing the team hashtag #MBteamS: if your team’s Twitter tank ran low on fuel, the drivers had to pull over and wait. The #MBteamS tank was full from the kick-off to the finish line. Why? Because hundreds of people — mostly fellow Web geeks in higher ed — kept tweeting and re-tweeting that hashtag to the point where my Tweetdeck feed became a jumpy blur.

It was funny. It was inspiring. It made me feel like I was part of something larger — all while sitting at my desk on a snowy Wednesday afternoon. How? Why? Some thoughts:

Social media is about people. Duh. That’s why it’s called “social.”
I still occasionally run into a critique of social media that goes something like this: “Everyone just updates their screens all day. Why don’t you go out and talk to some actual people for a change?” To which I reply: Who do you think is posting all these updates and writing all these tweets?! PEOPLE! These *are* actual people, and because of social media tools like Twitter and Ustream (thanks so much to @sethodell for the live steam of the MBteamS send-off!), I can communicate with them even when we’re not in the same room or even the same city.

Social media is not anti-social; it’s hyper-social. Many of the people I follow on Twitter are people I’ve actually met. Only now we can stay in touch with each other’s lives even when we’re apart (a phenomena social scientists call “ambient awareness“). There are other people I follow who I have not yet met in real life, but who I have met in a very real sense on Twitter. I expect that during the next HighEdWeb or Penn State Web or SimTech conference, people will be shaking hands saying, “Oh yeah! We met during the MBTweetRace!” And they won’t be wrong.

It’s hard to balance the geo-distant people with the geo-present people.
So how do I explain to my non-tweeting-but-no-less-loveable friends in Rochester that I’m running late for our Friday night plans because I have to see how the “99 Tweets challenge” goes down? (Answer: awesomely, thanks to @juliafallon and @epsteada!) How do I explain that I need to check my phone every two minutes because a guy they’ve never met is winning something called a “tweet race?” I don’t have an answer to this one, but it is a good question that the MBTweetRace brought into sharper focus.

People + passion = community. And community = everything.
Todd of course is a person, and an amazing one at that. As Tim Nekritz has written in describing “the brand of @tsand,” most would describe him with similar words: creative, insane, crazysmart. But I’ve only met Todd in person twice. Sure, one of those occasions did involve waffles. But even that doesn’t seem to be enough to explain why I got as excited and involved in the MBTweetrace as I did. And it certainly had nothing to do with Mercedes Benz. I have nothing against Mercedes, but I have nothing *for* them, either. They ran a great event that I hugely enjoyed participating in and raised money for a good cause, and for that I thank them. But the race coulda been sponsored by Audi or Schwinn for all I cared.

I think the key to the success of #MBteamS lies in one word: community. A community that already existed coming together around a cause and a person we care about. A community that was build over years of conferences, blog posts, silly-ass YouTube videos, late-night beer runs, and thousands of “hey, can someone help me out with this?” calls and responses from one Web jockey to another.

As @radiofreegeorgy put it, “#MBTeamS is the best proof I have ever seen that social media is not about followers; it’s about community.” Couldn’t agree more. I’ve always disliked the term “virtual community.” You can’t create a virtual community. Or to put it more accurately, you can’t create virtual community where a real community does not already exist. Building that kind of community ain’t easy and it ain’t fast. It takes work. Just like in real life. Cuz, ya know, this *is* real life.

UPDATE: As I was writing this, the results of the Great Tweet Race were announced. The winner BY A LANDSLIDE is #MBteamS! Too exciting! $50,000 goes to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (plus another $5,000 raised by the higher ed community) and Mrs. @tsand gets a shiny new ride. Now all we need is a Packers win on Sunday. Go Pack Go!

40 Questions for 2010

For the seventh year, it’s time for my annual reckoning — in question form — of the year that was. I do love a good list at the start of a new year!

  1. What did you do in 2010 that you’d never done before?
    Camped in Shenandoah National Park, presented at the Penn State Web Conference, got a tattoo in Kentucky, hiked on the Appalachian Trail, attended a University of Rochester football game, had a 3-way chili in Cincinnati, visited four president’s homes in three days.
  2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
    Of course I didn’t keep my New Year’s resolutions, but I’ve already made more for 2011. What’s a new year without new plans. I want to lose 11 pounds, get Obama arms (Michele, not Barack), be a friendlier friend, and I *still* want to read a biography of each U.S. president (I keep getting hung up on Madison).
  3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
    After racking up seven nieces, my sister gave birth to my first nephew.
  4. Did anyone close to you die?
  5. What countries did you visit?
    This year was spent entirely on American soil.
  6. What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010?
    A system for keeping my various modes of communication organized.
  7. What dates from 2010 will remain etched upon your memory?
    Hmm, well this is sad. I don’t really have an answer to this one. I guess it turns out that 2010 wasn’t a bad year, but it wasn’t a particularly memorable one either. Have to fix than in 2011.
  8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
    I got accepted into the Master of Library and Information Science program at Syracuse University. I deferred admissions for a year, but still — it feels nice to have options.
  9. What was your biggest failure?
    A few work-related failures are bugging me. The updates to our templates, second-level pages, and mobile site continue to lag as the urgent stuff continues to push aside the important. <sigh>.
  10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
    Nope, another illness- and injury-free year, touch wood.
  11. What was the best thing you bought?
    I bought a Nintendo Wii, and it’s brilliant. I’m not a big gamer, but it’s so fun and watching Netflix through it is a cool bonus.
  12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
    I’m going to say Jon Stewart. He was one of the few public figures this year who actually seemed interested in getting to the truth, all while being funny as hell.
  13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
    The mainstream news media, who just seemed to give every politician a free pass this year instead of, you know, asking questions.
  14. Where did most of your money go?
    Usual stuff: mortgage, electricity, Internet access, trinkets.
  15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
    My summer “magical history tour” vacation through Virginia. And the Harry Potter movie.
  16. What song/album will always remind you of 2010?
    Probably, “Hey Soul Sister” by Train, just because it was so inescapable.
  17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
    * happier or sadder? The same. * thinner or fatter? The same. * richer or poorer? The same.
  18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
    Blogging. Running. Going to movies.
  19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
  20. How will you be spending Christmas?
    Down in the ‘burbs with the ‘rents.
  21. Who did you spend the most time on the phone with?
    it’s a close call between Mr. Goddess and my mother and father.
  22. Did you fall in love in 2010?
    I fell in love in 1990, and it took.
  23. How many one night stands in this last year?
    This year marked the 20th year of my one-night-stand dry spell.
  24. What was your favourite TV program?
    Really loved the short-lived PBS series Sherlock, and cannot wait until the next series comes out in the spring, along with the new Dr. Who. Raising Hope is also a hoot, and The Sing-Off provided some unexpected cheesy fun.
  25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
    I can’t think of anyone specific who I actually hate. Hating is hard work, and I’m just not that industrious.
  26. What was the best book(s) you read?
    Washington: A Life, by Ron Chernow.
  27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
    The force of nature that is Lady Gaga.
  28. What did you want and get?
    A Nintendo Wii! A Kindle! A nephew! (not necessarily in that order).
  29. What did you want and not get?
    A third consecutive trip to the World Series for my Phillies.
  30. What were your favourite films of this year?
    Tops has to be Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1, followed by The King’s Speech, Inception, and The Social Network.
  31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
    I turned 39 this year, and had cake and ice cream with Mr. Goddess, the parents, and siblings in Levittown, PA.
  32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
    A slightly less depressing result in the midterm elections might have helped.
  33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010?
    Sweater tights, knee-length skirts, and novelty T-shirts.
  34. What kept you sane?
    Mr. Goddess, that long-suffering man, and Sunday morning coffee.
  35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
    The new Sherlock Benedict Cumberbatch is quite fanciable, as is the new Doctor, Matt Smith.
  36. What political issue stirred you the most?
    The thing that pissed me off the most was the extension of all the Bush tax cuts, and the fact that the Republicans were able to get away with almost comic-book villainy in holding unemployment benefits, healthcare for 9/11 first responders, and pretty much everything else hostage to their demand that the richest 1% of U.S. families continue to get the tax breaks they’ve enjoyed for the past eight years, all the while playing lip service to deficit reduction. Yep, that’s it.
  37. Who will you miss?
    Our neighbors moved to New York City. They were a lot of fun, and I hope we get to visit them in the Big Apple some time.
  38. Who was the best new person you met?
    The best thing about Twitter is how it seems to extend the circle of people you get to meet in real life, and this year was no exception: @cliffyballgame, @radiofreegeorgy, @dylanw, @mallorywood, @epublishmedia.
  39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2010.
    Every source of stress in my life can be traced back to putting things off instead of facing them as soon as possible. Nothing gets better if you ignore it.
  40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year?
    Nothing ever happens
    Nothing happens at all
    The needle returns to the start of the song
    And we all sing along like before –”Nothing Ever Happens” by Del Amitri

Facebook Class of 2015 Groups: Deja Vu All Over Again

For the third year in a row, a corporate entity — this year, RoomSurf — has established more than a hundred misleading Facebook groups designed to attract members of incoming freshman classes. The groups have no real affiliation with the universities they pretend to represent, though that is hard to tell by just looking at them.

Check out today’s New York Times for an overview on RoomSurf and the Class of 2015 Facebook groups.

Back in the day (and by that I mean 2008), Facebook groups were grassroots efforts started by people who actually shared a common interest in something. Our admissions office would allow groups for the newly admitted class to emerge from amongst the students themselves. That changed in the wake of these “Facebook-gate” shenanigans; our admissions office now creates official Facebook groups for our incoming classes.

Of course, if RoomSurf or any business has a product or service to promote on Facebook, they are perfectly free to do so. Students — like all sentient beings — are marketed to all the time. What is objectionable in this case is the disingenuousness of RoomSurf’s tactics. Call my hopelessly naive, but if their services are cool, useful, affordable, etc., then why not promote them with the honesty and authenticity that is supposed to exemplify social media, rather than stooping to what feels like a cynical con game?

So what to do in the wake of all this?

1.) Create your own Facebook groups for incoming students and create them early. Last year, our admissions staff created a Class of 2014 group after the URoomSurf group was already established and had attracted over a hundred members. It took a little while, but the official group eventually far outstripped the bogus one, with over one thousand members. This year, admissions created the Class of 2015 group in July, and it already has a nice head start on the RoomSurf group, with 145 members to their 28.

2.) Make your group is the “place to be” with lots of fun and valuable content and participation from your own student staff. This probably goes without saying, but as an authentic voice for your students your group should have a whole lot more to offer your incoming class than any RoomSurf group could. Make sure your group is monitored, questions and problems are addressed quickly and honestly, and students get a chance to interact with each other around some fun content only you can provide.

3.) Steer people to your group with posts on the bogus group’s site and posts on your main university fan page. No need to get angry here, tempting as that may be. Just a simple message like, “This group was not established by University staff or students. The group at [LINK TO YOUR GROUP] is maintained by University students and staff in the Admissions, Residential Life, and Student Life offices — come check us out!” should help to clear up confusion your incoming students may have as to which group does what.


Sorry Google, I Still Love My Kindle

Google announced today that it is getting into the e-book retailing business, competing directly with the current leader in e-book sales, the Amazon Kindle.

The unique selling proposition of Google e-books i that they are stored “in the cloud,” and you can read them on any computer or device: any Web browser, the iPhone, any Android-powered smartphone, the iPad, the Barnes & Noble Nook, or the Sony E-Reader. Any device except the current leader in e-book sales, the Amazon Kindle.

The problem with this approach for me is that the only device on which I want to read a book is the Amazon Kindle. I’m not going to sit down and read my 900-page biography of George Washington on my laptop. I’m not going to read a Colin Dexter mystery on the office iPad. Like Google books, I can read my Kindle e-books on my laptop, on the iPad, on most smartphones  – except my Palm Pre, but that’s a post for another day. But unlike Google e-books, I can also read them on the Kindle, and that makes all the difference.

The Kindle — along with the other e-readers — is purpose-built for reading. It’s incredibly light, easy on the eyes, easy to take and find notes on. For me the Kindle’s main advantage over Barnes & Noble and Sony is the keyboard. (That’s also one of the things I love about my Palm Pre. I guess I just need my keyboards to have keys.)

The iPad is not an e-reader. It’s too heavy, it doesn’t fit neatly into your hands (not mine anyway) and it feels like I’m reading a screen rather than a reasonable approximation of paper. And I’m sorry, but the much-vaunted appeal of the page-turning gesture is lost on me.

I am glad that Google is getting into the e-book retail game. The more competitors in this market, the better I think for authors, publishers, and readers. But with all Google’s talk of the “cloud” notwithstanding, books are tangible, tactile, things. And as it turns out, so are e-books. I still want to hold them in my hands.

See my late-night ode to my Kindle on the Midnight Apple Pie blog.

I Helped. I Bought. I Had Fun: The Real Power of Social Media

Tonight I had a total hoot, spent 20 bucks, and helped a charity I believe in — all while sitting in my attic answering my work email.

How? Through the power of social media tools like Twitter and uStream, and the awesomeness of the people they connected me to, namely @Robin2go and her kitchen co-hosts on the live Web show, Chicken and Stars.

In the course of an hour-long uStream show filled with opinion and frivolity (DRINK!) I kept myself entertained by interacting with others in the audience and also bought a new skin for my Netbook from a company called Gelaskins – a company I had never heard of until folks in the audience started commenting on how cool @reginaldgolding’s laptop looked.

Even cooler than @reginaldgolding’s laptop is Help Attack, a fantastic tool that he mentioned during the course of the show that turns people’s Facebook and Twitter status updates into donations for their favorite causes. Now every time I tweet, Save the Music gets a nickel. How cool is that?

How did this happen? Why did I happily fork over real money to companies and apps I’d never heard of? It’s simple but oh so complicated: awesome people + tools to connect them + awesome products or ideas = me opening my wallet.

See, if I had gone to Gelaskins and their products sucked, I wouldn’t have bought one. And if Help Attack wasn’t a great idea and simple to use, I wouldn’t have signed up. But likewise, if I hadn’t heard about either of these worthy enterprises from @Robin2go, I would have been much less likely to click the “Order Now” button.

You see, Robin is — of course — a real person. About as real as they get. She is a real person who I’ve really met and who I really really like. That would be true with or without Twitter. But with Twitter, I can spend the evening with her (DRINK!) even though she is in central PA and I am in western NY.

I’m not really sure how traditional marketing works in this scenario. No amount of marketing can turn a crap product into an awesome one, and Robin isn’t a “message” or a “value proposition.” She’s a friend.


Three Haisku: The Amazon Pedophile Scandal

After hundreds of complaints were posted to Facebook and Twitter, quietly removed from its Kindle store a guide to pedophilia called “The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover’s Code of Conduct.”

At first Amazon stood buy its decision to allow the self-published book to appear in its store, saying they “support the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions.” But now today, the book is gone. With no further word of explanation from Amazon.

What I’d like to know and haven’t been able to find out is whether Amazon has also deleted the book from the Kindles of the thousands of people who bought it. That’s one they did with an unlicensed electronic edition of, ironically, George Orwell’s 1984 last year. I love my Kindle, but it is one of scarier possibilities lurking behind this model of electronic publishing: that one company can decide that I am no longer allowed to read the book a purchased from them.

Writing a haiku
Containing the word “pedophile”
Is no easy feat.

A guide to child love?!
What did they hope to kindle
But the mob’s torches?

C’mon Amazon!
What would a real bookstore do?
Not carry the book.

A Video I Love and Why: The Holiday Card from Red River College

In answer to Tim Nekritz’s invitation to describe a Web video you love and why, may I humbly submit the 2007 holiday card from Red River College in Winnipeg, Canada. (I’m thinking Tim will appreciate the Canadian reference.)

Maybe it’s because the thought of a president’s holiday e-card hits a little close to home this time of year, but I just love this clip (points deducted for having comments disabled, though). And here’s why:

1) A president with a sense of humor about himself is a wonderful thing.
President Jeff Zabudsky is one game guy. In this Office parody, Zabudsky pulls an all-nighter to finish signing his 5,000 holiday cards. What ensues is a night of Red Bulls, Tim Hortons, and video games with students that I think many of us who work in higher ed can’t imagine our presidents participating in.

2) It’s sweet without a trace of smarm.
Maybe it’s because he’s Canadian, but Zabudsky just looks like a such a nice guy, a cool boss, and a caring president. And his version of the Office looks like it must be a fun place to work. Fun in not to be underestimated as a workplace virtue.

3) There are so many little touches that just hit.
Again, maybe this just hits too close to home, but every time I see the “this year we’re doing an e-card!” bit, I laugh out loud. Ditto when the president blows off his all-nighter to play Halo and shouts, “Who da President?!”

4) It’s homespun and that’s OK.
Sure, the secretary flubs her line a little. And there are a couple transitions that take a second too long. But less-than-polished production values does not equal unprofessional. This video was well-thought-out, mindful of its audience, and damn side better than most “e-cards” I’ve seen.


Sarah Palin’s America — Um, I Mean, Alaska

I don’t know what channels I’m watching lately, but I can’t seem to escape the ads for the new TLC series Sarah Palin’s Alaska which starts later this month.

Now I know that Sarah Palin is not intended for people like me, and I know that she is not pitching her show to me and my fellow latte sippers. And yet I cannot help but find her pitch as grating as mama grizzly claws on a chalkboard.

When watching the ads, I can’t help but complete Palin’s unspoken subtext in my head.

“Family comes first here.”
Unlike here in New York, where we raise our children for fuel.

“I’d rather be out here being free. ”
Cuz if you’re not gutting fish on a glacier, you hate freedom.

“I’d rather be doing this than in some stuffy old political office.”
At last, Sarah Palin and I agree on something. I would rather you our were on a glacier gutting fish, too! You’re right, Sarah — politics is stinky and stuffy. Never forget that. The next time someone tries to take away your freedom and put you in some stuffy old political office, you just say, “no siree, mister.”


Sunday Snapshot — Bridge Night

hand of cards
I play bridge. Badly, but yes. I don’t drink Harvey Wallbangers and eat devilled eggs while I do it, but I play bridge.

I am getting better. I don’t overtrump my partner nearly as much as I once did. And I’m even getting good at counting trump. I’m still a pretty conservative bidder. In the above hand, my partner and I did end up in spades, but we didn’t bid high enough to win a game. Rookie timidity.