Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I Got Your Innovation Right Here! Top Ten Ways Tech Could Help Tired Moms

Some days, I am so wiped out I just want to make a bowl of microwave popcorn, grab a Diet Pepsi and watch reruns. But no, I decided to be a mom. So I must soldier on. But it seems like tech could help me out just a bit. Here’s my list of what tech should do for me.

10. Get the kid ready for bed. It has to check to make sure she brushed her teeth and did her homework. It also tucks her in and makes sure she starts reading. All I have to do is stop by for the loving – a kiss goodnight.

9. Kill spiders. I hate getting rid of the things. I want a zapper – I am thinking a modified Wii remote - can just evaporate them with a flick of the wrist. Advanced skills let you zap flies too.

8. Make dinner (or any meal). Think The Jetson’s. This combo microwave/refrigerator lets you press a button and the meal is served. Beautifully prepared and ready to eat.

7. Fold the laundry and put it away. This would work like a Roomba: it would swoop up the clothes, deliver them to the washer/dryer and then somehow magically return them to drawers and closets.

6. Take out the garbage. This man-bot looks like Steve Young (yes, I am a 49er fan) and would kick it all to the curb while looking good! And it wouldn’t forget to change the kitty litter.

5. Help me prioritize. My cell phone would call me when something important was happening – like warning me when my mom was coming by for a surprise visit, telling me the cats are out of water or when the chickens have laid an egg.

4. Automate my shopping. Anytime I used something in my house, a real-time Bluetooth inventory would know about it and then generate a shopping list and send it to the computer. Then I would send that to the store and have everything delivered.

3. Nintendo babysitting. She’s playing the thing anyway. Let’s add a video camera and a GPS and I could know exactly what the kid is doing while I run an errand. I can see her, hear her and track her. What else do I need?

2. Burn calories for me. This is the ultimate device; I am thinking a modified taser, would boost my metabolism and increase my heart rate while adding tone and definition.

1. Energy boosting subliminal entertainment. Instead of drinking a Red Bull – or Diet Pepsi Max – I could just plug in my iPod and via special audio tracks, I would get a powerful energy burst that didn’t wouldn’t screw up my sleeping patterns later in the day.

Have an idea for the perfect technology? Let me know. We can always dream – if we can ever get to bed…

Friday, May 23, 2008

Santa Cruz Summit Fire: Keeping Up with the Breaking News

[Photo from the Santa Cruz Sentinel - see the rest here.]

Day two of the Santa Cruz wildfire and things are looking a bit better. We are cautiously optimistic with 20% containment (as of 10:30am). The wind has shifted and is coming off the ocean which means it is cooler, wetter and going a completely different direction from yesterday. Even the smell, which was horrible this morning, is much better with the wind change. Now if the wind will just stay mellow and gentle, maybe the firefighters can get a jump on things.

The real reason I am blogging today is that I want to publicly thank KGO television for the incredible service they provided yesterday – it demonstrated the power of technology and hopefully the future of how we all begin to respond to disasters. Early yesterday morning, KGO interrupted Good Morning America to begin fire coverage. On their website, they took a lot of crap for that move because the fire only affected those in the very south of their market – KGO covers the entire Bay Area which is huge. But they stuck to their guns.

And I heard from my friends that they stayed on the air nearly all day providing invaluable video of where the fire was going, evacuation information, air quality updates, school updates and more. I didn’t know about the TV because I was working but here’s the thing, I was able to watch streaming coverage non-stop during the day. I sat here on conference call after conference call and I was able to watch the video. It was incredible.

According to my friend Lisa, our local radio station, which goes by the name of KPIG - stop laughing – okay, keep laughing, anyway “The Pig” was also Johnny-on-the-spot with regular updates of a “pig” kind helping out with all sorts of community support including animal evacuations. In fact I understand they worked as a broker helping to match those offering housing to large livestock with the needy when the fairgrounds got full. Awesome.

Finally, over on Twitter, which was acknowledged for publishing the first news of the earthquake in China, there wasn’t much traffic. Aided by a great tool, Summize.com, I was able to watch the tweets coming in about the fire. Notably, folks directly in the line of fire didn’t tweet. I am going to guess that’s because most of them are what we beach folk call “mountain folk” who are known for coveting their ability to stay away from us flatlanders.

Today we aren’t getting the same level of coverage yet the fire is raging on. I am really feeling the loss. I hope more television stations consider running scaled down live broadcasts via the Internet on an on-going basis. Goodness knows their reporters are in the field.

As I have talked with my buddies this morning, I wasn’t the only one watching. Spouses who work “over the hill” in Silicon Valley watched, relatives in other parts of the nation watched and evacuees stuck at a local coffee shop with Internet access watched. Clearly this is a value public service. One we all appreciate so much.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Did you Purchase a Wii Fit at Best Buy? Maybe you were put on hold…

I was supposed to be at the store today at 10am when the product hit the shelves. I stupidly didn’t pre-order. This has been a busy week and I just didn’t pay any attention to what was going on. So, thanks to a conference call that ran long, I didn’t get to the store on time and didn’t get the Wii Fit. Bummer. But I did get a story.

My hunt started at Circuit City – got there too late. So I ran across the parking lot to Toys R Us – the last product just sold minutes before. Okay, I will try the new Best Buy that just arrived in our one-horse town. Maybe it’s not on people’s radar yet. I am an idiot, of course it was but they offered me something the others did not – customer service. So I made my way to the desk where I was greet by an incredibly nice young person, let’s call her Susan.

Susan did her best to locate a Wii Fit for me while she handled the calls coming in to the customer service desk. She ably put calls on hold and searched for other employees to field the calls. But then everything went wrong. It seems that Susan can surf the net, manage the vast online inventory management system for Best Buy, handle a two-way in her ear, but she can’t figure out how to get a call off hold.

I watched as customer after customer was put on hold only to see two smart women and then a manager struggle to “figure out” the phone system. It was a Cisco phone and I used one a few years ago when I contracted for Cisco so I offered to help. But I was no help at all. “This thing is so old fashioned,” Susan exclaimed as she slammed down the receiver. She had every intention of delivering good service, but it simply wasn’t possible to get the call back.

“We haven’t been trained on the phones yet,” said the manager. Trained. Hmm. These youngsters seemed to have all the other elaborate systems down. Could it be this really was “old” technology? Or maybe it was just too complex. Did someone overlook the user experience?

I want everyone in Santa Cruz that called near the lunch hour today to know the good people at Best Buy really did want to help you, but once your call was put on hold, it was lost; simply gone. As for business phones, we might want to think about making them a bit more intuitive.

As I was leaving the store – without any Wii Fit – I thanked Susan for all her help and for giving me fodder for my blog. And I could hear the phone ringing. Again.


Here's a trailer of the Wii Fit just in case you have been hiding under a rock!



And if you had time to waste on the video above, you have time to watch this - just too precious - sarcasm at it's best!

Monday, May 19, 2008

The School Talent Show, Twitter, American Idol and the Joy of Parenting

Permission slips were due last Friday for the school talent show. Let’s get real, this is elementary school – how much talent can there really be? The slip specifically noted no “lip singing” which appalled me. Is there no one proofreading these documents or do they really think that means lip-synching? Anyway…

After a day of gut wrenching self analysis, my daughter decided not to try out. Her girlfriends abandoned her (not a surprise to me) and aside from desperately trying to convince me she could mime, we agreed she has no “talent” for this year’s show. Sure, the little singing and dancing act she had prepared with her friends would have been cute, but my kid is no Ashley Tisdale. Or Nicole Richie. Or, well, you get the idea. Which brings me to Twitter.

I just started Tweeting last week and I have to admit, it’s a guilty pleasure. If you are unaware of what’s going on, this Business Week article does a nice job summarizing what you have been missing. There are lots of folks who think it’s a flash in the pan, like Mark and a summary from the WTweetJ blog. But I don’t care, that’s not the point. The point is Tweeting is all about me! I have a place to publicly vent, share and tell 140 characters that summarize exciting things about me! It is awesomely self-centered. I am sure if one does it enough, it might even make you go blind.

In a world where we are all just cogs in the wheel, Twitter gives you this little place where you can feel important. And the cool thing is, you can connect with others and find out they are doing things that are as unimportant as the things you are doing. And it is fun. But does it turn us into self-centered monsters?

Monsters. You know the ones I am talking about: like the kids who try out for American Idol who have no business wasting anyone’s time. Could it be that these kid’s parents never told them they can’t sing? At no time have their friends said; could you quiet down a bit, you are drowning out the radio? Or like my mom told me, “You’re okay Jen, but that’s a voice you might want to save for the shower!” Is today’s culture hopelessly, helplessly addicted to themselves, convinced they are worthy of Idol fame? And does Twitter give validation to this culture?

Big questions that I can’t answer, but rest assured you won’t see my kid trying out for American Idol. I am gentle. I let her down easy – ahhh the joys of parenting. I do let her know there are things she does well and but there are times when she should let the professionals, like Paris Hilton, do the heavy lifting. I am bummed she won’t be in the talent show, but seriously, does the world really need another mime?

Join me on Twitter – just keep in mind, it’s not the best forum for mimes!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Bloggers Unite for Human Rights: Five Family Films that will Foster Discussion

Today, around the world, bloggers are coming together to write about a single topic: Human Rights. An online event sponsored by Bloggers Unite, this effort is intended to “shine a light” on a single topic with different – lets face it millions of – perspectives from all over the globe.

When my daughter finally ends up in therapy, my mom assures me it will be because I talked her to death. I am a communications major and I love to talk. And one of the best parts of parenting is having the opportunity to have great discussions with my daughter – we talk about everything – and one subject that comes up a lot in our household is human rights.

It takes many forms and contexts, but the essential underlying theme is that all people deserve to be free – to be able to speak freely, pursue religion as they see fit and have their basic needs met – food, water, safety. Many of our discussions have happened while watching movies. As avid Netflix members, we have family movie night on Friday and Saturday nights.

Family Movie Night: Dinner and Debate

Gramma comes over, we make a good “picnic” dinner and settle in for a family film. We usually allocate about three hours because I am notorious for hitting the pause button to stop and explain what is happening, why it happens and get Katie’s perspective on what she’s seeing. This process tends to drive my mom a bit crazy, but the overall result is I have a child who understands things on a very “connected” level. And I see her bring this wisdom to the events that happening in her eight-year-old world.

So, I sat down with her last night and talked about some of the best movies we have watched and asked her which ones made lasting impressions. There have been so many, but we decided to choose our top five. We hope you watch them with your kids – and I encourage you to look at the reviews on Common Sense Media to make sure they are a fit with your values and to make you aware of what subjects may come up. Four of the links provided for each movie will take you there.

Our Top Five “Discussion” Films (in no particular order)

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

Surprise! Aside from this being one of my all time favorites, it turns out there’s a rather interesting back story with the Nazi’s pursuing the Ark. We stopped during the movie to talk about Nazi Germany, the war and who owns national treasures. We also ended up discussing the Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban as an example of how some people don’t respect the values of others.

Pride

Based in fact, this story is about an African American swimmer, Jim Ellis, who deals with discrimination in different ways. The story is inspirational if not aggravating at times as it shows how race was perceived in the 1970s. We ended up having a great discussion about how man (humans) can be so cruel to one another and that we all have a responsibility to stand up when we see something bad happening. I think Katie got the concept of just because everyone does it and condones it, does not make it right.

Bend It Like Beckham

This one is great for girls (boys too) as it shows the contrast between cultures and the struggles many kids have when their parents believe in one thing and the kids they live with every day believe in something else. For us, this lead to an interesting talk about doing what you believe is right despite what your parents’ tell you to do. Is it okay to lie? What if it is for the right reasons? I believe teaching Katie to be a critical thinker is essential to helping her fight for what she believes in, including the rights of others. This movie gave us a chance to talk about values, principles, behavior and having the guts to stand by her convictions.

Pursuit of Happyness

Based on a true story, this looks at homelessness, parenting and the struggle one can have when things aren’t going well. It also demonstrates human kindness, perseverance and the power of the parent/child relationship. We talked a lot about compassion when we watched this movie. We see the homeless is our own town and some of them have children in tow. Like most kids, Katie is compelled to help. So I have given her a way to take action. I help her give her old toys and clothes to the Walnut Avenue Women’s Center and we donate regularly to the Second Harvest Food Bank. She understands we are lucky to have what we have and she feels good about sharing what we have.

Ruby Bridges

Another movie based on reality, this is a great movie about the strength of a small girl, her parents and how her strength helped change our culture. We ended up Googling the woman, Ruby Bridges, after the movie desperate to learn more about what she had become after living through such an incredible childhood. Ruby is one of the first children to attend a white school in Louisiana at the request of the NAACP. The movie is awesome as it tells the story in a way that older children will understand. Katie and I talked about racism, courage, fear, anger and honor as we watched her story play out. This is a great movie to watch with the whole family.

Do you have movies you would add to this list? I would love to hear about it. We are always looking for new movies to watch and discuss. Please add a comment and let me know!

PS: not every family movie night is mommy propaganda time – we also watch the fun ones like Ratatouille, Enchanted and Jurassic Park!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Cyber Gramma: Why I Still Need My Mom in a High Tech World

It’s Mother’s Day and my kid has been sick all weekend so I really didn’t get a chance to pull anything together for my mom. Somehow she snuck a bear claw into the house yesterday so my daughter, coughing and gasping, still managed to surprise me with breakfast in bed (said bear claw and a diet Pepsi – I don’t need much!). What a nice surprise.

I tend to have a push/pull relationship with my mom – like most mom’s, she can drive me to the brink, but despite all that, she can also really come through when I least expect it. And she is truly helpful in my “high tech” life. So here’s to you mom, a little ode to how you help me every day.


M-O-T-H-E-R


M
is for medical advice.
This is incredibly relevant right now with my daughter sitting in the other room sporting a fever. I could Google until the cows come home but nothing can substitute for having mom around to tell me the best way to treat a sick child.


O
is for old school.
With so many cyber toys around our house, it seems my daughter likes nothing better than playing some “old school” games with gramma including a game called Hüsker Dü – a memory game from Denmark. Having gramma around for these moments are the things memories are made of.


T
is for talking.
As in, I do the talking and she does the listening. I work from home and while my colleagues are terrific, they aren’t sitting in the cube next to me. So when I get a brain fart (which can be often), it’s usually my mom who has to smelt what I dealt. Over the years, she has had to listen to me tell her the most boring stories and now she even has to read emails and follow web links. I am so glad she does.


H is for hearing.
This one is really important to me because I am often faced with ethical situations that can be really confusing. She doesn’t just listen to me talk about them but she hears what’s really going on and offers me advice on doing the right thing. And let’s face it, we all have difficult decisions to make but having mom on your side to help you through the tough times can really make the decisions easier.


E
is for endurance.
I don’t know how she does it, she’s not getting any younger, but she manages to keep up with Katie and I as we drag her across America, around the town and through any number of kid events – from grade school open houses to camp performances. Despite the fact she raised three of her own, she never fails to be enthusiastic at all my daughter’s childhood events including fawning over artwork, strange homemade food and encounters with various living creatures my daughter finds fascinating.


R
is for rock on.
My mom’s been through some pretty crazy Hannah Montana dance parties. Despite Disney trying to possess my daughter’s mind, I can always count on my mom to crank up The Who or The Kinks and get my daughter rockin to classic rock and roll. There’s nothing better than watching my mom shake it while she refuses to get old.


So here’s to you mom, I couldn’t do it without you.


Happy Mother’s Day – and to all you rocking grannies in a cyber world – we love you!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

DTV Transition: Does it discriminate? Is it equal opportunity television?

Still ranting on the topic of how our culture is becoming stratified I am kind of getting myself worked up about it. When I wrote my other blog, I had forgotten about the changes taking place in television in the US in 2009 (forgotten isn’t really the word, I have been in denial, deep denial). I think I am okay because I have cable – analog cable – but it’s a pipe and it delivers signal. The point is, I can afford cable. Yet many of my neighbors can’t.

And thus it continues: the plight of the haves versus the have nots.

In this case it raises a real issue that should concern us all. And the quote below nails the question: do we have the right to television?

"The prospect of good, honest, television-loving Americans losing their signal has caused a lot of hand wringing of late. According to a January survey by the National Association of Broadcasters, (only) 79 percent of Americans are aware of the transition. ... All this despite a huge information campaign and an incentive program that amounts to an investment by American taxpayers of up to $1.5 billion. ... That, to me, raises the question: Do Americans have a right to television? ... The question is not meant to be cynical. There is, after all, a public-interest rationale for as many people as possible to have access to the television medium. ... Nevertheless, it would be naive to think that television's primary function in most households is as an emergency alert or learning tool. And it's illuminating to put the government's $1.5 billion allocation in perspective. Consider: The proposed 2009 federal budget for adult basic and literacy education is $574.6 million."
-- Glenn Derene, Popular Mechanics' tech editor, questions the priorities reflected in the spending to get Americans ready for the digital TV conversion next year.

What is the benefit of over-the-air broadcast? Safety? Speed? Accessibility?

As I talked about this with my mom, she reminded me that we all use our portable televisions when there’s an earthquake and the power is out. It was huge for me in San Francisco in 1989. I didn’t have power for a few days but I could see what was happening on my battery powered television.

When September 11 happened, we all gathered round the television to watch events unfold and understand what – if anything - we needed to do. I believe over-the-air broadcast television is a public utility and cutting people off – people who may need it most because they don’t have access to computers, mobile phones or other technology – puts part of the population at risk including the elderly and the poor. Who is going to make sure my elderly neighbor is hooked up? What about the family in the trailer who doesn’t even have a phone?

And one more thing about what Glenn says above, is anyone else outraged that we are actually spending our tax dollars on subsidies that are helping cable companies get more business?! And we are spending three times more on this than on helping adults learn how to read!

Is it too late to cancel this party? To make it stop and leave everything alone? I would love to hear your thoughts.

DTV 2009: Don’t know what I am talking about? Here’s the scoop:

On February 17, 2009, the era of analog broadcast television in the United States will end. The nation's full power television stations will complete their transition to an all-digital system. While this change will mark the end of the traditional analog method of broadcasting over-the-air television, it won’t signal the end of free broadcast television, and your favorite broadcast programs and local television stations will still be available…

All you have to do is follow these easy instructions (yeah right): http://www.dtvtransition.org/.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Kids and Tech: Are we Googling our way to a stratified society?

These are strange times. I listen to the news and worry about the price of gas, global warming and if my child will have a future. It’s almost surreal and yet I realize my parents and my grandparents also had things to worry about as they raised their children.

While my mind swirls with “big people” problems, I juxtapose these thoughts with the daily craziness that comes with raising an eight year old. I am not talking about homework, making sure the chickens are fed or the trials and tribulations of friendship. No, I am talking about the language the child is using!


In a world where technology changes as fast as the weather, my daughter can stop me in my tracks with the words she uses to manage her world – ripped from the headlines of the technology found around our house. Here’s just a sampling of what I am talking about:


“Mom, power off the car while I run in and pick up my jacket,” she said as she ran back to the classroom.


“Put it on pause just a second,” she said, asking me to stop talking for a moment while she ran to the bathroom.


“Let’s just delete those,” she muttered as we cleaned out old clothes from her dresser.


And of course, like any good household, the minute grandma forgets what she was going to say, my daughter suggests she just “Google it.” In fact, her answer to most things is to “Google it” and I hate to say it, but we do and it works!


I was a rhetoric major so I am comfortable with language and its evolution. But I wonder if we are heading into a
Max Headroom future where we will have a stratified society with those that are part of the information/technology world and those who are merely observers. If you remember the show, the way the bosses controlled the masses was to give them a steady stream of television. Make it free, manage the information and make sure the constant drone pacified everyone.

I see these differences happening even in my daughter’s small world. In our house we consume information. She’s exposed to the latest technology and she quickly adapts to new devices and services. But most of her friends, who have limited to little access to information and technology often don’t understand some of her references. She readily admits she can’t explain what her mother does because they just wouldn’t get it.


Thankfully in third grade, these differences aren’t deal breakers. But as she gets older, I can see how the kids will start to self-select. The techie kids hanging out with the other techies. So I wonder, are we heading toward a truly stratified society? And more importantly, will it matter if the polar icecaps melt and California ends up under water? Can you see why my head is spinning? These are strange times.