Thursday, June 26, 2008

If You Care About Your Child’s Future, You Must Read This Blog

If you are a parent of younger children, this blog will depress you. If you are a parent of younger children, you need to read this blog.

I just finished reading a long, intense article in Fast Company about the relationship between China and Africa. At first blush, you might wonder what it has to do with you. Trust me, it has everything to do with you – and your children’s future. If you can bear with me, I will try to net out the big picture.

Let’s start here. Note the part that says, “the next 50 years” – that’s in our lifetime folks. All the quotes are excerpted from the article.
“Humanity, the doomster argument goes, is on a collision course with the natural world, and the signs are everywhere: shrinking forests, croplands, fisheries, and water tables; rising pollution and temperatures. During the next 50 years, if current trends continue, humans will use more energy than in all of previously recorded history. More environmental stress will mean less growth and will trigger more conflict -- bitter clashes among civilizations over a dwindling resource pie, mass migrations, "climate refugees," uncontained diseases caused by "superbugs" impervious to modern medicines, water wars, maybe even food wars. In other words, the world will become like an episode of Survivor, except you can actually die.”
Essentially, the article explains in gut wrenching detail how we have abandoned Africa while China is rapidly depleting the country of its resources. We Western countries, with our high-minded principals – have done little (and participated in our share of the corruption) and the end game – holy crap 50 years!? – looks grim.
“When Bill Clinton was first elected president, the U.S. trade deficit with China was $18 billion. It is now $256 billion. Ravenous Westerners have become partners in Africa's environmental destruction.”
I realize I am woefully uneducated in this area because my first thought is what can I do to make a difference? I have been working on “saving the planet” by doing my part to think green. But now I the situation is far more dire if the problem is that there won’t be any resources left because there are just too many of us consuming. Simply consuming. Much of it needlessly.

Even as we begin work on a series of home improvements, I have started to change the questions I am asking – are the products we are using made in China? What are they made from? Is that a renewable resource? Can we use products made closer to my home with materials that are easy to grow or produce?

It’s not much, but I am thinking if we all start asking these questions, cut down our consumption and therefore the demand of products manufactured in China, we might have at least an economic impact. The author makes the point that the Chinese aspire to be like us. Really? How many more Starbucks to we need? Is that really the epitome of a self-actualized life?
“Oxford's Paul Collier, author of The Bottom Billion and a former head of research at the World Bank, is a leading expert on African economies. "I think the sad reality is that although globalization has powered the majority of developing countries toward prosperity," he says, "it is now making things harder for these latecomers." In other words, he says, Africa "missed the boat." And on a divided, demoralized continent, one where the United States has lost both its economic leverage and moral authority, Beijing can cherry-pick almost at will. That spells trouble not only for Africa but also for our ability to outthink the global consumption death spiral we have all set in motion.”
It’s far easier for me to pull the covers over my head and focus on getting the kid to summer camp. But then I think about her future. We all make assumptions our kids will live lives similar to ours – but will they?

We are already experiencing economic changes in the U.S. that are rocking our world. We have made choices that won’t help us endure (driving cars that aren’t efficient, using food for fuel, but crap imported from China, allowing debt to be the norm rather than the exception).

I think it’s time to pull together. To make different, thoughtful choices. We need to ask our leaders to take a stand. And I think it requires introspection, prioritization and sacrifice. This is not going to be easy – at least not for me. But maybe we can do it. Don’t we have to for our kids?

I would love to hear your thoughts on the article and what you are doing in your life to adapt. Maybe you think I am nuts? Please let me know. Discussion is a great place to start.

PS: if you don’t want to read the whole article – it is really long – the last section is a good place to start. Read it here.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Green You Can Do: Offsetting Your Google Footprint

I live in California and I am served by Pacific Gas & Electric for my utilities. Last month, as I proceeded to review my online bill, I saw an interesting ad for ClimateSmart. I was being offered to businesses, but as a student of Jim Rockford*, I have learned that just because your name isn’t on the invitation, it doesn’t mean you aren’t invited!

My daughter, in line with so many of today’s young people, is a freak about looking for ways for us to “save the earth.” When I told her about this program, she was thrilled that we could offset her watching “Saved by the Bell by participating in ClimateSmart (I am not sure what will offset the earworm I get from that show’s annoying theme song). For me, I need to offset my Twitter and Google addiction.

Check with your local utility company to see what’s available in your area!

This program appears to rock! Here’s how PG&E describes it:

The ClimateSmart™ program provides a voluntary option for Pacific Gas and Electric Company business customers to reduce their impact on climate change. When you enroll in the program, PG&E will calculate the amount needed to make the greenhouse gas emissions associated with your organization’s energy use “neutral” and will add this amount to your monthly energy bill. Your organization’s monthly ClimateSmart amount will vary depending on actual energy use. Your organization can choose which gas and electric accounts to enroll, and you can opt out at any time with no penalty.

So what does it cost? Frankly, not much at all.

My summer bill is about $80/month for both gas and electricity. The ClimateSmart charge for that same bill was $2.46. I don’t drink coffee, but isn’t that about a single frappacrappa something at a coffee place? I know it’s cheaper than a single scoop cone at Baskin Robbins. Seems like the least we could do, doesn’t it? And you don’t have to be a business. In fact, if we “consumers” got on board, we could really make a difference.

So there’s the challenge. Check with your utility company, find your local program and sign-up. Let’s all “offset” together and leave something good for our kids. Will you join me!?

*Seriously? You don’t know about or remember Jim Rockford from The Rockford Files? While my mom swears he’s Maverick and not Rockford, James Garner taught me so much when I was a kid. I think I need to blog that one day: What I Learned from Jim Rockford. Sounds like a plan.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Why I Hate Spam (Filters)

A of couple weeks ago I was talking with a business associate who surprised me with some bad news. Happens all the time right – except I got emotional and realized it would benefit our business relationship if I got the heck off the phone and stopped talking. So I begged off to get my head back in the game.

Within a few minutes when I had stabilized and had my thoughts together, I shot my associate an email. For me, email is a safe way to communicate especially when my emotions take over. And it usually works. Except, this time it didn’t. Because – wait for it – he never got it! At least not that day! No, my email was redirect by a spam filter and dumped into the same bin as his message from the Nigerian businessman and the super-duper body-part enlargement salesman.

Another case of an important email missed; sacrificed to the random discrimination of the spam filter.

All of us hate spam – and in fact, spam is on the rise! But let’s get real, how hard is it for us to delete a message we don’t want? In the balance of things, isn’t getting the messages you do want much more important than the half second of time it takes to delete the garbage?

Look at what this poor man is going through trying to protect his company – he’s a wreck. In an article in Business Week, author Gene Marks states it simply; “They all suck,” referring to spam filters.

Can I get a halleluiah? It’s time to pull together a culture of change.

If someone could make a spam filter that actually worked with a modicum of reliability, I am all over it. But so far what I have seen appears to still operate with a woeful amount of random success.

Thankfully, I have a relationship with my associate that could withstand the gaff, but with business relationships at stake, I don’t understand why anyone would trust a spam filter rather than spend three minutes reviewing and deleting the garbage.

So I say throw the filters out. Stop assuming they are doing their job. Check your spam.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Chicken Little: The Night the Sky Fell

Today’s blog is strictly personal. Last weekend, we made a mistake. We accidentally forgot to open the door to our chicken roost so the chickens had to sleep in the coop without the protection of the roost. Around 3am, I heard a horrible noise. I cannot say enough about how horrible that noise was. I thought, don’t worry, “the girls” are safe – they are in their roost.

But of course, they weren’t. When I finally heard what was clearly a chicken sound in the melee, I ran outside to find a huge raccoon attacking my darling little Sweet Pea. She was already dead and our other bird, Lily was in a stupor. I chased the raccoon away in a screaming fit that shockingly, my neighbors did not hear. I managed to get the roost open, get Lily inside and get myself back into the house.

I woke my eight year old daughter up to tell her the news. Frankly, I figured she had to have heard the noise but she hadn’t so instead she had to deal with a freaked out, adrenalized mom. She did a good job too because I was a wreck. Who knew I had become so attached to my little chickens? As a telecommuter, I realize they have become like co-workers to me. I go out and talk to them when I need a break. They are steady, centered companions who don’t react to stress or office politics.

Sweet Pea had a rough start in life – bullied by another hen we had originally. But we made a change and life was good. She was a beautiful Silkie mixed with Cochin and had the prettiest gold chest. She had just started laying and while the eggs were rather small, I admired her steadfast effort.

A friend from Flickr – a woman whom I have never met but shared great chicken stories with via photos and comments – was a great support. She offered advice and consolation. My cousin, who reminded me we share a “farm girl” legacy offered by our grandmother, told me we should get a new chick as soon as possible so Lily, my stunned survivor would have something to focus on.

Meanwhile, on a pragmatic front, my mom, always the trooper – saved the day. She offered to come clean up the mess and brought supplies for a proper burial including a headstone that Katie fixed up. We said our goodbyes and went to the feed store to bring home a new baby chick: a Rhode Island Red. The cutest darn thing you’ve ever seen.

Lily was a godsend for Sweet Pea nearly a year ago and it turns out her mothering instinct is still there. We slipped the baby under her wing as soon as it was dark and the magic began. She’s already taking the baby out for walks in the coop since we are having warm sunny weather. Just wait until she finds out her “baby” will grow to twice her size. She’s going to feel like Michael Jordan’s mom – no doubt!

So this is my little tribute to a sweet little bird that made a difference in our lives. We pet owners share that sweetness: the joy of new love, the enduring attachment as we care for them and the sad farewells.

If you’d like to see some of the pictures, I have posted them on Flickr.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Wii Fit: How to Improve the User Experience

Just a quick note. I wrote one more blog about the Nintendo Wii Fit from a user experience perspective that's published on my "other" blog. Check it out! And let me know if you agree with my observations!

Read it here.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Family Feud: Three Generations Compete on the Wii Fit!

I had no idea what I was getting into. Sure I wanted to try the new Wii Fit. It sounded great. Only I blew it. I didn’t preorder it – what was I thinking – and no matter how I tried, I couldn’t find it locally. And then it happened. Kismet. Chance. Divine intervention. I got a Wii Fit.

As usual, we put the new toy to the three-generation field test. I started – privately – because there was no need to share my weight, body mass index or Wii Fit age with everyone else. I mean, I am testing the product, why do I need to share anything else? The bad news, my little “Mii” who represents me in the game gave away the bad news. Both my mom and my daughter laughed when they saw my plump little me welcoming them to the game.

The humiliating initiation was strikingly similar to that first session at the gym when the great looking 20 year old athletic “trainer” weighs you in and does your measurements and then enthusiastically says, “okay, let’s get started!” The upside? This is a machine and I can mock it as much as I want. I went through as many games as I could, working my booty through yoga, balance, aerobics and strength training. Did I mention humiliation yet?

Both my mom and my daughter tried each of the games and did well and some and failed at others. I have to say it was nice to see the playing field leveled and it turns out each of us is better at one particular area.

Mom, who’s 70, is really good at yoga. She thinks it’s because she goes to Curves. I think it’s because she’s retired and spends most of her day breathing.

Katie is really good at balance. At eight years old, she’s still lower to the ground and hasn’t experienced her first hang over. I give her time, she’ll get crooked soon enough.

As for me, who would have thought I would excel at aerobics? At 46, I am anything but athletic, but I have always been able to take a punch, I can still carry the kid to bed and chase a group of school kids on a field trip. I also really like to dance - all that booty shaking of mine paid off. I have rhythm and can hula hoop with the pros (well, not really, but on the Wii Fit – booya)!

I have my goals set – a great feature – for this month and I have committed to using it to work out at least 20 minutes every day (folks are reporting how they are doing in online diaries). It’s pretty fun and it is getting me moving in ways I would have never managed on my own. I will let you know in a month if there are any “results” worth mentioning.

Is it worth the investment? You can check out the personal reviews. It’s about the same price as a month’s membership at the gym. I woke up this morning with an achy butt, er um, glutes and a burning in my abdomen. Something must be happening because those were some new muscle groups getting my attention. I think it’s worth it and the whole family can benefit. I mean, I will never be able to do what that woman in the video below can do, but I want to meet the guy over 40 who can! (I mean seriously, I want to meet you!)