Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

It is Christmas Eve and stores will soon close and the staff will be able to go home to their family celebrations.  Even if you don't celebrate Christmas, it is a time when people stop and wish each other season's greetings and seem to be a bit nicer to each other.

To my readers, I wish you Seasons Greetings.  For the world, I wish Peace on Earth. 

And for everyone who celebrates Christmas, Merry Christmas! 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

First Snow of the Season

Yesterday was our first measurable snow of the season in the Boston area.  A light steady snow all afternoon made for some slick roads that caught pedestrians and drivers by surprise.  My office building is on a hill; there's a one-floor difference between the entrance on one street and the main entrance on the side street.  That steep slope troubled a number of drivers who could not stop at the bottom of the hill and a few parked cars were hit.  Luckily, no pedestrians were hit. 

But it was refreshing to brush the snow off my van and drive home in a white haze of new snow.  It suddenly made the coming Christmas holiday more real to me.  I always want a white Christmas; the snow on the trees and bushes is so beautiful under the night lights. 

The realist in me knows that soon the white stuff will get dirty and ugly.  But the first snow of the season brings on a nostalgia that I relish and lifts my spirits.

Enjoy, be safe, drive carefully, and let it snow!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

All Things Considered...

It has been a busy two weeks at work, leaving little time and energy for blogging.  My evening schedule  began in earnest this past Monday; I've had financial literacy classes 3 nights this week and another one today (this morning, thankfully).  We're squeezing an 8 session course in before the holidays but that means an extended schedule for me.  This gets me into the groove for my tax season schedule, which is right around the corner.  Better I adjust now, as I've got volunteer recruitment and training to mange from here through early January and then tax preparation in earnest through April. 

Why Financial Literacy Now?
As part of the Credit Reform Act of 2009, the federal government is looking at ways to help Americans become financially competent in 5 areas: Earning, Saving, Spending, Borrowing, and Protection Against Risk.  As the holidays approach and people start last-minute shopping and spending, putting some time into understanding how money works can help people exercise a little discipline in that spending.

Many people don't really spend any time thinking through their money.  It comes in; it goes out.  If they don't have enough to buy something, they borrow.  Often, they don't even see overdraft protection as borrowing.  But borrowing has consequences.  Helping them think through those consequences in advance can help them develop a different mindset about money (theirs' and others') so they can make better choices.

That is part of the purpose of our program.  People who have gone through it are grateful for the opportunity to sit and hear, discuss, ask questions, learn, and reflect on the topics we discuss.  We're fortunate that we have half a dozen financial institutions and several other volunteers who help us as instructors.  Our students get this information right from the horse's mouth, so to speak. 

Now, if I just had a little more income...

Everyone Benefits
Yes, I, like everyone else, benefit from these discussions every time.  The students themselves provide a lot of good input - tips for saving at the grocery store, local resources for better purchasing, lessons learned from past mistakes, etc.  Our instructors get the chance to really listen to the people who often have the most trouble with financial institutions.  They get a lot of feedback - both positive and negative - about people's experiences with financial institutions.  This helps them understand the banking needs and issues of the low income community that much better.

The discussion aspect of the program is as important as the prepared materials we use.  By the way, we use the Money Smart curriculum from the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation), which is free and available in numerous languages.  They even offer a free one-day training for instructors. 

Does Your Community Offer Financial Literacy?
If your non-profit wants to empower its low-to-moderate income community, consider offering or collaborating with another organization to offer financial education programs.  Changing people's thinking about and around money can have a tremendously positive effect on them in the long term.

You may also be able to get involved with a matched savings program (Individual Development Accounts, or IDAs) that provide an incentive to save towards a specific goal.  You can always contact me for more information.

You might be able to help with or teach in such a program.  In addition to volunteer instructors from the banking/credit union community, we have experienced VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) volunteers and staff from a local CDC (community development corporation) who teach as well.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dec 1 is World AIDS Day

The good news is that the rates of new HIV infections are slowing down worldwide; by almost 20% in 2009.  The bad news is that new infections still outpace treatment successes by 2:1. 

The theme for World AIDS Day 2010 is 'Universal Access and Human Rights'.  World leaders have pledged to work toward this goal.  One thing we can do is stop Tweeting for one day (Dec 1).  The drop in Tweets should be significant and demonstrate how many people believe we can accomplish this and other goals in the prevention, treatment, and spread of HIV. 

The Red Ribbon is an international symbol for HIV/AIDS awareness.  Wear your ribbon today and many other days to show your concern about and care for the many people living with HIV.  Visit the AIDS pages of the CDC , U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, and the United Nations for more information and resources.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Blessings to All

I have a great many things to give thanks for and I won't enumerate them all here.  But I have family and friends, a job, a roof over my head, social friends and closer friends, people who care about me and about whom I care.  We all have our trials and problems, but we all can find something to be thankful for.

On this Thanksgiving Day, my wish and hope for you is that you have or can find something to be thankful for in your life.  If not, then reach out to another and wish them a thankful day; maybe your blessing will come back to you in some way.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Diabetes Prevention

As I promised earlier this month, a few tips on diabetes prevention.  There is such a wealth of good information on the web on this topic that I will only hit the highlights.  There are plenty of links to reputable sites for you to follow to get more in-depth information.

For Type One Diabetes, which affects about 5%-10% of people with diabetes, there is no prevention at this time.  Because it is usually diagnosed early in life, it used to be called Juvenile Diabetes.  With Type One Diabetes, the body does not produce enough insulin to process glucose into energy.  Treatment typically involves some type of insulin therapy and other treatments to replace the missing insulin and help convert glucose into energy.

Type Two Diabetes is most common, affecting  more than 23.6 million Americans. Some estimate that 57million Americans have diabetes, many not yet knowing it.  In Type Two Diabetes, the body may not produce enough insulin or it may ignore the insulin that's there-- the insulin doesn't do its job, so to speak. While in my youth I often heard this referred to as adult onset diabetes, I no longer hear that phrase.  This is because Type Two Diabetes is affecting children and young adults in far greater numbers than ever before.

Risk Factors for Diabetes
The American Diabetes Foundation (ADA) states that both forms of diabetes have two factors:
  • a genetic predisposition to diabetes; someone in your immediate or close family has/had diabetes;
  • a triggering environmental incident or situation; lifestyle--food choices, activity/exercise level, what part of world you live in, etc.

Type Two Diabetes has the higher correlation to environmental factors and lifestyle.  What the ADA finds interesting is that, while lifestyle--high fat, too little carbohydrate and fiber, and lack of exercise--are strong risk factors, these play out for those living a Western lifestyle (European and American).  The same factors do not correlate to getting the disease for people living in other parts of the world.

Some racial and ethnic groups and the elderly have a higher incidence of Type Two Diabetes.  If you are African-American,  Latino/Latina, Native American, Asian American, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, or you are elderly, your risk is higher. 

Diabetes Prevention 
The result of either type of diabetes is too much blood glucose in the body, which the body cannot process into energy.  The cells are starving while their "food" is all around them.

A Simple Demonstration
Earlier this month, our Hunger Network had a brief presentation where the presenter pulled a clear, plastic canister out of a bag.  In it were a group of white ping pong balls, representing cells in the body.  They were partly surrounded by a red liquid representing blood in the body. 
  • Liquid in the first canister rolled smoothly around the balls when she rotated it; this represented a body with normal glucose levels; the "cells" had no difficulty  moving.  
  • She pulled out a second canister; the liquid was a bit thicker and didn't roll quite as quickly around the cells.  This represented an elevated blood glucose level.  It was more difficult for the cells to move.
  • She pulled out a third canister; the liquid was quite thick and the cells barely moved.  This represented a high glucose level that could be found in someone with diabetes, even if undiagnosed! 
The Mayo Clinic has this article on tips to prevent Type Two Diabetes.  As with all programs for diabetes prevention and control, it recommends
  • physical activity, 
  • more fiber, 
  • whole grains, 
  • losing weight, and 
  • making healthier food choices rather than going on fad diets.
WebMD provides similar advice, and adds that you should stop smoking.  This is recommend to mitigate the effects of diabetes on the body.  Diabetes often leads to heart disease as does smoking; the combination is, quite literally, a killer.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) points to a study on diabetes prevention (see next paragraph) which demonstrated that "people can delay and possibly prevent the disease by losing a small amount of weight (5 to 7 percent of total body weight) through 30 minutes of physical activity 5 days a week and healthier eating."

For readers who want a more clinical resource, The National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse has a Diabetes Prevention section you may want to read.  Their study is mentioned in the previous paragraph. 

The UC Berkeley (University of California at Berkeley) newsletter issue on diabetes prevention, Wellness Letter, has a good one-page summary that may prove helpful.  You can subscribe to their newsletter which informs you on a variety of wellness topics. 

Speaking Personally
On a personal note, my brother lived all over the world over 35+ years.  He was often assigned to "lesser developed" nations.  He would always drop weight after living for a time in one of these countries and he swears that it's because they don't over-process their grains and other foods.  And when he'd return to the US for a time, the weight would come right back.  I think he's onto something and I'm now buying items such as stone ground corn meal when I can find them.

Friday, November 12, 2010

World Diabetes Day & the Big Blue Test - View Video by Nov 14, 2010

Act quickly - November 14 is this Sunday! 
Here's the scoop.

World Diabetes Day  -- Sunday, November 14, 2010 -- is also a deadline for viewing a video linked to a unique opportunity to help a child with diabetes get insulin.

  1. Check out the websites linked in this post for additional information.
  2. View this short (less than 2 minutes) video from Diabetes Hands Foundation, Diabetes Daily, and Diabetes Stories.  View the video by Sunday, November 14, 2010 and Roche Diabetes Care, makers of ACCU-Check(c) diabetes products and services, will make a donation to support Life for a Child and Insulin for Life
  3. Take part in the Big Blue Test on Sunday, November 14, 2010.  (Don't worry; it won't take long.)
  4. Share your experience!
The Big Blue Test is an eye-opener for many people.  I won't spoil it for you.  Check out the link for the test and just do it; it doesn't take long and it is something you can share to help inform others.  While it is designed for people with diabetes, if you don't have diabetes - or don't know that you have diabetes - you can do the 2nd part and make your body feel better! 

I'll follow up on Jeff Hansell's request to post some diabetes prevention care in another post.  The deadline of this Sunday to have a donation made based on just viewing a video pushed that other topic back a bit.

Until next post...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans' Day 2010 - Honor our Veterans

Today is Veterans' Day; the day we set aside to remember and honor our nation's veterans.  We sometimes forget that the freedoms we have in this country are due to the efforts of a great many people, past and present, who sacrificed to help us retain these freedoms.  And they have sometimes sacrificed to bring freedom to other nations as well.

Whether or not you support the conflicts we are engaged in currently, our military members are serving their country and following the orders that are part of that service.  We must honor that when we meet them.

Like many others, I have veterans in my family.  My dad served on the USS Nelson (a Gleaves-class destroyer) in WWII.  The Nelson was torpedoed in half  in the Atlantic Ocean by a German E-boat near Normandy.  My dad had just walked from the stern to the other end of the ship when it happened -- had he not done that -- well, 24 died and 9 were wounded.  They managed to do enough repairs to get themselves to Ireland for more watertight repairs, then towed to Gibraltar to lead a convey of "sick ships" back to Boston.  In Boston they replaced the stern that had been lost in the ocean and the Neslon was returned to duty.  I believe my Dad had completed his duty by then because the Nelson went on to serve in the Pacific but I don't believe my dad served there -- at least, he never talked about it. In fact, he never talked much about WWII; it was a hard time for both those in service and their families left home to cope.

Today, it's really not much different.  Some of the things our servicemen and servicewomen see, hear, and do change them considerably.  Sometimes they cannot cope with the "real" world after being in the surreal world of fighting, killing, living under constant threat of losing life or limb. 


Some of my dad's story I learned from him, and some I read in the book, Tin Cans and Other Ships, which gave a detailed account of a great many ships from World War II.  And there are a great many links to sites today that have a good deal of information. 
My dad wasn't the only family member serving in WWII.  My Aunt Winnie and Uncle Bob met when Bob was in the hospital recovering from injuries.  She was an Army Nurse and he was an Air Force pilot.   He served in the Atlantic and later was stationed in Japan as part of the recovery effort after we bombed Hiroshima.  My uncle Bill served but I forget in which branch.  I'll have to ask my brother, Bill, and edit this later.  That brother served at least two tours in Vietnam.

My nephew Dan is currently serving in the Navy, like my dad.  He spent more than a year off the coast of Japan and later served in Afghanistan.  Yes, I know there isn't much ocean in Afghanistan but the Navy does a lot of the supply management for the Army, so they sometimes get land duty.  Another Nephew, Bill, served in Afghanistan.  Gee, can you see that Bill is a common name in my family?  At holidays we'd usually have at least 6 Bills in the house for dinner; it could get confusing!   (And my dad's name was Bill also!)...

I have some friends who've served in the Reserves (hi Dawn!) and some in regular military service even though they saw no conflict.  But they were ready to be called.

Sometimes you don't even know that the person you're with is a veteran.  I had a client earlier this week whom I discovered is a Vietnam Veteran.  As he put it, he "served too long there."  Today, he is just coming out of having been homeless, but has no job, no money, and needs food stamps.  His story is all too common.

As we honor our veterans today, in whatever manner suits us best, let us also remember those who are living in pain or poverty -- or both.  When we vote, when we talk with politicians, when we make decisions about giving or donating, keep them in mind and remember that the person on the street you don't even know could be a veteran.  Treat them well.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month

Diabetes: Could You Have It But Not Know It?
Diabetes can be a silent killer.  It's scary. 


Two Types of Diabetes 

Type One Diabetes occurs when the body cannot produce sufficient insulin to convert starches and sugar into energy for the body to use.  This typically gets diagnosed in childhood/youth and is not preventable - you often hear it referred to as Juvenile Diabetes, but that's because it gets diagnosed early; it continues to affect you throughout life.  The body just cannot produce enough insulin.  Type One Diabetes is treated through insulin therapy and other strategies.  It can be a fatal disease, but is usually manageable with proper treatment. 

Type Two Diabetes can be caused by the body not producing enough insulin, or by the cells ignoring the insulin the body produces.  Type Two Diabetes affects the majority of people with diabetes and is both preventable and manageable.  Exercise and diet are the major factors in preventing Type Two Diabetes.  Type Two Diabetes was typically seen in adults. Unfortunately, today we see more and more children diagnosed with it.  That is part of the reason behind the current effort to reduce sugary products in schools. 

Because diabetes is such a big risk to our health, I've decided to join the campaign to blog regularly thoughout November on this topic.  I'll add more content every few days (I will try for every day) and add links to help you learn more about this health problem.

Why Do I Care?

Diabetes is part of my family.  My grandfather had Type Two Diabetes and lived to the ripe age of 96.  He walked every day, outlived most of his doctors, and lived by the "apple a day" prescription common to his generation.  He was insulin-dependent (depended on insulin shots to help regulate the amount of insulin in his body so it could process sugars properly) but had few complications.  He was lucky. 

My cousin had Type One Diabetes and died from complications in her early 30s.  It was a shock to us.  This was nearly 30 years ago and we know that treatments today have improved.  But it's still a serious disease that requires careful treatment.  Her body had great difficulty processing insulin and even with proper management, she had a great many complications.  I remember my mother cooking dinners for her and bringing them to her in the Joslin Clinic, right down to china plates and a small vase with a rose, so she could feel somewhat at home even in the hospital.  She was there for amputation of one of her toes.  You see, poor circulation is one of common complications of diabetes.  Poor circulation and neuropathy - nerve damage with resulting loss of sensation - means that even a small cut in the foot can lead to serious infections.

One uncle died from complication from Type Two Diabetes.  Although he was in his later 70s and we had the benefit of having him around for many years, tell that to his wife and children who miss him.  Another uncle was diagnosed just a few years ago.  In his 80s, he is managing it.

It just seems as if it runs in our family.  So it is important to me and to everyone else in my family.   One of my four brothers has hypoglycemia - which is caused when the body uses up glucose (sugar) too quickly, glucose is released by the body too slowly, or the body produces too much insulin for the body to process properly.  Hypoglycemia can occur in people with diabetes, but there is condition called Idopathic Hypoglycemia where the cause of this imbalance is unknown and the person does not have diabetes. 

Growing up with this so much a part of my family, especially my grandfather and cousin, I learned from my mother to cook with about half the sugar called for in any recipe and always use less salt than stated.  I don't even add salt after cooking.  I watch in wonder as I see people in restaurants pick up the salt and pour it on food they haven't even tasted yet!  People often don't seem to know how to appreciate the taste of the actual food they're eating.  Salt can flavor food, but it also helps regulate fluids in the body.  Too much salt, however, can cause health complications such as high blood pressure (hypertension)

Consider this: every french fry from that fast food place is loaded with salt!  Some places actually add sugar to the cooking oil.  Would you sit down and pour sugar on your french fries?  If we start considering how much sugar and salt are in the preprocessed or precooked foods we eat, we might find that we are killing ourselves through ignorance.  If we can cook more at home and bring that home cooking to work for lunch, we can cut a huge chunk out of our poor food choices. 

Speaking of work - I've got to go!  See you in a day or two with another post on Diabetes -- or whatever else is On My Mind.

Monday, November 8, 2010

How do you find inspiration for your blog posts?

This morning I read this question raised by Colin Welch on LinkedIn.  Colin referenced an article that gives bloggers tips for posting regularly and keeping your blog interesting.  Here's that article, Blog Post Ideas - 10 Tips for Blog Inspiration, by Heather Buckley.  Both Colin and Heather work for Silicon Beach Training.

Another reader, Andrew, responded to the discussion stating that bloggers who get "blocked" shouldn't be blogging.  My response is below...

"I have to disagree with Andrew about "bloggers block" indicating the person shouldn't be writing at all.  That thinking would have meant that many of our most famous novelists throughout time shouldn't have ever written.  Bloggers blog for a wide variety of reasons and not every blogger has a product or service to sell.

I know people who are quite good in their field and believe strongly in what they are doing.  But they cannot blog.  They have tried, but their personal characteristics interfere with their ability to say it and let it go.  So they spend weeks rewriting and crafting such a "perfect" article that will never get published because they'll never consider it "done."  They need to use a ghostwriter so their work gets published.  I know because I've been a ghostwriter on blogs and in print! 

Writing is a process.  Good writing takes time, patience, and persistence.  Many blogs are well written and some are not.  While content is what is important, and many people will forgive a poorly written blog that has good content, good writing makes good content easier to read and understand.  So a lot of people exercise good writing skills when writing their blogs.  That sometimes leads to a "block" because the writer, in trying to convey a message that is clearly understood with the writer's meaning, wants to ensure the quality of the article(s). 

Heather's article, Carl, is well written and a very good guide for bloggers.  Even when we really already know these things, it's good to get them in a guide that pinpoints what we already know.  And, it demonstrates what she is writing: use a list, ask for ideas, link to other posts, etc.

I've decided that this response merits a blog post, so it will be my post for today, with a brief intro on the topic you raised, Carl, and link to your public profile.  Thanks for raising the topic! "

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I Love it When Things Come Together!

I get really excited when I've been able to figure out the answer (or an answer) to a problem that's been bugging me.  When it comes to technology, figuring out those answers usually means I've learned the tool at a deeper level of understanding than I had before -- and that's a good thing. 

So I was really excited this morning when I made one change to a website I've been working on and the "fix" did exactly what I hoped it would do.  I had figured out the answer a few days ago but didn't have time until today to actually test it out.  Now I can tell the client to take a look and we can move on from here.

I've been using the Joomla! web development tool for a while now, but don't get to work with it all the time.  I have to do it early in the morning (before my day job) and on the weekend.  But I've gradually grown to understand it at a much deeper level and can often figure something out fairly quickly.  I'm not a coder, but know enough html, and now even a bit of css, to work with it and set things up to work the way I want. 

But every once in a while I get stumped.  And I was stumped for about a week with this last problem.  I use the same template on another site, so started to look at the css files of both, comparing what was different between and found the "offending" plugin that was stumping me.  Turning that off cleared up my problem and I have decided I don't want/need that plugin.  Next step is to uninstall it so my site stays clean and only has features and plugins installed that I want or need. 

I think that my many years of fixing computers (hardware and software) have helped me be a good troubleshooter.  And this skill transfers to non-technology projects and problems.  I find I can look at the problem fairly dispassionately and review the surrounding environment (circumstances, issues, players involved, etc.) and localize the source.  That's essential in good problem-solving.  Too many people put band-aides on problems rather than taking the time to figure out the source.  Problem is -- the problem keeps coming back if you don't get to the source and eliminate it!

That's my thought for this morning.  I think it's a great way to start my day.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Each Week, I Learn a Little More with Joomla!

Yesterday I did a little searching and discovered a plugin that permits me to embed powerpoint presentations in Joomla! websites. I already had a SlideShare account, but hadn't thought about using that with Joomla! A little research on how to get my slides to embed in a website led me to that solution and it's working pretty well.

Some of the slides are a full screen, and those don't display exactly properly. But for now, it's a good start on getting our Electronic Bulletin Board, with local events and information constantly updated, onto our website.  This will make it easier for our volunteers to answer a question from someone who has seen something posted on the bulletin board but doesn't want to stand outside and wait for it to roll around again.  They can go to the website, click on the link, and find what the person is asking about.

I LOVE how technology can actually make things easier for us.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Joomla! Boston Users Group

Last night the Joomla! Boston Users Group met and had a long-distance presentation by Nick Antimisairis (nickname Nant on Joomlapolis), one of the core developers of the Community Builder (membership management) and CBSubs (subscription management) components.  We used Skype to talk with Nick and DimDim to see his desktop presentation.

Learning how Community Builder and CBSubs can be used together to help manage an organization's memberships, subscription, and even sales of items was great.  CBSubs seems very well integrated into Joomla! and many of the most widely-used extensions.  Being able to use multiple tools without any code hacking demonstrates good core component-building and integration.

After bidding Nick good night (at 3:45 AM his time), we talked and helped one member resolve a design issue she is having with her sight.   For the past several months, we've been able to fix at least one member's site each meeting.  Other members have had a chance to showcase their sites and some of us have then been able to adopt some of the extensions and techniques to improve our own sites. 

If you are experienced or a novice, join us and share in the experience.  We meet monthly on the 4th Wednesday, 7-9 PM, at the Cyber Cafe @ Malden Square, 100 Pleasant Street, Malden, MA 02148.  For more information, check out the Joomla! Boston Users Group.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Video Shoot for Tax Prep Volunteer Training

Tax season is several months away but now is the time that Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs start preparing.  We have to recruit and train new volunteers, call back experienced volunteers,  begin looking at changes in tax law, and get ready for the release of our certification training.  Many VITA Site Coordinators also wear other hats in their organizations, so it's a balancing act to juggle our upcoming, intense activities between January and April with our normal routine.

Yesterday was a cool change of that routine.   Five of us gathered at Malden Access Television (MATV) to shoot a video for VITA Site Coordinators and their volunteers to supplement the training materials provided by the IRS.  The major focus of this video is on the differences between the federal and MA tax returns.  These differences can make a significant difference for some people on their tax refund and we wanted to make sure that our volunteers and the general public can zero in on those areas when they prepare returns.

First, it was a lot of fun.  Second, I want to thank the MATV folks: Executive Director Ron Cox, Assistant Director Anne D'Urso-Rose, Receptionist/Floor Manager/Cameraperson Josephine Royal, and Volunteer/Cameraperson Barry Greenspan.   They were terrific, but I knew this going into the project and it's the only reason I felt comfortable saying I (and my employer, Tri-CAP) could "produce" this project.

We aimed for a 30-minute video, using a talk show format.  Hosting was done by Joe Diamond, Executive Director of MassCAP.  Guests were Bill Smitts, IRS SPEC territory manager (MA, ME, NH); Dana Ackerman, Taxpayer Advocate Office of the Mass Dept of Revenue (DOR); and Meelynn Wong, VITA Site Coordinator for Boston ABCD.  Two telephone conference calls to plan our topics and time worked; we had a smooth shoot, no stops, and at the end had extra time to add a piece on a topic we will insert into place during editing. My thanks to everyone for their thoughtful planning and execution. 

Now the difficult part begins: editing!  It's not really difficult; it's just time-consuming.  We have already set up several "dummy" tax returns in our system so we can hook the camera up and grab screen shots to overlay on the discussion we taped.  With my limited time available, we agreed to hire an experienced and fast editor for this part of the project.  She and I will have to coordinate our schedules so she can grasp the overall goal and help us put the right pieces into place.  Add a little music, take out any stammers, er's, uhm's, and all that -- and we're good to go. 

Joe wants to put it on YouTube when it's done, so anyone can benefit from the tips on preparing a return, so I'll post here when that's done.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Have I Neglected My Blog? Oh, Dear...

I feel as if I've neglected my blog.  Sometimes there is so much I want to say, I don't say anything. Today, I'm starting what I hope to make a habit.  I'll write something short every few days, sometime more than two days consecutively, just to be in the habit of writing, commenting, or sharing. 

So, it's Friday of a long weekend (Columbus Day) and I have the day off.  Got lots to do, but also want some time to just relax, enjoy the beautiful fall weather (walks with the dogs will permit that), and recharge my batteries for the upcoming week, which will be very busy. 

Have a great holiday weekend everyone.  Be safe on the roads, drive carefully, leave early, and don't sweat the small stuff -- it wrinkles your clothes! 

Claire

Monday, September 6, 2010

New Tool, New Toy

Yesterday I dropped into Best Buy to see about a replacement mouse.  My current infrared mouse just works badly and I don't know if it's interference from something in the apartment (or from another apartment) or the mouse is just gone.  But for a long time, I've also wanted some sort of sketch tablet or something similar so I can do a better job at touching up graphics or photos on websites I design.

The clerk introduced me to Bamboo and I'm so glad I bought it.  As the name implies (to me anyway), Bamboo is lightweight and graceful and a clean way to add a touchpad interface to your computer or provide a larger one to a laptop.  Bamboo's touchpad matches your screen perfectly, so if you lift the stylus and put it on the screen in another area, the cursor jumps to the representative spot on the monitor.  You don't need to lift the stylus to reposition it to gain more "space" on the touchpad as you do with these small ones on laptops.  In fact, I'm using a laptop and have shut off the touchpad because my palms constantly make the cursor jump all over the place as they accidentally brush against it.  Bamboo has changed my opinion on touchpads, but then, Bamboo is like a touchpad on steroids; it rocks. 

Of course, because it's a different interface than I've mostly used, I need to practice my technique.  Bamboo comes with a tutorial that let's you practice to get it right and built-in tools to turn a keyboard on/off.  Yes, you can fill in forms with the stylus but if you use hashmarks for passwords, you lose the ability to see where you are placing the cursor on the mini-keyboard so it's better to use the standard keyboard for password entry.

And it is definitely different than the standard laptop touchpad.  If I want to touch something at the bottom of the screen, I need to position the stylus at the bottom of the active area on the touchpad.  But I find I am not using a larger area than I ever needed to use with a standard mouse.  The main difference is having to position my stylus on the screen in an exact representation of what's on the screen.  It is a far more accurate representation of my screen than any laptop touchpad I've ever used.

Another difference is my hand position.  That will take some getting used to but it feels so much more graceful and accurate than a mouse or laptop touchpad.  As with any new muscle movement, however, it can take time for long-term comfort. So I spent the better part of yesterday playing a few games where I could practice tapping and dragging.  Dragging doesn't even seem like the right word to use because drag invokes an image of something heavy.  With Bamboo, a light touch is all that is needed.  You don't even have to touch the stylus to the touchpad unless you want to "click" on something.  The stylus activates only millimeters above the pad and gives you great control over your cursor.

Developing fine control over the Bamboo's interface is necessary if I want to clean up graphics or remove a background from an image and have it look "perfect" when placed against a color background; yet these are two most common needs for websites that drew me to Bamboo in the first place.  So today I'll move on to working on a few graphics for more practice.  After all, this is what I bought it for and I'm looking forward to greater precision control that I can get with a mouse.  And my badly-behaving mouse?  It's still plugged in but is sitting on a pile of papers out of the way -- I think I've found the perfect replacement/enhancement tool.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Random Thoughts

I haven't posted in more than a week but it's not because my mind is blank.  I've just been a little busy.

Web Design Project
One project that I'm very pleased with is the redesign of the website for the Cyber Cafe @ Malden Square.   As part of the redesign, I've learned to use Joomla!, a web CMS I've described in an earlier post

The tool is great and has lots of flexibility.  The trick is figuring out what to put out there.  We want it to be useful to our patrons, so have added some documents that help them with some of the tasks people ask us for help with on a regular basis, news and weather feeds, course offerings, and other things you expect on a website.  I hope that once they get used to the new look and explore some of the features, they'll tell us what else they'd like to see. 

We also want it to speak for us to the general public -- near and far.  Funders always want to see what you do, others may just be curious, and potential members and volunteers can use it to learn more about us.  When new volunteers start, we have them review the website and our video, which is also available through the website.  One of my next tasks is to set up a media player within the website so the video plays without being downloaded.  With a website, there is always something more to do! 

As one of 5 partners in this community technology center, I oversee all the technical needs, manage the website, and co-manage daily operations.  Thanks to a talented Site Manager for the past year, that last part has been less work than usual.  But we lose her at the end of September when our ARRA (American Recovery and Revitalization Act) funding runs out.  We just don't have sufficient funding to continue the position.  That's a huge loss for us and, of course, for our Site Manager.

Goal Setting Work
Other things that have been keeping me busy and a bit mentally tired are job related.  I finished setting new goals for the coming year, which required a lot of thought and some leaps of faith. 

I've been working for the past five years with a committee that is now too small to accomplish its goals.  People have moved on to full-time jobs and have no time for this committee.  Others have moved away.  Some have changed their focus of interest.  Rather than abandon this committee and its needed work, I've been working on a transformation of a committee into a network; pulling together other organizations who have similar concerns around our main focus -- affordable housing.  The invitations are almost in the mail, and my hope is that bringing together individuals and organizations interested in this focus will enable us to share resources and be more effective.  There are times when we may work together on a specific project and other times when we'll all be doing our own thing.  But the main goal is to capture the energy, ideas, and talents of a larger group.  This is what can get groups through the rough times when goals seem unreachable.  Coordinating this network will take no more work than coordinating the committee, but it should lead to a more energized and effective end result.

So my mind is a bit sloggy this week after finishing the goal setting for 4 or 5 different programs that tend to overlap in several ways.  Each has its own set of numeric goals and must meet the criteria for any one of several dozen national indicators.  And, of course, throughout the year we all have to keep track of every client service and note which of these national indicators we're meeting in every service so we can do our monthly, quarterly, and or semi-annual reports.  I don't envy the job of the people who have to do this for the entire agency! 

Finding Funding
Other parts of my job have previously been viewed as separate programs.  About two-and-a-half years ago, when I was working on some of these projects as a consultant, I recommended blending some job responsibilities because these projects were really more related than not.  Little did I know at the time that I would end up coming into the agency full time and doing that "blended" job.  The process of integrating these is ongoing.  Funding sources still see them as separate, so we are seeking additional funding that is less restrictive and will permit us to adjust to the reality that these "separate" jobs really belong together.  For now, though, I have two separate job titles and different supervisors for different parts of my job. 

Another wrinkle is that our funding restricts our services to certain cities.  The need, however, is greater than that and other agencies not as large as ours do not offer the same services.  We need to find funding resources that remove those restrictions.  With some simple agreements between our agency and these others, we could serve others in need and get paid for what we do. 

Collaboration is Key
You can see the common thread in all of this, I'm sure.  Collaboration between and among agencies is the only way to do our jobs well.  Yet our funding sources often fail to take this into account.  My goals for the coming year include more collaboration, searching for funding sources that enable collaboration, and meeting the needs we've identified.  I'm tired of turning people away because they live outside my cachement area, especially when I know the agency in their area does not offer the service they need. 

That's only part of what I've got going on and is why I've not posted much lately. Did you miss me?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Home Insurance Rates Based on Your Credit Rating?

OK, we've had our 5 minutes to celebrate passage of the anti-closure bill, H4595.  There is always more work to be done, and another issue had already come across my horizon. 

I received a phone call from a public advocacy attorney who wanted to know if we're seeing the problem she's working on.  It seems that some insurers are now using your credit rating to set your home insurance rates.  Yes, that's what I said.  If you have low credit, you may get a higher insurance rate on your home. 

I guess I don't understand what insurance is all about.  I know that when I insure my car,  my rate is based on what I choose for coverage, what city/town I live in (some places have higher car theft rates), whether my car is garaged, parked in a driveway, or on the street, and the replacement value of parts or the whole car.  Those things make sense to me.

So I stupidly thought that home owner insurance was based on similar factors -- the value of the home and its replacement, the crime rate in the area, ... I don't know the other factors.  Maybe someone will inform me. 

But why would my homeowner insurance rate be linked to my credit rating?  

Our credit rating is being used for a lot more than getting credit these days. Here's some examples...
  • Keeping credit:  If you have difficulty paying on one credit card, other lenders might reduce your credit limit with them -- you've become a risk.
  • Paying off old credit debt:  With credit card reform limiting how and how much lenders can adjust your interest rate, lenders have taken to raising the interest rate of consumers who have been faithfully paying off any old debt.  I'm working with 2 consumers who had low interest rates (9.9%) that suddenly jumped to 29.99% after "credit card reform" went into effect.  So, watch your credit rating; if it slips, I'm sure they'll find a way to increase your interest rate or lower your current limit -- despite credit card reform.
  • Getting a job:  Several industries flat out won't hire anyone with a poor credit rating.  I can understand not hiring someone for the finance department, but the janitors and others with limited or no access to client or patient information?  What's going on here?   A side effect I'm seeing is that hospitals in our area won't hire anyone with a poor credit record.  So what fields are the job training programs in?  Medical!  And the people who are put into these programs are low income folks trying to get back into the job market.  Guess what?  They've mostly got a poor credit history! 
Do you know how your credit rating is affecting your life?  Maybe you should check into it.

Mass Anti-Foreclosure Bill Goes to the Governor

The anti-foreclosure bill, H4595, which I discussed in my post this Tuesday, did pass the House this week.  The Senate did a quick notice that it will accept the House version and thus the bill moves to the governor's desk for signature. Governor Patrick is expected to sign the bill, as he's also a supporter. 

This is great news for Massachusetts homeowners and tenants.  And, as I said on Tuesday, it's also good for banks/lenders and the overall communities.  A win-win all around, we just wonder why it had to take such strong public pressure to get the bill moved to the House floor for a vote.

Let's take 5 minutes to celebrate and then move on to the next issue, because we know there's always something else around the corner!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Learning By Doing - It's Coming Along Pretty Well

Fro some time now, I've been teaching myself the web design tool, Joomla!, an open source, free content management system (CMS), in this case a web CMS.  I've benefited greatly from the advice and postings of other members of the Joomla! Boston User Group, the large community of Joomla! developers and web designers in the Joomla Community Forums and the Joomla! Official Documentation wiki.  Another great resource has been SiteGround's online tutorials, a provider where I have some other Joomla! websites.

Learning by doing is fine; I've learned 95% of my technical skills that way.  But it does not mean we have to do it alone.  When we go it alone, we may develop as many bad habits as good ones.  We miss the coaching that could improve our success and shorten our learning curve.  And it's more fun to work with others on something real to us; something that matters. 

There are many books and tutorials out there on web design and tools that can also help you learn how to use these tools.  The biggest hurdle I encounter with these is that I am missing some technical prerequisite and have to find another resource to bring me up to the level of the book.  I have to learn more than just the tool in my hand.  I have to learn other things that make that tool work.  On a very simple scale, it's a little like following written instructions on how to change a flat tire without knowing what a tire iron is, what lug nuts are, and what a car jack is.  You have to become familiar with the underpinnings of the job in order to do the job right.

I follow several blogs and am engaged with various discussion groups on web design, social networking, and social media.  Quite a few people fall into the trap of saying the task is easy or a particular tool is easy to use when they have not identified that at least some familiarity with other tools is helpful, if not a necessity.  But that does not mean it's impossible to learn or that you shouldn't try it.  We'd never grow out of our comfort zone if we adopted that philosophy.

Instead, I recommend that if you venture into some of these new areas (new to you, they're hardly new to many of the techies out there), get yourself into a user group related to the task or tool, use the online forums that are available, and don't be afraid to be a "newbie."  Admitting that you don't "hack" core code or know any programming skills may generate a negative response from some folks.  Remember, they weren't always programmers or coders; they were beginners once too.  Others will be very helpful to you.  They may want to share their knowledge, help others gain skill in a particular area, or just get a chance to go back to the beginning and remember what it was like when they started out. 

I am hardly done with the website.  There are some links to "placeholders" to get our volunteers to work on those articles for publication.  There are some documents ready that I need to put into place.  More features and functionality are also coming along.  Then I need to teach some volunteers how to add documents to the site, get more critiques on features and functionality, and see what else we want to do with it. 

But for now, the site has enough information to have its place front and center, pushing out the old site and making its debut "live" for our members/patrons and everyone else. 

Use the comment feature here to let me know what you think after you check out the Cyber Cafe @ Malden Square.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Anti-Foreclosure Public Meeting/Vigil

Last evening a group of individuals and organizations from Worcester to Merrimack Valley to the South Shore met at Revere City Hall, joined by Revere Mayor Thomas G. Ambrosino, to urge the MA House of Representatives to pass H4595, An Act to Stabilize Neighborhoods, often called the "anti-foreclosure bill." 

Why a Vigil Now and in Revere?
With two weeks left to the current legislative session, and unanimous passage of a Senate version of this bill, people do not want to wait any longer for foreclosure assistance.  Every month means more homeowners and tenants face eviction.  Many claim that House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who represents Revere and the rest of the Nineteenth District, has blocked the bill from moving to the House floor.  The bill was favorably referred out of the Joint Committee on Housing and sent to the House Committee on Ways and Means back in April -- a committee that DeLeo chaired before becoming House Speaker.  Current Chair is Charles Murphy

Organized and attend by tenants, homeowners, and organizations such as City Life/Vida UrbanaMassachusetts Alliance Against Predatory Lending (MAAPL), and Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH), the public meeting/vigil attracted the eye of many passers-by, some of whom admitted to a sense of unease for their own neighborhoods even if their own homes were not in jeopardy.  Foreclosures turn banks into landlords and homeowners.  The result often is a tenant eviction, through no fault of the tenant, and an empty house that gets vandalized or used/abused by those with no right to be there.  With so many homes in foreclosure, these become abandoned properties that can devalue all the homes and increase crime in a neighborhood.  Communities lose good homeowners and good tenants.  Homes in these neighborhoods "automatically decrease in value by 1% and ... local housing prices by as much as 5.7%."**

Completed Foreclosures in May 2010 were Double the Number for May 2009!*
For anyone who claims that foreclosure prevention programs are "doing the job," the actual number of foreclosures in Massachusetts tell another story.  Year-to-date foreclosures increased a whopping 48% compared to the same period in 2009, and auctions posted for May 2010 were more than double those in May 2009.  This is a scary situation that is getting worse, not better.

Unemployment Increases the Risk
With Congress stalling on unemployment extensions while more and more homeowners face mortgage payments they cannot make, both homeowners and tenants are at risk.  H4595 could provide the relief that makes the difference, which is why it is described as "legislation to stabilize neighborhoods."

H4595 Helps Homeowners, Tenants, and Banks
Information prepared by UMASS Boston, McCormack Center for Social Policy points out that this bill works for everyone affected by foreclosures and the spillover effects of soaring foreclosure rates.  Remember, the Massachusetts Senate has already unanimously passed a similar bill, S2394

Former MAAPL Coordinator Grace Ross, a recent candidate for Governor of Massachusetts, recorded her reflections on the vigil and the issue and sent it to me for inclusion in this post.  I've added some slides to her audio recording and hope you'll take time to learn more about the problem and then call your state representative.  Urge him or her to demand that Speaker DeLeo present H4595 for a vote.  There's not much time left, so do it today!

video

You may want to press the "full screen" button in the lower right corner of the video screen for some of the slides.
Thank you! 

*Figures provided by MAAPL
**UMASS Boston, McCormack Center for Social Policy, June 2010

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Networked Nonprofit - book review

I eagerly awaited the virtual launch of The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change, by Allison Fine and Beth Kanter and bought my copy during their virtual launch party two weeks ago.  I read it this week, when I could read it in one sitting.   It took patience to wait that long, but I am tired of starting something I really want to read and having to put it aside for days. 

Fine and Kanter are leaders in the social media (SM) movement for nonprofits.  They are the people that people like me go to for advice; we follow their blogs, tweets, FB pages...they are our virtual guides in this world of getting our non profit organizations connected to clients in a meaningful way beyond the borders of our organizations' walls.

Beth Kanter introduced me and the Cyber Cafe @ Malden Square, back in 2005, to how easily SM tools can be used for various purposes.  A tool designed for blogging quickly became our Community Resource Guide, giving us a powerful way to share many resources among staff, volunteers, clients, and...the world.  She doesn't just think outside the box; she thinks beyond the box.  The box does not exist -- there is no barrier.

Straightforward, Practical, and Proven
Both Fine and Kanter are energetic, knowledgeable, and engaging.  The Networked Nonprofit is what you'd expect from them.  Straightforward advice, tested and with proven examples, on how nonprofits need to change their view of the world to survive and flourish in the digital world.

I won't say compete in the digital world because one of the points they make is that nonprofits have to stop seeing other nonprofits as competitors.  Networking is not about competition; it is about collaboration.  I think this is one reason I have never liked the chamber of commerce meeting model, where businesses in the same industry are not supposed to sit together because they are competitors.  Even when I was consulting a lot in the for profit world, my "competitors" were my colleagues.   We often worked collaboratively because it made more sense; my skill set would complement a colleague's from another organization and vice versa. 

I have one foot in the networked nonprofit world at the Cyber Cafe.  I have another foot in the not-so-networked world with my major organization.  They do network with other organizations, but they are not so ready for the digital foray.  (Young padouan must practice patience daily while straddling this dichotomy.)

What's in the Book?
The Networked Nonprofit introduces and defines this concept of the networked nonprofit, describes the social media revolution, and examines the myths surrounding it.  These myths, along with lack of a comfort level (shall we say skill?) with SM, is what prevents many non profits from embracing a set of digital tools that could help them with their mission.  Fine and Kanter then examine the challenges and trends that non profits face, which creates an urgent need to confront their own lack of understanding in this area and make the transition into becoming a networked nonprofit.  The remaining book is divided into how organizations can become a networked nonprofit and how they would operate as one.

Why is this so important?  
...because doing so will help them achieve their mission. 

Resources
Kanter has set up a wiki for The Networked Nonprofit where people can share ideas on how put this book into action.  You can help them develop curriculum and instructional materials to help nonprofits learn at a pace that makes sense for them.  Several years ago, I developed a simple model and then a presentation based on the premise that community building in the nonprofit world is like creating a jigsaw puzzle.  Collaborations are enabled and enhanced when you view each organization like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle.  To find the right fit, turn it around and over - examining all the angles - until you see how there might be a fit between your organization and others.  Naturally, I call this the JigSaw Puzzlin' Approach (c).  I'll work on adding that to the wiki later.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

New Template - Hope You Like it

I settled on this template, Watermark, after playing around with another one that just didn't seem right.  The photos didn't set right, layout options weren't available as promised, etc.  But this one required almost no tweaking to look right to me.

Let me know what you think.  Is it easy to read and to find what you are looking for?  Is it aesthetically pleasing?


...comments appreciated,
Claire

Playing with New Template Today

If you visit me today, 7/8/10, you may find some items not quite as visually pleasing or somehow out of synch.  I'm playing with a new template and finding out what I like or dislike about its features.  Bear with me; I should be settled on something by this afternoon. 

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Back to Work and Still More Catching up to do - I Need More Vacation Time

I'm back to work this morning so will write a brief post.  But I acknowledge that I need more vacation time to finish everything I've started...then again, a 4-day weekend is hardly much of a vacation but it's better than nothing. 

I spent most of yesterday working on the Cyber Cafe website .  I'm recreating the site in Joomla!, a free open source, web content management system (web CMS).  I'm creating the site on a subdomain, so both sites are running parallel right now.  But I hope to replace the current site with the new one later this week.  It won't be complete, but it will be complete enough to serve its purpose.  Websites are never done anyway.  They are always works in progress unless you just have a static brochure that changes only occasionally. 

I've been teaching myself to use Joomla! over the past year or so, in my spare time.  This means I don't often get a good chunk of time to work on it and learn it really well.  It's only in a stretch like yesterday that the new concepts and ways to use it effectively can really sink into my brain.  Like most things, you learn it best by using it frequently.  That way, the concepts become ingrained in your brain and you can visualize how it works even when you are not in front of your computer. 

Yesterday I had the time to document how the new site is organized, using PowerPoint to create some teaching tools.  This will help my clients edit and maintain their Joomla! sites after I've created them.  That takes a lot of work too. I find documenting how I'm working helps me discipline myself.  It helps me lay things out and keep them simple because I don't want to write a lot of documentation.  Using fewer section and category options can make it easier for an organization to maintain the site and doesn't overwhelm them with choices and decisions.  That makes me a better web designer for small organizations and non-profits that  have non-tech staff who will have to support the site after I'm done. 

I'll post more on my progress later.  ...gotta get to work!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Happy Birthday Maureen

Today I'm sharing a virtual birthday card for my sister Maureen.  Earlier this month, I shared a card for another sister, Kathleen.  Since they both have birthdays in June, I thought it fitting to do the same for both.  It's also my nephew Danny's birthday today, so Happy Birthday Dan as well.  He's currently serving in the Navy and I'm not sure what part of the world he's in right now.  Last I knew, he was shipping off to Afghanistan (the Navy manages much of the supply duty for the Army and his outfit was sent there for that shipping/supply duty).

So, here's to Maureen, the eldest of 4 girls and the 2nd of 8 kids.  Sometimes it's difficult to be the older siblings in a large family.  You end up with a lot of responsibility on your shoulders.  And it sometimes seems as if they don't get much of a childhood because they become responsible for the younger ones.  Maureen is no exception.  She still thinks like a parent, today, especially when dealing with her siblings.  She took on a role too young as our de facto mother when our mother wasn't well and I think she lost out on some of her own childhood as a result. 

That doesn't mean she didn't have some fun along the way.  I remember her in The Student Prince, a musical she performed in at Cardinal Spellman High School.  And I remember many a day when she'd tie up the bathroom and gag us all with hair spray as she readied for a date.  Teased hair and lots of spray to hold it in place were the style back then. 

But I also remember her Mr. Donut uniform and how she grew to hate even the smell of donuts.  Working hard every day after school to add some money to the family budget was necessary.  You just did it.  And later she worked full time for Ma Bell (if you  have to ask, you're too young). 

Like my sister Kathleen, Maureen tried to help keep our parents in their own home when their health failed.  She uprooted herself from California to Boston and moved in with them.  Working all day, setting up procedures in the home to manage my parents health care, and going back to school to complete the degree she had begun to work on in CA...she interrupted her life to make theirs' more comfortable. 

Maureen is good at setting up systems and procedures to make things work more smoothly and efficiently.  Whether it's work or home, there's always a system of record-keeping and documentation in place.  Medications are organized and labeled so someone else can come in and do the tasks easily.  Paperwork is in neatly labeled file folders.  The bills are organized. 

A bit more than a year ago, Maureen started a special project.  She spent countless hours putting together a gift for my uncle Bill (our mother's brother) and my aunt Ruth (our father's sister).  They are the remaining relatives from our parents' generation.  She asked each of us to write a short letter of our memories of each one and send them to her.  What had been intended as a Christmas present took a bit longer, partly because she waited for each of us to do our part.  She prepared a beautiful portfolio for each with all our memory-letters enclosed.  She then copied each one and sent a copy to all of us.  Each one was carefully rolled and tied with a ribbon.  It was a wonderful way to let our uncle and aunt know how much they meant to each of us.  And we each learned a little something about our siblings' experience with our aunt and uncle and even some things about ourselves that we'd forgotten.

It is evident that a lot of love went into that project and I'm glad she did it and encouraged us to be part of it.  What a nice way to say thank you to people who have been an important part of our lives for so many years.

I'm so happy she retired.  She spent many years trying to recover from an industry downturn that meant her long-time employer went bankrupt and she had to start over -- not just in a new job, but had to learn new skills and start over at the bottom of the corporate ladder.  She'd sacrificed much to help my parents stay together in their home, and that decreased her employment options. 

All her life, she was the responsible one.  And I think that took something away from her.  In retirement, she can relax more, not worry about improving her job skills or employability.  She can take an interesting job/project for a time and work at a reasonable pace.  She can choose and that is probably the most important thing. 

So, Happy Birthday Maureen.   I hope your day is sweet and relaxing.  Do something fun.  Do something just for you! 

Friday, June 18, 2010

Denmark Rising - Part IV

Before fixing dinner last night, I finished Barry Clemson's novel, Denmark Rising.  As I said in yesterday's blog, I already knew the outcome in general.  But Clemson has written well and has made me care about the characters in the book.  Most of them are real names, of real people, with some interpretation on Clemson's part about their feelings and actions on the day-to-day basis.  It is a delicate balance -- writing about historical figures while staying true to what we do know about them.  Completing the book gave me some closure as to what happened to many of the characters who were prominent throughout the book and about whom I was very curious.

War takes its toll in many ways and these characters were no exception.  Clemson brings to light ethical, moral, and human issues throughout the novel.   These are just a few that come to my mind from my reading this week. 
  • Danish youth and adults who were angry about the occupation and felt that Viking warriors should rise up and strike back -- how to convince them that strategic nonviolence is an appropriate response and is actually a weapon?
  • German Wermarcht (regular army) who served in Denmark throughout Germany's occupation and saw no reason to kill civilians who'd done no harm to them -- how do they resolve orders to kill them against their Christian upbringing?  
  • Can you order an action, knowing it will result in the deaths of innocents, yet it means far fewer people will die than if you ordered alternative actions?
  • When "my turn" comes for punishment from the oppressor, will I stand up and face it or will I run and hide, leaving my comrades to face my punishment? 
  • How can I practice nonviolence yet plan actions that will kill many others, even if they are the enemy?  Can we do anything to prevent those deaths while maintaining our resistance? 
This is a book I will recommend, over and over again, to people I know who like to think.  This book compels you to think about and reflect upon what is an appropriate response to oppression.  Have we learned all the wrong lessons?  Are there times and places where this won't work.  Are there other times and places where it might be the most effective option; so why aren't we doing it? 

Let me know what you think after you read Denmark Rising

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Denmark Rising - Parts II & III

Yesterday I wrote about this novel by Barry Clemson and said I'd read Part II last night.  I did. Then I stayed up later and read Part III as well.  If I didn't have to get up for work this morning, I'd have read Part IV; this book is that good.

I am engaged with this story and don't want to put it down.  I already know the outcome.  World War II has been for over many years.  The German tyranny against the Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and other "non pure" groups is well documented.  Many of the officers who participated in Hitler's persecution have been brought to trial and found guilty.  Others are still being hunted. 

So what makes this book so compelling?  I admit to being fascinated with history.  The people who tell me that history is boring just haven't read the books I've read.  Books such as "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich;" some non-fiction books I read many years ago -- one set in Poland describing Jewish exiles' escape attempts -- another set in Russia describing a young man's years as a member of the Russian Youth Brigade who was trained to persecute any religious practitioners and given wide latitude in their own personal habits; this is living history.

Denmark Rising is fictional but uses living history to go beyond storytelling to raise important philosophical questions and introduce strategic nonviolence on a grand scale.  It is a timely novel, engaged as we are in two wars so far away from our own safe homes and facing the terrorism threats that have pervaded other parts of the world far longer.  Can peaceful, strategic nonviolence work on a large scale?  Can it work in today's conflicts?  What are we willing to sacrifice to make it work?  Is that sacrifice less than the price we are currently paying? 

Read the book and ask yourself these questions.  If you are a teacher, use the book as a springboard for discussion with your students.  If you are a student, introduce it to your teachers/faculty.  Clemson has provided a discussion forum, Teaching with Denmark Rising, to aide you.  While reading and discussing, also take time to appreciate the readability of this book and check out other works by Clemson.

Good Reading to You,
Claire

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Denmark Rising - "The Danes said, 'No!'”

Barry Clemson has written a fascinating, fictional novel that poses the question, "What if the Danish government led its people in nonviolent resistance against the German army in Germany's occupation of Denmark in WW II?"

Although fiction, it is historically accurate regarding this period of great uncertainty and brutality.  The main exception to this accuracy is in presenting the Danish government as leading this nonviolent resistance.  In truth, it was a grassroots resistance effort that slowed Germany's efforts in Denmark for several years.  Danish government finally did say "No," when Germany tried to arrest Danish Jews in 1943. 

I admittedly was eager to read the book, so when it arrived in my mailbox Monday I put everything else aside for the evening and started reading.  I didn't stop until I'd finished Part I.  From the opening paragraph, Denmark Rising captured me.  I am putting this evening aside to read Part II. 

Clemson's passion for "liberty, equality, and justice," and strategic nonviolent responses to abuses of these, is reflected in his work.  A self-proclaimed scientist/activist/novelist, Barry writes and educates.  He hopes Denmark Rising will be used to help teach and understand the philosophy of nonviolent resistance. 

This page on Clemson's website helps explain his strategic nonviolent response philosophy.  In that article, Clemson explains the "John Wayne syndrome," in which there are only warriors and cowards; there are "good guys," "bad guys,"and the people who need to be saved from the bad guys.  Our television and movie world is filled with examples of John Wayne syndrome in action.  It becomes easy to emulate because it is so visible. 

However, there are many examples of strategic nonviolence available.  We just have to search a bit more for them.  Some examples, include Jesus, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.  The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) is an example of an organization that led nonviolent responses to racial oppression in the American South.  With that group, Clemson experienced first-hand how strategic nonviolence could radically change the attitudes of many and lead government to change. 

Add Denmark Rising to your reading list and enjoy a thought-provoking yet easy read.  It may give you food for thought and the soul. 

For reviews of Denmark Rising, see this page on Clemson's site. 

Friday, June 4, 2010

Happy Birthday Kathleen

I thought I'd use my blog space today to say Happy Birthday to my sister Kathleen, who has been a rock in the foundation of our family for so many years.   

We are a large family (8 children - all adults now, living all over the country). Growing up in a large clan like this means we learned to deal with many different personalities and we are representative of several generations and life experiences.

Kathleen is one of those people who thinks things through, sees alternatives, and works to make things work.  She inspires others and is a catalyst for getting things done. 

I admire how she worked for so many years and earned both her bachelor and master degrees later in life while working full time.  She helped my parents so much, especially in their later years, sacrificing her time, energy, and money to make sure they were able to stay in their home even through severe illnesses.  I'll save the "thank you's" to my other sister, Maureen, for her birthday which is later this month. 

There were weeks and probably months that Kathleen never saw her own apartment, as she'd fly in from a multi-day trip for work and immediately get on another plan to come to Boston to stay a few days with my parents and take care of their needs.  Then she'd be off to another work trip and repeat the process just a few days later.  Oh, and she was studying for school at the same time.

Her sacrifices made it easier for Maureen and me, who were more local, to do our part.  Without Kathleen, though, I suspect the system wed' set up would have broken down.  As I said, she's a catalyst.  Within minutes of arriving somewhere, she's figured out what needs to be done and gets it started.  I think that's why she's good at her career in financial planning and investing.

Everyone needs someone "outside" to review what and where they are in life so they can plan for the future.  Kathleen is good at looking at a person, their relationships and finances, and helping them figure out what do to next to prepare for the future.  She's careful about what and whom she chooses to associate with.  She doesn't look for the quick fix that gives an immediate but false sense of security.  She looks longer term and tries to balance now with future.

That's probably why she's someone I can go to for advice for just about anything in my life.  She thinks about now and future before saying anything.  She considers the relationships involved and isn't afraid to point out where some may be holding you back.  Whether it's a person or a job or whatever, she looks at the situation and gives her assessment of how it's affecting you; then she advises you.

More importantly, she doesn't say "I told you so," if you choose another path.  She just helps you move on.  That's admirable in any relationship.  It's invaluable in a friend and in a family member.



So, Kathleen, surprise, here's your virtual birthday card!

Happy Day and I hope many more will come.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

RSA Animate - Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us

People often express amazement at how many volunteers across the nation work as VITA Volunteers, taking many hours of training and then reporting after work each day or spending all day Saturdays during tax season preparing other people's taxes.

This short video offers some insight into that and offers food for thought for management about motivating paid employees as well.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

When Social Networking "Friends" Become Abusers

Friend or Abuser? 
It's really sad when people who have friended you on a social networking site (or they just have your email address) become so obsessed with what they can do that they force it upon everyone else.  I'm talking about the people who send out photos, videos, or other things they come across to "everybody" in their friend list, even when asked to stop.

Getting an inspirational clip, story, or photo/video is nice; sharing such is nice.  But I think that sending these to everyone at once diminishes the intent.  Getting a message that was shared with "you and 168 other friends" means they didn't really think about sending it to me.  They just wanted to send it to anyone - to everyone -they just have to send it - maybe it's just plain obsession.

How Can I Not Want All This Great Stuff?
What is worse is the reaction some people have when you ask them to stop sending you these.  Hey, I'm working 60 hours/week, even from home early in the morning, and manage 10+ email accounts for various programs.  I don't have time for this stuff to fill my mailbox; I don't want to wade through all the messages that so-and-so has sent you a video and then see all the responses, "Oh, that's awsome;" "Hey, that's really cool."  Getting that stuff ocassionally is one thing.  But getting several a day from the same sender is too much.  I get the feed on my social networking site, so if I want to view it I can do it. 

I can't just shut off this sender without shutting off all the alerts and there are things I want to get.  I'd even appreciate stuff from this person if it wasn't so much, so often.  It's become an obsession.  When do these people actually work? 

Asking People to Stop Sending You Stuff
So far, I haven't found a good way to stop getting stuff from one person without shutting everything off.  I've privately messaged the person, asking them to take me off their "send" list for these things.  I've explained my time constraints and how it's clogging my mailbox.  I've received the "Oh, I'm so sorry; I never meant to offend you" responses.  They promise they'll be more considerate. 

...and then?  Well, sad to say, the volume increases.  Now instead of getting them every few days or several in a day, I'm getting daily multiple doses.  It's as if I've opened a floodwater from that individual.  Sadly, I have had to "unFriend" such people from my social networking groups. 

True Friends "Get It"
I will say that there are one or two people who send a lot of emails or requests and when it starts to get to be too much, I'm simply emailed and reminded them that 10-15 posts in the same day is too much for me.  I end up sorting by their name and deleting everything so I can get back to my own business. These are true friends because they respond with an apology and then edit their "sends" to not include me in all the trivia.  What I want to hear from friends is how THEY are, what is going on for THEM, not every cool picture or website they visited that day.  Then, when they do share something, it is special and it is a friend sharing, not spam.

What They Do When They Don't "Get It" 
Well, now I'm sure I'm dealing with an obsession because the individual I've unFriended starts adding my name to every other social networking site they belong to.  I get their invitations to connect, and every few days a reminder to connect.  Yes, I know the reminders are automatically sent by the program, but most of them have a selection button to do that.  And, the initial invitation demonstrates that this person just cannot believe someone would unFriend them.  How Dare I - who am I to unfriend them - they'll teach me a lesson! 

Why It's Abusive
I consider this abusive of me and my time.  This person is not my friend.  I'm a number on their social networking site that increases the number of friends they have.  They are not interested in connecting with me, personally.  They're just interested in pushing themselves on me and others.  They want those hundreds of alerts sent out so they get the "That's awesome; really cool," responses back so they can sit back and read and reread them and feel good about themselves.

This is really sad.  Have we, with all the promise and good parts of the web, created yet another source of people turning inward and only feeling good about themselves by the number of friends and posts on their social networking sites?  What about getting up off the chair, going outside, and connecting with a real person?  What about asking that person how their day is going?  Instead of sending an "inspirational" message created by someone else, how about thinking of a way to make someone physically near you feel good about themselves when they're having a bad day?  Make something for them; a pot of tea, some baked goods, a card that expresses that you feel badly when they're having a bad day? 

Be a Friend, Not an Abuser
Let's remember to connect in real time with real people, face-to-face no less, and edit ourselves a little bit.  I think we'll discover that numbers on social networking sites aren't a measure of our worth.  What matters is how we feel about ourselves and whether people in real life actually value time they spend with us.  If it's always about trivia, it's acquaintanceship, not friendship.

But let's not abuse our acquaintances either.  After all, every friendship begins with an acquaintanceship.