Cafe Witness

Friday, August 31, 2007

I'm a Hypocrite

In yesterday's post about The Negative Drain, I essentially said two things:

1. Your bad day doesn't matter, and

2. There IS no "good" or "bad" -- life basically boils down to perspective.

I also said I have trouble empathizing with people, especially when they fail to realize that their problems are primarily the result of their own actions. Thus, I despise the Negative Drain effect of people crying "woe is me" in an effort to draw attention to themselves, because it derails both THEIR forward momentum AND mine.

Some folks agreed with me. Some disagreed. But no one else thought to call me a hypocrite except longtime STBD fan Andrew Smith, who made the point on BOTH of my blogs.

Here, he commented:

‘Woe-Is-Me’ could be a wonderful title for that classification of blog entry in which I might place most of the ‘inability to manage time’, ‘get things done’, or ‘financial difficulties’ posts.

(In case you're new, those are topics that bubble up quite often here at Cafe Witness...)

Then, on the STBD Blog, when I mentioned we'd fallen behind on production due to my tendency to hit the metaphorical snooze alarm, Andrew wrote:

...or call it 'woe-is-me'. Justin, I'm not trying to beat up on you here, but for you cast's sake and for that of your art, please forget where the snooze button is. I've been a volunteer for the greater portion of my working life. Take their time seriously. It isn't really free. They sacrifice for what they care about.

I think it's pretty clear that Andrew is trying to be proactive here, which I appreciate. Which is why, instead of sitting here and attempting to defend myself, or debating the points he raised, I won't. Instead, I'll make a proclamation:

September is "No Woe" Month (for me, at least).

What does that mean?

- No blog posts or Twitters of a negative nature. (That includes irony, since I mentioned yesterday that irony is a great way to couch frustration.)

- No blog posts or Twitters about time management, getting things done or personal finance -- since, to offer suggestions for improvement, I'd have to first acknowledge that I sometimes have these problems myself.

- No blog posts or Twitters about bad news, be it mine or the world at large's.

- No COMMENTS about other people's problems. To acknowledge them is to delve into The Negative Drain, and hence risk hypocrisy.

- Not saying "I can't," because that implies an inability to succeed. Instead, I'll be using "I won't," which implies a conscious choice over which I have full control. (AKA, "I won't be going to PodCamp Philly next week, because I've chosen to work on STBD production instead.")

What's the Point?

The point is, Andrew's right: I can't claim to not care about other people's problems and then pretend that mine are worth talking about.

Beyond that, I'm interested to see if this woe-free experiment improves my productivity and general attitude.

My Predictions?

In actuality, here's what I suspect will happen:

- I'll become quite disenfranchised from everyone for the next 30 days.

- I'll get a LOT of work done.

- I may find something else to write about on this blog, since all traditional topics will be taboo.

- I just might end up happier... or I might go crazy with no ironic outlet.

However, one thing you can count on: I won't be a shiny, happy person every day. It isn't in my makeup. To paraphrase, if I've nothing positive to say, I'll say nothing at all.

And if I do have problems? Fear not; you'll not hear about them. (That's what friends and family are for.)

So: who's with me on "No Woe" Month?

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Negative Drain

I have to be honest with you: I have trouble empathizing with people.

It's not because I don't care when bad things happen. It's because, by and large, the things that happen aren't "bad" or "good" -- they're just things -- and what determines their effect in our lives is how we react to them.

I make mistakes. I indulge in self-sabotage. I frequently make decisions I'm fairly certain are not optimal. And, when it comes time to pay the price, I expect no sympathy from other people because, let's be honest, I brought that complication / conundrum / failure upon myself.

Thus, when YOU do the same thing, it's hard for me to feel especially bad for you. After all, it's not like you didn't have options.

What This Has to Do With Social Media

We're all connected, now more than ever, as we forge our way through each day. We all know that life moves fast, and we only have so much time to achieve our dreams. So, ideally, we help push each other forward -- or at least we get out of each other's ways.

More often than not, our success in life is based upon two principles: perseverance and momentum. Few are the mountains that are conquered without the aid of one or the other; we call those "hills."

So when we're sifting through our millions of media impressions each day, you know what ISN'T helping us achieve our dreams?

The Negative Drain.

That's the stray "woe is me" Twitter / email / blog post / news article / ABC News exclusive that distracts our inner momentum and derails our perseverance. It forces us to stop moving forward and address someone else's -- or our own -- need to wallow in self-pity.

In short, it's not helping anyone.

Why Your Bad Day Doesn't Matter

You bad day isn't a bad day: it's just a day. You happened to be in a bad mood. Therefore, that neutral day registers as a bad day in your mind.

You now have two choices:

A) Suck it up, fix it and get on with your life.

B) Alert the world to your misfortune in the hopes of generating sympathy.*

How often we allow ourselves to indulge in B directly affects our own momentum and perseverance. Ironically, it also affects everyone else's.

How many times has this happened to you: while scrolling through everyone's recent messages on Twitter, following all the project updates, useful questions, cries for tech help and neverending inside jokes -- WHAM! -- someone is having a bad day. In fact, their day is SO bad, they had to Twitter it.

Their day was SO BAD, they had to announce it to the world, in the hopes that the world would somehow intervene and make everything okay.

Goodbye, momentum.

The Negative Drain Exception

As humans, we're great at realizing when we're getting screwed by the world at large. And, inevitably, we need to vent about it or we'll snap.

In order to vent without losing momentum, we've developed a useful tool called "irony." Thanks to irony, the clever among us can point out the ills of the world without falling prey to the lure of self-pity.

Sometimes, it's even funny.

Believe me, there's a BIG difference between people who cry out to the world for sympathy and people who laugh their way through a bad day.

The ones laughing are the ones you'll meet on the other side of the mountain.

* Admittedly, there are times when we, as humans, also NEED sympathy. Sometimes, life seems unbearably cruel, and irony isn't enough to weather the storm. Sometimes, we actually NEED someone else -- or a whole world of someones -- to help us through.

The problem is, in our increasingly self-focused world, where everything that happens to us is mistaken for news, the line between "inconvenience" and "life-changing tragedy" is becoming highly subjective. Where we once expected sympathy for the loss of a loved one, some of us now expect the same for the loss of some stored data on a hard drive.

Meanwhile, one friend of mine is currently navigating some serious family misfortune. If anyone I know deserves sympathy, or at least the right to vent about life, it's her. And yet, she's consistently one of the sunniest people I know. In fact, SHE tends to buoy MY spirits, even though her "bad" days FAR outweigh mine.

In the end...

...there is no good and bad. There's just perspective.

Onward and upward.

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Pittsburgh: Redefining "Overnight Success"

Bacn, circa early 1900s... Via Apelad

On Saturday, the term bacn was coined at PodCamp Pittsburgh 2.

By today, Thursday, the term is already the 14th most-popular term on Technorati.

It has appeared on Wired, CNet and the Washington Post websites, among others.

It's even been parodied in the buzzword-spawned (and "classic") Laugh Out Loud Cats comic (above).

Today, bacn-related interviews have already been given to the Chicago Tribune and NPR, with more (undoubtedly) to come.

All 5 days after the term was first used.

Sound familiar?

Two weeks ago, Pittsburgh vlogger iJustine created a video about her 300-page iPhone bill. That video resonated with tech-savvy surfers and, within days, iJustine was on the homepage of Yahoo, not to mention interviews on CNN, NPR, Fox News...

Some of you might be asking yourselves: what are the odds that Pittsburgh would be struck by back-to-back social media lightning bolts? As a 10-year PGH resident, I'd be inclined to agree.


Earlier this month, it was revealed that Pittsburgh is the third "bloggiest" city in the country -- behind only Boston and Philadelphia -- which accounts for some of the city's ability to generate a meme wave.


For a city that perpetually seems to have an identity crisis, we sure are getting something right these days...

Ironic side note: Did anyone else notice that Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Boston, the three "bloggiest" cities, are also having a PodCamp in each of the next 3 months?

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Monday, August 20, 2007

The Problem With Hating Bacn

As you've probably heard, a new meme was coined at PodCamp Pittsburgh 2: "bacn", aka, the email you WANT but don't have time for (newsletters, Twitter follower alerts, etc.).

In alarmingly fast fashion, the word has spread from, literally, the mouths of 4 or 5 people sitting near the check-in desk at PCPGH2 to being quoted internationally. It's popped up on Russian and Japanese blogs. It has its own site and its own merchandise.

And, of course, it has detractors. The loudest thus far has been Web Worker Daily, which states, unequivocally:

Color me curmudgeonly, but I’d like to see this one stopped in its tracks right now.

Apart from the irony involved in a site that purports to be a site of the people (notice it's not called "Web Experts Daily" or "Web Employers Daily") telling those same people what words it is and isn't allowed to use, there are two larger issues at play here:

1. What's wrong with more language?

Love it or hate it, "bacn" is a way to differentiate important-but-untimely email from "real" email or spam. It's a descriptive word. It's a classification. It's useful.

Given the fact that so much miscommunication in this world comes from common misunderstandings -- and that folks in Arab nations have dozens of words for the parts of a camel -- I think it's safe to say that we could all benefit from more (and clearer) language.

Which brings us to the more politically charged issue:

2. Who's allowed to create language?

In the WWD blog post, Mike Gunderloy says:

Apparently this is the term the cool kids are using now for stuff that falls in between e-mail and spam...

Notice the snarky use of "cool kids." Implied in that offhanded comment is a deeper observation:

If Scoble, Rubel or MacLeod has coined that phrase, we'd all have accepted it, no questions asked. Naysayers and detractors would still wring their hands, but it would be too late: words from the voice of god(s) automatically enter the lexicon.

Words coined by a few Canadians and Pittsburghers during downtime at a free social media conference? Apparently, not so much.

So, what now, web users? Who will YOU allow to control your vocabularies?

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PodCamp Pittsburgh 2: The Aftermath


PodCamp Pittsburgh 2 was a blast!

The Art Institute of Pittsburgh came alive this weekend with the buzz of hundreds of social media creators (and those interested in learning more).

Bloggers! Podcasters! Journalists! Photographers! Students! Teachers! Small Business Owners! Retirees!

It was a diverse community -- from politicians to drag queens -- all of whom had one question in mind: How can I connect with other people by creating social media?

Nutshell recap:

- Approximately 250 attendees (we're still tallying)
- Over 40 sessions
- Countless "hallway conversations"
- Limitless new connections made
- Unscrupulous amounts of food and drink consumed
- An after-party that, though barely remembered by some attendees, will never be forgotten...

In addition, we also (accidentally) created a meme: "bacn"

Bacn is different from spam because bacn is email you actually want -- just not right now. Notices that so-and-so is following you on Twitter, or newsletters from groups you've joined, or receipts from your e-bills... these are all useful information, but not something you NEED to deal with RIGHT NOW.

Hence: bacn. (It's better than spam.)

Meanwhile, amusing episodes from PCPGH2 include:

- The part where EDMC, which runs the Art Institute's inner-workings, noticed too much traffic headed to the Justin.TV website (where we were streaming the sessions live) and blocked the service from its network... at 4 PM on Friday night. (Thankfully, Shawn Smith and the AIP tech crew worked it out, at the wire)...

- The part where we ran out of coffee (three times) and food (twice)...

- The part where people came in on Sunday because they'd heard about the event that morning... on

- The incredibly bizarre part where two of the volunteers discovered some disturbing information about a wayward attendee thanks to a certain livestream, a quick Google search and an eye-opening newspaper editorial. (I'm not sure anyone has ever had to "alert security" at a PodCamp before...)

- And, last but not least, the part where I arrived 3 hours late to my own PodCamp on Sunday thanks to a concoction Tommy Vallier introduced me to on Staurday night: the 649 shot. (Suffice it to say, Canadians are sturdier bastards... or, "I shouldn't have also had 2 shots of Jager...").

I'd like to call it a huge success or a great event, but really, that's up to the participants to decide, not me. As the co-organizer of the event, I judge "success" by "was there a mutiny when we ran out of coffee?" (Answer: no, thankfully.)

As participants, everyone ELSE who was there will judge the event by different criteria:

Did they learn what they were hoping to learn?

Do they have the tools to create or improve their own work?

Did they meet new and interesting people?

Time (and survey feedback) will tell. But, if I had to guess, I'd say a lot of people are already looking forward to PodCamp Pittsburgh 3...

In the meantime, you can check out the PCPGH photostream here and more GREAT shots from Kimberly Reed here, watch archived sessions from the event here (we'll be making notes on those archives this week), and keep up to date with upcoming PCPGH monthly meet-ups here!

(All photos by Kimberly Reed)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

PodCamp Pittsburgh 2: This Weekend!

Sorry for the relative silence -- I've been emailing nonstop (and Twittering regularly) about PodCamp Pittsburgh 2, which happens this weekend. (Are YOU coming? It's free, y'know...)

Tomorrow is the event's icebreaker. I'll pretty much be in a car (or otherwise running errands) from 9 AM until 6 PM, when the icebreaker starts.

Then, Saturday and Sunday, the actual event runs from 9 AM - 5 PM at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh. We have over 200 registered participants and are expecting lively conversation, insightful education and energetic inspiration (can you tell I'm mentally exhausted?) for two straight days.

With, you know, breaks to sleep... And drink...

For more information, visit the PodCamp Pittsburgh website. You can also follow the sessions live during the event, thanks to a livestream video arrangement with Justin.TV (no relation).

Sanity -- or something resembling the resuscitation thereof -- should return next week. But probably not by Monday; let's be realistic...

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Monday, August 13, 2007

What's the VALUE of Web 2.0?

We all use MySpace OR Facebook OR Twitter OR LinkedIn OR Flickr OR Pandora OR YouTube OR Some of us even use ALL of them (and more).

But what's their actual VALUE?

If you were to bring someone up to speed on social media, what 5 or 10 sites would you DEFINITELY include? Which would you ABSOLUTELY overlook?


Is it signal-to-noise ratio? Is it "timesuck"? Is it ease of use? Size of community? Security? Interface? User freedom?

What are YOUR top Web 2.0 sites / apps?

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

What Flooding Can Teach Us About To-Do Lists

Pittsburgh (actually Allegheny County) is under a State of Emergency due to the storms that rocked the region all day and caused massive flooding, power outages, downed trees, etc. Several areas (like Millvale, Ross Township, etc.) are in very bad shape.

On the news tonight, Public Safety Director Mike Huss said one of the reasons things are as bad as they are right now in the North Hills is because all of the debris from the flooding caused by Hurricane Ivan (in September of 2004) was never cleared away. That means today's floodwaters had even less wiggle room, so to speak -- because they're contending with leftover trash from 2004.

The good news? Huss said they're optimistic that they "may bid" on a proposal to clean that debris up... in October.

Not to be glib, but what leftover item keeps floating down your to-do list? Why not nip it in the bud now, before it causes problems down the line?...

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

What Do You Expect from Your Community?

A few months ago, I joined the Yahoo Videobloggers group. I was interested in taking the pulse of that subset of the web video world. (I know it's not 100% representative of the web video world at large, but it paints a broad enough picture to be relevant.)

Lately, the topics among the group have veered more sharply from technology to ethics. Most digest updates I receive contain upwards of 20 messages about people's opinions about certain individuals or companies, or the behavior thereof.

Yesterday, a newbie popped out of the shadows to say that he'd expected more technological discussions from the group, and was surprised at the level of personal opinion and hand-wringing taking place. The response from another group member was a reminder that ALL types of conversation about web video are welcome in this space, and that the pendulum would surely swing back to technology soon enough -- once the personal fires had been put out.

That got me thinking: should the Yahoo Videobloggers group subdivide into Tech and Content sub-groups?

And, in a larger frame, what do YOU expect from YOUR community? Are there topics that are off-limits, or that seem counterproductive to the larger conversation?

Too Much Information?

If Chris Brogan blogs about a travel hiccup, rather than community development and social networking, is your day disrupted?

If Seth Godin were to pause the marketing machine and blog for a day about sushi, would his opinion about sushi be in any way relevant to you?

Personally, I know I enjoy Peter King's and Dr. Z's comments about coffee and wine in their respective columns, mainly because it reminds me that well-rounded humans are writing these articles, not football-driven automatons.

It's the same reason I actually ENJOY seeing the Yahoo Videobloggers group bounce between technology and ethics.

What about you?

Do you believe a group / information outlet should stick to its initial premise for the sake of streamlined clarity and maximum impact? Or do these humane touches ADD value to the overall experience?

And -- what happens if a group (or creator) finds the focus of their work / existence... is shifting?

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Caught in the Endless Email Loop

I've realized it's entirely possible -- even likely -- to spend my whole workday in the following endless loop:

1. Open Firefox, where Tweetbar and Gmail automatically load.
2. Catch up on Twitter.
3. Answer pertinent Gmail.
4. Check STBD and PodCamp mail (using, easily enough, MAC Mail).
5. Spend the next 15 minutes answering pertinent emails.
6. Take a break to read and Newsvine.
7. By the time that's done, there are invariably new emails in all 33 of my inboxes...

So you see the loop, eh?

Half the problem is the overinundation of information. The other half is entirely in my own hands: how do I deal with that overinundation?

The solutions are obvious:

- Allocate a set time to check emails (say, 9 AM, 12 PM and 4 PM)
- Allow myself 10 minutes per hour, tops, to check all 3 email lists
- Disrupt the loop by only taking one Newsvine break per day.


Funny thing about life: no matter what you've been trained to do in school, you've almost definitely NOT been trained to productively manage your own time. You want to fix the education system in this country? Start there.

(And follow by improving school lunches...)

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Twitter and the Conversation of NOW

I'm a big advocate of Twitter as a real-time information source. If I have a question or need an opinion, I can message my Twitter list and then tally the responses. "If I post it, they will read (and, hopefully, respond)."

But the flaw in this design is that, like any real-time conversation, it's only as valuable as the people who are actively using Twitter at that time.

Sure, there are solutions that help you keep track of conversations when you're not actively connected, but by and large, any feedback you can expect from your Twitterbase is going to happen NOW.

So what happens if the people best-equipped to answer your question aren't connected at that moment?

AND, what happens when your own Twitterbase is only a fraction of the size of someone else's? Are your results still adequate?

To (t)Wit:

This morning, Chris Brogan asked the following question on Twitter:

Does anyone - ANYONE - like that Snap preview thingy? Do you ever go.. "oh hey! now THAT looks like a good site!" I *LOATHE* that thing.

Our mutual contact, Doug Haslam, responded:

I have Snap! active on my site-- some people hate it, but not convinced I should turn it off-- a Twitter tidal wave might do it

Chris (and, by extension, Doug) received several responses, mostly to the negative. In fact, Chris reported back:

10 folks @'d me back that they hate Snap. @DougH - is that a tidal wave? : )

But when Chris's contact Vaspers chimed in, the results were much different:

If 685 of my blog readers took the time to vote Yes on "Do you like Snap?" while only 20 voted No, I have to keep Snap Preview Panels on.

So... Who's right? Who's wrong? How do we tell?

What Does This MEAN, Exactly?

Well, it means five things:

1. "Twitter-as-advisor" is only as useful as your ACTIVELY CONNECTED social network.

2. Relying on Twitter as the sole arbiter of public opinion is a shortsighted exercise, as most of us have social networks that are both (representatively) tiny and skewed.

3. HOWEVER, that doesn't in any way invalidate the responses. In the above example, Chris's readers may DESPISE Snap, which makes their chorus of dissent every bit as relevant as Vaspers's pro-Snap responses. As with any social experiment, YOU HAVE TO KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE.

4. Want to make better use of Twitter? Cultivate a wider social network, AND use Twitter IN TANDEM with other sources of information, not as a one stop solution.

5. Lastly, if Twitter wants long-term traction, it (and its DIY programming fans) need to find ways to extend the conversation of the NOW beyond the terrestrial restrictions of being plugged in AT THAT MOMENT.

Speaking of which, a question I asked on Twitter moments ago: Bloglines or Google Reader -- which is better? (I've never used either.)

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Sunday, August 05, 2007

Just When You Thought Starbucks WASN'T the Devil...

When we're not stumping for the indie cofffee shops in town, Ann and I occcasionally frequent the Starbucks in Squirrel Hill (Forbes & Shady). She likes the drinks, I like the atmosphere. One thing Starbucks tends to do well is create an inviting atmosphere that encourages a wandering mind, and the related inspirations that come with dark wood, cushy chairs and smooth jazz.

After today, I believe I'll be choosing a new Starbucks outpost.

Why? One word: baristas.

There were two girls working at this location (actually three, but one seemed to be out of the loop most of the time), and they had nary a positive word to say about anything. Normally I can handle a healthy dose of cynicism -- hello, mirror -- but only when it's directed at people's own woebegone lives, or politics, or theology, or anything else worth bitching about.

Not at the customers.

Ladies, here's an open letter: I know your job sucks. You know your job sucks. It's a job; by definition, it almost always sucks.

What I, one of many customers, does not need to hear while sitting in your establishment is what you snidely have to say about nearly every other customer who walks out the door. I'm well aware that people can be ignorant; I worked in retail for too many years myself. But insulting people based upon mental illness, race, nationality, speech impediments, or forgetting to turn your goddamn chairs around when they leave does nothing to endear you to me as benevolent arbiters of multicultural celebration.

It makes you look small-minded and ignorant, and reminds me that I can probably find more tolerance, better conversation and a mocha that doesn't taste like chalk at the independent cafe down the street.

Dark wood and smooth jazz be damned.

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TwitterAir Meets Cambodia

When Michael Bailey decided to try a group donation experiment to buy me an air conditioner (thanks again, Mike, Jim, Amy and everyone else who contributed), he based that idea off a similar concept: Beth Kanter's Cambodia Blogging Summit, in which she was seeking $4,000 from her readers to help fund an event that will give Cambodian students, workers and media sources the training and encouragement necessary to join the global social media movement.

This morning, I noticed via Twitter that Beth needed another $57 to meet her $4,000 goal. So I chipped in $65 (unsure if PayPal would keep some or not -- it didn't), putting her over the top. Now the event can move forward as planned, and Michael Bailey and Beth Kanter can BOTH sleep easy, knowing that the power of interpersonal fundraising is alive and well in the social media community.

I know $65 isn't the same as a new air conditioner, but I think it might have an even bigger impact in the long run, don't you?


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Saturday, August 04, 2007

People Are Nicer Than You Think

A few days ago, I mentioned it was impossible to work in stifling 90 degree conditions when your apartment feels like a heatbox.

Michael Bailey responded by creating the TwitterAir project, intending to raise money to buy me an air conditioner. I argued that the power of the people could be better focused on something truly useful, like helping people who are REALLY in need, instead of my pasty white self.

Apparently, Jim Shireman of Sportsocracy didn't get that memo. Today, he and his wife Amy tracked me down at the Quiet Storm cafe to give me a surprise -- a brand new air conditioner.

Thanks, Jim and Amy. Now it's time for me to pass it on. Good deeds shall not go unrewarded...

Meanwhile, what can we do to put the power of TwitterAir to more good use?

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Juno's Cafe (or: Why Are You Doing What You're Doing?)

I had two meetings downtown yesterday, and with some time to kill in-between, I wanted a cafe with free wi-fi. (Sure, there's free wi-fi if you're outside, but who wants to work outside on a laptop when it's 90 degrees out?)

My friend Rachel suggested Juno's, a new cafe she'd noticed while driving down 6th and Penn, with a "free wi-fi" sign in the window.

The good news? Juno's does, indeed, have wi-fi. (And good coffee, friendly service and a great pseduo-Euro decor.)

The bad news? No power outlets.

The owner confessed she hadn't thought about that because she doesn't have a laptop and never needs to look for outlets as a result.

Here's the irony: downtown Pittsburgh's cafe options are limited to Starbucks and... um, that's it. Juno's is one of the only (if not THE only) independent cafe in the Golden Triangle (not counting coffee carts in office lobbies). And the owner freely admits she's there to provide an alternative to Starbucks...

... so why not research WHAT, exactly, that alternative includes?

Clearly, they're on the right track. They have traditional cafe food, including a new panini machine (for which I was the guinea pig), which helps them differentiate themselves from Starbucks. They have a more intimate layout, and plenty of space to move freely, which should attract college students and freelancers looking for a place to relax and work.

But HOW can they work without outlets?

(Postscript: they're adding outlets soon, because they realize this is a larger issue than they'd initially considered.)

Is there a successful business model that YOU'RE looking to disrupt? WHY do you want to be a disruptor? Are you SURE you understand WHAT elements of that model are worth disrupting -- and HOW?

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Friday, August 03, 2007

Newsvine Loves Irony

The front page story on Newsvine just now was about a self-described pedophile, Jack McClellan, who says he finds young girls attractive but does not molest them. McClellan has been issued a temporary restraining order, insisting he stay 30 feet away from everyone under the age of 18 in the state of California.

Meanwhile, the ad on the Newsvine article page was the graphic to your left: the nubile, pseudo-pubescent Snorg tees girl.

Either Newsvine loves irony, or I think we just got a snapshot of some larger sociological problems in this country...

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TwitterAir and Your Capacity to Be a Good Person

I recently blogged about the hassles of a 90 degree week in Pittsburgh: my apartment is stifling, and it makes staying up late to work a problem.

Michael Bailey read my post and decided to be a Good Samaritan: he created the TwitterAir Project to raise the money to buy an air conditioner AND have it shipped to me, all using the power of Twitter.

Realizing I was about to become the recipient of unintended fortune, I commented on Michael's blog that it seemed even more altruistic to use Twitter for the power of change on a greater scale: why not purchase this fabled air conditioner and send it to a public school that really needs it?

Or, why not invite members of the TwitterAir project to submit their own suggestions for benevolent causes? Say, everyone who joins the projects submits:

- a link to the organization / issue / chairty of his or her choice
- a dollar value for a donation (or the value of an item to be donated), OR
- a NON-CASH donation (say, advice, web design, consulting, etc.)
- a blurb about why said recipient needs said donation

Then members could volunteer their time, expertise or services to help these causes as they see fit.

It seems to me like Michael has hit upon a great idea, and one that could be a huge proactive force in the social media world, but it would do best if it were applied to a wider scope of problems than my own air conditioning woes.

(Besides, it'll be cool enough in Pittsburgh in another couple weeks. But TwitterAir's ability to incite change shouldn't end so soon...)

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Overheard in My Apartment Building...

30 seconds ago, from the people who live upstairs:

"Okay, one drawback of this place? No elevator."

Punchline: They live on the third floor.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Who's Your Tour Guide?

For the past year, every time I've mentioned PodCamp Pittsburgh, someone's said, "Oh, yeah. I wish I'd heard about that BEFORE it happened -- I'd have loved to be there."

This year, as I'm inviting people / companies to take part, I'm well aware that the exact same thing is going to happen as last year:

1. People think, "why would I want to attend a social media conference in Pittsburgh?" (This step applies to people IN Pittsburgh, too.)

2. About 200-250 people will attend PCPGH2 over the course of two days.

3. The people who attend PCPGH2 will have a great time.

4. Those people will tell their friends.

5. Every time I mention PodCamp Pittsburgh 2, people will say, "Man, I WISH I'd heard about that beforehand..."

6. I will continue to wonder where people in this city (or anywhere else) get their information from.

The More Maps, The Better

When I was in London, I had three different maps / guidebooks. Each of them offered a different "take" on the city, as well as being practical in different ways (i.e., a pocket map vs. a fully illustrated guidebook vs. a "thrifty traveler" paperback guide). I could have enjoyed myself even with only one of the three, but having them all gave me a wider view of my options.

In Pittsburgh, the recurring argument is that no one ever knows when anything COOL is happening. We have a free City Paper, several event-based websites, bulletin boards in trendy cafes and general word-of-mouth... and yet, when I attend arts or social events, I routinely see the same people at each one.

Either there's only about 200 active people in this city, or we're all getting the same information within our walled gardens.

If someone DOESN'T hear about PodCamp Pittsburgh before Aug 18-19, I'm left to wonder -- where ARE they getting their information?

Why We Should All Be Tour Guides

How often have you really wanted to see a movie, attend a gallery show or check out a new restaurant... but you're afraid to mention it because you suspect your friends won't be interested?

By not mentioning your interest, you're preventing your friends from possibly enjoying something they might never have considered on their own.

Conversely, if I publicly promote an event I'm attending, it has a chance of being heard about by hundreds of people far beyond my immediate reach. That information ripples... but it only ripples if we make that information available.

What are YOU doing this weekend?

Do your friends know?

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Does Your Job Matter?

A friend of mine works for a non-profit arts organization. She laments, continually, that she cannot accomplish anything at work because her coworkers don't DO anything. She's walked into their offices dozens of times to ask IF they've done something -- or, more accurately, why they HAVEN'T done what they were SUPPOSED to do -- and is repeatedly met with excuses and shrugs.

Thus, she's come to the conclusion that, no matter how much effort SHE exerts, IT WON'T MATTER. That's a very debilitating POV to take to work every day, every week, every month...

(One apparent problem? IT DOESN'T MATTER if they do anything or not, because they're funded primarily by government grants. As long as those grants are stable, they have absolutely zero need to DO anything because they'll receive funding whether they're active or not.)

But this isn't an indictment of the non-profit arts system, because it works quite well for companies that DO something with those funds. Instead, this is a snapshot of a company with an even LARGER problem:

It doesn't matter of they do anything or not because THERE ARE NO CONSEQUENCES FOR BAD PERFORMANCE.

Heads Will (Not) Roll

Motivation starts from the top down.

As anyone who's ever attempted to work for himself knows, the number one hurdle to clear is motivation. With no one MAKING you work every day, it's easy to backslide into the illusion of "having it easy," and of things "not mattering."

Ironically, that same hurdle exists in every company I've ever witnessed. If an owner / president / manager / CEO isn't responsible and doesn't impose penalties for failing to achieve goals, a company has no clear-cut reason to take a specific action.

(Or, in this case, ANY action.)

Thus, employees realize they can remain at this company until they retire or die -- that they can accomplish absolutely nothing every day and still be employed -- because THE DECISION MAKERS DON'T IMPOSE CONSEQUENCES.

Few are the organizations who are motivated enough to accomplish their goals (much less achieve actual change). I believe this is because so few individuals are properly motivated in the first place -- and that includes a clear understanding of the goals AND reasonable cconsequences related to accomplishment or failure.

At the top, every company -- whether a sole proprietorship or a Fortune 500 corporation -- is led by individuals. How properly those individuals are motivated -- and how reliable, reasonable and consistent their imposed consequences are -- determines how successful they'll become.

What are the consequences if YOU fail? What are the rewards if you succeed?

Does your job matter?

Do you want it to?

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

NOT Getting Things Done

This week, I've had a mountain of to-dos to do. I'm co-organizing PodCamp Pittsburgh. I'm planning for Season Five of Something to Be Desired. I'm juggling a handful of freelance projects. (And don't get me started on the general disarray my apartment is in.)

So why have I gotten almost NOTHING done this week?

Problem Number One: Badly Scheduled Appointments

On Monday, I had to drive out to my old office -- a good 30 minute drive across town, each way -- to record some audio for one of their projects. I asked if they'd have anything else for me this week, so I could make sure to get everything done in one trip. They asked around the office and, no, there was just one script.

So I came out on Monday morning to record it.

Then they called on Tuesday to say, whoops, there IS another script.

So I drove out on Wednesday to record it.

Then they emailed Wednesday afternoon to say, whoops, there's another script...

Keep in mind, it's actually in my own better financial interest to drive there five days a week, since I charge by the hour -- but, all things being equal, I'd rather lose out on a few bucks and save myself the multiple hourlong round trips -- not to mention actual recording time...

Problem Number Two: One Car, Two People

Life is tricky because Ann and I share one car. As a result, whenever either of us needs to be somewhere, we have to arrange our schedules to be compatible.

On Monday, she had an appointment in the South Side -- so I drove her to work, drove to record the audio, drove back from audio to pick Ann up, drove to the South Side, worked while she had her appointment (yay), drove her BACK to work, drove myself to a cafe (and worked for an hour), and then drove to pick her up at 5.

On Wednesday, Ann won a "free" lunch from a local financial planning office -- sit, listen to a pitch, then eat for free -- so I did pretty much the same thing. Combined work time on Monday and Wednesday? About 4 hours.

On Thursday, Ann has another appointment on the South Side -- at noon -- which means...

Also, keep in mind that Pittsburgh is very much a "driving" town, so neither of us are "bus people." Plus, there's no easy route from where Ann works to where most of her appointments are made.

Normally, all this driving would at least allow me to make phone calls... but a Verizon salesman informed me that there's a new "all cell phones must be used hands-free while driving" law that I was unaware of, which nixes that opportunity...

Problem Number Three: The Heat

It's been about 90 degrees every day this week here in Pittsburgh, and we don't have air conditioning in our apartment. This makes it tough to try and catch up on lost work time at the end of the day because sitting here is so uncomfortable. I'm sweating as I type this -- at 1 AM -- and all I can think of is getting some sleep to escape the heat.

The Solution?

I'm still working that part out. Short of breaking my to-do list down into hundreds of mini-tasks, each completable in under 2 minutes -- and buying a headset for my phone -- I'm coming up short.

Any ideas?

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PodCamp Pittsburgh 2: Two Weeks Away!

Actually, it's 16 days away as I type this, but still...

The original PodCamp Pittsburgh was a big hit back in November of 2006. Afterwards, we wanted to host another event as soon as possible, because the momentum was electric... but the next open slot on the PodCamp planning board was August 2007. So we nabbed it.

Now we're hip-deep in juggling speakers, sponsors, giveaways and general logistics -- and we're loving it!

Unlike most conferences, PodCamp is essentially one gigantic 2-day conversation. This means it's a great opportunity to exchange information, meet interesting people and generate new ideas -- but, ultimately, it's about having fun and being social. And if we weren't enjoying the creation of the event, that would set a bad precedent!

Interested in participating? You can get more information, register to attend, and see the ever-updating schedule of sessions (entirely "programmed" BY the attendees, FOR the attendees) here. (Oh, and did I mention: it's FREE?)

And now, back to sending the next 30 emails on my to-do list...

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