Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Worried about the economy? Here are some quick answers to common questions

I was going to post about myself, my life, and my observations about the world around me today. However, I'm hearing so many people say that they don't understand how this current economic crisis is going to hit them personally, that I wanted to do my part to try to get the word out about 4 common questions that many people have asked me over the past few weeks:

1.) "Do I need to pull my money out of my savings and checking accounts and put it in my mattress?"

No. Please don't do that. If it gets stolen or you have some disaster like a house fire, you'll lose it all. Also, as long as your money is in a bank that is FDIC-insured, your money is safe up to $100,000. If you have more than $100,000 with the same bank, then take out the balance above $100,000 and move it to an entirely different bank, not just into another account at the same bank. The $100,000 insurance is per depositor, not per account! Don't know if your bank is FDIC-insured? Call them, stop into a branch, or visit their website.

2.) "I think I am going to stop investing in my retirement fund because the market is so bad. Is that a good idea."

No. No, no, no, no! Please don't do this. Please. Economies go in cycles. You need the compounding on your retirement savings to make retirement plans work. If you pull out your money or stop investing, you will lose the compounding factor you need. And you'll pay hefty penalties on the withdrawal plus lock in the loss. What you can and absolutely need to do is make sure that your portfolio is balanced. Many retirement plans have a "set it and forget" plan. That's what I have. You plug in the number of years you have until retirement, and the plan automatically calibrates different investments to get you to your retirement goals. Still unsure? Make an appointment with an advisor at the institution that manages your retirement accounts - it's free and it's their job to explain your options to you. And if you don't know how to make an appointment with them, contact your HR department. 

3.) "This job market is so crazy that I've decided to get out of the job market. Is that a good idea?" 

AH!!!!!!!!!! No - no no no. Don't do that. If you retire now, you essentially lock in all the loses your retirement fund has just been hit with because you begin to draw on those funds yo worked so hard to save. This is bad - really, really bad. You worked hard all these years, and you're not getting the full benefit of that hard work. If you're quitting your job with nothing else to go to, you need to reconsider immediately. And change your mind - do no leave your job without another place to go. There will likely be nothing for you to go to. Now, I do think you should be networking and watching out for new employment opportunities that sound interesting. Actually, I think you should ALWAYS do this, even if you are 100% in love with your job. You need to cover your bases and in this day and age, getting a job interview (and probably getting your dream job or even just your next job) has much more to do with who you know rather than what you know.   

4.) "I don't think Wall Street zillionaires should get a bailout so I'm against the Government's $700 billion plan."

I don't blame you for being confused on the bailout - I blame politicians who don't understand economics (inexcusable) and make this a partisan issue (also inexcusable). This is not about bailing out Wall Street. I'm really upset with the person who coined this plan as a "bailout" - it's not. This money will make the Federal Government a bank that will loan money to banks like Citi or Bank of America to make it easier for those banks to responsibly loan money to average consumers (you and me). There will be plenty of Government oversight to make sure that money is loaned responsibly. And when the market recovers, those banks will pay back the Government, who will pay back the tax payers.   

If we don't have this plan, here's what will happen:
Access to credit will plummet, making it hard for all Americans and all American businesses to have any access to credit. All free markets need access to credit to function properly. This los of access to credit is not good - you won't be able to get car loans, schools loans, mortgages, or any other kind of consumer loan. Credit card companies will cut your limit. All businesses, whether it's your local pizzeria or GE, will not be able to get the loans, short-term and long-term, big and small, that they have to have to do business and to get us the goods and services we need to survive. Bankruptcies and home foreclosures will skyrocket, and as a result, unemployment will also skyrocket. We'll be in a downward spiral.

So here's the choice: a) pay some more taxes now and get that money back in the fairly near-future so our economy can get going again. b) pay a whole lot more now with people losing their homes and companies going out of business, causing unemployment to rise rapidly, and pay even more later as we struggle to deal with the fall out. And we will ALL deal with the fall-out, especially those in lower and middle income brackets. The recovery from option b) will be slow and painful. a) will be less painful and shorter. I'm going with a). I don't like that we're in this situation, but here we are.

This might be the only idea that George Bush and I will agree on, and I took some convincing. I read A LOT about this, talked and listened to a lot of people very knowledgeable in finance. At this late date, the horse is out of the economic barn and the only way to corral him back inside and under control is through a rescue plan. There simply is no other better option.  

Monday, September 29, 2008

The agony of confusion and the ecstasy of clarity

By nature, I'm a passionate person. There are a few subjects that really get me going - happiness, creativity, health and wellness, the environment, puppies. (Not necessarily in that order.) And simplicity - I'm big on that. If we all worked on making our world and our lives simpler, we would all be better off. In some circles complexity and confusion are celebrated, relished, even chased because it's a mark that what those people in those circles are doing is "very important" if no one else can understand it. How ridiculous, not to mention wasteful - something we can no longer afford to be in our economic situation. 

I was shocked to hear the news today that the House didn't pass the "bailout". The Dow tumbled along with stock prices of major companies, and panic is spreading, slowly and quietly. It's unsettling. Someone said to me today that she didn't really ever understand the plan, and it's too bad that it was never explained thoroughly and clearly to the American people. I almost see her point - I do think it was explained by major media outlets like Business Week and the New York Times. You just needed to have the patience to wade through the lengthy articles. And if you don't understand something, ask around and get some help. Don't just throw up your hands and say "forget it." What really happened in the coverage is that no one made it simple to understand if you didn't have a degree in economics or an MBA. 

Simplicity and clarity are absent in many areas of our lives: in meetings at work, in relationships, in the many contracts with very small print that govern our well-being, financially and health-wise. Companies spend a lot of time, effort, and money because of confusion in roles and responsibilities, objectives, and priorities. Simplicity saves a lot of heartache. And we get to simplicity by being real, honest, and straight-forward in our intentions and actions. 

Clarity builds trust and integrity; it makes people feel that they are a part of an effort because they understand it and can clearly articulate it. Being clear and concise is a sign of maturity - it's the responsible thing to do regardless of circumstance. Confusion never pays in the long-run and only delays the inevitable. If only our government and financial markets understood that - maybe we'd find ourselves and our economy in much better shape. 

The image above can be found at http://ozguru.mu.nu/Photos/simplicity.gif

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Genius Awards - $500,000 "no strings attached"

How would you like a half a million bucks with no strings attached? All you need to do is be a genius, and by genius I mean someone who is "creative, original, and has potential to make important contributions in the future." The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation awards 25 people every year with their Genius Awards. The Genius Awards for 2008 have been announced and the variety of recipients is encouraging.

When I heard that they were awarded based on originality and creativity, I naturally assumed that the awards were primarily for artists. And many of the recipients are indeed artists from many different areas of the arts. But there's also an urban farmer, a critical care physician, and an astronomer. This variety supports the sentiment that artistry and creativity can, should, and will be found in every discipline the world over. 

We are all creative, inspired people regardless of our title at work or the discipline in which we work. The trick is how to leverage that creativity for the greatest benefit of the world at large. In short how do we take our precious, common gift of idealism and make it extraordinary? Geniuses take what we all have - this innate ability to imagine things the way they could be - and they go global with it. Well worth a half million dollars for their priceless contributions to humanity. 

The image above can be found at http://www.wilywalnut.com/Genius-choice.jpg

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Greg and Han's wedding

I always find myself grinning from ear to ear at weddings, despite that the idea of marriage is a bit terrifying to me on a personal level. I cringe when I hear people say things like “well she’ll be able to keep him in line” or vice versa. Or “ever since he came into her life she’s a much better person.” Ick. Can you imagine? I really love who I am, and if I ever commit my life to someone, I need to love who they are naturally. I’m not interested in keeping someone in line or “improving them”, and I’m not looking for someone to do either of those things for me either. (Please note that none of those statements apply to Greg and Han, as I’ll explain in a moment.)

I spent a long weekend in Seattle to celebrate my friend, Greg’s, wedding to a wonderful lady, Han. Greg and I played together in a band very briefly in college and I lived across the hall from him for a year. I was one of a handful of college friends and was so honored to be there. They moved to Seattle very recently to begin a new adventure together in a city that is foreign to them both. I must say that the personal attention to detail during every point of the wedding was so subtle and elegant that it must have taken a mountain of work on both Greg and Han’s parts. Truly, the entire weekend was perfect. And they’re one of those incredibly rare perfect couples.

Having never been married and having most of my friends be unmarried, weddings are a bit of a mystery to me. I am always amazed, and truthfully in awe, of two people committing to one another forever in front of a crowd of people they know. I’m reminded about the advice that if you really want to do something, make sure to tell everyone you know you’re going to do it. It creates a level of accountability that you can’t establish otherwise.

I noticed something at Greg and Han’s wedding that I don’t believe I’ve ever seen to such a degree at a wedding before, and it gave me great hope for the future of marriage. Greg has a coolness about him, a sophistication. He moves and operates his life with an admirable relaxed gracefulness. And he always has. At the reception, I saw how perfectly Han’s cool factor matched and complimented Greg’s. How well they fit together naturally, not because either of them was changing the other but because they really are two halves joining with great ease. And while people say a relationship is work, it doesn’t seem to be for them. It just is.

Greg and Han gave me a great gift by asking me to share this very special experience with them in Seattle over the weekend, and they gave me an insight that is precious. I was able to bare witness to two people who were able to sift through many personalities in this world to find another, equal spirit whose mere presence makes life easier, simpler, and happier. For Greg and Han, I was able to see many, many years of being together, her sway matching his. Taking someone into your life and keeping them in your life shouldn’t be an arduous, tedious task - ever. I’m convinced now, many thanks to Greg and Han, that two people fusing their lives together can, and I believe must, be something of a magical moment, like creating music, like art. It really should be as essential and as easy as breathing.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Away on Holiday

Given my busy week at work, a wedding in Seattle over the weekend, and then a last-minute business trip to Salt Lake City, I'll be away from this blog for about a week. I'll be back to posting on Wednesday, September 24th. Until then, finding out what I'm doing at twitter.com/christanyc.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life

I gave up my horn about 10 years ago because truth be told I wasn't even mediocre, and even if I practiced for hours a day I'd never be great. I want to be a lot things, but I have no intention of getting in the habit of spending my time being mediocre. I love jazz, but I couldn't play it. I just don't have that ability. My creativity is in my writing. 

So for years now I have socked away all of the academic knowledge I built up around the music. (I studied it for a year in college and played in a few different bands.) People ask me if I miss playing, and truth be told I don't. I never even think about it. Playing music doesn't hold any kind of magic for me, but I still very much enjoy listening to it, and really what I enjoy is the history, all of the stories that come along with musicians. And there are plenty of stories to go around. 

My brother is a trumpet player and because he is 6 years older than me, I learned about Wynton Marsalis and the Marsalis family at a very young age. When I saw that Wynton would be at my local Barnes and Noble I decided to go hear some of his stories. He was so engaging and charming that I bought his book on sight, which I never do at author readings. And once I started reading Moving to High Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life, I couldn't put it down. (And it helps that his co-author is the brilliant and well-spoken historian, Geoffrey Ward.)

For me the genius of this book is not to tell you about all the drugs that musicians have done, or all the women they've had or how down and out and poor they were. It talks about what the music has to teach us about living other aspects of our lives. How we treat each other. It teaches us about acceptance and nurturing and compassion. Wynton lays out the value is studying jazz not to be great, but to realize a certain aspect of humanity that comes through generosity.  Its is a living, breathing thing that connects the generations. It allows us to learn from generations of people who were long gone before we were every a twinkle in our parents' eyes.  

Wynton goes on to talk about how we all hear something different in the music. He talks about arrogance and greed and the darker sides of our personalities that the music uncovers. But mostly he talks about how musicians with disparate styles can come together, should come together, to create something wholly different than they could ever make on their own. Nobody gets through this world alone in the same way that no jazz musician builds a career alone. Jazz is a way of capturing what it means to be out and about in this world. It's a way of sharing that experience with others whom we will never meet but for whom our music could be a beacon of freedom if we are strong enough to tell our own stories, look them in the eye, and harvest the very best of what they have to teach us.

Wynton's thoughts on community come at a particularly poignant time. Throughout the book I thought a lot of about the state of our world. How scary all these moving parts are - the economy, our national security, our political systems, health care, education. There is a lot to be afraid, maybe even more to be afraid of than at any other time in our history. What jazz, and musicians like Wynton teach us, is that the only way we can be safe is to let go of that fear with the confidence that those around us will support us. Their harmonies will carry us through. And if all else fails at least the swingin' will give us enough encouragement to keep our chins up and the rest of us moving forward with grace.  

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Big Money

With the markets in turmoil, it’s easy to think that the sky is falling. For many, jobs are being lost, retirement plans postponed, and savings and investment values plummeting like lead balloons. All this unrest is yielding one very positive result – the growing interest and understanding about the financial system by very young people in this country.

Slate.com, the witty if conceited and sometimes down-right nasty, has launched a new site to cater to the Facebook set interested in keeping up with the business news of the day, provided its packaged up in their language. The Big Money is a bit short on slick design, though the content is intriguing. They’re covering all the major topics like the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the purchase of Merrill Lynch by Bank of America, with some other interesting, timely, and generation X- and Y-targeted info like a socially responsible investing guide.

Viewed side by side with publications such as The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, The Big Money clearly goes after breadth over depth, though if they’re trying to attract younger generations this is the path of least resistance – give them a surface understanding and allow them to dig in deeper where they deem necessary and interesting. Don’t overwhelm them because they’ll tune you out, and give them just enough information to be conversant around the office about today’s top stories. The goal is to raise their awareness of the financial shifts happening today that are sure to have huge impacts on their lives for decades to come.

The Big Money is a publication that has clearly done its homework, knows its customer, and knows who they are, and more importantly who they aren’t. No brand can, or should, be all things to all people. The Big Money seeks to turn this latest economic downturn into a learning opportunity for very young adults that will build their lifelong interest in their financial well-being. If that's the case, then mission accomplished.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Very Extroverted Culture

On the Myers-Briggs scale I am an ENFP, Extrovert Intuitive Feeling Perceiver. The description of that personality type is so like me that for a moment I thought my mother had written it. A lot of people have a decent balance on each of the four levels and just tend to favor one characteristic over the other. I don't. I'm off the charts on all of them. (This is also a mark of those who are either highly creative or insane. I'm still trying to decide which of those camps I fall into, but heck I'm inclusive. Why not be both highly creative AND insane? Isn't life more fun that way?) I was talking to a co-worker of mine about how personality types form and support a particular culture in a company. 

"Isn't it amazing what an extroverted culture we have here at work?" he asked. "Huh?" I replied. I hadn't even noticed. "Go back and look at your calendar," he said. "Let me know if you see a pattern."

So I tootled back over to my desk and browsed through my calendar. Every day, specifically every afternoon, is packed with meetings and phone calls. I reported back to my co-worker and he smiled. One of the key components of the extrovert personality is that they like to ease into their day and gain energy as the day goes on. They get anchored in the morning, get up to speed, and by the afternoon are antsy and raring to go. That's me. I don't mind being up in the morning, I actually enjoy it, but I am one of those people who cannot be rushed into getting ready. I need to do my own thing for a while. For years I've hated the thought of exercising in the morning (I'm an after-work gym goer) and now I know why. 

Extroverts also approach other situations in their lives with this slow ramp up and the gaining of speed as time goes on. When they go to parties, they are a bit quiet at first and then the last ones  to leave. They take their time at the start of projects and then enjoy a swift and speedy wrap-up. Me again. Their best reflection time is at night when their creativity (or insantiy as the case may be) comes alive. And when do I write and study best? At night. Some people prefer to get to bed and can wake up early to knock out their work. Not me - I'll stay up and get it done now thank you. I'm an extrovert.  

Not so amazing though, right? A lot people in this world are extroverts - 70% of the population. What is amazing to me is that an organization comprised of tens of thousands of people all across the globe has a very strong, identifiable culture that almost perfectly exhibits the traits of being a supreme extrovert. While we'd like to believe that a company's goal is to be balanced with all personality traits, it seems that in some cases the "birds of a feather" principle stands. Who knew calendars were more than just a way to get where we're supposed to be when? They're actually a window into the psyches of the people around us.   

Thursday, September 11, 2008

How Ashford & Simpson showed me the way

I work out at the gym in my office building. It's nothing glamorous but it has what I need: a precor machine, easy to use weight machines, a rower, and clean bright rooms for classes. It also has a view that reminds me every day of the preciousness of life: it overlooks the 9/11 site. Today crowds of people will be flocking to the site to pay homage to the people who spent their final moments on that site, people who are sorely missed by their families, friends, and by our city. It is a sobering reminder that every day, EVERY day, counts. 

I am now in the midst of reading Wynton Marsalis's latest book, Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life. I picked it up initially because I met him at Barnes & Noble during a session he was doing across from Lincoln Center, because my brother adores him, and because I was a mediocre saxophone player many moons ago.The book is incredible, and I'll write a proper post reviewing it as soon as I'm finish reading it. I mention it here because it's going to tie nicely into my thoughts on 9/11, right after I mention one more recent occurrence. 

My dear friend, Dan, whom I write about often and spend a good deal of time with, is the publicist for Feinstein's at the Regency on Park and 61st. He took me to see Michael Feinstein's Christmas show in December and on Tuesday he invited my friend, Monika, and I to see Ashford & Simpson. I can't remember the last time I had so much fun at a show. They play with such joy and love. I'm still humming Solid and Ain't No Mountain High Enough. I was dancing, shouting, clapping. I was living that music and I felt so connected to every person in that audience even though I didn't know anyone save for Dan, Monika, and Dan's co-worker, Danielle. We were all together, celebrating life.

After the show let out, I walked west to catch my bus home. It was a long walk and I waited a while for the bus so I had a decent amount of time to revel in my happiness. And I finally understood the premise of Wynton Marsalis's book in a way I hadn't understood before seeing Ashford & Simpson. I understood those feelings of gratefulness I get when I'm on the rowing machine and looking at that sad, expansive space where the Towers stood majestically watching over us for so many years. It's that feeling of just being happy "to be". 

The only job we have in this world, and I mean the ONLY job, is to experience joy and express it every day for as long as we have the privilege to be citizens of this world. Any art, but music in particular, is a thread to connect all of us because we all hear the same notes but they mean different things to all of us. It allows us to be the same, be different, be individuals, be a group, all together across many generations. We don't need to know a language, wear certain clothes, or be raised a certain way to enjoy it. It's an equal opportunity companion.

It's in our best interest to share joy because as we share it, there's more for us to have. Ashford & Simpson and Wynton Marsalis personify that principle and have reaped the benefits of its implementation. So sing, paint, play the trumpet, go to a show, write, love your job, garden, volunteer, run, swim, tell jokes, have a boogie break in your apartment. Spend time with interesting, fascinating, diverse people, and let them into your life in a profound way. And recognize how infinitely lucky we are to be alive at all. Just being able to walk around on this Earth and take it all in is an amazing gift.  

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Opinion as fact not accepted here

My friend, Kelly, always had a saying in graduate school that she'd repeat whenever someone in class decided to spout off their belief system to chew up class time and to hear themselves talk. She'd say something like, "why do people think it's okay to state opinion as fact?" Today at work I was reminded of that saying during my team meeting.

We were discussing some of the alignment issues our department has, not on our specific team but elsewhere in the organization. I think we might have all been getting a little too down on the structure of the business as a whole. 

One of the many things I love about my boss is that she has a great way of recognizing a negative attribute and then in the next breathe providing a unique positive that we hadn't considered. She's been at the company for a number of years in several different roles and one thing that she loves about the company is hearing the CEO speak. To quote her directly, "there is no CEO better to get you inspired about your business. In the world of CEOs, he is as good as it gets." Immediately I thought, "oh, he must be very good at keeping people's spirits up and encouraging them." My boss followed up her statement with, "it is fascinating to hear him speak because he speaks only about facts. He never gives a speech based on opinions. Ever."  

Now, I've heard a lot of speeches from leaders but my boss really got me thinking back to all the speeches I've ever heard. Some people throw a bunch of positive quotes and pretty pictures onto powerpoint slides and call that a motivational speech. They put up lists of books and websites they follow and reference and call themselves a resource. A lot of leaders do that. Many of them pace back and forth on the stage and say how much better they are than the competition, akin to cheerleaders. Most leaders do not base every speech in fact. Heck, some never base their speeches on fact. Now I find my new CEO even more remarkable, especially because our company, being in financial services, is under the microscope of every industry analyst, reporter, and rival. A tough climate to state just the facts, making my CEO's continued honesty all the more worthy of admiration.

For the last three weeks I've been standing tall when I tell people the company I work for. Now I know I can stand even taller, up on my tippy toes if necessary, because all of this pride I have in the company is not based on opinion or belief or a "feeling". It's based in fact, and that feels great.

Monday, September 8, 2008

One Thing We Don't Want to Change

Thomas Friedman wrote a brilliant article in the Times last week about innovation in the U.S. At the moment, we are the most innovative country in the world, though that is changing. Quickly. And though there are a lot of people in the press these days talking about change, few are talking about innovation, much less the need to foster that effort in our people. And it needs to be addressed, head on. Now. 

We are spending a lot of time talking about how to save manufacturing. The trouble is we can't save manufacturing if we don't save the innovative processes that dictate what to manufacture. And we can't save the innovative process and its wonderful outcomes without seriously addressing education - and that includes K-12, college, and graduate school, the latter of which is nearly becoming a non-negotiable credential for those who want a modicum of job and financial security. In the case of K-12 education, the improvement child health and well-being is critical. And without K-12 education, we don't have a prayer. 

Despite the fact that I have been a fan of Barack Obama since his entry into politics, I voted for Hilary Clinton in the primary. Many people ask me why when she seems so divisive and polarizing. One simple reason - I believed she would fix healthcare, which leads to better K-12 education which fosters innovation that supports our economy and global competitive advantage. Healthcare is a root cause to so many other problems we have in the U.S., and around the world. And if were going to talk about priorities and what to focus on first in this next Presidency, my wish would be that we make good health for every American a non-negotiable goal.       

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Bible Salesman by Clyde Edgerton

If you're looking for a quirky, off-beat adventure, Clyde Edgerton's new book, The Bible Salesman, is for you. My contacts over at Hachette Book Group sent me an advance copy to read through and at first I was skeptical. I'm not a religious person so I had a hard time imagining that I'd enjoy a book about a Bible salesman. However, I trust the insight and taste of Hachette so I gave it a shot. 

To be fair, the book gets going a bit slowly, despite the fact that it is a slim 238 pages. For much of that start we are inside the mind of Henry Dampier, the Bible salesman. It isn't until we begin to see him interacting with the outside world that we understand how intelligent, though endearingly gullible he is. And then all of a sudden rather than trying to figure out why in the world this man appears so odd to us, we are routing for him as he gets more deeply involved with a ring of dangerous people. 

Edgerton does a wonderful job of weaving classic literature themes - good versus evil, love, danger, the combined hero desire and opportunity to take a life on the ride from ordinary to extraordinary - in a wholly new and entertaining way. The other piece of Edgerton's writing that I find so brilliant in this piece is that he asks his readers to consider religion and its role in raising children by revealing how one life, the life of Henry, was forever molded and influenced by a fundamentalist upbringing. 

He doesn't preach to us and he doesn't tell us that a fundamentalist upbringing to harmful or helpful. He lays out a plot, explains Henry's decision process and view of the world, and reveals how this character's back story builds the main narrative of the book. With every page turn that we are uncovering a little bit more about this man who seems so simple on the surface and yet lives an enormous life underneath that sweet veneer. 

Another reason to love Verizon

I don't know too many people who say they love their cell phone company. When I moved into my apartment about a year ago, AT&T, my cell phone company for 9 years, didn't work. No signal. The only service that did get a signal on my comfy couch was Verizon. I was weary of switching. I didn't love AT&T. They're expensive, the customer service is awful, and I felt no affinity for the brand. But I was a victim of that sad addage, "I'd rather make a deal with the devil I know..." Until I couldn't make that deal anymore - I had to get Verizon. My friends who had the service, especially Dan, raved about how friendly and helpful they were. I was skeptical, but I signed up. Now, I'm wondering why I didn't switch years ago!

I had another recent wireless issue. For the past year, I have been able to tap into my landlord's wireless network because he never locks it up. Up until a month ago, it always worked just fine. Lately, it's flaked out on me repeatedly. I dreaded getting in touch with internet providers, buying my own modem, waiting for the installation tech o show up, not to mention the expense. 

And then I saw a commercial for a Verizon device that lets you take the internet with you wherever you go. The UM175 USB Modem. It was love at first site. Now my internet works in my apartment all the time, and it works everywhere else I go with my laptop too. No more concern over whether a coffee shop or vacation spot has internet access. I have my own supply ready to go. And it matches by white Macbook - an accessorizing queen's dream!

And the customer service was fantastic. I walked in to my neighborhood Verizon store, was helped by two friendly Verizon folks, got an instant rebate and discount on service because of my employer, and was out the door with my internet in hand in 5 minutes. Seriously. It took 5 minutes to install on my laptop. Seriously. And I've been happily clicking away on the internet ever since, everywhere I go, all for about $30 a month. Who says you can't love your wireless company?!  

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

I spend a lot of time reading books, magazine and newspaper articles, and watching TV programs that pertain to work being done by nonprofits and NGOS. I spent part of my career in the nonprofit world and have volunteered in my community for as long as I can remember as my mother is also very committed to service.

I talk to friends about their nonprofit work and my company gives generously to a whole host of these organizations. I have a carefully chosen few organizations that I donate to and if friends send me a notice that they are running a race or taking part in some other way to raise money for a charity they believe in, I'm good for a donation. Lately I've been feeling the need to do more and I'm not sure if that means joining a board, lending my business expertise on a pro-bono basis, or committing a great amount of volunteer time. Maybe it means starting my own nonprofit. 

Because of my interest in education, especially that of girls in developing nations, I picked up a copy of Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. The book charts the course that Greg Mortenson took to building schools first in the village of Korphe in Pakistan, then all over that country, and most recently in Afghanistan. I was so moved by Greg's story that about 50 pages through the book I went to the website to make a donation. He is compelling, engaging, passionate, and he's in the field for all the right reasons. 

Greg believes, as I do, that education changes the paradigm. We cannot hope to ensure our own national security and that of our allies if we do not take make the effort to provide basic education, particularly to women, in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. We cannot go in with guns a-blazing a la George W. Bush, obliterate an entire nation to rubble, and then walk away with a defiant "take that" tossed over our shoulders. Our behavior in the Middle East makes me hang my head in shame. 

The way to peace is through books, through education, and through nurturing the imaginations and curiosities of children. Greg and his nonprofit, the Central Asia Institute, are doing that effectively, efficiently, and safely. I couldn't imagine a better use for my charitable giving.    

Thursday, September 4, 2008


I think my mobile life is about to get more complicated. I have never had a Blackberry (or Crackberry as the case may be) before this job. It wasn't essential to my other positions. Now with this new job, some work travel, and managing multiple cross-functional projects with tight deadlines and heavy execution components, I will need one. So here we go...

I was a little nervous because I was trying to figure out how I'd link my personal calendar and my work calendar if I have two devices. What a pain. And now I'm beginning to see that mobile applications are going to play a big role in our lives very soon. Who wants to be beholden to any single device? I want my schedule, documents, endless numbers of lists, etc. accessible 24 hours a day, wherever I am, from any device.

My friend, Ariel, constantly teases me about the fact that many times I can't get right back to people when they leave me a message. If I take a week to return his casual phone call, I'm still hearing about it months later. Recently he joked "Christa, your social life is so active you need your own assistant." I laughed. Sure I'll get an assistant, as long as he or she works around my schedule, manages all of my life details with little effort on my part, and promises to never leave. Oh, and I'd like him or her to work for $0. "Ask and you shall receive," my mother (Sandy) always says. And that's when I met another Sandy that I think will quickly become indispensable. Real Simple Magazine introduced us. 

Sandy is a virtual assistant who emails and /or texts me any and all reminders that I set up simply by sending her an email to a special address. She has text recognition capabilities, handle calendars, to-dos, goals, contact lists. The only downside is you have to learn Sandy-eez. In order for everything to be logged correctly be Sandy - you have to speak her language and use her specific shorthand. That's not so bad though - I mean, after all, she is keeping you completely organized for free and working 24/7 with a cheerful personality.

And the only other fix I might recommend - I'd love to be able to personalize my assistant and give him or her their own unique personality and look. Maybe that's Sandy 2.0?   

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Spore: the moment gamers have been waiting for

I'm not a gamer - my hand-eye coordination is about as good as my sense of direction, which is to say it's non-existent. I've never played a Wii or an X-box or a PS2 (or is it PS3 they're on now?) And yet, I am completely fascinated by the growth of the gaming industry and because of my interest in customer engagement am passionate about finding ways for businesses to use gaming in a constructive business-savvy way.

Enter Will Wright, a legend in gaming, creator of the Sims, who has just released his latest, greatest, and long-developed project: Spore. Borrowing from the ideas of the Green movement and the biological evolution, Wright has created a game that allows players to create worlds, actions taken within those worlds, and then deal with the fallout of the consequences over centuries of time. One of the oddest things about life is that we can make all of these choices and decisions about our environment, our economy, our relations with foreign worlds, but because of the long time span needed to see the full effects of our actions, we often don't live with the results. Our children, our children's children, and so, deal with the messes we make. 

Wright carries a profound belief that if we could see first hand the damage or delight we cause decades after our passing, we would make more choices that have a long-term benefit. And to top it all off, we have fun along the way creating different creatures. We get to run the world, or rather a simulation of it, for a little while. 

Tonight I was telling my friend, Dave, about my sketch comedy writing class and how the difficulty of writing this genre gave me so much more respect for comedians. With Spore, I believe that we could all benefit from playing Boss of the World for a while - maybe we would be able to see that running this planet isn't as easy as we think it may be. We are now being faced with tough decisions about our future; Spore gives us a way to try out scenario planning in a cost-effective, entertaining, and informative way.        

As Ellis Marsalis said to his son Wynton "earn your prejudices." Meaning, before you go giving your opinion on how to run something, try it out first. Thank you, Will Wright, for dedicating a decade of your life to this project for the sake of the planet. 

For photo above, click here.