Remember the Telephone?

Remember that great work place tool called the telephone? You know, that thing with the the handle and buttons you speak into? Email is a wonderful tool and Instant Messaging (IM) is also a nice way to communicate, yet there is something about actually speaking directly to another person that is often superior.

Yes, IM can be a great way to “multi-task” when you are on an endless conference call. Email is wonderful for documenting expectations and commitments as well as sharing data.

Still, how many times have you found yourself responding to a question via Email or IM that you could have answered over the phone in a fraction of the time you spent typing, waiting for a reply, typing, waiting, etc?

Never forget the speed and clarity of personal voice.

Why we know less than ever about the world

I watched a brief yet revealing TED talk this morning by Public Radio International CEO, Alisa Miller, titled “Why we know less than ever about the world.” Sadly, American news media spends most of their resources focusing on myopic issues, like personal tragedies in the lives of pop stars, while ignoring the rest of the world. Watch this four minute and twenty nine second clip to see the statistics and hear Alisa Miller in her own words.


Note to news media: Next time you’re tempted to report on something relatively trivial, like an athlete turned actor running from police in his white Ford Bronco, chances are high that something of true importance, like the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda, is happening at the same time. If you don’t tell us, how will we know?

Living in a “Fill the Space” Age (Or the myth of emptiness)

Life is great and small

We are living in the “space” age. Not the science fiction version with flying cars and tight pants but an age where every moment, every space, must be filled.

In our cities homes are stacked on top of each other. We build in as much as we build out. Hollow space is considered either a potential commodity or a design flaw. If you have empty space, or “free” time, the American question is; what will you do with it? What will you do to fill the space you’ve been given to make it larger, to make it better?

In our market economy product saturation, or infiltration, presides. Competition for space in the most precious of all real-estate markets, the human mind, is in constant flux. It seems no space is too sacred for the adviser’s pen. The desire to fill ourselves, to fill our own sense of emptiness, makes nearly every space, and every item, exchangeable.

Nothing is its own for its own sake. All can quickly become a token, a trading card for something else to fill the ironically increasing void in our expanding world.

As we look deeper into the origins of life and farther into the expanse of the heavens we find that both are endless. The visible world is growing as we gaze into what we thought was invisible, with new eyes. Yet there is a harmony in what appears to be chaos. The order runs deep and balance is maintained. There are limits keeping order between the spaces.

While in this accelerating age of space filling I hope we will choose to value the sacred space of the human mind and stop catering to those who would exploit our most vulnerable locations.

A Noble Alternative to Solitaire

 Free Rice

Millions of people play Solitaire every day to alleviate work place boredom. Now you can play something that will eliminate boredom, increase your vocabulary, and help feed the hungry. For each word you define correctly FreeRice.com will donate 20 grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Program.

Over 7 million grains of rice have been donated since the site went live in October. It’s quick and the site can track your skill level across multiple visits. The rice is paid for by advertisers. If you’re curious about how this program benefits the hungry go to the FAQ page.

In the mean time close out of Solitaire, increase your vocabulary, and make a small difference in the world with FreeRice.com.

Invite your friends to do the same.

The CommonCraft Show: Attention grabbing low-tech educational videos

Below are two attention grabbing plain English educational videos from The CommonCraft Show. The first is about Google Docs and the second, CFL bulbs. If you think there is no profit in this kind of work, think again. Google is a CommonCraft Productions customer.

Sometimes a simple design is better. Watch and learn.

Don’t shoot: Stop Bullet Point Overkill

Bullet Point OverKill 

Bullets points are not the answer. What value do they add to a presentation when the text is already in a 28 point font and is the only text on the screen?

If you must use bullet points, use them sparingly and use them well.  Here is one slide example (Click once to advance the slide).* 

PowerPoint presentations can shine without bullet points.

Think before you shoot.

*The animation is better in PowerPoint, NOT PowerPoint Viewer.

Learning and Pandemic Readiness

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This is an update toFlu Pandemic: Compliance or Readiness” posted in February.

As of November 12, 2007 the World Health Organization has confirmed 335 cases of H5N1 in humans. Nearly two thirds of those infected have died (206 deaths). The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is funding pandemic planning activities across the nation, yet for many organizations this is not a priority. It’s not even on the back burner.   

Imagine all organizations (vendors, customers, utilities, etc.) experiencing 35% absenteeism (35% is the projection). In that environment, our current model of “just in time” economics will not succeed.

Organizations need to develop contingency plans by trouble shooting to identify options for a successful strategy. Training professionals need to be at the core of this endeavor. Will your team be ready to deliver a life saving message when the time arrives? For a high level overview for the issue, watch Scott McPherson and Elliott Masie’s discussion, Learning and Pandemic Readiness recorded at The MASIE Center’s Learning 2007 this past October.  

These particular plans may not need to be put into action (Although an epidemiologists friend at the CDC says it’s only a matter of time before a pandemic strikes). It may not be bird flu that hits us, but as Dwight D. Eisenhower said, In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.

To Wiki or Not To Wiki?

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Can Wikipedia be trusted? This is not a new question. It should be asked of every encyclopedia.

Encyclopedias are touch stones, introductory references, telescopes peaking into much larger worlds. Sometimes the lenses of our printed guides are blurred. Ink alone does not endow words with factual authority. Printing and binding only guarantee a higher delivery cost. The entries may be factual, but good luck verifying the sources. If you have access to the sources you probably would not bother looking it up in an encyclopedia; unless that encyclopedia is Wikipedia.

If you know a subject well, the best place to begin is Wikipedia. If the First Barbary War is one of your specialties, go to Wikipedia and see if the article is accurate. If it’s not, make corrections (The current article does not meet Wikipedia standards). As a contributor you can clear the way for other observers.  

Here is an example. I’m familiar with the events surrounding the murder of Joseph Standing in 1879 and Wikipedia had a stub (A short article marked for expansion) about his life. In July 2007 I made a major revision of the article. I adhered to Wikipedia’s three content policies; maintain a neutral point of view (NPOV), provide verifiable sources, and do not use original research. Since my revision there have been around 30 minor edits, made by other users, and with only two exceptions every edit has been an improvement.

This kind of real time editing can not be done in the world of paper. I recently found two errors in a history book that has been on the market for over a decade. I submitted corrections to the publisher earlier this week and while they were pleased to receive accurate information, it will probably take a year or more before the book is updated.

As Erin McKean says, sometimes paper is the enemy of words. The book is not the best shape for an encyclopedia. At the same time, I’m not yet converted to belief in a paperless world. I simply love books. Well referenced, indexed books. But from my non-neutral point of view Wikipedia and its volunteer army of Wikipedians, of which I am one, are headed in the right direction. Now let’s Wiki.