5 Years of Acorns

Five years ago, 9 friends spent a weekend in Boston together.  No real agenda, other than getting together and talking about the things that were most important to them, with the hope that it would spur them all to do better, be better, and grow from the experience.  It was the Mastermind/Not a Conference micro-conference.   And, due to a bad joke made on the eve of the first Podcamp Philly, it got nicknamed Zen Acorns.

A lot has happened in the past 5 years.  Out of this group, members have gone on to publish books, find new jobs, found a successful startup, and even run for political office.  We became good friends that weekend, and learned more about each other and ourselves than I think we could have anticipated.

What I got out of this weekend of introspection and sharing is still relevant today.  I learned to embrace my strengths, and how to challenge my weaknesses (I’m still working on a couple of those).  I got a sense of how other people saw me, and instead of feeling defensive in that vulnerability, I feel I’ve gained insight and more direction, as well as how to listen to that inner compass.

We planted a lot of seeds that weekend, some which are still waiting for their chance to bloom.  I will never forget taking a chance and saying yes to spending unstructured time with a group of friends, without knowing what would come out of it.  It’s so rare, as adults, to get agenda-free moments with people we’re not related to- other than those brief dinners or lunches, or hallways during a conference.  Those aren’t always the times when you will be your true self, and open up about what worries you, or discuss questions about where you’re going and what you’re trying to achieve.

I wish we had more opportunities to do this sort of thing.  Small groups, without outside demands or distractions, talking and resolving to make the world a better place, based on our own best contributions.

Thank you, fellow Acorns.  Hope to see you soon!

 

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Running For Office- Township Supervisor

As many of you know, I am running for Kennett Township Supervisor.  There is a primary on May 19th, but the main election will be on November3, 2015.

Why Township Supervisor?  You just ran for the State House after all, you might be asking.

My goal in running for public office is to try to help my community.  I’ve volunteered on many school district committees, in many roles, and I have been amazed at how many decisions made by elected officials seem to be made in a vacuum regarding their effect on   day to day life.

I’ve been working most of my adult life in positions that are about building and improving communities.  Whether it was helping to design the Americans with Disabilities Act access program for the Super Bowl,  working with the Junior Board of Christiana Care as treasurer and managing their funds and grants, or working with Edutopia to manage online communities, my experience has been geared towards making progress and ensuring that people have access to what they need to move forward.

While I’m disappointed I lost in November, I have had the opportunity to work with Representative Barrar’s office on several issues lately.  Rep. Barrar has come and supported Kennett High School’s After Prom, and his office is currently working on making sure recent changes in a law about background checks for volunteers is implemented in such a way that it does not discourage or prevent parents from getting involved in their children’s school or classrooms.  His office, and Steve personally, has been incredibly responsive, and I’m so glad we’re getting a chance to work together.

During the campaign, I spoke with people from all across our area.  Many of the issues we face, from infrastructure planning and repair to looking at our goals for long-term growth and development, start at the Township level.  When you look at other townships in our area, you find some, like Concord Township, who actively encourage growth and development, and others who seek to maintain the status quo.  In Kennett Township, the goal is trying to achieve a good balance between sensible and sustainable growth, without turning our area into a strip mall.  The balance between maintaining what makes Kennett special, how to preserve open space, and how to balance growth and preservation are critical, and we need someone to help ensure this balance is maintained, now and as we look into the future.

In Kennett Township, we’ve made great strides in recent years, and I believe I can use my skills to help further enhance community engagement and interaction.  For example, at a local community group meeting this week, a conversation came up about the new library. Everyone seemed to have strong feelings about it, and given that over 55% of Kennett Township residents have library cards, this is not surprising.  The concerns came down to trying to make sure there was easy access to everyone and that the new building reflected the charm and history of the area, and that we weren’t losing the past in the change to something new and exciting.

This sums up the challenges we face together as a Township.  How do we look at things like making sure our roads are wide enough for emergency vehicles, yet not so wide that they simply encourage more traffic and development?  How do we approach land conservation and managing our natural resources?  How do we ensure that the development of trails benefits everyone in our community?  How do we make sure people know where the trails are, so they can enjoy them?  How do we make sure people feel welcomed into our community, and know about opportunities to get involved?

My experience in building communities online and offline, designing programs that ensure access to people with disabilities, and managing finances for a non-profit all give me the experience we want in a Supervisor. However, it’s my experience with helping businesses to adapt to the world of digital communication and commerce that may prove most helpful.  As we move forward as a Township, we will have to look for better and more efficient ways to communicate and do business, and we’ll need to do this while balancing the need to preserve everything that makes our Township special and outstanding from many of its neighbors.  Progress and preservation need to live comfortably side by side.  This is what I hope to be able to achieve as a Supervisor.

Please feel free to contact me anytime by leaving a comment here on the blog, or dropping an email to me at hoffmandigitalmedia@gmail.com, or contacting me on Facebook, or just give me a call.  We all live here together, and it’s only by talking and understanding how you feel that we can plan for a successful future together.

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Self Insight

Growing older doesn’t always guarantee you’ll grow wiser, but experience does offer its unique benefits.  I found that around the time I turned forty, I realized several key things:

1. I was my own harshest critic, and if I was waiting around looking for praise from others, I could wait a very long time.

2. If you want to get a medal for a job well done, do something where medals get awarded, like running a half marathon.  Your kids are not going to show up after you finally complete the unending piles of laundry and give you a medal for completing a continuous loop task, or for matching all the socks in the house.

3. Understanding yourself and what you bring (or don’t) to any situation is important.  Do what you can and do it well, but take yourself out of situations where you may just be the complicating factor rather than part of the solution.

4.  Self-insight is critical, but it’s hard to acquire.  We spend so much time in our youth looking for external approval from others, sometimes it’s hard to remember that your own judgment of a job well done is really the most important-.  You honestly know if you’ve done your best, and have to live with that knowledge, even if to the outside world, whatever you’ve done is perfectly acceptable.    The burden here, of course, is knowing that perfection is an illusion, and sometimes, good enough is really good enough.  Rarely does anyone have the time, funds or manpower to achieve “perfection”.

5.  Since absolute perfection is an illusion, it’s time to stop trying to say “It would have been even better if I had just ….” when people compliment whatever it is you have done.

6. Part of being an adult is that you have a little more latitude to hang out with people you really like, and avoid the folks you don’t.  The adult world and many groups still operate like high school, as much as we may wish they did not.  But the good news is you get to choose friends from a much wider array of people, and you will find more and more people who like you just for who you are.  You might even have different groups of friends who reflect different parts of your personality, and you can enjoy them all.

7. Asking for help is okay, and it’s often freely given.  We all really want to feel needed, and if you are the sort of person who likes to pitch in and help where you can, it’s amazing how many people will come out of the woodwork to help you.  Sometimes you just need to ask, because not everyone may notice you need help, and that’s not callousness on their part, but just that we all tend to get wrapped up in our own lives.  You do need to reach out and ask, because people tend not to be clairvoyant, or they may think you want to handle it on your own, for whatever reason.

8.Listen to your trusted friends and family- they really do have your best interests at heart, and they know you, including where all your blind spots are.  Trust their judgment, especially if you are questioning your own.  They are like little guardian angels, trying to give you a heads up before you hit a brick wall.

9. Admitting your weaknesses and quirks to others is actually one of the best things you can do.  It’s like giving people a manual to your own personal operating system.  By disclosing your imperfections (one of mine is looking at an email, but sometimes putting off an answer until I can sit down and compose a good answer, but then forgetting that I did not actually respond…) people learn how to work around those quirks (please, just send it to me again or ping me- I’m not trying to be rude…I just sometimes get distracted- it’s me, not you).  Most of the time, being upfront and vulnerable sets expectations and improves the relationship, where lack of disclosure might accidentally harm it instead.

10. Confronting your fears and trying new things is not always easy, but almost always worth the results.  Recognizing when you are avoiding something, and asking the next question, “Why can’t I seem to get to this project?  Why can’t I make a decision on this issue?” will often lead to an answer that you can address and get beyond the blockades you are constructing for yourself, often unintentionally.

11.  Approaching as many things as possible with being kind as the first priority will lead to a better result than approaching with hostility.  My husband often wonders why I will try to be kind to telemarketers, and I say that these folks have people hanging up on them all day long, a few seconds of “No, I’m sorry, I’m not interested or can’t talk right now, thank you” is simply good karma.  Working at a student loan call center in college taught me how dealing with stressed people every day can follow you around afterwards.  A minute of kindness is usually a pleasant surprise to everyone, and is worth the effort.12.

12. I know I am a geek, a gunner, and I’m always looking for that proverbial A on my report card.  I might not close the deal, win the election, bake the perfect cake, etc. but I know I will always be putting my all into trying.  Just don’t pair us “overachievers” with folks who are more relaxed or self-paced, and don’t make us dependent on them completing their part of the project first.  We’d rather take on the whole thing and finish it than wait around for someone else to do it at their own speed.  Yes, it’s annoying.  But let us go and do what we do best.  Otherwise, we’re just chomping at the bit and getting restless.

Self-insight lets you operate so much better in the world in general.  It’s a gift I wish I had had more of, sooner, but we really only gain it with experience.  It eventually leads to having a much more realistic view of the world, and how to avoid drama before it starts.  I still get caught up in silliness from time to time, but I’m getting much better at recognizing it, and adjusting accordingly, at least I hope so.

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The Demise of Google Glass

I was invited to be a Google Glass explorer a year ago December.  Despite the mafia-like invitation (you have seven days in which to accept this or tell us why you won’t), I decided to give them a try, thinking it would be an adventure if nothing else.

Recently, Google announced it is taking Glass back to the laboratory, and handing it over to Tony Fadell,  a fantastic design guy in charge of the iPod at Apple, who left Apple to start Nest, the thermostat/home sensor company.  This leaves me, one of the folks who paid $1,500 for this piece of gear, feeling hopeful for the future of Glass.

The problem with Glass was multifold.  First, the price tag made me question my own sanity, but I justified it by thinking of the possibilities and where the future of wearables was going, and there was no better way to understand this than by really giving Glass a test run.  Plus, with Google constantly telling everyone that Glass was going into wide release sometime in 2014, with new frames debuting at CES, it seemed like I would be a step ahead of the curve, always a good thing in the tech world.

As it turned out, Glass was a bit of a disappointment, and I was left feeling that not only was the device not yet ready for prime time, but that it was still far ahead for true feasibility in real life.

Glass was a bit like having to care for an elderly relative.  It did some things quite well, but it was often fussy, and not nearly as functional as it promised to be.  One update bricked the Glass entirely, requiring Google to send out a new pair to me altogether when the firmware update caused them to go into an infinite non-bootable loop.

Here are the main problems Glass faced:

  • Connectivity.  While they finally got Glass to work fairly well when paired to iOS devices and not just Android, it was nearly impossible to hook up to dual-security layer wifi systems, such as those at Universities and schools. Even trying to hook into a hotel’s free wifi was a real pain.  Without wifi, the major usefulness of Glass goes away entirely, and you are left with a camera and video recorder sitting on your face.
  • Connectivity, in the bigger picture.  One of the neatest features to me was the ability of Glass to let you look at a sign and get the translation, automatically, in your field of vision.  What a great thing for travel!  What a great thing for someone like my husband, who often travels to India, where so many signs use a different script alphabet.  Think how it would work for NGO’s, and ease translation.  But of course, in order to get this to work, Glass needs to ping the ‘net, which isn’t available in rural areas all over the globe, and if it did, it would cost you a fortune in roaming charges, making it not worthwhile financially as well as practically.

So without ubiquitous, open internet/wifi connectivity, so many of the great features of Glass were just useless.  Even for doing things like recording my son’s band concert, the video was great and far more stable than trying to hold a camcorder still without a tripod, but the sound capture was mediocre at best.  I thought it would be great to “simulcast” events like a child’s performance to his Grandparents, but again, the lack of a broadband wifi network that’s easy to get on makes this use impossible- it can only capture the video for upload later on.

  • Point of View (POV) vs. Narcissism. There are times, looking at the world through someone else’s eyes is fantastically useful.  Using video captured through Google Glass for showing Residents how to perform special surgical techniques; watching them on a monitor and seeing what they see can be critical.  Watching a student use a new tool, work on a problem, or even monitoring a group’s progress could all be aided with Glass as a relatively unobtrusive POV tool.  I used Glass a few times while cooking, so show me recipes and techniques while I performed them, but I think seeing the same video on an iPad in the Kitchen would have worked just as well.  Looking, and sharing, selective POV video and pictures can be fantastic and moving, but  it can also devolve to “look at me, I am special, isn’t everything I do worthy of capture” narcissism, as we saw in the early days of video blogging.  This is a human problem, not a Glass problem.  Glass just magnified the issue with a smaller, less obtrusive way to film everything, rather than devices like the Go Pro which can give a similar experience, but tend to announce their presence to everyone, so no one is caught off guard by being taped.
  • Individual Sizing issues.  Unlike a watch, eyewear has a larger problem.  Not only do you need to customize the frame to the variations in an individual’s size, etc., Glass was very awkward to use if you already wore glasses or had age-related eye issues that make reading more challenging as we get older.  Glass was very hard to readjust when trying to show it off to new users, due to the natural variation we all have in our eyesight, focal range, and just the architecture of our own skulls.  As a result, getting Glass to fit and work well required a bit of fussing, making it even less social and more difficult for people to share and help it catch on as a new idea or product that would make it a “must have”.
  • The Weirdest Product roll out ever: The whole Glass Explorer program struck me as really interesting from creating a club of folks who could not only help beta test a whole new product category, but also form a community to share ideas and new potential applications,  Before Warby Parker came out with frames to adapt prescription lenses for Glass, folks in this community were already trying to find hacks to make glass more useful for them with their eyesight.

Then there was the whole “celebrity” angle, where all the cool people, and even fashion models during NY Fashion Week were wearing Glass, to try to make it look like a forward thinking, Judy Jetson product, very avant guard and au courant, as they might say.  I think that approach further helped people see Glass as toys for rich privileged narcissists rather than something people would use every day in normal life.  It was an interesting way to go, but I think it also created social as well as economic barriers to adoption.

I’m hoping wearables like the Apple Watch will have fewer problems.  I think the relative ubiquity of sizing of a watch vs. glasses will make it much easier for a watch to succeed, if merely from a production, inventory and customer service point of view.  There may be two sizes of watch faces and choices of wrist bands, but no one is going to need an appointment and custom fitting like they needed with Glass.  However, since we still don;t know the true price, it’s possible the Apple Watch will also have its own set of adoption problems related to the expense vs. utility matrix.

In the end, I only partially regret buying Glass.  It’s been interesting to be part of the wearables learning curve, and I can only hope they will give those of us who bought the early versions some sort of rebate/early access to the next version, if they do manage to crack the Glass Ceiling and make it something fantastic.  I know if there’s anyone I would trust to put in charge of this sort of product, it’s got to be Tony Fadell.  I never thought I could even care, let alone love, something as mundane as a thermostat, but the Nest has been great- we save money, track our energy usage, and can even control it remotely, which has been useful more times that you could possibly imagine.  It’s the FitBit for our house, and I only hope Tony can do something equally as great with Google Glass.  And hopefully, without the near burn marks from the overheating temples this time.

Google Glass- in the end, too much, too soon, without the overall infrastructure to support it and make its potential shine.  I’m disappointed but not surprised they shut it down this quickly.

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Criticism

It is so easy to criticize and vent these days.  Snark has developed into its own art form.  You probably are inundated with it in your daily Facebook and Twitter feeds.  It is always tempting to join in, and complain or take cheap shots at others.  For example, a GOP staffer recently wrote a pretty nasty post about President Obama’s daughters who were rolling their eyes a bit as their Dad went through the ceremonial Turkey Pardon.  (Feel free to take a look at the article, but basically it comes down to the girls looking less than fully thrilled to be there for this event, which may have been fun the first time, but after 6 years in a row, is probably tiresome for everyone involved.)

Let’s take a few brief moments to deconstruct this issue.  Firstly, the annual Turkey Pardon is a silly tradition, but it’s become an expectation. I think many Americans do a collective eyeroll at this, so why should the first daughters be any different?  Secondly, taking a shot at teens so you can also take a cheap shot at the parents is simply unacceptable behavior, regardless of whether or not they are public figures.

This same sort of snark and unnecessary criticism pervades social media and the way people interact these days.  The news and every magazine at the checkout stand is filled with comparisons of who wore what dress best, who looked less than fully glamourous at what event, and who decided what undergarments to wear or forego.  I ask you- why is any of this even slightly worth the ink and time we waste on it?

Critique is supposed to be a detailed analysis or evaluation of a situation; ideally it should be accompanied by suggestions on how to improve a situation or avoid any mistakes in the future.  Critique as a sport has a mean underside, making the receiver feel diminished or less than.   Perhaps my current sensitivity to this is because I just finished running for office, and the past weeks have been filled with low level fault finding and analysis of what to do differently.  This process can be incredibly helpful, but it can also be incredibly painful.  The non-helpful, just mean-spirited “What were you thinking when you wore THAT?” sort of critique just gets under my skin right now, because it seems like an audience throwing things at a performer.  Being critical is easy, but actually putting yourself out there on a public stage takes guts, and there are consequences whether you win or lose, that the audience doesn’t have to deal with when it goes home.

Edutopia frequently posts an acronym I think we all need to remember before we shell out criticism to anyone in our lives: THINK

  • Is it True?
  • Is it Helpful?
  • Is it Inspiring?
  • Is it Necessary?
  • Is it Kind?

The kind of criticism doled out by this particular GOP staffer I would argue is really none of the above, although she might think it was a “helpful” reminder to these young ladies that they are on the public stage, all the time.  But until this staffer wants to take that kind of critique every day herself, maybe she should keep her thoughts to herself.  My critique here is meant to be helpful and a reminder that we need to start with kindness.

Listen, we all have those thoughts.  The “What was that fashion choice about?” or a “I cannot believe they thought that was a good plan” moment.  Many times a day in fact- I have teenagers in the house.  I think a lot of things that are not always reflective of my best self, and I try, sometimes unsuccessfully, to keep that crap to myself.  No one ever appreciates the “I could have told you that” response to a mistake.

Instead, when there has been a particular moment that makes you want to slam your head against your desk and cry, I am making an effort to try to look for ways to fix the problem rather than heap a ton of “What were you thinking?”  venting on top of what’s already a bad situation.  Number one, the venting doesn’t really make me feel better, and it always makes the other person, already in a scrape, feel much worse.  In fact, this sort of reaction is the main reason teens don’t tell their parents 75% of trouble they face- they don’t want to see that look in your eye or deal with the lectures.   Dealing with the problem itself, and finding ways to solve it, together, allows everyone to keep their dignity while learning lessons at the same time.

I come from a family of yellers.  Learning not to yell, not to vent, is really hard, and I don’t always succeed.  I have a temper.  But I know it’s not okay to do this stuff, and I also apologize to my kids afterwards, so we can try to make it better.  I’m not perfect, and they need to know that even adults screw up, and can admit it when they do.    It took me a very long time to realize that the yelling might feel like releasing frustration to me, but the receiver just felt punched in the gut.  That moment of outrage was not worth even a second of the pain I caused my kids, even if it was done in service of some sort of lesson.  There are simply better ways of handling and dealing with anger.

The next time we’re tempted to make some unkind remark, especially online, about someone else, let’s try to remember that they are human, and try to start with kindness.  If we can build kindness as a habit, we’ll all be much better off than making our default setting one of snark and ennui.  No one needs more of that.

 

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