Tonight There is a Small Bird Trapped Inside My Garage

October 7, 2010 2 comments

Nobody saw exactly how it happened, as is frequently the case with many of life’s misfortunes. But tonight a little bird is trapped inside my garage, perched high above on the rafters. It scurries about on the cross beams twelve feet above the floor. Its head twitches about and its eyes scan for an exit. Then it flies around erratically and seems to begin looking for a way out all over again.

The little bird keeps running into walls. It flies into the ceiling. It keeps looking up for an exit.

All the while, the garage door below is wide open. If only it would look down.

Our instincts usually guide us to look up for our next great move. If only the little bird in my garage knew just how close it was to the great wide open.

I’ve turned the lights off, and soon I’ll lower the garage door for the night, like a window of opportunity closing.

Have you bothered looking down for your next great move? Don’t wait for the lights to dim. It might be too late.

Categories: Innovation

Why We Belong to Communities

August 30, 2010 1 comment

We didn’t invent them.

Communities are more like lightning, hurricanes, or for that matter, mountains. They just occur, forming when people have something in common. Great things can happen when the right environmental conditions come together – at the right time – to form or strengthen a community.

Communities are generational. Millennials. Harley troubadours. Software users. Deadheads.

Some communities are congregational. These tend to engage us in more than one way. Within congregations, we interact in 1-to-1 relationships and we join groups. We have a place where we reserve ourselves to share in that common something.

Sometimes communities arise in a flash and then fade away. Others were deliberately constructed by the generation(s) before us, for whose original vision and dedication we have to be thankful. Deeply-rooted communities become cornerstones in our world.

So why do we belong to communities, anyway?

We all belong to at least one community. Whether it’s a bedroom community north of Dallas or a cluster of relief tents outside Port au Prince, where we reside is defined by some kind of physical place. These natural occurring communities exist in workplaces, within school districts, countries or world regions. We belong to natural occurring communities by default, and decide individually on our participation level.

Then there are the communities that we make a concerted effort to join. Purpose-driven communities form when people dedicate their time and attention to foster the growth of an organization. We make a conscious decision to affiliate with them, and when the right mix of timing, people and resources comes together, purpose-driven communities flourish.

Physical vs. Virtual Communities

Prior to electronic media, most communities were natural occurring and congregational in nature. Things like church or civic organizations, industry trade associations, alumni groups, a population of cigar rollers, etc.

Then along came radio and television, providing a common thing for people with common interests to gather around at precisely the same time. Citizens Band (CB) radios enabled an interactive community explosion that transcended geographies in the 1970s. Private and public online networks (like AOL, Compuserve, and freenets) emerged in the late 1980s enabling communities to form via modem-connected personal computers. And of course today we have a proliferation of social media networks that are accessible all the time by most of the free world.

No Shortage of Communities to Join

We are besieged by a tidal wave of communities as brand marketers embrace mobile and social technologies to engage us. Facebook alone presents a myriad of communities and causes that we could affiliate our digital identity with. In fact, a single click to “Like” something brings out an interactive behavior in many Facebook users unlike anything we’ve seen before. But does associating with more causes / communities improve our life?

I’ll argue that as a whole, we’ll be better off being more selective of the communities we join. And, I challenge you to take a close look at the communities you spend time on, both physical and virtual. Are you really making the best use of your time lurking among others who look nothing at all like you? Friending someone you haven’t seen since high school could be a great move if you are actively organizing a milestone class reunion. But could that casual, non-purpose driven click expose yourself – and your true friends – to a felon? An identity thief? Or worse, a yet-to-be-caught child molester?

Take some time out and ask yourself. Honestly. Which communities should you really be involved with? Do you have the right cornerstone communities in your life? How many communities are too many?

These are personal decisions each of us has to make. Here’s my take on some things to consider:

  • If you are a homeowner, take an active role in your neighborhood. If there is an association, join it. Neighborhood communities need a common voice.
  • If you even think you might be spiritual, find a church. Don’t get turned off by one visit. Try many until you find a congregation where you connect.
  • If you are passionate about your career or trade specialization, explore the various communities dedicated to your professional development.
  • If you rely on a product, company, service or technology for success in your work, find out if an active user community exists. If not, consider organizing one.
  • If you have hobbies or personal interests that help recharge your body and mind, connect to others that you can share with and learn from.

Joining a community should not be an involuntary response, like ducking a punch or blinking your eyes. Reconsider where you belong, and how you spend your time. Communities should make us stronger, more aware, and more fulfilled. If your community involvement doesn’t pass that litmus test, ask why.

Sensible Rules for Kids with Cell Phones

August 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Over the summer, our 10-year-old daughter lost her cell phone. Not lost as in: I can’t find it. But lost as in: You screwed up now you don’t have your cell phone for a month.

We collectively decided that before school started, we would all agree to a written set up rules for cell phone usage. Summer vacation crept to a close this week, and it was time to put my words to action. Before long, I had crafted multiple pages of restrictions. After all, I monitor cell phone (and Internet) usage very closely. I know how to write a Service Level Agreement. And I went overboard on my rules doc.

After careful thought, I trashed my work and asked my (now) 11-year-old daughter to write up her own rules. It took her less than five minutes. Here they are, word for word:

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  • I will not text or call after 9 p.m.
  • I will not delete my texts.
  • I will keep my texts and calls to a minimum.
  • I will not text someone if they are right next to me.

    (I usually keep my phone @ home anyways when we are going on errands or to a restraunt or a get-together or aunt Ellen’s and places like that, so I got that covered : )

  • I will answer calls when mom & dad call. If I don’t, I will call right back.

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With that, we now have cell phone rules posted and in force. We’ll continue to sit down together every month when our billing cycle closes and go through her text and voice usage, updating any new numbers in our address book that happen to show up. And now, we’ll draw the line on time limits.

How do you manage your kids’ cell phone usage?

Fun With Historical Data Trends on Smartphones Aside…

Humans + technology produce an insatiable appetite for live communication. From smoke signals to the Long Lines Department at AT&T, people have historically been driven to connect in newer, better, faster, cooler ways.

That’s about all there really is to say about historical usage.

Next week Steve Jobs will fire up a live mobile video call as he unveils and demos the next gen iPhone. In other news, Skype’s iPhone app supporting voice is here. And this Monday, AT&T moves to metered wireless data and discontinues all-you-can-eat for new subscribers. If you think something spooky is going on at the amusement park, pull off the zombie’s mask, Shaggy.

I noticed that AT&T recently made it easier to find historical data usage using your online account manager. The official line from T is that today 65 percent of AT&T smartphone customers use less than 200 MB of data per month on average. And none of that matters. Period.

Charts and graphs are fun, but my February field test with Skype in Haiti gave me a very real idea about how easy it is to break a network when we push for the next communications breakthrough.

You can bet that AT&T wants you to look back at the past six months to baseline your data plan needs. But wait before you jump to save that five bucks. How you use data is subject to change.

Say what you want about them not having their network ready for smartphones. AT&T called this whole video thing way before anybody else. I’m just guessing that more people will buy iPhone 4Gs in the first 5 seconds than ever heard of the 1970s Picturephone(TM) service.

Millions of handheld phones capable of streaming live voice and video is why metered wireless data plans are here to stay.

A Case for Health Care in Haiti

Post-earthquake news reports from Haiti back in January and February temporarily shined a global spotlight on this island nation. “Modern health care” here means a medical clinic has a hand-pump well out front for “fresh” water.

Miles away from the center of destruction of the January 12 earthquake, in the countryside and mountain regions, I observed the total absence of health care as we Americans know it. For example, in the commune of Ganthier northeast of Port au Prince, there is currently one Haitian government health center serving a sparse population of 79,000. The main reason people here do not get basic preventative health care is they cannot afford transportation to see the few medical professionals available. Those who come for health care may walk five or ten miles each way.

I’ve had the good fortune since my February mission trip to Haiti to meet several dozen people who – like me – have been moved to do something about this very real health care crisis. Today there is a high-energy initiative by the non-government organization The Lazarus Project to build and operate a new health center in Ganthier. Funding is coming together and people with decades of experience in helping Haitians are engaged and making strides in the right direction.

One of my contributions is this video that helps present the vision. Check it out.

Internet squatting in Haiti

March 15, 2010 3 comments

I had the opportunity over the weekend to spend some time in southeast Florida with a couple of Lazarus Project board members and volunteers. It was great to put faces with names, and to meet others who have a personal, vested interest in Haiti and the Village of Hope.

One gentleman recalled my name as “one of the guys that brought the Internet down at Hope House,” the project’s head office in Haiti. And then it occurred to me that I never told anyone the rest of the story.

Hope House has Hughes satellite service for Internet access. That was about all that was known when we arrived on February 19th. The office had been turned upside down by the earthquake and we were never able to find any records or detailed account information. In fact, it took some deep digging and guesswork to figure out what name the account was in.

This became more important as service degraded day after day. We eventually learned that terms on the account allowed 375 MB of download traffic per 24 hour period, after which, the account would go into a “low priority” state. (Hughes calls this “fair use” state, I call it “give me a break.”) We acknowledged that some video conferencing trials with Skype took a bite out of the daily limit. (But that was limited to 30 minutes on the day of our arrival.) Add to that usage by 11 guys — many using their handy dandy wi-fi devices — plus the Hope House director’s business use.

Suddenly, we paid very close attention to our usage.

But there was one other curveball our presence brought: we left the wireless router on most of the time. Previously there was very limited demand for Internet access. Teams came to immerse themselves in pre-earthquake Haiti. For personal reflection, maybe they used a journal. Sometimes people posted updates to their Facebook pages. And then the Internet got “shut off.”

In post earthquake Haiti, we were compelled to tell the story in real time. Several maintained blogs, tweeted, and kept up with email and Facebook. Natural disasters and social media go hand in hand. (Don’t forget, startup YouTube first attracted widespread usage as a better way for people to share videos of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.)

Well, we left the network up one day while we were away more than six hours. It was when we got home that night that we learned virtually no place on earth is immune from Internet squatters.

It turns out our service was bumped down to “low priority” even though we were not even around to use it. Prior to our arrival, it had not occurred to anyone to enable a wireless key. We were certainly not in an urban area. The closest neighbors were sleeping under tarps. Walls and buildings were down everywhere. And electricity was off more than it was on.

Hughes was able to provide hour-by-hour usage statistics. And during a two-hour period while we were away, we pinpointed the entire daily download limit being met and exceeded. Internet squatters.

I installed an upgraded router, brought it up to date and locked it down.

And now you know the rest of the story.

Video: Arrival in Port-au-Prince and Hope House

February 28, 2010 1 comment

Here’s some raw video footage of our February 19th, 2010, trip to assist with earthquake relief in Haiti. We flew direct from Miami in the Port-au-Prince on the first day that American Airlines resumed passenger service post-earthquake. This video shows our arrival and some of the work our mission team did around Hope House, the head office in-region for the Lazarus Project.