Blog Progress Report

Getting ready to port this blog server-side.  Been preparing for awhile, yet as you know, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  My intentions are the best which means it’s turning out to be a pretty bumpy ride.  Fortunately, I’ve got a smart co-pilot working behind the scenes.  Until we navigate the minefield, a brief heads-up:

  • http://jcshepard.com is redirecting to a test site for the new blog theme.  It’s a work in progress.  If you follow one of my links directly there, I appologize for the inconvenience, but obviously you found your way back here for now!
  • I’m trying to do this while preparing for the American Planning Association’s National Planning Conference in Minneapolis.  Gonna be a fun time, but I’m also going to be spending more content time on that until we get the new theme up.

So enjoy the show, feel free to comment & enjoy your Spring.

-john shepard

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Preparation

The National Weather Service is predicting major flooding in eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota:

Flood Risk High and Flooding Imminent for the Red River of the North Basin; Above Average Risk for Upper Midwest and from the lower Great Lakes to Illinois and part of New England

I grew up in and around Fargo, and lived in the Red River Valley during the Flood of 1997. You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen a city of 50,000 people completely evacuated. My community had our own crisis to deal with that year, yet we opened our homes to those who had lost theirs. The guy who stayed with me had nothing left but the clothes on his back—everything in his home, his car, everything gone.

Fargo got lucky that year when Grand Forks did not. This year that luck may have run out. However, the better part of luck is preparation, as Red River Farm Network radio team report:

Prepping for the Flood — Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is taking action to prepare for flooding in the Red River Valley. The State Emergency Operations Center has been partially activated. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has also activated its internal Incident Command Team to help farmers protect themselves and their property from flood-related damage. Field staff are also contacting grain elevators, crop protection suppliers and food processing companies.

And the good people of the Red River Valley are busy preparing.

The Red Cross is partnering with the Salvation Army to provide meals to the many volunteers creating sandbags at “Sandbag Central” in Fargo. Pictured here is what’s known as a “Spider”.This photo is available for media distribution. Please credit Claire Sale/American Red Cross.  For more information on this disaster, please visit the Red Cross Disaster Online Newsroom

Here at jcshepard.com we’re busy preparing, too. A big move is coming up as I try to move from wordpress.com to a hosted wordpress.org account. This winter I’ve been testing out different features in preparation and HOPE all will go smoothly.

Be Prepared.

Text Test

Testing WordPress.com text features for this theme.

This is Headline 1

This is Headline 2

This is Headline 3

This is Headline 4

This is Headline 5
This is Headline 6
This is Address text.
This is Preformatted text.

This is Paragraph text in bold, various & sundry colors.

This is indented Paragraph Text.

  • This is Bullet Text.
  • This is 2nd line of Bullet Text.
  1. This is Numbered Bullet text.

The End.

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Are you reading this at work?

The line between work-life and home-life, professional and personal, is in constant flux.  As organizations search for excellence, re-invent, re-organize, upgrade, and update, the one-time rules on engagement get a bit squishy.  Governing magazine—a freebie for bureaucrats like me—offered an insightful observation on “The Millennial in the Cubicle“, relevant to government, non-profit and for-profit enterprises:

According to a recent Pew Internet & American Life Project study, 70 percent of working Americans now use the Internet on the job. That means that increasingly both the public and the private sectors are having to figure out how to balance the rights and interests of employees and employers in an environment where opportunities to do too much electronic wandering are virtually limitless, and where lots of employees spend most of the day on computers and tapping away at cell phones and other communication devices for legitimate work purposes.

Are you reading this at work?  One reason I’m working on this blog is to look at applications of social media for my “real work” in local development.  Is this blog strictly “real work” then?  Well, not stricktly.  I may be trading time during the work day that I make up by coming in early and staying late or eating lunch at my desk like I am today.  “Real Work” still needs to get done, but the timeline isn’t banker’s hours.

Complaints about overly restrictive use policies and Web blocking ought to be a wake-up call, say many in public-sector information technology and personnel management. Witt’s generation — the “millennials,” who have grown up texting, Twittering and YouTubing, and often doing all of those things simultaneously — are going to push hard for governments to open up on-the-job technology so that they can work the way they’ve become used to. “We’re going to be seeing a new generation of employees who say, ‘What do you mean I can’t look at my Facebook page while I’m at work?'” says Craig Paull, head of IT for Kent County, Michigan.

Devil’s Advocate:  I got some good advice from a prof back in college.  When you’re working for the government, don’t do anything you wouldn’t want in the headlines of the local newspaper.  There was a big buzz for awhile on “running government like a business”.  I like the idea, but the problem is the stockholders are everybody that pays taxes.  The rules are a bit different on the public dime than in private business.  I understand that.

However… public, private and non-profit organizations are all in business.  They have (or should have) a mission, a vision, strategies and objectives if they want to succeed and provide a value in this world.  If you’re gonna do a job, do it right.

Fundamentally, technology has helped create a layer of employees who view work in a whole new way, according to Lee Rainie, director of the Pew project. “It’s clear that the boundary between work and play is not as bright and distinct as it is for their parents,” says Rainie. “Nobody has done a systematic study, but as the digital generation enters the workforce, they will have different expectations about the work environment and using technology, and different norms about what they owe their boss versus what they owe their friends.” 

Some of the conflicts are generational.  Baby Boomers tend to think about work and life, paid-work and volunteer-work, differently than my Gen X peers.  The Millenials coming after, who the heck knows what they’re thinking. 

Change is, of course, the only constant.  So you may as well embrace it.  Learn to love Social Media.  Adapt your work life to Twitter and Facebook.  Adapt your home life so your Blackberry habit isn’t quite so annoying to spouse and children.  Some people see these tools extending work into homelife.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t only have ideas between 8am and 4:30pm.  If I figure out a problem for a client at 8pm, I don’t want to wait until 8am to get down the details when I can access work remotely and take care of it then and there.  At the same time, I may be pulling up Facebook at 9am to check on my kids instead of jockeying for PC time at home come 9pm.  Tools are tools, for good or evil.

Get ‘er done, but with balance in all things.

Blogs vs Twitter II

Wyoming Stream-FreeStockPhotos.com

Had an A-Ha! moment on the Blogs vs. Twitter debate this week, late in the day Thursday catching up on the day’s twitter traffic after a mildly productive afternoon.

I’m thinking of Twitter like a stream and the blogosphere as lakes and oceans.  Fishing moving waters requires different techniques than still waters.  You have different gear, different approaches.  It would never occur to me to try to catch every fish that swims by.  Just the one that happens to be in the pool that i can reach.  just. right. then.

I am also a slow learner.  So I’m going to give an example.  The material is political, but my point is about the social media tools.

  1. First, I noticed a tweet by a Brit I follow re: a muslim cleric spouting off in support of spousal abuse.  Political topic, trying to stay away from that on this blog for now.  A quick retweet @JohnShepard, don’t think much about it.
  2. Over on JohnScout, I had written a post touching on the newly inaugurated president’s time as a Cub Scout in Indonesia.  This islamic nation has the largest number of Scouts in the world. I had referenced @JoshuaGodinez‘s blog  in that post, then saw him tweet about muslim Scouts in Scotland and their special Oath.  Hmm.  Maybe a topic for a follow-up post, so a quick retweet.
  3. Then, I noticed another headline on Geert Wilders.  For a few months I’ve seen the Dutch parliamentarian in the news.  He made a film, Fitna, about the dark side of Islam.  Many people are unhappy;  Thursday there were several tweets about charges filed by Dutch courts.  Again, at face a political topic, but Freedom of Speech and cultural issues—this is getting closer to what I’m willing to tackle at jcshepard.com.  However, by this time I was late for dinner.  So I did the re-tweet thing.

It’s not about the ends but the means. 

Perhaps the world is a better place for me not taking time to blog this political topic.  Who knows, perhaps we averted a new Crusade.  Either way, the Twitterverse is good for quickly bringing in data and sharing it.  Not alot of processing is going on in 140 words let alone 140 characters.  This blog is about 400 words, more or less.  It takes time to process data into information.

I used twitter like a stream.  Topics come, topics go, here’s the link, read it and see what you think.

Blogs vs Twitter

I have resisted joining the blogosphere, much as I have resisted Social Media overall. I’m just not a very social guy.

Before I got on Twitter I noticed different websites and tools waxing and waning in favor with the tehnorati.  On 20Oct08, Paul Boutin wrote in Wired Magazine (“Twitter, Flickr, Facebook Make Blogs Looks So 2004“):

“Thinking about launching your own blog? Here’s some friendly advice: Don’t. And if you’ve already got one, pull the plug.”

As I am by nature a contrarian, I have proceeded to do the opposite.  Boutin points out that opinion leaders such as Jason Calacanis have abandoned blogs in favor of social media tools such as Twitter, YouTube, etc.  His point is the pros have taken over the blogspace and it’s almost impossible to cut through the clutter.

“The time it takes to craft sharp, witty blog prose is better spent expressing yourself on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter.”

I worked at student newspapers in college (official and alternative), had a column in a weekly local newspaper for awhile, and regularly spout out in letters to the editor.  I also started doing record reviews while a volunteer DJ for KRFC-FM community radio in Ft. Collins, CO, and have tried to keep that up on last.fm since.  I agree, it takes time to do it right.

RSS Icon

RSS guru Dave Winer is playing with different ways to integrate social media tools.  On 1Jan09, he posted his thoughts on a debate between fans of blogging and tweeting.–Michael Arrington’s 22.12.08 post “I’m sorry Robert But It’s Time For A Friendfeed Intervention.”  Arrington & Calacanis think Robert Scoble is harming his brand by neglecting his blog in favor of Twitter/Friendfeed.   Scoble replies that… well as of 12:00 CST Fri 9Jan09 he didn’t have a reply on his blog yet, but his link led me to check out Friendfeed for the first time….

I saw another observation on this debate, but IE crashed and haven’t found it again. Basically, Scoble is a news junkie–he lives to break the next big thing.  Arrington & kin are analysts–they live to understand the next big thing.

Anyway, I don’t know (or care) enough about the personalities involved to make a relevant comment on their personal choices.  I do like Winer’s conclusion that these divergent opinions are two parts of the same thing.  He notes:

“Technology is a process, an evolution — don’t focus on what’s here right now today, because a year from now it’ll be different. Look at the trend.”

Outside this conversation I’ve seen many others wring their hands over using tools such as Twitter effectively. For example, there’s a PR guy on Twitter with Colorado Farm Bureau.  Remarking on a Columbia Journalism teleconference 9Jan09:

@agripundit From *Twitter 4 Journalists* webcast: Its not about who follows you,its about who you follow. Very true. #columbiaj

I’ve seen such advice elsewhere (e.g. @jamesdickey‘s 10 Commandments of Twitter), but it didn’t really sink in until now.  It is about Purpose:

  • Twitter’s primary value for me is the data input. It’s a quantity thing. It’s like watching The Matrix in code.
  • Facebook & blogs have more value as information output.  It’s a quality thing. Where I can hash over ideas, think about it and let things perc for a bit.

We are asking not a yes/no question, but a yes and no question.  Be clear about your purpose for the tool.

That doesn’t help figure out how to get a cool clear drink of water out of the firehose that is Twitter. For now, it does give me a better idea what flavor beverage I’m looking for.

JC on Twitter
John on Twitter

Email? How quaint…

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Update: @SteveThornton says this better than I can pro & con on TwiTip,
  Twitter versus Facebook: Should you Choose One? 
 (saved me a post!)

Update2: On the other hand, plenty of folks do believe… Personal blogging is dead.

WordPress v. Blogger

Evaluating weblog platforms.

Actually, I was signed into Google Reader and thought the gray bar across the top was WordPress, so there I was on Blogger an hour later…. with another blog, and another other blog (JohnScout), and now another other blog (JohnScout 2.0). Talk about a time sink! With so much clutter across the big wide web, the variety of options can be overwhelming.

  • Basic tools–platforms, widgets, wedgies & wonderbar
  • Presentation–style; does form follow function? go encyclopedic (everything and the kitchen sink) or zen simplicity.
  • Purpose–and of course this last should be first. It’s the “so what?” question. What is my purpose in undertaking this task? By what results will we judge success?? What time is lunch???

The point is, I’m going to run a few tests, drink some coffee, do some real work, and come back and see who does what when.  So far WordPress is in the lead…

ciao chow,
john